Forgive me for some recycling some of last week’s introduction:
Back in March, I made some bold predictions, as all RotoGraphs staff do. Some bold predictions I make simply for the sake of being bold. Or for the sake of making a prediction. One of the two.
We don’t all review our bold predictions — some of us, like Mike Podhorzer, like to wait until October. Some of us don’t have the discipline for such delayed gratification. And, I speak for the group, whether they like or not, but all of us forget most our bold predictions anyway. I remembered a couple, but looking back on them — man, sometimes I wish I hadn’t.
Enough talk. Let’s dig in.
1) Nicholas Tropeano, Tyler Skaggs and Matt Shoemaker generate more value than Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago.
This prediction sucks and everything sucks. Skaggs and Wilson both haven’t thrown a pitch this year. In that sense, at least both sides of this prediction are still balanced.
And, fortunately, it’s pretty clear-cut, so I don’t have to do any funky calculations to determine aggregate value. Using ESPN’s Player Rater, Santiago and Tropeano had generated virtually equivalent fantasy values as of July 1 (scores of 0.49 to 0.50, respectively; Santiago’s July 2 start changed that, but Trop’s back up in the bigs to have a word about it). That leaves Shoemaker and Weaver, and it’s not even close: Shoemaker has been one of the best pitchers the last month-plus, whereas Weaver has been the 3rd-worst qualified starter by WAR (wins above replacement) all year. Santiago has been 4th-worst. What the hell is going on in Los Angeles of Anaheim? I could have used almost any other name in baseball and he will have been better than both Weaver and Santiago. Incredible.
And that’s kind of the point. The Old Guard of the Angels’ rotation is something not even the lowly Cincinnati Reds would envy. Meanwhile, Shoemaker shows no signs of slowing down and would have no problem out-producing Weaver and Santiago (and Wilson, were he to appear this season) by himself. I’ll admit, it’s more than I (or anybody) envisioned, but it’s not like Shoemaker never had promise, either.
2) Jose Berrios will be a top-30 starting pitcher.
This one hurts. Berrios, who has exhibited both excellent put-away stuff and excellent control for the last two years, looked like a lock to be the Minnesota Twin’s best starter (outside of Tyler Duffey, maybe). It wouldn’t be too impressive an accomplishment given the general disarray of the rotation, but still, as a 22-year-old rookie, it’s no small feat.
For whatever reason, Berrios’ control has evaded him. His walk rate skyrocketed, both at the Major League and Minor League levels. The .405 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and 61.5% strand rate (LOB%) are really unlucky, regardless of sample size, but he still didn’t resemble the budding ace I thought he would.
That’s not to say there’s not hope for the future. He’s only 22; he has plenty of time to pan out. If anything, this will certainly leave a bad taste in the mouths of many fantasy owners, dampening his price for next year. But for this year, the dream is all but shot. I’m calling it kaput, but it ain’t over ’til it’s over, right?
3) Devon Travis is a top-5 second baseman.
We need a lot more time for this to develop, but odds are Travis won’t pull this one off for me. Second basemen have hit to the tune of a 99 wRC+ this year — almost perfectly average, yes, but if the season ended today, it would be the most prolific offensive production by second basemen since 1924. The deck is inherently stacked against Travis, who missed the first two months while recovering from shoulder surgery.
At least Travis is doing what I expected: hit for a high average, flash moderate power, and occasionally swipe a bag. He’s hitting a few more fly balls, but the batted ball profile doesn’t quite support a high BABIP. Still, I have faith, for I once chronicled Travis’ very special batted ball skills. A dozen home runs, five steals, a .290 batting average in only a partial season? That’ll fly at second base for the rest of the season.
Too bad it won’t save me from me.
4) Dellin Betances is a top-50 pitcher, assuming zero saves.
What’s there to say about this dude? We’ve long past the point where we questioned if any of this was legit. The New York Yankees bullpen is a juggernaut. If the season ended today, the Yankees bullpen will have posted the best adjusted xFIP (xFIP-) for any bullpen since 2002 (aka dating back to when Baseball Info Solutions began tracking batted ball data, to my knowledge). The 24.2% K-BB would be unprecedented in baseball, although let’s not diminish the achievements of the Houston Astros’ bullpen this year as well.
But this isn’t about them. It’s about Betances, who currently ranks 90th on the Player Rater. He has a lot of ground to make up; I think he’ll have to vulture a few more wins, or maybe the field will collectively regress toward more normal performance. Until then, Betances will give you the best 90 innings of relief pitching that money can buy.
5) Manny Machado out-earns Nolan Arenado by 50 spots.
At least I admitted this was a stupid prediction. In hindsight, I don’t really know what I was thinking. I guess I just liked Machado a little more for his slightly better plate discipline. Oh, how the tables have turned — we haven’t seen this kind of plate discipline from a power hitter of Arenado’s caliber since, well, current David Ortiz, but also peak Albert Pujols. I don’t think Arenado is the next Pujols, but he’s doing a mighty fine impression in the meantime.
I also liked Machado because he ran wild last year. If he did anything remotely close to that this year, we wouldn’t be stuck in this dilemma:
That’s right: Machado and Arenado have generated perfectly equivalent fantasy values as of July 2. Pretty crazy. But give Machado maybe eight stolen bases — slightly less than last year’s pace up to this point — and Machado would be tied for 8th in overall value with Jake Arrieta, not tied for 24th with Arenado.
Obviously, if Arenado finishes the season roughly 25th, there’s no way this prediction hits. But I think the sentiment was on point, had Machado just run. Why aren’t you running, Machado? Why???
6) Austin Barnes is a top-15 catcher.
Barnes isn’t even a top-50 catcher, because he has seen all of 22 plate appearances at the Major League level this year. What’s he doing at Triple-A, though? Oh, just .293/.396/.402 with almost as many walks as strikeouts and 13 stolen bases. In only 218 plate appearances.
It’s a damn shame that A.J. Ellis and Yasmani Grandal are blocking Barnes’ way, but the former two are signed to one-year deals set to expire in the fall. The Los Angeles Dodgers could elect to not re-sign one of them, which I think would immediately elevate Barnes to top-10 status — maybe even top-5. He’ll hit for average with a little bit of pop, too, and he’ll run. Think 2002 Jason Kendall or maybe even 2005 Joe Mauer. (Ignore the fact that I just compared Austin Barnes to peak Joe Mauer.)
7) Kevin Pillar out-earns Starling Marte.
At least I can take solace in knowing that almost everything I said about Marte (at one point or another) is true. His power wasn’t legit, as he’s on a very typical Marte pace of 12 home runs in 600 plate appearances. And his plate discipline, while still good for him in terms of contact, is still pretty bad, especially now that he’s generating the worst walk rate (BB%) of his career.
Yet there he is, running like crazy, turning the close back to 2013. It’s not that long ago, I know, but Marte didn’t steal his 21st base last year until August 5. He’s spitting in the face of the traditional aging curve — a deeply upsetting truth with which my uncharacteristically sensitive bold prediction must grapple.
At least Pillar is doing something — seven home runs and stolen bases apiece ain’t bad, and he’s a fringe starting outfielder in standard formats.
8) Clay Buchholz is a top-20 pitcher.
Something I said once: “This will make Paul Sporer so mad.” He did try to warn me.
Another thing I said: “Buchholz has no one to beat but himself.” And boy, has he beaten himself.
I only have a few regrets, but one of them is drafting Buchholz. There was plenty of young talent from which to pick at the end of my draft; I ended up with a good staff anyway, but having Buchholz blow up my ERA and WHIP from the get-go was a discouraging way to start the season (and arguably it irreparably damaged my ratios).
The San Francisco Giants are an even-year team. Maybe Buchholz is an odd-year guy. He’s an odd guy, so that would make sense. That’s how that works, right?
9) Maikel Franco is the #1 third baseman.
Man, Franco is barely a top-30 third baseman. BABIP hasn’t liked him, and he has scored so few runs on a lowly Philadelphia Phillies squad. It was never in the cards — Franco hits relatively few line drives, pops up too much, and actually makes a lot of soft contact for a powerful kid. And that’s all before you add the Phillies to the equation.
You could consider him a buy-low opportunity, but his batted ball profile suggests there’s not a lot of, if any, BABIP regression on the way. Oh well.
10) Jose Ramirez is a top-15 shortstop.
I actually wrote an entire post about Ramirez last week because the last thing I needed was this post to crack te 2,500-word mark. So if you want my take on him, you can click here. Otherwise, just know that Ramirez is legit, and if you don’t have any shares of him and he’s still available in your league, you should snatch him up right away. If you don’t have room for him, consider making some.
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I’m projected, so to speak, to hit two predictions and miss eight. There aren’t really any that stand to be too close, although a Shoemaker injury would be devastating, as would Ramirez losing playing time when Michael Brantley returns from the disabled list. I guess we’ll know more in October.