Only four days until Opening Day! Now that all my drafts and auctions have been completed, it’s finally time to reveal my 2018 bold predictions.
Gregory Bird posts an AB/HR rate of 14
You’re killing me Bird, you’re killing me. A positive Bird prediction had to appear here (I now officially own him in all five of my leagues), but his current foot issue makes his playing time situation completely up in the air. So rather than predict a raw home run total, I’m sticking with a ratio so his fragile body doesn’t ruin this a day after I make this prediction.
None of the projection systems are forecasting anything better than a 16.1 AB/HR ratio, but after returning from injury last year, he posted a 10.9 AB/HR mark. He combines big power with an extreme fly ball rate, a better than average fly ball pull percentage, and calls the best park for left-handed dingers home. STAY HEALTHY!
Marwin Gonzalez is worthless in 12-team mixed leagues
Gonzalez was one of 2017’s biggest surprises, but he was one of the luckiest batters in baseball. His BABIP notched a career high, despite his xBABIP dropping to the second lowest mark of his career. Furthermore, his xHR/FB components were all just around the league average and suggests he was quite fortunate to have posted the actual HR/FB rate he did. Given the ridiculous depth on the Astros, a prolonged slump driven by BABIP and HR/FB rate drops could severely cut his playing time.
This one is more about my pessimism on Buxton than optimism on Zimmer. But it baffles me that Buxton’s ADP sits at 50. Last season, according to our dollar value calculator using the default settings for a 12-team mixed league, Buxton ranked just 137th overall! Obviously, we’re drafting using 2018 projections, not 2017 results. But this means that he has to perform significantly better than he had just to break even for his owners. Roster Resource is projecting him to hit 8th in the Twins lineup. You know how hard that makes it for him to contribute positive value in RBI and runs scored?
Zimmer, on the other hand, is going many, many rounds later at pick 195, but seems to be a carbon copy of Buxton, and bizarrely with a quarter of the hype. He’s expected to bat ninth in the Indians order, which is normally terrible, but it’s like no different than Buxton’s eight spot. Seriously, these guys are the same player:
|BB%||K%||Contact%||BABIP||HR/FB or AB/HR||PA/SB|
|2017 – Buxton||7.4%||29.4%||71.7%||0.339||14.2%||17.6|
|2017 – Zimmer||7.8%||29.8%||70.4%||0.328||13.1%||18.4|
|2018 Steamer – Buxton||7.5%||27.9%||0.329||25.8||27.1|
|2018 Steamer – Zimmer||9.0%||30.2%||0.331||30.5||22.5|
The ADPs are obviously moot for this bold prediction, but it does describe my confusion. I do get what’s happening, of course, as Buxton was an elite prospect and Zimmer was merely a good one. But the hype on Buxton has gotten out of control, and there’s a much better chance that Zimmer outearns him than it seems fantasy owners realize.
Joey Gallo hits .240 with 45 homers
Boy, oh boy, a doublemint prediction all rolled into one. Predicting 45 homers for Gallo wouldn’t have been bold at all, but also batting .240?! That’s craaaaaazy. His highest batting average projection is .229, by the ever optimistic Fans, as a mid-to-high 30% strikeout rate and extreme fly ball tendency crushing BABIP nearly guarantees he’s closer to the Mendoza Line than .300.
But, there are a couple of things going on here:
- His xBABIP of .278 was meaningfully higher than his .250 actual mark
- That xBABIP reflects a lower than league average LD% and the highest FB% among qualified hitters — basically, you have to assume at least a bit of regression toward league average, which would help his BABIP
- He cut his strikeout rate to 34.9% in the second half, as his first half mark was inflated by a 42.5% May
- His 28.7% xHR/FB rate was the second highest mark among all hitters, behind Aaron Judge, and a smidgen ahead of Giancarlo Stanton
- In that second half with that marginally improved strikeout rate, his HR/FB rate surged from 25.6% to 37%, so he didn’t have to sacrifice home run power when cutting the strikeouts
We perennially wait for the big Brandon Belt breakout that never happens, but in the meantime, he remains a very solid, and typically undervalued corner guy. AT&T Park kills his power, but he still flirts with the 20-homer plateau and may chip in a couple of steals.
On the other hand, Olson made a roaring debut last season with mammoth power numbers and fantasy owners have fallen in love. But here’s the problem — he’s going to kill you in batting average (a .248 xBABIP suggests little BABIP upside) and his home run power was so far ahead of what he had ever done in the minors, it’s impossible to believe it’s repeatable. His xHR/FB rate was a still strong 26%, though that represents a huge decline from the massive 41.4% mark he actually posted.
One of my bigger issues with Olson is that he might be lost plate appearances against left-handers, even though there’s no obvious platoon partner right now. If he becomes just a platoon player, then sure he might hit 30 homers, but that could come with a .230 average and a runs scored total that is essentially replacement level. At the very least, Belt is going to outperform Olson in average, runs scored, and steals, and that could be enough to win the battle.
Rhys Hoskins finishes as a top 10 overall hitter
Along with Gallo discussed above, Hoskins was another of my Pod’s Picks, as I love his combination of above average contact skills and elite power. It’s a rare combination, and the few hitters who do possess it are the best in baseball. His 7.1% SwStk% would have ranked him inside the top 30 out of 144 qualified hitters, if he maintained that mark over a full season. It’s not a fluke either, as he posted a 6.4% mark at Triple-A. Since both his BABIP and strikeout rate should improve, there’s much more batting average upside than you might think.
Obviously, he’s unlikely to post another 30% HR/FB rate, but he does call home a park that ranks sixth for right-handed home run park factor. Oh, and he’s actually in a great RBI spot, hitting behind two guys with strong OBPs, and also guys who don’t clear the bases often via the long ball. The best RBI spot is hitting behind guys who get on base at a high rate, have good speed, and don’t hit many home runs. It’s an almost ideal situation here for Hoskins.
I purposely paired pitchers from the same team so we don’t have to argue about defensive support or ball park. And since I picked Diamondbacks hurlers, I don’t even have to guess the effects of the humidor!
Isn’t it amazing what a little BABIP and HR/FB rate luck can do to perception? Ray was virtually the exact same pitcher in 2017 as 2016, but because his fortunes turned, he’s suddenly getting picked inside the top 50. He still has control issues and allowed the highest Hard% among all qualified pitchers.
Walker had an outward breakout with his 3.49 ERA, but his SIERA was nearly a full run higher. However, he has posted a below league average BABIP over 500+ innings, despite playing in a home park that inflates BABIP. And given a high velocity fastball, you feel like there’s a strikeout rate surge coming at some point.
Sean Manaea strikes out 175 and posts a sub-3.80 ERA
Manaea was third on my list of 2018 strikeout rate surgers and he owns the strong changeup/slider combination to fuel that spike. He was always a big strikeout artist in the minors, backed by high SwStk% marks, and better health should bring better results. A pitcher friendly home park also helps.
The price on Berrios is baffling to me, given how far we’ve come in evaluating pitchers. That shiny 3.89 ERA isn’t real, as it came paired with a 4.29 SIERA, and only a tiny 9% HR/FB rate prevented it from jumping above 4.00. The word on the street is that his stuff is electric, but is it really? His four-seamer was good, yes, but the rest of his repertoire was either nothing special or stunk. The curve was his best swing and miss pitch, and that generated just a 13.5% SwStk%, while his infrequently used changeup induced just a 7.3% SwStk%. So while his stuff might look good, it surely isn’t getting the whiffs that quality stuff is supposed to get. Here’s another example of a former top prospect seemingly figuring it all out, causing his price to spiral out of control.
If only Newcomb could figure out some control, he would be a star! But seriously, we know he has the strikeout ability thanks to a curve, changeup, and slider that all generated SwStk% in the mid or high teens to go along with an effective fastball. Control is sometimes the last skill to arrive in young pitchers, so if he could get that walk rate down to just 10%, which would still below well worse than the league average, a sub-4.00 ERA is his for the taking.
I’m betting on the National League pitcher whose strikeout rate I’m more confident in over the American Leaguer whose stuff hasn’t actually led to a whole lot of swings and misses.
Corey Knebel records 25 or fewer saves
Knebel was one of last year’s examples of the benefits of the “don’t pay for saves” mantra, but I’m betting that his hurrah only lasts that one season. While he generally deserved that mammoth strikeout rate last year, it was fueled entirely by an insane 16% SwStk% by his fastball. What are the odds he does that again?! His curve ball was pretty terrible, generating just a 9.4% SwStk%, so he just lives and dies by that fastball. If his fastball is more like 2015 and 2016, his strikeout rate drops back below 30%. Then he loses his job. Why? Because his control is atrocious. A string of high walk outings and blown saves as a result could quickly lose him the job just as fast as he gained it last year.
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.