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Mike Podhorzer’s 2014 Bold Predictions

This is my fourth year posting my bold predictions and it is always one of the most enjoyable posts to put together. In 2011, I published a whopping 20 bold predictions, but only hit on 4 of them. I say only, but in reality, my benchmark or target correctness was always 20% to begin with. In 2012, I increased my batting average to a more respectable .300, hitting on 3 of my 10 predictions. I was again right on with 3 of my 10 last year. After consolidating my skills, am I due for a breakout season with 5 correct predictions?

Being one of, if not, the last of the RotoGraphers to post his bold predictions, I tried my best to avoid discussing the same players as others, or at the very least, use the same angle. But alas, this was too difficult.

1. Carlos Carrasco is the most valuable Indians starting pitcher.

Blasphemy! Look, I love Danny Salazar and sometimes find myself doing some embarrassing things while watching him pitch. But he was treated with kid gloves last year and his innings total could seriously cap his fantasy upside. I’m a proud member of the Corey Kluber Society, but he’s no guarantee to see his ERA dip closer to his SIERA, let alone repeat those strong peripherals. There’s no chance Justin Masterson repeats that strikeout rate, pushing up his ratios and denting his fantasy value.

I haven’t talked a whole lot about Carrasco this year, except here, and this was by design. He enjoyed a velocity spike last year, still possesses a lethal changeup, and induces lots of ground balls. His results were disastrous last year, which will allow him to fly completely under the radar…until now perhaps. He’s no lock to make the rotation, but with only Josh Tomlin battling him at this point, it would be silly to banish the youngster with big upside to the bullpen.

2. Oswaldo Arcia launches 30 home runs.

As a rookie, Arcia impressively finished 14th among all qualified batters in average batted ball distance last year. This was no fluke as he routinely posted .200+ ISO marks in the minors. His fly ball rate was a healthy 41% and although he struck out a ton during his time with the Twins, he made much better contact in the minors, suggesting that improvement is likely. I suppose that given his .288 wOBA versus southpaws, there may be some slight concern that he gets benched against some or all left-handed starters, especially since he also posted massive splits in the minors. That would cut into his at-bat total and make it difficult to reach the 30 home run plateau.  But the Twins are a team going nowhere and it would seem to be in their best interest to run him out there each game and see if he could be an every day player.

3. Billy Hamilton is demoted to Triple-A by the end of May.

Last year I predicted that Josh Rutledge would get the boot, so Hamilton seemingly represents my best opportunity to go 2 for 2 on demotion predictions. Unsurprisingly, Hamilton has been a popular choice to make the subject of a bold prediction, but the content of those predictions has varied wildly. There are really just two numbers needed to make my argument: .308 and .300. Hamilton posted a weak .308 OBP at Triple-A last year and a poor .300 wOBA. Seriously, if he couldn’t hit at Triple-A, what makes anyone believe he could at the Major League level? Helping his case to stay up with the big club is that the Reds have a laughable group of alternatives. But if he does indeed flop offensively, they’ll figure something out to replace him in center field.

4. Drew Hutchison wins a rotation spot out of spring training and earns positive 12-team mixed league value.

I’m a sucker for velocity spikes. Hutchison missed the majority of the 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012. He never made it back to the Majors last year but apparently has the inside track on a rotation spot to open the season. He has shown some excellent strikeout rates in the minors along with some mediocre ones, while his control has always been good.

Most intriguing though is that he was sitting 92-93 mph with his fastball early on in his last outing before revving that up to around 95 mph in his final inning in the fifth. In 2012, his fastball averaged just 91.4 mph. So not only is his velocity seemingly all the way back, but he’s one of those fun TJ returnees whose rehab work has paid off in the form of a harder fastball. Even without the increased velocity, he displayed some promising skills, so the specter of some strikeout rate upside adds to the excitement.

5. Marcus Semien outearns Anthony Rendon.

With word coming that Conor Gillaspie is likely to win the third base job for the White Sox and Matt Davidson opening the year in the minors, Marcus Semien could be the main beneficiary. Gillaspie poses little obstacle there, but Semien can also play second base. Gordon Beckham is already hurting and he hasn’t been any good offensively when he actually is healthy. Semien enjoyed a fantastic 2013 season across three minor league stops, walking nearly as often as he struck out, while hitting 21 home runs and swiping 24 bags. He is the perfect deep sleeper type who could luck his way into some playing time and capitalize.

I shared my feelings on Rendon a week ago, so you know I’m not all that optimistic about a second sacker with no speed who’s set to open the year at the bottom of a National League lineup. With Semien’s combination of power and speed, it won’t even necessarily require him falling into a full-time job to outearn Rendon.

6. Alex Wood is this year’s Andrew Cashner and earns top 45 starting pitcher value.

Last year, Cashner opened the season in the bullpen and remained there for the first couple of weeks in the season in order to keep his innings down. This season, Wood might take a similar route, but in a slightly different order. Given all the injuries the Braves rotation is facing, Wood could open the year as a starter, then head to the bullpen for a month or two when Gavin Floyd returns, and finally perhaps rejoin the rotation when the Braves grow tired of Freddy Garcia allowing so many runs.

Wood has that exhilarating combination of a high strikeout and ground ball rate, along with good control. He has a very limited minor league history which does add some risk. But his changeup was excellent last year, inducing both whiffs and grounders, and you would imagine that his funky delivery could result in a suppressed BABIP. He’s likely to be limited to 150 to 160 innings at most, but his ratios could be good enough to make up for the low innings total.

7. Matt Kemp is worthless, again, in 12-team mixed leagues.

Perhaps this doesn’t sound so bold after last year’s debacle, but he’s the 17th outfielder off the board in the average NFBC draft, so clearly many fantasy owners are optimistic that a strong rebound is in the cards. Unfortunately, Kemp has dealt with injuries to nearly every part of his body over the last year. After last season’s power outage, we cannot be certain that his shoulder will ever be the same and allow him to rebound in that department. He suffered through both hamstring and ankle injuries and is now returning from surgery on that very ankle. Will he even attempt to run, and if so, will his speed be the same? There are far too many question marks here to take the plunge and aside from the performance uncertainty, the risk of re-injury is present as well.

8. A) Brett Anderson throws 150 innings, B) Brett Anderson is the most valuable Rockies starting pitcher and C) Brett Anderson earns positive 12-team mixed league value

I will never give up on Brett Anderson. Maybe the thinner the air, the healthier he stays? If you want to be optimistic, it’s March 17th and he has yet to injure himself! We’re trending in the right direction. But in all seriousness, as an extreme ground ball pitcher, Anderson shouldn’t be affected as much by the thin air. His skills have always been good and now he gets to enjoy the potential strikeout rate boost most pitchers experience when moving to the National League.

Jhoulys Chacin is dealing with shoulder issues and posted an ERA .80 runs below his SIERA last season, while Jorge de la Rosa lost his strikeout ability and also significantly outperformed his SIERA. It shouldn’t be that difficult for Anderson to post the best ratios in the Rockies rotation. For him to also earn mixed league value, he’ll have to pitch a reasonable number of innings, which is going to be the big key here of course.

9. Corey Dickerson goes 25/10, or hits 25 long balls and swipes 10 bases for those confused readers.

Dickerson is currently in a dramatic battle for the starting center field job with Drew Stubbs, Brandon Barnes and perhaps even Charlie Blackmon. So his playing time isn’t even guaranteed. But Stubbs can’t hit righties, Barnes is a 28-year-old non-prospect who wasn’t even good enough for the Astros and Blackmon seems like just a solid fourth outfielder. Dickerson has shown immense power in the minors, hitting 32 homers in 2011 and 23 in 2012, and then came to Colorado and continued to wallop the baseball, serving up an average batted ball distance of 302 feet. He even has some speed, as he stole 17 bags in 2011 and 16 in 2012.

Unfortunately, Dickerson is a lefty, which increases the chances that he opens the season in a platoon role, albeit on the good side. That would make it that much more difficult to reach these objectives. But, his OPS was identical versus pitchers of either handedness in the minors, so it doesn’t appear that he should need a platoon partner.

10. Jered Weaver posts an ERA above 4.00 for just the second time in his career.

Last year, my 10th bold prediction stated thus, “Jered Weaver does not finish the season earning top 20 starting pitcher value.” That one turned out to be correct, but mostly because he pitched just 154.1 innings. But let’s investigate out the trends, shall we? Declining fastball velocity? Check. It was the third straight year of decline and now at the level where it is really, really hard to succeed. Falling strikeout rate? Check. Also three straight years, though his 2010 mark was a clear outlier. A reliance on a low BABIP and keeping fly balls from leaving the park? Check.

Weaver is one of those rare ERA estimator beaters as he has always maintained a low BABIP and below league average HR/FB rates. One of these years he’s going to lose those skills. Would you rather bet on a pitcher continuing to strike guys out or continuing to prevent fly balls from flying over the fence? Weaver’s SIERA has been below 4.00 just twice over his career, which hints at what could happen if those sketchier skills begin to deteriorate.