I did not pack quite enough boldness into my Bold Predictions column, so I am branching out into a second column. This time around, I’ve got fewer predictions but I’m going more in-depth for these final ones.
I could just go with the short versions for my final two predictions: I’m not a Belieber, and it could be a new dawn for Orlando Arcia. But I’ll explain why I’m bearish on a top 40 starting pitcher in ADP but intrigued by a shortstop being drafted outside the top 400.
Prediction: Shane Bieber will get dropped in more than half of the 12-team mixed leagues in which he is drafted.
So if you read my initial Bold Predictions piece, you know that I argued that Anibal Sanchez showed an ability to be an extremely good preventer of hits on balls in play last season. He was so adept at getting weak ground ball contact that, even with some regression, I expect him to have yet another BABIP that is much lower than average. If I can give credit to Sanchez for being good at avoiding hits on balls in play, shouldn’t I also give credit to Bieber for being a liability in this regard?
Whereas Sanchez consistently located both his changeup (.202 BABIP) and cutter (.240 BABIP) on the lower edge of the strike zone, Bieber often left his fastball right in the center of the zone. Of pitchers who threw at least 1500 pitches overall last season, only Rich Hill and Nathan Eovaldi left a higher percentage of their offerings in the heart of the zone than Bieber did (per Bill Petti’s Edge% tool).
Statistically, Bieber was the anti-Anibal. While Sanchez was inducing all kinds of soft grounders, Bieber was compiling the 10th-highest average exit velocity on ground balls (86.8 mph) among the 139 pitchers who allowed at least 300 batted balls last season. These were generally not easily-fielded pulled grounders either. Of 113 pitchers who allowed 150 or more ground balls, Bieber’s pulled grounder rate (49.1 percent) was the 14th-lowest.
As a rookie, Bieber assembled a profile of a pitcher who is going to give up more than the normal share of hits on balls in play, but as a sophomore who will turn 24 in May, he could be due to improve. That doesn’t mean he’s a lock to improve. No rookie starter in this decade (min. 100 innings) has come within 17 points of Bieber’s .356 BABIP, so there are no ideal comparables, but if we look at the next eight pitchers in the rankings (excluding rookies from last season), the picture is not all that encouraging.
|Pitcher||Rookie Season||Rookie BABIP||Sophomore BABIP|
|Archie Bradley||2016||0.338||Moved to bullpen|
|Michael Lorenzen||2015||0.322||Moved to bullpen|
While these data are not conclusive (and we should take the stats from House’s and Duffy’s small sophomore year samples with a huge grain of salt), they also raise a caution flag for any of us who are tempted to just assume BABIP regression is on the way. None of the projections published here on FanGraphs for Bieber have him pegged for a BABIP above .322, and only ZIPS has him projected for 160-plus innings. If Bieber does not have massive regression from last season’s BABIP, he is at risk of posting a 4.00-plus ERA and a WHIP in the vicinity of 1.25. It’s hard to see how he is a top-60 starter if that happens.
Prediction: Orlando Arcia will have more Roto value than Eduardo Escobar.
This prediction is not a reaction to Arcia’s red-hot 2018 postseason. That would be silly. It’s in response to his postseason and his strong September, during which he batted .329 with eight doubles.
I realize that sounds just as ridiculous, but it’s not so much that I think Arcia showed he can take the next step in his power hitting or proved himself to be an entirely different player. Those final weeks of his 2018 season, however, can serve as a reminder of the player Arcia seemed to be developing into just two seasons ago. In 2017, he was a steal shy of a 15-15 season, and in being above-average in making contact and getting hits on balls in play, he batted .277.
As an all-fields hitter with decent speed, there is no reason why Arcia couldn’t hit .280 or higher in 2019, particularly if he carries over some of the improvement in his strikeout rate from last September and October (13.8 percent). If he can simply manage a dozen homers and steals apiece, that should give him more value in 5×5 Roto leagues than Escobar, who doesn’t run much and is due for some batting average regression after putting up his highest line drive rate for a full season (24.8 percent).
As of this writing, Escobar has the 18th-highest ADP among shortstops on FantasyPros (173.0). Unless you need home runs more than stolen bases, why use a pick on a shortstop or middle infielder that early in the draft, when you can draft Arcia practically at will (444.0 ADP)? Granted, it is something of a gamble to forego Escobar for Arcia when you can’t be sure that Arcia won’t revert back to a higher strikeout rate or a lower BABIP. We should also remember that Arcia is 24 this season, and he could improve to the point where he would be notably better than he was in 2017. The late rounds are a good time to take risks, and gambling on Arcia could conceivably mean yielding the upside of a .290 hitter with home run and stolen base totals in the upper teens.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.