Ariel Cohen’s 2023 Bold Predictions

Happy opening week of the major league baseball season!

Finally, after three straight highly irregular baseball years, we have some consistency heading into the baseball season!

Well, that is aside from the World Baseball Classic, of course. Oh, and then we also have the impact of the new rule changes, re-balanced schedule and the pitch clock. Plus, throw in a few ballpark alterations over the offseason …

However, in comparison to the past three seasons, in my mind, these are all welcomed differences. No more COVID pandemic, no more lockout – just watching the nation’s pastime.

As our tradition over here at RotoGraphs, it is now time to share our bold predictions with you. This year will be my 6th straight year of sharing with you a few unlikely events – that I believe have the chance to come true.

As usual, the ATC Projections have helped shape much of what is to come in this article. A few predictions come from my own personal analysis on the player, or of a team situation. Other nuggets arise from blind optimism or the crossing of my fingers. These are all possibilities that could happen, that I feel will happen if things break just right.

As I state each and every year – please keep in mind the following. These are bold predictions, not crazy predictions. I am not going to predict the impossible. Jorge Mateo will not lead the majors in homers. Joey Gallo will not contend for a batting title. Mark Melancon will not win 20 games. Those would not be bold predictions – those would be impossible ones.

My definition of a bold prediction is one that is some 10-30% likely. That is to say, they should roughly lie in the 70th to 90th range of percentile possible outcomes. If done right, one should expect to hit on at least one of one tenth but not more than one third of all bold predictions in the long-term. Any more outlandish a prediction would need a miracle to occur, while any more probable would be too easy a guess.

Admittedly, some bold predictions may be more likely than others, but all should go against the majority opinion. The point here is to call attention to a few undervalued (or overvalued) bets by the market. The aim is to focus on (or away from) a particular player or situation. Of course, the goal is also to have some fun!

Without further ado, here are five bold predictions for 2023:

#1: Alec Bohm and Ryan McMahon will combine for 45 HRs, 155 RBIs and a .265+ batting average

For those who have followed my work in the offseason, you know that I have declared both Alec Bohm and Ryan McMahon to be highly undervalued by the drafting market. I found myself drafting one or the other in just about every fantasy league that I am participating in this year.

Let’s start with the 2023 ATC Projections for the pair:

2023 ATC Projected Stats
Player AB R RBI HR SB AVG ATC$ Market$
Alec Bohm 564 71 70 15 5 .278 14.4 9.6
Ryan McMahon 519 73 72 21 7 .251 13.6 7.1
Total 1083 144 142 36 12 .265 28.0 16.7

ATC$ is the computed 15 team 5×5 rotisserie value, and the Market$ is the market equivalent pricing gathered from the past two weeks of drafts. According to ATC, both third basemen was a huge drafting bargain – marking a distinct “hotspot” for the position.

A hotspot is a group of players who are similarly valued by the market, where each player is a potential bargain (an undervalued player) AND either

  • All play the same position
  • All have a similar base of projected statistics

Bohm is capable of an 80+ RBI season in the heart of the Phillies lineup. He has averaged 74 RBIs per 162 games for the start of his career. With a career batting average of .277 and a career BABIP of .334, he is capable of hitting .285+.

The big question for him is power; can Alec Bohm hit 20+ HRs?

I believe that he can. He hit 13 in 2021 – with just an 8.8% HR/FB ratio. He started out slow last year, but from July 1 on he hit 9 HRs; he has slowly been lifting his launch angle. Bohm homered four times this Spring [and once on opening day].

For Ryan McMahon, he has never hit the 25 HR mark – but came close twice with 24 in 2019 & 23 in 2021. He also had 9 HR in the 2020 short season – a 24 homer pace. With a small upwards FB% yearly trend – I believe that he can surpass that in 2023, and possibly hit 30 bombs.

As an aside, Colorado Rockies players should see an offensive boost this year due to better average park factors. We all know that they already play half of their games in the high altitude of Coors Fields, but for this year, their away games get a boost! They won’t have to play as many games against the Dodgers, Giants or Padres – instead, they will face more of the weaker central teams. They will also get the opportunity to play more games in some of the more offensive ballparks of the east.

That change alone could add a few homeruns for McMahon. He has also hit the ball harder than ever this spring training. Additionally, Ryan has told reporters that he will be making a deliberate effort for more power this year. That should well translate to a 25+ HR total, and as stated earlier, perhaps even 30+.

Look for big seasons from these undervalued third basemen.

#2: George Kirby will be a top 10 starting pitcher

Earlier this year, I put together a presentation for the PitchCon online conference presented by Nick Pollack and PitcherList. You can watch that full presentation here.

The talk that I gave centered around ATC Volatility Metrics. I spoke about how to use ATC Volatility Metrics (InterSD, InterSK, IntraSD) to generate risk adjusted auction prices for each player.

Can you guess which major league player garnered the largest parameter risk value upwards adjustment?

It is George Kirby.

The underlying projections surrounding Kirby’s ATC value are very tight [low InterSD]. Furthermore, projections are heavily negatively skewed; outlier projections sit on the low side [negative InterSK]. Finally, Kirby’s value is well-spread categorically [low IntraSD]. There is a smaller chance of full value collapse. All in all, Kirby deserves a price tag ~$2 greater than his projected value states.

Speaking of … Kirby’s 2023 ATC Projections compute to 156 IP, 154 K (24.1% K%), 11 W, 3.44 ERA, 1.16 WHIP. He is the 27th highest ranked starting pitcher, but I believe that he can make the jump into ace status. To do this, he needs to last in games a tad longer. He averaged just over 5 IP/GS in 2022.

Kirby is one of the best control pitchers in baseball with an average fastball of over 95 MPH. On the K-BB% leaderboard, he finished 23rd highest in 2022 at 20.5%. None of the top 22 players had a lower walk rate than Kirby’s stellar 4.1%. Now for 2023, George is adding a splitter to his already excellent repertoire.

I expect big things to come here … and quickly.

#3: Christian Walker will hit at least 40 HRs

Not bold enough you say? Sure it is! Most projection systems show just a 24-28 HR projection for the D-Backs first baseman.

Systems are obviously baking in heavy regression, as Walker hit for a career high 36 HR in the majors last season. But whereas projection systems seem to be banking on smaller homerun totals, perhaps there instead will be more growth.

Let’s take a look at some relevant power metrics for Walker from the past few seasons:

Christian Walker 2018-2022 Statistcs
Season AB HR SLG wRC+ FB% HR/FB Barrel% EV maxEV LA
2018 49 3 .388 61 51.9% 21.4% 14.8% 86.2 114.4 18.7
2019 529 29 .476 111 38.4% 20.1% 11.5% 91.1 112.4 14.7
2020 218 7 .459 110 33.9% 12.1% 6.4% 90.4 110.4 11.5
2021 401 10 .382 87 38.7% 8.7% 6.4% 88.8 111.1 15.6
2022 583 36 .477 122 44.2% 17.7% 11.5% 90.0 112.6 17.0

There are many underlying components to observe here. First, Walker’s FB% and HR/FB% in 2022 were up from the prior two seasons’ levels. That’s very encouraging. He’s also hitting nearly twice as many barrels. Add to that the launch angle rise … and we have the elements of a big power bat coming together.

His plate discipline has also nicely improved. He walked 69 times last year – good for a 10.3% BB% rate. His strikeout rate manged to dip to an excellent 19.6%. These are very strong contact skills.

I believe in Christian Walker. That and a former major leaguer tipped me off to his quest for 40 bombs.

#4: Jake McCarthy, Jorge Mateo and Esteury Ruiz will combine for at least 115 stolen bases

Wow! An average of almost 40 SBs per player for three players? There was only ONE player in all of the major leagues with more than 40 last season (Jon Berti). This one is bold indeed!

Let’s take a look at the ATC Projected stolen base totals for these speedsters:

2023 Projected Stolen Base Totals
Player SB
Jake McCarthy 31
Esteury Ruiz 30
Jorge Mateo 24
Total 85

The bold prediction of 115 SB is rather far off from the ATC projected stolen base total of 85 … a whole 35% higher!

Stolen bases are often more situation/manager driven than anything else. Players make a pre-determination to steal bases when the opportunity persists. I feel that for this trio – they will attempt to run as much as they can.

Jake McCarthy has a career 84% stolen base success rate. ATC projects him for 545 plate appearances – so he should get ample playing time. In fact, he will likely hit in the top third of the Diamondbacks lineup every day against right-handed pitchers. Should his career 7% walk rate and 23% K% rate persist, he will get many running opportunities in 2023. ATC projects him to hit for a lofty .263 BA.

Esteury Ruiz stole 86 bases between the majors and minors in 2022. No, that is not a misprint. Ruiz also stole 6 bases in Spring training – the 4th highest total in either the Grapefruit or Cactus leagues. We that know he will run at every chance he gets. The question is – will he get to first base, or will he morph into a poor man’s Billy Hamilton? He did have a ~.450 OBP in the minors last season, and the Athletics should be keen to give him plenty of playing time on an offensively strapped roster. I’m taking the over for this bold prediction.

Jorge Mateo finished as the American League stolen base leader in 2022 (2nd in the majors). I need not convince you of his ability to run. He’s a terrific fielding shortstop, and should play most days [despite his fielding error on opening day]. ATC projects him to play 106 games, but I would suspect that he will get closer to 125-140. He played 150 games last year despite a mere .267 OBP. The Orioles might be willing to sacrifice some on-base percentage for defense and dynamic speed just as they did last year.

In addition – there are the new major league baseball rules regarding the larger base sizes and limited pickoffs. These should directly provide extra attempts all around baseball, and in particular to my trio in this bold prediction.

#5: Kevin Gausman will finish in the top 2 in the AL Cy Young voting

Well, after I poorly declared that Eduardo Rodriguez will out earn Kevin Gausman in 2022, this year, I figured I should turn a full 180 degrees and make the opposite prediction.

After a career year in 2021 where Gausman earned $27 in roto value (15 team 5×5 format), the Blue Jays starter slipped to just a $9 accumulated value in 2022. The low rotisserie earnings was not the reflection of missed time (175 IP) or poor strikeout totals (205 K / 28% K%). His ERA in ’22 was fairly decent at 3.35. The problem wasn’t his control either; Gausman’s walk rate was a pristine 3.9%.

So what was the matter?

The issue was the number of hits allowed (188) which drowned his WHIP to a 1.24 mark – his worst since 2019.

What was the source?

Clearly, it was Kevin’s enormous .363 BABIP. Gausman had the highest BABIP of all qualified pitchers in 2022, and by a wide margin. The second highest mark was teammate Jose Berrios’s .328. Gausman’s problems might have been team systemic or ballpark related.

It certainly was prominent at his new home ballpark. Take a look at last year’s home/road splits:

Kevin Gausman 2023 Home vs. Road Statistics
Home 80.2 4.57 41 100 10 .305 .476
Away 94.0 2.30 24 88 5 .243 .331

The argument against declaring Gausman’s quick return to 2021 levels is simple – he’s still playing in Toronto. However, the Blue Jays have made a push this offseason to improve their team defense. They imported Kevin Kiermaier and traded for Daulton Varsho, thereby vastly upgrading their outfield coverage. They also changed some physical park dimensions. Perhaps, batted ball luck will also turn in his favor.

ATC already predicts Gausman to be the 14th best starting pitcher in baseball, and 6th in the American league. With some BABIP correction, defensive containment, and a potentially lofty win total propped up by a very good offensive – Gausman can make it to the level of super elite American League pitchers in 2023.

Wishing you a fantastic baseball season!

Ariel is the 2019 FSWA Baseball Writer of the Year. Ariel is also the winner of the 2020 FSWA Baseball Article of the Year award. He is the creator of the ATC (Average Total Cost) Projection System. Ariel was ranked by FantasyPros as the #1 fantasy baseball expert in 2019. His ATC Projections were ranked as the #1 most accurate projection system over the past three years (2019-2021). Ariel also writes for CBS Sports, SportsLine, RotoBaller, and is the host of the Beat the Shift Podcast (@Beat_Shift_Pod). Ariel is a member of the inaugural Tout Wars Draft & Hold league, a member of the inaugural Mixed LABR Auction league and plays high stakes contests in the NFBC. Ariel is the 2020 Tout Wars Head to Head League Champion. Ariel Cohen is a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA). He is a Vice President of Risk Management for a large international insurance and reinsurance company. Follow Ariel on Twitter at @ATCNY.

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2 months ago

Thanks for these well supported predictions.