Yep, that’s right. It’s bold predictions season. Unless you’re a newbie, you already know how this game is played. I predict 10 things I think are plausible but unlikely to happen. I’ll be aiming for a 20 to 30 percent success rate. You comment about how I wasn’t bold.
Last year, I did an informal experiment. I found I was more accurate when making negative predictions. Thus, to increase the difficulty level, here are 10 positive predictions.
1. Trout hits at least 50 home runs
I know, I know. Predicting feats of awesomeness from Mike Trout is totally gauche. Unarguably the best player in the league, he’s never hit more than 41 home runs in a season (2015). Last year, injuries short circuited his 45 homer pace.
Trout’s success can be tied to an unassailable ability to make adjustments. When he was susceptible to high pitches, he adjusted. When he scuffled against certain breaking balls, he adjusted. With the air ball revolution in full swing, do you really believe he won’t adjust again?
Lowering the right field fence at Angels Stadium can’t hurt.
2. Pre-Injury Freeman returns
Before landing on the disabled list with a wrist injury, Freeman was batting .341/.461/.748 with 14 home runs and a 203 wRC+ in 165 plate appearances. Since 2000, there have been four qualified player seasons with a 200 wRC+ or higher. They all belong to the same guy. You know who.
I’m not quite predicting Freeman to exceed a 200 wRC+. The Braves lineup is… incomplete. It’s too easy for pitchers to simply avoid him if he’s hitting this well. Instead, I’m calling for a still gaudy 190 wRC+. In recent memory, only 2015 Bryce Harper and 2013 Miguel Cabrera were more mashtastic.
I’ll add one caveat. Freeman does not need to qualify for the batting title. If a shark eats his leg in May and he has a 190 wRC+, then I still win.
Enough stars, let’s move onto a more obscure hitter.
3. Joseph hits 20 home runs
During the winter of 2016, I wrote about Tommy Joseph and Gregory Bird in the same context. As pull contact, fly ball hitters with plenty of hard contact, they’re decent bets for a surprise 40 home run season.
In one sense, this is a very un-bold prediction. Joseph has 43 career home runs in 880 plate appearances including over 20 in each season he played. He can definitely supply this modest power prediction. But will he have the opportunity?
The Phillies gave up on Joseph, recently designating him for assignment. Gamble #1: Somebody claims Joseph. If he’s outrighted to Triple-A, this prediction is dead in the water. Still, nobody is going to hand him a starting job after batting .240/.289/.432 in 533 plate appearances. Gamble #2: He lands in a situation – probably in the American League – where he can start at least 100 games at first base and designated hitter.
4. Fowler pulls a Pham
Last season, Tommy Pham surprised with the world with 23 home runs, 25 stolen bases, and a .411 OBP. This year, I’m predicting similar production from teammate Dexter Fowler. The outfielder quietly improved his quality of contact and fly ball rate last year. The surge was hidden by some early-season BABIP issues and an injury.
In fact, over his final 260 plate appearances (i.e. from June 11), Fowler hit 10 home runs, stole four bases in seven attempts, and posted a .400 OBP. This year, I’m predicting 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and a .390 OBP. The stolen bases are likely the biggest challenge for soon-to-be 32-year-old.
5. DeShields scorches Earth
I suspect ambitious projections for DeShields will prove popular in this Bold Predictions series. A new full time leadoff role and a decent OBP should parlay into plenty of opportunities.
I’m calling for more than 70 swipes. Even with Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon hanging around the base paths, nobody has exceeded 75 stolen bases since 2007. That was Jose Reyes’ best season. No other base thief has crossed the 70 steal plateau in the current millennium. Jacoby Ellsbury and Scott Podsednik each had a 70 steal season.
DeShields only nabbed 29 bases in 37 tries. That’s a pace of about 45 steals in a 700 plate appearance season. He’ll need to really step up his game.
Time for pitchers.
6. Arrieta for Cy
I’ll admit it, I’m a little overexposed to Phillies hype. The latest batch after the signing of Jake Arrieta has proven infectious. As an analyst, it’s easy to point to the red flags and say “whoa, scary.”
For a bolder flavor, I’m predicting a top five Cy Young finish for Arrieta. With his free agent payday in hand, we’ll witness the return of his insane cutter-slider combo. He’ll rebound from negative trends in his ground ball rate and velocity.
7. Johnson records 15 saves
Yeah, a Jim Johnson sighting in a bold predictions column. After a successful 2016 campaign, he entered the 2017 season as the Braves closer. Predictably, he flopped.
Do you know where he’s playing now? He’s an Anaheimish Angel. Mike Scioscia bullpens are typically the bane of fantasy baseball. Cam Bedrosian and Blake Parker are the current top closer candidates. Both pitchers have… issues.
Scioscia has a long history of turning to middling veterans when in a pinch. Last year, journeyman Bud Norris was their front line reliever. It’s not so ridiculous to suspect Johnson will get a shot if/when Bedrosian fumbles. The bolder portion of this prediction is Johnson holding onto the job long enough to accrue more than a handful of saves.
Notice, I did not predict Johnson would be good.
8. Hum Hum Humidor
The Diamondbacks have a nice-looking rotation – even if Zack Greinke is trolling us about his velocity. With an assist from the humidor, I predict their entire Opening Day rotation to post below a 3.25 ERA. Last season, only Grienke and Robbie Ray exceeded that number. Zack Godley and Taijuan Walker had mid-3.00s ERAs while Patrick Corbin finished with a 4.09 mark. Notably, he was much better in the second half.
By earned runs, the Dodgers had the best starting rotation with a 3.39 ERA. I’m not predicting these five Diamondbacks to stay healthy, only that they’ll look like the best rotation in the National League when they are all on the field.
9. McCullers busts loose
The Astros rotation is pretty ridiculous. It’s the best unit since the Phillies formed Voltron in 2011. In terms of projection, McCullers is probably the fifth best starter on the club. I’m predicting him to take a BIG stride forward. By weaponizing his changeup (don’t hold me to that), he’ll finally start lasting deep into his starts. He’ll finish the season as the Astros ace.
10. BMac wins 12 games
Health is not Brandon McCarthy’s friend. And yet, here I am basically projecting a full healthy season. The wily veteran is a good fit for the prospect-heavy Braves rotation. He can fill a player-coach-mentor role for the kiddies while flummoxing his NL East competition.
McCarthy, 34, has never won more than 10 games. He hasn’t thrown more than 100 innings since 2014.
11. BONUS: Franco will Encarnacion… some day
This is a standing prediction. Edwin Encarnacion didn’t break out until his age 29 season. Maikel Franco is only 25. He’s still playing for his first team. Once he’s bounced around a roster or three, it’ll be time to grab some ultra-bargain shares. A stint in Asia feels appropriate.
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