You can only wait so long, right? I told myself I’d hold off on bold predictions until the 2020 season details were confirmed. But now that a proposal’s in the works—with a small 67-page stack of guidelines that will surely be agreed upon along with budget conflicts (forcefully knocks on wood with crossed fingers)—let’s dig in on a five-course bold prediction meal (meaning five bold predictions). The recipe includes a dash of Statcast metrics, a splash of shortened season factors and a healthy base of “go bold or go home.”
And as a man(ager) who happily recalls his 2019 hits like Lucas Giolito, Zac Gallen, Kevin Newman, and Luis Arraez, I’ll be sure to recap how this all goes at the end of the season. I’ll even reluctantly own up to the not-so-rare misses (like Matt Strahm, Jurickson Profar, and Jake Bauers three different times). Masks off! Here are my five bold predictions for the 82-game season.
1. Carlos Correa Finishes as a Top-2 Shortstop
Only behind his teammate Alex Bregman, whose foundation as an elite hitter I fully believe in. Let’s start with Correa’s ADP, sitting right at the 100 spot. Any manager should be jumping for joy if they can draft Carlos Correa there, but I’m not buying that he falls that far. Most industry analysts proclaim the Astros shortstop a major value, and it will only take one manager’s reach for Correa to go off the board around 75. You should be that manager.
In 2019, across 75 games of yet another injury-plagued season (easily his biggest blemish), Correa batted .280 with 21 homers, 59 RBIs, and 42 runs scored. If we buy an oversimplified ticket at the proration station, doubling each of those counting stats would be 42 homers, 118 RBIs, and 84 runs scored. Those home runs and RBIs would have led all shortstops last season. Again, prorated stat lines can be misleading due to health and skill factors. So let’s talk about health first.
Correa missed games last season with a fractured rib (from a “home massage”) and finished the season with back issues. Correa said back in February he’s finally found an offseason regimen to keep him healthy for 2020. If we’re only playing 82 games, that’s a smaller stretch with a lower chance of Correa missing time from injury. So, where in past drafts you may bump up a 160-game workhorse like Manny Machado over Correa—that’s certainly more in question for this shortened season.
Now let’s talk about the skills, this is where it gets good. Remember that solid half-season season stat line from last year? If you look from real stats to expected stats (per Baseball Savant), Correa looks a whole lot better.
|Actual Stats||Rank among Shortstops||Expected Stats||Rank among Shortstops|
|Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA)||.380||4th||.391||1st|
Slugging percentage is the only metric above where his actual stat was higher than his expected stat. That said, his expected slugging percentage of .559 was far and away the highest at shortstop, with Javier Baez‘s .503 ranking second. Baez was second in xWOBA at .334 compared to the .391 from Correa, good enough for sixteenth in the entire league. All of this says Correa, when healthy, looks to post elite stats at the shortstop position. Why? His plate discipline and quality of contact remind us why the Astros took him as the number one overall pick in 2012.
I’ve mentioned in the past, per expert Eno Sarris, barrel stats are among the best indicators for predicting batting success. Correa’s barrel stats stand alone at the loaded shortstop position. His 13.5 barrels per batted ball event and 8.7 barrels per plate appearance both finished first among all shortstops. His hard-hit percentage was sixth among shortstops. And his .289 ISO (a measurement of raw power) only slightly trailed shortstop leader Alex Bregman‘s .296—both far ahead of the next trio of Fernando Tatis Jr., Trevor Story, and Gleyber Torres at .272, .260, and .246, respectively. Those four players are being drafted at positions 13, 18, 9, and 28—compared to Correa’s ADP of 100.
One final nugget about Correa I love relates to consistency. In an 82-game season, you could make arguments either way on if you want a steady player or streaky player. But overall, there’s little debate that a steady player is a safer play. With the risks around Correa’s health, and the gamble of his “expected” upside, I like offsetting that with consistent performance.
But how do you measure that?
Well, Pitcher List data analyst Colin Charles whipped together a beautiful tool to measure steady versus streaky players. The data premise revolves around a player’s hottest three-week stretch and coldest three-week stretch, using wOBA as the key metric. The smaller the difference between hot and cold, the more you can assume that player’s performance is consistent. Among the entire league, Correa had the second smallest wOBA difference between his best and worst three weeks. In other words, Correa performed the second steadiest in the league last season.
Add it all up, folks. His talent’s unquestionable, statistical floor is solid, and risky health has fewer games to manifest. On top of that, his batted ball data leads the position, and his performance appears rock steady, so long as he’s actually playing. Carlos Correa, being drafted as the 15th shortstop off the board, will finish as a top-two shortstop.
2. Eugenio Suarez Falls Out of Top 20 3B
Let’s get some negativity going!
With an ADP of 73, Suarez is being drafted as the 10th third basemen—and understandably so. When it comes to results, I can’t hate. He finished last year with an incredible stat line boasting 49 home runs, a .271 batting average, and 190 R+RBIs. Suarez crushes the ball. The guy’s hard-hit percentage is 13th in the majors (miles above CJ Cron‘s). But there are reasons for caution, mainly in the underlying statistics.
While Suarez batted .271, his expected batting average was .248. His .571 slugging percentage far outperformed his .503 expected slugging percentage—a .068 gap which was 12th largest in the majors. His soft hit percentage nearly doubled, from 8.4% in 2018 to 15.1% in 2019. His 28% strikeout rate was the highest of his career. That’s in large part due to outside contact of just 51.3%, ranking 127th among batters. Lastly, his 49 home runs (while impressive, no doubt) were propped up by an unsustainable 29.5% home run to flyball rate. That’s sixth-highest in the majors, and well above his 23.4% and 17.9% in the previous two seasons.
Suarez is streaky—which for my argument—means risky. In the aforementioned exercise showing Correa’s consistency, there was no third basemen streakier than Suarez. For the first three weeks of June, he batted just .149 with a .219 OBP—a worse stretch than the memorable Jose Ramirez drought. If Suarez starts cold, and he’s susceptible with that K-rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if his at-bats take a knock. The Reds are playing to win and their crowded roster reflects that.
Newcomer Mike Moustakas is slated to play second base, but he played the hot corner in 105 games last season. And even with the universal DH, they’ll need to cycle time in for Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, Aristides Aquino, and Josh VanMeter (who snuck in 260 plate appearances in 2019). None of those names hold a candle to Suarez, but a few days off for a struggling Suarez could make a big difference in a shortened season.
Take all of the above and add in a shoulder surgery in January. According to reports, he’s fully recovered. But a shoulder surgery for a power hitter never makes me feel great. I’m predicting a down year for the 28-year-old—and “bold predicting” he falls outside of the top 20 at the position.
3. Marcell Ozuna Finishes as a Top-10 Outfielder
Just typing that headline doesn’t feel so bold. But Ozuna’s currently being drafted as the 25th outfielder off the board (at pick 80). So, he’d have to rise from 25th to tenth. Charlie Blackmon is currently the tenth outfielder with an ADP of 37—that’s asking for a major jump from Ozuna. Last season with the Cardinals, he batted just .241 with a vanilla 29 homers and 170 Runs plus RBIs. The 12 stolen bases were a pleasant surprise. It was an okay season considering he only played 130 games, but not what drafters had hoped for. I’m betting 2020 is a different story.
Ozuna suffered some terrible BABIP luck last year—.257 compared to his .314 career mark. That factors into why his expected batting average was .288—47 ticks higher than his .241 actual batting average. That gap in actual versus expected was the largest in the entire league. Ozuna’s .241 line ranked 48th at the position. His expected batting average ranks 15th. Similarly, his expected slugging percentage of .548 (ranked 13th at outfield) sits well above his .472 actual slugging percentage (ranked 38th at outfield)—the third-largest gap in the league.
The bad luck theory makes more sense looking at his batted ball metrics. His 48.4% hard-hit rate ranks 11th in the league and third across outfielders, only trailing Yelich and Bellinger. In fact, in 2019 Ozuna posted career-high rates for hard hits and line drives, along with career-low rates for soft hits and groundballs (both good). His average exit velocity and max exit velocity were sixth and tenth among outfielders, respectively. His barrel stats hold up well, finishing 11th at the position. Let’s not forget Ozuna ended his season with a hot playoff bat, with a .324 average.
Now, Ozuna starts his season with Atlanta, batting cleanup behind Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman. He has factors in his favor to put up a monster half-season. Plus, I’m a Cardinals fan—so he’s a lock to go off. I’ll slate him at a half-season stat line of .270 with 18 homers, 100 R+RBIs, and 4 steals, finishing right around the likes of Austin Meadows and George Springer.
4. Cody Bellinger Finishes Top 3 in Each Triple Crown Stat
That’s homers, RBIs, and batting average in case your baseball cobwebs formed in this extended offseason. When Miguel Cabrera accomplished the legendary feat in 2012, he was the first to do so since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Christian Yelich and J.D. Martinez both came close in 2018. This season, I predict Bellinger will contend in all three categories.
Let’s start with home runs. He finished fourth last season with 47 tankers, and his 24.6% home run to flyball rate doesn’t scream regression. The raw power checks out too, as his .324 ISO ranked fourth in the league last season. His hard-hit percentage was ninth in the league. And while his .629 slugging percentage finished sixth in the league, his .638 expected slugging percentage actually ranked third in the league. Let’s not forget in his 2017 rookie season, he yanked 39 in 130 games. And last season, he opened the first month on a 14-homer tear. It’s not hard to see Bellinger right at the top of this year’s home run race. This leg of the triple crown trio won’t lead to much debate.
Now, shift to RBIs. He knocked in 115 last year, which marked 10th in the majors. But the lineup in front of him improved this offseason thanks to the addition of some guy named Mookie Betts. That guy happened to lead the league last season in runs, with 135. Last season, Bellinger saw 160 plate appearances with runners in scoring position batting cleanup for the Dodgers. That may sound like a lot but it ranks 31st in the league. I’d bet on Mookie to up that ranking this season. For context, Red Sox cleanup hitter J.D. Martinez saw 186 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, ranking ninth in the league. Bellinger is an RBI beast, with new opportunities to hit in the top run-scorer in the league and expected stats that somehow—despite his elite performance—point up. That leads to the final category.
Batting average will be the biggest challenge for Bellinger to compete for the triple crown. His projections have him around .290 which is criminally low, in my opinion. Bellinger batted .305 last year. Sure, he’s a .278 career hitter, but he’s very young, and his plate discipline has already improved drastically. Last season, his K-rate dropped from 23.9% all the way down to 16.3%. That’s hovering with names like Adam Eaton and Charlie Blackmon. Take that approach and overlay that Bellinger’s 26.2% line drive rate was seventh in the league. There are loads of numbers that look good for the 6’4″ 24-year-old’s hit tool—but here’s my favorite. To bolster his .305 batting average last year, his expected batting average was .323—highest in the league for players not named Howie Kendrick.
In an 82-game season, with all of the above in his favor, I could see Bellinger flat out winning the triple crown. But for the sake of going undefeated with my bold predictions, I’m going to stop at him finishing top three in each category. In 2019, he finished fourth in home runs, tenth in RBIs, and seventeenth in batting average. That’s bold enough, right? Besides, I’m saving my boldest prediction for last.
5. CJ Cron Finishes Top 10 in Homers
If the boldness was on a wing sauce scale, this would be scorching—think Dumb and Dumber when the hitman ate the burger then keeled over before Harry accidentally poisoned him.
To find CJ Cron on the 2019 home run leaderboard, you’d have to scroll down to number 79. So what makes me squint and see him surging into the top 10?
First things first: It’s a shortened season. While I used that to count on Correa’s consistency, this bold call relies on things starting hot for CJ Cron—and just never cooling off. That can happen over 82 games. And while Cron hit a paltry 25 home runs last season, there’s plenty to like about what he could do. Remember that barrel discussion noted for Correa? Take a look at the company CJ Cron is in when it comes to barrels per plate appearance across the entire league.
Barrels per Plate Appearance % (min. 350 batted ball events)
|1. Mike Trout||11.0|
|2. CJ Cron||10.6|
|3. Jorge Soler||10.3|
|4. Christian Yelich||10.2|
|5. George Springer||9.5|
|6. Pete Alonso||9.5|
|7. Josh Donaldson||9.4|
|8. Ronald Acuna Jr.||9.2|
|9. Jose Abreu||9.1|
|10. Kyle Schwarber||9.0|
|11. Cody Bellinger||8.9|
|12. Bryce Harper||8.7|
|13. Anthony Rendon||8.7|
|14. Marcell Ozuna||8.6|
|15. Javier Baez||8.6|
One of those names is not like the others. Around those peers, CJ Cron is being drafted at pick 242. Last season, Cron’s hard-hit percentage jumped eight percent and he lowered his soft hit percentage by almost five percent, as well as his infield flyball rate by nearly 11 percent. While his slugging percentage was just .469, his expected slugging percentage was .548—a .079 difference that was second-largest in the league. In his age-30 season, Cron’s batting cleanup hitter for an admittedly weak Tigers offense, but that matters not for his homers, and he should see more regular at-bats than ever before. And while Comerica’s not exactly a homer-friendly ballpark, it ranks three spots above Target Field, where Cron played as a Twin last year.
Is Cron breaching the top 10 in homers the boldest of the bunch? Absolutely. But stranger things have happened in sports—and it’s going to be a strange season.
Photos courtesy of Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Rick Orengo (@OneFiddyOne on Twitter and Instagram) and J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter and @caines_design on Instagram) on the Ozuna Jersey swap.