Bold Predictions in Review – Mark Steubinger

Mark's crystal ball wasn't very clear.

Making predictions is hard. Making bold predictions is even harder.

Back in January, I made 10 “bold” predictions about the 2022 season, and now, it’s time to look back and see how I did. Fair warning, I may be peaking through my fingers at some of these because they are BAD.

So what makes a prediction bold? It’s entirely subjective, and if you polled every Pitcher List reader you’d have a wide array of answers. As it pertains to this article, I defined it like this: “predictions that go against general public sentiment, but I still think have a decent shot at happening.”

On to the predictions!

 

1. Tyler Stephenson finishes with 20+ home runs, 80+ runs, and 80+ RBI

 

While this prediction is technically wrong, I view this one as a wash. Injuries killed Stephenson this year; he only played in 50 games and was forced to the IL three times with fluke injuries. He missed 13 days at the end of April after suffering a concussion, 29 days after breaking his thumb on a foul tip on June 9th, and the rest of the season after breaking his clavicle on another foul tip in the first game after the All-Star break.

When Stephenson did play, he played well. In 183 plate appearances, his triple slash line was .319/.372/.482 and he accumulated six home runs, 24 runs, and 35 RBI. If you take those numbers and prorate them out to the 402 plate appearances he had in 2021, the counting stats increase to 13 home runs, 53 runs, and 77 RBI.

There are certainly issues with just prorating statistics to a certain amount of games, but I think those numbers come in lower than they would’ve been if Stephenson was truly playing. If he had time to get in a groove and further acclimate himself to MLB pitching during his second full season, I think he would’ve been within striking distance of those counting statistics I predicted him for back in January.

Looking under the hood, Stephenson raised his barrel rate from 5.4% to 6.6% and his flyball rate from 25% to 29.8%. Those are two good indicators that increased power production isn’t just a matter of small sample size variation. There’s reason to expect those numbers to jump even further next year as the young catcher enters his prime at 26 years old and begins his third full season in the big leagues.

If you want to circle an early breakout catcher on your 2023 draft board, my prediction for Stephenson this year is one that I’ll happily make again next year. If he’s fully healthy, the Reds’ catcher could easily become one of the game’s best backstops.

 

2. The Seattle Mariners win the AL West

 

For the second time in a row, the prediction wasn’t correct, but it’s a miss I feel good about. The Mariners weren’t able to dethrone the Astros atop the AL West, but they did win 90 games and snapped their 21-year playoff drought.

The transcendence of Julio Rodríguez from top prospect to perennial MVP candidate happened more quickly than anyone likely imagined. He highlights a young Mariners’ core that seems prone to just getting better and better, with a general manager who’s not afraid to be aggressive. In fact, this quote from my January article almost qualifies as clairvoyant:

Baseball fans have seen the amount of tinkering Jerry DiPoto has done with non-competitive Mariners clubs, so just think of what trades he may pull off if Seattle is in playoff contention come trade deadline season.

When the Mariners traded for Luis Castillo in late July, it pushed the team solidly into the playoff race. His excellent 1.88 ERA over 14.1 playoff innings propelled the Mariners to a solid overall postseason performance despite being swept in the ALDS. Castillo’s elite playoff showing bodes very well for a team that should be playing October baseball consistently over the next couple of years.

Like the Stephenson prediction, it’s technically wrong, but I’d absolutely make this exact pick again next year even though it probably no longer qualifies as bold.

 

3. Kyle Hendricks finishes top-10 in Cy Young voting

 

Wrong again! Are you sensing a pattern here?

This pick may show a bit of my die-hard Cubs fandom, but I honestly expected a big bounce-back season from Hendricks this year. He flew under the radar as an extremely reliable front-end starter from 2015-2020 but posted by far the worst numbers of his career in 2021. As a control artist, I thought he’d be able to regain his form after an offseason of work, but that wasn’t the case. His numbers last year were nearly identical to his disappointing 2021 campaign.

No matter which way you analyze it, Hendricks has been a shell of himself over the past two years. Looking through his pitch spin, velocity, and release data on BaseballSavant.com doesn’t signal any obvious reasons for the decline. At 32 years old, blaming age is certainly an option, but typically pitchers with his command-centric approach are able to fight the aging curve more easily than those who rely on elite velocity to get batters out.

A right shoulder strain ended Hendricks’ season in early July, so it’s possible that the injury was nagging at him throughout the 84.1 innings he was able to muster up this spring. If reports are that he’s fully recovered entering next season and he looks decent in Spring Training, I’m not ready to write Hendricks off just yet. That could be my Cubs bias leaking out, but the track record is so good that he could be a great return on investment in late rounds of fantasy drafts if he can get even somewhat close to his past results.

 

4. Anthony Rendon posts an OPS north of .900 and reminds everyone that he’s still one of the best third basemen in the game

 

Another prediction, another miss. This one came up short by 194 points of OPS!

Last winter I was feeling pretty confident that Rendon would bounce back strong from an injury-filled season as he had previously in his career, but 2022 was full of even more injury woes for the former All-Star.

Rendon was hampered by a sore wrist practically all season long before he eventually underwent surgery to address the ailment on June 20th. The procedure was thought to be season-ending, but Rendon managed to return for two games before the year wrapped up.

As you may expect from a hitter battling through a litany of wrist issues, Rendon didn’t produce much at the plate. In 193 plate appearances, he slashed just .229/.326/.380 with five home runs and 24 RBI.

Despite the overall disappointing showing, a few encouraging signs keep the allure of prime Rendon alive entering 2023. His strong plate discipline skill is still present as he posted his fourth straight season with a walk rate over 11%, and he raised his barrel rate to 8.3%, the highest it’s been since the 2019 season when he last hit 30+ home runs.

 

5. Hunter Renfroe is the only Brewer outfielder worth your time in fantasy

 

This prediction didn’t work out either, but I still feel pretty good about it. Renfroe’s first season in Milwaukee was another strong one for the right-handed slugger. Christian Yelich had his best season since 2019, but a lot of that is owed to counting stat accumulation through his 671 plate appearances, the 18th most of any hitter.

Here’s how the two Brewers’ outfielders’ seasons compared:

FanGraphs’ Auction Calculator sees Yelich’s 2022 season as being worth $15.7 in an auction draft making him the 45th most valuable hitter in fantasy. It sees Renfroe’s 2022 season a little less favorably at $11.2, good for the 71st most valuable hitter.

Yelich’s season comes out on top, primarily due to the value of 19 stolen bases in a league where action on the basepaths is continually harder to come by – the 99 runs help him a lot too. When you take the preseason ADPs into consideration (100 for Yelich and 156 for Renfroe) the two seem about even in value, with an argument to be made for Renfroe coming out on top, but Yelich was certainly still worth a fantasy roster spot.

 

6. The Detroit Tigers have a Top-10 offense by runs scored

 

Wow. Ok, so this one takes the cake for the worst preseason prediction of the year, and it’s not even close.

I was fully bought into the Tigers finally coming out of their rebuild. They inked Javier Báez to a six-year deal in free agency and were set to begin the season with top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene in the lineup. That sure sounded like a recipe for a much-improved offense, and that was BEFORE they traded for Austin Meadows days before the season started.

The new-look Tigers struggled mightily, and that’s putting it mildly. They finished dead last in baseball scoring just 557 runs and losing 96 games.

Of those four players that I thought would energize Detroit, all but Meadows finished the year with a wRC+ below 100, meaning they produced runs at a rate below league average. Meadows just barely broke that league average mark with a 101 wRC+, but he only totaled 147 plate appearances as he battled through injuries and hit zero home runs a year after he belted 27 long balls.

It was a year to forget in Motor City, and you have to imagine things will get better in 2023 due to positive regression alone.

 

7. Jon Gray sets career bests in wins, IP, ERA, strikeouts, and WAR

 

This prediction, perhaps more than any other I made, seemed like a good bet to hit until Gray went down with an oblique strain during his start on August 1st. He was on a great run, posting a 6-2 record with a 2.25 ERA and 66 strikeouts over his nine previous appearances. While Gray only missed a little over a month of time, in the five remaining starts he made he never seemed to get back to his pre-injury performance level.

All told, Gray’s first season in Arlington was a successful one. He may not have finished with career bests in all the categories that I predicted, but he wasn’t too far off.

Injuries kept Gray’s counting stats down, but the rate stats look good. He set career bests with a 1.13 WHIP and an 18.2% K-BB% in his first year outside of hitter’s haven Coors Field. He’ll be someone I’m happy to target again in 2023 fantasy drafts.

 

8. Gavin Lux is a Top-5 second baseman

 

Wrong once again. I had high expectations for Gavin Lux entering what was his first season with a shot at a full-time role with the Dodgers, and while he improved his play, it was still nowhere near the level of the elite second basemen.

In 471 plate appearances, Lux slashed .276/.346/.399 with six home runs, 66 runs, 42 RBI, and seven stolen bases. That stat line doesn’t scream “Draft me!” to fantasy players, but from a real baseball perspective, Lux was a valuable part of the Dodgers offense.

Lux improved virtually across the board in his rate statistics, raising each of his triple slash lines. As a whole he increased his OPS 53 points in a year when league-wide offensive production was down. Using wRC+, a statistic that actually accounts for that overall trend, he moved from a hitter 10% below league average to one 13% above average.

If you could look up the dictionary definition of a baseball player who’s much more valuable in real life than he is in fantasy baseball, you’d see a picture of Lux next to the entry. His top prospect sheen has definitely worn off from a fantasy perspective, but he should continue to be a solid part of the Dodgers’ lineup.

 

9. Craig Kimbrel earns fewer than five saves

 

Nine predictions and nine wrong picks. This one wasn’t even close to hitting as Kimbrel found himself at the helm of the Dodgers bullpen racking up 22 saves.

My preseason prediction stemmed less from the idea that Kimbrel was no longer a competent closer – although his 3.75 ERA and career-worst 27.7% strikeout rate certainly make me requestion that – and more from the fact that I didn’t think the White Sox would find a trade partner willing to give up meaningful major league contributors in return for him.

Of course, as this article’s theme has probably made obvious by now, that idea was also wrong. The White Sox and Dodgers swapped Kimbrel for AJ Pollock about a week before Opening Day. In hindsight, the trade seems pretty underwhelming for both teams. Kimbrel looked less dominant than ever and Pollock slashed just .245/.292/.389 for a disappointing White Sox team.

 

10. Lane Thomas has a 25/20 season and hits .250+

 

I was fully bought into Lane Thomas this preseason, drafting him to a handful of my fantasy teams after his impressive half-season in D.C. where he hit .270/.364/.489 with seven home runs and four steals to close out the 2021 season.

With a showing like that and no clear indicators that it was truly just small sample shenanigans, I figured Thomas would be a great breakout candidate as a full-time starter for a Nationals team starved for outfield talent. He turned out to be a regular starter in Washington most of the year but didn’t produce as well as I hoped. He totaled 548 plate appearances and hit .241/.301/.404 with 17 home runs and eight stolen bases.

That’s certainly not a bad season, but it’s not an exciting one for fantasy purposes. He seems like he could be a decent stat compiler again next year if he finds himself starting in the nation’s capital, but even then it seems like he’s only worth a late-round flier in 12-team or deeper leagues.

 

Final Results

 

With the results tallied, it turns out that I struck out on all of my bold preseason predictions. I can’t say I feel too bad about the 0-for-10 performance, though.

They weren’t necessarily correct, but I do feel good about the Tyler Stephenson, Seattle Mariners, Hunter Renfroe, and Jon Gray predictions. They may not have met my lofty expectations, but their performances certainly justified my belief in them.

Feeling good about four of ten bold predictions made over two months before the season started in a year where a season wasn’t even necessarily a guarantee feels like a pretty solid showing. Except for that Tigers pick. That one will be tough to forget about.

 

(Photos from Icon Sportswire) Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerGuyboston on twitter)

Mark Steubinger

Mark loves everything talking and writing about baseball - from fantasy leagues to the legitimate defensive prowess of Kyle Schwarber as a left fielder. Mark has a degree in Sports Communication from Bradley University and works in radio production. He lives in central Illinois where his TV is permanently tuned to Chicago Cubs games.

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