Eno Sarris’ Bold Predictions for 2014 Fantasy Baseball

I keep making these bold predictions, and keep hitting about .300 on them. No idea if that says I’m not bold enough or if there’s some predictability in the crazy things that happen each year.

Really, that last reason is why we make these predictions every year. Crazy stuff happens every year, and it takes a little elasticity of the mind to consider the possibilities of the coming season. Maybe by doing this we’ll be in a better spot to reap the rewards when crazy things do happen. Sure, 70% of the following will not happen. But 30% probably will! And as long as you don’t invest too much in the possibility, and keep an eye on the floor, you might be able to use our bold predictions to your advantage.

This year, there’s a bit of a wrinkle: Jay Long of Razzball and I are having a gentleman’s wager regarding our Bold Predictions. With some right of veto on each other’s predictions, we’re putting our ten up against each other. His will publish on Razzball later today. Loser buys the winner a six pack of craft beer.

1) Jason Kipnis will go 30-30.
I was going to use “Jason Kipnis will be the top-rated second baseman at the end of the year” because I’ve thought that since the season ended and we looked backwards (and Robinson Cano signed with Seattle). But it looks like people agree with me too readily on that one. So I’ll push the envelope and put Kipnis in rarefied air. I make this prediction not because he’s gotten bigger — that’s nice to hear but too Best-Shape-Of-His-Life for me — but because he’s been bad in the last two second halves. I don’t think half splits like that are predictive, and he’s in the right peak age range to put together two good halves to make his best season. The steals make me nervous even more than the power, actually, and this is a silly prediction to make because it’s so specific, but might as well push my love as far as it can go.

2) The Astros will produce a mixed-league-relevant starting pitcher by the end of the year.
We didn’t rank a single Astros pitcher in the Consensus Top 115 that we put out last week. And we shouldn’t have, considering the talent level. Scott Feldman got a mention, I talked about Dallas Keuchel, and there’s some love for Brad Peacock, but these guys shouldn’t be drafted in mixed leagues. But there’s quantity there, and where there’s quantity, there is always quality… eventually. Maybe it’s Mark Appel coming up — he’s super polished and that extra year of college gave him the chance to refine that change-up — or maybe it’s that slider Keuchel is throwing, or maybe Brad Peacock finally makes it work with a slider and curve, bad change-up be damned. (Maybe he scraps the change!) Whatever it is, one of these guys will sneak into the top 100 by the season’s end.

3) Brad Miller will out-earn Ian Desmond.
If you were looking at my projections sheet, you wouldn’t call this very bold. I have Miller hitting .278 with 17 homers and 14 steals, and Ian Desmond at .273 18/17. Only a couple dollars of auction value separate those numbers. Now, your projections might be different, and that’s fair, but I’ve gone over the few suspicions I have about Ian Desmond, I’ve gone on record as liking Brad Miller a fair amount, and so this is just pushing those two thoughts into an extreme space. And I don’t hate Ian Desmond and nor do I think Brad Miller is the next top shortstop. This is me being extreme I guess. *Puts on a sweater and brews some tea.*

4) One of these pitchers will be a top-75 mixed league pitcher: Carlos Carrasco, Tyler Skaggs or Garrett Richards.
Is it cheating to include three? Here’s why I did: All three of these pitchers have multiple off-speed pitches that are above-average by whiff rate. Richards is the diciest because his change has been bad most of his career. But in the second half last year, it firmed up and was much more effective for him. Carrasco hasn’t put it together yet, but his change-up, slider and curve all have been above-average by whiff rates so far in his career. And the smallest sample is 327 pitches, so he’s shown his stuff to major leaguers and it’s worked. Tyler Skaggs is reportedly showing more velocity — if that’s true, he’s the best sleeper on this list. His curve and change are both above-average, and his curve is actually elite. If the fastball is better than 89, he’ll be mixed-league draftable.

5) Nobody will steal 50+ bases this year.
Obviously I’m talking about one player, to some extent. Billy Hamilton, if he plays all year, will steal more than 50 bases. But there’s enough risk there that I’m comfortable at least shining a spot light on this category and his flaws. For one, he’s new to switch-hitting and more comfortable from the right side. Look at how long it’s taken Dexter Fowler to become a viable switch-hitter — he also learned it late. Hamilton isn’t known for his defense like Fowler, and his patience was much more erratic than Fowler’s. That takes away two ways for him to add value and leaves him looking a bit too much like Eric Young, Jr to be super comfortable betting on him. So I’ll bet against him. Stolen bases were down last year — the lowest number since 2005 — and only Jacoby Ellsbury stole 50+ last season. So I’m betting against two players, and one was oft-injured and the other has at least something in common with Dee Gordon.

6) Anthony Rizzo will be a top-five first baseman this year.
This was vetted by my competitor and deemed bold enough, so I’ll take it. If you look at the end-of-season rankings for Rizzo last year, it does seem bold. He hit .231 and placed 25th among first basemen. But Rizzo made above-average contact and pushed his power forward for the second consecutive year. If you look at process over results, his platoon split was negligible — he struck out and walked at an average rate against lefties. Put it all together, and it’s a guy that could easily hit 30 homers and hit for a .280 average. My projections don’t have him doing those things, but at .273 with 28 homers, he’s already a top-seven first baseman. So if he can overshoot the mark by just a bit, we’ll be able to count this as a hit.

7) A new mixed-league relevant catcher will be born and it won’t be a top-50 prospect.
Austin Hedges and Travis d’Arnaud are the top-50 catching prospects, and betting on the field isn’t fair, so I’ll narrow it down: Hank Conger and Devin Mesoraco are better bets for producing this year than the prospects. Catching is a demanding field, and catchers have the latest debut age of any position for a reason: learning the ropes defensively is tough. Catchers spend most of spring training just getting to know their pitchers, so their bats take the back seat. Conger and Mesoraco have spent their entire careers to date working their defense to the point where their managers respect their gloves enough to give them more playing time. And playing time is where fantasy gold is found.

8) Brian Dozier will figure out his pop-up problems and have a huge year.
For reference, Andrelton Simmons, Matt Dominguez, or Brian Dozier are all good young players with bad pop-up rates. If they improve that facet of their game, they’ll improve their batting average and move from fringe to the top half of their positions in mixed leagues. Pop-up rate, which is different than IFFB%, has a year-to-year correlation around .63. That’s almost twice the correlation as BABIP, which is good because BABIP is random. Even with a decent correlation, though, pop ups are less year-to-year sticky than ground balls and fly balls. And our trio is young enough to be pre-peak and perhaps iron this out. In any case, with a correlation like that, it would be nice to get three shots at this thing. If one is ahead of the others, it’s Brian Dozier, who was very close to league average in the minor leagues when it came to automatic infield outs in the air.

9) The Twins will produce a third mixed-league relevant position player.
This is like the Astros’ bold prediction, in that it seems doubtful that any Twinkie hitter other than Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer will be rostered in mixed leagues this year. But there’s some promise around the diamond — mostly in the outfield. Oswaldo Arcia has big time power, all that’s keeping him back is bad plate discipline and a tough home park. He could cut the strikeouts and keep the good batted ball distribution and hit .275 with 25 homers. Josh Willingham is two years removed from hitting .260 with 35 homers. Aaron Hicks has power and speed when the team gives up on Alex Presley as a starter. And the Twins are rumored interested in Alejandro De Aza, and they have the top prospect in baseball, and young Josmil Pinto behind their old washup catcher has intriguing power upside. One of these guys will have a good year, and it serves as a reminder that bad teams often hide good sleepers.

10) B.J. Upton will be a fine fifth outfielder in mixed leagues.

So I’m saying that the lesser Upton will be a top-60 outfielder by the end of the year. Really, though, it’s not about B.J. Upton in particular. It’s about not holding grudges. Yes, Upton was particularly terrible last year, and yes that should shave some numbers off of your projection for the coming season. But dude’s not even turning 30 until late in the season, and he’s shown power, speed and patience in the past. If he recovers only two of those three skills, he’s a much better option than Jordan Schafer, and combined with his contract, he’s got a few reasons for his team to give him a decent leash. It might only be a .230 average with 20/20 type skills, but it’ll work, most likely. It’s rare to see a guy drop off so completely like this, at this age. Let’s not talk about Andruw Jones as if he’s not an exception as well.

So there you have it. Ten ideas that are on the edge of ridiculous, and if my average holds true, three of them will happen. Which ones would you bet on?

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Eno, When are you going to start the Jason Kipnis Society? I agree with you, but want to point out that you are turning into the equivalent of Brundelfly–Saristulli………