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Ben Pernick’s Bold Predictions for 2022

Ben Pernick reveals his ten Bold Predictions for 2022.

Everyone loves Bold Predictions, and I’m no different. I am often the first Pitcher List writer to publish my Bold Predictions, but I decided to wait this year. Sure, part of that was that I was on my honeymoon and moved across the Atlantic Ocean to start life anew, but I’ll blame the owner-imposed lockout.

Last year, I had just one of my predictions come to fruition, but this year I think it will be better because that’s how I feel every preseason! Just like I was positive that crypto was about to end 2021 with a massive bull run… okay hopefully this goes better than that. We’ve learned we can’t predict anything, but we did also learn 2020 mostly taught us nothing and we have better data from 2021 to predict this season… whenever it is that it starts. Hope you enjoy!

 

1. Aaron Judge hits .300 with 50 HR and 110 RBI

 

He’s definitely putting the power in power yoga. Last year, his new routine led to a long-awaited healthy season, but even more notably, he finally added more contact to his monstrous power. He managed to hit .282 with 53 homers in his debut despite a 30% K% rate, and he’s managed to maintain nearly the same amount of raw power but in 2021 lowered his K rate to just 21%. I say “just” because when you are 100th percentile in nearly every batted ball rate, a 20% rate smells like rocket fuel.

Statcast felt he may have been close to this goal last year if not for bad luck, as his .287 AVG and .544 slug look small next to his xBA of .308 and xSLG of .594. While regression is the most likely scenario, I also think that he has proven himself to be a player whose actual production usually comes quite close to his expected Statcast production with the exception of last year, and the rumored disproportionate amount of “dead” balls at Yankee Stadium could have been a factor.

While this prediction may not seem so bold, consider that his March ADP is 35, going after the likes of Starling Marte and Merrifield; why Judge would go so late if you thought he could essentially produce like Vladito did last season from the outfield position? As long as he can stay healthy, I think this could be the year that Judge slams the gavel down as an MVP candidate.

 

2. The Pirates will be a Top 5 team in Stolen Bases

 

Why? Because let’s be real, when you have a team that looks like that, why not? (Dayton Moore nods approvingly). The Pirates ranked 20th in SB last year with just 60 pilfered bags, a far cry from the 5th place team that notched 106. While the team has a few rather popular sleepers in Hayes, Cruz and Tsutsugo, many seem to be overlooking the fact that the Pirates, while lacking any superstar talent or Myles Straw-like Rabbits, can still be a fantasy treasure for an increasingly scarce category.

I’m far from the only one expecting a Ke’breezy bounceback where he’s likely to steal at least 10 but could be as many as 20 bags, with Oneil Cruz a high risk/high upside pick with easy 20-20 ability too. But I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Anthony Alford is finally getting a near-guaranteed role (at least initially) with easy 15-20 ability (though possibly with a .230 AVG and the annual injury). Even Ben Gamel is projected by THE BAT X to steal 8 SB, with chip-in contributions from Reynolds and Newman.

But I think for this bold take to come true, they’ll need some help from Cole Tucker and Hoy Park, who both have serious speed. Tucker has the edge in SB aggressiveness in the minors and defense but Park has the edge in sprint speed, versatility and contact ability. I prefer Park personally, but I think they both have decent chances (especially with the NL DH) to have semi-regular roles and usurp the more boring and slow Chavis and Newman. I think it’ll set off a team-wide craze of Royals-esque craze of plundering in Pittsburgh, and I’m here for it.

 

3. Josh Donaldson is a Top 5 Third Baseman

 

I get that Donaldson is 36, which is generally not the age when you expect someone with a long history of lingering calf injuries to have a big year. And it seems like he wasn’t so special in 2021. But I beg to differ, and think he showed last year that he can still be among the league’s most potent bats, it’s just that no one noticed.

He was among the best in the league in batted ball quality, finishing 3rd Barrels per plate appearance (11%), 4th in average exit velocity (94 mph) and 5th in FB/LD velocity (98 mph). And he managed to do this while lowering his strikeout rate to 21%, his lowest mark since 2016. Behind his ho-hum .247 AVG and .475 SLG% was a far better .268 xBA and .541 xSLG. These would be all the signs of a “breakout” if he were not 36, and maybe if he hadn’t hit like this in his peak years a half decade ago.

But the fact he deserved better last year far from guarantees that he’ll be able to stave off the typical age-related attrition and even more injury risk, as he’s earned a reputation for his cranky calves and hamstrings and those don’t age like fine wines. Still, he’s had all but one season in which he provided value despite his health ailments, and 2022 should bring better luck for Donald Duck.

UPDATE: So I made this prediction before the recent trade to the Yankees, but now I’m even more excited for him. In 2021, his Expected Home Runs by Park was 26 at Target Field and 33 in Yankee Stadium, and the surrounding lineup means much more run production. And now that he’s joined Gerrit Cole, I also predict he’ll attempt a bat flip in which the bat will remain stuck to his hand.

 

4. Aroldis Chapman earns fewer than 10 Saves

 

Relief pitching with electric stuff is a young man’s game, and not many closers Are-old-as Chapman. Projections disagree with me, all projecting him for over 30 saves and a sub-3 ERA, by the way, so they think this is noise. I mean, sure, his fastball is still very fast at 99 mph, and his wipeout slider gives him a great combo that resulted in a 99th percentile K rate of 40%, and he also has a new splitter that’s a money pitch that’s literally allowed 1 hit in 110 pitches thrown. Okay, this is off to a bad start.

But consider he also had a 1st percentile walk rate of 16%. It’s not the first time he’s been wild and he’s still been effective, but his decent 3.35 ERA in 2021 is belied by a career-worst xERA of 3.85. See, he’s always been a flyball pitcher, but since the start of 2020 he started giving up a lot more hard contact, with a 16% Barrel% and a 40% HardHit%; things that you don’t like to see from a guy trying to keep the game close. Splitters are notorious for being a finicky feel pitch, so it might not be as awesome in 2022, and his fastball and slider have lost luster, with the slider having a merely average 28% O-Swing% and 18% SwStr% that’s similar to that of John Means.

The Yankees like a traditional closer, sure, but if he gets the hook, who would be better? My vote goes to Yankee favorite and Garfield favorite Jon Lasagna, who was among the best in baseball in expected ERA and Slugging. While it could regress, Loáisiga has similarly elite 98 mph fastball velocity, and makes up for fewer strikeouts with much better control and inducing a lot more groundballs, which is critical in the Yankee bandbox. Oh, and Loáisiga is just 26 whereas Chapman will also be turning 34, which is a precarious age to be a high-end reliever.

That might seem ageist, but as you could probably see from some of my other picks (including the next one), I’m willing to believe when a player’s rate stats resist attrition, but his don’t. While it’s possible Loáisiga won’t supplant him this year, there are several other younger high-octane Yankee relief arms in Chad Green and Clay Holmes waiting in the wings. He’s being drafted as a “safe” closer based on his track record, but I think you could get road rash riding with gasless Chaps.

 

5. Evan Longoria is a Top 20 Third Baseman

 

I apparently love aging injury-prone corner infielders. I blame Joey Votto? When healthy, I love what Longoria (ADP: 399) can do, but he’s being drafted as the 37th hot corner (counting dual-eligible guys). At that point you might be feeling desperate like a housewife, which may remind you that he was still playing when he was often confused with Eva Longoria from Desperate Housewives. Now that’s a throwback for you.

Similar to Donaldson, the question is whether he can manage to stay healthy at all. Because of this, however, people seem to really be overlooking just how good he was in these smaller samples. In 2021, Longoria posted a 123 wRC+, the best since his 36 homer season with the Rays in 2016. How? With a career-best 13% Barrel% and a 94 mph average exit velocity that would be tied for fourth-best in the MLB with Donaldson if he had enough PA to qualify. He also did this without sacrificing Swinging Strike rate as he also posted a career-best 23% reach rate leading to a great 12% walk rate.

Of course, he’s not taken seriously because he’s 36 years old and dealt with injuries the past two years (also like Donaldson). But before you slap the “injury-prone” label on him, consider this: from his debut in 2008 to 2019, he logged at least 500 PA in 10 of those 11 seasons! Especially with the NL DH opening up to give him defensive rest days and now with the shortened season increasing the odds his body will hold up, I’d much rather roll the dice on what he can do if healthy than many names going before him. After pick 300, I’m ready to pounce and I’m not waiting too Longo.

 

6. Matt Chapman is not even a Top 25 Third Baseman

 

Someone has to break it to many fantasy leaguers bullish on Chapman (ADP: 186) out there that elite defense and leadership are not roto categories. Though I’d totally join a league where they were, as long as they had valid measurements for moxie. Intangibles aside, Chap’s currently drafted as the 16th 3B, and it’s pretty hard to not be Top 25 if you’re playing every day. But I’ll predict it anyway.

He’s only hit above .250 once in his four-year career, and also only hit more than 27 homers once, yet he’s always talked about like he’s a safe bet for 30-35 homers. His AVG and OPS have been declining every consecutive year since 2018, culminating in his ugly .210/.314/.403 line in 2021. So why does everyone assume greatness, or even moderate goodness in 2022?

It seems not enough consideration is given to the fact that while he’ll likely hit in the heart of the order, the A’s lineup will be a total clown show, and that’s an insult to clowns, since they at least have a plus pie-throwing percentage. Even if Olson doesn’t leave, the only non-Olson player whose offense was above replacement level in 2021 (wRC+ above 105) was Tony Kemp, who is, well, Tony Kemp. Chapman’s was replacement-level at 101, by the way. Then again, Chapman is also drawing interest, and certainly has more appeal literally anywhere else. But much like Joey Gallo going to the Yankees didn’t suddenly make him a stud, Chapman’s may not get as much of a boost as people hope if he’s still striking out above 30%.

Perhaps he was still getting over his 2020 offseason hip surgery, as his 2nd half was better, sure. But at a time where power is plentiful and batting average is at a premium, there’s a lot working against him to return value at his steadily sliding but still excessive draft cost. With the NL DH, there will be a lot more 3B-eligible players now getting near-full-time reps, so he doesn’t need to collapse to get crowded out by the Ha-Seong Kims and Brian Andersons of the world. He’s still a good real-life player, but you don’t have to draft him to enjoy his highlight reels.

 

7. Connor Joe will be a Top 3 hitter on the Rockies

 

Why should you like Connor Joe? How can you not like a guy who makes contact and hit 67% Flyballs and Line Drives playing half his games at Coors? He pulled off the rare feat of being a Colorado hitter whose surface numbers of .285 with a .469 SLG were “validated” with a quite similar xBA of .283 and xSLG of .467. Given that expected stats don’t properly account for ballpark factors, this really means he likely deserved to hit .300 and slug .500. Hey, sounds kinda like Nolan Arenado!

Unlike most contact hitters, Joe is likely to draw a double-digit walk rate with an underrated elite 19% Chase Rate, but he still swings when it counts. Luke Hooper from Fangraphs pointed out how he swings at just 46% of pitches in the Shadow Zone (well below league average of 53%) but swings at 75% of pitches in the heart of the plate (slightly above leave average). While he lacks prototypical power, he posted a surprising Max eV of 114 mph, giving hope for more power.

His somewhat unusual uppercut swing makes him take the Bregman approach to “volume-ing” his way into home runs by hitting lots of balls in the air, which is a great strategy in Colorado. His uppercut swing does have a glaring weakness on the outer half of the plate, but with his discipline he can spit on pitches that don’t hit it and punish mistakes.  Keep in mind he did all this coming back from testicular cancer. That takes real cajones.

Given the lack of track record and pedigree, and the fact he hit only 8 home runs, I get the lack of excitement, but I think Joe is just as viable if not more than Cron to hit .290 with 25 homers and excellent OBP, and Cron is actually his 2nd-closest Statcast batted ball comp. CoJo is currently projected by NFBC ADP to be the 9th-best hitter on the Rockies, but I think his playing time was being under-projected even before the likely arrival of the NL DH. With his combination of discipline and contact, he’s the obvious best choice for leadoff man, but then again, the Rockies do love making bad choices.

 

8. John Means wins the AL ERA Title

 

I’m not saying Means will be baseball’s best pitcher. Because he won’t. The Orioles have never had great play-callers (Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco) and I think Adley Rutschman is much more likely to fulfill his expectations as a strong defender and game-caller than he his a great hitter in his first season, and I think Means is the pitcher who can actually be fantasy viable from this difference.

Means started off 2021 with one of the best ERAs in baseball before a combination of nagging injuries and regression via the home run ball came back in full force. But I think that the Orioles’ rather drastic renovation of their home park will make a huge difference. Out of his 30 taters allowed, only 20 of these would have left PNC park, a park that is relatively similar in general climate and dimensions to the new deepened Camden. Even if those 11 homers were still doubles, it would be enough to lower his ERA by a full run or more!

However, I think even without the park, he’ll be a better pitcher this year. In 2021 he maintained some of his 2020 FB velocity jump (93 mph avg in 2021) while quietly rocking a career-best Swinging Strike Rate on both his Changeup and Slider at 17% SwStr% with his curveball an added groundball-inducing weapon at 55% GB% and .165 AVG against.

Granted, this may not help as much as I hope given that Baltimore has a pretty terrible defense and a bad bullpen behind him, not to mention he’s in the AL Beast which isn’t looking any less potent this year. Although he’s considered an unexciting pitcher due to the average strikeout rate, he doesn’t need to win the Cy Young, just the ERA title. Still unlikely, but maybe I just want some good news for Baltimore. Full disclosure: Last year I dropped him for Dietrich Enns for the sole purpose of tweeting that the Enns justified the Means.

 

9. The Detroit Tigers will have a Top 5 record in the AL

 

I originally predicted that the Tigers would make the playoffs, as Dan Szymborski had calculated 10% odds of it happening. But given that with the new rules you can lose a quarter of your team to Fortnite-related injuries and still have a fair shot at making it in, I had to revise it a bit. It sounds a bit outrageous and perhaps a year premature to be bullish on them given they’re still the Tigers, but I really like the moves Detroit made this offseason. A recent Fangraphs playoff projection gave the Tigers a 9% odds of making the playoffs (before the expansion), so it’s possible but unlikely, but hear me out.

E-Rod may have been a frustrating pitcher on the Sox and full of health risks, but he’ll surely benefit from an easier division and more pitcher-friendly home park, and now paired he’s with an acquired defensive whiz catcher. Sure, Tucker Barnhart is yawn-inducing from a fantasy perspective, but he has the ability to bring the best out of E-Rod as well as a trio of young high-upside Tigers pitchers in Skubal, Mize and perhaps even Manning. Turnbull remains useful in whatever role he’s in and Soto and Fulmer offer reasonable upside and stability in the pen, though it’s still a major weakness.

Acquiring slugger and defensive wizard Javier Báez should help them too. With power-speed threats Baddoo and Grossman in the outfield and potential stars Spencer Torkelson and Greene likely to debut this year, the lineup is surprisingly deep. I think the one thing they really need to do to make this happen is to give ol’ Miggy the Pujols treatment and make him a role player to open up room. Even if the Tigers are trigger-shy on activating Greene or Tork from the jump, they have several potential impact quad-A types with nothing left to prove in the minors like Josh Lester (27-year-old masher) and Isaac Paredes (young contact stud who may still add power). I think depth will be especially important this year, and they have some young post-hype rebound upside on the bench with Jake Rogers, Eric Haase, Willi Castro, and Derek Hill.

While the White Sox are a near lock to win the division, Motown shouldn’t have much trouble besting Cleveland and Kansas City, and despite Minnesota having a still-powerful offense, it has an alarming lack of established quality pitching that could implode. The Tigers still will have an uphill battle to contend with the considerably more stacked teams in the AL East, but I think a mix of youth and some good ol’ luck will help them claw their way to victory.

 

10. Adam Engel is a Top 40 Outfielder and paces for 20/20

 

I may be the first and only member of the Launch Engel Revolution. Since his debut, he’s excited owners with his sprint speed, but couldn’t hit his way out of a toilet paper bag. And I mean Scott’s, the real low-quality single-ply stuff. He’s always had surprising raw power with a raw exit velocity around 111 mph, but problems with poor contact rate and contact quality made him defense-first roster fodder. But he’s quietly improved his offense every year on both fronts, showing declining CSW% (down to just 26%) and increasing Barrel Rate (up to 9%) nearly every year since his debut.

He made a big splash this summer hitting .252 with 7 HR and 7 SB in just 140 PA. Irresponsible extrapolators will be quick to point out that paces out to a 30-30 over a full season of at-bats. Aside from the small sample power/speed surge, he’s quietly improved his contact and batted ball quality every year since his debut. He posted a career-best CSW% (26%) and set bests in Barrel Rate (9%) and HardHit% (37%), which may not seem amazing until you realize he’s also still has a 98th percentile Sprint Speed.

If you look at nearly any rate stat from Adam Engel and compare his 2021 season to actual 20/20 achiever Randy Arozarena’s, you’ll find it hard to form any half-decent conclusion that Engel isn’t the better all-around player, especially if using Statcast. Sure, it’s not reality, but Arozarena is going at pick #62 whereas Engel is pick #70… with another 0 at the end. Yeah, he’s cheaper than dirt waste products!

Roster Resource currently has him listed as the starting right fielder for Chicago (with Vaughn on the bench) and with his plus defense there, it’s possible he can hold it and be a spark plug in a stacked lineup. The biggest obstacle to achieving this goal will be staying on the field, as it seems every Engel hot streak ends in an injury that kills his momentum. Although age-wise he’s rather post-peak, I think that given his limited time over his career to face major league pitching, I think the trend is your fantasy friend and he could hit .260 while going 20-20… or at least produce at a 20-20 pace.

 

Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

Ben Pernick

I've been writing for Pitcher List since the beginning, and have been a fantasy baseball addict now for 20 years. I grew up as a Red Sox fan in New York, but now I declare allegiance only to my fantasy teams.

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