I’m going to be honest with all of you — I ran out of time this year. In the whirlwind of baseball returning and four weeks of the mayhem that followed, I simply haven’t been able to write some of the regular pieces I wanted to, from my SP targets and busts, to finally writing my long piece about my methodology for streaming pitchers.
All of that is to say I’m not going to be nearly as thorough this year in my predictions as my contemporaries on the site, nor as in-depth as previous seasons. Regardless, it’s time to plant some ridiculous flags with the intention of getting just .5 of these five hypotheticals correct — i.e. a 10% chance for each one and please excuse the ridiculousness of being .5 correct. Please keep that in mind and don’t judge for these being incorrect — they should be incorrect.
1. Patrick Corbin Is a Top 15 SP in 2022
Y’all may have seen this coming. Corbin was a stud for fantasy squads in 2018 and 2019 before taking a dip in 2020 (velocity drop!) and furthering his descent last season.
However. Let me guide you to a chart:
His velocity peaked in the second half of 2021 and with that added velocity, I imagine Corbin can bring back his earlier form. There’s still work to do — his fastball has become more hittable in the zone and a return to a sub-50% zone rate may help his fastball performance — but improved velocity while still armed with a whiff-heavy slider spells a possible bounce-back season for an arm destined to go every fifth day in the nation’s capital.
2. Michael Kopech Is the Best Pitcher in the AL Central
Let’s get this out of the way — among the Royals, Tigers, Guardians, and Twins, only Shane Bieber can be comfortably placed inside the Top 30 starting pitchers. I hope Tarik Skubal, Joe Ryan, or Triston McKenzie can climb there soon (and maybe Sonny Gray can fully redeem himself!) but outside of the White Sox, Bieber will be a tough arm to overcome.
That said, Kopech certainly has the skill set to do so. He dominated in his 69.1 frames in 2021, carrying a remarkable (and identical!) 34.8% CSW on his four-seamer and slider. That alone should help you embrace his ceiling and I’m wondering if there’s more to chase as we see more of his curveball and changeup as he slides comfortably into the rotation. There’s a legitimate shot at a low 3s ERA with a 30% strikeout rate across 150 innings.
Of course, this first requires Kopech to be the best pitcher on the White Sox, which essentially asks him to out-pitch the injured Lance Lynn, walk fewer batters than Dylan Cease, and…survive longer than Lucas Giolito? Honestly, that’s the hardest triumph to envision as Giolito is primed to be a Cy Young contender this season, but hey, 10% chance right?
3. The Miami Marlins Make It to the World Series
Yeah, I know. This is dumb. Hear me out and I’ll be quick about it.
You know the team has a ridiculous pitching staff — Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Rogers, Pablo López, Jesús Luzardo as their main four — with incredible depth to fill in through the year (Edward Cabrera, Elieser Hernandez, Max Meyer). Our denunciation of their ability is rooted in their highly questionable offense, though the signings of Avisaíl García and Jorge Soler provide an intriguing ceiling, especially if some of their young bats can take steps forward, like Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Jesús Sánchez.
With that in mind, FanGraphs right now has the Marlins at a 29% playoff odds. 3/10 times! Now consider the incredible top-half of the Marlins rotation and you get a team who are “made for the playoffs”, so much so they took down the Chicago Cubs in the first round of 2020. And hey, maybe they finally trade another pitcher for a quality bat and boost their odds one more step in the second half. I’m here for it.
4. Marcus Semien Is a Top-5 Pick Entering 2023 Drafts
Yes, a hitter. Deal with it. Semien just signed with the Rangers after enjoying not only the benefits of hitter-friendly parks, but one of the strongest offenses in the league, allowing him to push 217 combined runs and RBI last season. As he moves to unfavorable conditions, the consensus is he’s unable to come close to repeating and will disappoint many.
And yet, Semien’s 2019 was eerily similar to 2021, hitting inside Oakland, of all places when he tallied 211 combined runs and RBI. Since then, Semien has run the same amount, but more efficiently (15 vs. 10 SBs), increased his Pull% dramatically to boost his home run production, and increased his hard contact rate to close to 30%.
Throw in a premier position at middle infield + swipes closer to 20 SBs and you have the makings of a potential 4.5 category stud (.5 for a ~.275 average).
There’s been a massive fear hitting the pre-season over the last few seasons about TJS pitchers making their return and disappointing massively. I get it. Noah Syndergaard is throwing softer, Jameson Taillon has yet to find his groove, and countless others have been unable to sprinkle their former magic onto their reconstructed elbows, or worse — it was only a temporary vacation from the infirmary. That said, I think we’re vastly undervaluing what Verlander and Severino could do.
Back in my day, which was just a few years ago, really, we had José Fernandez, Stephen Strasburg, and Yu Darvish all go under the knife after we collectively gasped and swore at the heathens. What did they do? They dominated. Fernandez jumped to 95/96 mph after debuting just under 95 mph, Darvish threw harder at 93.3 mph while bumping his strikeout rate to 32% across his 100 frames in Texas, and while Strasburg never reclaimed the 97/98 mph velocity, he had eight seasons of sub 4.00 ERA ball as he was a shining example of pitching excellence for the better half of a decade.
All of this is to say that those who have expressed elite ability before surgery should not be labeled as a leper upon their return. I know, Severino has his injury history, Verlander is old, and Clevinger is already dealing with a sore knee as his return is likely set for early May, but we’re talking about pitchers who were regarded among the elites before injury and could follow the path of Strasburg, JoFer, and Darvish.
Why Second Half? Well, I had some difficulty framing this one. Should it be Cy Young voting? Overall performance? In short, with Clevinger included, it made most sense to make it second half, even if I see Severino and Verlander performing well out of the gate.
Lastly, there’s no Syndergaard involved here. Why? No it’s not that his velocity is down a few ticks, or that he doesn’t have his slider of old. It’s because Thor was never quite as elite as the others, boasting a WHIP above 1.20 in both 2018 and 2019. I find it much harder to believe he returns to form.
Photos by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire, Miriam Espacio & Sindre Strøm/Pexels | Adapted by Drew Wheeler (@drewisokay on Twitter)