March Madness for a fantasy baseball enthusiast has a slightly different meaning than most. Our March Madness doesn’t involve Cinderellas and busted brackets, but rather draft season and (eventually busted) bold prediction time from “experts” like myself (disclaimer: I am far from an expert and use these bold predictions at your own risk). While this is probably one of the most popular forms of fantasy baseball articles and most of you know the deal by now, let’s set some ground rules as far as defining what it means to be bold. Bold predictions should be wrong. The great Nick Pollack, the wise keeper of The List, says a good rule of thumb should be getting 20% of your bold predictions right, otherwise, your picks are not bold enough! And what’s the fun in that? After getting two predictions right last year, I clearly know what I am doing. Let’s get right into who I’m going bold on in 2023.
1. Shohei Ohtani Wins AL MVP and AL Cy Young
Predicting post-season awards for baseball can be a tricky task. A player could have a great season, worthy of an accolade and still, your prediction wouldn’t be true thanks to the opinions of writers and how everyone subjectively defines their criteria. I made the mistake of tying post-season awards to my picks last season, so naturally, I am going to double down and have two awards tied to my first prediction. Shohei Ohtani wins the AL MVP? Eh, not impressed. Ohtani wins the AL Cy Young? Cool good for him, first-time Cy winner. Still not bold enough for the baseball unicorn.
It is hard to make any prediction sound “bold” with the two-way star because with him the abnormal has become normal. However, I think the best of Ohtani is yet to come. We saw peak Ohtani as a hitter in 2021, leading to an AL MVP award. In 2022, despite a “down” season with the bat (his 142 wRC+ was nine points lower than ’21, and his ISO dropped from an obscene .335 to just-great .246), there were several improvements in terms of plate discipline that may actually show there is some room for improvement for Ohtani at the plate in 2023. Ohtani cut his K rate (29.6% to 24.2%), increased his contact rate (67.2% to 74.3%), and cut his Swing Strike rate (14.7% to 12.4%) all while maintaining a hard hit percentage of 50%. Here’s a tale of two seasons in terms of contact ability using PLV Rolling charts:
As a pitcher, it would be hard to imagine Ohtani improving on his 2022, but under the hood, there are some signs that he can do just that in 2023. At the World Baseball Classic, Ohtani just threw his hardest pitch ever at 102 MPH.
Shohei Ohtani’s fastest pitches each year:
2021 —> 101.1 MPH
2022 —> 101.4 MPH
This pitch was 102.0 MPH!
Sure seems meaningful.pic.twitter.com/LCCutxGUZD
— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) March 16, 2023
At the end of last season, Ohtani added a sinker that casually averaged 97.2 MPH and looked like this.
Shohei Ohtani, Ridiculous 99mph Sinker. 😲 pic.twitter.com/iqYw6MVrOK
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 11, 2022
Starting every six days does put some limit on Ohtani’s volume upside, but the quantity of those innings may be enough for Ohtani to take home both awards. With there being fewer and fewer 200-inning starters these days, he may not even be at too far of a disadvantage volume-wise, either.
It is hard to predict how the rule changes will impact the game we know and love, and there will be some growing pains and a stabilization period as the league adjusts, but the one area of our game that could drastically change (for the better) is stolen bases. With the larger bases, pitch clock, and limit on throw overs, it is hard not to predict that runners will be taking off at a historic rate. We have seen this in Spring Training games (2.4 SB attempt/game in spring vs 1.6/game in 2022). While it is still important to emphasize steals in your draft (especially early) a sneaky play could be to bet on finding steals later in the game and stack up on categories you need and values earlier in the draft if you subscribe to the theory that steals will be massively up this year.
MLB tested out these rules in the minors, though, so we do have REAL data to work with
According to my studies, the biggest thing we’ll see is a MASSIVE rise in Steals
— Derek Carty (@DerekCarty) March 10, 2023
Lars Nootbaar has quickly become a wide-awake sleeper as he has risen up the draft board this spring. He is now at pick 181 at NFBC after hovering around pick 200 back in December. I am not getting off the hype train despite it rolling full speed ahead. My Wins Above Fantasy co-host Van Burnett and I have talked a ton about “Noot” all off-season, so it wouldn’t feel right to compile a bold prediction list without including one of our favorites from the pod.
It is easy to see why the industry has fallen in love with the Cardinals outfielder. Nootbaar combines plate skills (20.5% K%, 14.7% BB%, 24.5% O-Swing) and new-found power (14 HRs in 347 PA, .221 ISO, 12.1% Barrel%), which is a total package in the mind of a fantasy baseball manager. With trips to Driveline the past two offseasons, added bat speed, and hype videos like this, how could you not be in? Razzball Player Rater will be used for this prediction.
MoCap PR for Lars Nootbaar this last week. Hitting this ball 109.2mph, up from 103.5 last offseason! @DrivelineBB @Joney93
Average Bat Speed during this session was 76.6mph 📈 pic.twitter.com/jtIVSxL0OC
— Andrew Aydt (@AndrewAydt) January 2, 2023
5. Hunter Greene Wins the NL Cy Young
Here I go again tying bold predictions to post-season awards. However, with the hype surrounding Hunter Greene this off-season, anything less as a “bold” prediction would be lacking in the boldness department. Greene’s second half of the season is what has him as a favorite on these types of lists and everyone’s favorite breakout pitcher. In 35.1 innings post-All-Star Break, the Red’s flame-throwing righty had a 1.02 ERA and gave up just one home run (he gave up 23 dingers in 90.1 innings in the first half). Greene unlocked something with the fastball in the season’s final three months as indicated by his up in usage. And despite him being a two-pitch pitcher, we have seen that same formula work when two of those pitches are some of the best in the majors (hello, Spencer Strider).
Only three starters with a minimum of 30 innings pitched in the second half had a better K-BB% than Hunter Greene’s 30.9%: Carlos Rodón, Spencer Strider, and Jacob deGrom.
6. Reid Detmers has an ERA under 3 and 200 Ks
Reid Detmers had a respectable 3.77 ERA with 122 strikeouts across 129 major league innings last season. Looking at the big picture Detmers seems like a fine back-end starter for your fantasy team. Digging a bit deeper there is enough room for upside for Detmers to become a fantasy SP2 with upside for more.
After a midseason demotion, Detmer’s rediscovered his slider in AAA and was a far better pitcher than even his 3.36 second-half ERA might indicate. The Angels lefty finally began to translate his juicy strikeout totals from the minors (43.1% K% in 54 AA innings in 2021) to the majors. He struck out over a batter per nine after implementing the reworked slider. With four pitches used at least 10% of the time, there is room for even more improvement if the fastball or another part of his arsenal is improved upon.
Reid Detmers, Wicked Slider…and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/LnqlZkiiI3
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 26, 2023
7. Brendan Donovan is a Top-50 Fantasy Player
I swear I am not being brainwashed by my Cardinals-loving co-host Van Burnett. Nor am I being fooled by small sample Spring Training Stats (I hope, at least). Donovan made legitimate swing changes this offseason, leading to newfound power heading into 2023. With a new bat leading to higher exit velocities this spring, Donovan now has a do-it-all package. Adding power to a contact first profile is hard to do, and as fantasy players, we have a bias as we become used to these players having little pop. If Donovan’s changes hold throughout the regular season, a prime Yankee DJ LeMahieu season could be something within reach. Cardinal Devil Magic has produced much stranger results. Razzball Player Rater will be used for this prediction.
#Cardinals Brendan Donovan made an approach change this spring. So far:
4HR in 28 PA – Just 5 in 468 PA in 2022
More aggressive leading to a 21.6% K% in his small sample (15% in 2022)
Showing an ability to sustain good contact skills while being more aggressive/hitting for power pic.twitter.com/qYoGkv3Nqs
— Mike Kurland (@Mike_Kurland) March 11, 2023
8. Evan Phillips Leads the NL in Saves
Evan Phillips is not being drafted (271 NFBC ADP) as an elite closer simply because he has not been announced as the closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. If he had been announced as the Dodgers closer, I think we would have to cut 200 picks off his ADP. That is how good Phillips’ stuff is. While the Dodgers are hesitant to define the closer role this year, they have always had a defined role for closer in recent years. That is partially due to having one of the better closers in baseball in recent years in Kenley Jansen, but they also had a longer-than-usual leash with a far-from-prime Craig Kimbrel. Phillips is the best talent in the Dodgers pen, and as Ron Shandler has preached, draft skills not role. Phillips could take the Dodger’s closer job and run with it in 2023.
9. Ryan Noda Goes 20/20
Ryan Noda has been a name of interest for me ever since he was taken with the second pick in the Rule 5 draft bt the Oakland A’s this offseason. The former Dodgers and Blue Jays prospect has mashed at every level in the minors (his 120 wRC+ in 2022 was the lowest across five minor league seasons).
He smashed 29 homers in 384 ABs at AA in 2021 and followed that up with a 25-homer, 20-steal season in AAA in 2023. As an overager or not those numbers are impressive. Now that Noda is on a roster that should afford him plenty of playing time in Oakland (he would have to be returned to the Dodgers if he does not make the major league roster this year) the 6’3” lefty should be given plenty of time to see if those minor league numbers translate to the majors .
10. Jesse Winker Returns to Fantasy Stardom and Hits .280 with 30 HRs
Jesse Winker was a favorite of mine last off-season. Despite the downgrade in ballpark heading to Seattle from the friendly hitter confines of Ciniciatti, Winker showed enough growth as a hitter (.305/.394/.556 in 2021) that I was willing to bet on his 142 and 147 wRC+ from 2020 and 2021 playing in any park. That simply wasn’t the case in 2022.
Winker hit just .219 with 14 homers desire playing in a career-high 136 games. While this is a bit of soft analysis, Eno Sarris has talked about Winker playing through injury and never feeling truly comfortable in Seattle last season on recent episodes of Rates and Barrels. Winker is now once again in a hitter-friendly ballpark in Milwaukee, and despite the poor showing in 2022, he never lost his plate skills (18.8% K%, 15.4% BB%) and should regress to his strong barrel rates from 2020 and 2021.
Adapted by: Chris Corr (@Chris_Studios on Twitter)