You have read the rest of the staff’s bold predictions, now it’s finally time for the man who inspired them all to unveil his. Luckily, my crystal ball is the clearest it has ever been!
1. Hanley Ramirez hits 15 home runs or fewer, despite staying healthy all season.
There are many factors at play here that could make this prediction a reality. First, he is coming off shoulder surgery which is known to sap power, at least early on in the season. Second, his ISO has declined for three straight seasons, so although I am not a fan of projecting a trend to continue, it means that it’s more likely he hits closer to 20 home runs than 30. Next, his FB% has dropped to just around 33% the last two seasons. That’s too low for a supposed power hitter. And last, though the old Marlins stadium slightly suppressed right-handed home run power, our own Steve Slowinski speculated that the new stadium might be even more of a pitcher’s park, especially for right-handed hitters.
2. Jose Altuve earns top 5 value among second basemen.
I wrote about him last Thursday and published my full projection after our second base rankings revealed how much more bullish I was than the other three RotoGraphers. Hitting in the second slot in the order gives him a bit of at-bat upside from my projection, so he could easily surpass the 600 plateau, increasing his expected counting stats. He could also steal over 30 bases, as he stole 31 combined last season and 42 in 2010.
3. Emilio Bonifacio is worthless in 12-team mixed leagues.
This may very well appear bold to most fantasy owners (his ADP sits at 172), but I am actually valuing him as worthless right now. Last year’s .296 batting average was accomplished with an unrepeatable .372 BABIP, so when that regresses, his stolen base opportunities will fall and he’ll score and knock in fewer runs. This is going to have a domino effect on his playing time. If he isn’t contributing in batting average, suddenly his lack of power will matter a whole lot more and he may struggle to maintain every day at-bats. You’re now left with a one-category contributor who may be no better than Alcides Escobar.
This pains me to type as I own an authentic Konerko jersey and my home fantasy league is even named after him. That said, Goldschmidt has shown massive power in the minors, and his 2011 Double-A MLEs (Major League Equivalents) translated to a 33 home run pace over 550 at-bats last year. He could easily out-homer Konerko this year, and the projection systems all agree. Surprisingly, despite a huge frame, Goldschmidt even steals bases, so beating Paulie there shouldn’t be a problem. The biggest challenge will likely be the batting average competition. However, Goldschmidt showed much better contact skills at Double-A, while he has posted fantastic BABIPs. Let’s not forget that Konerko’s career BABIP is just .286, despite a strong past two seasons when he posted marks above .300.
Whaaaaaat?! Like the Bonifacio prediction above, I am actually projecting this as I have Ichiro valued right above Stanton. And I am not even projecting anything outrageous for either player. This is a function of several things. First, Ichiro’s move to hitting third will provide a significant boost to his RBI totals. Of course, he’ll lose at-bats, which will hurt in other areas like steals and runs scored. We have all heard about his batting practice power, so it will be interesting to see if he now tries to hit with more power in actual games. I didn’t project much of a power bump though, but I do expect his batting average to rebound at least somewhat, though I am only projecting a .288 mark. I am a bit cautious on Stanton as the new park is a wild card and his batting average is going to hurt.
6. Mike Minor is the most valuable Braves starting pitcher.
Yes, better than Brandon Beachy and Tommy Hanson. I think Beachy (who ironically beat out Minor for a spot last season) poses the biggest challenge, since Hanson’s shoulder concerns me, especially since he has tweaked his mechanics to compensate. I found that Minor is currently the most undervalued pitcher after comparing my values/rankings to Mock Draft Central ADPs. With Tim Hudson hurt and a collection of rookies vying for a rotation spot, Minor should last as a member of the starting staff all season. He has posted excellent strikeout rates and displayed good control, but his defensive support has just been horrid. Assuming his BABIP returns to a league average rate (or better, as he’s a fly ball pitcher), he has a real shot at a mid-3.00 ERA.
7. Chris Sale is not only the most valuable White Sox starting pitcher, but also outearns every member of the Diamondbacks rotation.
…which includes starters like John Danks, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. You probably know by now that I love Sale this year. Ground balls and strikeouts galore with acceptable control? Sign me up. An innings limit could make this prediction difficult to come true, but for what it’s worth, Sale himself says that he wants to pitch 200 innings. I think Kennedy is significantly overvalued, which is unsurprising given his excellent, albeit lucky, season last year. Hudson was fortunate as well, as even though his strikeout rate should increase, more fly balls are going to leave the yard after finishing 2011 with just a 6.4% HR/FB ratio.
I have already named Romero as one of the most overvalued pitchers in baseball twice already, which is unfortunate because his underlying skill set is the type I love to fill my staff with. That said, his .242 BABIP is obviously going to jump, bringing his LOB% down and causing his ERA to rise toward the 3.78 SIERA he posted last year. Bailey isn’t the ground ball machine that Romero is, but he has better strikeout potential and his walk rate has declined every season he has pitched with the Reds. His SwStk% has also risen three consecutive seasons, and he struck out 30 batters in 28.2 innings last September. Was that an early sign of an impending breakout? I think it may have been.
9. Matt Thornton not only holds the White Sox closer role all season, he also leads the AL in saves.
Last year at this time, Thornton was once again the favorite to close games for the Sox, but many believed he was battling another hot shot youngster with limited experience for the role. That time it was Chris Sale, now this year it’s fire-balling Addison Reed, who has even less Major League experience than Sale had. We all know what happened next, Thornton lost the job after like five innings (crazy Ozzie!) and he only tallied three saves all season. Although his skills did take a slight hit, he was still top notch overall and unless you believe he pees his pants in the ninth inning, there is no reason to think he can’t save games all season, and do it quite well. Reed has all of 7.1 big league innings. Do you really think he opens the year as closer? If he doesn’t, Thornton is simply too good to lose the job again absent terrible luck.
10. Bryan LaHair hits fewer than 10 home runs and loses the Cubs first base job by June.
After two of our RotoGraph writers predicted big things for LaHair, I will be taking the other side. Howard Bender boldly predicted at least 30 homers, while Dan Wade was less ballsy with his prediction of at least 25. My prediction is not just to play devil’s advocate either. He certainly has shown fantastic power over the years in the minors. But, 2011 represented his sixth time at the Triple-A level!! Oh, and he’s already 29 years old. Of course, late bloomers do come around every so often (Jack Cust says hi!). LaHair’s MLEs last year were for a .242/.294/.453 slash. That suggests that he is still capable of producing excellent power, but he doesn’t make enough contact or walk enough to secure a starting job all season. Everyone knows that Anthony Rizzo is the first baseman of the future, so the question is how long it takes before he takes over the job. He already demolished Triple-A in 2011, then flopped in 128 at-bats with the Padres. It is doubtful the Cubs have much patience with LaHair, so assuming Rizzo continues to hit in the minors again to open the year, it shouldn’t be long before he is called up and LaHair is gone.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.