When you think of bold predictions, what do you really think of? Does your mind go to wearing different stripe patterns together? Maybe it’s a garlic-heavy dish on a first date instead? A turtleneck on the first crisp day of the year? Pineapple on pizza? Popping a Coors Light before you see the mountains on the can turn blue?
Wherever it goes, I hope you enter uncharted territory, and I hope you do it with grace. And maybe, just maybe, the panache of the predictions below guide you in spirit.
1. Bryce Harper leads the majors in home runs with 19
Coming in hot! The end tally on Harper’s 2019 was pretty on-brand for the star, with a season worth 4.6 fWAR. He started slowly, getting on base but not being the immediate run creator many in the Philadelphia area thought he’d be — reasonable, given that we’ve got some evidence guys tend to press when they get to new teams. He got hotter as the days got longer, finishing with a .270/.376/.564 line after the all-star break. He hit three more homers through those 67 games (19) than he did in the 90 before (16). He slugged .665 with men on base and .690 with men in scoring position. He created moments, like the game-winning, upper deck grand slam in a come-from-behind effort against the Cubs on August 15. He desperately wanted to put the team on his back and put them in the playoffs, and nearly did.
2020 seems like the perfect year for Harper to really pop off. It’s a short season, so going nuts would mean it would only fuel the debate around him, like whether he’s really that good and it’s being wasted with just 60 games, or if he would’ve flamed out through another 100 because he’s overrated. No matter what the same violent, calculated swing that ended the game against the Cubs in mid-August is going to be there from day one in 2020, and he’s going to pace the league in dingers.
2. Adalberto Mondesi hits 10 homers, steals 20+ bags
Adalberto Mondesi might have a lower profile than Bryce Harper but he seems to be just as polarizing, especially in the last two years in fantasy baseball circles. Will the 25-year-old prove to be the guy who came up and put up an electric 75 games in 2018 that saw him total 14 homers and 32 stolen bases, or will he look more like the guy who drives the ball 20% worse than average while striking out in nearly a third of his at-bats as he did in 2019?
According to Royals manager Mike Matheny, via Jeffrey Flanagan at MLB.com, Mondesi “looks fantastic” and his timing is sharp in summer camp. The delayed season has provided the speedster time to heal up from a torn labrum in his left shoulder suffered last year. He’s primed to hit atop a Royals lineup that won’t offer much support behind him and could need to prioritize his speed to jump-start some offense. That takes care of the steals, but hitting 10 homers would mean he’s also stopped hitting grounders like they’re going out of style. Abetter bill of health and a stronger swing will help him push past 40% flyballs. For good measure, let’s throw in two inside-the-parkers because the man’s here to put on a show.
3. Nick Castellanos finishes in the top three of MVP voting
Castellanos has played six complete major league seasons. His best season was 2018 when he tallied just three fWAR. Castellanos made his displeasure with Comerica Park public when traded from Detroit to the Cubs last year, noting how the outfield dimensions make hitting there a nightmare. It’s easy to buy into that, given that it’s a mammoth 420 feet out to centerfield, and 370 to the slugger’s pull-side alley. But it’s easier when considering his numbers after getting traded: He slugged .646 as a member of the Cubs and .750 at Wrigley Field. His career slugging percentage at Comerica Park is .464. Suddenly being on a winning team in the heat of a playoff race can certainly boost morale, but it also turns out hitting in a park that doesn’t suck the soul out of your bat like a succubus at sea is an entirely different experience.
Castellanos moved again this offseason, across the NL Central to the Cincinnati Reds. Great American Ballpark could help Castellanos even more than Wrigley field did. I’m not expecting a slugging rate there that bests the .750 from Wrigley or even one near it. But GABP embraces offense. Add that to how he’ll be hitting in the middle of a sneakily stacked offense and just sit back to watch the counting stats roll in. Ya boi is primed for a career year, no matter how short it is, and it’s going to be that out-of-nowhere story voters love.
4. Miguel Andujar is the best Yankees hitter by wOBA
Yes, Aaron Judge is healthy again (for now). Ditto for Giancarlo Stanton. Sure, DJ LeMahieu hit new levels last year. And you’re right, Gleyber Torres still exists and will still get to play against the Orioles. Think about other hitters the Yankees boast and you might not even consider Andujar until sixth or seventh best.
Between his terrible defense, an injury that limited him to 12 major league games last year, and how well the Yankees did without him and a host of other, more notable players through the roster, it’s really easy to forget how good of a hitter Miguel Andujar is. He slashed .297/.328/.527 as a 23-year-old in 2018. He stroked 47 doubles and 27 homers. He rocked a .361 wOBA. This season, he takes a step up — maybe he learns to take a walk (career rate of 4.1%), or maybe he trades some doubles for dingers. Maybe playing less strenuous defense at first base, or none at all by being a DH, or simply being healthy and less green get him to lock in more at the plate. Maybe he just eats more power bars. But he gets it done and becomes a darling storyline again amidst the abbreviated season, out-producing all the other talent and buzzy names the Yankees will put in the lineup.
5. Ketel Marte paces for a career year…again
Marte has demonstrated tremendous growth over the last three years, most recently capping it off as the sixth-most valuable player in baseball last season. He slashed .329/.389/.592 and generated a .405 wOBA — a mark about 75 percentage points better than average. Even the rosiest projections on him this year see a 34 point dip in average, a 28 point dip in OBP, and a 90 point dip in slugging. That would still leave him as an excellent player in the top 25 or so in all of baseball, but it would be a far cry from his monstrous breakout.
It’s easy to think the average will dip because of his .342 BABIP that pales in comparison to his pedestrian career rate. It’s easy to figure how that could dent his OBP. And it’s also fair to project against a repeat in his power output.
We’re not here for easy or fair, though. We’re here for electric, and we’re going to get there by seeing Ketel Marte create a new normal for himself. He doesn’t wallop the ball like, say, Giancarlo Stanton does, but not everyone needs to. The key could just be hitting it in the air more — his groundball-to-flyball ratio last year was 1.24, or slightly below average. That represented a half percentage point improvement from 2018. If he can manage to continue improving how he hits the ball the results could keep coming, as he’s grown into a legitimate star.
6. Rich Hill is the most valuable Twins starting pitcher
The Twins are a fascinating bunch. They can tweak guys and help them reach new levels of success (Mitch Garver, Max Kepler, Jake Odorizzi) and we’ve seen them know a talent, sign the guy, and simply let him be himself (Nelson Cruz, presumably Josh Donaldson). Hill falls into that group, too. He’s pretty much a lock to miss some time, seeing as it’s essentially the only other guarantee in life besides death and taxes. But he’s also pretty much a lock to register a K-rate near 30%. He’s moving from one analytically-minded team to another and will get to work with renowned pitching coach Wes Johnson.
For Hill to be the best starter they have, two things will have to happen: 1) he has to stay as healthy as possible, whatever that means for a 40-year-old with a history of nasty blisters and arm troubles, and 2) almost every high profile starter they have will have to endure some sort of stumble, including the much-ballyhooed addition, Kenta Maeda. But there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching a veteran who’s been through every conceivable struggle who persists enough to lead a group of players to success. Plus we’ll get to hear him grunt even more than usual because of no fans being in stadiums, and I assume batters will be utterly flummoxed as much as they will be against his myriad curveballs. All hail D. Mountain.
7. Joe Musgrove leads the NL in innings pitched
The Pirates are moving on from a regime that touted the two-seamer to a more modern one that’s focusing on four-seamers up and breakers down. We’ve been excited. It’s not that four-seamers up and breakers down magically make pitchers more successful and pitch deeper into games. It’s that deliberately messing with hitters’ eye levels gives their barrel less of a chance to make contact and do damage because it has to fight a vertical plane. More efficiency from an arm as talented as Musgrove’s means more opportunity to pronounce himself as one of the game’s new studs.
In the piece linked above, Nick noted that Musgrove’s secondaries pretty much all generated whiffs at an above-average rate in 2019. While whiff rate isn’t necessarily sticky year-to-year, combining them with a fastball that’s more suited to today’s game could mean all his offerings could continue to play up. Steamer projects his K-rate to go down through 67 innings — tied for 10th most in baseball — but I’m bumping it up as he mows through hitters and makes it as hard as possible to pull him. Jacob deGrom is currently projected to lead the NL in innings with 76, so Musgrove topping him will be a major moment in a wild season.
8. Edwin Diaz is the best reliever in baseball
I honestly can’t tell whether this prediction is bold or spiteful. Diaz had possibly one of the strangest seasons a reliever could have in 2019, appearing in 66 games and pitching 58 innings while blowing seven games and having an fWAR of 0.0. This came after the Mets acquired him for how he pitched in 2018, where he registered 3.5 fWAR while riding his electric slider to a league-high 57 saves. Relievers are fickle, but these performances back-to-back are total head-scratchers.
How the Mets acquired Diaz is already becoming infamous. It was a trade-in which they also took on the bloated contract of aging star Robinson Cano and dealt away a borderline top-10 prospect in the game in Jarred Kelenic. Considering that, and how the team operates its budget, you’d think they would want to give their young, cost-controlled power reliever as many opportunities as possible to make it look more sensible. But with Brodie Van Wagenen saying that “the closer situation is fluid,” it appears they’re only trying to make the trade look worse.
I think it’ll be quite the opposite, though. Diaz is still only 26 years old, still throws absolute gas, and still has one of the best sliders in baseball. In 2020, he combines it all for a bounce-back season that’s tops in the game, and, in true Mets fashion, somehow makes their front office look silly.
9. Three Reds pitchers finish in the top five for the Cy Young
Luis Castillo? Check. Reinvigorated Sonny Gray? Check. Trevor Bauer in a bounce-back year? Check. The Reds boast a top three as hearty as just about anyone in baseball and they’re going to help the team make some serious noise in 2020.
The league-average K-BB% is about 14.4%. Cincinnati’s trio all flirted with a rate at least four percent better in 2019, showing us the groundwork for an ability to limit easy bases and maximize whiffs. They all have the talent, background, and demonstrated ethic to keep trending upward in that department. Limiting walks could be the key for Castillo and Gray, in particular, as their history shows their stuff tends to dip out of the zone more and generate free passes. For Bauer, the catch will be limiting homers, which is a far more volatile skill year-to-year. We’re jumping into a situation where pitchers will probably have a leg up on hitters, but we’re also already in the dog days of summer where the heat can help a ball jump out of the park more than it might in April and May.
It doesn’t hurt that they’ll get to pitch against the Tigers and Royals, either. Giddy up, Cincinnati.
10. Corey Kluber is great, and the main reason the Rangers win the AL West
Kluber’s struggles and injury problems in 2019 are well documented. He was shipped to Texas this offseason in what mostly came off as a cost-saving measure for a chintzy Cleveland club. Klu-bot might not come out slinging nasty breakers as earlier versions could program but things are still looking considerably strong for the veteran. Most projections see him striking out more than a batter per inning while walking fewer than average. I think his K/9 pushes 10 and that his BB/9 is closer to two than 2.5. His velocity has slipped every year since 2015 but with fewer games this year pitchers could be able to be more liberal with how they reach back.
Kluber sets the pace for a veteran rotation, where Lance Lynn and Mike Minor are nearly as good as 2019. The team clinches the division on the final day of the season after gritty performance from Kluber. A single tear streams down his face and Willie Calhoun catches it before it seeps into Kluber’s mouth and causes a shortage that damages their chances in the playoffs. Everyone goes home happy.
Photos courtesy of Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)