Dylan Higgins’ and Matt Dewoskin’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2017

Matthew Dewoskin and I are the hosts of the Field of Streams podcast here at RotoGraphs during the season, but we wanted to get in on the excitement that is Bold Predictions once again after we had a respectable showing in 2016. Like last year, we will each pick five.

Bonus prediction: the show will be back starting on Sunday, running twice a week with pitcher and hitter picks from each of us for every day of the season. Additionally, Matt will be getting a break from his White Sox and covering the Brewers at Reviewing The Brew.

1. Matt: Rougned Odor doesn’t crack 15 homers, makes Grey Albright cry at least twice

Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor came out of nowhere to slug 33 homers, drive in 88 runs, and make the Razztastic Grey Albright spend the offseason swooning. Odor also did this with a HR:FB ratio of 17.0%. His previous career high was 11.8%. Twelve of his home runs were rated as ‘Just Enough’ and four were considered “Lucky” by the ESPN home run tracker. Those “Just Enoughs” and “Luckys” will be called a different word in 2017. Caught. Odor is unlikely to repeat his career year and will make more than one fantasy expert shed a few tears when he has eight homers at the All-Star Break.

2. Dylan: Carter Capps will be a Top-10 fantasy closer

You’ve heard the legends surrounding Carter Capps. The one that will make you say “I can’t quit you” is that in 2015, the last time he pitched in the major leagues, his contact rate was 51.7% — the lowest of the PITCHf/x ERA. The illustrious Jeff Sullivan has written plenty about Capps and his insane skills (and delivery), but the point is, his ceiling is sky-high. Really.

But it doesn’t just take skills to be a successful fantasy closer. As we all frustratingly know, it’s all about those pesky saves opportunities. Brandon Maurer may hold the closer’s role on Opening Day, but he is not exactly a dominant reliever. Ryan Buchter and Brad Hand are both very capable setup men, but they also both throw with their respective left hands, and I’m not particularly concerned about Andy Green being especially progressive with his ninth inning roles. Capps will start the season on the disabled list — an admitted strike against him — but it should be a short stay.

Capps isn’t necessarily the favorite, but that’s what makes these Bold Predictions. If he can take the job by May 1 or so, there’s a very viable window for an Edwin Diaz-like ascension. Yes please.

3. Matt: Willson Contreras outproduces Kyle Schwarber in every key fantasy category, except home runs

In Schwarber’s “breakout” season, he crushed 16 homers, hit .246, and struck out in 28.2% of his plate appearances. Why are fantasy GMs falling all over themselves to add him? He’s also woefully overmatched against lefties and will likely be substituted for in the late innings for defensive purposes. Oh, and he’s also going to be hitting leadoff more often than not. Great for real life baseball purposes, but it’s going to absolutely slaughter his RBI opportunities. He could very well club 30 homers and drive in 60 runs while hitting .230. At the leadoff spot, he’s essentially a one-category catcher, but he’s being drafted ahead of similarly skilled Khrush Davis and Miguel Sano.

Contreras doesn’t have a platoon split, only has competition from the decaying corpse of Miguel Montero, and is a good enough athlete to not be a liability for stolen bases. Contreras will hit for a higher average, nick a few steals, and will rack up enough PA’s to out produce Schwarber everywhere except homers. He can also be had several rounds after Schwarber gets plucked off the board.

4. Dylan: Jose Peraza will be flop city

Yes, power is up, speed is down, stolen-base guys are trendy. I don’t particularly disagree with that notion, but let’s pump the brakes a bit on Peraza.

He has an ADP of 104.39 at NFBC at the time of this writing.

He also has 67 at-bats and zero walks in spring training at the time of this writing.

I know, I know, spring training stats, but that is the player he is. He’s walked nine times (niiine times) in 281 major league trips to the plate, and his high for homers in a season in the minor leagues was… four.

We know he’s not a walker or a slugger, that’s fine. But remember when Billy Hamilton was the next big thing, then quickly did nothing at the plate (while still stealing tons of bases) and was moved way down in the order for a while and everyone calmed down? And Peraza doesn’t have nearly Hamilton’s speed potential.

Peraza is unproven, unreliable, and his ceiling is empty steals. Travis Jankowski’s ADP is 285.91 right now. There are always speed-only guys like that late. Nab one of them instead. Peraza simply will not deliver on his price tag.

5. Matt: Ryon Healy will finish 2017 as a top five fantasy third baseman

Cracking the top five third basemen means Healy has to be better than Kyle Seager. That’s completely doable given his reworked swing and the power Healy flashed last season. He broke out at all three levels he stopped at in 2016 after adjusting his hands and his swing plane. There’s no reason to think it’s a fluke at this point. The low walk rate and high strikeout rate should even calm down once he has another month or two of facing Major League-level pitching.

Healy has a share of the corner infield spots and the DH at-bats in Oakland. The only reason he won’t make it to 500+ PA’s is if he ends up on the DL. He’s looking very Josh-Donaldson-from-2013-ish, and he represents a fantastic late round opportunity in every applicable format.

6. Dylan: Andrew McCutchen will bounce back (in fantasy)

Do I think McCutchen will be a 6+ fWAR player again this year, or ever again? Probably not. It appears he’s certainly lost a step, especially in the field. The drop has been brutal. The good news is that unless you’re in a league that counts defense (really?), there is still plenty of room for McCutchen to make an impact.

McCutchen’s horrific replacement-level season last year included him hitting .256 with 24 home runs and six steals. At his absolute worst, he was essentially Stephen Piscotty minus 10 hits on the year. This included McCutchen’s second-worst BABIP of his career, the lowest walk rate of his career (10.2%) that still came in above average, and the worst strikeout rate of his career (21.2%) that was right at league average.

He was noticeably better in the second half, his move from center field doesn’t matter to your fantasy team, and he’s still just 30 years old. Even if there is absolutely zero statistical regression in McCutchen’s performance and he manages to somehow be as historically off his game as he was last year, he’s still a useful fantasy piece. And if things straighten out? If he was hiding an injury and is now healthy? If he gets traded to a more favorable lineup and park? I see much more upside than downside. McCutchen can easily be a top-10 fantasy outfielder again.

7. Matt: Mallex Smith will be mixed league ownable by September and steals 40 bases

Colby Rasmus is already starting the season on the DL, and Steven Souza and Kevin Kiermaier are only one dive away from heading there themselves. Enter Mallex Smith.

Smith has shown patience at the plate for his entire career. There was only one extended stay at Triple-A that resulted in a BB% under 11%. In the time it took you to read this sentence, Smith has already stolen a base. The dude has game-changing speed, and it appears he’s going to have ample opportunity to break out as this year’s untapped source of steals. He’s going undrafted in shallow mixed formats, but he will work his way into a larger role either due to injury (Rasmus) or general suckage (also Rasmus).

8. Dylan: Michael Pineda and Robbie Ray will not turn things around like everyone hopes

I get what there is to love here. (x)FIP-ERA numbers that scream bad luck combined with strikeout numbers that make you drool. Recipe for a breakout, right? Maybe. Certainly not impossible. But I think we are beyond things being that simple.

Pineda was a breakout candidate before last year but only got worse. His strikeouts went up a ton, sure, but his walk rate more than doubled, his left-on-base percentage actually went up, and his ERA still got much worse. The problem continues to be the home runs, and as long as he pitches at Yankee Stadium — and as homers go up significantly across the board — he is not somebody I trust to beat his (x)FIP and all of the sudden post a useful ERA.

I am slightly more in on Ray, only because his track record of being beaten so badly is much shorter. The 28.1% strikeout rate last year is too awesome to ignore, but he walked 9.2% (a career-high), and, oh yeah, 24 homers in 32 starts. And that wasn’t just Chase Field either (although it didn’t help). Also, did the D-backs suddenly get a real defense in the offseason and I didn’t notice?

The home run surge has been particularly bad for this pair and I don’t feel that is going to suddenly turn around. Pineda (4.82) and Ray’s (4.90) ERAs added up to 9.72 last year while their xFIPs totaled just 6.75. Ouch. I get it. But I say their ERAs will add up to be above 9.00 again in 2017 (even if they easily punch out 400+ batters together).

9. Matt: Lance McCullers has a better season than Corey Kluber

Between the regular and postseason, Kluber logged almost 250 innings. Even for a vet like the Klubot, that’s a ton of work, and most of it came in high-stress situations. He’s also seen his K/9 trend downwards for the last two seasons, while his BB/9 ticked over 2.00 last year for the first time since 2014. If his K/9 dips into the 8.0’s, and his BB.9 gets closer to 2.5, his ERA and WHIP are also likely to rise, and he won’t turn in the results that fantasy GMs are paying for at the moment.

McCullers has not thrown a lot in the past two seasons due to myriad of shoulder, elbow, and blister-related ailments. When he has managed to make it to the mound, he’s shown the ability to strike out hitters in bunches. He managed to boost his K% to 30.1 last season, and only Jose Fernandez and Max Scherzer were higher among qualified starters. His BB% jumped to 12.8% last season, but he only has one walk allowed in 12 innings so far this spring. Control is one aspect where young hurlers like McCullers can make the greatest improvements.

10. Dylan: Eight of the nine Red Sox everyday position players will be fantasy relevant

I considered the 9-for-9, but I am giving myself some wiggle room here. Guess I am not that bold.

I’m giving myself Pedroia, Benintendi, Betts, Ramirez, Bogaerts, and Bradley, assuming they all stay healthy. I don’t think there’s any big argument there. But let’s talk about Mitch Moreland, Pablo Sandoval, and Sandy Leon.

I have the least confidence in Moreland, and that’s really only because of his potential platoon situation. The first baseman has typically struggled with fellow lefties in his career, but he managed a .277/.320/.479 line (with five homers) against them in 100 plate appearances last year, and I am sure the Red Sox noticed before signing him. He should get a shot against southpaws. And while his .233 batting average was uninspiring and he totaled just 60 RBIs, he still smacked 22 home runs. The Rangers offense was certainly not bad, but he is moving to a team that paced baseball in offense in 2016. Moreland batting 5th in that lineup is juicy. Did I mention how good Fenway Park can be for lefties? One of the cheapest 30-homer, 100-RBI guys you’ve ever seen is in the cards here.

Sandoval’s first two seasons with Boston could not have gone much worse, make no mistake. But that’s one of those cases where shoulder surgery seems like a good thing, right? And although I won’t cite spring stats or, god forbid, quote a player in March about how they feel about their body and the shape they are in, he looks good. He’s just 30 years old, and his game is built on making solid contact. I know third base is deep, but considering the park and lineup ahead of him, there could be 85-plus RBIs in waiting for the career .287 hitter.

I don’t know what to do with Leon. I’m not sure anybody does. But something clearly happened last year over 283 plate appearances: his walk rate was right around average, his strikeout rate was nearly there, and the BABIP gods were on his side. I know you can create your own batted-ball luck a bit, but I’m not sure Leon is the type to put up a .392 mark. So what’s to like? Catcher can be such a modest position past the top 10 that, depending on your format, I want to roll the dice and just go back to the waiver wire if my pick flops. If Leon has suddenly figured something out and can hit .280 with 10+ homers, once again, that lineup combined with Fenway Park could make for a catcher with 70+ RBIs. That’s relevant.

The Red Sox lineup is terrifying once again, and it has the upside to get even better. I don’t have full confidence in each of the questionable trio, but I am at least intrigued by all three, and the snowball effect of that offense means they can all make each other better and a 1-through-9 that can be used in most formats.

Dylan assists in producingFanGraphs Audio, Effectively Wild, and the FanGraphs Live Twitch channel. He also enjoys the Waxahachie Swap (RIP), the Air Bud principle, and the Oxford comma. You can Tweet him about any of those things @dhhiggins.

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5 years ago

Loved the piece