In the spirit of Rotographs’ fantastic bold prediction series, I’ll be making some bold predictions of my own. Anything fantasy based will be using ESPN, and any WAR predictions will use fWAR. We’ll take a look at the All-Star break about how poor my predictions end up being, but for now, enjoy.
1.) Justin Smoak builds on his gains, becomes a Top-5 first baseman
To be clear, this prediction will be fantasy based. After a career full of mediocrity and frustration, Smoak finally put it all together last year with a change in approach, as well as a mechanical swing change. Always tantalizing with exit velocity and hard hit rates, Smoak slashed .270/.355/.529, good enough for a 132 wRC+. It’s not world beating, but here’s the thing; Smoak was injured, like, pretty injured during September. Before that he slashed .287/.363/.570 with a 145 wRC+. How bad was his September? Well, bad enough to drop him thirteen points in wRC+, obviously. He hit .183/.315/.323, “good” for a 71 wRC+.
Yikes. I don’t think that was really regression though, considering he mashed for most of the season. I buy him as a 140 wRC+ bat this year, in a good lineup in a good park where he’ll play 81 games at the 7th hitter-friendliest park in baseball, along with games at Yankee Stadium (#1), Tropicana Field (#3), and Camden Yards (#11). For a power guy, his K% of 20.1% last year was really excellent. Not swinging at bad pitches (25.8% O-Swing rate compared to 27.2% for his career) and making more contact (79.2% contact rate compared to 76.9% for his career) makes for a very nice profile. With a minimum of 130 batted ball events, Smoak is tied at #41 in average exit velocity at 89.5 MPH. In 2017, he hit 44.5% fly balls compared to 41.8% for his career and his hard hit percentage went up by 4.1%. I’m way in.
2.) Xander Bogaerts hits 25 home runs while hitting at least .300
So. Yeah. Xander Bogaerts has 51 career home runs and a .283 average. He’s currently projected by the Fangraphs’ depth charts to hit 15 home runs and bat .287. But that’s no fun. I don’t know if many of you remember, but Bogaerts was a mega prospect. Baseball America, at the end of 2013 described him as “major league ready as a shortstop or third baseman, one who will hit lower in the order to begin 2014, with a likely peak of 25-plus homers a year in the middle of the lineup”. The .300 average isn’t the particularly bold part. After all, he hit .320 in 2015 and .294 in 2016. He flashed some power in 2016 with 21 home runs, and xStats mostly agreed with an estimated 20.2 home runs. With 130 batted ball events, Bogaerts tied for 74th in maximum exit velocity at 113.2 MPH. That’s pretty good. However, his average exit velocity is tied for 135th overall at 88.8 MPH. Meh.
Last year Bogaerts was hit with a pitch in the wrist on July 6th. At the time, he was slashing .308/.361/.455. That’s pretty good. He was putrid during July and August, where he hit .198/.274/.305. I’m definitely willing to attribute this to him trying to play through this injury, as that’s what the general timeframe would be for an injury like that. In September he mostly returned to normal, with a .284/.393/.411 line. So where do I see the power coming from?
I’m not sure if you know who Tim Hyers is, but I do know you know who the Dodgers are and how successful they’ve been with hitters recently, preaching launch angle and exit velocity. Well, Tim Hyers was the assistant hitting coach for the Dodgers for the last two years and is already preaching launch angle and exit velocity. The hope is that he can extrapolate some of the great exit velocity we know Bogaerts has, and help tap into that 6’1″ 210 pound frame.
3.) Adalberto Mondesi is a Top-12 second baseman
This one is going to be so wrong. But anyway, for three straight years (2014-2016), Mondesi (formerly Raul Mondesi Jr.) ranked within the Top-50 prospects in baseball, ranking in the Top-30 in 2015 and 2016. He’s been beyond putrid in the majors so far, with a .181/.226/.271 slash with a 29 wRC+. Gross.
But, last year at AAA, Mondesi slashed .305/.340/.539 with some newfound power (13 home runs) and 21 stolen bases in 85 games. With the Royals being *cough* not great this year, Mondesi should get a pretty big chunk of playing time, and has lots of time to develop at 22 years old. Even if he only puts up a 80 wRC+, if he can chip in 30+ stolen bases it may be enough to get him into the Top-12.
4.) Matt Olson and Matt Chapman combine for at least 75 home runs
If you know me, you’ll likely know I’m pretty high on the A’s. A large part of this is attributed to two very intriguing talents at the corners in Matt Chapman and Matt Olson. The prediction is pretty cut and dry, as well as being pretty aggressive. Olson is projected for 35 home runs, Chapman at 31. They’re already projected for 66 combined, so why is 75 so bold? Well, this is more contingent on Olson hitting 40 and Chapman hitting 35. Last year there were a total of four players who hit more than 40 home runs. It’s a tough bar to clear. If you want to take the average (37.5 home runs), there were ten players who bested that, and the only two teammates who combined to hit 75+ last year became teammates after the fact (Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge).
But, the spirit of this prediction is that Matt Olson keeps mashing. He put up a 162 wRC+ in 216 PA’s with a shocking 24 home runs. He had 129 batted ball events, so we’ll move the threshold to 120. He’s tied for 20th with Josh Donaldson in average exit velocity at 90.5 MPH. He’s tied for 136th in maximum exit velocity at 111 MPH, but again, don’t let that fool you. He’s going up against players who generally had at least twice as many plate appearances.
Chapman, on the other hand, was tied for 94th for maximum exit velocity which is better at 112.3 MPH. Again, he only had 326 PA’s so his opportunities were somewhat limited. However, he did tie for 30th overall for average exit velocity at 89.9 MPH. He also makes a surprising amount of contact at 73.2%, despite some swing and miss in his game. Both Olson and Chapman do, make no mistake; but they also have light tower power that should play up at every park in the AL West.
5.) Byron Buxton beats the single season DRS record
As it stands, Kevin Kiermaier currently holds the DRS record with a remarkable 42 DRS in 2015. Andrelton Simmons last year sat at an incredible 32 DRS. 30 DRS is remarkably difficult to clear. Those who know me also know I love Buxton, specifically for his defense. He’s the most naturally gifted centerfielder I’ve ever watched, and one of the best athletes in professional sports, period. Last year he sat at a still excellent 24 DRS. At 24 years old, I think Buxton puts together one of the best defensive seasons of all time.
6.) Ketel Marte puts up at least 40 (home runs + stolen bases)
I wrote about Ketel Marte here and still believe he can be a very valuable contributor next year. Right now he’s projected for 9 home runs and 13 stolen bases, which puts us at 22. He’s got decent speed, but again he’s somewhat of an exit velocity darling. In 255 PA’s, Marte (130 batted ball events) is tied for 68th in average exit velocity at 112.8 MPH. There’s real power here. He put up a .514 slugging percentage in AAA last year. He’s a swing change away from being a potential 20/20 guy. There were only eight players who accomplished this last year. The tough part about this prediction, besides being impossible, is he’s not playing 81 games in a non-humidor Chase Field anymore, and he’s facing some tough pitching in pitchers’ parks in the NL West. This prediction was originally at 35, but I felt like becoming unrealistic and wanted to knock down my self-esteem midseason because I’m a masochist.
7.) Somebody that wasn’t Top-15 in NL WAR last year will win MVP this year
After the Top-15, the field really thins out, but it has some intrigue. There’s Freeman, Bellinger, and Rizzo, and I could see Rizzo lucking into an MVP season one of these years. Freeman at #16 likely has the highest breakout potential and likely would have won it last year if not for a wrist injury and Giancarlo Stanton deciding to close off his stance. I could also see a young outfielder from Atlanta taking the world by storm, especially with the new defensive strides he’ll make after spending eleven days in the minors to start the year.
8.) No Mets starter reaches 150 innings
Not much to say here. Jacob deGrom is already dealing with back issues, Noah Syndergaard is already throwing at maximum effort this spring after being out for a whole year thinking he was smarter than doctors (to be fair to Syndergaard, he may actually be smarter than Mets’ doctors). Matt Harvey can’t reach 150 innings if he can’t make it past the fifth, I’m not sure if Steven Matz can throw six straight healthy innings in a row. Zack Wheeler has thrown 86.1 major league innings since 2015, all of which came last year. I may be going out on a limb here, but the Mets’ strategy of using western medicine and spiritual healing doesn’t seem to be working. It’d be a lot more fun if they made me look really stupid this year.
9.) Adam Eaton puts up a Top-40 fantasy season
I am quickly becoming enamored with injured players in fantasy drafts. People just forget about them. Go take Aaron Sanchez for nothing, and also go take this guy. Eaton’s being taken at roughly 150th overall which will end up burning a lot of people I think. Lorenzo Cain and Ender Inciarte are kind of similar comparisons for Eaton, and they just finished 48th and 47th on ESPN’s player rater, respectively.
Last year I was looking for guys who “broke out” in the second half when I was drafting, and Eaton was my top guy. In the first half, he had an 8.8% walk rate and a 15.8% strikeout rate. He had a 26.3% hard hit rate. Fast forward to the second half where he had a 9.1% walk rate, and a 16.9% strikeout rate. But his hard hit percentage jumped up to 38.2%. And then take a look at this.
The difference between his 2015 and 2016 plate discipline numbers is astounding. He’s swinging more and making more contact but not missing more overall.
And he got injured quickly last year, but the early returns were pretty promising. He put up an excellent 13.1% walk rate which bodes incredibly well for steals and runs, especially in a lineup with Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, and Anthony Rendon amongst many other talented players and Matt Wieters. If you extrapolate his home runs and steals into a full season, you end up at 14/21. With the huge boost he’ll likely get in runs, and average becoming harder to find, Eaton looks like a definite bargain.
10.) Carlos Gonzalez rebounds with a .290 average and 30 home runs
Yeah, I guess this is predicated on what Carlos Gonzalez did from August 2nd onward. He slashed .327/.411/.591 which is better than his .228/.301/.338, which is what he did before August 2nd. It looks like a change in diet and sleep schedule helped this along, but I don’t know how much I buy into that. He was probably kind of injured for most of the season, as he is wont to do. The average shouldn’t be too difficult to accomplish, but he’s only ever reached 30 home runs twice.
The boldest part of the predictions might not be the home runs, but actually
1.) Staying healthy
2.) Hitting lefties enough to not be a platoon bat
3.) Playing good enough defense to stay in the lineup
But, with how anemic the offense *still* is after a rather unproductive offseason of improving their offense, CarGo might be the big bat they need which is strange to say coming off of a season where he put up an 84 wRC+. Maybe the health and wellness gains are real, maybe he made a real mechanical change. I don’t know.
But, I’ve always had a soft spot for CarGo. That’s Nolan Arenado after CarGo was resigned. He seems like one of the most genuine people in baseball and is clearly beloved by his teammates. I want this prediction to come true not for me, but for him. Here’s to a happy, healthy CarGo.
11.) Joc Pederson hits .280 with 35 home runs en route to an 8 WAR season, winning the NL MVP
I spent $30 on a Joc Pederson shirt after his first half of 2015. Still one of my favorite players. That’s like a 5 WAR profile, so we’ll say the other 3 WAR comes from him having more fun than anyone in the league. Checkmate, sabermetricians.