Ben Pernick’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2019
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire
Hey folks, it’s good to be back. In 2018, my bold predictions went 4-for-10, and while I could see that as cause for celebration, I just think that means I need to get bolder. As crazy as some of these predictions may sound, crazy things happen every year (I see you, Max Muncy) and neither you nor I will know until several months from now. So without further ado, let’s get bold and spicy.
1. Nolan Arenado does not finish the season as a Top-5 third baseman
As they say, Go bold or go home, and my home is not as favorable as Coors. I already survived my first Arenado AngryFanTornado, so let’s dance once more. While Nolan Arenado‘s 2018 numbers look A-OK on the surface, his xStats indicate he got super lucky in 2018, and even after accounting for Coors inflation, his expected numbers are closer to those of Matt Chapman. It was so jarring that the xStats disparity inspired me to write a whole article about why he sure looks like a 2019 first round bust. Essentially, his fly ball rate dropped from 45% to under 39% and launch angle dropped from 17 to 15, which is substantial for a player who needs a high fly-ball rate for power to compensate for his merely adequate exit velocity. He also has batting average downside as his Z-contact% has been in accelerating decline every year since 2015, from an elite 91% in ’15 to a merely average 84% in 2015. His barrel% has declined every year since 2015, when it ranked 39th, but last year it plummeted to 135th, on par with Asdrubal Cabrera. On top of that, the surrounding cast outside of Story and Blackmon isn’t as strong as previous years, resulting in fewer run production opportunities. He’s still going in the first round, since everyone’s ignoring the warning signs, but after Jose Ramirez and Alex Bregman, I am also bullish on a few guys from the group of Rendon, Muncy, Suarez, Carpenter, Bryant, Vlad Jr., Donaldson, and others to give him the hook.
2. Anthony Rendon, however, finishes as a Top-3 third baseman
Now that I’ve made the argument that Arenado overperformed, it only makes sense to balance it out with a similar argument for a player who underperformed. Like Arenado, Anthony Rendon is a player seen as a high-floor consistent but rather boring player, with an excellent .308/.374/.535 24 HR this year. However, xStats says he actually deserved far better, with a .314/.379/.566 and 29.5 xHR. That may not seem like such a huge difference, but when you hit above .300 in the heart of the order and also can steal some bases, 4 to 5 homers makes a big difference. He also gets lots of extra base hits contributing to a deceptively elite SLG%, with an OPS of .909 but even better xOPS of .945. That’s higher than the actual 2018 OPS of Arenado and even Ramirez. It looks like a sustainable improvement, as he had a career-low GB% of 33% and a career-best contact rate at 88%. It’s easy to forget he’s still just 28 and no longer a health risk after 3 full seasons. What everyone’s dreaming that Vlad Jr. will do this year, Rendon is doing that now, so don’t underestimate his ceiling. I’ve got a case of Rendonitis, and it feels good.
3. Miguel Cabrera outproduces Nick Castellanos
If you had read my Miguel Cabrera article, you would understand my love for him this year, unless you were one of the ones who only read the headline and complained about his contract, which is largely immaterial to fantasy baseball. People seem to believe in Nick Castellanos‘s ability to sustain a .290-.300 average with a 22% K%, but I just don’t think it’s sustainable, even if he’s traded to a more hitter-friendly ballpark. His career-worst 15.8% Swstr% is one of the worst in the league and could result in Gallo-esque strikeout potential. Miguel Cabrera not only has far superior plate discipline and contact skills, he also has superior exit velocity on every batted ball type. In fact, due to his shortened campaign, many didn’t notice that in 2018, Miggy was crushing the ball like the good ol’ days, with a 94.4 mph avg. exit velocity that was 2nd-best in baseball only behind Aaron Judge. He just needs to regain his typical loft to round back into form, and I think his bicep issues contributed to that, but it’s an issue he’s now recovered from. And as for Miguel Cabrera’s health, it’s already baked into his price, as over a full healthy season he could produce like a top-30 player. Sure, he’s 35 now, but he’s still logged over 500 PA every year besides 2018, and it wasn’t that long ago that Castellanos was the one with the injury-prone moniker. Being 9 years younger, time is on Casty’s side, but with how high above Castellanos (84) is going above Cabrera (160), I’m betting on the superior career hitter, and will cross my fingers that he’ll stay healthy.
4. Luke Voit is a top-10 fantasy first baseman
He’s more than just a Fluke Voit. His Yankees debut was one of the most impressive small samples of the year, hitting .322/.398/.671 with 15 dingers in just 161 PA. It’s easy to project regression by pointing to Matt Olson’s disappointing sophomore campaign, and while that’s fair, in that year Olson had a Barrel/PA rate of 9.7% (7th in MLB), where he amassed a league-leading 12.4% (granted, in a smaller sample size). In a new metric Baseball Prospectus recently unveiled that more accurately predicts and determines deserved production, Luke Voit ranked 5th in the majors with a DRC+ of 154, indicating his breakout was a lot more than just good luck. While he has his flaws as hitter, namely his high whiff rate, they’re no worse than other sluggers with similar power. His value is boosted by Yankee Stadium, as he has opposite field power, with a 43.2% FB oppo, and he did hit 6 of his 15 home runs to right field to take advantage of the short porch. It’s easy to point to Voit’s previous uninspiring minor league track record, where he never reached 20 HR in a season, but even a fully healthy Greg Bird does not match the ability Voit has displayed. I’m expecting an average over .260 with 35+ HR, which is plenty enough to rank top 10 at the recently depleted position. At his current pick of 184, you can get a total steal here.
5. Franmil Reyes is a Top 20 outfielder in both AVG and OBP formats
If this prediction weren’t considered bold at the outset, it definitely gets there now. After the Padres announced Wil Myers would be sticking to outfield, Franmil Reyes is left to fight for playing time with Hunter Renfroe, Manny Margot and Franchy Cordero, but I’ll be sending out and stamping all my Franmil Fanmail. Analysts continue to label Franmil as a helplessly strikeout-prone hitter, but the strides the rookie made in the second half were rather incredible. After a first half of hitting just .222 with 6 HR in 105 PA, resulting in a demotion, he worked on shortening his swing, and returned to a fantastic second half, hitting .315 with 10 HR in 180 PA. But lest you chalk this up to swings in luck, just look at the improvement in his BB and K rates, which were 6% and a frightening 39% in the 1st half, but 22% in 10% in the 2nd half. So he managed to cut his K rate nearly in half while nearly doubling his walk rate, while not sacrificing his 70-grade power. While Renfroe and Franchy pack raw pop, and Renfroe did improve in the 2nd half as well, Franmil has the greatest ability of the bunch. If he recovers from his offseason meniscus surgery and keeps those plate discipline gains, he could hit .270+ with his 30+ HR and a double-digit walk rate, plus a handful of SB. At the 54th OF-eligible player by ADP, he could be among the biggest fantasy sleepers that everyone’s still sleeping on.
6. The Angels are Top 5 in ERA, despite no Angels starter surpassing 150 Innings
I love the Angels pitchers almost as much as they love the team doctor. Has this ever been done in history? Last year this was not the case, as Andrew Heaney surpassed 180 innings and is entering this season with a clean bill of health, but he’s still not out of the woods from Tommy John. The rest of their rotation features players who have shown periods of excellence when healthy but have struggled to stay on the mound. Tyler Skaggs was arguably a Top-20 pitcher until injuries caused him to have one of the ugliest pitcher months in recent memory, tanking his ERA and draft stock. Trevor Cahill also was a strong pitcher when healthy and had a strong first half before hitting the DL and then, much like in 2017, struggling thereafter. Matt Harvey is another post-injury wildcard, but his velocity did rise, which could improve his 2019 ERA, but perhaps also his injury risk. They also have pitchers who have had past success when healthy such as Nick Tropeano, Alex Meyer, Felix Pena and J.C. Ramirez, who have all shown glimpses of dominance when healthy. I will not be cheering for this prediction to be right because that would entail cheering for people to get hurt (I am not a monster), but I will enjoy watching their pitchers and hoping they can piece together a pitching Megazord, or at least a Katamari ball.
7. Jose Alvarado becomes a top 5 relief pitcher
You’re bound to end up with gold if you take the road to Alvarado. The 23-year-old fireballer continued to increase the usage of his cutter as the year went on, and the more he threw it, the more unhittable he became. In the first half, Jose Alvarado posted a strong 2.58 ERA and 42 Ks (19 BB) in 38 innings, but in his 25 2nd half innings, he posted a 2.10 ERA but with 38 Ks (10 BB) and a .157 AVG against. The second half dominance is supported by his strikeout rates, as his 2nd half had a gaudy 13.7 K/9 with just a 3.6 BB/9, rates you’d expect from peak Craig Kimbrel. The Rays look to compete this year and can provide lots of save opportunities with their elite pitching and strong offense. Still, despite being the only relief pitcher on the squad with clear closer stuff, the team hasn’t named him the closer. Perhaps largely in part due to the unpredictability of the Rays moves with their newfangled strategies and cost-cutting ways, he’s still only going as the 16th reliever off the board, where he is a great buy. Alvaradical!
8. Cedric Mullins hits .270+ with 40 combined HR and SB and 80 runs
He made a big splash in his first few games, but quickly started going under, finishing the season hitting just .235/.312/.359 with 4 HR and 2 SB in 191 PA. But Cedric Mullins has the potential to be a rare 5-tool contributor you can get after pick 300, as his ADP right now is only 323. Unlike other late-game power/speed threats like Goodrum, Mullins actually may have the ability to hit for a high average, as his low 6.9% Swstr% belies his pedestrian 19.4% strikeout rate. Scored as one of fastest regulars in the league with a 29.3 ft/sec, he’ll also be on a team that has nothing to lose letting him and Villar run like crazy. He’s no Mookie Betts despite being a similar compact size, but it’s rather puzzling he’s flown so under the radar with his wide base of tools, an opinion echoed by Fringe Five author Carson Cistulli. He’ll get plenty of chances to accumulate those numbers, as he’s projected to lead off, which makes a big difference for run production even for an anemic offense. If he’s still available late in your draft, don’t spend too long Mullin it over.
9. The Minnesota Twins finish among the 5 best teams in Home Runs, but also among the 5 worst in Home Runs Allowed.
The Twins haven’t been synonymous with offensive powerhouse since the M&M boys Morneau + Mauer, but I think we’re there again, but with a more well-rounded source of power. Their team is basically a team full of hitting sleepers, with underrated valuable fantasy options at every position, especially with the acquisitions of not only Nelson Cruz, but also C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop. Meanwhile, despite their ugly 2018 campaigns, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler all solid bets for a fantasy rebound. Not only that, they have great power hitters like Alex Kiriloff and Brent Rooker in the minors. I would not be surprised if Kiriloff earns a midseason call-up and is the best shiny new toy since Juan Soto.
The rotation, however, is largely a mess. Behind their “ace” Jose Berrios and a solid mid-rotation arm in Kyle Gibson, they have a lot of highly inconsistent tater-prone starters, a mishmash of Odorizzi, Pineda, Gonsalves, Mejia and whatever mediocre yokels they yank from the upper minors. I mean, they signed Martin Perez as a starter, so you KNOW things are bad. They will probably have lots of come-from-behind victories, so don’t forget Fernando Romero if he goes into relief as he could actually vulture some wins… if he doesn’t end up closing. Even their best relievers (Trevor May, Blake Parker, Addison Reed) seem to have issues with the long ball. Considering the Twins ranked 23rd in Home Runs in 2018 and the Orioles, Tigers, Marlins, Rangers and Royals are still stinking the league up, I think this is sufficiently bold. So if you go to Target field this year, don’t forget to bring your glove.
10. Domingo German will emerge as a Top 60 starter
His stuff certainly had his flaws this year – namely, a crazy-high home run rate and maddening inconsistency, but German’s potential as exciting as Oktoberfest. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to German is just getting the opportunity to begin with, as the Yankees currently have a strong starting 5, pending Sabathia’s health and effectiveness, and still have the younger Loaisiga waiting in the wings. But whether it’s a trade or an injury (which would not be surprising, considering the advanced age of their rotation, and Paxton), I believe that German will get another chance in the rotation, and the 26-year-old will shine brighter this time around. He certainly had a meatball problem, leaving pitches on the plate when he would have been better off missing, leading to a high home run rate. But it was also a small sample and I think that’s correctable, and what will win out is his electric stuff. He already has a plus fastball, averaging at 94-95 mph, and his curveball is already a money pitch, with a 2.1 pVal. But you probably missed that technically, his changeup is also a money pitch, despite its -2.3 pVal. If he can improve his usage, it gives him a third velocity band (87 mph) that will help his FB and CB (81 mph) play up. xStats says he deserved far better, with just 11 xHR to his 15 HR allowed and a ScFIP of 3.87. Even in a park that may leave him with an inflated HR rate, he could still log a high 3 or low 4 ERA with 10 K/9, with plenty of wins, even without going deep in games thanks to the lights-out bullpen. At his rock-bottom ADP of 468, that would be as delicious as a German chocolate cake. I’m not doubling up on Germany jokes, that cake as invented by a guy named Samuel German. There, now you know I do my research.
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire.