Folks, it’s March and there’s no better way to get excited for the season than with some bold predictions! Some of these are truly bold in my opinion, so let’s hear your thoughts.
Both of these felt somewhat bold, so combining them might make one truly bold prediction. As a starter (basically just removing his one relief appearance with 5 ER) in 2018, Buehler posted a 2.31 ERA with a 0.92 WHIP and 10 K/9. That’s straight fire. There’s definitely regression on the horizon thanks to his minuscule BABIP and low SwStr% pointing to his 3+ FIP and SIERA, but who cares about that? I’m predicting that Buehler spits in the face of his peripherals and takes the mantle of LA’s Game One starter from his fallen brother Kershaw en route to being one of the best starters in baseball.
Bauer requires less explanation. Nick has him at #5 in his pre-season rankings and I think that’s very fair. But how could he launch himself into the top 3? Add the sexy changeup he’s been developing this off-season to his already elite repertoire and peripherals and you’ve got an elite SP, but to move up, it’ll take Chris Sale not being fully healthy again and two of Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, and Justin Verlander falling off. I’m not sure who it would be, but for fun, let’s say deGrom regressing in terms of HRs and Verlander finally meets Father Time (for real this time).
2. Manny Machado finishes outside the Top 10 SS
This can be put best by a Baltimore Orioles fan: “Manny Machado does not appear to have a strong on the field work ethic unless he specifically desires to—for whatever his own personal desires may be.” -Ben Palmer.
Manny Machado is as good as Manny Machado wants to be. Plain and simple. But I have this nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that now that he has his $300M payday, Machado will not push himself to be the best that he can be. He moved to a beautiful city that will be an absolute dream to live in for the next decade—a city that hasn’t made the playoffs in over a decade and isn’t exactly close right now. Either he really wants to challenge himself to see if he can help put together a winner in San Diego, or he wants a cushy place to live out the rest of his career. As long as he’s not terrible, San Diego won’t revolt, so it seems the perfect place for him to get complacent and stop pushing himself to be the best that he can be. As for the 10 SS’s who I’m predicting will be better than him? Francisco Lindor, Trea Turner, Alex Bregman, Trevor Story, Javier Báez, Adalberto Mondesi, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Jean Segura. It starts to get a little iffy at the end there, but is it possible? Sure. It’s in NO WAY likely, but hey, that’s what bold predictions are for.
3. Yu Darvish finishes outside the Top 75 starters
I’m doubling down on this prediction from last year:
“Nick and I are going to fight about Darvish all day long and this is honestly a little stronger than even I feel about Darvish, but this is possible. The only two things tethering Darvish to his elite value are his elite stuff and his strikeout potential that comes from it. The problem with his elite stuff is it often doesn’t find the zone. Plain and simple, Darvish is not an elite starter anymore. He posted a 3.86 ERA with a 3.82 FIP and 3.50 bbFIP in 2017; that FIP and bbFIP were good enough for 39th and 23rd among starters. Darvish’s best stat is his ability to get swings and misses, but he wasn’t even amazing at that in 2017, finishing 13th in whiff rate and 19th in K%. To his credit, he improved upon both stats in the second half of the season, but now he moves to a division that is rapidly improving around him. The Brewers are expected to make a push for the NL Central crown and the Cardinals are improving as well. The Cubs are hoping Darvish can throw more strikes- he has only thrown over 60% first pitch strikes once in his career- and be more efficient overall. I don’t think he will be.”
The Milwaukee Brewers indeed made a run at, and won, the NL Central and the St. Louis Cardinals are now the ones making a push. The Cincinnati Reds even are a dark horse playoff contender. I’m seeing a stronger NL Central and a pitcher with only one full season since 2014. He’s got a ton of injury risk baked into his ADP—currently 153 in NFBC—and I really don’t think he’ll be THIS bad without injury, but if he struggles to find his command in his return, this could be the darkest timeline for Darvish.
4. Hunter Strickland finishes as a Top 5 closer
You want bold? Let’s get bold! Strickland is done with the San Francisco Giants after 4 years in the pen—the highlight of which is dodging a helmet from Bryce Harper. So why do I think he’ll be a major fantasy asset in 2019? Easy. He’s got a career ERA below 3 (2.91), he successfully limits HRs (0.68 career HR/9), and he’s the main closing option on a team that produced 81 save opportunities (SVO) in 2018, the most in baseball. Alex Fast just wrote a wonderful article on how to draft saves that you all should read, and part of that data showed that the Seattle Mariners have had a closer get 90% or more of their teams saves 3 times over the past 10 years, which is higher than average. If that’s Strickland in 2019, the team could be top 5 in SVO again which could mean major rewards for Strickland owners.
5. The New York Mets win the 2019 World Series
The more I think about this, the less bold I think it is. The New York Mets field arguably the NL’s best rotation: the reigning Cy Young winner, a young stud whose ceiling could be even higher than the Cy Young winner, an oft-injured vet who returned to post arguably the best second-half in baseball last year, and a guy who Wilson Ramos likened to Blake Snell. On top of that, they have the likely best closer in baseball, and a quietly solid lineup once their top prospect comes up. Turn your nose at them if you will, but Brodie van Wagenen put together a contender: Wilson Ramos/Pete Alonso/Robinson Cano/Amed Rosario/Jed Lowrie/Brandon Nimmo/Michael Conforto/Jeff McNeil with Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Lagares, Keon Broxton, and Todd Frazier as alternate options, can hang with the best lineups in the National League. If Rosario takes the next step in his development, recognizing his potential as a top 5 prospect, this team can be truly great. And as a fan of the New York Yankees, you want to see your little brothers succeed every once in a while.
6. The Los Angeles Angels win the American League West and the San Diego Padres finish 2nd in the National League West
I think the first part of this prediction is bold enough but let’s get crazy, starting with the AL:
The Angels have a surprisingly decent lineup once they get Zack Cozart and Shohei Ohtani back and there’s some sneaky quality in the rotation with Matt Harvey joining Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs this year. The Houston Astros have a phenomenal squad with more talent in just a couple of their players than the entire Los Angeles Angels roster outside of Mike Trout. For this bold prediction to work, I need the Angels to fire on all cylinders and hit all their potentials while the Astros stumble. Outside of Verlander and Cole, the Astros have some question marks in the rotation. Yes, McHugh and Peacock are awesome but both are a year removed from being a full-time starter and there could be some hicccups. Do I think the Astros will lose the West? No. I think they’ll win by double digit games, but we’re having fun here. The Angels do have an outside shot at the Wild Card though.
But Dave, you said Manny Machado will be terrible. How will the Padres get to 2nd in the West without him? This, my friends, is called hedging your bets. If Machado continues his production and the Padres bring up young studs Chris Paddack, Logan Allen, and Fernando Tatis, Jr., this team could get very fun, very fast. I don’t think 2019 is the year this team materializes but it’s hard to not be excited about the future of this franchise. I wanted to pick the Padres to win the NL West, but I just can’t envision any scenario where they beat the Dodgers, so I’ll put the Padres second.
7. Franmil Reyes hits 40 home runs
This is probably the most absurd prediction I have here because Reyes isn’t even locked into a starting job. The San Diego Padres outfield as of now is Wil Myers/Franchy Cordero/Hunter Renfroe according to Roster Resource, but Reyes could break in with an injury here or there. Perhaps the bold prediction is just Reyes getting 400 PAs? But no, I’m gonna get crazy here. He’s going to outplay Franchy to get an everyday gig. He’s going to maintain his 30% HR/FB from 2018 while advancing his approach to reduce ground balls below the 49% mark he posted in 2018 and hit more line drives and fly balls. His 2018 production scales out to 28 HRs over 155 games so I’m boldly predicting a massive jump in production. It won’t happen in San Diego. It won’t happen period. But it would be so exciting if the Padres developed an unlikely star to pair with Machado and Tatis in the middle of this lineup for the next decade. I’m hoping it’s Franmil. In reality, I fear he won’t get the playing time to even get back to 16 HRs with his HR/FB falling back to earth in Petco Park.
A lot of my pro-Eaton argument is found in my Going Deep piece on Eaton, but I’ll make a bold prediction at his 2018 stat line: If Eaton stays fully healthy and hits in the 2-hole like he has been in Spring Training so far, I boldly predict he will finish batting .305 with 108 runs, 17 HRs, 65 RBI, and 19 SBs. That’s downright elite and certainly enough to return top 15 OF value, effectively being Andrew Benintendi with less power and marginally less speed. That would be insane, but not totally out of the realm of possibility for Eaton.
What is further from the realm of possibility is Christian Yelich not finishing in that group. Why do I think that could happen? Yelich’s batted ball profile leaves a lot to be desired; he’s gradually lowered his GB% for the most part each year of his career, but it still sat over 50% last year with just 23.5% FB, leaving him with a 35% HR/FB. Now, HR/FB is not the end-all, be-all. Some guys hit HRs on line drives instead of fly balls. To that point, Yelich has posted double digit HR/FB rates his whole career, but not this high. His career high entering 2018 of 24% was nearly 10 points higher than any other season outside of Miller Park. So even if you think Miller Park gave him a major boost—which it did—it’s probably a boost to that 24% mark at best. But I’m predicting he’s not top 15, so I’m gonna suggest he performs below average relative to Miller Park. So if we shave off about 15 HRs because of that, we’re still left with an elite player because of his average, right? Well, Yelich did post a .326 average but it came with a .373 BABIP that I’m just not buying. Yelich has maintained high BABIPs high whole career but I’m predicting a drop by 30ish points, bringing his average under .300. As the average and HRs fall, so do the counting stats. In this bold prediction, I’m saying Yelich posts a final line of .291/89/21/79/14. Still a good player but not quite top 15 OF perhaps. I fully expect to be wrong about this.
9. Edwin Encarnacion is not a Top 20 1B
Father Time comes for everyone eventually and I believe 2019 is when he comes for Encarnacion. There are a number of factors suggesting a cliff is near: His batting average and slugging percentage have consistently declined since 2015 from .277/.557 to .246/.474. In addition to this, we’ve seen his K-rate rise every year since 2014 and it’s supported by his plate discipline metrics: His contact rate and SwStr% have declined each year to the point that they’re now both below league average. Encarnacion still hits the ball hard, which propelled him to 32 HRs in 2018, but if the wheels fall off in terms of his contact, he won’t make enough to keep his HR tally high. He doesn’t have the lineup around him that he used to have to keep his counting stats high, so it’s not totally crazy to project a .225/68/24/80 line this year which just won’t play.
10. Willians Astudillo strikes out 5 or fewer times in 400 or more PAs
One of the most fun players in baseball, I believe the bolder prediction might be the plate appearances than anything else. Roster Resource has Astudillo starting the year on the bench, but if he hits well, he’ll play and in this bold prediction, I’m assuming he gets a solid chunk of playing time. He’s unlikely to get everyday reps in place of Jason Castro or Mitch Garver behind the dish, but he can get starts around the diamond.
As to the strikeout rate, he posted a minuscule 3.1% mark in his 97 PAs in 2018 and this prediction requires him to get even stingier, all the way down to a microscopic 1.3%. Can he do it? Maybe. Who knows? We haven’t seen a player post this low of a BB+K (5.2% total in 2018) rate in a long time. In fact, nobody has posted one lower than 8.5% over 250 or more PAs since 1999. Here’s hoping Astudillo creates some waves.
(Photo by Justin Fine/Icon Sportswire)