Did my bold predictions crash and burn again? Yes. But did they actually lead to some good fantasy advice this time? Possibly!
1. Victor Martinez will hit .300 with 20 home runs
Technically a loss, this is one loss that I expect fantasy owners will take. Martinez fell 11 points shy of .300 in his age-37 season, but that represented a 44-point jump from his injury-plagued 2015 season. More importantly, Martinez far exceeded what I thought was a bold prediction of 20 home runs, hitting 27. Martinez finished 121st on ESPN’s player rater and was being drafted somewhere in the vicinity of 100 spots later.
Meanwhile, I don’t expect the cliff to come next season for Martinez. His 38.8 percent hard-contact rate was in-line with his 38.1 and 39.4 percent rates from 2013 and 2014 prior to his 2015 injuries. His .303 BABIP was even a bit lower than his career rate of .310. I’d compare Martinez to Edgar Martinez in that I believe he has the skillset to age gracefully. I fully expect to own him in all my leagues again in 2017.
Still technically a loss. 0/1
2. Carlos Carrasco will be the No. 1 fantasy starter
I could see Carrasco becoming my new “this is the year Jason Heyward hits a lot of home runs” player. Even in a season with hand and leg injuries, Carrasco had excellent peripherals in the 25 starts he managed. His 19.4 percent K-BB rate was tied for 16th among starters with at least 100 innings. His 3.32 ERA even matched his xFIP despite another season with a seemingly-inflated home run per flyball rate (this time at 16.3 percent). But with only 146.1 innings pitched and an ERA and FIP that couldn’t compete with the elite NL arms, Carrasco was the 35th best starter on the rate, and definitely not the best. Paul Sporer did rank him in his top 10 starters for next year, so don’t be shocked if I roll this one back. 0/2
I honestly have no idea if I’m right about this one. I do know that Baez was awesome this season. Despite being a part of a loaded Cubs roster, Baez pulled 450 plate appearances and hit .273 with 14 home runs and 12 steals. Those stats all paced him for a vintage Zobrist season. He even played five different positions in the field to help the analogy. But here’s the thing: Zobrist was pretty great, too. His 18 home runs were his most in a season since 2012, and he hit a similar .272 but did so over 181 more plate appearances. By the rate, then, Zobrist was more valuable. But Baez was better on a rate basis, had better positional eligibility, and also cost way less in drafts. As such, I think I’ll give myself this one.
Baez had two glaring flaws that made his first trip the majors as a top prospect a bust, a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate. This year, he fixed the former (24.0 percent, down from 41.5 percent in 229 plate appearances in 2014) but failed to fix the latter (3.3 percent, in the bottom 10 of players with 300 or more plate appearances this season). It’s obviously not ideal, but I think Baez can continue to be an effective fantasy player. Obviously, the power, speed, and hit tool provide the fantasy value, but I think he’ll only increase his playing time going forward because he is also an asset defensively. Baez had 11 Defensive Runs Saved in just 383 innings at second this season and 4 in 194 innings at shortstop. This was a similar blueprint to what Addison Russell showed before becoming a full-time shortstop and thriving. The Cubs may not provide short-term answers for Baez beyond his role as a super-utility player, but he will be a starting shortstop at some point. 1/3
4. Jose Quintana will have an ERA over 4.00
This is what I get for making a bold prediction about the most consistent pitcher in baseball. Quintana’s final ERA was 3.20, quite near what it was in each of the last two seasons (3.36 and 3.32). Quintana’s peripheral numbers were all very similar, too. However, the reason I made this prediction in the first place did come true. Tyler Flowers took his pitch-framing skills to Atlanta—where he again led baseball with 14 Runs Saved due to his framing (according to Strike Zone Runs Saved)—and Chicago was left with a combination of Dioner Navarro, Alex Avila, and Omar Narvaez who combined for -9 Runs Saved due to framing (all from Navarro, who also did some of that damage after being traded to Toronto). Quintana may have been unaffected, but what about Chris Sale whose strikeout rate fell from 11.8 per nine in 2015 to 9.3 in 2016? It’s not like these pitchers should be avoided next season, but I’d still feel better if the White Sox signed a better defensive catcher. 1/4
5. John Lackey will have a second consecutive sub-3.00 ERA season
I can’t believe I lost this one. The Cubs were a defensive juggernaut with 107 Runs Saved, the most by a team in the DRS era (since 2003), and in fact all five of their starters had ERAs that outperformed both their FIP and xFIP. Hendricks and Lester did so by more than a full run. Lackey even improved his strikeout rate from 7.2 per nine to 8.6 per nine and BABIP from .295 to .255 (again, that defense was crazy good). Still, he finished the year with a 3.35 ERA. Good enough to be the No. 18 starter on the player rate and a major fantasy bargain, but still a loss. 1/5
6. Pedro Alvarez will lead the Orioles in home runs
I am so mad. An ignored-in-fantasy Orioles DH did hit more home runs than Chris Davis, nine more to lead all of baseball with 47 to be exact. But that ignored DH was not Pedro Alvarez. It was Mark Trumbo. Honestly, at the time, my decision to list Alvarez over Trumbo was practically a coin flip. Alvarez had the better side of the platoon, and Camden Yards is more homer-friendly for left-handed hitters (115 HR factor) than for right-handed hitters (106 HR factor).
Alvarez actually did have a pretty good year, hitting 22 home runs himself in just 376 plate appearances. That prorates to 39 home runs over the 665 plate appearances Chris Davis received. That would have been one more home run than Davis hit. But oh what could have been with this bold prediction. 1/6
7. Jose Peraza will lead the Reds in stolen bases
This was wrong in a variety of interesting ways. First, Billy Hamilton performed a lot better this season. He increased his batting average from .226 to .260 and his on-base percentage from .274 to .321. He managed the former with a 65-point jump in BABIP, but Hamilton is fast enough to carry a .329 BABIP, especially now that his flyball rate decreased from over 37 percent the previous two seasons to 31 percent this year. He also upped his walk rate from 6.2 percent to 7.8 percent, and so I’d say these improvements are sustainable, and I’d project Hamilton to steal 50 bases a year going forward.
Despite the Reds’ poor overall season, Peraza saw just 256 plate appearances in the majors, probably in part because of an uninspiring 104 wRC+ in Triple-A. Still, Peraza stole 21 bases in that limited time, which had him on pace for 49 steals with 600 plate appearances. Peraza shares one of Hamilton’s limitations in that he walked just 2.7 percent of the time this season, but Peraza doesn’t strike out (12.9 percent) and rarely hits the ball in the air (29.0 percent). Even if Hamilton sustains his improvements, I think Peraza is already that good—where “that good” means a flawed real player but potentially excellent fantasy player because of his speed. Think an in-his-prime Ben Revere but with a handful of home runs. He’s a good player to draft late next season for steals, but that I suppose that isn’t helping 2016 fantasy players. 1/7
8. Hunter Strickland will be a top 7 NL closer
Santiago Casilla again showed some major splits this season, allowing a .348 wOBA to right-handed hitters that essentially turned every righty who faced him into Xander Bogaerts. Casilla even blow an MLB-leading nine saves this season, but that was not enough to get him ousted from the closer role until mid-September, when it would have been too late for Strickland to make a fantasy impact even if he hadn’t performed poorly in the role. Strickland wasn’t as good overall in 2016 as he was in 2015, most notably because his walk rate climbed from 1.8 per nine to 2.8. Still, Strickland limited left-handed hitters to a more-palatable .314 wOBA and owned righties. I still think he could be a future closer, but I’d expect the Giants to start the 2017 season with another arm in that role. 1/8
9. Christian Yelich will go 20-20
I view this prediction the way I do my Victor Martinez one. Yes, Yelich came up short, but he produced a good enough fantasy season that I don’t think you minded. In particular, the power really came for Yelich. He increased his home run total from 7 in 2015 to 21 this season. That’s pretty stellar when paired with a .298 batting average over 659 plate appearances, but Yelich stole just nine bases. I’d probably attribute that decline in baserunning aggressiveness to Yelich’s move from the No. 2 spot in the order in 2015 to the No. 3 spot in 2016. So perhaps Yelich’s 20-steal days are behind him, but he is still just 24. Maybe 15 is a reasonable expectation for next season. 1/9
10. Juan Nicasio will be a useful fantasy pitcher, either as a starter or as a reliever
It’s kind of amazing that Nicasio struck out 10.5 batters per nine over 118 innings and still somehow managed to lose me this bold prediction. I guess a 4.50 ERA will do that to you. I would argue that Nicasio’s fantasy value got lucked to death courtesy his .331 BABIP and 13.6 percent home run per flyball rate—pretty hard to do in PNC Park with its 90 Home Run factor. His 3.78 and 3.68 FIP and xFIP would have made him usable despite the walk-driven poor WHIP, but it was not to be. In the end, Ivan Nova seems to be the Pirates’ latest reclamation success story and not Nicasio. 1/10
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