Mike Podhorzer’s 2020 Bold Predictions

Finally, the season is about to begin! Typically, my bold predictions comprise 10 crystal ball forecasts. However, I ended up coming up with just six and am not in the mood to try to come up with four more. I simply can’t boldly predict things when the season sample is small, and frankly, anything could happen (Dee Gordon – 10 home runs?!). They all happen to be positive predictions as well, even though I usually like throwing in a couple of negatives. Oh well, you get three hitter and three pitcher boldies. So let’s do this…

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

This bold prediction makes good use of my xHR/FB rate equation. Yandy Diaz and Gio Urshela were two of last season’s surprising fantasy breakouts.

Diaz was a former ground ball machine with massive biceps, who posted a measly career high ISO of just .136 throughout his minor league career. His 2018 Triple-A mark was a lowly .095, while his HR/FB rate was a minuscule 3.9%. Last year, his power arrived, as he boosted his fly ball rate above 30% for the first time, and combined that with a 17.5% HR/FB rate. My xHR/FB rate believes in the surge, actually suggesting he was unlucky and deserved an even higher HR/FB rate of 20.5%.

Urshela was more known for his defense than offense and had rarely posted HR/FB rates in double digits throughout his long minor league career (he debuted all the way back in 2009 at the tender age of 17). Last year, Yankees magic had its effect again, as his HR/FB rate surged to 17.5%, nearly fully supported by a 15.3% xHR/FB rate.

Both third basemen head into the season with some slight playing time concerns, especially if they fail to sustain last year’s breakouts. That’s probably weighing on fantasy owners’ minds, but if they hit like I think they will, they will maintain their full-time jobs all season.

Alex Bregman was one of last season’s biggest xHR/FB rate outperformers. In fact, his xHR/FB rate suggests he only deserved an 11.7% mark (versus his 18.6% actual), thanks mainly to a weak barrel rate, which amazingly was barely more than a third of Diaz’s. Anthony Rizzo was also an xHR/FB rate outperformer last year, and his underlying skills weren’t much better than his previous years, so that career high HR/FB rate looks like a fluke. To make matters worse, he has been dealing with back issues, which are worrisome for a power hitter.

2. Justus Sheffield Strikes Out 65 Batters

A former top prospect in the Yankees system, Sheffield was traded to the Mariners at the end of 2018. Last season during his cup of coffee with the Mariners, he posted underwhelming results over 36 innings and seven starts. He struck out a mediocre 22% of opposing batters, but his 12.9% SwStk% was more impressive, suggesting the potential for a higher strikeout rate in the future.

Furthermore, his individual pitch results were rather exciting. He threw his slider a little more than a third of the time, and it generated an elite 23.8% SwStk%, while his changeup, thrown about half as often as his slider, generated a strong 15.2% SwStk%. It was his four-seamer that was poor, but that was his only whiff-related weakness. So with two fantastic secondary pitches, he has a strong foundation in which to improve upon and become a real strikeout force in the future. The only question is whether he’ll throw enough innings to have a chance at 65 strikeouts, even if his strikeout rate does rise.

3. Isiah Kiner-Falefa Is A Top 3 Catcher

You typically don’t want to put much, if any, weight into spring training stats, given the tiny sample size and varying levels of competition. But when a dramatic improvement occurs along with a change in hitting mechanics and/or approach, you might want to pay attention. Aside from an amazing name, Kiner-Falefa has been the talk of Rangers camp because of his hot spring training and now summer camp. It might not just be randomness though, as word is that he has altered his swing and approach. When I read that and also see different results, I believe the player may be establishing a new level of performance.

Kiner-Falefa has never shown much power in his career, so it’s hard to believe he’ll suddenly become a power hitter. But he doesn’t necessarily need to become a big one to finish in the top three among catchers. His hot hitting means he is the favorite to start at third base, which could potentially result in the most, or close to the most, plate appearances among catcher eligible hitters. That’s gold in fantasy leagues. Second, he steals bases! Over his career, which amounts to a full season, he has swiped 10 bases. My Pod Projections only forecast one catcher (J.T. Realmuto, of course) to steal more than one base. I’m eager to see if he truly does transform as a hitter.

4. Dylan Bundy Posts a Sub-3.50 ERA

If it weren’t for the move to the Angels, it’s likely that fantasy owners would have formally given up on the former top prospect. It’s likely that many of you have given up, even given the move out of Baltimore. Bundy continues to post solid strikeout rates supported by an elite slider (career 24.1% SwStk%) and excellent changeup (career 17% SwStk%), but he has struggled with gopheritis, which has inflated his ERA. The good news is he’s now in a much more forgiving environment, as literally all the park factors are more favorable for Bundy in Los Angeles compared with Baltimore.

Not only is his new park neutral for home runs, rather than inflationary, but it also marginally boosts strikeouts, versus suppresses them. On the whole, run scoring is suppressed now, rather than increased. Next, the Angels defense is projected to be significantly better than the Orioles, which should help Bundy’s BABIP. At age 27, it would be silly to write off Bundy already, and now seems his best opportunity to finally blossom into the pitcher many had expected him to eventually become.

5. Mike Yastrzemski Outearns Michael Conforto

This is not so much a stab at Michael Conforto, but more a celebration of Mike Yastrzemski. After spending years in the minors, Yastrzemski finally made his MLB debut, and pleasantly surprised, posting a .353 wOBA and ample power. He rarely showed this much power in the minors so it’s hard to believe the breakout was real. However, my xHR/FB rate certainly does, as his 17.2% mark was awfully close to his actual 18.4% mark. That’s due to a strong barrel rate and average fly ball distance.

With weak alternatives, Yastrzemski should absolutely play every day and unless he falls flat on his face, shouldn’t worry about losing any playing time. There was changes to AT&T Park over the offseason, which should make it a bit less pitcher friendly, which is only good news for Yastrzemski’s attempts to prove last year was no fluke. Yastrzemski and Conforto should be expected to contribute similarly in the fantasy categories, so over a small sample, the former has a much greater chance to outearn the latter than you think.

6. Kevin Gausman Posts a Lower ERA Than Mike Soroka

You would have thought that the move to the National League would have resulted in a major breakout for Kevin Gausman, but that hasn’t happened. Now with the NL implementing the DH, any breakout certainly won’t be because he’s now a National Leaguer. Instead, the optimism here stems from his move to the Giants. Though just above I mentioned the changes to the park will make it a bit less pitcher friendly, I’m guessing it remains a strong pitcher’s park, given how insanely pitcher friendly it had been. Gausman’s splitter remains elite, having generated a SwStk% of at least 20% in every season. He just needs to optimize the rest of his repertoire. You would think with a mid-to-high 90s fastball, he’s got the foundation to become a real strikeout force, which would lead to a much improved ERA.

Based on a comparison of ERA with SIERA, Mike Soroka was one of the luckiest pitchers in baseball last year. For a pitcher that allowed an above average rate of line drives and ground balls, it’s quite surprising he escaped with just a .280 BABIP. Higher rates of those batted ball types typically result in a higher BABIP, not a lower one. He also stranded a high rate of baserunners, while posting a HR/FB rate well below the league average. All of these rates are highly unlikely to occur again, and that’s not only because of the addition of the DH. With a below average strikeout rate and SwStk% mark, he’ll need to rely on those luck metrics once again to keep his ERA not just below 3.00, but below 4.00, as well.

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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CarMars Favoritemember
3 years ago

Stopped reading after, “3. Isiah Kiner-Falefa Is A Top 3 Catcher”

3 years ago

“This isn’t an airport; you don’t need to announce your departure” meme goes here.

Pirates Hurdles
3 years ago

These are beyond bold, would be pretty surprised if even one is correct. Mike is taking these to a new level.

3 years ago

The Dylan Bundy bold prediction wouldn’t surprise me like the others

Pirates Hurdles
3 years ago
Reply to  Ecofolux

The Dylan Bundy with the career 4.67 era who has never been below 4?

3 years ago

Yup, I mean i’m not banking on it but I could see it happening. Going from BAL to LAA is huge for him. In a a 60 game season he could pitch nicely.

wily momember
3 years ago

i actually think the IKF one is the most likely of the bunch. guess i’m the only one. it’s all there in the writeup – he changed his swing & been raking, he’s going to start at a field position, rising to the top of the catcher pile isn’t hard

Pirates Hurdles
3 years ago
Reply to  wily mo

Don’t we know better than to bank on spring training results? No power, no speed, low average/on base, the love here makes no sense.

wily momember
3 years ago

there’s quite a bit more to it than “banking on spring training results” but okay. and “no speed”? i mean, we’re talking about catchers here. IKF has 10 steals in the past two years, which is exactly 2 fewer steals than the leading C (JTR with 12), in half the PA.

like. be skeptical of a swing change, ok fine. but c’mon don’t be pointlessly negative

3 years ago

I don’t think people appreciate how weird this season will be. If you looks at projections, if IKF plays 10-15 more games than every other catcher, he doesn’t need to be that much better to have value. 4 or 5 additional Runs or RBI could definitely jump ahead of all but the top 5 guys and I’m including Grandal, Garver and Perez (because he plays most games) with JT and Gary.

3 years ago
Reply to  SucramRenrut

Pretty much this. He doesn’t even look like the same person, and the job is his to lose. Also, all this globe life field stuff is entirely BS. I know Frazier is the king of ridiculous home runs, but check his one from yday. The entire line of thinking came from a Gallo BP when he was using old baseballs. It is a hitters park. Even if IKF posts like an 85- wRC+ he could easily be top 3 catchers simply from at bats. Nobody there to take his job either. Calhoun looked quite bad in his return, so Solak is going to be playing everyday for now, and Guzman has looked miserable as well.