(Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire)
When you are writing a bold predictions article, the point is to be 100% accurate. You want to look back at the end of the year, take an earnest sip from your brew and marvel as you declare loudly, “DAMN, I NAILED ALL OF THOSE.” You should also be looking to satisfy all of your readers by getting each prediction right in that sweet spot where no one could reasonably make a case that your predictions are too bold or not bold enough. Finally, if you fail to meet any of these requirements, skip town. Let’s light this Kraut Candle.
Go big or go home. I realize the fulfillment of this prediction is going to require huge breakouts from Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger, massive falloffs from Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, and the precise alignment of several constellations. We’re also going to probably need to keep the bus moving at exactly 55 MPH. But let’s detail why I think this COULD happen. For one, there is the constantly precarious health of Kluber and Carrasco. When he wasn’t pitching like a Cy Young award winner, Kluber did get off to a rocky start that saw him land on the disabled list and had owners questioning whether he was a Klubot after all. There were also some rumblings that he may not have been entirely healthy during the ALCS when he was serving up homer after homer to Didi Gregorius – a balky back was floated as a potential scapegoat for all those gophers. Could that carry into the regular season? (If early returns from Spring Training are any indication, then, no. Whatever- don’t kill my vibe.) Carrasco has a long injury history as well and just hit 200 IP for the first time since becoming a full-time starter in 2011. Owners often get bit by recency bias – you can’t erase six years of spotty injury history after one healthy season. We can also look at the poor fastballs that are featured by both Kluber and Carrasco – they dominate with their secondary stuff. Will this be able to continue if they lose more velocity on the #1 as they age? And what about their ages? Kluber and Carrasco are not ancient by any means but aren’t spring chickens either. Always fade towards youth when considering pitching.
As for Clevinger and Bauer, I think there exists some big breakout potential for each. Bauer may have already broken out – an excellent season last year was somewhat obscured by some misfortune in the “luck” department – he underperformed his peripherals somewhat due in part to an elevated BABIP. He has shown a very thoughtful approach to pitching, constantly tweaking and tinkering and seems like he has a genuine thirst to get better. He may have finally unlocked his true potential by just doubling down on what works – inviting “Uncle Charlie” over for dinner. The curve is really nice and he showed no qualms going to it early and often – bumping the usage from 19.4 to 29.8% year-over-year on the 6.8 PVal offering. He also finished 2017 with the highest k/9 and lowest bb/9 of his career. All of these factors have me salivating over Bauer’s 2018 prospects and I’ll be pouncing at his current ADP of 138.64 (NFBC ADP.) Clevinger is really exciting in his own right. He follows the Indians template of nasty breaker/ weaksauce heat, featuring a devastating slider (9.3 Pval), nice curve (3.2 Pval), decent show me change (positive Pval) and meh fastball (Pval of better luck next time). He allowed much less contact last year over 2016, keeping swing rates similar but upping his swinging strikes (12.4%). He also upped his first strike percentage which is always nice. With Danny Salazar‘s health and situation uncertain, “Big Clev” (better nickname pending) has the ability to grab the Indians 5th starter job by the throat and run with it. Plus – look at that lettuce!
2. Paul Goldschmidt is not a Top-50 Asset
Note that I made the distinction of asset, not hitter, so we are including pitchers here. However, this would still be quite a disappointment from a player being drafted on average towards the middle of the first round (6.31 NFBC ADP). There are a few things I’m taking into account here. First of all, of course, if the #HUMIDOR (drink, everybody)! The dampening effect the humidor will have on offense has already been detailed ad nauseum by people much smarter than me, so I won’t try to predict the exact outcomes. But, offense in Chase Field will definitely be a-goin’ down. We also know that offense is cumulative, so we have to take into account the effects the Humidor will have on not JUST Paul Goldschmidt, but his teammates as well. If we see a dip in production from a Jake Lamb or an AJ Pollock, we have to assume Goldy’s counting stats will take a hit as well. Speaking of Pollock and Lamb, they are pretty underwhelming in my opinion as the two most high-profile members of Arizona’s supporting cast. This offense projects to be good but nothing special, which is another caveat. Will Goldschmidt be able to replicate his fantastic 2017 if JD Martinez doesn’t walk through the door and hit 70 homers post ASB again? Just something to consider.
Finally is a point I haven’t seen made as frequently regarding Goldy’s 2018 – What if his SBs suddenly evaporate? Goldschmidt’s willingness and ability to run wild have been what have taken him from great player to fantasy God in the past few years. However, we’ve seen stolen bases can be fleeting. In the last ten seasons, there have been only 19 instances of a 1st baseman hitting double digit steals. Goldschmidt has five of those seasons. He’s a rare bird, but if he puts the breaks on he could lose what makes him truly special from a fantasy standpoint. And it’s not that far-fetched to think he may want to start running a little less as he enters his thirties. Monitor this early on, as SBs have been known to disappear quickly and without much warning.
3. Domingo Santana goes 40/20 and gains DH Eligibility
Domingo Santana hits baseballs mega-hard. That is for sure. He has a heroic man-beast swing that lends itself to lots of liners and high drives, few popups, and tons of hours of therapy for pitchers. As such, he has been able to run consistently herculean BABIPs and HR/FB rates (around 30% over last two seasons) and produce despite whiffing more times than is safe or reasonable. He looks to me to be in that new, unique mold of super-slugger that simply denies their contact issues by getting the most out of every piece of contact that they make (think Miguel Sano or Aaron Judge). Santana is an xBACON darling (expected Batting Average on CONtact), producing a .419 mark in 2017 that was almost .90 points above league average (for comparison, fellow monolith Giancarlo Stanton registered a value of “only” .376). He is also pretty fleet of foot for a masher, swiping 15 bags and only being caught four times. If he decides to keep running, 20 steals is within reach in a stars align/ best case scenario.
Some have been a little down on Santana as the acquisitions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich have cast some doubt on his playing time prospects. The Brewers have an absolutely loaded OF/1B Situation, which is where the DH eligibility comes in. There are a handful of teams in the Junior Circuit that could employ someone of Santana’s unique talents. Here are some scenarios:
Cleveland Indians: Santana for Danny Salazar was floated and seemed like a good fit for both sides after Milwaukee’s outfield acquisition spree. The Indians are lousy with pitching and are a little light on outfielders, so the needs matched up. But with Edwin Encarnacion entrenched at DH and Salazar now no longer healthy, this one seems less reasonable.
Houston Astros: This could make the rich richer, moving Marwin Gonzalez into more of a utility role and allowing the Stros to pack even more thump into their lineup by slotting the mashing Santana in their designated hitter spot. A swap of Brad Peacock or Collin McHugh for Santana could make sense.
Toronto Blue Jays: The Jays currently feature an underwhelming OF/DH stable of Curtis Granderson, Randal Grichuk, Kevin Pillar, and Kendrys Morales, so it wouldn’t be difficult for Santana to crack that group. He also just FEELS like a Jay.
Chicago White Sox/ Oakland Athletics: Santana would be a nice controllable power asset that could help bolster the rebuild of either of these clubs.
So, let’s first take a look at who Ian Kinsler and Jason Kipnis will have to beat out to achieve this (unlikely) feat. According to our own Kyle Bishop, here are the top 10 2b entering 2018 (see full article here):
- Jose Altuve
- Jose Ramirez
- Anthony Rizzo
- Brian Dozier
- Dee Gordon
- Daniel Murphy
- Robinson Cano
- Jonathan Schoop
- Whit Merrifield
- DJ Lemahieu
Outside of the Joses who are mortal lock studs and Anthony Rizzo who is gargantuan and not a second baseman, I see warts on all of those fellas. Dee Gordon is switching teams and learning a new position. Daniel Murphy is coming off microfracture surgery. Robinson Cano and Jonathan Schoop have both battled injuries in S/T. Whit Merrifield is more 17th-century prospector than baseball player and will be surrounded by a much weaker lineup. And on and on. So Kinsler and Kipnis could crack this list with good seasons on their own merits – the upper echelons of the second sack are looking a bit weaker this year.
I have spoken on Kinsler before, but we’re basically looking at a guy who has supplied low 20s homers and double-digit steals for ages. He looks safe to finish between 15/15 and 25/20. He’s leaving Detroit for a much more favorable lineup, so we might see a boost in his counting stats. But what about his average? He was a severe drag here in 2017, but there is evidence showing he may have gotten more than a tad unfortunate. His putrid .236 AVG came with an unlucky .244 BABIP. A check under the hood doesn’t reveal a glaring drop-off in skills, so a rebound of .20-.30 points is not out of the question.
Kipnis is more of a wild hunch, but he has long been a personal favorite of mine and posted elite 2B numbers before. It’s pretty simple with Kipnis – when he’s healthy, he produces. He might finally be healthy and that’s a good thing for his fantasy outlook. Still just 30 years old and tearing up the cactus league, don’t forget about this little dirtball.
5. Freddie Freeman is Fantasy’s #1 Overall Player
Freddie Freeman‘s 2017 was a tale of two parts, with a clear delineation in the middle of the season. We saw:
Pre ASB: .348/.456/.745
SCOURGE ON HUMANITY AARON LOUP ARRIVES TO FRACTURE FREEMAN’S WRIST IN A PERSONAL ATTACK ON MY FANTASY BASEBALL TEAM
Post ASB: .283/ .371/ .495
Aaron Loup has since been located, tarred and feathered, and placed in the town stocks where he can never harm my Freddie again. In summation, however, what we saw before Loup’s heinous actions was a great hitter becoming elite, a true breakout showcasing phenomenal production that was completely supported by the under-the-hood indicators. Freeman slashed his Ks, made good contact (pulling a Joey Votto by not posting an IFFB all year – per Fangraphs) and posting great power numbers without sacrificing his average. Barring another dastardly attempt on his life, Freeman should thrive with an exciting young herd of Bravos ready to make the jump to the majors (see: Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies) in a ballpark that Freeman practically designed himself. Look for big, big things this year out of Freeman.
6. Giancarlo Stanton doesn’t clear 35 homers
As an unabashed Yankee fanatic, I hope I’m wrong on this one. I hope he and fellow skyscraper Aaron Judge each hit 70+ bombs en route to MLB’s first undefeated season. But I’m just not seeing it. This is one of those “how bold is it, really?” bold predictions. For all of his prodigious power, last year was Giancarlo Stanton‘s FIRST season with 40 bombs. And it’s not for lack of mightiness, no. Stanton could, of course, wind up making this prediction look a tad bit foolish should he play a full complement of games. But will he? That’s always the question with Stanton. Don’t let yourself forget it just because he finally delivered on his muscular promise in 2017. Since becoming a regular in 2010, we’ve seen Stanton play 100, 150, 123, 116, 145, 74, 119, and 159 games. That’s TWO (maybe three if you’re generous with the 145) full seasons out of a possible 8. It was all well and good taking a gamble on Stanton’s silly homer potential when he was being drafted like a great player who may bust out a crazy good season. But, at his current price (8.31 ADP at NFBC), he pretty much has to replicate what he did last year to return on his investment. Let’s look at (arguably) his second best season stats back in 2014 – 37 Homers, 89 Runs, 105 RBI, 13 swipes, and a .288 average. Great stats, no doubt, but if you picked him to anchor your squad, wouldn’t that be KIND OF a disappointment in today’s bonkers offensive environment?
The Yankees OF/DH situation is absolutely STACKED and they’d be smart to play it safe with the slugger should he show the slightest signs of wear during the year. The DH slot should help keep the big guy healthy but it’s still no guarantee. And while Stanton has gotten unlucky with some injuries we’ve also seen him hampered by the kind of soft tissue (quadriceps, for him) injuries that tend to linger and recur. This year, drafting Giancarlo absolutely requires he reach his high-end projection and that’s not a dice I want to roll with someone who has been so inconsistent and brittle for so long.
7. Jorge Soler busts out BIG TIME
Here’s a fun one. I absolutely fell for the physical tools back in the day, seeing a Cuban Bo Jackson who’d eventually settle into an easy string of 50/50 seasons while playing superlative outfield defense, gunning down would be base-advancers with his Howitzer arm. He’d also routinely pluck the prettiest girl in the stands, taking them out for a nice night of dinner and dancing, all while getting to the ballpark earlier than anyone the next day. Sadly, none of that happened (save the pretty girl thing- Jorge Soler is a stud)! But, this might be the year he finally makes good on all the talents that once made him an incredibly well-regarded prospect in the Cubs system.
Let’s take a look at the situation he’s in. He’s currently penciled in as KC’s DH, which should keep him fresh, healthy, and focused on mashing. KC’s outfield “depth” chart (shallow chart?) features Jon Jay, Alex Gordon, and not much else. Soler is going to play, no matter what. It’s time for the Royals to find out what they have in him. I think that is going to be key – between injuries, ineffectiveness, and being in a crowded system, Soler hasn’t gotten extended burn in the bigs for any amount of time in the past. That will change this year.
The statistical profile can’t be trusted here – it’s too noisy and his playing time has been too inconsistent. This is just a straight up gamble play on a post-hyper. ADP of 394.46? Spin the wheel and go get him.
8. Someone not currently on a major league roster is a top 5 closer
I hate closers. Sitting in the bullpen, throwing sunflower seeds at their fellow relievers as they wait to stroll onto the field and soak up all the glory by playing in the game’s most exciting 1/9th. Lazy, sycophantic lot, they are. But you need them in fantasy. You need them and their pretentious “saves.” And I certainly won’t be the first or last person to warn you of the insane turnover at the position or to implore you not to draft an expensive one. For reference, here were last year’s top 10 relievers by ADP. Numbers are for ESPN leagues.
- Kenley Jansen
- Aroldis Chapman
- Zach Britton
- Mark Melancon
- Seung-Hwan Oh
- Wade Davis
- Roberto Osuna
- Edwin Diaz
- Craig Kimbrel
- Kelvin Herrera
An impressive list, indeed! Now, let’s take a look at the top ten finishers among relievers who were strictly closers (this is based on ESPN points scoring but should provide a close enough proxy):
- Kenley Jansen – SWEET! Relievers always return value!
- Craig Kimbrel – NICE! I knew a bounceback was in order…we’re rollin’ now!
- Corey Knebel – Oh…uh, how do you pronounce that?
- Alex Colome – Wait I thought Mark Melancon was as safe as they come?
- Wade Davis – Phew. A return to normalcy. But…where’s the Final Boss?
- Greg Holland – Wait I thought we were looking at 2017 not 2014
- Raisel Iglesias – He used to be my favorite SP breakout candidate! What the hell!?
- Fernando Rodney – Wait I thought we were looking at 2017 not 2007….and where’s the damn Stone Buddha?!
- Edwin Diaz – OK I know Diaz was ranked in the top ten but seriously Seung-Hwan Oh isn’t on this list?!
- Felipe Rivero – ::Scooby Doo saying ‘Huh?’::
Unless you are in the absolute deepest of leagues, careful and thoughtful waiver wire work will provide you the saves you need to compete throughout the year, and you’ll have an advantage over your league-mates who drafted Kenley Jansen while you were taking Jose Abreu. Or George Springer. Or Corey Seager. Or Noah Syndergaard. All of whom are within 6 drafts slots of Jansen by NFBC ADP.
I’m using this prediction to highlight two things. Let’s talk about both!
Starling Marte, at his current ADP of 49.35, is a bit over-rated. Obscured by his PED suspension and decent surface stats were some troubling batted ball indicators. Marte posted a BABIP of .324 in 2017. This is not troubling in and of itself but is unbecoming of a speedy player with a .354 career mark. He may have even gotten lucky, as evidenced by a decidedly pedestrian .305 xBABIP. His value hits dropped from around 7.0% in 2016 and 2015 to 4.4% in 2017 due to an increase in soft contact. Many of these more softly struck batted balls came directly from his hard-hit ones (Soft three year trend – 21.1%, 21.0%, 29.0% and Hard three-year trend – 29.1%, 34.7%, and 26.2%.) Marte is a good fantasy player because of his steals. He is a great one because they don’t come at the expense of his extra-base hits. If these trends of decreasing quality of contact continue, we could be looking at a big bust in the early rounds.
Conversely, I’m viewing Gregory Polanco as a bit under-rated. Polanco has a massive prospect pedigree and is not far removed from being considered an early round fantasy asset. I’m unwilling to point to some of his more recent statistical trends, as it’s been a while since we’ve seen Polanco fully healthy. It’s completely reasonable to take a negative health projection and bake it into his draft stock, but I’m willing to look past the injuries and dream on what Polanco can be when healthy – an extra base hit machine. Take a look at his Pre-ASB 2016, the last time I would confidently state a clean bill of health for the outfielder- .287/.362/.500 with 12 homers and nine swipes. He had the looks of a true breakout before being derailed by lower half injuries. The skills are there, he’s had a nice spring and looks healthy. Prolonged playing time could make this prediction a slam dunk, and I love Polanco this year.
10. Father Time, The Fat Lady, The Grim Reaper, and Daniel Murphy go on a double-date
It’s been a few years since Daniel Murphy re-invented himself, going from “nice little player” to “hitting God.” He has been for several seasons one of baseball’s most improbable superstars, revamping his approach and selling out for fly balls and pull power. While this transformation has been great to watch and even more great to rub Mets fans’ faces in, I have serious concerns about Murph heading into 2018.
The second basement underwent a “debridement/microfracture” procedure on his knee back in October. Microfracture surgery is nothing to sneeze at. I’ll defer to our own injury guru Jeff Davis on the severity and outlook for this nasty surgery:
“Man, it’s such a tricky one. I’ve already pushed his ETA back a month or so and I’m leaning towards doing it again. The procedure is essentially fixing a chip/hole within the articular surface of his knee, and approximately 70% of athletes successfully return. The Nats are starting to confirm that he’ll begin 2018 on the DL, and Murphy is still only completing baseball activities from a static position…it sounds like he’s still quite a bit away from incorporating dynamic weight-bearing and lateral movements into his rehab. At this point I’m more comfortable with an ETA around June 1st. In terms of lingering effects, I don’t expect too much of a difference. Players returning from a surgery like this tend to be slower, but that’s not quite Murphy’s game anyway…” (Note: This is a quote from March 19th, 2018.)
I agree with Jeff for the most part but I’m not as optimistic on his prospects once Murphy returns as Jeff is (warning: the previous statement is an admission that I am agreeing with the parts of his quote that back up my argument and then ignoring the rest). Murphy has never been lauded for his athleticism, and I worry about his ability to rebound and play a taxing position that will require him to be constantly planting and pivoting on a compromised knee joint. His ADP of 76.18 shows fantasy owners are already leaning a bit bullish on his prospects, but part of me worries that this could turn into a full-blown lost season in which Murphy starts late, struggles to get his timing, battles ineffectiveness, is on and off the DL with knee soreness, etc. Don’t forget about how liberally teams used the new DL rules last year. I would advise avoiding this potential mess entirely.