I fell half a win shy of my goal of two correct bold predictions this season, but the good news is that I get to watch my one major success lead the Cubs on an exciting postseason run.
Previous bold prediction reviews: 2014
1. Jake Arrieta will finish top-five in the NL in ERA
Let me bask in this one for a minute because things are about to go downhill very quickly. Arrieta out-bolded me with a 1.77 ERA that was second best in both the NL and baseball behind Zack Greinke (1.66). They were the only two qualified starters with ERAs under 2.00. Meanwhile, Arrieta was able to see a dramatic improvement in pitch-framing thanks to Miguel Montero, whose 9 Strike Zone Runs Saved—Baseball Info Solutions’ measure of pitch-framing—was tied for fourth-best in baseball behind Tyler Flowers (16), Francisco Cervelli (11), and Kevin Plawecki (10).
Also likely contributing to Arrieta’s improved ERA was the overall improvement of the Cubs’ defense. Last season, the team’s defense cost them 33 runs, worst in the NL. This season, it saved them 28 runs. That 61-run improvement was the fourth-highest in baseball.
Montero and backup catcher David Ross provided much of that improvement, but Addison Russell also saved 19 runs split between shortstop and second base and should be a major plus to his pitchers for years to come.
I also added a bonus prediction that Jon Lester would not share in Arrieta’s improvement since his personal catcher Ross followed him to Chicago. That proved true as Lester’s 3.34 ERA was higher than both his 2.92 FIP this season and his 2.46 ERA from 2014 in Boston. 1/1
2. Drew Hutchison will be a top-20 fantasy starter
Not even close. I used similar logic here as I did in my first prediction, but Russell Martin did not have as strong a defensive season in 2015 as he did in 2014. In particular, his 6 Strike Zone Runs Saved was the lowest of his six seasons when that stat is available. Of course, blaming Hutchison’s woes on a relatively small number of ball vs. strike calls misses the mark. His 5.57 ERA would have been the worst among qualified starters, but Hutchison mercifully fell two starts short of that threshold. The strikeouts were down from 9.0 per nine in 2014 to 7.7 per nine this season, and he allowed a higher BABIP, stranded fewer runners, and allowed more home runs by rate in 2015 than he did in 2014. That’s not the recipe for a breakout.
The most interesting thing about Hutchison’s profile is the complete non-change in his apparent repertoire. In 2014, he threw 65.1 percent fastballs (92.2 average velocity), 23.0 percent sliders, and 11.9 percent changeups. This season, he threw 65.2 percent fastballs (92.4 average velocity), 23.0 percent sliders, and 11.7 percent changeups. Eno Sarris investigated whether a loss in the depth of his slider could be responsible for the decline in his performance, but the numbers didn’t provide a clear-cut answer. As such, Hutchison is likely undraftable in standard formats in 2016. 1/2
3. Chase Headley will lead all third basemen with a .295 batting average.
The benchmark I selected here wasn’t too bad, as Yunel Escobar at .314 was the only third baseman with a batting average better than .297. Tragically, I was dyslexic in my prediction of Headley, whose .259 average was just 16th of 21 qualifiers at the position.
Some of the trends that drove the prediction did come true. For one, Headley’s BABIP jumped from .301 last season to .317 this season, much closer to his career level of .329. However, Headley’s well-hit average declined from .232 in 2014 to .214 this season, and, in particular, he saw a massive spike in his infield flyball rate to 11.8 percent. The only other season in his nine-year career with an infield flyball rate over 7.0 was in 2009 when it was 9.5 percent. I’m tempted to call that a fluke since his overall flyball rate was actually the lowest in his career, but it’s important to note that Headley did not steal a base this season. In his prime, he stole double-digit bases four consecutive seasons, but that total has declined each of the last three seasons. It could be difficult for Headley to reach the .280s again with diminishing speed, and he’s never come close to equaling his 31-home run 2012 season since. Unfortunately, Headley is pretty much Chris Johnson. 1/3
4. James Shields will have an ERA over 4.00.
Shields’ ERA this season was 3.91, and while I lost this prediction to the letter, I won it in spirit. When I made the prediction, I included this table of the DRS totals of Shields’ teams prior to this season.
|Season||Team||Team OF DRS||Team Total DRS||ERA|
And it was true that the Padres’ defense this year was the worst Shields ever pitched in front of. Despite an incredible 19 runs saved via defensive shifts—fourth best in baseball—the Padres’ defense cost the team four runs this season. And honestly, it could have been much worse. Wil Myers has already cost the team eight runs in center field when an injury knocked him out for the rest of the season with just 38 games played. Myers may end up at first base next season, but that may not help as much as you would think if it means removing Yonder Alonso and his 9 DRS from the field, and Matt Kemp (-15 DRS) will presumably continue to patrol their outfield.
The rest of the pitching staff fared pretty poorly in front of that defense, as well. Both Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy had ERAs over 4.25. Meanwhile, groundball-heavy Tyson only saw a small increase in his ERA from 3.17 to 3.26 as I predicted since he was able to keep his batted balls away from Myers and Kemp in the outfield. I’ll give myself half a win for this one. 1.5/4
5. Adam LaRoche will lead the AL with 33 home runs
I received the most criticism for this prediction because of the low home run total, and that criticism proved correct as 10 AL batters exceeded 33 home runs this season—Chris Davis (47), Nelson Cruz (44), Mike Trout (41), Josh Donaldson (41), Jose Bautista (40), Albert Pujols (40), Edwin Encarnacion (39), J.D. Martinez (38), David Ortiz (37), and Manny Machado (35). In fact, home runs in baseball this year were at 2005-2009 levels rather than depressed 2010-2014 levels.
Adam LaRoche did not come close to the mark himself. He hit just 12 home runs, fewer than half as many as in 2014 with the Nationals, and produced a sub-.300 OBP. Nearing his 36th birthday, it will be difficult to consider LaRoche in standard formats in 2016, although he is under contract for one more season. 1.5/5
6. Jed Lowrie will hit 20 home runs and finish as a top-five fantasy shortstop
I felt pretty confident in this prediction after Lowrie’s April, in which he produced a 167 wRC+ and hit four home runs. Unfortunately, as has happened all too often in his career, an injury derailed Lowrie’s potential career season. In the end, he missed three months following thumb surgery, but he did still manage to hit nine home runs in just 69 games. With the emergence of Carlos Correa in Houston, Lowrie will likely be a forgotten man in 2016 drafts, especially since his 17 games played at shortstop will fail to qualify him for the position in many formats. However, I think Lowrie will have sneaky third base value next season. Incumbent Luis Valbuena played some first base down the stretch this season and could stick there if Jonathan Singleton continues to struggle. That could open up a full-time spot for Lowrie at the hot corner in 2016. 1.5/6
Rather than use Jace Peterson as a stop gap until a midseason Jose Peraza call-up, the Braves opted to stick with Peterson all season and ship Peraza to LA for Cuban prospect Hector Olivera. Olivera is likely to stick at either third base or left field for the Braves in the future, so the second base job seems to be Peterson’s, whose .239/.314/.335 triple slash this season does not provide a ton of optimism for the future minus the 9.4 percent walk rate. Peraza saw just 25 plate appearances on the loaded Dodgers this season—but did steal three bases in that time—and his playing time was the key to this prediction.
Still, I’m unsure why Peterson, who stole 39+ bases at three different stops in his minor league career, attempted just 22 steals this season. Perhaps it is because of his lack of success—he was caught 10 times. Or perhaps it was because of the Braves’ general disinterest in stealing bases. The team had just 69 steals this season, tied for fourth fewest in the NL, despite speed in the lineup in the form of Peterson, Cameron Maybin, and Andrelton Simmons. 1.5/7
This one went even worse than my NL stolen base prediction. Micah Johson quickly played himself out of the majors thanks to a 62 wRC+ and -7 Runs Saved at second base in just 36 games. Meanwhile, the White Sox opted to rely on the defensive-minded Carlos Sanchez at second base in lieu of the speedy Bonifacio, who recorded just 82 plate appearances and one stolen base on the year. Neither player has value in 2016. 1.5/8
While Kenley Jansen recovered from his offseason foot surgery, Chris Hatcher saw some time at closer for the Dodgers. However, his first-half struggles and a variety of other attractive options like Pedro Baez and Yimi Garcia held Hatcher to just four saves on the season. That was the most on the team behind Jansen, who ended the year with 36 saves. But even though Hatcher likely established himself as the clear No. 2 option for the team thanks to a dominant second half (1.31 ERA), Jansen reaffirmed his position as one of the best relievers in baseball. Hatcher’s 10.4 strikeouts per nine could be useful in deeper leagues, but his only shot at saves in 2016 is another Jansen injury. 1.5/9
10. No really, this is the year that Jason Heyward hits 30 home runs
Ok, I give up. I guess Jason Heyward is just Joe Mauer with elite right field defense. That may be enough to earn him $150 million this offseason, but it won’t win anyone their fantasy championships. I really should have stuck with my Billy Burns and Logan Forsythe predictions instead. 1.5/10
Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt