(Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire)
Hey folks, it’s good to be back. As the Winner of the 2017 PLATYPUS (Pitcher List Award for Team This Year that Pulverized Us to Smithereens), I suppose there is a lot of pressure on me to guide you to victory! But be advised… I also said last year Byung-Ho Park was going to make a triumphant return, among many other bad predictions and very few correct ones. But it’s a matter of process, right? Right. I did admittedly dial back the boldness this time around to a non-ludicrous level. But for right now, these predictions are no better or worse than anyone else’s. So here we go:
1. Justin Smoak posts a higher wOBA than Eric Hosmer
All season long, many experts were chugging Big Gulps of haterade for Justin Smoak and calling his season a fluke, and it’s really not hard to understand the hate. He’s disappointed year after year after year until at age 30, he hit .270 with 38 Home Runs. He also shaved nearly 13 points of his K rate, from 32.8% to 20.1%, which was backed by near-career-best O-swing% of 25.8% and Z-Contact% of 87.9%. But so what, it’s just a fluke, right? Wrong (probably). There’s a reason he got chances year after year, because he’s posted a Hard% over 35% every year with a steadily rising FB% which reached a career-high 44.5%. It’s also worth noting (Warning: incoming Alex “Think” Fast) that his father passed away several years ago, and reported having trouble focusing on baseball until he received therapy last year. Baseball players are humans too, and it was after successful treatment that he made swing changes. Eric Hosmer and his shiny year don’t change the fact that he hasn’t made significant changes to his game. You can get Smoak over 50 picks later, with Hosmer’s current ADP at #77 and Smoak at #133, so start Livin’ La Vida Smoak-a.
2. Christian Yelich fails to surpass 20 Home Runs in 2018
When I see lots of helium, I like to deflate it by inhaling deeply and sounding like an idiot chipmunk. And of course it’s hard not to get hyped for Christian Yelich with the ever-alluring all-around production, not to mention the trade from a hopeless team in an extreme pitcher’s park to an offensively-loaded lineup in a hitter’s park. But it seems many people are taking this excitement to pencil him for 25-30 long balls when he has never hit that mark in his career. Sure, many experts say his groundball-heavy approach (56% the past two years, 59% career) was influenced by the home ballpark, and now he’ll change his swing for power. But Jeff Sullivan recently penned an excellent piece suggesting that hitters like Eric Hosmer and Yelich who already have been succeeding with job security and contracts have little incentive to take the risk of implementing a swing change compared to guys on the cusp like Yonder Alonso. It’s true his FB% has crept up 5% each of the past 3 years to 25.2% in 2017, but even with strong exit velocity, his HR/FB of 15.3% isn’t unfairly low. Of course, since Milwaukee gives the green light more often, he can still provide strong value on the base paths and in run production. But seeing as he’s going as a consensus top-50 pick with a min pick of #30 and likely climbing higher up draft boards, I won’t let out a rebel Yelich.
3. Texas fails to find a closer, and not one Texas reliever earns double-digit saves
Yeah, sometimes reality sucks I know. The front-runner, Alex Claudio, was the go-to-guy down the stretch despite the fact that he throws wiffle balls… his fast pitch is a sinker that averaged 86.6 mph and never even hit 89. His mid-70s secondaries both are hard to hit with good whiff rates, but even so, I just can’t see him suppressing homers in Texas in this juiced ball environment with velo that low. From a pure talent perspective, Keone Kela would be the guy with the smart money on him as he has closer stuff, but the Rangers seem to really not like him, both with the disciplinary suspension last year and the fact that they keep targeting alternatives with closer potential… if Tim Lincecum counts. Then there’s fireballing Jake Diekman, who despite being a feel-good story in returning to pitch in September, is still a major health risk and may give up too many free passes to be trusted. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s at least a reasonable chance that the experiment of trying Mike Minor and Matt Bush in the rotation flops. And if that happens, they’ll likely move back to the bullpen and also be viable candidates for saves. I want no part in the Texas Closer rodeo, and this is one situation I don’t want to touch with a ten-foot lasso.
4. Ian Kinsler will be a top-10 2nd baseman
Betting on this undervalued grizzled veteran will be a major Ian Winsler. The 35-year-old deserved much better than a .244 BABIP with his batted ball mix, even with a high infield fly rate, and he still had the great strikeout rate (14.0%) that he’s had for his career. He also hit the ball with authority, with a career-best 37.0% that suggests he’s not yet done being fantasy relevant. Now in LA, he moves from an extreme pitcher’s park to a park that should be at least slightly a hitters park, with the added motivation of being on a more competitive squad. His ADP of #167 is actually better than I had expected, but I’d still definitely take him and his high-floor all-around profile over high-risk options like Paul DeJong at #151, Matt Carpenter at #148, Yoan Moncada at #144, heck he could even outproduce Javier Baez in redrafts, especially in OBP formats. He could age as well as Ian McKellen.
5. Taijuan Walker is a Top 30 starter
Much ado is being made about the arrival of the Humidor in Arizona, with good reason, but it seems that Robbie Ray and Patrick Corbin are getting bigger ADP boosts as a result than Taijuan Walker, who I believe will benefit more than any other Arizona starter. Whereas Ray and Corbin have more solidified repertoires and are in their prime, Walker is still only entering his age-25 season and has yet to consistently compliment his fastball with reliable secondary offerings, at least when pitching on home. When on the road, his slider and curveball produced a dominant combined .527 OPS and 25% K%-BB% over 105 PA, and as the Humidor helps not only with flyball distance but also with pitcher grip, Walker should be able to translate those offspeed road skills to home. The fact that he’s less likely to be punished for mistakes should also certainly help with his confidence, and give him a higher IPS and more overall innings if he can stay healthy. I’d expect at least 175 Ks with a sub-3.50 ERA (this time it’ll be earned) with a sub 1.2 WHIP, with the potential for more. So run over to Walker, Humidorks.
6. Robinson Chirinos entering his age 34 season, performs like a Top-10 catcher
Robinson Chirinos started out as an intriguing part-timer, and even after hitting 17 HR last year he remained nothing more than an intriguing part-timer. But somehow, as a 33-year old catcher, he just keeps getting better. His ISO has actually gone up every year since, posting an ISO of in 2017 with a Barrel% of 6.8% which was 7th best in the league among catchers and 65th best overall. Of course, time is against him, but you can argue that he has less wear and tear on his body due to only playing partial seasons, and while the team said they will limit his catching opportunities, he no longer is in Jonathan Lucroy‘s shadow and can play at 1B and DH where there’s some opening. At his current ADP of 299, he doesn’t have to come that close to fulfilling this prediction to be an astute pickup. Maybe he improves his power yet again and then we find out he’s actually a major league Benjamin Button and he’s just entering his reverse-prime.
Sure, you could say Jose Martinez already had his breakout, after he hit .309 with 14 Homers, 47 R, 46 RBI and 4 SB in just 307 PA. Although it came completely out of nowhere, it’s hard to argue with his 7.5% Barrel%, despite hitting to all fields and a 31% FB% that leaves room for additional power growth if he wants to add loft or pull. He’s also not a hacker up there, as his 8.0% Swstr% is very good for a power hitter and should keep his K rate below 25% and his average above .260. I think he’ll earn near full-time at-bats even in a crowded depth chart, and he’s still great value. His current ADP is 282, while still rising, still puts him behind Albert Pujols and Dansby Swanson, which frankly, is just insulting. Meanwhile Avisail Garcia’s “breakout” came to the tune of a .330 Avg. with 18 HR, 75 R, 80 RBI and 5 SB, and I think it’s a bunch of bat guano in a candy shell. His .392 BABIP belies a Swstr% of 16.3% third-worst in the league behind Gallo and Baez, and despite improved exit velocity and a 6.5 Barrel%, that’s hardly enough to compensate for the soon-to-balloon K rate. Garcia is currently nearly 100 picks ahead at #189, and you’ll be wise to gamble on taking the wind out of his sails with a blast from an on-fire Jose.
8. Rick Porcello posts a sub-4.00 ERA, sub-1.30 WHIP, plus 185 Ks and 15 Wins
I swear it’s not just Red Sox bias… I think it’s just a counter to Nick Pollack’s ANTI-Red Sox bias. I mean, does anyone other than Nick really think Parker Bridwell belongs in the Top 100 pitchers over Rick Porcello? I was never a Porcello fan, but I think the justifiable trashing of Porcello’s undeserved 2016 Cy Young is causing popular opinion to ricochet too far in the other direction for someone who, even in a mess of a season, still logged 181 Ks and 8 Ks per 9. Porcello’s stuff isn’t as crisp as it was earlier in his career, but I still don’t think that awful 38.3% Hard% against is sticky when it’s so out of line with a career mark much closer to 30%. Even though he gives up more fly balls, assuming the hard contact regresses, he’ll be backed by one of the best defensive outfields in baseball with Bradley, Betts, and Benintendi (the new killer Bs) to limit the damage. I think that if that happens he’ll get his walk rate back under 2 per 9, and prove that that at 29 years of age, he can still be a solid #3 workhorse even if he lacks ace upside, and will provide more fantasy value with his solid ratios and counting stats than some of the other pitchers who did make Nick’s Top 300. You may have been bucked off him, but it’s time to get back on the Porce.
This is a prediction in which I almost want to be wrong, since hoping to be right would effectively be wishing physical pain on people. It’s clear that in terms of talent, Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis far exceed their super-utility brethren. But with the constant stream of injuries that have plagued Tulo and Travis, the if-healthy scenario that owners dream may actually be quite disappointing still. This admittedly may be kicking two players while they’re down on draft boards. Tulo’s current ADP of 308 is and Travis’s of 332 are actually behind Yangervis Solarte who is going at 300, but Aledmys Diaz is off most mixed draft boards entirely at 567. While it’s easy to write Diaz off as an “easy come, easy go” flash in the pan in terms of fantasy relevance, it’s worth noting that most of his struggles came after a hand injury, and now with a full offseason of recovery and a hitter-friendly ballpark, his 2018 can be closer to his 2016 than people realize.
10. Lonnie Chisenhall breaks the 20 HR plateau for the first time and hits .280+
When it comes to overlooked end-game OFs that can win you leagues, Lonnie is the Chisen One. While he hardly maintained a pulse in the second half of 2017 after dealing with a lingering leg injury, he was quietly dominant in the first half with 12 HR and a .305 AVG, and it appears it was more than just a fluke. He upped his FB% to a career-high 45.7%, with a career best Hard of 33.7% and an excellent Barrel% of 7.0, right in between Jose Abreu and Salvador Perez. But instead of going full Jake Marisnick and selling out wholesale for power, he actually became more disciplined, with a career-best 9.3% Walk rate backed by a career-best O-Swing of 33.4% and career-best F-Strike% of 54.4%. So while his K rate peaked (since he sacrificed some of his previously elite contact for power) if he can maintain harder contact, it should keep his average high and with useful OBP as well. While there has been much talk of platooning him since he supposedly can’t hit lefties, uh, he actually CRUSHED lefties last year, hitting .340 with 2 HR and a 9/10 BB/K over 60 ABs, and while that’s a small sample, his .career .307 wOBA vs lefties isn’t that far below his .325 mark vs righties. He’s reportedly 100% healthy entering the spring, and I think he’ll earn the playing time to make this possible. His current ADP is 491 so you can still get him dirt cheap even in AL-only, so get crazy with the Chis Whiz.