Yesterday, I made some bold predictions for the league leaders in the five fantasy hitting categories. Today, I check in on the pitching side of the ledger with some equally crazy forecasts.
Yu Darvish- We still cannot be sure exactly how he will perform, but there are some extremely positive signs that he could be quite an ace. We should take his actual spring results with a grain of salt, as we should of nearly all players. But we can at least evaluate the quality of his stuff. After his debut, Eno Sarris was impressed with his repertoire, which was pretty much as good as his scouting reports had suggested. Possibly the most overlooked aspect of Darvish’s potential is his extreme ground ball rate in Japan. Though I have had a hard time finding the exact number, several articles have mentioned a rate of 60%+ which would be at or near league leading. All those ground balls will go a long way to combating the home runs Rangers Ballpark allows. Even if his control isn’t as good as he displayed in Japan (and it is unlikely to be), he still has the strikeout and ground ball rate potential to be top notch, with upside to post a sub-3.00 ERA.
Tom Milone– He isn’t even guaranteed a spot in the Athletics rotation, but given his minor league skills, it would be a surprise if he didn’t lock down a slot. His calling card is elite control, as he walked a miniscule 1.0 batters per nine in 148.1 innings at Triple-A last year, and just 1.3 at Double-A in 2010. Though the sample size was small at just 26.0 innings, he only walked four during his cup of coffee with the Nationals last year and threw a first pitch strike an amazing 70.9% of the time. He has enough strikeout potential to avoid being your typical soft-tosser who allows a ton of runners via base hits. When you combine the pinpoint control with the decent strikeouts and the BABIP reducing Oakland Coliseum as a home park, you are left with a rookie who could be quite the WHIP surprise.
Brandon Morrow– It will be tough for a pitcher to seemingly come out of nowhere to appear on the strikeout leader boards, so I had to go with a slightly more obvious candidate than normal. Leading the league in strikeouts needs both an excellent K/9, as well as a ton of innings. Morrow has the K/9, but his career high innings total that came last year was just 179.1. Part of that was due to a 4.72 ERA which got him pulled from games early. Since I expect that his luck will take a massive turn, he should easily increase his innings total even if he makes the same number of starts. I think he should be capable of throwing 200+ innings at this point, so with that strikeout rate, he has a real shot.
Max Scherzer– With a downright scary middle of the order now, Tigers pitchers should see a nice uptick in run support. Scherzer’s skills were just as good last year as they were in 2010 when he produced a 3.50 ERA. Assuming his luck neutralizes, his ERA should drop back below 4.00, which should also allow him to reach the 200 innings plateau. Given how much luck is involved in recording wins, this puts him in the hunt for the league lead.
Jim Johnson– Really, any closer who opens the year with the job and has the skill set to hold it could potentially lead the league in saves. Johnson isn’t your prototypical ninth inning guy, choosing to induce ground balls, rather than blow his fastball by hitters. This is somewhat similar to Brandon League who also has an excellent fastball in terms of velocity, yet typically doesn’t have the strikeout rates associated with such heat. Johnson has posted SIERA marks around 3.00 the last two years, so there should be no fear about him losing the job at any point.
Zack Greinke– I realize that to most FanGraphs readers, this prediction is probably not all that bold. You are all probably well aware that he led all of baseball in SIERA last year, yet finished with an ERA over a full run higher. While Greinke has battled inflated BABIPs nearly his whole career, he should still see at least some decline, even if it doesn’t come all the way back down to a league average rate. His HR/FB ratio is also a near lock to fall. It is doubtful he will post another K/9 above 10.0, the move to the NL and his SwStk% all support a rate better than a batter per inning.
Brandon Beachy– One of the biggest surprises of the 2011 season has owners somewhat skeptical during early drafts, which is understandable. However, he actually pitched far better than his ERA suggests, as his .307 BABIP was quite high, especially given his extreme fly ball rate. His strikeout rate will most definitely decline, which is obviously a negative for his WHIP. But, he may offset that with some control upside given his strong F-Strike% and minor league history.
Gio Gonzalez– Moving to the NL is always a recipe for a strikeout rate boost. Gonzalez already posted an 8.8 K/9 last year and struck out 9.9 per nine back in 2009. If he can get that strikeout rate back over 9.0 and maybe throw another 10-15 innings or so, he’ll be right in the thick of the strikeout crown race.
Mat Latos– Yeah, yeah, everyone is scared $hitless about his move out of PETCO and into the GABP. But what if his strikeout rate rebounded to his 2010 level, while his walk rate dropped to that season’s mark as well? That will easily be enough to offset an increase in HR/FB rate. The Reds tied for second in the league in runs scored, and their offense should once again be excellent. Latos should enjoy his first 200 inning season this year and my projection is actually for his ERA to barely budge. So with the huge pendulum swing in run support, he should be right up there on the wins leader board.
Frank Francisco– Why this guy is treated as some crap closer is beyond me. The Mets didn’t sign him for $6 million a year to remove him from the role after 10 poor innings, so any concerns that he could get yanked are likely unfounded. And besides, he’s a pretty darn good pitcher. The highest SIERA he has posted since 2008 has been 3.04. I’m sure some will argue that he lacks the guile or closer mentality or some other BS to explain his blown saves or mediocre ERAs. Remember people, his career has spanned a whopping 334.0 innings. That’s only like a season and a half for a starter. Since when do we look at a starter’s ERA over such a small sample size? The skills rule in this instance and Francisco’s got them.