We’re nearly done with our Bold Predictions, with Ben Pernick up with his ten for the season ahead. Baseball is a crazy sport, and part of what makes it so fun to watch is how hard it is to predict. So if you’re going to take up the fool’s errand of prognosticating the future, why not have fun with it and go all out? I do believe all these predictions are real possibilities, that just need the right circumstance and a little luck to come to fruition. Enjoy!
1. Byung-Ho Park makes a triumphant return, smacking 30+ longballs with a .240 AVG
I’m still gung-ho for Byung-Ho Park, and not just because he’s having a strong spring (but that does actually matter, since he can parlay this into playing time. He really improved his strikeout rate after a rough April, and he was 11th in the MLB in flyball/line drive exit velocity, and his late season slump was due to injury. But what’s sexiest is his rank as 2nd best Barrel/Batted Ball% in baseball, and a 97.1 mph exit velocity on flyballs and liners. In other words, the power is massive, so if he can stay healthy even slightly improve his contact & plate discipline, he could be a power beast. For this to happen though, he’ll have to beat out Kennys Vargas, who the organization likes, (since barring injury, Joe Mauer is not going anywhere). But Vargas has a spotty track record and has been below the Mendoza line in Spring Training, so the window of opportunity is there for Byung-Ho to Park balls in the outfield seats.
2. At age 37, Matt Holliday will hit more homers than he’s hit in the past 10 years
Since his 36-homer season in 2007, Matt Holliday has consistently been in the mid-20s in home runs, maxing out at 28. But last year he was a power-happy Holliday, with an exit velocity and flyball/line drive exit velocity above Jose Bautista and Chris Davis, and his .215 ISO was his best since 2011. And with a park that loves powerful lefties, if he can just stay on the field for 550 PA, many more balls will take a long vacation. While the DH penalty may apply and he struggled in his last go in the AL, O.co is Yankee Stadium’s polar opposite. Don’t buy into the ageist argument… Hey, Papi still mashed at 40, so this should be a piece of cake!
3. Tyler Saladino outperforms Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada
While at age 27 Tyler is no longer in his salad days, Saladino has quietly demonstrated he can provide sneaky unheralded value, not unlike the kind David Murphy provided as a jack-of-all-trades for several years in Texas. He lacks strong exit velocity, but he can still eke out double digit pop and use his excellent contact skills (91.8% Z-Contact%) and speed to crank out a .280-12-20 line now that Brett Lawrie leaving lends a long leash. I am also a Tim Anderson skeptic, believing his power will regress, pitchers will adjust to take advantage of his poor plate discipline, and he’ll struggle to translate his speed to successful stolen bases at a higher level. I may as well double down on those arguments for Yoan Moncada, who despite superior talent, had even worse discipline. The shiny new toys may make Tyler look like a Saladinosaur, but he’ll have the last laugh and be Saladino-mite!
4. Yasiel Puig will finally make fools of his doubters and hit .300 with 40 combined homers and stolen bases
Someone has some nonsense quote about finding what you’re looking for right when you’re ready to give up. Enter Yasiel Puig, who made owners salivate but were left hungry and having to do more laundry. Since his electric debut, he’s only shown his phenomenal skills in flashes and highlights, but his hard hit rate and exit velocity show his talent far exceeds the stat line. Now a year older, maybe he’s finally matured enough to focus and hustle and achieve stardom, instead of slipping into the Milton Bradley/Delmon Young tier of baseball wasted talent hell.
5. The Rays, despite owning 2 closers, will end the season with an unlikely man in the 9th: Danny Farquhar
I’ve long been a fan of Lord Farquhar, but his stock has dwindled a good deal since his impressive debut a few years back. He seemed to completely fall apart this year, but some time in the minors must’ve worked wonders for him, because he was nearly unhittable upon his return, striking out batters on both sides of the plate… in the second half he had a 1.75 ERA, with 36 Ks in 24 ⅔ Innings. Yowza. While he won’t benefit again from a LOB% over 90%, it’s highly unlikely he won’t have a 26.7% HR/FB again. But the real reason he’ll win it is because the closer role in TB changes every year like the professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts.
6. Tyler Flowers will outproduce Matt Wieters
Find the name that doesn’t belong. Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Joc Pederson, Miguel Sano, Tyler Flowers, Jake Lamb, Yasmany Tomas. You guessed correct, if you said “Bryce Harper”, since he’s the only one who wasn’t in a high percentile in Barreled balls per plate appearance. As unexpected as the Spanish Inquisition, Flowers is the 3rd catcher in baseball in this metric, trailing only Gary Sanchez, and Mike Zunino (who I also like, but who also has more pronounced strikeout issues), and Flowers has excellent exit velocity. At 31, most would assume Tyler is wilting, but I believe this Flowers is set to blossom. It’s actually surprising his breakout didn’t occur last year, as he significantly reduced his career 18.6% soft contact to just 12.9%, and hit a staggering 43.8% Hard Contact Rate, both of which are beyond the 15%/45%/40% Soft/Medium/Hard “Excellent” benchmarks. Not only that, but he actually improved plate discipline over the past few years from downright terrible to actually passable, with an 8.9% walk rate and 28% K rate. If he can come close to repeating those numbers and stay on the field, he can hit 20-25 longballs with solid OBP and become a Top 10 Catcher overall. So let the people avoiding him because his 2016 BABIP seems too high pat themselves on their little backs, and take a chance on the late bloomer.
7. 2017 AL Cy Young Winner: Lance McCullers
Hey, we said bold, didn’t we? Look, a lot of things would have to happen for this to be possible. The biggest thing is that Lance McCullers needs to stay healthy enough to throw 180-200 Innings. But predicting injury is impossible so let’s assume he’s healthy. I think that even with his crazy high spin rate breaking balls, his walk rate should regress to something more palatable, and entering his age 23 season, I think it’s likely he takes another step forward. And his competition is somewhat flawed: Archer had issues last year too, Corey Kluber’s gradually getting more hittable, Justin Verlander is in his decline phase, Yu Darvish has even more injury risk, and Chris Sale lost some strikeout punch and might struggle in Fenway. I’m eating up the hype like that 90’s Popsicle commercial: “McCullers, Duke, McCullers!”
8. Jett Bandy ends the year as a Top 15 catcher
Of course, with the quality of major league catching, it’s not like Top 15 would set the world on fire. On the other hand, this is Jett Bandy, who only ever gets talked about because he has a name that sounds like it’s out of a steampunk cowboy movie. I’ve actually been riding the Bandywagon (™) for some time now, since it’s rare to find a catcher who can put up a strikeout rate below 20%, which Bandy did pull of at 16.5%. On the other hand, while he clocked 8 dingers last year in just 231 PA and is in a better park for power, his flyball exit velocity is below Nori Aoki. Oof. Still he should beat out Andrew Susac and can be a sleeper candidate for a .250 AVG. and 12-15 HR, and then he’ll steal the girl from the more popular aristocrat Bruce Maxwell III, using a steam-powered lasso.
9. Shelby Miller figures himself out again, and posts a sub-3.50 ERA and 160+ Ks
I feel like this is one of those predictions that could be seen as too mild, but only by those suffering from amnesia of the entire year of 2016. Shelby Miller was a complete disaster, having difficulty with his command and getting all of his pitches getting shellacked. I’m sure moving to that bandbox of a stadium in Arizona didn’t help much either. But he should be in his peak years right now and the talent must still be there somewhere. It doesn’t seem that he’s injured, and Miller has enough of a track record that there’s reason to hope he (or one of his coaches) identifies some fatal flaw in his mechanics/delivery that he can fix and become good again. Let’s hope Shelby is convertible. Heh. Car humor.
10. A.J. Reed and Yulieski Gurriel both become top-15 First basemen
I suppose part of this prediction’s boldness is that when you look at the Astros’ current roster construction, this seems downright impossible. With the Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran signings, Evan Gattis is entrenched at DH, which leaves only one of Yulieski Gurriel or A.J. Reed to take the first base position, or even worse, a platoon. But Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran both have trouble staying healthy, and Gurriel could pass in OF (Nori Aoki won’t hold him off) if both guys are mashing. Yes, even Reed’s exit velocity was poor in 2016, and he struck out a ton, but I’m not going to believe his MLB .098 ISO after posting .264 in Triple-A. He said he corrected some mechanical flaws from last year and he can right the ship and hits 30 longballs with a .255 AVG and great OBP as a post-hype bargain. As for Gurriel, while he may only have the pop for 15-20 homers, he could post a .290+ AVG., perhaps even eclipsing .300, due to his contact skills. I think it’s being overlooked that in his first time facing major leaguers, he only struck out 8.8% of the time. That’s amazing! Sure, that may regress as it was a small sample and wasn’t fully supported by his plate discipline metrics, but I also think having spring training to warm up this year will only help him. Plus, both would be in an excellent run scoring environment. This ain’t no lie, buy buy buy