Mike Podhorzer’s 2019 Bold Predictions – A Review

Now that the regular season has ended, it’s time to review alllllll my pre-season calls. I’ll start with the granddaddy of posts, one that all RotoGraphs writers partake in — bold predictions. I won’t fully rehash my prediction explanations here, so refresh your memory from my original post. As usual, the hope is to get three of the 10 correct. Let’s see how I did.

1. Brandon Lowe hits 25 homers

Already off to a typical start, getting screwed by injury! Lowe ended up missing about half the season with a bruised shin, followed by a quad strain. But man, he still managed to hit 17 bombs, which put him on a pace of over 30 if he remained healthy. Though his strikeout rate skyrocketed and makes for a major red flag next year, he upped his HR/FB rate to above 20%, and flipped his ground ball and fly ball rates to become an extreme fly-baller. This is a win in spirit, but technically a loss.

0 for 1

2. Chris Archer finishes as a top 10 starting pitcher

Arrrgghhh, I was really hoping I didn’t make any optimistic prediction about Archer, as I had totally forgotten. Once again, he dramatically underperformed his SIERA, but this time it wasn’t because of an inflated BABIP, but instead a ridiculous HR/FB rate just above 20%. That’s hard to do when you call one of the most pitcher friendly parks home. Since his season ended due to shoulder inflammation, I wonder if that affected his performance. I’m still not giving up on him, especially since he’ll be like free next year, but I want to see how the shoulder is in spring before paying my buck or spending a reserve round pick.

0 for 2

3. Franchy Cordero is the most valuable Padres outfielder

If it hasn’t been obvious just yet, I have an amazing skill that curses players with injuries after I boldly predict good things from them. This happens ever year and it’s crazy. Cordero finished the season with…wait for it…20 plate appearances. He missed the majority of the year with an elbow injury.

0 for 3

4. Diego Castillo records the most Rays saves

I was right that it wouldn’t be Jose Alvarado, who was the consensus guy to own. Early on, I was looking good with my confidence in Castillo as he finished May with six saves, leading the Rays. But he then missed about three weeks with a shoulder injury (there’s that injury curse again!) and Emilio Pagan ultimately ran away with the job. His skills remained similar to last season, so he certainly didn’t do anything to lose the job. But the Rays, smartly, don’t care too much who records a silly statistic, so they were happy just trotting out Castillo whenever they needed a good reliever. It’s anyone’s guess who saves the most games next year, like Pagan surely has the skills to remain an elite closer.

0 for 4

5. Chris Owings hits 10 homers and steals 20 bases

The first truly hilarious prediction, and one that I totally don’t recall making, for good reason. Owings figured to move all around the diamond and play a lot for the Royals, a team that is willing to run. So Owings had the opportunity. But he failed to take advantage. His strikeout rate suddenly spiked to a level reserved for only the most powerful of power hitters, which was exacerbated by a puny .205 BABIP, all resulting in a pathetic .185 wOBA. It was enough for the Royals, who released him in early June before ending up with the Red Sox for a short stint. I don’t know what happened here. With the HappyFunBall, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see double digit homers and 20+ steals if things worked out like many hoped.

0 for 5

6. Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga combine for a sub-4.00 ERA and 200 strikeouts

Injuries again! Loaisiga missed the majority of the season with a shoulder injury and ended up throwing just 31.2 innings, but posting the strong strikeout rate I hoped for. German also missed nearly a month with a hip issue and then his season ended a bit early due to an alleged domestic violence incident. German did impress from a performance standpoint though, striking out 153 batters in his 143 innings and posting an ERA just barely above 4.00. In fact, the two combined for 180 strikeouts, which was quite close to my prediction despite all the time missed due to injury. The ERA was a bit disappointing, but don’t forget that AL starters combined for their highest ERA since 2004.

0 for 6

7. Maikel Franco outearns Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

This was likely one of the more divisive predictions and it was made because I felt the Vlad Jr. expectations had gotten out of control. I was right. Guerrero finished with a disappointingly mediocre real baseball and fantasy baseball line, with barely above league average offense. Amazingly, even though Franco stunk too, he actually wasn’t that far behind Guerrero’s fantasy production. The real killer for Franco was his .234 batting average, thanks to a severe pop-up propensity, fueling a .236 BABIP. But the homers, runs scored, and runs batted in were relatively close.

0 for 7

8. Jakob Junis, Lucas Giolito, and Martin Perez all beat their Steamer K% projections by at least 1.5%

As a reminder, all three pitchers enjoyed a surge in fastball velocity during spring training. If there’s anything to take from spring training, fastball velocity, especially an uptick, is one. So you don’t have to check back to find the Steamer projections, here’s the table comparing it with their 2019 strikeout rates.

Strikeout Rate Projections vs Actuals
2019 Steamer Projected K% 2019 K% Diff
Jakob Junis 20.8% 21.3% 0.5%
Lucas Giolito 17.8% 32.3% 14.5%
Martin Perez 15.2% 18.3% 3.1%

Unfortunately, Junis’ strikeout rate fell marginally from 2018 and just barely beat his projection, as his fastball velocity was essentially unchanged from last season. It’s odd when spring training readings signal an uptick, and then it doesn’t actually carry over to the regular season.

Luckily, I nailed it on Giolito. If you got nothing out of these predictions except a nudge to give Giolito a shot, then this entire list of predictions was worth it! Also luckily for me, I put my money where my mouth was and either drafted or scooped him up quickly in nearly all of my leagues. His fastball velocity was up two miles per hour versus the previous two seasons. Considering how bad he had been before and his pathetic strikeout rates, I understand the hesitance in believing this is real. But just look at that beautiful 15% SwStk%, which is elite. His stuff was simply dominating this year, thanks to a superb combination of changeup and slider.

Perez turned heads during the spring with upper 90s heat, and while his fastball velocity was up about a mile per hour on the season, his velocity graph is scary. His velocity declined consistently from early on through the end of the season, which took his performance down with him. That said, he did enough early on to finish with a strikeout rate that easily set a new career high and handily beat his Steamer projection.

Two for three, which is good, but not good enough for my first win.

0 for 8

9. Trevor Bauer, Blake Snell, and Mike Clevinger all finish outside the top 20 starting pitchers

So close, so very close. All three enjoyed big 2018 seasons, which inflated their 2019 costs. I saw major regression for all three, but Clevinger, the lowest valued of the trio, was the only one that followed up with another strong year. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to just 126 innings, so he could have potentially earned even more.

FanGraphs Auction Calc SP Rankings
Name FG Rank
Mike Clevinger 13
Blake Snell 71
Trevor Bauer 95

Snell’s skills were as strong as ever, but was crushed by the BABIP Gods before an elbow injury cost him nearly two months. I’m worried about the elbow, of course, but I think he’ll be a bargain next season.

How does Bauer move to the NL and then post a 6.39 ERA, despite similar skills?!

0 for 9

10. Zack Greinke posts his highest ERA since 2005

Greinke’s ERA had to surge above 4.37 to earn me a win here. It did not. It didn’t even surge above 3.00. Even a move to the American League barely slowed him down. Greinke once again massively outperformed his SIERA, despite a worse than league average LD% and few pop-ups induced. He did stop the decline in his fastball velocity, but he doesn’t have much room for error with a fastball that now just averages 90 MPH. I think the quality and variety of his non-fastballs has kept him elite, but at some point, perhaps soon, the fastball will have deteriorated too greatly to be saved by his secondary offerings. I’m still out in 2020, especially at his likely cost.

0 for 10

***
While I chose not to dig through my history, it’s rare that I go a year getting zero correct bold predictions. This was truly embarrassing. However, I take solace knowing I did offer some real nuggets on players that earned strong profits for owners and on guys to avoid at their price.

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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.

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Go ahead and give yourself some credit on #8. That was a triple probability, and you were only wrong about the 1.5% outperform. All three outperformed.