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Brad Johnson’s 10 Bold Predictions

‘Bout that time, eh chaps? After travelling most of the way across the country over the last three days, I’ve prepared a special concoction of face melting boldness for this lovely Tuesday. Here at RotoGraphs, it is customary to list 10 such bold picks; also Eno ordered me to do so.

1. Erik Johnson will be the second best starting pitcher for the White Sox

Johnson has good stuff and an excellent track record of command and control in the minors. In his short audition last season, he produced a 3.25 ERA that was much better than his 5.40 FIP. That bad FIP was the result of a low strikeout rate and high-ish walk rate. His minor league numbers suggest that he should strike out over 20 percent of batters while walking around eight percent. That would give him a sub-4.00 FIP and ensure that he’s at least a mixed league relevant stream starter, if not worthy of outright ownership.

This prediction smelled even bolder to me until I realized that he just needs to outperform Jose Quintana, John Danks, and Andre Rienzo. It’s a bold prediction but not outlandishly so.

2. Carlos Ruiz will be a top 15 fantasy catcher

I would have liked to go bolder than top 15, but I can’t possibly project more than 450 plate appearances for Ruiz. His career high is just 472 plate appearances and a more responsible projection is around 390. Ruiz is back on Adderall – this time with the league’s blessing. I assume he won’t have the many layers of rust that he dealt with last season after returning from his suspension. Maybe he won’t ever hit .325/.394/.540 like he did in 2012, but a .280/.350/.430 line would be tasty in any two catcher league. That’s only about 10 percent better than the numbers he put up in last season’s second half. Essentially, I’m banking on better production due to drugs and no suspension.

3. Jimmy Rollins will post 40 or more home runs plus steals (HR+SB)

Rollins is not getting much love in fantasy drafts and with good reason. He’s a 35-year-old shortstop who hit just six home runs last season while batting .252. He’s always popped out quite a bit, which hurts his ability to generate a solid batting average, and the Phillies lineup has declined enough as a whole that he’s not a good source of runs or RBI. The only thing he has going for him are stolen bases, but that category can easily disappear with a minor injury.

Aside from one season where a high ankle sprain sent him to the disabled list, Rollins has been a good bet to eclipse 650 plate appearances. His HR/FB ratio last season was just 3.1 percent while his career rate is 7.7 percent. Between 650 plate appearances and some power regression, Rollins could easily swat about 12-15 home runs and make up the difference in stolen bases. To me, the boldest part of this projection is asking for 650 plate appearances from an aging shortstop.

4. Brian McCann will exceed 600 plate appearances, slug 30 or more home runs, and drive in at least 100 runs

In case you’ve missed it, I love McCann in Yankee stadium. To my eyes, he’s the best hitter in that lineup and should bat third or fourth on a daily basis. On the days he doesn’t catch, he should slide right into the designated hitter role.  Of course, this projection is all kinds of bold. I’m asking for sustained health, career best levels of production, and I’m also relying on several Yankees to decline. In particular, if Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and Alfonso Soriano all play well, then it will be almost impossible for McCann to hit these numbers. They’ll simply take too many of the designated hitter days away from McCann and may bump him back in the lineup too.

5. Justin Ruggiano will accrue over 40 HR+SB

I’ve already stated on the record that 50 HR+SB are possible from Ruggiano with a 650 plate appearance season. Granted, I don’t really think 650 plate appearances is possible, but 500 could happen (there’s a fine line between bold and ludicrous). The assumption is that Ruggiano will platoon – probably with Ryan Sweeney. There’s also talk of trading Nate Schierholtz to make room for Ryan Kalish, but such a trade almost certainly means more playing time for Ruggiano.

Ruggiano also benefits from escaping Miami. He’ll bat in the middle of the lineup in a stadium where home runs happen. The Cubs also have an incentive to let him accrue as many plate appearances as possible so as to inflate his mid-season trade value. A trade would actually be bad news for this projection, which is part of the reason why I didn’t try to stretch to 50 HR+SB.

6. Sergio Santos will record 15 saves

Remember this guy? He was briefly a nearly-excellent closer for the White Sox. Chicago swapped him over to Toronto where he promptly landed on the disabled list. Santos returned for 29 appearances last season, showing a huge whiff rate and vastly improved walk rate. He struck out over 30 percent of batters faced and walked just over four percent. That’s elite production. It might not be bold to expect regression, but I’m too responsible to accept those crazy rates at face value. A walk rate of 10 percent would still be the second best rate of his career. I do think he can continue to strike out over a batter per inning – especially if he’s walking more batters.

I tried to keep a delicate balance between bold and possible with this pick. Santos needs to leapfrog Steve Delabar to be second in line for saves. That shouldn’t be impossible, but it’s not something to poo-poo either. If the Jays trade Casey Janssen mid-season, then Santos will have just enough time to post 15 saves. It’s more likely that the Jays don’t trade Janssen, in which case he’ll either have to land on the disabled list of implode for Santos to get a chance.

7. Justin Verlander will be the best pitcher on the Tigers

With all due respect to Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, I fully expect regression to benefit Verlander and chip away at 2013’s two Detroit upstarts. Based on our ZiPS/Steamer hybrid, this does not appear to be very bold since Verlander is projected to have the best FIP and WAR on the staff. However, fantasy owners almost unanimously agree that Scherzer should be drafted first. Verlander’s fastball velocity bounced back in the second half of the season after some mechanical tinkering. His results improved as a result. I haven’t managed to draft Verlander yet, but I’m pretty bullish about a return to elite production.

8. None of 2013’s breakout rookie starters post a sub-3.00 ERA

Not Jose Fernandez, not Gerrit Cole, not Michael Wacha, not Danny Salazar, not Sonny Gray, not Julio Teheran. Last season was a rich one for excellent young starters. In addition to the six I listed, Tony Cingrani, Alex Wood, Chris Archer, Wily Peralta, and Zack Wheeler could be seen as having a (lesser) shot at a sub-3.00 ERA. Let it be known that I’m disqualifying Shelby Miller and Hyun-Jin Ryu from the competition – Miller because his breakout was in 2012 and Ryu because he was an established import.

Individually, we should probably expect each pitcher to post an ERA over 3.00, but several of these guys project to hug the line. If you’re familiar with Texas Hold’Em, you’ll know that a pocket pair beats two over cards about 55 percent of the time (translation: if I hold a pair of 2’s and you have an ace and a king, I’ll win 55 percent). With this projection, I feel like I’m betting on my pocket pair to hold up 10 hands in a row. That’s pretty bold.

9. Yordano Ventura breaks camp with the team and quickly establishes himself as the second best Royals starter

While I’d love to get extra bold and predict him to outperform James Shields too, I’d be betting on injury. I do think Ventura has all the skill necessary to be nearly as good as Shields – at least until the inevitable velocity decline starts to take effect. Ventura isn’t a polished pitcher, and his slight frame elicits worry about his durability, so I don’t advise dynasty owners to look too far down the road. For the purposes of 2014, I expect major league hitters to have some difficulty with his heat.

10. Thomas La Stella ousts Dan Uggla by May 20th

I’m going to go ahead and one-up my colleague J.P. Breen on this one. There are two moving parts here. La Stella needs to continue posting strong numbers. So far, he’s been solid in camp (so has Uggla). The other moving part is that Uggla needs to continue posting ugly offensive numbers and/or make some very noisy, perhaps game losing plays in the field. I honestly expect the situation to resolve one way or another by the end of April, but I built in 20 days of buffer because…well…I can.

The Braves rotation has been bit by the injury bug, with Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy going from rotation members to very uncertain over the last few days. Beachy isn’t a surprise although he could return. The outlook is worse for Medlen. He’s believed to have ligament damage. Losing two pitchers probably forces guys like Freddy Garcia or David Hale into action.

I’m sure the club understands that they need every marginal advantage to defeat the Nationals, which is why they are looking into acquiring Ervin Santana. It should also cause them to consider the offensive and defensive advantages offered by La Stella. Were it not for Uggla’s contract, I have little doubt that the veteran would be traded to make room for La Stella on the opening day roster. Projection systems expect La Stella to outperform Uggla in every major facet of the game. Uggla’s only obvious advantage is power, yet La Stella still projects to have the better wOBA of the two players.

For the record, I’ve talked about La Stella taking over for Uggla in other posts, so this was on my radar well before Breen’s post.