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Scott Strandberg’s Bold Predictions For 2014

This being my first year here at RotoGraphs, this is my first foray into the insanity that is Bold Predictions season. This was a highly enjoyable piece for me to research and write, so I hope that shows through in the predictions. Without any further adieu, I humbly present to you my bold predictions for 2014.

1. Matt Carpenter will not be a top-ten second baseman.

Last year, Carpenter was the second-best fantasy second baseman, behind only Robinson Cano. This was fueled largely by his .359 batting average on balls in play and the fact that he scored a ludicrous 126 runs. His BABIP was .346 in 340 plate appearances in 2012, but I’m still not convinced that he can sustain a figure that high, seeing as his career minor-league BABIP was .324, and he’s not especially fast. Furthermore, while he does possess excellent on-base skills, it’s hard to imagine the Cards replicating their .290/.378/.454 slash line as a team with runners in scoring position from 2013. A major dropoff in runs is quite likely.

One part of Carpenter’s 2013 production that gets overlooked is his 78 runs batted in. While the Cardinals do have a deep lineup, it’s still a bit crazy to project ~80 RBIs from a leadoff hitter with gap power in the National League. In short, just about everything went Carpenter’s way last year — his BABIP was very high, his team mashed with runners in scoring position, etc. If the BABIP regresses and the Cards drop off from their .832 OPS with RISP, those runs are going to dry up for Carpenter, and he doesn’t have enough power or speed to compensate for his fantasy owners.

2. Despite neither currently being on the 40-man roster, either Eddie Butler or Jonathan Gray will be the Rockies’ most valuable fantasy pitcher.

In January, I wrote about the volatility of Colorado’s rotation and how that could lead to Eddie Butler debuting far earlier than expected. At the time, I said that the only Rockies starter who could be counted on to be both effective and durable was Jhoulys Chacin, who promptly strained his shoulder and is expected to begin 2014 on the disabled list.

I’m confident that both Butler and Gray will spend a significant amount of time in the majors this season, and I have previously theorized that both pitchers have a good chance for sustained success at Coors Field due to their high-velo, fastball/slider-based repertoires. Gray could be especially valuable for fantasy purposes with his advanced ability to miss bats, but Butler will likely reach the majors first. Either way, one of them will be the Rockies’ most valuable fantasy pitcher in 2014.

3. Jonathan Singleton will hit 20+ home runs in the majors.

George Springer is getting plenty of love from fantasy analysts this offseason, and for good reason. Heck, I wrote about him myself. However, I’m also very high on his teammate, Jon Singleton. 2013 was a lost season for Singleton, as he returned out of shape after serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for marijuana. This offseason, he showed up for winter ball in Puerto Rico looking considerably slimmer; he ended up leading the league in home runs and finishing second in walks.

The 22-year-old will likely start the season back in Triple-A, but if he produces, he’ll be in the majors sooner rather than later. As I’ve written previously, Singleton has 25+ home-run potential if he can just stay in shape. A word of warning on Singleton is that, much like his teammate Chris Carter, his power comes at a price–he strikes out way too much and will struggle to hit for average. Still, the homers are coming. While we’re on the topic of guys who will hit 20+ home runs…

4. Marcell Ozuna will hit 20+ home runs.

I wrote about Ozuna last month, concluding that the most logical reason for his lack of power last season was lingering effects from injuries to his wrist and hand. His light-tower power has always been his calling card, as he averaged 23 homers per season in the minors from 2010-2012, but last year the power just never came. His average fly ball distance was 255.51 feet, which placed him 291st in the majors, behind guys like Jeff Keppinger and Alcides Escobar.

That just doesn’t compute. Despite his cavernous home ballpark and the fact that he hit just three longballs in 291 PA last year, I see the power profile returning as Ozuna recovers to 100% health. I’ll take the over on 20 homers for the young Marlin.

5. Despite entering the season without a starting job, Abraham Almonte will be a top-40 fantasy outfielder.

Almonte may not have a full-time job with the Mariners on paper, but by the end of the year, his numbers will likely look like he had one all along. Slotting in as Seattle’s fourth outfielder, Almonte finds himself backing up a slew of wild cards. You’ve got Corey Hart, who missed all of last season after surgeries on both knees. Then there’s Logan Morrison, who has had two surgeries on his right knee in the last 2 1/2 years.

Dustin Ackley got moved to left field but doesn’t hit enough to play every day in a corner. Michael Saunders, and his career .224/.295/.374 slash line (and 26% K-rate), mans center field. And let’s not forget that Franklin Gutierrez is already out for the year. The 24-year-old Almonte will find a way to get 500+ PA, and he’ll produce 10 homers, 25 steals and a .270 AVG. For more of my thoughts on Almonte, feel free to click on this convenient link.

6. Brian McCann will be the first catcher to hit 30+ home runs since Javy Lopez in 2003…

This one doesn’t even feel all that bold, seeing as Steamer projects 26 homers for McCann, and ZiPS has him hitting 22, but the fact is that no catcher has surpassed 30 homers in over a decade. There’s several guys who have hit 25 or more, including three in 2012 alone (Wilin Rosario, A.J. Pierzynski, Jarrod Saltalamacchia), but that 30-homer mark has been fending off catchers for eleven years.

With McCann’s move to Yankee Stadium, that streak ends in 2014. That short porch in right field is awfully inviting for a lefty with big-time pull power like McCann, and I see him hitting more than 30 homers. Even though he’ll be the first catcher in over a decade to do that, I still feel like this prediction is lacking some boldness. Let’s spice it up a little.

7. …and Wilin Rosario will join him.

Ahh, there we go. That’s better. Two catchers hitting 30+ bombs has some zest to it. Rosario’s come close before, belting 28 homers in 2012, but this year he’s going over. With the news that Rosario will start at first base on occasion to keep his bat in the lineup, I’m predicting that he goes over 30 home runs as well. 2014 is the year of the power-hitting catcher!

8. No player will strike out 200 times.

Until 2008, no player had ever struck out 200 times in a single season. In the six seasons since then, exactly one player has struck out 200+ times each year. Often, that player is named Mark Reynolds, who was the king of K’s three years in a row from 2008-2010, and remains MLB’s all-time single-season strikeout record-holder, with 223 in 2009. Reynolds doesn’t get to the plate enough to strike out 200 times anymore (although he came close again in 2011, with 196), but in the last three years, Drew Stubbs (205 in ’11), Adam Dunn (222 in ’12) and Chris Carter (212 in ’13) have stepped up to fill the void, whiffing 200+ times to keep the streak alive.

This year, the streak dies. I’ll go a step further and say that at least three of the group of Carter, Dunn, Chris Davis, Pedro Alvarez and Curtis Granderson will strike out more than 185 times, but none will reach the hallowed 200 mark.

9. Kevin Gausman breaks camp with the Orioles and is a top-30 fantasy starter.

I originally had this one titled “Kevin Gausman breaks camp with the Orioles and is their most valuable starter,” but I felt that wasn’t nearly bold enough, so I took it a bit further. Gausman was tremendously unlucky in the majors last year, with a low 64.4% strand rate and a crazy-high 18.6% home run to fly ball ratio. His peripherals were promising, especially his 9.25 K/9 — good enough to give him a 3.77 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Gausman’s stuff is impossible to deny. His fastball sits at 96 mph and touches 99 mph, and he has major-league quality secondary offerings in his change-up and slider. Combine that with his advanced control (in 97 minor-league innings, he has maintained a walk rate of just 3.8%) and you have an ace in waiting. Wait no more, fantasy owners and/or Orioles fans. Give me an ERA around 3.50, with 8.5 K/9 and a WHIP around 1.20.

10. Speaking of the Orioles, Johan Santana will earn 1 WAR without hitting 90 mph even one time all year.

Admit it, you want to see this happen. When Santana last pitched in the majors in 2012, his average fastball velocity was just 88.4 mph, but he still managed to reach 90 mph at least once in 16 of his 21 starts. A few weeks ago, the 35-year-old topped out at 81 mph in a workout. While he’s clearly still a few months away (he’s targeting a June return) and the velocity should ramp up as he gets healthier, I still don’t think it’s a stretch to say he won’t top 90 mph if he pitches this year.

It’s anyone’s guess as to whether his surgically repaired shoulder will hold up enough to pitch again at all, but let’s say it does. What would Santana have to do to be worth one win? Using 2013 as an example, he’d basically have to be Chris Capuano; throw about 100 innings with a FIP in the 3.50 range. I say he’ll do it, pitching his way to a 1.0 WAR on nothing but grit, guile, veteran savvy and lots of change-ups, before his shoulder literally explodes and his disembodied arm flies into the stands at Camden Yards.