Dan Richards’ Bold Predictions in Review
I really hoped this day would never arrive, but alas, I must revisit my preseason bold predictions. Admittedly, some of them were awful. I was pressured into writing this review, but for transparency’s sake, I suppose it’s a good idea.
In any event, I’ll reiterate that bold predictions are not supposed to come true. If you get them right, you’re doing it wrong. Please keep that in mind and judge me accordingly. Please.
1. German Márquez Wins the NL Cy Young Award
Here we go. This one was especially fun considering my significant exposure to German Márquez this season and my public takes about his stardom. No, Márquez did not win the Cy Young.
Instead, he was unable to assume the role as Rockies’ ace and take them to the postseason. Márquez couldn’t locate either his fastball or curveball properly and was punished to an ugly 4.76 ERA. His home/road splits illustrate his inability to navigate Coors, with a 6.26 ERA at home and a 3.67 ERA on the road. In that sense, he was fine if you were smart enough to just start him on the road but not good enough to either justify his draft day cost or this bold prediction.
2. Chris Iannetta is a Top-10 Catcher
As it turns out, doubling down on Rockies was a bad idea. Chris Iannetta was so awful that the Rockies released him in August. With only 164 plate appearanaces, six homers, and a .222 batting average, Iannetta was disappointing even in the deepest of leagues. Unfortunately, he succumbed to a significant lat strain, among other injuries, that derailed his season.
This bold prediction was premised upon Iannetta’s studly 2018 exit velocity on flies and liners. Combined with calling Coors his home, I figured there was an outside shot Iannetta snuck into the top 10 at the position. It’s worth noting that Iannetta again found himself among the best in baseball in exit velocity on flies and liners. His 97.2 mph mark was ninth-best in all of baseball—not only among catchers—and if some other team figures out the best way to utilize his raw power, maybe he returns value in the future. But boy, was I wrong about 2019.
3. The Marlins’ Rotation is Top Five in the NL by ERA
This was one of my more measured takes. The Marlins boasted a number of exciting young arms this year: José Ureña, Pablo López, Caleb Smith, Trevor Richards, Zac Gallen, Jordan Yamamoto, and Sandy Alcántara. Though I think trading Gallen was one of the uglier deals at the deadline, the Marlins still won games almost exclusively with their pitching. Indeed, their offense was bottom five in MLB (more on that next). In particular, I’m especially excited to watch Alcántara (3.88 ERA) and Smith (4.52 ERA) next season.
That said, I missed again on this one. The Marlins staff had a 4.59 ERA, good for 10th in the NL. Certainly better than expectations, for whatever that’s worth, but not quite top five. If they kept Gallen (2.51 second-half ERA), this would have been closer. But not close enough. And I certainly wasn’t on him in the preseason as a key piece for their rotation anyway, so it’s no excuse.
4. Mike Trout and Mookie Betts Each Have More fWAR Than the Offenses of Five Teams
This prediction was actually true in 2018. Last year, Mike Trout (9.8 fWAR) and Mookie Betts (10.4 fWAR) bested the White Sox, Padres, Giants, Tigers, and Orioles, so perhaps doubling down wasn’t extremely bold. Let’s first review how the worst lineups in baseball fared this season:
|Kansas City Royals||9.3|
Interestingly, this seems to suggest the Tigers would have been better off with a lineup comprised of random AAA players across various organizations. But I digress. Trout (8.6 fWAR) and Betts (6.6 fWAR) both amassed more fWAR than the Tigers, Marlins, and Orioles. Yet neither player earned more than five offenses. Absent injury, Trout may have gotten there, but I don’t traffic in counterfactuals, and why stop the embarrassing string of losses here?
5. The Cubs Finish Last in the NL Central
Here, I was right in principle but wrong in practice. The Cubs finished third in the NL Central behind the Brewers and Cardinals and missed out on the playoffs. But they weren’t bad enough to fall behind the hapless Reds and Pirates. I had a bad feeling about the Cubs this season for a number of reasons:
My bold prediction, however, is the regression monster hits free-swinging Javier Baez smack in the face. Anthony Rizzo is not the player he used to be. He posted a 2.9 fWAR last year and is turning 30 this season. Kris Bryant needs to redeem himself and put this lineup on his back otherwise the Cubs will be in a freefall. Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, Wilson Contreras, and Albert Almora Jr. were all extremely mediocre last season, posting 2.0 fWAR or less. That leaves just … Kyle Schwarber (who I actually kind of like) and Ben Zobrist (who can’t keep this up forever).
The Cubs’ pitching staff would be excellent in 2015, but I’m not so sure today. Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish, Jon Lester, and Cole Hamels are all older than 30. Kyle Hendricks is 29. They’re not only therefore susceptible to injury but also decline. Some of them (namely Quintana, Lester, and Hamels) are already showing signs of skills regression. If everything goes right, this could be a top-five rotation in the NL with a bunch of sturdy mid-3 ERA pitchers, but if everything goes wrong, then it could be one of the worst.
I had some of this right and some of it wrong. Bryant did redeem himself to an extent. Contreras, too, had a nice bounce-back season. Rizzo held up to the aging curve. And Baez, while not quite as valuable as his monster 2018, was not to blame for the Cubs’ failure. I was right about Schwarber though, who finished the season with career highs in batting average, slugging percentage, and home runs. I was also correct that the other hitters would not be meaningful contributors, with the lone exception of deadline addition Nicholas Castellanos, and I cannot be faulted for failing to predict his presence on the roster.
As for the pitching, the Cubs’ rotation fared alright overall—sixth in the NL by ERA. But the bullpen was a mess given Craig Kimbrel‘s struggles (though the rest of the bullpen wasn’t much better). I also worry about the rotation for next season, when each starter will be over the age of 30. Still, I can only count this prediction as a partial win given the Cubs didn’t finish last.
6. Rhys Hoskins is not a Top-30 Outfielder
Easily my best prediction. Rhys Hoskins finished 64th on ESPN’s Player Rater among eligible outfielders. He had an NFBC ADP of 39.7 and was a clear avoid for me in drafts. Hoskins entered 2019 with a .246 average, 34 homers, 89 runs, 96 RBI, and five stolen bases. That’s not really moving the needle given the ubiquity of home runs. His power peripherals were similarly lacking: 94.3 mph FB/LD exit velocity, 324-foot average fly ball distance, and 11.4 barrels per batted-ball event rate. In my bold predictions article, I wrote:
Maybe Hoskins achieves a .255 average and 30 homers, but that much is cuspy for a top-30 outfielder, and there are a lot of late-round outfielders capable of putting up similar numbers (e.g., Schwarber, Stephen Piscotty, Jackie Bradley Jr., Franmil Reyes, Hunter Renfroe, Teoscar Hernandez, Randal Grichuk, Daniel Palka, Tyler O’Neill, etc.)
So how’d Hoskins do this season? He didn’t even meet my conservative preseason projection. He hit .226 with 29 homers, 86 runs, 85 RBI, and two stolen bases. His peripherals were lacking again. As for the nonexhaustive list of players above, Hoskins was out-slugged by Schwarber (38 HR, .250 AVG, 205.8 NFBC ADP) and Reyes (37 HR, .249 AVG, 221.2 NFBC ADP). He was extremely similar to Renfroe (33 HR, .216 AVG, 200 NFBC ADP), Grichuk (31 HR, .232 AVG, 238.2 NFBC ADP), and Hernandez (26 HR, .230 AVG, 377.3 NFBC ADP).
In today’s game, a power bat with a low batting average and no speed will have to produce like 2019 Pete Alonso or 2018 Khris Davis to return value. Of course, Hoskins did not meet those lofty power expectations, and the bottom fell out with no batting average or speed to save him. But he didn’t even need to return value for my bold prediction to fail, which is what made it bold. He just had to be a top-30 outfielder. And yet it still came to fruition.
Sorry, Phillies fans. I don’t mean to dunk on you extensively, just to pat myself on the back for once. In any event, I realize I need to calm this victory lap down because it’s mostly downhill from here.
7. None of the 2018 Breakout Rookies Return Value
For simplicity’s sake, I narrowed the list of “2018 breakout rookies” to Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andújar, Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña Jr., Walker Buehler, and Jack Flaherty. There were warning signs for each of these guys. Torres and Andújar had mediocre power peripherals, and neither guy runs much. Soto put the ball on the ground at an extremely high rate for a power-first bat. Acuña was batting fourth, which might have sapped his stolen base total. Buehler had innings-limit and injury concerns. And Flaherty is a two-pitch pitcher.
But my thinking, however logical I initially figured, backfired in an extreme way. Rather than looking for ways to discredit these young stars, I should have done the inverse and looked for ways in which they could improve, as they all nearly did. I’ll take the W on Andújar, but it’s mostly a result of injury. Though in my defense, I think the Yankees leave him on the bench next season even if he does return healthy given how excellent Gio Urshela has been in his absence and how poor Andújar’s defense was.
Beyond that, this prediction is just a nightmare. Torres hit a whopping 38 homers with a .276 average. He will almost certainly be drafted higher next season. Soto has become a first-round pick for good reason. He produced 110 runs and RBI with 34 homers, 12 steals, and a .282 average. Acuña, for his part, bested his excellent 2018 campaign by nearly going 40-40 with 127 runs, 101 RBI, and a .280 average. In many leagues, he will be the first overall pick next season.
Buehler struck out 215 batters in 182.1 innings to the tune of a 3.26 ERA with an impressive 5.0 fWAR. Flaherty—who looked completely lost for a good chunk of the season—somehow emerged with a 2.75 ERA and a 22.8 K-BB%. They both were worth more than their draft-day cost.
I have to acknowledge that, in the end, this was my worst prediction. Even worse than Iannetta. Ugh.
8. Luke Voit and Max Muncy are Top-Five First Basemen
Another missed prediction. However, this one failed because the field of first basemen was excellent this season, not really because of anything these guys did wrong. On the one hand, Max Muncy actually had a nice season but finished 12th on ESPN’s Player Rater. He had 35 homers and hit .251 with 101 runs, 98 RBI, and four stolen bases. That’s nice value if you drafted him outside of the top 100, and he hit more than 30 homers as I predicted, but he still finished behind Cody Bellinger, Freddie Freeman, Jose Abreu, Rizzo, and a bunch of insane breakout players, including DJ LeMahieu, Danny Santana, Alonso, Yuli Gurriel, Carlos Santana, and Josh Bell.
On the other hand, Luke Voit‘s season was derailed by injuries. As a result, he only mustered 21 homers with a .263 average. He finished the season so poorly that the Yankees have left him out of their starting postseason lineup. Perhaps he utilizes his excellent raw power more effectively in a full season next year. Or maybe the peripherals were misleading in such a small 2018 sample. In either case, I have to take the L here.
9. No Met Hits More Than 25 Home Runs
Your first thought will be Alonso smashing both this prediction and the rookie home run record by impressively hitting 53 home runs. While this was not my worst bold prediction (see No. 7), I, of course, acknowledge it did not come to fruition.
Please, however, close your eyes and think back to March with me. The Mets had one player who hit more than 25 homers in 2018: Michael Conforto. And he only had 28 last year. With an injury or extended slump, he easily could have missed the 25 mark.
Alonso could have flamed out early on and lost his job to Dominic Smith (remember their position battle?). It wouldn’t be the first time a rookie began his career with a slump and a team with playoff aspirations sent him back down. And in fact, Conforto was the only other Met to hit over 25 homers this season. The remainder of the text under my initial prediction actually came true. Robinson Canó, Wilson Ramos, and Brandon Nimmo, seemingly the only other viable candidates at the time, came nowhere near 25 home runs. In fact, no other Met hit more than 23.
Next season, I think there will be at least three who do: J.D. Davis, Conforto, and Alonso. With a full complement of plate appearances, Davis will showcase his excellent bat and breeze past the 25-homer mark. Conforto and Alonso are clearly more than capable. But in hindsight, I don’t think this prediction was one of my worst—or even that bad. Go easy on me.
10. Adalberto Mondesí Outperforms Javy Báez
It’s always nice to end on a high note. With my last bold prediction, I can say that, cumulatively, two came to fruition. Perhaps next season I need to go more bold.
Specifically, Adalberto Mondesí finished 15th on ESPN’s Player Rater among second basemen and shortstops, while Báez finished 19th. Here are their respective lines in traditional 5×5 leagues:
Báez owners may argue with the ESPN Player Rater given he outperformed Mondesí in four categories. But with the scarcity of steals, I’m not surprised they’re ranked this way. A number of cheap 2018 players could give you what you got from Báez or better: LeMahieu, Ketel Marte, Marcus Semien, Santana, Yoan Moncada, Eduardo Escobar, etc.
Yes, some of those players excelled differently than Báez. Maybe they were batting-average-first bats or maybe they ran more, but they all finished above Báez.
Still, none of them performed similarly to Mondesí. His prowess on the basepaths was only matched by a few players, and he missed a significant chunk of time this season because of injury. Mondesí stole 43 bases in just 443 plate appearances. That was far and away the best stolen base rate in baseball and the second-highest stolen base total. Only Mallex Smith stole more bases (46) and needed more than 100 more plate appearances to do so.
I actually had even higher expectations for Mondesí’s power and stolen bases, but injuries kept him off the field. He did, however, exceed my .240 batting average projection. Indeed, so long as he remains competent in the other four categories, he will continue to outperform Báez and others because he is such a prolific base-stealer. As I wrote in March, “Should Mondesi steal 50-plus bases, even if he hits fewer home runs, maintains a lower batting average, and provides fewer runs and RBI, he might outperform Baez.” Turns out stolen bases became so rare this season that he didn’t even need 50 of them to do so.
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)