I’m sure this was common in a lot of the bold prediction pieces from the spring, but I caught some flack in the comments for not being bold enough. It turns out that only four of my ten predictions panned out, so either I’m woefully incompetent and can’t even make easy calls, or the predictions were bolder than they were given credit for. But I digress. Let’s talk about why I’m smart and why I’m (mostly) dumb.
Jonathan Lucroy, currently the 14th catcher being selected, will be a top ten catcher.
Of all my predictions, I’ll admit that this was one of the least bold. Lucroy was a top ten catcher on ESPN’s player rater in 2012 despite only getting 346 PA because of a stint on the DL with a broken hand. So it wasn’t a huge reach to think he’d be top ten again this year. But then again, he was going 14th on average, and he was one of only two catchers going outside the top ten that ended up finishing in the top ten. The other was Jarrod Saltalamacchia who was going 15-16 among catchers. So if I encouraged you to reach on Lucroy and take him in the 14th/15th round of a 12-team league, I’m happy with that.
In 2014, Lucroy is a borderline top five catcher. He hits a lot of line drives and has developed excellent plate discipline, so the batting average will be there. And he’s a safe bet for 15 homers, 75 RBI and and 55 runs as long as he stays healthy. But what pushes him near the top five is a little bit of speed. He stole nine bags this year and was the only top ten catcher to top four steals.
Aside from the Lucroy call, this was probably my second least bold prediction. Well, at least the top ten part wasn’t as bold. But the Goldschmidt part was because Goldy was the 7th best first baseman on the player rater in 2012. Homser finished 2013 8th among 1B on the player rater but with a higher player rater number than Goldy did in 2012.
Goldy obviously took a big step forward this year as he was second among 1B and fifth overall on the player rater. But Hosmer doesn’t have as much upside going forward because he just doesn’t have the pop. His HR/FB rate is above average but far from elite, and he doesn’t hit enough fly balls to have a high homer total. His fly ball rate has dropped in consecutive seasons and is well below league average. He could obviously make some adjustments and he could grow into a little more power, but he’ll have a hard time cracking the top five at the position without a big power surge. But there’s nothing wrong with a first baseman who does a little bit of everything and is a safe bet to be a top ten option.
Rickie Weeks, currently the 13th second baseman being selected, will be a top ten second baseman.
A common theme for a lot of my predictions was whether guys would be able to improve their batting average. Not only did Weeks not improve his average, he posted his lowest average since becoming a regular in large part thanks to the highest strikeout rate of his career. The thought was that Weeks could be a nice power/speed guy, and if he stayed healthy with an average around .250, he could have been a value. But the average wasn’t there, the health wasn’t there, and he wasn’t even on pace to be a 20/15 HR/SB guy. With Scooter Gennett posting a 147 wRC+ after taking over for Weeks, Weeks’ days of relevance are over. Not that they weren’t already.
Will Middlebrooks, currently the 18th third baseman being selected, will be a top ten third baseman.
The theory with this call was that Middlebrooks’ power could propel him into the top ten as long as the regression from his .288 batting average in 2012 wasn’t severe. His 24.5% K% in 2012 was ominous, but his problem was with contact more than it was with swinging too much. But the contact rate was actually a little bit worse this year, he hit fewer line drives when he did make contact, and his K% jumped up to 26.2% while his average plummeted to .227. And missing time with injuries obviously hurt this call. The plate discipline was marginally better after he returned from injury in August, but it wasn’t so much improved that it gives much hope for Middlebrooks turning into a top ten caliber third baseman next year. The best case scenario is probably something similar to Pedro Alvarez production with slightly less pop and a little more average.
Josh Rutledge, currently the 14th shortstop being selected, will be a top ten shortstop.
What went wrong with this call is basically the same thing that went wrong with Weeks and Middlebrooks. The average was horrendous, and he couldn’t stay in the lineup all year. But it wasn’t all bad for Rutledge. Had he played all year, he was on pace for a 15/20 type season. And his plate discipline improved. He swung less in general but specifically on balls outside the zone as his O-Swing% dropped 9.1%. And his contact rate jumped about 3%. DJ LeMahieu provided some empty average in Rutledge’s stead, but he wasn’t much better. He does have a better glove than Rutledge, but if Rutledge were able to win the job next spring, I’d probably be taking a shot on him as my middle infielder in a few leagues.
Starling Marte, currently the 63rd outfielder being selected, will be a top 50 outfielder.
Marte obviously exceeded my expectations, and was my MVPick in a couple of leagues. He finished 16th among outfielders on the player rater thanks to 41 steals and a BABIP-driven .280 average. With his speed and an improved line drive rate, Marte was able to overcome 24.4% K% to post the respectable batting average. But because line drives are a fickle thing and because Marte’s plate discipline is below average, I think he’ll be hard pressed to hit .280 again next year. His BABIP will remain above average but maybe not so much so that he hits .280 again. And he was also caught stealing 15 times, so his success rate was only about 73%. Because of those concerns, my early guess is that Marte won’t be a top 25 outfielder for me come draft season.
David Murphy, currently the 65th outfielder being selected, will be a top 50 outfielder.
I theorized that Murphy would see a bump in production by being an everyday player, but a commenter rightly pointed out that a lot the extra PAs would come against lefties, which would offset a lot of the extra counting stat production I expected. And this turned out to be true. Murphy has no pop against lefties and managed just five extra base hits against them in 111 PA. But the bigger problem was that Murphy didn’t produce against righties like he had in the past. Despite a respectable 19.5% LD% against righties, his BABIP was just .222 against them. Had he not had that bad luck, Murph might have kept his everyday job past June. But by July he was back to being a fourth outfielder, platoon type guy. And that’s what he’ll likely be wherever he ends up next year.
Jason Hammel, currently the 92nd starter being selected, will be a top 60 starter.
Hammel had a very nice year in 2012 that was cut short due to injury, which is largely why he was going outside the top 60. His big year was backed up by improvements in his swinging strike rate and groundball rate which were backed up by a significant change in his pitch mix. He started using more sinkers as opposed to four seamers and increased his slider usage. He maintained a similar pitch mix this year, and the raw data indicates there wasn’t a huge difference in the quality of the stuff. But the results were drastically different. Primarily, he gave up more hard contact and got fewer swings and misses. Because the recipe for previous success still seems to be in place, Hammel is maybe worth a flier next year in deeper leagues. But that’s about as optimistic as I can be.
Erasmo Ramirez, currently the 116th starter being selected, will be a top 60 starter.
Erasmo failed to make the rotation out of Spring Training due to an ambiguous arm problem, and he didn’t make it to the big leagues until July. So the top 60 prediction was DOA. But even when Erasmo did get called up, he just wasn’t effective. The fantastic control he displayed in the minors and in 59 major league innings in 2012 wasn’t there. His biggest problem was going away from his changeup. His usage of it dropped by about 7% despite the fact that it was one of the 20 most effective changeups in baseball among pitchers with 50+ IP. With some track record of success and a good home ballpark, Erasmo is someone to watch going forward. If his control is good and he’s using the changeup, he’ll be someone to own.
Dillon Gee, currently the 117th starter being selected, will be a top 60 starter.
Gee finished as the 61st starter on the player rater, so I’m calling this a win. I loved Gee in the preseason because in 2012 he was top 30 in K/BB, SwStr% and GB% among pitchers with 100+ IP. He got off to a rough start this year, but he finished with a 3.62 ERA. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to that point the way I would have liked. His GB% fell by about 8%, and his K% was basically league average. His SwStr% fell somewhat but it was still above average and indicates his K% probably should have been a little higher. The real reason his ERA turned around was simply a little bit of strand rate luck for once. His LOB% had been below league average prior to this year, but it jumped up to 77.9%. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Dillon Gee, but because a change in fortune was the main reason for his success and not a continuation of above average skills, I won’t be as high on him next year.