In past years, I have posted 20 bold predictions for the upcoming season. Just because our little RotoGraphs contest among authors only required 10 doesn’t mean I was going to stop there! So here are another 10 bold predictions to ridicule me for, or cause your eyes to open in wonder as to how I could be such a brilliant prognosticator. And before you read on, take another gander at my first set of boldies to refresh your memory.
Warning: I am going to sometimes use spring training stats to support my conclusions. I am still well aware that small sample size and all the other caveats still apply when trying to find predictive value in these stats.
1. Lorenzo Cain goes 15/30
Cain had a breakout power year in Triple-A last season, as his ISO spiked to .185 after generally hovering in the low .100 range. When a young player sees such an increase, I usually don’t chalk it up as a fluke, as most of the gains are likely for real. To boot, he has brought the newfound power into the spring as well, as he has swatted 5 homers already in just 70 at-bats. Heck, he’s also stolen 5 bases, and given his other stats, would be a top player in a spring training fantasy league. He should be hitting second in the order now that Johnny Giavotella was demoted, so he’ll see plenty of at-bats.
2. Dustin Ackley hits 20 bombs
Every year we hear those cliches, so and so is in the best shape of his life, blah blah blah gained 1,000 pounds of muscle. Ackley joined that club this season, as he himself added about 10 pounds since last year. Projection generally have him hitting between 10 and 15 home runs, but he ISO’d .185 at Triple-A last year and his home run total would prorate to nearly 20 assuming the Fans at-bat projection. He also raked in spring, ISO’ing .312.
3. Neil Walker earns top 5 value at second base
Boring Neil Walker, he does a little bit of everything, but nothing nearly well enough to excite fantasy owners. But wait…there’s more! He has shown better power in the minors than he did last year, so his home run total should rebound to the mid-teens at the very least. He will flirt with double digit steals. He hits enough line drives that his 2010 average of .296 could easily be attained once again. And now for the best part…he is slated to hit clean up this year behind three burners with pretty good OBPs. An upside projection of .295-18-95-85-10 may be all that is needed to nudge his way into that top 5 and that isn’t such an outlandish possibility, methinks.
4. Jesus Montero fails to reach 15 home runs
For such a hyped prospect, his minor league stats certainly didn’t support the level of hysteria. Sure, he has performed quite well, but nowhere close to what you would expect when you see his ranking on prospect lists. So I think he was overrated to begin with and now he moves to a park that completely destroys right-handed power. Last year, it deflated home runs to righties by 18%, and Baseball HQ tells us that over the past three years, it has done so by a whopping 25%. The funny thing is that when he predictably disappoints, it would be a surprise if any of the media articles mention park effects at all.
5. Mat Gamel is a top 8 third baseman
Seemingly around forever as a top prospect, defensive issues have led him to where all iron glovers go — to first base. After always hitting pretty well at Triple-A, he had his most promising campaign last season. Not only did he show the best power of his career, but he did so while cutting down on his strikeouts and posting the best contact rate since his first full season at Single-A in 2006. Even without Prince Fielder, the Brewers lineup is pretty good.
6. Billy Butler finally has that monstrous breakout to the tune of .300-30-100
For years now, we have been waiting for Butler to experience that huge power breakout, after reliably hitting 15-20 homers a year over his first three full seasons. He’s still just 26 and has been an absolute doubles machine in his young career, hitting 140 doubles over the previous three years. I hate looking at half season trends, but it’s worth mentioning that he hit 13 of his 19 homers in the last three months of 2011 and his HR/FB ratio jumped from 8% to 12%. That power spike has continued through spring, as he has hit 4 homers in 70 at-bats, and has posted a wonderfully delicious .286 ISO. The .300 part of this prediction is easy, but the 100 RBIs will be the first time he would eclipse the century mark, though he has come within 7 and 5 in recent years.
7. Danny Duffy posts a sub-4.00 ERA and strikes out 180
Wow, the third positive Royals prediction! Duffy is now throwing a cutter that drew rave reviews, though I have not seen any mention of it recently. He was pretty fantastic in the minors, regularly posting exceptional strikeout rates and displaying good control. Oh, and his fastball also averaged 93.3 miles per hour, which is excellent for a lefty. Last, here come the spring stats again — he has posted a sparkling 20/4 K/BB ratio in 16.0 innings. That equates to a K% of 27.8%. For context, that would have ranked second in the majors last year among all qualified starters.
There aren’t words to describe how poor Matusz’ results were last year, so I won’t try. He was very clearly pitching hurt as his velocity dipped nearly two miles per hour. In the spring, he is reportedly throwing in the low 90′s again, which is where he sat back in 2009 when he was a top prospect. This is great news on its own, but the results so far suggest he hasn’t missed a beat, as he has posted a tidy 22/3 K/BB ratio over 24.2 innings. Ervin Santana pitched nearly the same last year as he always has, yet his ERA dropped 0.54 points. With SIERA marks hovering around 4.00 over the last three years and his magical 2008 season never coming back, he’s a prime regression candidate. His career SIERA is almost identical to his career ERA, so we’re not talking about an annual outperformer here. Pitching in the AL East obviously makes it tough for Matusz to generate significant value, but he doesn’t need to in order to outearn Santana.
9. Ubaldo Jimenez is worthless in mixed leagues
Probably not so bold after what happened last year, but he is still being drafted in the middle rounds, so obviously most people expect him to rebound at least somewhat. Unfortunately, he has been a mess once again during the spring, having posted a cringe-inducing 15/15 K/BB ratio in 23.0 innings. Even the ground balls haven’t been there as he has allowed the same number of fly balls as grounders. Now he is spending a full season in the AL and is backed by a suspect infield defense. While I am not sure his results can be any worse than last season, his rebound might still not be enough to generate positive value.
10. Justin Verlander ends the season outside the top 10 fantasy starting pitchers
Aside from great fortune (he BABIP’ed .236, second lowest in baseball), Verlander’s huge season stemmed primarily from a further step forward in control. With nearly the same K/9 and GB% as 2010, the walk rate decline caused his SIERA to drop below 3.00 for the first time in his career. But is that control improvement sustainable? It’s doubtful. His F-Strike% (which has a high correlation with BB/9) was actually a smidge lower than what he had posted the previous two seasons. Of course, that includes a year where he posted a still strong 2.4 walk rate. But it also includes the other with a 2.9 mark. Anyhow, the bottom line is that he was lucky, obviously, to post an ERA of 2.40, so we would expect that to regress, and, his skills are going to get worse, so ERA to rise further.
Last, and most importantly, that infield defense may very well be terrible. Although Ryan Raburn will be starting at DH on opening day, he should see most of the starts at second, and he has been awful there. Jhonny Peralta‘s career UZR/150 has been a bit below average, and God only knows how Miguel Cabrera is going to handle the hot corner. In 2009, Verlander suffered through a .319 BABIP. Even with a strikeout rate over 10.0, he was still only able to record a 3.45 ERA because of the poor luck on balls in play. Don’t be surprised if that happens again. If so, there are enough other starters that can find their way into that top 10 to take his place.