Despite no longer truly being a part of the RotoGraphs family, Eno Sarris was
kind foolish enough to allow me a guest spot among these lovely digital pages. That’s right folks, brought back by no-so-popular-demand, here are my 10 Bold Predictions for the 2016 Season! After posting dismal results in both 2013 and 2014, I came to life and nailed four of my 10 picks last year. Buckle up, because here comes the fun!
1. Jake Arrieta finishes the season outside the top-15 for SPs in 5×5
This isn’t a knock on Arrieta so much as it is a compliment to the other top arms. I think most would agree Kershaw is the clear No. 1, followed in some order by Sale, Scherzer, Arrieta, Mad-Bum, Greinke, Price, Cole, Harvey, deGrom, Kluber and Strasburg. After Kershaw, that is 11 excellent hurlers, and I didn’t even get to Thor, Archer, Carrasco, Felix, Cueto et al. I don’t see Arrieta repeating his historic second half, particularly the .205 BABIP and 88.2 percent LOB%. The defense behind him did get better with Addison Russell taking over shortstop duties from Starlin Castro in early August, yet that wouldn’t explain all of the BABIP difference, let alone Arrieta’s 0.17 HR/9 in the second half. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Arrieta in the 11-15 range come the end of the season, but he’s being drafted as the third or fourth best pitcher, in my opinion largely on the back of numbers no human could repeat. He still has a great swinging strike and K rates, however the top of the SP pyramid is awfully crowded. Of course, when the Cubs offense helps power him to 25 wins, feel free to make fun of this pick.
2. Jake Odorizzi breaks out and becomes a top-20 starter in 5×5
It may sound weird counting on Arrieta falling and Odorizzi rising, but here we are. Currently being drafted as the 42nd starter off the board according to NFBC, I’m buying all the Odorizzi stock wherever I can. I’m a sucker for his 10.1 percent swinging strike rate and I adore a good splitter, and thus my affection of Odorizzi was bound to happen after he added the pitch to his repertoire. Sprinkle in a great defense behind him as well as a favorable park for pitchers and I see a big year in his age-26 season. Despite being a right-hander, he’s had a harder time getting right-handed hitters out than lefties during his career. I’m counting on his cutter — which he used 25 percent of the time against righties while going to it a mere 1.5 percent of the time against lefties — will be enough to help keep same-handed batters in check, along with his fastball and splitter. He tossed those three pitches more than 90 percent of the time when facing a righty (45 percent fastball, 20 percent splitter and the previously mentioned 25 percent cutter), so perhaps going to his slider a bit more could elevate his whiff rate and thus strikeout rate against righties.
3. Denard Span scores 100 runs
One of several free agent signings by the Giants, I’m expecting Span to step into leadoff duties almost immediately. The team still has Angel Pagan as a possible leadoff competitor to Span, yet given Pagan’s spotty injury history as well as Span’s 22 point OBP lead when comparing career rates makes me think Span will get the nod. Hitting in front of Panik, Duffy, Posey, Pence and Belt should push Span to the century mark for runs scored the first time in his career. Last year the Giants posted a 107 wRC+ as a team, best in the National League and trailing only the home run mashing Blue Jays in all of baseball. I’m a bit concerned about the hip surgery that ended Span’s season in late August, so I’ll say this: If Span plays in at least 140 games, he’ll score 100 runs. The 140 game plateau is one he’s reached four times since 2009, his first full season in the big leagues.
4. John Jaso stays relatively healthy and posts a career high in PAs
The loss of his catcher eligibility stings, however not getting roughed up behind the plate will hopefully help keep him in the lineup. Jaso suffered a concussion and concussion symptoms for most of the 2014 and 2015 seasons, though now it seems he’ll be healthy heading into the season. He’s currently outfield eligible in most leagues, having gathered eight starts there last year, yet the Pirates will use him as their primary first baseman. For fellow OBP leaguers, Jaso has been a great late round pick for years and he’ll join a Pittsburgh team that outscored the Rays by more than 50 runs if we’re comparing his recent teams. Jaso, despite his corner position and slow foot speed probably fits best atop the Pirates lineup, and he may get a chance to shine from atop the lineup. For now (at least in OBP leagues) Jaso should tally plenty of walks and his share of runs. If healthy, he’ll reach the 450 PA mark, even if he’s limited to a platoon role thanks to the David Freese signing. That he needs a mere 405 trips to the plate to set a career high speaks to the possibility of this prediction being right, and just how unhealthy Jaso has been over his career.
5. Marcus Semien posts a top-150 5×5 season
A 15-10 season from Semien in his rookie season was overshadowed by another number: 35, the number of errors the then 24-year-old shortstop posted throughout the year. Defense doesn’t matter in fantasy baseball (well, usually) and on top of that, I’m not a fan of errors in the real world, but that is neither here nor there. Semien’s power is legit and I see him at least repeating the home run total, on top of that I’m counting on a bit more consistency from him this year. While realizing “consistency” is a broad statement, Semien posted four above average months according to wRC+ last year, but cratered hard in June and and July, hitting for a 59 and 26 wRC+ in those two months respectively. As the brilliant and handsome Owen Watson pointed out, Semien’s offensive collapse followed a similar timeline to the A’s hiring Ron Washington to help address Semien’s defense, and Watson dives into the numbers a bit deeper so I strongly encourage you to read that. The gist of it is Semien was really good at the plate for two months, then really bad, then really good. To put things to numbers, Semien has an chance at a 20-15 season. Additionally, both ZiPS and Steamer see small to moderate improvements in his BB% and K%, leading to better rate stats and possible chances to run. I’m all in on Semien breaking out this year.
6. Domingo Santana leads the Brewers in home runs
Even after Ryan Braun powered 25 dingers and newly acquired first baseman Chris Carter launched 24 in Houston last year, I still like Santana to lead the way in Milwaukee. It’s more a question of playing time for Santana rather than ability as the various projection system are expecting 19-26 home runs from Santana, depending on playing time. For a hitter with a decent shot at 20 home runs and a fairly clear path to playing time, I’m surprised to see a 298 ADP for Santana, even with his strikeout rate woes and low batting average. I suppose Rymer Liriano could sap some PAs from Santana, but I think the right field job is mostly Santana’s.
7. Arodys Vizcaino leads the Braves in saves
I kind of hate saves for a variety of reasons, yet as long as they’re a cornerstone of standard fantasy baseball, so it goes. The Braves — similar to my A’s, sigh — probably aren’t going to be contending this year, so it would stand to reason for Atlanta to trade their veteran closer, thus opening the door for Vizcaino. I suppose an injury to Jason Grilli would open the same door, but no one wants to predict an injury. Vizcaino could shave off a walk to really up his game — though which reliever could that NOT be said for — and if he gets the closing gig, the saves + his strikeout per inning rate should more than offset any issues his WHIP might bring.
8. Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff combine for at least 320 strikeouts
Between Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues, Eickhoff tallied 175 strikeouts and Nola chipped in 160 across the same three levels. Add the two numbers and you get 335, so yes, my prediction is for fewer strikeouts than what the duo posted last year, but I don’t think I need to explain there is a difference between hitters in the minors and the big leagues. This prediction is more a bet on their health and minor league track record, as I’m pretty high on both of them. Nola is currently the 61st pitcher off the board with Eickhoff being the 89th, at picks 235 and 335 respectively, and I think that’s a bit low on both. I’m not concerned about innings limits on either pitcher as both threw more than 180 innings last year. Both have been all but formally announced as members of the rotation right out of spring training. Eickhoff posted the strong SwStr% of the two last year, however Nola’s curve and change both grade out stronger to some. Either way, drafting both players at their current ADPs should provide more than decent results.
9. Michael Conforto leads the Mets in homers
If my previous team-leader prediction wasn’t bold enough, and to be honest, I’m not sure if it’s terribly bold either, this one may offset it. Contenders to lead the Mets in dingers is Yoenis Cespedes, Lucas Duda and Curtis Granderson, all who hit at least 26 last year. I’m buying Conforto’s power as he did pop 21 homers across three levels last season, including nine in just 194 big league plate appearances. His 288 foot average fly ball distance compares well enough with Cespedes’ 294, Duda’s 287 and Granderson’s 290 according to Baseball Heatmaps. For someone who is being picked as the 50th outfielder off the board and around 200 overall, I love Conforto’s current price versus what I think he can produce.
10. Four Koreans finish in the top-150 in 5×5 leagues
I did an A’s homer pick, so why not a South Korea homer pick as well? My countrymen who could make this bold prediction come true are Shin-soo Choo, Hyun-jin Ryu, Jung-ho Kang, Byung-ho Park and Hyun-soo Kim. With Ryu and Kang likely to miss some opening weeks of the season, really only Choo is a safe bet here, and even then his ADP is 141. Kang rates as the 170th pick, Park gets drafted around 185th, Ryu is down at 285 and Kim trails at 294.
You can catch David spouting off about baseball, soccer, esports and other things by following him on twitter, @davidwiers.