(Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire)
You know baseball is truly almost upon us when people start writing up their bold predictions. It gives people the opportunity to go out on the limb, and plant their flag saying “this is their guy” heading into the season. Many are wrong (I was 0-5 last season) but even getting one right makes you feel that much smarter. I’m going to give you 10 of my predictions, I am expecting about 0 of these to be correct but anyway, lets get into it:
1. Yu Darvish wins the NL CY Young and receives MVP Votes
In my bold predictions last season I predicted that Darvish would win the Cy Young. I was wrong. However, that won’t stop me from doubling down. This may have become bolder now that Darvish will have to win the award over the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer. Darvish already has three seasons which he struck batters out a 30% clip and his walk-rate is trending in the right direction. He is moving to Chicago where an elite defense and into a division that struck out 22.95%. I’m expecting Darvish to improve on his pre-Tommy John surgery form, where he produced two 30+ K-rate seasons and a sub 3 ERA in 2013. Now he won’t have to deal with the hitter’s paradise of Globe-Life park and has a historically good defense behind him. This is it, this is the season that Darvish finally proves me right, I can feel it in my bones.
2. Sean Newcomb finishes as a Top 40 SP
Newcomb has all the upside in the world, he fanned batters at a 23.7% clip last season in his first 100 innings in the majors. He possesses a changeup, curveball, and slider that gets a swing-strike rate of 13+. His Curveball was especially hard to hit, holding batters to just a 0.074 ISO against. He, unfortunately, has a tendency to walk anyone and everyone with 12.5 walk-rate last season. So far this spring he has walked just two batters in his 10.2 innings of work. He looks to have improved the command on his fastball so far this spring. If we see Newcomb reign in his control and pair that with his excellent swing-and-miss stuff and we may be looking at valuable starter in fantasy baseball.
Is this really that bold? Based off ADP data, yes, but I’m still not sure but I love both guys heading into 2018. Olson hit 47 (!) HR between Triple-A and the majors last season in only 128 games. This wasn’t the first time he displayed this power, he hit 37 HR in High-A ball in 2014. He features a pure-power hitter type approach, he combines an ability to elevate the ball (14th in FB rate), pulls it frequently (5th in Pull rate) and hits it har (90.5 EV). He will be hitting in the middle of an underrated offense in Oakland that was 7th in runs over the second half of the season and now boasts improvements in Stephen Piscotty, Jonathan Lucroy, and a healthy Marcus Semien.
4. Speaking of Marcus Semien, he finishes the season as a top 10 SS
Semien currently has a meager ADP of 227 and is the 20th SS off the board. If you haven’t had the chance to read a great write up regarding Semien yet by our very own writer, please go and do it. It has fully convinced me to buy into Semien’s 2018 season. Semien has the power (27 HR in 2016) and the speed (12/13 SB in 2017) to push his way up SS ranks during the season. As I pointed out with that Olson prediction, the Oakland offense is super underrated. Apparently, I’m all in on the A’s bats this upcoming season.
Morton was on a mission in the second half of the 2017 season. Producing a 3.47 ERA,( 2.96 FIP/3.46 xFIP) and 1.08 WHIP with 95 strikeouts in 83 innings. He put up his second consecutive 26+ K-rate last year, while Cole has still yet to produce a K-rate above 25%. Morton’s 3.62 ERA in 2017 would have been Cole’s best season since his elite 2015 2.6 ERA(which has looked more an more like an outlier). People are expecting positive change for Cole due to the Astros philosophy of heavily featuring off-speed stuff over fastballs. Cole will still have to deal with the change of scenery from an NL pitchers park to an AL hitters park. Cole has an ADP of 78, while Morton’s ADP is 171. Take the cheaper pitcher, who had a better season in 2017.
6. Justin Upton leads the AL in RBI
If a declining Albert Pujols can knock in a 100 runs then what is stopping Justin Upton from building on that and leading the AL. Last season Pujols finished with 101 RBI in 636 AB and took all of his at-bats in the 3rd and 4th position. His .672 OPS was 229 points lower than the resurgent Justin Upton. Upton should see a majority of his at-bats behind the best player in the game and is coming off arguably his best season in his career. He posted a career-best in RBI last season with 109 (8th highest in MLB) and now will play a full season on the Angels and behind Trout.
7. Amir Garrett wins SP role, finishes a top 60 SP in 2018
Garrett was very bad in 2017. He finished with a 7.39 ERA in his 14 starts and allow an almost impressively bad 23 HR in only 70 innings. If you haven’t heard by now the athletic 25-year-old has added three MPH to his fastball low 90’s fastball. He pitched through a hip injury all of last season which could have affected his overall season numbers. He still has an outside shot at the 5th spot in the rotation but nothing is for certain yet. Garrett has shown promise this spring with 11 strikeouts in 9 innings with only 2 earned runs. At the end of the day, it is a small sample size and spring training. Injuries are already plaguing the Reds with Anthony Desclafani and Brandon Finnegan questionable for opening day. I like Garrett to win a back-end rotation job by the end of spring and flourish in it.
8. Mike Clevinger is a top 30 SP
If you didn’t know after the Newcomb prediction, pitchers who strike people out but have shoddy command are my weakness. Mike Clevinger fits that description to a tee. Now that Clevinger has officially locked a rotation spot in Cleveland I can firmly place all my eggs in his basket. He finished the 2017 season with a 3.11 ERA (3.85 FIP/4.05 xFIP/4.24 SIERA), and a 10.13 K/9 in 121.2 innings, the 16th highest Swing-strike rate among starters (12.5%). His Contact-rate of 70.5 was the 8th lowest among starters while hitters had .210 BAA which was the 10th lowest among. He has his warts with his command and his 12 percent walk rate. Given a full season of innings, he will rack up strikeouts for your team and we can be potentially looking at the discount version of Robbie Ray.
9. Zack Godley finishes Top 5 in Cy-young voting
Everyone has their flag plant guys and this season mine is Zack Godley. This is not a knock on Dallas Keuchel, it’s more of a belief in Godley. Godley mixes an elite sinker does what great sinkers do, get ground balls. His Sinker had an impressive groundball rate of 64.3 percent. He pairs his sinker with an electric curveball that held hitters to a measly .091 ISO against, and a K-rate of 46.4 last season. Add the potential humidor effect to Godley’s profile and the sky is the limit for the 28-year-old right-hander and we can see his already great 3.37 ERA (3.41 FIP/ 3.32 xFIP) dropping even furthur.
10. Byron Buxton produces the first 30HR/30SB since 2012
Last and probably my boldest prediction, I’m buying Buxton’s 2nd half breakout from 2017. Buxton has the speed to steal 30 bases and that isn’t particularly bold. He stole 29 in 30 attempts in 2017, and his only caught-stealing was due to sliding past the bag. The power is the real bold part of the prediction. In the 2nd half Buxton 11 HR and saw his hard-hit rate jump up 5 percent to 30.2. His GB/FB fell to 0.91, along with his K-rate at a career low 27.6. If the electric Twins CF can sustain these changes in his profile, he will be flirting with 30/30 and could be the first MLB player to do it since Mike Trout in 2012.