Mike Podhorzer’s 2020 Bold Predictions — A Review

For the shortened 60 game season, I wasn’t in the mood to post 10 bold predictions, so I settled with six. The upside of the fewer games is greater potential for the random and unexpected to occur, which means a higher rate of bold prediction hits…hopefully. Let’s see if that turned out to be true.

1. Yandy Diaz & Gio Urshela Combine For More HRs Than Alex Bregman & Anthony Rizzo

The final tally was:

Yandy Diaz (2) + Gio Urshela (6) = 8
Alex Bregman (6) + Anthony Rizzo (11) = 17

Although Urshela matched Bregman, who recorded a nearly identical number of plate appearances, Rizzo was his normal self despite a back injury that had me concerned, while Diaz reverted back to the worm-killing groundballer he was before last year’s power spike. Urhsela followed up well to last year’s breakout, which validated my belief in his new talent level. Unfortunately, Diaz posted a ridiculous 66% GB% and lowly 11.3% FB% in an injury-riddled season in which he recorded just 138 plate appearances. That said, Diaz did not only maintain last year’s HR/FB rate surge, but increase it slightly. So he actually was able to sustain last year’s power, but the problem is he failed to hit enough fly balls to take advantage. It’s now anyone’s guess which Diaz shows up next year and it’s a big deal, as you don’t want a 10-homer guy from your corner spot.

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2. Justus Sheffield Strikes Out 65 Batters

Though it required some excellent HR/FB rate fortune, Sheffield did break out, validating my optimism. However, he may be overvalued next year after outperforming his SIERA by nearly a full run. Disappointingly, his strikeout rate fell, while his SwStk% plummeted to just 8%. It’s why I traded him at a decent price in my AL-Only keeper league. He struck out 48 batters, well short of the 65 I boldly predicted.

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3. Isiah Kiner-Falefa Is A Top 3 Catcher

The shape of Kiner-Falefa’s performance wasn’t actually what I expected, as he homered just three times, but swiped eight bases. If I was given those two numbers in the pre-season, I would have guessed the totals were reversed given his new power display during Spring and Summer training. Still, the combination was enough to vault him into the top 10 in catchers, as CBS valued him as the eighth most valuable. Because he only recorded 38 RBI plus runs scored, he was unable to crack the top three. The additional at-bats he amassed because he was a regular at non-catching positions really helped here. This was a good “spirit” prediction as he was likely a profitable buy in the vast majority of leagues.

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4. Dylan Bundy Posts a Sub-3.50 ERA

The move to the Angels made a lot of people bullish on Bundy. Not only was the park switch a positive, but the chance he would revamp his pitch mix under a new coaching staff provided further optimism. Sure enough, he continued his insane streak of reducing his four-seam fastball usage (it has now dropped every single season in the league, but this season represented the largest season to season decline), while increasing the usage of his changeup, slider, and curveball. While his SwStk% matched last year’s career best, his strikeout rate spiked, while his walk rate tumbled to a career low. And for the first time, his HR/FB rate finished in the single digits. All in all, he posted career bests with a 3.29 ERA and 3.80 SIERA, giving me my first win.

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5. Mike Yastrzemski Outearns Michael Conforto

This bold prediction was meant to highlight my bullishness on Yastrzemski, rather than a mark against Conforto. And I was oh so close! According to CBS, Yastrzemski finished as the 39th most valuable player, while Conforto settled in just ahead at 32.

Even at age 28, I believed in Yastrzemski’s 2019 breakout and thought he was dramatically undervalued in 2020 drafts. Not only did he prove that last year’s breakout was real, he actually improved further, raising his walk rate well into double digits, and ISO to an even higher level. It resulted in an impressive .407 wOBA.

Conforto did what he’s been doing, and was able to offset a lowly 28.3% FB%, which reduced his home run output, by BABIPing a crazy .412, which pushed his average up to .322. It means he was still able to post strong fantasy value despite the lower home run total.

Yet again, a “spirit” win, but not officially a win.

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6. Kevin Gausman Posts a Lower ERA Than Mike Soroka

I guess I was right that Gausman’s breakout had indeed arrived…it just hadn’t shown up yet in his ERA. Before I posted my article, Gausman had posted a 4.65 ERA over 31 innings. Since my article…a 2.51 mark. Gausman threw his fastball at the lowest frequency of his career, while his elite splitter posted the highest SwStk% mark of his career. It all resulted in a career best 32.2% strikeout rate to go along with his always solid control. The 3.62 ERA wasn’t a career best, but it was close.

Meanwhile, Soroka was pitching in his third start when he unfortunately tore his achilles tendon, knocking him out for the season. He did post a 3.95 ERA though, so just like injuries could hurt my bold predictions (and they usually do), in this case, it helps, and I’m fully taking the win! Of course, Gausman could have posted a lower ERA even if Soroka pitched all season, as his 2019 SIERA suggested major ERA regression was coming.

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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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The highest GB/FB among qualified hitters since 2000 is 2012 Ben Revere with a 4.61. Yandy didn’t have enough PA to qualify but he was at 5.82. Yikes.

BTW, nice call on Bundy. I bought in on it and profited.