I love Bold Prediction season here at FanGraphs. Everyday I am hit with dozens of interesting, exciting and unique predictions, almost all of which will be wrong, but almost all of which will contain a nugget of truth that will make me a smarter fantasy player. Plus, I get to make crazy predictions!
But in looking back, I realized I have a tendency to be overly positive. In four years doing Bold Predictions, I have put out 33 positive posits and only seven negative notions. This year, we restore balance! One other change this year – I have been tracking the Bold Predictions of my fellow Rotographers, and any player I am predicting that they already predicted, I will be bolder.
Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way first.
1. Billy Hamilton steals less than 25 fantasy relevant bases. The concept of fantasy relevant stolen bases is one I think I am inventing right now, but I think it is a good one. Hamilton has stolen 56 and 57 bases in his first two full MLB seasons, and those numbers are even a little deflated because he missed nearly 50 games last year. He projects to be right around 60 again. But it turns out Hamilton is a fairly terrible hitter. Among players with 600+ PA total over the last two seasons (272 players), Billy Hamilton is tied for 12th lowest wOBA at .272. Among the players worse than him – an aging Ichiro, utility players like Alexi Amarista and Mike Aviles, the banished-to-AAA Mike Zunino, the banished-to-Arizona Jean Segura. Hamilton’s defense has kept him in the lineup, while the players around him in wOBA have flopped, but the Reds are in a rebuild and will want to see what they have in the youngsters. Over the course of the year, that means opportunities for Scott Schebler, Jake Cave, Jose Peraza, Jesse Winker and perhaps others. And that means fewer opportunities for Hamilton. If he can’t figure out how to hit, he’ll be relegated to a bench role by mid-season. And he may still steal 40 or more bases coming off the bench (he PH or PR four times last year and stole two bases), but you won’t be able to put him in your lineup daily, which means you won’t get credit for those stolen bases.
2. Zack Greinke ends up outside the top 30 SP. Greinke’s NFBC ADP is just under 35, making him the 8th SP off the board. I thought about saying he would be outside the top 20, but – let’s go crazy! In 2015, Greinke was insanely good, but he was also quite lucky. He set a career low in BABIP and his HR/FB rate was the lowest it has been since 2009. His BB% was the lowest since his rookie year (2004 – doesn’t it seem like he has not be around NEARLY that long? Remember when SEVEN YEARS stuck in Kansas City relegated you to complete non-entity status??). That happened even those his zone% dropped a bit, his HH% didn’t really change from the year before, and his FB% actually increased. So there is a lot of room for regression. He also moved to a worse park for pitchers in the off-season. He is also 32, so at the point of the career when we would expect some drop off in performance. And pitch-framing data says that he is taking a step down with a change in battery-mate, as well. To me, that all adds up to a guy who should be drafted around SP15, not SP8 – and I think he falls even further.
3. Jordan Zimmermann ends up outside the top 50 SP. Zimmernann’s NFBC ADP is 125, making him SP33, but like Greinke, people paying that price will regret it. Zimmermann saw his ERA, FIP, and xFIP all spike last year, but the spike looks less spike-y to me and more like a return to form. His K/9 was still higher than in 2011, 2012, or 2013. The ERA, FIP, and xFIP were all worse than those years, but much more in line with those years than with 2014. Despite that, Zimmermann was 32nd in Zach Sanders’s end of season SP rankings. The problem is, Steamer and ZiPS both think things are about to get worse – fewer Ks, more BBs, more HR, worse rates.
He is moving to a much tougher league (hello DH!). When former teammate Max Scherzer made the reverse change between 2014 and 2015, he saw his K/9 increase by .57, his BB/9 decrease by 1.23, his ERA drop by .36. I think 2015 was a pretty good reflection of Zimmermann’s true-skill level, but I also think things are about to get a lot harder for him.
4. Santiago Casilla finishes third in Saves – on the Giants. Casilla piled up 38 saves in 2015, easily leading the team. In 2014 Casilla and Sergio Romo were close – Casilla had 19, Romoe had 23. In 2013, Casilla was second, but had only two saves (Romo had 38). In 2012, Casilla was tops with 25 (Romo had 14). Casilla is also very much not the best arm in that pen. His 2014 FIP (3.18) is his best over that period, posting a 4.14 in 2012, 3.67 in 2013, and 3.63 last year. Romo had a rough 2014 (3.94 FIP) but posted 2.70, 2.85, and 1.91 the other three years. Hunter Strickland’s career FIP, in 58.1 IP, is 2.62 – better than Casilla has ever pitched. Casilla turns 36 in July, so I would not expect him to improve, either. Here is how I see this playing out. I think Casilla holds the job for a month or so, but struggles. The Giants, who have flipped between Casilla and Romo in the past do it again. Casilla leaves the job with 5-7 saves and Romo, the other guy with on-the-job experience in that pen, becomes closer. He piles up 10 or so saves the rest of the first half, before his significant L/R splits become an issue and the Giants determine he is better suited for a RH setup role (which he most definitely is). The relative-youngster Strickland takes over the job by mid-season, ends up leading the team in saves – and continues to lead the team in saves for the next few years.
5. Francisco Lindor is not a top 12 SS. Lindor is currently the 5th SS off the board at NFBC, behind only Carlos Correa, Troy Tulowitzki, Corey Seager, and Xander Bogaerts. And it is hard to blame owners excited after Lindor was the undisputed AL Rooke of the Year last year (undisputed by everyone who values defense even a little, except the voters, I guess), including a .313/.353/.482 line. The problem is that line is so far from sustainable it makes the Indians fan in me cry. His .348 BABIP was the highest he posted since low-A. His .482 SLG and .159 ISO are both higher than any numbers he posted in his entire minor league career. He had 12 HR in 99 games; his career best is 14 in a calendar year, but that was across THREE levels, including three home runs in the Arizon Fall League, six in AA, and 5 in AAA. I’d comfortably draft Addison Russell and Marcus Semien ahead of him. And I think enough players out of Brandon Crawford, Jose Reyes, Ketel Marte, Brad Miller, Eugenio Suarez, Trevor Story, Jonathan Villar, Elvis Andrus, Alcides Escobar, and Zack Cozart, among others, will play well enough to push Lindor down.
Phew, done with being down. On to happier thoughts! And, picking up where we left off…
6. Eugenio Suarez is one of the SS to surpass Lindor, going 15/10 with 70+ R and RBI, and solid rates. In his MLB career, Suarez has 675 PA (a single season for a top-of-the-order regular) with 17 HR, 7 SB, 75 R, 71 RBI, and a .265/.315/.403 line. Nothing in that line looks unsustainable to me, either. In fact, based on his minor league numbers, I’d expect a decrease in K% and uptick in BB% this year. Last year, only six SS (Correa, Crawford, Ian Desmond, Jung-Ho Kang, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Semien) went 15/5 or better. Of those, only Correa, Kang and Cabrera hit .265 or better. Of those, not one had 70 R and 70 RBI (though I think we can safely assume Correa would have). I think Suarez hits all those numbers in 2016.
7. Carlos Santana returns great value, ESPECIALLY in OBP leagues. Carlos Santana is the 18th 1B off the board by NFBC ADP, and Zach Sanders had him as the 18th best 1B in 2015. 2015 was, to put it kindly, not Santana’s best work. He still managed a .357 OBP, but 19 HR was a big drop from 2014 and his .231 AVG was a career low. His SLG plummeted. He only managed to return “starting CI value” because he somehow stole 11 bases, after having 11 in the previous three years COMBINED. But Santana also had a back issue that nagged him throughout 2015 and is supposedly cleared up now. He has been moved to a near-full-time DH, which means he won’t be trying to learn a new position again this year, which hampered him in 2014. The result? He’ll be a top 12 1B, top 8 in OBP leagues.
8. Freddie Freeman is a top-6 1B. Freeman is currently the 11th 1B off the board, and I am thrilled to grab him there. Freeman provides excellent batting average and has shown flashes of decent power. Last year, he had a couple of injuries, both of which are power-sappers, but he made a lot of hard contact (and almost no soft contact), and still managed 18 HR in under 75% of a season. Fully healthy and not yet 27-years-old, Freeman is about to stop up in a big way. He’ll cross the 25 HR barrier and with the rates he provides on top of that (especially in OBP leagues) you’ll regret taking the likes of Eric Hosmer, Adrian Gonzalez, and Prince Fielder ahead of him.
9. Wilson Ramos his .270 with 20 HR. Last year, Ramos hit .229 with 15 HR, so this would be a sizable jump. But in 2014 he hit .267 with 11 HR in just 88 games. In 2013, he hit .272 with 16 HR in 78 games. So what this relies on is probably three things. First and foremost, the oft-injured Ramos must stay healthy. Catchers never play 162 games, but he needs to push towards 120-130, not 80-100. Second, his BABIP needs to be not awful. His .281 career BABIP is pretty uninteresting, but it sheds some light on his .256 BABIP in 2015 and suggests there is plenty of room for a bounce back. Third, his HR/FB rate needs to increase. That power-heavy 2013 season included a 27.6% HR/FB rate, but his career rate is 16.4%. The difference is mostly in his Hard Hit rate, which jumped over 40% in 2013 but has been under 30% most of the rest of his career. A slight uptick there could drive the HR/FB rate up a bit, as well.
10. Pedro Alvarez leads the AL in HR. Going out with a bang! His new teammate, Chris Davis, paced the AL with 47 last year and is projected (based on depth charts) to do the same this year (with 41). Alvarez is projected for 29 HR in 518 PA. Last year, in 491 PA, he hit 27, so you can see where 29 in 518 is coming from. But he is also moving from a brutal power park for lefties to a top-5 power park for lefties. To be honest, my original plan was to project 35 HR from the Oriole masher, but Scott Spratt already pegged him to be the team-leader and, as noted at the top, if I am repeating a player, I need to be BOLDER. I think this qualifies.
Bonus – Predictions I planned to make but someone else beat me to it or out-bolded me: Marcus Semien goes 20/20; Carlos Carrasco is the #1 SP in fantasy; Marcell Ozuna smacks 25 HR, so does Jonathan Schoop; Clay Buchholz cracks the top 30 SP; Bradley Zimmer cracks the top-50 OF; Jose Ramirez goes 10/20; Leonys Martin steals 30+.
Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.