1. 70% of opening day closers won’t still have their jobs by the end of the year…
You don’t need me to tell you that closers are easily replaced, and so saying that we’ll see changes in the ninth inning isn’t really that bold. So if we’re going to make this exciting, let’s say that more than a full two-thirds of closers won’t last the season, either through injury or ineffectiveness. That may sound like a high number, but then again, remember who teams were counting on to finish games for them last April — guys like Alfredo Aceves, Javy Guerra, Jordan Walden, Brett Myers, Heath Bell, & Matt Capps. Even top-tier closers like Mariano Rivera & Brian Wilson weren’t immune, though of course for other reasons. By my count, only 10 closers made it wire-to-wire, and a few more (Carlos Marmol, Huston Street, etc) had to deal with changes at some point in the season. This really drives the point home that you can almost always find saves somewhere. The bell tolls for thee, Sergio Romo & Jim Johnson.
2. …but Brandon League will.
This is bold in the sense that just about everyone expects Kenley Jansen to take the job from League, just as he did from Guerra last year. (This is also in somewhat direct opposition to Mike Axisa saying that League will be the first closer to lose his job.) Obviously, I’m not going to argue that League is the better pitcher, because he isn’t. But obviously the Dodgers see him as the man in the ninth — regardless of whether you think the contract they gave him was foolish, you don’t pay that kind of money out for a setup man — and statistical reviews that look at League’s 2012 as a whole somewhat miss the mark. League struggled in Seattle and in his first weeks as a Dodger, but after taking time off to work out a mechanical issue with coaches, he was phenomenal for the last six weeks of the season. In 22 games (22.1 innings) after August 17, League struck out 22 and allowed just a single earned run. A small sample size against uneven September competition? Perhaps. But this bold prediction says that he hangs on to the job all season.
3. Jake Arrieta will be the most valuable Baltimore starter.
I could probably have simply said “Jake Arrieta will stick in the rotation all season” and stopped there, because a guy who went 3-9, 6.20 last year and has a 5.33 career ERA has more than a little to prove. But we’re being bold, so let’s go all the way. Until Dylan Bundy & Kevin Gausman arrive, there’s not a lot of top-level talent in a rotation fronted by Jason Hammel & Wei-Yin Chen, so Arrieta doesn’t have a Kershaw or a Strasburg to contend with.
Besides, a funny thing happened last year: for as awful as Arrieta was, there was a lot to like. His FIP was only 4.05, and his K/9 (8.56) and BB/9 (2.75) both improved for the third year in a row. The resulting K/BB was better than guys like Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson, & Mat Latos. Arrieta looks likely to win the fifth starter spot thanks to a very good spring, and scouts still swear by his stuff. Heading into his age-27 season, everything is cued up for Arrieta to put it together.
There’s almost certainly no middle ground here; I’m either going to look like a fool when we get back to these in the fall, or a genius.
4. The National League leader in stolen bases will be someone who wasn’t in the top 10 in MLB last season.
Last year’s NL league leaders — Michael Bourn, Jose Reyes, Jose Altuve, & Shane Victorino — all ended up moving to the American League this season. Ben Revere moves from the Twins to the Phillies, but
he’s the only current National Leaguer from last year’s top 10. He may be a safe bet to lead his new league, but in the interest of being bold, I’ll say that Norichika Aoki leads the league in steals. Unlike last season, when he stole 30, Aoki enters the year with a guaranteed starting job, and no team swiped more bags than Milwaukee last season. (Update: I missed Everth Cabrera‘s 44 and Carlos Gomez‘ 37 because they didn’t qualify for the batting title. My mistake on that; I’ll stand by the prediction, though.)
5. Justin Smoak is going to put it together to be a top 15 mixed-league first baseman.
You’d think that after nearly three full seasons of ineptitude along with the arrival of Kendrys Morales & Michael Morse, the Smoak train would have completely left the station, and maybe it should. But I haven’t lost faith yet, and that’s partially due to an insane September that saw him post a .428 wOBA in 101 plate appearances. No, that’s doesn’t count more than three years of terrible, nor does a spring line that sits at .434/.483/.811 in 60 plate appearances as of this writing.
But I’ll admit that’s all trending in the right direction, along with the fact that there’s at least a tangible reason to point to for his late-season success — the fact that he switched to a lighter bat just before the hot streak started. Add that to a park that should be easier to hit in thanks to shorter fences and a team that’s in every position to give him one more chance to prove himself, and Smoak is positioned to turn himself around. In the land of the bold, he’s going to do it.
6. Justin Maxwell will put up a 20/15 season.
It took Maxwell years of trying to break through in Washington and the Bronx before he finally got a shot with Houston last year, and he took advantage, hitting 18 homers in 352 plate appearances. Given a full season of play, 20 homers seems more than reasonable (even if it’s the only 20 times he makes contact all year, because it’ll come with a ton of strikeouts), and he has 20 career steals in just over a full season of play. There’s clearly not much else pushing him in the Houston outfield right now, so he’ll get his time, and he’ll provide some value.
7. Cliff Lee will pitch almost exactly the same as he did in 2012, yet double his win total — or more.
Obviously, Lee’s 6-9 record last year was due more to bad luck and a lousy Phillies team than it was anything he did, because a 3.16 ERA / 3.13 FIP remains outstanding. It’s just not often that you can say that a pitcher who made a full slate of starts one year will double his win total the following year, so let’s put that down right now. Lee will still strike out more than six times as many hitters as he walks, his FIP will be in the 3.00 range, and he’ll win at least 12 games.
8. Yasiel Puig will be a fantasy disappointment.
As a Dodger fan, I’ve had an up close and personal view of the show Puig has put on this spring, hitting over .500 and wowing fans and media alike with his ridiculous feats of strength. I’ve also been seeing him go a lot higher in fantasy drafts — and I’m talking redraft leagues, here — than is realistic, simply because he’s missing one very important component: opportunity. The Dodgers have Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, & Andre Ethier in their outfield, and while all have dealt with injury concerns over the last few years, the Dodgers aren’t likely to make a move to displace any of them until at least the second half. That limit’s Puig’s playing time, and it limits his value.
9. Matt Harvey will be a top-20 NL starter.
It’s probably not all that bold to be high on Harvey, but think about all the shiny names in the National League, from Clayton Kershaw to Stephen Strasburg to Zack Greinke to Kris Medlen to Lee to Cole Hamels to Madison Bumgarner to Matt Cain to Johnny Cueto, and so on. That’s just a brief listing off the top of my head, and it’s stiff competition. Harvey’s brief MLB debut last season just couldn’t have gone any better, continuing the big strikeout numbers he’d had in the minors, and while the lousy Mets squad could limit his wins, he’s the real deal — and he’s ready now.
10. Juan Uribe will at some point be owned in at least 5% of one of the three main fantasy sites — ESPN, Yahoo, or CBS.
5% is almost nothing, so perhaps you’ve forgotten how awful Uribe is. Here, let me remind you:
You want bold? That’s bold.