Woof! That’s all there is to say about my preseason bold predictions as a whole. The idea was to take players at each position that I had ranked just outside starter territory in 12-team leagues who I thought could beat my ranking. Let’s break them down one by one.
Catcher – Josmil Pinto will be a top ten fantasy catcher.
The biggest problem with my Pinto projection was that I projected him for 450 PA. Pinto didn’t come close to that, finishing with just 194 PA because the Twins gave Kurt Suzuki 502 PA. The one thing my projection did get right was Pinto’s power as he hit 12 home runs in limited work. Had he maintained that pace and received the 450 PA I projected, he would have hit 16 home runs, which would have easily surpassed the 12 I projected. Pinto’s power would make him interesting if he could get regular playing time, but Suzuki is signed through 2016 in Minnesota.
First Base – Brandon Belt will finish as a top ten fantasy first baseman.
Again, playing time was the biggest problem with this prediction. But Belt didn’t get displaced, he was just hurt for large portions of the season. And like Pinto, Belt hit for quite a bit of power in limited work with 12 home runs in just 232 PA. If he’d maintained that pace and reached 600 PA, he would have hit 31 home runs. His HR/FB was a little high, so he probably would have slowed off that pace. But the reason I liked him to begin with was that I thought his batted ball distance might lead to some of his doubles (39 in 2013) turning into home runs. To some degree that was happening. With his price likely depressed next year because of the injuries, I’ll bet on that power returning good value.
Second Base – Neil Walker will finish as a top ten fantasy second baseman.
Hey alright! Got one right. Walker went off the board on average as the 18th 2B in ESPN.com leagues and finished 10th at the position according to ESPN’s player rater. The main reason I highlighted Walker was that my projection for him looked very similar to that of Ben Zobrist, but Zobrist was going roughly 150 picks before Walker. Because Walker had the highest HR/FB rate of his career, he hit a few more home runs than expected and ended up being more valuable than Zobrist this year.
Third Base – Brett Lawrie finishes as a top eight fantasy third baseman.
When I wrote about Lawrie in May, I talked about how more fly balls and a return of some stolen bases were key to his fantasy success. We got the fly balls. His fly ball rate was almost 40 percent after being in the 30-34% range the two years prior. That led to Lawrie hitting 12 home runs in just 282 PA. But we didn’t get the steals as Lawrie didn’t attempt a single steal this year. But it wouldn’t have mattered since Lawrie only got those 282 PA. He actually had a season fairly similar to Belt’s. And like Belt, the power is encouraging and could come at a discount next year because of the injuries this year.
Shortstop – Brad Miller is a top ten fantasy shortstop.
Like several others above, Miller didn’t get as many plate appearances as expected. But unlike the others, Miller didn’t get as much work as expected because he wasn’t very good. Miller did manage to get more than 400 PA, but he would have been to the plate a lot more if he had hit better than .221. The poor batting average was due in part to his strikeout rate being much higher than it was in his 2013 debut. But a .268 BABIP also had something to do with it. The good news was that his power held, and he hit 10 home runs in 410 PA. If he were to cut down on the strikeouts, see his BABIP bounce back a little and be the regular shortstop again next year, he could have value.
Outfield – Ryan Braun will be the second most valuable fantasy hitter.
This didn’t come close to happening as Bruan finished 61st among hitters on the player rater. To put up a defense to this bad call, I’ll just say that Steamer and ZiPS had Braun finishing with more home runs, runs and RBI per plate appearance than my projection, which was .300, 27 HR, 20 SB, 100 RBI and 94 R. The other projection systems were also with me on the average and speed. But we were all wrong. I was wrong.
Justin Ruggiano is a top 40 fantasy outfielder.
Having Ruggiano projected to go 20/20 was admittedly absurd, but he did provide multi-category production in his 250 PA with a .281 average, 6 HR, 2 SB, 29 R and 28 RBI. Unfortunately, he never worked his way into an everyday job in the Chicago outfield, and an injury knocked him out for the final five weeks of the season. Ruggiano is eligible for arbitration again this offseason, so he should be back in Chicago next season. I won’t go as nuts on him again, but he should be a solid NL-only target.
Chris Young is a top 60 fantasy outfielder.
Young produced value similar to what Ruggiano produced, which wasn’t anything close to a top 60 outfielder. But like Ruggiano, Young did provide some balanced production with 11 HR and 8 SB and 39 R and 38 RBI. The reason he wasn’t much more valuable than Ruggiano is because he only hit .218. Young will be a free agent this offseason, and his only hope for fantasy value in 2015 is landing with a team with an outfield situation bad enough for him to have an every day job.
Starting Pitchers – Clayton Kershaw will be the second most valuable fantasy player overall.
It’s nice to get this one exactly right. Although to be fair, I thought it would be Mike Trout ahead of Kershaw, not Jose Altuve. Come to think of it, having Altuve finishing as the most valuable fantasy player would have been a hell of a bold prediction.
Kluber finished fourth among starters on ESPN’s player rater, which makes this prediction feel anything but bold in retrospect. Thankfully, Porcello just cracked the top 50, finishing 49th among starters. Unfortunately, Porcello didn’t finish in the top 50 by maintaining the swinging strike and strikeout rate gains he made in 2013. The fact that he finished as well as he did despite those declines makes him an excellent candidate for a longer look later this offseason.
All in all, three out of ten bold predictions were correct, which is exactly the batting average I had in 2013. Considering only 14 of 147 qualified hitters hit .300 this year, I must be one of the best at making predictions. Because predicting fantasy sports is just as hard as hitting major league pitching.