Brad Johnson’s 10 Midseason Bold Predictions by Brad Johnson July 18, 2018 I was going to review my preseason bold predictions today, but that can be done in two words. “Too bold.” There. I’m done. Pleasure chatting. In lieu of reviewing mostly busted prediction updates, let’s make some new ones. 1. Manny Machado isn’t the top performing traded player With the possible (and unlikely) exception of Jacob deGrom, Machado is/was the biggest prize on the July trade market. The Dodgers have reportedly come to an agreement for him, scuttling the hopes of several other suitors – most notably the Phillies. Although Machado is the most talented, I predict that a different traded player will outperform him. Let’s use WAR rather than fantasy stats as our measuring stick. It’s easier. Basically, I’m suggesting some kind of Yangervis Solarte-ish guy will go nuts and/or Machado will take some time adjusting to his new digs. 2. Matt Olson Matt Olsons Last season, in 216 plate appearances, Olson hit 24 home runs. This year, he’s popped just 19 big flies in 397 plate appearances, a rate of about one homer every 20 plate appearances. Over the remainder of 2018, I’m predicting Olson to hit a home run every 12 plate appearances. That’s not quite his 2017 level of dominance, but I can’t very well predict him to hit only two doubles in the second half (which was how he accomplished his feat last year). Olson is among the leaders in hard contact rate as measured by FanGraphs. 3. Michael Conforto is a second half top 50 fantasy earner To date, Conforto has hit a tepid .216/.344/.366 with 11 home runs in 346 plate appearances. The problem, in my opinion, is that he came back from his major shoulder injury at least 150 plate appearances too soon. Now he has to shake off some bad habits. The good news is his plate discipline remains intact. The bad news is he’s traded liners/flies for ground balls – never a good deal. His hard contact rate is WAY down on the season. However, since the start of June, it’s been back to normal. 4. Regression hits Jesus Aguilar like a Mack truck I already wrote about this in detail. In short, there’s just too many ways for this to go wrong. 5. Ketel Marte has his breakout It’s already happening, currently disguised by a 92 wRC+. By the end of the season, we’ll be able to point to an over 130 wRC+ since the start of June with roughly as many walks as strikeouts and a 20 home run pace. That doesn’t make him Jose Ramirez, but it’s not bad from a waiver wire acquisition who flopped like a fish through April and May. 6. Denard Span, improbably, is the next breakout hitter with more walks than strikeouts Span has improved his plate discipline this season. For the first time, he has an over 10 percent walk rate. Span also has one of the best contact rates in the league. As he better learns to combine his two best traits, he’ll further stifle his strikeout rate (currently 15.8 percent). As part of the breakout, Span is making more hard and line drive contact than ever before. He’s on pace for a career high in home runs despite probably falling short of 500 plate appearances for the first time since 2011. 7. Kirby Yates is the top closer currently without the job I’ve said all year that the Padres are unlikely to trade Brad Hand. Time to take a step back on this claim. Hand’s modest struggles, ridiculous workload, and the emergence of Yates has changed the calculus. The Padres have an opportunity to add additional reinforcements while maintaining a potent bullpen. A new pitch has solved Yates’ home run problems. While 37.2 innings is a small sample with which to make that assertion, it’s backed up by a near-doubling of his ground ball rate. We’re likely to see considerable leaguewide closer turnover between now and the end of the season. As many as 15 teams could change closers. Yates will be the best of them. 8. Lucas Giolito is the second half most improved pitcher – and 12 team streamable To date, Giolito has posted a luck neutral 6.18 ERA (don’t believe me? 6.12 FIP, 6.20 xFIP, 5.94 SIERA). He’s allowed more runs and walks (including HBP) than strikeouts. He’s also shown some positive signs in recent outings. Hard contact has been few and far between. While he’ll still contribute the occasional stinker, I anticipate a more tolerable second half with a decent ERA and strikeout rate. He’ll be helped along by pitiful teams like the Royals. 9. Jon Gray is the most usefully improved pitcher – and 10 team ownable In the first half, Gray ran afoul of a .376 BABIP and 14.7 percent HR/FB ratio en route to a 5.44 ERA, 3.03 FIP, and 2.83 xFIP. He calls Coors Field home so regression in those luck indicators doesn’t mean he’ll actually brush a 3.00 ERA. His home park boosts offense way too much. However, the 11.33 K/9 and 2.72 BB/9 will finally begin to tell, leading to a mid-3.00s ERA, solid WHIP, and quite a few victories. Owners who buy low will be pleased. 10. Felix Pena busts loose I build these lists by sorting leaderboards of interesting stats. Pena keeps showing up in the top 30. While his high hard contact rate definitely concerns me, he mostly allows ground balls. I can forgive an extra single now and then, especially when regression is likely to work in his favor. His breaking ball, which might be a slider or curve per classification systems, is a potent strikeout pitch. The statistical profile reminds me of Zack Godley with better command. Although he looks like a fit for a relief role, the Angels need him to absorb innings. Fantasy owners will be rewarded with strikeouts aplenty and solid rate stats. Since he rarely throws much beyond the fifth inning, he won’t win many games.