This is my favorite pre-season post of the year. Nothing is more enjoyable than coming up with wacky, out on a limb predictions that just may come true. Of course, all of my bold predictions have some sort of statistical basis, so you won’t be seeing anything like “Juan Pierre hits 20 home runs”. After reading my list and nodding your head in agreement or ridiculing my crazy thoughts, feel free to share your own off the wall predictions in the comments section.
Rajai Davis hits 15 HRs- His career high in a single season is just five, but a move to the homer-happy Jays and a spring training power surge (four home runs and a .429 ISO) suggest that double digit home runs could be reachable.
Brandon Allen hits 20 HRs- With strong minor league power numbers and only Xavier Nady, Russell Branyan and Juan Miranda ahead of him between first base and the outfield, he could back into significant playing time quite easily.
Casper Wells hits 20 HRs and tallies 10 SBs- Magglio Ordonez hasn’t had 500 at-bats since 2008, Austin Jackson could take a tumble once his BABIP regresses and Ryan Raburn is no lock given his first full-time opportunity. Wells has shown impressive power and good speed during his minor league career and just needs an injury or poor play to get his chance.
Matt Joyce clubs 30 HRs- Finally has his shot at full-time at-bats, though he will likely sit against lefties. With a career fly ball rate of 48%, Joyce won’t require a hefty HR/FB ratio to hit 20 home runs, or 30 for that matter.
Ichiro Suzuki posts a sub-.300 AVG- One of these years it will happen. His contact rate was a career worst in 2010 and at age 37, you have to think his speed is going to start waning. Based on my projections, even a .330 BABIP, which is still well above league average, would result in a batting average below .300
Peter Bourjos hits 15 HRs and swipes 40 bags- Bourjos’ power spiked in 2010 at Triple-A, and that carried over during his time with the Angels. Besides excellent steals numbers, his triples rates also show a hitter with blazing speed.
Dexter Fowler outearns Shane Victorino- Nothing against Victorino, but Fowler has just as much power potential and at least as much raw speed as Shane. The depleted Phillies offense gives Fowler another boost in this comparison.
Adrian Gonzalez swats fewer than 30 HRs- It has boggled my mind all draft season that Gonzalez has been picked as early as the middle of the first round. Clearly fantasy owners are either forgetting about his shoulder surgery or think that the move to Fenway is so significant that it completely offsets it. The bet here is that the surgery saps his power early on and a possible second half recovery will not be enough.
Chris Iannetta earns top 5 catcher value- Iannetta has shown fantastic power in his career, but a terrible BABIP the last two seasons and serious impatience from the organization have conspired against him. Contact issues are a concern, but if he hits 25 home runs, then a .260-.270 batting average would be acceptable.
Jason Heyward hits fewer than 20 HRs- As much power as scouts say he has and his frame suggests, the ceiling will be quite low when you are chopping 55% of your batted balls into the ground. The contact rate should improve, but the nearly 17% HR/FB ratio will likely fall, which could put him close to the 20 home run barrier, but not over it.
Alex Gordon 30 HRs- Like Rickie Weeks who finally had the year we all expected last season, this is the year for Alex Gordon. Or so I think it is. Gordon apparently made some changes to his swing during the winter, and though I rarely pay attention to spring training results, maybe his actually mean something (5 home runs, .381 ISO).
Clayton Kershaw‘s ERA exceeds 4.00- Though he has posted an ERA below 3.00 the past two seasons, his xFIP has never been below 3.80. No one has the skills to keep their HR/FB ratio at the 6.3% rate that Kershaw’s career mark is at right now. Once that rises, his ERA will jump as well. He improved his control last season, but there’s always the chance that his development does not continue in a straight line and he regresses in that area. Worse control, plus luck neutralization, and suddenly Kershaw is starting at a 4.00 ERA.
Jason Hammel outearns Ubaldo Jimenez- Did you know that Hammel’s xFIP was only .08 higher than Jimenez’s last season (3.81 to 3.73)? Hammel continues to get bitten by the BABIP bug, while Jimenez has benefitted from good fortune there as well as in his HR/FB ratio. All it takes is for these metrics to move closer to the league average and suddenly Hammel’s results would look quite similar to Jimenez’s.
Edwin Jackson earns top 20 starter value- It is almost always noise when a player attributes better results to fixing his mechanics, but in Jackson’s case, the results overwhelmingly support this notion. When Jackson was traded to the White Sox last season, he worked with Don Cooper on his mechanics, and his skills surged (9.2 K/9, 3.15 xFIP, increased velocity).
James Shields posts a sub-3.80 ERA- Yeah yeah, I know he has been good before, but he has actually only posted an ERA below 3.80 once in his career. Last season was a disaster on the surface, but he posted a career high 8.3 K/9 and a career best 3.72 xFIP. He is an easy rebound candidate and an ERA below 4.00 should come as no surprise.
Joe Blanton outearns Trevor Cahill- Simply to illustrate just how down I am on Cahill, I decided to compare him to Joe Blanton. My projections for each value Blanton at $4 and Cahill at $0 in a standard 12-team mixed league. Of course, if Cahill could rediscover the magic that enabled him to post strong strikeout rates during his minor league days, then I will look foolish.
Jeremy Hellickson is the most valuable Rays pitcher- For most, this will come down to Hellickson versus David Price. Despite all the talk about Price’s awesome breakout season in 2010, his xFIP was a much less impressive 3.99. Hellickson has dominated at every minor league stop and posted a fantastic 4.1 K/BB ratio during his short time with the Rays last season. Some more ground balls and fewer fly balls would be nice to see, however.
Matt Thornton leads baseball in saves- Probably not that bold given that we all know how highly skilled Thornton is. But many people are still cautious about “unproven” closers. Supposed spring training competitor Chris Sale has thrown a whopping 10.1 minor league innings in his entire career and another 23.1 innings with the Sox last season. Plus, he’s a lefty. Do you really think he will steal any save opportunities from Thornton? I don’t either.
Jason Motte leads the Cardinals in saves- Ryan Franklin is a free agent at the end of the season, and not very good to begin with. The Wainwright-less Cards could struggle to stay in contention all season and decide to cash in Franklin at the trade deadline. This would open the door for Motte to do his thing.
Luke Gregerson saves 20 games- Heath Bell is also a free agent in 2012 and the Padres are highly unlikely to contend. With one of the strongest bullpens in baseball and a bevy of options to shut the door in the ninth, it would be foolish of the Pads to hang onto him. Gregerson’s skill set is superb and he should have no problem transitioning into the closer role and continuing to dominate.