Whoever said fortune favors the bold never tried to eat pizza straight out of the oven. Regardless, it is fun to go out on a limb from time to time and tempt the fickle mistress of fate. Today I’ll be sharing my bold predictions for the bizarro 60-game season we’re about to embark on. As always, the goal with these bold predictions is to get wild and crazy. Getting more than one or two correct means we haven’t gone bold enough. And I’m ready to surpass that benchmark by being completely wrong about everything. So let’s get to it.
1. Kyle Schwarber hits 22 home runs, leading all of baseball in the category.
Yeah, you read that right. That’s 22 home runs in 60 games. Nobody accomplished the feat over the first 60 games of 2019, but guys like Pete Alonso (20), Franmil Reyes (19), and Christian Yelich (19) all came pretty close.
So why do I think this is attainable? For one thing, Schwarber hit the ball harder than almost anybody last year, posting the fourth-highest Hard Hit rate (51.2%), the sixth-best average exit velocity on flyballs and line drives (97.9 mph), and the 11th-best barrel rate (14.5%) among all hitters. We all knew he could crush the ball, of course, but what makes this so exciting is that Schwarber also posted the best strikeout rate and swinging-strike rate of his career last season—the third straight year in which both those stats improved. It’s not often you see a hitter improve their contact ability and their quality of contact in tandem over such an extended period of time, so this is definitely something worth getting excited about.
Also encouraging is the fact that Schwarber, who owns just a .289 wOBA against lefties throughout his career, improved substantially against them last season with a .316 wOBA. And, as the cherry on top, Schwarber will be exclusively facing the AL Central and NL Central this season, two divisions with a dearth of imposing lefties. Schwarber will also be able to reap the benefits of the National League DH this season, which means he’ll no longer lose at-bats late in games to a defensive replacement. Everything’s coming up Schwarber in 2020.
2. Domingo Santana is the best hitter on the Cleveland Indians.
Hey, these are bold predictions, not sorta unlikely predictions. Santana hurt his elbow in July of last year. Prior to that, he posted barrel rates of 10%, 17%, and 16% from April to June. He also slashed .286/.354/.496 and had the 8th-best xwOBAcon in baseball in the first half of the season. I honestly think, if not for his elbow injury, Santana would have had a monster season last year. He’s still just 27 years old and seems primed to pick up full-time at-bats with Cleveland while splitting time at DH and right field. Being the best hitter on a team with Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, and Franmil Reyes is no easy feat. But over 60 games, I think he has it in him.
This is one that probably seems bolder on the surface than it actually is: J.D. Davis posted a 136 wRC+ last year to Alonso’s 143. However, at least for fantasy purposes, the 130-spot gap in their respective ADPs is tremendous. And in most years, you’d be crazy to assume a 27-year-old late-bloomer without a full season of at-bats under his belt could unseat the previous year’s Home Run King. However, I’m all-in on Davis this season, and I think he has the edge here thanks in large part to how well he handles breaking balls and offspeed pitches, which is a weakness for Alonso. If teams exploit that this year, I think we could see Alonso struggle a bit, which should allow Davis and his excellent quality-of-contact metrics to leapfrog the Polar Bear and become the top dog in the Mets lineup. Wow, that sentence had a lot of animal imagery.
4. Gio Urshela outcompetes D.J. LeMahieu in every standard fantasy category except stolen bases.
Not content to pit just one New York duo against each other, I figured it only seemed fair to let the Mets’ crosstown rivals cannibalize each other as well. I see a lot of parallels between Urshela and J.D. Davis. Both are slightly older players who had offensive breakouts last year as third basemen in New York. Both players’ performances were wholly supported by their Statcast metrics. And both players are being slept on so much in drafts this year you’d think they were mattresses in a cheap motel off the interstate. Considering Urshela’s barrel rate was just a tick over the average at 7%, it’s probably safe to say he’ll backslide a bit in power this year. But his ability to post a well-above-average Solid% (which tends to correlate with extra-base hits) and Flare/Burner% (which tends to correlate with batting average) last year tell me that he’s still an incredibly dangerous hitter. On top of that, he sprays the ball to all fields well and makes above-average contact, which gives me confidence he can keep his average above .290. From his time in Colorado, we’ve seen what LeMahieu’s floor is. And while he’s never been a particularly bad hitter, if his continued struggles elevating the ball result in some power and batting average regression, I would not be shocked to see Gio Urshela emerge as the superior offensive player this year.
I mean, how fun would this be? Two sub-.500 teams from 2019 emerging as juggernauts and facing each other in an all-Midwest World Series? Tell me you wouldn’t wanna stick that in your pipe and smoke it. The White Sox lineup this year has the potential to be incredibly scary from top to bottom, and the Reds are no slouch either after adding Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos, and Shogo Akiyama in the offseason. Though Michael Kopech’s opt-out hurts what was already a thin Chicago rotation, if Dylan Cease takes a step forward and Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez remain steady innings-eaters, it might be enough to help them outhit their opponents over 60 games and launch themselves towards a playoff birth. Ultimately I think their lack of pitching will be their undoing though, as the Reds are stacked with three potential aces who I believe will mow them down handily to take home the championship this year. Place your bets now, and don’t forget to send me my cut when you strike it rich.
6. Garrett Richards finishes the year with a sub-3.00 ERA
Richards is a pretty popular sleeper heading into the season now that he looks to be fully healthy for the first time since 2015. In a 60-game season, he should be free of any innings restrictions, and during his brief stint in the majors in 2019 his velocity looked to be fine, as he was sitting around 95 mph with his fastball and touching 96 mph. There’s been talk that Chris Paddack helped show him how to throw his patented “Vulcan” change-up in the offseason, and if it’s something that Richards is comfortable using reliably as an effective third pitch, he could get right back to being the ace he was five years ago.
7. Nate Eovaldi posts a K/9 above 10, an ERA below 3.50, and is the best pitcher on the Red Sox
Hey, look at me, talking about pitchers and stuff. With Eduardo Rodriguez questionable for the start of the season, and a whole lot of nothing lined up behind him in the Red Sox rotation, maybe the “best pitcher on the Red Sox” bit isn’t all that bold. However, banking on Eovaldi to bounce back from a season that saw him sport a 5.99 ERA over 67 innings is probably pretty crazy. Still, he clearly has the stuff to be a really good pitcher, with a fastball that can touch 100 mph and a splitter that has good movement and has been a good, if underutilized, pitch for him throughout his career. A 60-game season seems tailor-made for a guy like Eovaldi, who is probably a bit too “max effort” to endure the rigors of a full season as a starting pitcher but has the talent to dominate over shorter stretches.
Not content to give myself a chance at the win here by simply saying Biggio will go 10/10, I figured I’d go full Nostradamus and predict the other four players who will do it as well. Biggio’s elite plate discipline has been talked about a lot, and he’ll likely be batting second this year for the Blue Jays, behind Bo Bichette. That’s a juicy spot in the lineup for someone who could post a 15%+ walk rate, and it could lend itself to a ton of stolen base opportunities for Biggio. In addition, Biggio showed a proficiency for pulling fly balls last year which, when paired with his excellent 40.1% Hard Hit rate, should result in a good bit of power if he can become a little more aggressive at the plate. There’s a potential fantasy game-changer here.
Every year several pitchers make the leap from undrafted afterthought to fantasy ace. In 2019 we saw Lucas Giolito, Frankie Montas, Brandon Woodruff, and Max Fried all come seemingly out of nowhere to win some people their leagues. So when it comes to pitching breakouts, it’s not so much a question of if, but who. This season I’m banking on Corbin Burnes and Jordan Montgomery being two of the players who make that leap. Both players have historically had strong secondary offerings; last year Burnes’ slider had a mind-boggling 35% swinging-strike rate, and in Montgomery’s last healthy season in 2017 his curveball, change-up, and slider all held hitters to a sub-.260 wOBA. The thing that seems to be holding both of them back is bad fastballs. However, as Michael Ajeto pointed out in his excellent piece about Burnes, he seems to be trying to tweak the pitch to get more movement on it and execute it better this year. And early reports on Montgomery’s fastball is that it’s sitting around 94 mph—nearly two ticks higher than it was prior to his Tommy John surgery. There are still hurdles to overcome for both, particularly Burnes, who isn’t even guaranteed a rotation spot at the moment. But I think these guys are both hidden gems.
10. Josh Bell finishes the year as a top-10 hitter
Bell had an absolutely monstrous first half of 2019, hitting .302 with 27 home runs and 82 RBI in 88 games. Regression was obviously inevitable, but his performance in the second half of the season still hurt, as he hit just .233 with 10 homers while posting a .323 wOBA. However, as was the case with Domingo Santana, I think a lot of those second-half struggles can be attributed to injury. Bell suffered a groin injury that caused him to miss time intermittently down the stretch, and it’s hard not to think that was a major factor in his scuffles. Especially because there were significant changes he made heading into 2019 that correlated with his first-half outburst, including sticking with a consistent batting stance and elevating the ball more to address the groundball tendencies that had been holding back his power. I think his unique combo of elite plate discipline, solid contact rates, and excellent quality of contact make him a potential superstar in the making, and I wouldn’t be completely shocked if he managed a .290 average and 14+ homers in the shortened season.
Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)