Brandon Warne’s 10 Bold Predictions

I’ll be honest with you friends: I don’t love my bold predictions as much as I did last year. But I did spend a lot of time researching them so I think I have at least a somewhat decent statistical backing to what I see here.

And similarly, these aren’t bets I’d take with the money straight up. If I were in Las Vegas — perish the thought — I’d take these bets if I got pretty good odds. In spots where I don’t really have a strong fantasy angle — ROTOgraphs, after all — I’ll try throw in a little somethin’ somethin’ that I might see which could help.

1. Chris Parmelee leads the Twins in home runs.

The Twins offense could actually be pretty good. In my view the ‘second three’ will carry this offense wherever it goes. With the first three being Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Josh Willingham, the second three include Parmelee, Ryan Doumit, and Trevor Plouffe.

I’ll fully admit Parmelee could lead the Twins on a technicality; what are the odds Morneau and Willingham finish the season in Twinstripes? I don’t know. And if that happens, it boils down to Parmelee and Plouffe in the HR race, and I’ll often *hypothetically* bet against guys who mostly mash lefties in that instance.

Parmelee destroyed Triple-A sort of like Plouffe did in 2011, and as a former first-rounder, there’s plenty of talent there. What I see from Parmelee’s swing probably doesn’t lend to much more than 18-20 bombs — FG projection systems see this as the high-end — especially considering his home park, but it wouldn’t be a bold prediction if I didn’t go there, right?

2. The Cleveland Indians will make the playoffs.

Just on the basis of what this team now brings to the table defensively will help a ton, as the Indians brought in Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn. This gives the club immediate defensive cred, which was sorely lacking when the Tribe were -51 in defensive runs saved last season (third-worst in MLB). Then mix in Nick Swisher’s bat, Bourn’s legs, and some potential added help from Mark Reynolds and Mike Aviles, and I don’t think it’s such a huge reach to suggest the Indians will be markedly better in 2013. Of course, coming off a 68-94 season, markedly still might not mean enough.

Now the pitching won’t be amazing or anything, and I probably wouldn’t have given Brett Myers that contract necessarily, but this is the AL Central, where everyone after the Tigers is sort of jockeying for position around or just above the .500 mark for second place. And if the Tigers hiccup for any reason — let’s say an injury to one of their three elite players — that certainly opens the door for another team to jump into the fold. The second wildcard helps, too. As far as a roto angle goes here, I like Zach McAllister as a fantasy sleeper.

3. The Seattle Mariners finish ahead of one of the Rangers/Angels/A’s.

The rationale here is that I think the offense should improve both on the heels of players brought in, and the fences coming in. But I also think the pitching will stay ahead of the curve. I still think Felix Hernandez will be exactly who he has been, and with Joe Saunders, it’s awfully difficult for grounders to leave the yard. I’m a bit of a Hisashi Iwakuma fan, but I’m more excited for guys like Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton. Pitching is the future in the Emerald City.

On the offensive side, Mike Zunino and Nick Franklin don’t seem to be too far off. And it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, and Jesus Montero are any worse than they were last year. Even stagnant skills should hopefully result in *slightly* better stat lines with the new layout. That, or they’ll be shipped out (at least in the case of Smoak). I think Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales help more than hurt, and that’s more of an indictment on the 2012 roster than it is a nod to their individual skills. The construction of this team is ultra interesting, as it’s almost like they’re wearing hot cops uniforms, and can dispatch the goods from within at any given time. Yeah, I guess I just went there.

4. The best fantasy starter in the AL East will be….Jason Hammel?

Health willing, of course, but what’s not to like about the combination of strikeouts and groundballs? OK, so this one may be a reach, but he’s got a chance if you completely forget about Tampa Bay and Toronto, right? Powered by a rejuvenated two-seam fastball, Hammel’s 8.7 K/9 and 53.2% groundball rate would have been 19th (ahead of King Felix) and 11th (ahead of David Price) in those stats respectively had he qualified. A digital tip of the cap to the Orioles analytics department on that one. Hammel is of course a sleeper, but if he stays healthy it isn’t hard to see him taking another step forward in a durability sense. In the three years prior to 2012, he never threw fewer than 170 innings. At that inning count, he was on pace for a four-win season last year.

5. Trevor Cahill will win the NL Cy Young.

Cahill is sort of just a continuation of the last point I was making. But in all honesty, this is just a continuation of a three-year trend which has seen his whiff rate go from 5.4 –> 7.0, his groundball rate from 56.0% –> 61.2%, and his WAR from 1.8 to 3.0. Perhaps the most telling sign of improvement was Cahill generating a 9.3 swinging strike rate versus a career and 2012 mark of 7.6%. I have to believe that even regressing that for facing pitchers would still show some solid improvement in that respect.

And this is all while throwing +/- one start of 200 innings in each of those seasons. Cahill is an ever-improving horse who can survive in the desert because the infield is watered and he loves himself some worm burners.

6. Scott Kazmir begins and ends the season in the Indians rotation.

I had originally pegged this spot for Edinson Volquez to return to 2008 form, but after a bit more research, I don’t quite see it yet. Anyway, Mike Axisa noted in an internal conversation a few days ago that it was odd nobody — to that point, anyway — had mentioned Kazmir. So I’ll bite the bullet and suggest that I think he can hang in the Tribe’s rotation as the No. 5 starter. I don’t think it’s entirely far fetched, but I do think he’ll need some help to hold off Mr. Bauer as the season wears on. I do suppose a situation like this could arise if the Indians moved Myers to the bullpen in any event, but his contract doesn’t really lend itself to that. Of course with pitchers, there’s always the potential of injury as well. Still, baseball likes a good story and so do I. I would like to see Kazmir make it.

7. Marco Estrada will be every bit as good as Yovani Gallardo.

Last year I think I was accused of perhaps being a bit too safe with my predictions, but I don’t think that’ll happen this season. Gallardo is the most underrated pitcher in the NL in my view, but I do like what Estrada brings to the table. The strikeouts are nice, but I think the shaving of his walk rate to under 2 per 9 is what really flies under the radar. So 4.0-4.5 K/BB is what we’re working with here, which isn’t going to remind anyone of Cliff Lee but is still elite. Again, it’s entirely up in the air if it’s even remotely repeatable, as the onus is on Estrada — much like Carlos Villanueva — to prove they can do more than whiff a few guys. All the flyballs Estrada allows are A-OK with Carlos Gomez patrolling centerfield, so as long as he can keep them in the yard — 1.3 HR/9 career rate is certainly troubling — he should have some nice value. The past two seasons, in which Estrada has accumulated most of his career innings pitched, he’s been markedly better in that regard, so he seems to have a decent chance to stay under that career mark.

8. Francisco Liriano outpitches James McDonald.

This is strictly gut feel, as there’s probably no statistic in the world which would project Liriano to be successful — at least more so than McDonald — in the steel city. But what I do feel is that the biggest things for Liriano — strikeouts and walks — would stand to improve greatly from a jump to the NL. Similarly, at this point in his career I just sense that he’s a pitcher/player who could benefit from a change of scenery. Again, nothing statistical about that part, just that it has that sort of ‘feel’ to me, almost like A.J. Burnett getting out of the AL East.

9. Dexter Fowler pulls an Austin Jackson and sustains an overly-high BABIP.

While the .390 BABIP Fowler produced in 2012 isn’t likely to be sustainable, he does have a few nice things going for him that will help keep it high. First, his career mark is .353. This is aided by good speed, strong groundball tendencies, and at least in the case of 2012, very good line drive marks. Fowler was also just outside of the top-20 in infield hit rate last year, so he’s putting his wheels to good use by legging out about one in every 11 or 12 infield grounders. So while he still isn’t stealing the sheer number of bases that someone with his raw speed ought to, he is putting his legs to good use to get on base. The one spot where I would wager than Fowler does regress however is HR/FB rate, but when considering he still plays half his games at Coors Field, just about anything can happen if he gets a little added loft into his batted ball mix. I’m not convinced he will or should, though.

10. Kevin Slowey will be the most fantasy relevant starter in Miami.

With the fences coming in at Petco and Safeco, it wouldn’t stun me to see Miami become the most repressive run environment for home runs. And while part of that might come from Placido Polanco hitting cleanup, it’s still a pretty big park. Slowey immediately slots in as the No. 5 starter for the Fish, but I like what he’ll likely bring to the table in terms of probably a league-average whiff rate, solid walk rates, and with a career groundball rate of 31.6 percent, he can get all the fly balls in the world he wants in his new home digs with limited worry of repercussions.

Of course, most fantasy relevant in Miami is still not likely to be much more than deep league fodder, but I think his skillset is a bit more sustainable than Henderson Alvarez’, for instance. And I don’t see Ricky Nolasco improving a whole lot OR making it out of the season in a Marlins uni.

So those are my 10 bold predictions. What do you think?

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In addition to Rotographs, Warne writes about the Minnesota Twins for The Athletic and is a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

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Most bold of all FG pundits. Well done.