In the Spring, I wrote my Bold Predictions, with full confidence that most of them would come true. Well, this is why you should never trust a confident person. To be fair, my predictions involving the Yankees were far more accurate. With that said, enjoy the review!
1. Aaron Judge hits .300 with 50 HR and 110 RBI
Talk about starting strong! I got razzed a good deal for this prediction, especially after the preseason noise that Judge would miss the Toronto series and maybe even Yankees home games due to his iffy vaccine status, so there was NO WAY he could reach fifty. Judge’s 2021 improvement of strikeout rate and superlative Statcast expected stats proved to be much more signal than noise, and he upped it up a notch to a legendary .311 AVG with 62 HR, 133 R, and 131 RBI. He also tallied 16 SB just because why not? It was fair to assume with his improbably awesome start that at some point he’d slow down, but he actually got better, with his batting average going from the .280s up thirty points, and the power only slowing down once the pressure to pass Maris’ homer record came into play.
It was the greatest fantasy season by a hitter in the modern era, and so my bold prediction looks not so bold. Still, it was certainly bold at the time, as he’d never have fallen to the third and fourth rounds of drafts had this been seen as a realistic outcome (especially with Vladito in the top 5). I suppose my prediction is that if you see a Statcast Adonis with a strikeout problem improve their strikeout problem, take notice. Just don’t be like me and miss out on them in nearly all my drafts because I got cute and thought I could wait on them one more round instead of sticking with my gut.
2. The Pirates will be a Top 5 team in Stolen Bases
This prediction hinged on quite a few things happening that didn’t really happen as I hoped. One was that O’Neil Cruz did not play the full season, and given that he stole 11 SB in 331 AB, a full season would have helped. However, I was also hoping for bigger roles for Anthony Alford, Cole Tucker, and Hoy Park, all of whom barely played and when they did, made zero impact with the bat or the legs.
Ke’Bryan Hayes was the biggest SB contributor with 20 bags (saying nothing about his wet noodle bat), but with him being the only Pirate with double-digit SBs (next highest was Reynolds with 7), they finished 14th in the MLB with 89 total SBs, which was an improvement from 2021 but not enough. Lesson learned? Don’t bank on SBs from players who don’t hit enough to reliably play. That being said, I do think that next year they will likely steal more bases, although they also just won’t be a very good team otherwise.
3. Josh Donaldson is a Top 5 Third Baseman
Well here’s my only Yankees-based prediction that went wrong… granted when I made it, he was still a Twin. Donaldson not only made himself hated both on and off the field, Donald Yuck laid an egg. He ultimately hit .222/.308/.374 with 15 HR 59 R, 62 RBI, and 2 SB in 478 AB. The only thing he managed to succeed in was staying relatively healthy, but he still finished 35th among third basemen.
I had based my optimism on bullish Statcast figures from the year before, but I failed to learn the lesson the first time: don’t get too giddy about stat lines from aging players, because it’s unlikely to repeat. One wonders if a hidden injury was behind the sudden drop-off from the typically reliable hot corner, but I think Occam’s Razor cuts to the fact that he’s 36 and Nelson Cruz made us forget for a while that the mid-thirties has a high performance decline rate. I’d only bet on him again if he’s dirt cheap.
4. Aroldis Chapman earns fewer than 10 Saves
Wow, was this prediction ever a close one, but I got it! He had 9 saves early in the year and finished with those same 9 saves, with several teases throughout the season that he’d be brought back into the role. Yet, Clay Holmes managed to hold it down (aside from his injury) and even though the Yankees talked about easing Aroldis back into the role, the few chances Chapman got when he returned did nothing to put more faith in him.
It seems here I correctly read the tea leaves of the danger of his 16% walk rate, combined with an increase in barrel rate and hard contact starting in 2020. While he still had a high K rate at 99th percentile and a new splitter, his age at the season’s start (34) with the volatility of relievers in general makes it hard to ever assume a closer is “safe”. Chapman finished the year with a 4-4 record, 4.46 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 9 saves, and 1 hold in 36 1/3 innings, making this prediction my second slam dunk. He’ll need to make some serious changes or find a new home if he ever wants to close again.
5. Evan Longoria is a Top 20 Third Baseman
So much for my Longo shot. Longo, somewhat similar to Donaldson, failed to repeat his impressive 2021 Statcast rates, as his HardHit% dropped from 55% to 47% and K% ballooned from 23% to 28%. Given that he’s 37, I probably should have also baked in age-related decline. His barrel rate remained strong at 12%, but he dealt with injuries on and off throughout the season, ruining the chance for a decent overall season to come to fruition. Even when not hurt, the Giants were so platoon-happy that he still wasn’t likely to reach it anyway, especially with so many other Giant options who could play the hot corner.
Longoria finished with a .244 AVG, 14 HR, 31 R, and 42 RBI in 298 PA, meaning that if he had amassed 600 PA, perhaps he could have eclipsed 25 HR and made the cut. I suppose the lesson here is don’t bet on an aging player coming off an injury-plagued season to put up a healthy season even if he had a solid health track record beforehand (for a while, anyway.). My track record on betting on improvement in aging players with good peripherals has been pretty darn bad, so in general, it’s probably best to stop flipping off the undefeated Father Time.
6. Matt Chapman is not even a Top 25 Third Baseman
I always root for players, well most players, to be good. So I’m not sad that Chapman was able to reverse his statistical decline he had quietly undergone the past couple years. He managed to bring his K% down to 27%, over 5% down from his 2021 season, to go with a 51% HardHit% that was up 9% from last year. He still had disappointing stretches, being the still streaky hitter that he is, but he turned things on late, ultimately tallying a .229 AVG, 27 HR, 83 R, 76 RBI, and 2 SB in 621 PA (538 PA). That ranked him the 17th-best third-baseman according to the ESPN player rater, so this prediction fell flat.
I suppose the lesson here is not to take volume for granted, as it was his 600+ PA in a stacked lineup that allowed him to get the high-level run production to compensate that, on a per-at-bat basis, he still wasn’t that good. This is the third straight season in which he’s hit below .235, and as I pointed out in my writeup, he’s only eclipsed 30 HR once in 6 seasons (granted, he had partial seasons in 2017 and 2020, but he wasn’t on pace for it anyway). Essentially, he benefited from the rest of the 3B pool being very poor. But I suppose I should have accounted for that.
7. Connor Joe will be a Top 3 hitter on the Rockies
I miss late April when I made myself tired from all of the victory laps I ran for this prediction. Blame me all you want, but he hit a snazzy .272 with 4 HR and 1 SB in his 92 April PA, but it didn’t take me too long to realize (late May) to realize that there were some issues with Joe. His excellent 2021 barrel rate was far lower, and his hard hit rate and average exit velocity were also ice-cold, as it seemed he got by on bloopers and lucky flies in a way that’s not normal even for Coors.
The power dried up fast with no more than 1 homer any month from April on (May and July had 0), and his second-half batting average plummeted to a lousy .139 in 86 PA before going down with an injury. He finished the year hitting just .238 with 7 HR and 6 SB in 467 PA (at least that was some unexpected consolation), and it’s pretty sad that he had more homers last year in less than half the plate appearances (211). With his wRC+ of just 87, well below replacement level, he definitely didn’t make the Top 3 as he was well behind C.J. Cron, Brendan Rodgers, Ryan McMahon, Charlie Blackmon, and Randal Grichuk, though rather disturbingly he arguably was still a Top 9 Rockies hitter just from the playing time. The lesson here? I know it probably should be not to overrate a small sample barrel rate from a journeyman type, but I’m going to say the lesson is to never trust the Rockies. I mean, that’s also true.
8. John Means wins the AL ERA Title.
Lol, nope. This was the first among my predictions to implode, as he got hurt in one of his first starts of the year and required Tommy John surgery, prematurely ending his season. It’s too bad, as I think my reason for my argument, namely being the fact that people were underestimating the impact of the new Camden dimensions, proved to be correct. Former scrubs like Dean Kremer, Austin Voth, and Jorge López all flourished in the new park, and Means certainly had more talent than them.
Either way, it’s unlikely he would have managed a better ERA than the sub-2 miracle of Justin Verlander or other aces like Ohtani and the like, but you never know. It remains to be seen if he’ll be the same when he’s back, but I wouldn’t bet on it next year. The lesson here? Never bet on a pitcher to stay healthy, I guess?
9. The Detroit Tigers will have a Top 5 record in the AL
If you look up “wishcasting” in the dictionary, you’d find me on my laptop in March 2022 typing this prediction. Well, you would, anyway if it were a real word. Sure, you could squint in the preseason and see some justification for it maybe, but oh how wrong things went. Baez, as I had feared in my “2022 Shortstop Busts” article, finally had the bottom drop out. Then sophomore sleeper Akil Baddoo could only Doobad, Jonathan Schoop lost all hope, Miggy turned into Higgy, and Tork swung a bat made of cork, and Greene’s batting line was lean.
The pitching wasn’t much better (fewer rhymes this time I promise), as Skubal was the only bright spot (well at least in the first half), with E-Rod struggling before disappearing for most of the season with personal issues, Turnbull and Mize going down for the year, and ultimately relying on a hodgepodge of inning-eating mop-up men and post-hype rookie arms (of which Faedo and Wentz were the lone successes). They ended with a lousy record of 66-96, which wasn’t the worst in the division, but ultimately, despite the bad luck, I think I was hoping for many improbable things to happen instead of facing the much more disappointing reality. Could they bounce back in 2023? Sure, maybe, but I’m not betting on them again until 2024 at the earliest.
10. Adam Engel is a Top 40 Outfielder and paces for 20/20
Of all my predictions, perhaps I was most optimistic that this was the one that would make me look oh so smart. But Engel knew my true nature. He went from improving every year in a part-time role to finally getting a chance at regular playing time and squandering it in epic fashion, ending with an anemic .224/.269/.310 with just 2 HR and 12 SB in 245 AB. Yuck. That’s not 20/20!
How did this happen? Maybe 2021 was a total fluke that led me to believe he had turned into a half-decent hitter when he was still hot garbage. My guess is that he probably played through a nagging injury, as he has dealt with many injuries in his career, and it’s a huge drop-off to go from a 9% barrel% to just 2%, which is actually the lowest of his career. The lesson? Maybe don’t get too jazzed about part-time players in their age-30 season. Still, I think if he is actually healthy, he has enough raw power and speed to an interesting waiver wire add in AL-only or deep league formats if he can put this ugly year behind him.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)