(Photo by Keith Birmingham/Zumapress/Icon Sportswire)
Well, I’ve been looking forward to writing this article for a while. Partly because I wanted to see where my research led me back in March. And also, because I needed a good laugh on this crisp October morning. Just kidding. It’s 73 degrees here in Brooklyn. The ‘need a laugh’ part is true though. This should be fun.
Last March, I made some bold predictions. Some looked promising. Some were true Haily Marys. Regardless, most of the predictions got mocked across the site and elsewhere. Let’s see who’s laughing now:
1. Greg Bird leads the Yankees in HRs
Wow. I really came out of the gate swinging here, didn’t I? To explain my rationale, I (like many others) saw a guy who was finally healthy, still quite young and possessed a power profile that seemed destined for Yankee Stadium. Alas, Greg Bird stayed true to form and played in a mere 82 games this year. He didn’t even see the field until May 15th, and it was just a roller coaster of emotions from there. He finished with a line of 23 R/11 HR/38 RBI/.199. Not even close to making my bold prediction come true. In fact, the previously solid 40%+ hard contact rate that had me all excited fell to an astonishing 33% this year, and he failed to hit more than 4 HR in a single month. For the record, Giancarlo Stanton led the team with 38 HR as Aaron Hicks, Miguel Andujar, Aaron Judge, and Didi Gregorius all tied for 2nd with 27. Just as we all predicted, right? 0/1.
2. Julio Teheran finishes as a top 25 SP
Yikes. Ok. So, this was borne by my Braves homerism but also the promising adjustments he made in the second half of 2017. He started using the fastball-sinker combo more and less of the slider, and as a result, his homerun rate and ratios improved. I called for that to continue as he further learned how to navigate SunTrust Park. Well, there were some shreds of that coming to fruition, but overall, it was his inconsistent control that did him in and kept him well out of the top 25. However, it wasn’t a terrible year overall. He did finish as the #48 SP with a 9-9 record, 162 Ks, 3.94 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Although he did outpitch his peripherals and probably wasn’t as good as those marks, he was much better than his 2017 numbers. The big wart, though, was a rough 4.3 BB/9, which is the worst mark of his career. On the positive side, he did post a career-high in swinging strike rate and a personal best of 83% contact rate allowed. Also, he was quite useful from August 1st on turning in 6 quality starts in 10 outings with a 2.97 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. He also allowed a slash of .163/.273/.270 over that time frame as well. He finished around the likes of Marco Gonzalez, Ross Stripling, Ryan Yarbrough, and dual-eligible Jesse Chavez. 0/2.
3. Austin Barnes finishes as a top 5 Catcher
Nope. He finished as catcher #43. Obviously, this was dependent on Barnes receiving improved playing time at second base, where he was also eligible coming into 2018. However, it was hard for Barnes to find his way in there when some random named Max Muncy started forcing himself into playing time. Then the Dodgers acquired Manny Machado who further blocked the path to playing time. Then Brian Dozier. You get what’s happening here. Add to all of that the fact that Yasmani Grandal had a solid year, and it’s easy to see why Barnes was on the outside looking in most nights for the Dodgers. When he was out there, he wasn’t very good. His 262 plate appearances from 2017 made him look like a high OBP guy with speed and modest pop, but all of that was nowhere to be found in 2018. He finished with a 32 R/4 HR/14 RBI/4 SB and a slash of .205/.329/.290. Also, the plate discipline took a massive step in the wrong direction as his K rate went from 16% in 2017 to 28% this year. For the record, the top 5 catchers were J.T. Realmuto, Yadier Molina, Yasmani Grandal, and Salvador Perez. 0/3.
4. Alex Bregman finishes top 5 in AL MVP voting
This will have to be re-visited as the MVP voting will not happen until after the season. It’s going to be a very tight race in the AL as Mike Trout, J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Alex Bregman all posted MVP-caliber numbers. However, I’m going to take a W here because I called for this breakout almost on the nose. In March, my predicted stat line for Bregman was 100 R/30 HR/95 RBI/15 SB/.295. He ended with 105 R/31 HR/103 RBI/10 SB/.286. Pretty darn close! Bregman made huge strides in his game this year posting career-best marks in plate discipline, swinging strike rate, and contact rate as he picked up all the slack left by an oft-injured Carlos Correa for the AL West Champion Astros. He was top 6 in the AL in multiple categories including OBP, runs scored, RBI, my favorite baseball boys, slugging percentage, and WAR. Someone has to be left out of the top 5 of the MVP voting, and I don’t think it will be Bregman. He is going to go off the board no later than the early 2nd next year. 1/4.
Ok, so here me out. I said value. When you consider where you drafted Swanson (you didn’t) and where you drafted Albies (no later than 7th or 8th), didn’t Swanson technically return more value as an undrafted player? Ok, who am I kidding? This was wrong. Let’s check their final stat lines:
Swanson-51 R/14 HR/59 RBI/10 SB with a slash of .238/.304/.395 in 533 plate appearances
Albies-105 R/24 HR/72 RBI/14 SB with a slash of .261/.305/.452 in 684 plate appearances
Obviously, Albies got way more plate appearances, but I think it’s clear who would have helped your fantasy team more. The impetus behind the call was that Swanson was taking his lumps last year but still had the top prospect pedigree in there somewhere. While he did improve off 2017’s disaster, he still has a long way to go. Swanson did provide double-digit power and speed this year, which is a positive, and I think he makes for an intriguing middle infield flier late in drafts next year. 1/5.
Willson Contreras did, in fact, pass Gary Sanchez on the player rater this year. However, he was nowhere near the #1 spot for the position. First, let me say the obvious. Catcher was a darn wasteland this year, and unless you spent the draft capital on J.T. Realmuto, you were probably frustrated by your backstop. Back to Contreras. I said that more reps at the plate would result in more production, and he would take a big step forward from his promising 2017. His 541 plate appearances in 2018 were an improvement, but it was anything but in production. He finished with a line of 50 R/10 HR/54 RBI/4 SB/.251. He stayed stagnant on his middling plate discipline numbers and only bumped his contact rate from a below average 71% to a still-below-average 74%. He also had a very disappointing 33% hard contact rate. All of those areas were ones I felt could have helped him take steps forward in 2018. I still think he has enough talent to be a top 10 catcher (he was #10 this year), but this was an unexpected step back. Let’s see how much of a discount he receives for next year’s drafts. 1/6.
7. Walker Buehler will start Game 2 of the NLCS for the Los Angeles Dodgers
We have another call that will have to wait. The Dodgers did make the postseason and will now face off with the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. I love my Braves, but I do like the Dodgers’ chances of advancing thanks to their depth and pitching staff. In my original article, I called for a Dodgers-Nationals NLCS, so that was a miss. Still, let’s focus on the Buehler aspect of this. I said he would receive a late-June callup and excel right out of the gate. It was actually two months earlier when we first saw him, but he did excel this year. He finished with a line of 8-5, 151 K, 2.62 ERA, 0.98 WHIP with some pretty impressive ratios of 9.9 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 to boot. Overall, he seemed pretty comfortable pitching at the Major League level, and it’s easy to see him as the Dodgers’ #2 SP coming into 2019. Right now, it seems the Dodgers view Hyun-Jin Ryu as their #2 starter, so depending on the Braves’ series, that could be who starts Game 2 of the NLCS. However, I like my chances on this call. I’m calling this a push. 1/6…for now.
8. Alex Reyes will finish as a top 5 NL closer
A torn UCL was the reason this one did not happen as Reyes pitched all of 4 innings in the majors this season. He got Tommy John at the end of May, so it will be well into 2019 before we see him again. There’s not much to analyze here because of the injury, but the conceit of the call was that the Cardinals would open the season with closer issues forcing Reyes into the role. That 100% happened as Greg Holland turned out to be a flaming pile of poo. Eventually, Bud Norris took the role and racked up an unexpected 28 saves, but he wasn’t a top 5 NL closer. Here’s that list: Kenley Jansen, Wade Davis, Jeremy Jeffress, Felipe Vazquez, and Josh Hader. 1/7.
9. The Atlanta Braves will defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card game
The NL Wild Card game this evening will be between the Colorado Rockies and the Chicago Cubs. Miss and miss. However, my call of a much-improved Braves team led unexpectedly by solid pitching and big production from their young bats was right on the money. The Braves were just too good for me to get this one right. I’m ok with that. I also want to pat myself on the back for calling double-digit homeruns and steals from Acuna, but he exceeded even my wildest expectations on his way to what will be a Rookie of the Year season for him. As for the Diamondbacks, they completely collapsed in September. Despite winning at least 18 games in two out of the season’s six months, the Diamondbacks find themselves watching the playoffs at home thanks to an 8-19 record in September. They led the NL West for most of the season, but the Dodgers and Rockies got red-hot at the right time. The Diamondbacks finished 8.5 games out of the wild card. 1/8.
10. Willie Calhoun hits 30 HR at the Major League level after his May 5th call-up
This one had very little chance of coming true after he didn’t get called up until July 20th. He flashed big-time power in the minors before this year but only slugged 9 in AAA this season before adding just 2 more in the majors. He recorded 108 plate appearances with the Rangers this year, and that’s just not the volume I was looking for when I made this call. What is most discouraging, though, was his putrid 23% hard contact rate once he got to Arlington. That’s not a good sign of things to come. Still, he’s just 23 years-old and was getting his feet wet, so hopefully, he can make the improvements he needs to be a force in 2019. 1/9.
And that will do it. Most of these were misses as I went 1/9 with 1 call pending. Bold predictions are fun, and it’s always entertaining to re-visit. Thanks for reading as always!