(Photo by Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire)
The Pitcher List staff has been sharing their 10 Bold Predictions for 2018 and it’s about time I threw my hat into the ring. Most are bold, a few are silly, and I look forward to being wrong on them all.
I was planning on doing this across the full season prior to Lamet’s elbow injury, but now I’ll adjust it back a month. Honestly, the whole point of this prediction is to illuminate a major point: Robbie Ray’s value lies in his strikeouts, not his ratios, and the distance from him and a strikeout-heavy starter is much smaller than you think.
Here’s a fun table that shows you just how close this could be between Ray and Lamet:
|Robbie Ray ’16||4.90||28.1%||9.2%||68.7%|
|Dinelson Lamet ’17||4.57||28.7%||11.1%||69.2%|
A lot went Ray’s way in 2017 – his H/9 dropped three full points as his BABIP fell from .352 to .267, his LOB rate swung the opposite direction to a ridiculous 84.5%, and despite raising his walk rate to 10.7%, his ERA fell to an unsustainable 2.89. Let’s imagine Ray doesn’t get as lucky in 2018, that walk rate could bite him plenty, raising his WHIP from 1.15 to, say, 1.30 territory, with an ERA around 3.70 (a mark nearly identical to his 3.76 and 3.72 FIP from the last two seasons). With Lamet working on a curveball in spring training that could be the third pitch he desperately needs, why couldn’t he replicate Ray’s strikeouts with near the same WHIP and an ERA hovering 4.00?
I’m not even a major fan of Lamet, but if we recognize that Ray’s ADP is driven not by the belief that he can go close to sub 3.00 ERA and sub 1.20 WHIP, then it allows owners to sit on their hands and get their strikeouts a different way later in the draft.
2. Nate Karns and Jake Junis are Both Top 7 Starters in the AL Central
There are plenty of pitchers to beat here – Michael Fulmer, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Danny Salazar, Jose Berrios, Ervin Santana, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Carlos Rodon, and their teammates Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy, to name a few. However, I love the upside of both of these arms and could see it coming to fruition in 2018. Nate Karns was as deadly as anyone in his four starts before his DL stint last season – 22.1 IP, 5 ER, 32 Ks, and just 4 BBs – and has come out to say he feels like he’s “picked the ball up where we left off.” Meanwhile, Jake Junis already had a plus slider, but paired with a solid heater and a curveball he’s trusting during the spring, it’s possible he creeps into Top 40 overall SP value and becomes heavily relevant in 12-team leagues. Not to mention, injuries are a thing and it’s never out of the question those starters comfortably make it easier for the pair to climb.
3. Jorge Soler hits 30 Hrs
Who doesn’t love a good post-hype sleeper pick? I was a big fan of Soler entering 2015, looking like a primed from for 25+ HRs in an excellent Cubs lineup. Injuries struck, he was traded to the Royals, and his name has been long forgotten. But now the 26-year-old has a starting job, reportedly “retooled his swing”, lost 20 pounds, and has slugged 6 longballs during spring training. Yes, Kauffman Stadium isn’t going to help Soler tally the tates, but we saw Mike Moustakas mash well over 30 last season in a Royals uniform, and I’m tempted to take the chance that a reborn Soler can make a big splash in 2018.
4. Whoever owns Luiz Gohara for his first 2018 start will win our staff league
I love having fun with Bold Predictions and after watching Luiz Gohara in September last year, I’m convinced he will have an impact on fantasy teams in 2018. The only question is when as he’s currently nursing a sprained ankle after previously being sidelined with a groin strain. Now in Triple-A and healing, he sits on our waiver wire while the rest of us play chicken. A lack of N/A slot would mean we’re sacrificing a bench spot – a spot that would carry zero production through the first month. However, I have a feeling he’ll sit on the wire for weeks, get stashed shortly before his callup, and transform the team that owns him. It could be me, it could be another team, but the fact remains Gohara will help fantasy teams, and could return a ton of value in the second half.
I couldn’t decide who to feature as my young-arm focus for these predictions, so I elected to feature three of them. You’ve heard me praise these names through the site and podcast, which should make these names far from a surprise. Still, let me go over each one’s potential outlining their path to realizing their Top 25 upside:
Jordan Montgomery held a 12.2% whiff rate across all his pitches last season, including 18%+ marks on both his curveball and slider. His absurdly high release point adds deception to all his pitches, creating a downward plane that makes it tough for batters to identify pitches. His excellent secondary pitches set a foundation for his heaters, which could see improvement in 2018 via finding the zone more often. He’s not a wild pitcher, and it’s conceivable he takes a step forward with his command to turn his nibbling heaters into stolen strikes.
Speaking of impressive secondary pitches, Mike Clevinger has one of the filthier trios in his back pocket across his changeup, curveball, and slider, each holding whiff rates higher than 19% last season. A strikeout rate of 25%+ seems like a given with these weapons in his arsenal, with the final piece – like Montgomery – coming in his fastball. However, the plan may be to reduce its usage rate to sub 50% levels and make more room for his breakers to do the damage for him. Haunted by his 12% walk rate in 2017, I see an 8.0% well within reach, which could propel Clevinger into Top 25 levels – if not higher.
As mentioned with Jorge Soler, post-hype breakouts are a fun type of bold prediction, and Lucas Giolito is certainly a part of it. After falling down plenty of prospect rankings before being dealt to the White Sox, Giolito has become a new man this spring, increasing his velocity through a lower arm slot. The mechanical tweak has also allowed his to command his curveball better, which was one of the bigger flaws we saw during his brief 2017 stint. Pair that with a slider that he effectively uses to steal strikes and get swings-and-misses, a changeup that can act as a new pitch deeper in games, and improved control through a more consistent lower half, and Giolito could be on verge of a massive breakout in 2018.
6. Lewis Brinson scores 100 runs, goes 20/20 with a .300 average en route to a ROY award
With all of the Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Willie Calhoun, Scott Kingery, and Shohei Ohtani love, I wanted to make sure people were reminded that Lewis Brinson is still a really really good player. Now that he’s slated to lead-off for the Marlins on Opening Day, I can see Brinson having a field day atop the lineup. Remember, he held a .331 average with 13 HRs and 11 SBs in AAA with the Brewers just last season (yes, very HR friendly), and we’ve seen prospects previously take large leaps in their first full season in the bigs. There’s plenty that can go wrong here and the offense behind him is doing Brinson no favors, but if he’s there for 154+ games, it’s not out of the question.
7. David Price is a Top 4 SP
Considering “The Elite Four” exists, there are a lot of names wrestling for that final #5 spot, with plenty names like Luis Severino, Noah Syndergaard, Stephen Strasburg, and Jacob deGrom all getting love across the fantasy spectrum. Yet, despite Price’s current ADP well past 100, I think he can be the one to hold the title by year’s end. Is it so far-fetched that David Price can go 200 IP – something he had done in 6 of 7 seasons prior to 2017’s debacle – while holding a 1.10 WHIP, sub 3.00 ERA, a 25%+ K rate, and 18+ Wins as a member of the Red Sox? Top 5 to me wasn’t bold enough, so I had to move one more spot assuming someone gets injured or maybe, just maybe, Chris Sale holds yet another 3.00+ ERA season while Price gets lucky in the Wins department.
8. Sandy Alcantara is the most valuable SP on the Marlins
Sandy Alcantara was the main piece in the Marcel Ozuna deal and while he was completely off my radar entering Spring Training (and ignorantly confusing him for Raul), I’m impressed with what he brings to the table – a lively fastball that sa\t above 97mph as a reliever (I’d imagine around 94-95mph as a starter), a good slider that he trusts, and a changeup that matches well with his heater. His biggest flaw is command as he’s hovered around 10% walk rates and is not known as a crafty arm. However, if he makes the jump the majors as the Marlins give him a shot in May or June, his overpowering stuff could turn into fantasy value quickly. With Dan Straily ailing, Jose Urena relying on luck more than skill to succeed, and anybody’s guess as to who is the fifth starter come May 1st (Elieser Hernandez?! Really?), there’s opportunity for Alcantara to take the wheel.
9. A.J. Pollock fixes his biggest flaw and changes his name to A.J. Pollack
Despite Jackson never going through the transition, I expect A.J. Pollock to stop running away from what is eating at his core and come to terms with who he truly is, a Pollack. It’s about time.
10. Matt Strahm is the most valuable starter on the Padres
I can’t escape pre-season discussion of Matt Strahm after I had a GIF Breakdown showcasing his upside as a possible starter for the Royals last February. It’s time for me to get curious about what Strahm can be, now with an excellent chance for the spotlight in San Diego. Dinelson Lamet is missing time with injury. Luis Perdomo hasn’t quite taken the step to become a strong turn in the rotation. And Clayton Richard becoming the most dependable arm in South Cali. Clayton Richard. With Strahm’s mid 90s velocity and heavy curveball, I can see him seizing a role in the rotation and never letting go through the year.