Nick Pollack’s Ten Bold Predictions For 2020

Let's get bold.

It’s that fun time of the year again. When we get to be stupid.

You’ve seen the rest of the staff come up with some fantastic bold predictions, and it’s time to throw my hat in the ring. Please note, I go about this with the aim of getting 10% of these correct. Truly bold as an expression of the extremes that could happen if everything falls perfectly in line. It’s very likely I end the season 0/10 and that’s by design.

 

1. The Los Angeles Angels Win the World Series and Shohei Ohtani Wins MVP

 

Let’s have fun right away. I know how shaky the Angels’ foundation is. Their history of injured pitchers brings massive skepticism to Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning before a single pitch is even thrown. The massive weight of Albert Pujols‘ contract weighs down their potential. Is Mike Trout even going to play 50% of the season? Is Justin Upton still any good? Are Tommy La Stella and David Fletcher able to repeat 2019?

What if all of this was “yes?” Why not? It’s just two months. Heaney could command his changeup and curveball down, Canning’s elbow could survive, and why not, Dylan Bundy embraces throwing his fastball just 40% of the time and continues the endless tale of Orioles pitchers succeeding once they leave their nest. Patrick Sandoval also had some surprising CSW rates last season, and there could be a shocking #6 starter there as well.

Then there’s the wunderkind as Trout is too old now (sorry bud). Shohei Ohtani acted like a top-15 SP during his small sample of ten starts in 2018 while also hitting like a top-50 hitter. Combine those as he plays 50 of 60 games? The most influential player in the majors. He propels the Angels to the World Series, Trout gets his ring, and we all win. Baseball wins.

 

2. Robbie Ray is a Top 5 Fantasy Starting Pitcher

 

If you’re been listening to our podcasts or watching the live streams, you’ll know that I’ve recently been swayed about Robbie Ray‘s recent arm-circle changes. You should read about them here in this great article from Michael Ajeto, but the heart of it is that a change in his mechanics, akin to the shift from Lucas Giolito last season, could be the secret to a breakout year.

And what does a breakout season from Ray look like? I would argue it’s a season filled with starts where Ray is in rhythm. If you’ve ever owned him, you know exactly what that means — one of those patented Ray stretches where he holds a near-3.00 ERA with a 32% strikeout rate … like he did across ten straight starts last spring, or even the five-start stretch he had during his glorious 2017 when he allowed just one earned run while fanning 48.

Obviously this is cherry-picking and completely unfair, but the point is, a Robbie Ray who isn’t fighting with his mechanics to put the ball where he wants to can be a ridiculous force. His lack of airtime this pre-season has been a product of him being a “known entity” in fantasy circles, as many (myself included!) would slot Ray near SP #50 and say, “if you need strikeouts, get Ray, but you can’t depend on solid ratios.”

This changes, now. His perennial 10%+ walk rates could come down dramatically, which would bring his WHIP to sub 1.20 levels in a heartbeat, if not further. That 4.00+ ERA? Think sub-3.00 mark as his elevated HR/9 surely drops if his fastball and slider are better located.

It’s a lot of hoopla generated from just one tweak, but it’s the kind of tweak we’ve seen work before. Pay attention to this.

 

3. Three Marlins SPs Outperform Any SP on the Brewers

 

I’m scared of the Brewers rotation. There’s been plenty of discussion of 2020’s rotation getting “Camp Counseled” just like Septembers of years past, where their manager elects to heavily utilize their bullpen to micromanage victories. Josh Lindblom? Freddy Peralta? Corbin Burnes? Adrian HouserAll of them could easily see under 55 frames this season as they get pulled before the third time through the lineup. Brandon Woodruff is left out, but even he was given that treatment last September — it was emphasized by a quick return from injury, but nevertheless, the possibility of it repeating in 2020 is still there.

I hate it. I think these pitchers each have the ability to carve through an offense and early hooks cap their ceilings. It’s the nature of the organization and we need to recognize this.

The Marlins? Well, not the same situation. They aren’t likely to be fighting for a playoff spot and have an array of young arms ready to get as much experience as they can on the field. Caleb Smith is returning from a hip injury that diminished his velocity in the second half. His first half? Well, that began with eleven starts of a 3.10 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a 34% strikeout fueled by a 15.6% SwStr rate. Don’t ignore the chance his velocity is back up and the whiffs return during this short season.

Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez are both entrenched in the Miami rotation, each with an opportunity to turn heads. Alcantara’s sinker does a stellar job of inducing swings outside of the zone at a 31% clip, while his changeup and slider each have an opportunity to take a step further. Paired with a slight pitch-to-contact approach that earns outs, Alcantara could go at least six frames often.

Pablo? Well, I’ll talk about him more later on.

If one of these three don’t pan out, there’s still a shot that Elieser Hernandez pairs his excellent slider with an improved changeup or heater. And maybe we see something great from Jose Urena once again. Maybe.

 

4. Three Qualified SPs Don’t Record A Single Win

 

Sure, why not? It might surprise you that Yu Darvish and the aforementioned Sandy Alcantara tied for the lowest number of wins last season among qualified starters at six. Just six.

So let’s take the 160 IP threshold and cut it into 40% or so, that leaves roughly 2.5 wins. That’s it!

But let’s go further. Among all starting pitchers who tossed 60 IP last year, there were four who recorded one win or fewer, David Hess, Felix Hernandezand Jordan Zimmermann each had a sole win, while Gabriel Ynoa went 0-9 across his 13 games of 64.1 IP as a starter (He did record a win in relief, though).

Considering only Zimmermann survived past the 100 IP mark, it may hard to find three different SPs who have the full volume of the season and go 0-for-10 at getting that elusive win. But hey, it’s the season of chaos, right?

 

5. Kyle Lewis Is A Top 75 Pick Entering 2021

 

I know Kyle Lewis is currently batting in the bottom half of the Mariners’ offense. The Mariners’ offense. But have you seen what this kid can do?

This is a BOMB with a capital-B and a lot more. It’s hard not to think of the all-but-gone Aaron Judge hype back in 2017 when I drafted him in a keeper league with my last pick then dropped him on Opening Day. Yeah.

Lewis slugged a small-sample infused 40% HR/FB across his few 75 PAs last year. It also came with an 18% SwStr rate, just a 30% pull rate, and a ground ball rate above 50%, but when he hit it in the air, it was glorious. Is it so far-fetched that he worked to improve his launch angle this off-season?

He’s aggressive as anything but has the pop you stop and drop for. Seattle needs this. Seattle deserves this.

 

6. Bo Bichette is the #1 Fantasy SS

 

There are a lot of quality shortstops. Trevor Story, Francisco Lindorand Trea Turner demand first-round picks, with Alex Bregman going through the restaurant door with ease. Gleyber Torres is demanding respect after a pair of powerhouse seasons, Fernando Tatis Jr. demands his 80-game season was not a fluke, Javier Baez has been a steady producer across the board, and there’s even Xander Bogaerts sitting in the middle of a sturdy Red Sox lineup.

I think Bo can be just as good. Fine, better.

What does it take to be the #1 fantasy shortstop? Well, production in all five categories, of course. Let’s dive into each as I clearly express myself as a pitching nerd and not a hitting nerd.

Stolen bases: Bo is young and aggressive on the base paths, swiping 15 bags in Triple-A and attempting eight swipes in just 46 games last year. Yes, he needs to improve his 50% success rate, but he can push double-digit steals in 60 games.

HRs: The guy mashes. A 22% HR/FB last year with 11 dingers in 46 games. His swing is GLORIOUS as he waits back on this first-pitch curveball:

Runs: Bichette held a .358 OBP last season, and it’s not out of the question he takes a step forward this year. He’s slotted at leadoff, presenting a situation to provide 90-100 Runs in a full-length season.

RBI: The biggest question as the bottom half of the Jays lineup will present fewer opportunities to knock batters in. Still, he has enough pop to push across an above average total.

AVG: He needed a .368 BABIP to allow for a .311 BA, but with development to reduce his 24% K rate and 39% O-Swing, Bichette could still touch .290 and grant confidence to owners.

Look, it’s 60 games. Bichette could go 15/10 in that time with 40 Runs and 30 RBI at a .290 average. That could be enough, or maybe he needs a little extra push to get there. Here’s to hoping.

 

7. Jorge Soler + Franchy Cordero combine for 35 HRs

 

I’m really excited about Jorge Soler this season. I talked to Michael Ajeto (hi again) when he was writing his Soler piece, and was won over instantly with his new swing changes that propelled his 2019 torrent of long balls. It’s a legit change, he had great results because of it, and I don’t think that’s going away.

That’s the not the real bold part here, though. The Royals just acquired Franchy Cordero, and with Hunter Dozier‘s placement on the COVID IL, Cordero is now slotted to play Opening Day. That should intrigue you.

Cordero has only 273 MLB PAs on his resume. He has has a 45.5% Hard hit rate, 23% HR/FB, and some of the most ridiculous HRs you’ve ever seen on that slip of paper:

It’s gross how much power he has. As you saw with Kyle Lewis, I like guys with extreme power skill sets. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and makes for wonderful small-sample explosions that can show up in a 60-game season.

So let’s say Soler continues his pace and swats 20 long balls. Cordero just has to hit 15 behind him. This should be the one bold prediction I nail … right?

 

8. Rich Hill is the Least Valuable SP on the Twins … and Indians

 

We just had our first FAAB of the season in TGFBI this season and Rich Hill sat on the wire as many didn’t want to deal with four months of a wasted bench spot back in February. I considered placing a bid, but I knew I wouldn’t get him.

A $667 bid won the aging southpaw in my league. Out of $1,000 FAAB for the season.

I sat down and thought about this. I understand Hill was the best chance on the wire, but are we getting a little too hyped about Hill?

He’s actually over the hill for the first time this season at 40-years-young, and is coming off elbow surgery to repair his strained flexor tendon. For a pitcher who notoriously goes on the IL each season — not because of attrition by the end, but sporadically through the year — the assumption we’re going to get not just 10 starts, but 10 starts of quality is not sitting right with me.

To add some fun in comparisons for these bold predictions, I threw in the Twins and Indians. Cleveland sports a five-man rotation that features Zack Plesac and Aaron Civale at the back end, two arms who have already showed their ability to survive a decent workload and perform decently well. I wouldn’t be shocked if they survive the year and out-perform Hill along the way.

As for the team he’s actually on, the Twins’ rotation features the obvious names of Jose Berrios, Kenta Maeda, and Jake Odorrizi (even with his IL stint!), but also newly acquired Homer Baileywho has proven his worth with a 2.25 ERA across his final eight starts of 2019, and lastly, Randy Dobnak filling in for the released Jhoulys Chacin, and makes us wonder if sinkerballs with an oddly high 13% SwStr rate can work over two months.

This may be the year the legend of Rich Hill comes to an end.

 

9. Tommy Milone Earns More Wins Than Any Tiger, Oriole, or Royal SP

 

I saw this tweet yesterday from the great Jeff Erickson when it was announced that Tommy Milone was the Opening Day starter:

And while I completely understand that, I want Milone to get more respect. Because he was actually super helpful for a while last year.

And by “super helpful” I mean he was a legit ace with a 3.35 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 26% strikeout rate, and just a 5.4% walk rate across 37.2 IP. That’s really good. He faced the Twins and Astros across those seven games, leaning heavily on his changeup for over a third of his pitches.

That was a smart plan: The pitch held a 52% O-Swing across 600+ thrown last year, returning a … a 12.2 pVAL in 2019. That was seventh-best among all changeups last year.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Ben Palmer wrote about Milone recently. Read that for some more wonderful Milone appreciation, but for now, understand that Milone could win that Opening Day start and win more games than anyone else on the Tigers or Orioles or Royals. He’s not as bad as you think.

 

10. Pablo Lopez Wins at Least Three Gallows Poles This Season

 

We were fortunate to have Pablo Lopez join us for a podcast episode of Talking Pitching and he shocked me when he asked, “how many whiffs do I need to win a Gallows Pole?”

Unreal. We talked more about earning whiffs, moving toward his changeup as it did wonders for him in 2019, acting as a Money Pitch with a 46% O-Swing and 17% SwStr rate. Thing is, he threw it under 25% of the time last year … and told us he plans to increase its usage plenty in 2020.

Yes, we’re going to see a lot more pitches thrown like this:

Given his new enthusiasm for the pitch, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see PabLo steal the show on many evenings this year, earning him the coveted Gallows Pole thrice. Doesn’t hurt that he threw a 90 mph cutter with great movement as well today, a pitch we didn’t see once last year.

You’d love to see it.

Graphic by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Worked with MSG, FanGraphs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former pitching coach and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

  • Avatar Mike G.... says:

    Thanks Nick….Robbie Ray is going to go on his streaks of awesomeness en route to that top 5. Hope your right, love him. And hate him….hahahaha. Where did you see that Franch is with the team for opening day? I see that they are keeping Bubba Starling. Would be fun to have him on my squad!

  • Avatar Dave says:

    Regarding #3, Miami SPs. They also have Jordan Yamamoto and Sixto Sanchez in the wings. Personally, I think Yamamoto deserves a shot in the rotation over Urena (and I believe that was their original plan before the shutdown). He has produced very well in the minors and in his SSS in the majors. Sixto has a higher ceiling than anyone currently in the rotation (as well as great numbers in the minors). I hope he gets an early call up. As for #10, PabLo, he has the potential to be really good.

  • Avatar Perfect Game says:

    Where do you rank Ray now after seeing the videos of the mechanical changes he made?

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