In the spirit of Rotographs’ yearly tradition of bold predictions, as well as my own from last year, I will once again take on the impossible task of predicting literally anything that will happen in this sport. Last year’s lone prediction that came true was that Adalberto Mondesi would finish as a Top-12 second baseman in fantasy. Last offseason I also predicted the Brandon Nimmo and Ketel Marte breakouts, but also wrote optimistically about Bryan Mitchell and Yandy Diaz. Take that as you will.
1.) Mike Trout will equal or eclipse 12 fWAR
This is it. This is the year Trout finally does it. After an 11.1 fWAR pace last year shortened by injury and multiple 10+ fWAR seasons in his career, I believe Trout will manage to get there. Post-integration (1947), this feat has only been accomplished twice, and by a single player. Barry Bonds accomplished this in 2001 and 2002 (12.5 and 12.7 respectively). Now, there is obviously a large asterisk next to these seasons and I’m not sure if it’s possible to eclipse 12 fWAR without the help of performance enhancers. What I’m trying to say is this may be crossing the line from bold to impossible.
Then again, Trout has managed to improve every year since 2014, especially in the on-base department. Last year he posted a .460 OBP, which seemed impossible after posting a .442 OBP in 2017 and .441 in 2016. His SwStr% has somehow dropped year-to-year from 2014 (7.6%), to an almost unfathomable 5.8% in 2018. His defense keeps improving. His baserunning and speed remain elite. Every year he manages to get better at something even though we keep saying it’s not possible. With more improvements across the board and maybe a little luck, Trout could accomplish this truly unprecedented feat. Without the aid of performance enhancing drugs, or talent being denied the opportunity to compete due to race, this would likely be considered the greatest season in the history of baseball. If this happens, Mike Trout’s existence will be deemed impossible. Right now, we might be watching the best baseball player of all time. If he accomplishes this feat, it no longer becomes a question.
2.) Zack Wheeler wins the NL Cy Young
For this to happen, not only does Wheeler have to be better than a tough National League field, but he has to be better than two other pitchers on his own team. Health permitting (a rather large “if” given his history), we’re likely to see another season of Wheeler inducing weak contact (top 3% in the league in 2018). He also ranked fifth in baseball last year in average fastball velocity at 95.9 MPH. This also gave him the fifth most valuable fastball in baseball (23.8 wFB). The four in front of him? Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Jacob deGrom respectively. With a new splitter he introduced last year, it gives him another pitch to play around with. I see the SwStr% jumping up a couple points this year, as I think there’s even more upside given the fastball velocity and offseason to work on his splitter. One standard deviation from Jake Arrieta’s 2015 is in the cards and would place him firmly in contention.
3.) The Royals win at least 78 games
Considering most people have them in the sixties for wins, this is pretty bold. Here’s what I wrote about the lineup in my division preview:
“This is a team that might actually be better than people think. With Billy Hamilton, Whit Merrifield, Terrance Gore, and Adalberto Mondesi on the same field, this team is going to be a nightmare on the bases. Of course, for this to happen you need to be on-base and with this group sans Merrifield, it seems to be a daunting challenge. These guys are fun, but Hunter Dozier, Ryan O’Hearn, Brett Phillips and Jorge Soler also have interesting upside that might be tapped into with ample playing time. If Merrifield continues to be a 3-4 WAR player moving forward, and Mondesi can end up anywhere from 3-5 WAR, they have a fairly lethal middle infield.”
Add in Brad Keller and Jakob Junis from the rotation, and maybe a couple bullpen arms, and it’s actually ok. Granted this is still a longshot, but I’m intrigued. They’re fun! They also just added Martin Maldonado, a welcome change from Salvador Perez’ infamous framing abilities, and it’s not like any team in that division is unbeatable. It might not be such a long, hot summer.
4.) The Angels make the playoffs…led by a healthy, 14+ WAR rotation
Well…ok. There’s a bit to unpack here. Let’s first start by acknowledging the elephant in the room; “healthy”. There has perhaps been no team more unfortunate with starting pitcher health in recent memory than the Angels. But at some point this stops becoming poor fortune and starts becoming a legitimate epidemic, which I’ve been calling it for years. Now, surely there is something I must be basing this stupid, futile prediction on. Surely there must be some sort of bulletproof source, to maintain any semblance of dignity or respect amongst my peers. Here it is.
Yes, it’s not a great source. But this article confirms it. Kyle Boddy (Driveline Baseball) on Twitter has confirmed it. There is reason to believe with a revamped player development and medical staff the Angels may take a massive leap forward. Here’s another article on the Angels using Rapsodo and Edgertronic cameras. Tyler Skaggs says “I’ve learned more in the past month than I have in the past four or five years”, a ringing endorsement that has been echoed by a few other pitchers within the organization.
Now, what does it matter if they’re even healthy? On paper it’s still a fairly mediocre rotation. Tyler Skaggs is pretty good, Andrew Heaney seems to be out indefinitely, Shohei Ohtani isn’t pitching this year, Jaime Barria is fine, Trevor Cahill is just Rich Hill-lite, and Matt Harvey has been…less than stellar since returning from thoracic outlet syndrome. But if Heaney is healthy he might have another great year. Jaime Barria had one of the most valuable sliders in baseball last year. Trevor Cahill is actually pretty good, even as Rich Hill-lite, and Matt Harvey may actually be one of the best bargains of the offseason. Not to mention, Griffin Canning is knocking on the door of the majors and looks to be a ready-made league average starter, which is nothing to scoff at.
5.) Rafael Devers hits at least .280 with 30 home runs
It wasn’t that long ago that we were having discussions about Devers possibly being one of the best hitters in baseball. In his debut he slashed a very good .284/.338/.482, chipping in ten home runs in fifty-eight games. This is about a twenty-eight home run pace, and as a twenty-year-old was a mighty impressive line. Unfortunately, last year in his first full season Devers slipped to .240/.298/.433, “good” for a 90 wRC+. Mix that in with poor defense, and unfortunately the profile doesn’t really fly.
Again, it was his first full year, and not everything went poorly. For example, he’s still hitting the snot out of the ball.
He’s also working on becoming a more patient hitter, and has lost a considerable amount of weight. “Best shape of his life” all you want, but he did miss significant time last year due to hamstring issues which might have been attributed to his weight. 237 pounds is no joke, and slimming down to even 215 would be a big deal. Not all prospect growth is linear, and everyone should view last year as more of a learning/development year. He’s still just twenty-two, and again he’s not making weak contact. If he learns to find pitches he wants to hit, the power and contact ability are both there. He might be closer to this already than people think.
6.) Matt Chapman bests 2018’s average, home runs…and DRS
I love Matt Chapman. I have always loved Matt Chapman. Watching him put up 6.5 fWAR last year was a real treat. I am firmly in the camp that he is not just a 3-4 WAR player who had an MVP caliber season. I think he’s an MVP caliber player that will fit into the Rendon/Arenado tier once the year is over. What is this based on? Frankly, he hits the ball with authority more than almost anybody else.
Good lord. You also may not know this, but Chapman has a…weird profile. You may be asking yourself “how is Chapman’s launch angle”, as surely a focus on quality contact would lead you to assume there is an equal focus on launch angle. But Chapman’s 14.7 degrees in 2018 is tied for 101st…with Chris Davis. Surely this must mean a lot of groundballs? Well…in 2018 he’s tied for 82nd with Carlos Santana. Maybe he hits a lot of line drives? Tied for 88th at 20.4%. Fly balls he’s tied for 38th, which is a welcome sign. So what is Matt Chapman explicitly good at?
Well, he hits a lot of infield flies. In 2018 he was tied for 18th, at 13.9%. In 2017 he was at 16.8%. We have enough of a sample to say that this is a problem. Cutting down on even a few percentage points of this will help his average a lot. His exit velocity on FB/LD is an excellent 96.1 MPH (tied for 25th) and he was seventh in baseball in doubles last year, so I still think there’s more growth for power. This is a bet that Chapman continues to improve in every part of his game. The DRS improvement would be hilarious and is my most anticipated part of this prediction.
7.) Zack Greinke is owned in less than 70% of leagues in ESPN by year’s end
Greinke’s velocity in spring training has been a concern the last three or so years, and every year he’s proven to beat father time. However, reports this year had him at 87-89 MPH. This seems more like a death sentence than a drop in velocity. After today’s shellacking by the hands of the Dodgers, this feels like it’s only a matter of time. Since the start of 2014, Greinke has thrown a hair under 1,000 innings (993.2), so it’s not like he has a particularly fresh arm. He has 2,663.1 innings for his career. It’s very serious mileage and Greinke is thirty-five. Being crafty can only take you so far.
8.) Ryne Harper is one of the fifteen best relievers in the AL by WAR
Who the hell is Ryne Harper? He’s a thirty year-old rookie for the Twins who has…sterling minor league numbers. Last year at AAA he had a 12.12 K/9 and a 1.73 BB/9, good enough for a 2.33 FIP. He has a disgusting breaking ball and a pretty deceptive delivery, and the Twins have emulated the Angels this offseason by bringing in some serious changes to player development, especially in pitching. Ever since Derek Falvey took over, there’s been a pretty serious shift in the type of players the Twins have employed, and they’ve quietly been unearthing bullpen talent over the past year or so. I’m all in on Harper.
9.) Willson Contreras finishes outside the Top 8 catchers on the ESPN player rater
To be honest, I’ve never owned Willson Contreras in fantasy. This past year he was fairly mediocre, slashing .249/.339/.390. While a 100 wRC+ is still pretty good for catchers, ten home runs and four stolen bases isn’t great value.
Obviously the barrel percentage dropped, but everything else…kind of looks the same. He doesn’t hit the ball with much authority, and he hits a ton of groundballs (52% last year, 53% for his career). Maybe it was some bad luck with batted balls? Nope. He had a .313 BABIP last year and .321 for his career. I think his stats are just beginning to reflect the fact that he was quite overrated in the first place. With a career swing rate of 48.3% and a SwStr rate of 13.3%, I am way out on Contreras. I’ll leave you with this.
10.) JOC PEDERSON HITS 35 HOME RUNS
A career high of twenty-six home runs. TWO, count them, TWO home runs on Opening Day. A revamped swing this offseason and also being the best player in the universe helps. Will he get playing time? If he’s on pace to hit thirty-five home runs, yes. Shut up. This prediction isn’t for you. Last year I predicted Joc would put up 8.5 fWAR en route to the NL MVP. I’m still convinced he would have reached this if he had been given more than 443 plate appearances (2.7 fWAR). Average exit velocity was 91.1 MPH. Average launch angle was 15.4 degrees. Both career highs. Struck out a career low 19.2% last year and is making contact 76.4% of the time.
Are there a lot of indicators he won’t do this? Absolutely. Will I post them here? No. I will make a Joc prediction every year until one comes true.