Across this week and next, the Pitcher List staff will be revealing their 10 bold predictions for 2017. We’ll be reviewing them through the year on our podcast as a beautiful custom bobblehead is at stake for the winner at the end of the season. We have some creative predictions and it’s going to be a fun two weeks as we gear up for the season ahead. To lead it off, we have Ben Palmer’s bold predictions for the upcoming season.
These are all predictions that, more than likely, will not happen, but they definitely could. Who knows? Maybe the season will end and I’ll look like a prescient genius, or maybe I’ll look like a total idiot. Actually that could go for any of my articles.
1. Hector Neris finishes the year with more saves than Craig Kimbrel
Jeanmar Gomez kind of came out of nowhere last season and saved 37 games for the Phillies. That alone was more than Craig Kimbrel saved, and Gomez isn’t exactly an incredible closer. In the time that Hector Neris pitched last season, he was fantastic, with an 11.43 K/9, a 2.58 ERA, and a 33.3% chase rate. As of now, the Phillies have a bit of a three-headed monster in the closer role between Gomez, Joaquin Benoit, and Neris, but Neris is far and away the best pitcher of the three. Kimbrel isn’t the Craig Kimbrel we all knew a few years ago. His fastball has declined a bit, and he had a seriously high walk rate last year (13.6%). If Gomez can get more saves than Kimbrel, then I think Neris definitely can. It will just take him taking the closer role in Philadelphia, and hopefully the Phillies are smart enough to recognize Neris’ talent.
2. Kevin Gausman will finish the season as a top-20 starting pitcher
I know I know, I’m an Orioles fan, I’m probably just fanboying about Kevin Gausman. But I’m not. Gausman looked excellent last season, and the reason for that was his fantastic split-changeup. The pitch looked great last year, and Gausman gained confidence in throwing it, not afraid to toss the pitch out there when he was behind in the count. He finished the year with a career-high in inning pitched at 179.2, a good K/9 of 8.72, and a 34.8% chase rate that’s good for the highest in his career (excluding his brief appearance for the Orioles in 2013). He’s getting better, and I could absolutely see him breaking out in 2017 and becoming the pitcher we all know that he can be.
3. Danny Duffy is in the Top 7 in the AL Cy Young vote
Danny Duffy popped out of nowhere last season and it was legit. He made a very noticeable, very real skill change last season. His control got better, his fastball increased in velocity, and his strikeouts went way up, going from 6.72 in 2015 to 9.42 in 2016. He spent the first month and a half or so of the season in the bullpen, yet still finished the year as a top-40 starting pitcher. If he gets a full season of starts, he could really take another step forward, and with those strikeouts, he could be in the Cy Young conversation.
4. Giancarlo Stanton will lead the NL in home runs
I almost wrote that Giancarlo Stanton would lead the MLB in home runs, and he totally could, but I have a different candidate for that (more on that later). Yes, Stanton has been a pain to own because of the injuries, but all the injuries have been different, likely non-recurring injuries. He’s had a hamstring, facial, knee, and hand injury. The only one of those that I could see coming back is the hamstring injury, but still, I think Stanton could play a full season, and if he does, 40+ home runs is more likely than not.
5. For the fourth straight year, the MLB leader in home runs is an Oriole, and that person is Manny Machado.
Honestly, saying Manny Machado will hit a bunch of home runs is far from a stretch, but if he’s going to lead the MLB in home runs, he’ll need to hit more than he ever has before (he’ll have to top 40). He’s been steadily increasing his home run numbers, hitting 37 last season, and I think breaking 40 and leading the majors in home runs is a very real prospect. Manny is sold out to power now. Between 2015 and 2016, his hard hit rate and ISO rose, while his strikeout rate, chase rate, and whiff rate all rose as well. Sure, he hit .294, because he’s an amazing hitter, but he’s swinging for the fences, and while it might result in a slight average drop, I think Manny could crush the ball and lead the MLB in home runs.
6. Kyle Hendricks finishes the year with an ERA above 3.50
Kyle Hendricks just doesn’t have stuff that’s that amazing. Yes, he finished the year with a 2.13 ERA, but he also had a 3.20 FIP and 3.59 xFIP. He has a fastball that averages around 88 MPH, and while he has good command which leads to a low walk rate, he just doesn’t miss enough bats to have a sub-3.00 ERA. Plus, he had a .250 BABIP and a very generous (especially considering his K/9) 81.5% strand rate. These all signal regression. Hendricks had a great year last year, but I think he’s due for a disappointing one this year.
7. Welington Castillo leads all catchers in home runs
I know, so many Orioles predictions! It really has nothing to do with the team and more just the players, I promise. Welington Castillo’s move to Baltimore should undoubtedly increase his home run numbers. We saw an increase with Mark Trumbo when he moved to Baltimore (though that was partly due to a change in approach) and I think we could see that with Castillo. Welington does not do soft contact, at all. He had a 13% soft hit rate which would’ve been good for 14th-lowest in the majors had he qualified. That’s in the same company as players like Corey Seager, Freddie Freeman, and J.D. Martinez, among others. And if you look at his hard hit rate, it was an excellent 39.8% last season, which, had he qualified, would’ve landed him 15th in the majors, just behind Seager and Kris Bryant. Probably the biggest challenge for Castillo to achieve this is out-homering Gary Sanchez, but give him a full season in Baltimore and watch the balls fly.
8. Robert Gsellman out-performs all Mets pitchers except Noah Syndergaard
Robert Gsellman looked awesome last season, finishing with a 2.42 ERA and an 8.46 K/9 in seven starts. While the sample size is small, the skills are far from it. His FIP was a reasonable 2.63, and his BABIP was even a little elevated at .325. His fastball could hit 98 MPH at times, his sinker and cutter are well above-average pitches, and along with the solid number of strikeouts, he induced a lot of groundballs, finishing the year with a 54.2% groundball rate. While I think Noah Syndergaard should be obviously be a stud pitcher despite the injury concerns, there are far stronger injury concerns about essentially the rest of the Mets rotation, between Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler. This could be Gsellman’s breakout year, and he could be one of the best pitchers in the Mets rotation.
9. Billy Hamilton steals 90 bases
Billy Hamilton’s average rebounded as his BABIP improved, and he finished the season with an incredible second half, batting .293 with 36 stolen bases in just 45 games. On the season, he stole 58 bases in 119 games, so let’s say he plays 150 games and improves his average to around .270-.275. I think 90 stolen bases in that scenario could totally happen, and maybe even 100 (dare I dream?). We can’t forget that Billy Hamilton is an absolute freak of an athlete. This is the guy who once scored a game-winning run in the minors on a sacrifice fly that never left the infield. He once ran from his shortstop position to the warning track in left field to catch a fly ball that the left fielder had lost sight of (again, in the minors). The man is an incredible talent on the basepaths, and I think he could just get better.
10. Marcus Stroman becomes the ace of the Blue Jays and finishes the year as a top-20 starting pitcher
Marcus Stroman had a rough 2016 to say the least, finishing the year with a 4.37 ERA and a pedestrian 7.32 K/9. This was mostly due to a horrible May and June where he had virtually no control, allowing around three BB/9. But he figured things out after that and had a much better rest of his season, bringing the BB/9 down to around two, and posting a 3.42 ERA. Stroman has fantastic stuff, all six of his pitches produce strikeouts, and his slider, cutter, and changeup all had whiff rates over 14%. Plus, he creates groundballs like you wouldn’t believe, his 60.1% groundball rate last season was other-worldly (and lead the majors). He strikes people out and induces groundballs at a very high rate, that’s a recipe for success.