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Colin Zarzycki’s 10 Bold Predictions for the 2013 Fantasy Season

This is my first venture into the Rotographs “Bold Predictions” series and mainly I’m just hoping a big league general manager notices my predictive prowess and I rule baseball by August 2015. I will admit, I am a bit concerned I asked my Magic 8-Ball how spot on these prophecies were and I just got an f-bomb back in return. Oh well. Go big or go home.

Clay Buchholz will be a top-25 mixed league starter.

Buchholz has been off the charts this spring, posting a 0.96 ERA with 16 punchouts in 18.2 innings. Spring training stats might not mean much, but there are other positives that push Buchholz’s stock higher. He introduced a splitter during the second half of 2012 and saw marked improvement down the stretch as he now has three offspeed pitches which garner double-digit whiff rates. This March, Buchholz also has been working with manager John Farrell on lowering his time between pitches (he was the “slowest” pitcher in the majors last season), something Buchholz admits has caused him to fall out of rhythm in the past. This is the year we finally see some of that upside Buchholz was touted to have five years ago.

Ike Davis will be a top-5 mixed league 1B… overall.

So Chad Young tried to snipe my tentative list (maybe more a function of great minds think alike!) and said Ike Davis will finish in the top five of a category he’s actually expected to do well in. OK. That’s bold, but not bold enough for me. Currently coming off the board as the 16th best 1B (and free of Valley Fever), Davis had the highest OPS of any National League guy playing full-time at the position after the all-star break last year. His 20 taters over the same time period were fifth in all of baseball (behind Miguel Cabrera, Chase Headley, B.J. Upton, and Adrian Beltre). He still has a pronounced platoon split and might only hit .275 or so, but he’s a legitimate dark horse to lead the majors in homers this year, which should be enough to vault him up the end-of-season rankings.

Pedro Alvarez will hit under 20 homers this season.

What changed in Alvarez last year that caused him to jump from four homers in 262 2011 plate appearances to 30 in 586 last year? It wasn’t slashing his K%. Nor was it seeing better pitches by being selective. Maybe his LD% rate was just through the roo– nope. Only two factors stand out: Alvarez improved his well-below average 25.3% FB% to a slightly-less-below-average 34.5% and saw his HR/FB% spike from 10.3% to 25.0%. His home run plus fly ball distance increased to 306 feet last year, but, looking at the last three years of HR/FB% data in aggregate, there is no player who has averaged over 20% with the same lack of plate discipline/whifftastic tendencies of Alvarez. I expect regression to rear its ugly head unless Alvarez walks more or whiffs less.

Neither Jason Motte nor Mitchell Boggs will finish the season as closer for the Cardinals.

A lot of this hinges on my gut telling me Motte’s elbow flexor strain could be more serious than St. Louis wants to believe. Remember, severe flexor strains have taken years out of guys like Ben Sheets‘ and Colby Lewis‘ careers. Boggs is a hard-thrower and doesn’t walk a ton of guys (plus!) but lacks elite stuff and has only managed a 3.67 xFIP during the last two seasons — the best stretch of his career. The Cardinals dumped top prospect Trevor Rosenthal in the bullpen quickly this spring, apparently not truly considering him for the fifth starter vacancy which just went to Shelby Miller (aside: I’m buying him in the late rounds everywhere). The Cardinals value Rosenthal’s late inning stuff and with a 97 mph heater, he’ll be the guy racking up in saves at new Busch come September.

No Orioles pitcher finishes inside the top-75 mixed league starters.

Wei-Yin Chen has solid, but uninspiring rates, and I’m concerned some of his success last year was partly about guys seeing him for the first time. Jason Hammel might have the best shot to foil me given his newly-found punchout stuff but he’s coming off a season shortened by knee issues and has never thrown more than 180 innings in his career. Chris Tillman is a popular sleeper but I am going nowhere near him. .220 BABIP and a sub-20% K%? Pass. Miguel Gonzalez may eat innings but has mediocre rates. Jake Arrieta needs to get the homers under control, even with improved strikeout numbers. And you can call Dylan Bundy the next hotshot and Brian Matusz and Zach Britton post-hype guys, none of them will spend enough time in the rotation to accumulate actual value.

Victor Martinez will be the number one fantasy catcher (where applicable).

Lest we forget, the last time V-Mart was on the field, he was the number one catcher in standard 5×5 leagues. Granted that was 2011 and he’s had microfracture surgery since then, and, yeah, he’s two years older, and, OK, Buster Posey is “awesome, baby!” but Martinez has one of the more discerning eyes in baseball owns a career LD% (20.6%) almost twice as high as his K% (11.1%). He’ll have the benefit of plate appearances since he probably will see… well… zero time behind the plate. But, hey, don’t let your fellow managers bash the non-catcher-as-a-catcher strategy — if you have it, exploit that position eligibility!

Jedd Gyorko is a top-3 National League second baseman.

Now, we have Bryan Grosnick trying to steal my thunder (I swear these guys hacked my laptop!). But I think more of Gyorko than “beats Uggla.” Again, not bold (crazy?) enough for me. What is bold is saying the self-professed “jerk” will finish in the upper echelon of his class. Top tier. People may cry “Pacific Coast League!” but a middle infielder putting up a .413 wOBA in AAA in any run-scoring environment is just plain sexy. The walls have come in at Petco, and Gyorko will be a doubles machine (it won’t hurt when he pokes 15-20 over the fence, either).

R.A. Dickey posts an ERA over 4.00 for the first time since 2009.

Given his rates over the last few years, this one almost has to be based solely on heading over to the rough-and-tumble AL East after spending three years over in that “other league.” His 2010-2011 xFIPs were closer to 4.00 and it only came down last year thanks to a first-half driven K% boost. While knuckleballers have shown lower BABIPs in general (and therefore a tendency to outperform DIP stats), the Jays will have some questionable players manning the field behind Dickey. Remember, this is also a division which has spent a lot of time looking at Tim Wakefield‘s (admittedly slower) knuckleballs.

This is the year Jed Lowrie finally shakes the Mr. Glass moniker and is a top-10 mixed league shortstop.

This one is a flier, I don’t deny that. But Lowrie had a prorated 27 homers last season and his major leg injury came on a fluke play at second base. He seems to be over the wrist woes that plagued him in Boston and, even though his new home is not as friendly as the old digs, a full season’s worth of at bats could make him pretty valuable. 25+ home runs is a stretch but 20 with 75/75 runs/RBI seems doable if he finally plays every day.

Half of the top-ten closers in baseball after the all-star break will have been undrafted in mixed leagues.

I guess you could say I’m putting more money where my mouth is when it comes to my habitual undervaluing of closers on draft day. Last year guys like Fernando Rodney, Jim Johnson, Aroldis Chapman, and Rafael Soriano came off of waiver wires everywhere (or in Chapman’s case, shallow leagues) to put up dominant relief pitcher stats down the stretch. Between injuries and ineffectiveness, I don’t expect this year to be any different.