The Birchwood Brothers’ 10 Bold Predictions In Review

How was your season? Ours, on the whole, was pretty good, though marred by team-wide final-week syncopes that cost us first place in two leagues. This may surprise our readers, since we make a point of following our own advice and our 2018 Bold Predictions, unlike the 2017 edition, were uninspiring. One good thing about confining our BPs to $1 and reserve round picks is that we can’t get hurt too much if we’re wrong. Here’s the inquest:


–We predicted that Boog Powell would beat out Dustin Fowler for the Oakland center field job, and in fact he did. It was downhill from there. Seven unimpressive games into the season, he hurt his knee, and that was that until June, when he went to AAA, did poorly, got hurt again, came back, and did even more poorly. He’s now been outrighted to the minors, and who knows if he’ll ever get another shot, with the A’s or anyone else.

Ryan Cordell, whom we envisioned as a top-five AL rookie, had a season much like Powell’s. Despite a great spring, he started the season in AAA, and broke his collarbone in mid-April. He came back in July, was unimpressive in the minors, nonetheless got called up when rosters expanded, and got a 40-at-bat audition with the nothing-to-lose White Sox (whom, by the way, we expected to win at least 10 more games than they did this season). It did not go well: .108/.125/.216. It can’t be easy to make Adam Engel look like Mike Trout, but Cordell managed. We’re not quite ready to give up on Cordell (or even Powell) yet, because it’s always tough to come back from an injury mid-season. But we’re not excited about him any more.


–We thought Chase Utley and Victor Martinez might have something left. Utley didn’t. Martinez had a little something—he hit the ball hard, as always, throughout the season, and he had an excellent August. But he didn’t have enough.


Sal Romano’s second half last year and his spring this year were encouraging, and we expected a breakout. But in fact, though he had some good moments, he regressed, and wound up in the bullpen, where in fact he did okay. So what happened? Romano’s basically a fastball-slider guy, and when you’ve got only two pitches you need to get them just right to get through a lineup mutiple times. It also looks to us like his fastball lost some of its movement—not too much, but enough for him to get hit a little bit harder, when he already had no margin for error. His future is probably in the bullpen, though he doesn’t have closer-caliber stuff.

–By midseason, we thought, either Tommy Hunter or Adam Morgan would be the Phillies closer. We claim partial credit for envisioning the swift undoing of original Phillies closer Hector Neris, who at draft-time was considered a top-15 and maybe even top-10 closer. And in fact, both Hunter and Morgan pitched decently, got almost 40 holds, and even got a couple of saves. But “decently” and “a couple” weren’t what we had in mind when we touted them. If you drafted, or even considered drafting, Seranthony Dominguez in a redraft league, we salute you.


–“Matt Davidson will have a breakout season.” Davidson has always had tremendous raw power; his besetting sin has been a lack of plate discipline. So when we noticed that his walk rate was way up and his strikeout rate way down in spring training, we got excited, or as excited as you can get about a $1 designated hitter on a weak team who isn’t likely to hit more than .250 or steal any bases. And when Davidson had a superb April (.253/.375/.609, 9 HR), we engaged in some unseemly gloating, going out of our way to correct our esteemed colleague Mike Podhorzer when he suggested of Davidson that “no one saw a breakout of this magnitude coming.” At that point, unfortunately, Davidson reasserted his essential Davidsonness, and wound up having, at least for Fantasy purposes, essentially the same season he had in 2017. We weren’t entirely wrong about him—his walk rate did indeed go up significantly and his strikeout rate down, with a corresponding spike in WAR—but we weren’t as right as we thought we were.

–“Trevor Cahill will be a top 40 starting pitcher.” On August 18th, Cahill pitched the best game anyone pitched against the Astros all season—7 innings, 1 hit, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts, no runs. If the season had ended right then, he would have been not just a top 40 but a top 30 (or maybe even 20) starter. At that point, perhaps because of the upper back injury that sidelined for two weeks during September, perhaps because of one of the two other injuries that put him on the DL earlier in the season, or perhaps because he was seeking his true level, he fell apart. His final numbers were still pretty good (3.76 ERA, 1.19 WHIP), and he earned you a buck or two if you had him, but what a disappointment.

–“Joey Lucchesi will be the NL Rookie Pitcher of the Year.” Like Cahill, Lucchesi started strong, spent time on the DL, and had a weak September that brought his stats down. One of our worst memories of the year, and there are many bad ones, is Lucchesi’s September 23rd outing against the Dodgers, which we don’t have the stomach to describe in detail. Lucchesi still did okay for a rookie pitcher for a weak team. There’s a lot to like about him, including his 10 strikeouts per nine innings and his top-25 xFIP. There’s also a lot to worry about, including his 8.15 ERA third time through the order, though a lot of that was the fourth inning of the aforementioned Dodger game. Still, he should be cheap enough next season to be an attractive buy, though you’ll have to outbid us to get him.

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The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.

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