Below are my bold predictions for the 2017 season. As always, these are ottoneu fangraph points specific. I tried to add enough qualifiers to make each of them “bold” but feel free to ridicule in the comments if you think otherwise. It should be noted that, if I do this right, I should get 3 out of 10. I tried to frame them accordingly. The predictions are in bold (no particular order), followed by a brief synopsis. The synopsis is more important than the prediction itself. Some of these players may not meet my criteria for their specific prediction come year end, but this should give you a grouping of names that I like as we approach opening day.
Carlos Martinez becomes an ottoneu ace ($30+ SP)
When we released our SP rankings, we had 10 SP being worth $30+. Of those ten, seven are clear cut $30 pitchers (Kershaw, Syndergaard, Scherzer, Bumgarner, Sale, Strasburg, and Kluber), with six SP falling into the $28-$31 range (Arrieta, Archer, Lester, Carrasco, Cueto and Darvish). For 2017, I believe Carlos Martinez will vault into the upper tier of fantasy aces, returning $30 of value. For those wondering what $30 of value equates to, consider the upper bound of that second tier.
Martinez does have an obvious flaw in that his platoon split is larger than most right handed starting pitchers. However, he is already an excellent option in all leagues in spite of this (projections have him in the high teens). He could take the Max Scherzer path to ace-dom (succeeding despite platoon splits). However, there is some room for optimism. His stuff is excellent. As Rylan Edwards noted, Martinez is the only starter in baseball with 3 pitches possessing above average movement with his sinker, slider, and change up. Additionally, Martinez plays in a park that helps to limit home runs (a huge factor in ottoneu points leagues).
He’s got the pitches, park, and ground balls, along with an obvious area where he could improve.
Jung-Ho Kang is a top 5 3B by P/G
After close to 1.5 seasons worth of plate appearances, Kang has established himself within the 3rd tier of 3B within ottoneu fangraph points leagues. The top of the position is set with Donaldson, Bryant, and Arenado. Then you have the middle tier of Beltre, Seager, Turner, Rendon, and Longoria. From our 3B rankings, Kang comes in all the way down at 13th – just below Franco, Moustakas, and Lamb. A large portion of this may be because of his off the field issues potentially causing missed time.
However, he has also missed time with injuries, so it’s easy to see why he could be overlooked. Since coming over from Korea in 2015, Kang has been an elite hitter at 3B. Over that span, his .362 wOBA, is behind only Donaldson, Arenado, and Bryant at 3B (Carpenter and Machado are 3B eligible too, but I am not including them due to MI eligibility). By ottoneu fangraph points scoring, he is the 3rd best 3B by points per plate appearance over that span. However, by points per game he drops to 14th as many of the other top 3B have accrued more plate appearances per game (Kang is usually in the 4-6 spot in the lineup). For 2017, I am expecting Kang to miss time, but also be excellent during the periods in which he plays. Watch your auctions to make sure he isn’t being too heavily discounted.
Logan Forsythe is a top-6 2B by total points…
I couldn’t resist. I wrote about Forsythe as a generic option to Jason Kipnis in December, noticing some similarities in their batted ball profiles. I also wanted include Dozier, since tying actual trades to fantasy purposes is fun. What does a top-6 2B equate to? Right now, we have four 2B worth north of $30 dollars – Altuve, Carpenter, Murphy, and Cano. This group is followed up by DJ LeMahieu, then a very large 3rd tier. This would mean he outscores, Dozier, Kipnis, Zobrist, Odor, and Pedroia by our pre-season rankings, all of whom have cost more than Forsythe in 2017 annual auctions. I also think he could be a cheap bet to pick up position eligibility in 2017.
Michael Brantley had a down 2016 after injuring his shoulder. While it appears he will be ready at some point in 2017, he may not be ready for opening day. He did start playing in games over the past week, so monitor this situation. That being said, he is returning from shoulder surgery. I am bearish on his power returning, even if he maintains his contact abilities upon return.
On top of this, Jason Kipnis is expected to be out 4-5 weeks. If either Brantley or Kipnis misses substantial time, I expect Jose Ramirez to fill in at second, leaving openings at both 3B and potentially OF.
Enter Yandy Diaz. 2017 will be his age 25 season, playing last year at AAA. He has experience at 3B and OF. While he isn’t assured a job, the options in front of him (Michael Martinez, Giovanny Urshela, and Richie Shaffer) don’t inspire much confidence. Diaz has superb plate discipline, but doesn’t possess much power. That said, he isn’t a total zero in that department. For what it’s worth, his spring has been strong. However, view this is a bet that injuries can hamper Brantley and Kipnis during 2017, and that Diaz could be the depth piece to fill in, possessing more upside than the other names being considered.
No rookie produces $15 of value
Which leads to my next pick. No rookie will produce $15 of value. I used this prediction last year as well, and Corey Seager destroyed me. So I’m going to the well again. This year’s rookie class actually feels worse than last year’s. Granted Andrew Benintendi and Dansby Swanson could easily make this look stupid. Josh Bell and Julio Urias are other options. Those 4 are the most likely options I see to top $15. Other names from this rookie class that I see as an outside shot at $15 of value include top prospects, Yoan Moncada and Cody Bellinger, and relief pitchers Zach Burdi and Joe Jimenez.
There are no outfielders between $30 and $40 of value
The way I see the outfield landscape in 2017 is that there is one player in the top tier: Mike Trout, who is worth near $70. Then you have Bryant, Harper and Betts near $50 with Stanton in the lower $40s rounding out the top 5. After that group, there’s a very large tier of outfielders with $30 potential, but question marks (McCutchen, Bautista, CarGo, Springer, Braun, Blackmon, Yelich, J.D. Martinez, and Cruz). Certainly any of those names could top $30 of value, and likely one or two will, but I am wagering that far fewer will reach the $30 mark than are being drafted as such. Of that group I am the highest on J.D. Martinez (awaiting injury information), George Springer, and Christian Yelich.
DJ LeMahieu is a top two 2B by total points
If there’s one 2B I’m scooping up this season, or trying to, it’s DJ LeMahieu. While I have LeMahieu as my 5th 2B, there is a substantial gap between him and the tier of Altuve, Carpenter, Murphy, and Cano. This is a bet that LeMahieu will top three of those four names in 2017. As Tony pointed out in his National League 2B quality of contact review, LeMahieu actually under-performed his batted ball skill last year despite a 128 wRC+. He plays in Coors Field and makes an elite level of contact. All these things bode well for LeMahieu. Even if he doesn’t crack the top-2 second baseman, I would be buying him heavily in all leagues. I view him much closer to a $30 talent than the $20 talent I perceive my league-mates are valuing him at.
The Seattle Mariners produce two $20 SP
I love James Paxton. He is one of the 3rd tier of SPs who has legitimate upside entering 2017. I ranked him higher than my ottoneu counterparts when we did our values, throwing $20 on him. Which is to say that a claim of “Paxton being worth $20+” wouldn’t really qualify as bold.
Besides Paxton, Felix Hernandez has looked excellent this spring, reverting back to his 2014 velocity levels. While you can take the spring results and throw them out the window, my optimism on Felix is solely based on his velocity topping 92. In addition, he has put himself through a new offseason training regimen and appears to have rededicated himself. He also has an outside shot at $20 of value (projections have him near $10).
While Hisashi Iwakuma or Yovani Gallardo could, in some iteration of the universe, produce a $20 season, I am not counting on it. However, Drew Smyly gives the M’s a third option to top the $20 mark. Like Felix, his fastball velocity is up this spring (now above average for a lefty.) He also has a non-standard way of getting out opposite handed hitters. His fastball possesses more rise than nearly any starter, and he places it in the upper third of the zone with high frequency. While his approach is fly ball heavy, potentially leading to more home runs (which would kill his ottoneu value), the outfield defense in Seattle is revamped and should help mitigate this.
Anderson and Stroman were a subject of comparison this offseason with a friend of mine. However, to claim that one player will out produce another doesn’t really strike me as bold considering the variance around individual performances. Due to pitcher attrition, I wanted to make a couple of P/IP predictions. So with the qualifier that both Anderson and Stroman pitch more than 100 innings in 2017, I am looking for Anderson to actually be the more productive pitcher.
The Rockies have several of these pitchers that are pretty similar (fastball/slider types with velocity and ground balls) and Anderson is probably my favorite buy of the group. Certainly Jon Gray has more value and will cost more in auctions ($10-$15), but I’ve grabbed Anderson for $1 in nearly every auction I’ve participated in this spring. While his pitches are good, what Anderson appears to be elite at is mitigating contact. He is one of the best in the game at this. Which gives me a reason for optimism despite Coors Field.
Over the 10+ years I’ve played fantasy, this Rockies rotation might be the most fantasy viable that I remember. While their best pitcher may top out at $15-$20 of value (optimistically), they have plenty of guys who should be serviceable spot starters and appear to be ignored because of their home park.
Charlie Morton returns $10+ of value and is the best Astros SP (by P/IP if IP>100)
Like Anderson, Morton is one of the $1 buys I have grabbed in all of my leagues. I think price is the important factor here. The general ottoneu theory: If buying for $1, take upside. If Charlie Morton ends up being Charlie Morton (getting hurt again), your sunk cost is minimal. That’s why I like this. It’s a risky investment that isn’t likely to cost you much of anything. He’s an ottoneu penny stock.
Regarding the Astros, I love Lance McCullers. If I am betting on their rotation, he is the guy I am paying the most for, followed closely by Dallas Keuchel (both near $15-$20). After those two, you have Collin McHugh who is probably worth $5-$10.
However, despite each of their merits, Charlie Morton has an outside shot to be the Astros most valuable pitcher. His curveball is most similar to Stephen Strasburg’s, and his velocity bump from last season has held this spring (third largest bump behind David Phelps and James Paxton). If all of his pitches maintain their added velocity, and he continues to be a groundball maestro, then I’m intrigued. One of these years he has to be healthy, right?
There you have it. As always, let’s discuss in the comments.
Joe works at a consulting firm in Pittsburgh. When he isn't working or studying for actuarial exams, he focuses on baseball. He also writes @thepointofpgh. Follow him on twitter @Ottoneutrades