The season is over now, and I can’t think of any better way to distract myself from the multiple painful ends to otherwise fantastic seasons I just endured than to review my bold predictions. Fellow RotoGrapher Justin Mason kindly said he “think[s I] nailed the boldness level. He also said, “Alex, you don’t know how [to] use [brackets].” Pffffft, whatever, Justin.
I would say I’m proud of these predictions, but honestly, I barely remember half of them. There are three I remember fondly, though, and I’m excited to see how they turned out. Let’s do this!
1) Nicholas Tropeano, Tyler Skaggs and Matt Shoemaker generate more value than Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago.
Man, it sucks to be an Angels fan.
To be fair, and also because I’m incredibly lazy, I’ll count Santiago’s value generated as a not-Angel as part of the latter group’s value. Speaking to my laziness, I am not going to do anything special other than add up the ESPN Player Rater values of each trio. It’s not especially rigorous, nor is it even theoretically sound, but hey, this is a really, really sad group of pitchers that I shouldn’t force you to endure any longer than you have to.
Tropeano, Skaggs, Shoemaker: +2.52
Weaver, Wilson, Santiago: +2.05
There you have it, folks. One bold prediction in the bag.
If you’re looking for real analysis: Shoemaker finished with baseball’s 32nd-best xFIP, min. 160 innings, and its 5th-best swinging strike rate (SwStr%). Hitters started making more contact in the zone as the season wore on, but his out-of-zone contact rate (O-Contact%) ranked 9th. At this point, 2015 is the outlier, not 2014 and 2016 — and Shoemaker has the arsenal adjustment to validate it.
2) Jose Berrios will be a top-30 starting pitcher.
Can we please not?
Perhaps the worst part about this is my relative disdain for Steven Matz. I thought he’d be good, but what I deemed a “suspiciously great zone contact rate” wasn’t even what propelled him to success — he was just flat-out good.
Berrios, on the other hand, reportedly* lost all motor skills in his right arm. (*Not a real report.) Despite hiccups when it mattered, his Triple-A pitching line — 10.1 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 2.91 FIP — still look pretty awesome. It’s just that he absolutely could not find the zone at the Major League level. When your zone rate (Zone%) is so bad that only Ryan Vogelsong, Kyle Gibson and James Shields paint you in a glowing light, it’s bad news.
I’m 100-percent reluctant to spend more than $1 or a very late-round pick on Berrios, especially if there are better options available. But! It would be wrong to say I’m still not very, very intrigued. He enters only his age-23 season next year and still has a sky-high ceiling. You couldn’t ask for a better time to buy in a dynasty league.
3) Devon Travis is a top-5 second baseman.
This was basically impossible from the start. Travis finished the season 29th among all second basemen. I feel like my dismissal implicitly short-changes middle infielders quite a bit — it’s among the best production we’ve ever seen from the lot. But even if we extrapolate Travis’ numbers, I still don’t know if he’d rank in the top five.
At a certain point, Travis’ batting line looked almost identical to his 2015 line. Roughly 500 plate appearances under his belt, and he already looked like a model of consistency. The next 170-or-so plate appearances… not so much. I arbitrarily picked this date, but from August 15 onward, Travis produced a mere 93 wRC+ on a whopping .374 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). He generated relatively little power and struck out roughly six times more often than he walked.
We can still only talk about Travis in terms of small sample sizes. I used to love the guy, mostly because he has incredible batted ball skills, but the level of production has markedly improved at second base. It remains to be seen if the gains will stick, but if they do, Travis’ 15-ish home runs, eight-ish stolen bases, and .300-ish batting average just doesn’t feel as great. In reality, that combination absolutely rules, just in a low-key, not-necessarily-standard-mixed-league kind of way. I’d just like to see a more conservative plate approach from Travis that hearkens back to his half-season debut in 2015.
4) Dellin Betances is a top-50 pitcher, assuming zero saves.
So Betances kind of earned a lot of saves this year. Really could’ve messed up our plan, dude. (Wooden bridge, huh.) Fortunately — unfortunately? — Betances barely ranked among the top-30 relievers, let alone pitchers overall, so it’s not worth doing the arithmetic. Fact of the matter is Betances posted a very un-Betances 3.08 ERA over a mere 73 innings — mere, because he averaged 87 innings in the two years prior.
Perhaps the craziest part about it, though, is Betances actually posted his best xFIP and would have crushed his best WAR mark should he have matched 2014’s 90-inning total. It’s the .353 BABIP and heartbreaking 68.4% strand rate (LOB%) that did him in. The game’s best relievers rarely post strand rates in the low-70%s and typically live in the mid-80%s all the way into the low 90%s. Betances’ especially low mark stands out like a sore thumb.
Betances gave up more hard contact but actually induced the fewest fly balls (FB%) and most infield fly balls (IFFB%) of his career, all while his velocity peaked. I wouldn’t chalk it up to anything more than a few extra barrels and really poor sequencing. I’d have to dig more deeply, but on the surface, I don’t see any reason why he won’t be elite again next year.
5) Manny Machado out-earns Nolan Arenado by 50 spots.
Something I said in March: “You do what you gotta do to be bold, and sometimes being bold means being stupid.” Looks pretty stupid, I gotta say.
Except when I remember that Machado stole 20 bases last year, everything makes much more sense. Machado would have needed roughly 18 steals to match Arenado’s value this year — something I don’t think would have been entirely unreasonable had the Orioles attempted more than 32 steals as a team all year. Unbelievable.
Alas, had Machado filled up the fifth offensive column, I still would have been wrong. And unless there’s a(nother) paradigm shift in Baltimore, Machado stands no chance at distancing himself from, or even catching up to, Arenado. Meanwhile, Arenado’s combination of plate discipline and elite power earns him a spot among elite company.
Speaking of Arenado’s plate discipline, some dude lambasted me for praising it in my midseason review of these picks. Something about how the thin Colorado air suppresses the movement on breaking pitches, which benefits Arenado’s contact skills. Whether or not that’s true — I’m no physicist — the difference between Arenado’s home and road strikeout rates (K%) is a meager 2.4 percentage points. All else constant, it’s a nearly negligible difference. In short: who cares.
Also, Arenado is legit. Don’t blame Coors Field.
6) Austin Barnes is a top-15 catcher.
Dude, I’m telling you: Barnes is rotting in Triple-A. I know Chris Mitchell agrees — it’s Barnes’ age that suppresses his KATOH ranking, not his skill. The fact that he even cracked that list entering his age-26 season says a lot. Someone will have to replace Mark Ellis, though, even if Yasmani Grandal calls the shots three-fourths of the time.
I see a little bit of J.T. Realmuto in him. Until then.
7) Kevin Pillar out-earns Starling Marte.
I probably could’ve picked a better example than Pillar. Seven home runs and 14 stolen bases doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence. But this bold prediction was made mostly to make a point — that when Marte’s stolen bases waned enough, he wouldn’t be all that valuable. Too bad Marte ran absolutely wild, stealing a career-high number of bases in his fewest games played.
Like clockwork, Marte got injured. But it’s almost like he nearly doubled his frequency of steal attempts just to spite me. Maybe he did. Can I have a word with you, Star Mart?
What was once a trend of declining baserunning has been ripped to shreds. If his pace falls off steeply, it’ll be 2016 that’s the outlier, not everything else. If he keeps it up, then we’re left playing a not-so-terrible waiting game with Father Time.
Oh, and I told you his power spike in 2015 wasn’t legit.
8) Clay Buchholz is a top-20 pitcher.
9) Maikel Franco is the #1 third baseman.
What I saw in Franco in the offseason was the generic-brand version of what we saw in Arenado this season. Truthfully, Franco did all right for himself, although 25 home runs and a .271 BABIP could only get you so far in 2016’s power-saturated hitting environment. Frankly, I didn’t heed the red flags: Franco posted below-average line drive (LD%), pop-up (FB%*IFFB%), and soft contact (Soft%) rates last year. Combine those with his lead feet and a walk rate (B%) that leaves more to be desired, and Franco didn’t really live up to expectations.
He’s still young, so he has established a pretty decent baseline for himself, even if it seems a little lackluster relative to the rest of MLB’s youth movement. But at least we know what he’s capable of, and then some. Unfortunately, Franco cleans up at the heart of one of baseball’s worst-hitting teams, which means relatively few RBI opportunities and far fewer for runs scored. Where power-hitting corner infielders are concerned, sometimes it’s those opportunities that make or break value. Franco’s will always render him an inferior option.
10) Jose Ramirez is a top-15 shortstop.
I am so. Damn. Jazzed that I convinced myself to make this prediction again after it failed in 2015. But I knew I absolutely had to after terrible BABIP luck decimated his 2015 campaign.
Man, I’m reluctant to toot my horn too much, but it really feels incredible knowing this pick somehow wasn’t bold enough. Ramirez was a top-10 third baseman! He out-earned Adrian Beltre, Kyle Seager, Evan Longoria, Todd Frazier… It’s so hard for me to not be totally stoked about this, especially considering I predicted his end-of-season line almost perfectly. (Full post here.)
I encourage you to have faith in what you saw. You might see Ramirez on lists of bust candidates. I encourage you to disagree.
I just grabbed Ramirez 81st overall an active industry slow mock, just because I could. I’m guessing Ramirez won’t go before Troy Tulowitzki, and Tulo lasted until the 122nd pick. In other words, I think he would’ve lasted at least two more rounds — perhaps another three or four. I think there could be ample room for profit again come March.
I don’t care if I’m the one-man hype train. Ramirez deserves it.
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I think I only made one correct bold prediction last year. That’s a 50-percent improvement! We make these bold predictions in the name of entertainment and a little bit of education to boot, so I hope reading this provided you a little bit of both. Definitely already excited to start boldly predicting terrible ideas next spring.