Friday, March 23, 2018

Bold Predictions for 2018

Batting .200 on bold predictions, but with a high walk-rate

Last year I posted 10 bold predictions, and I guess they were bold, as I went two out of ten in my predictions. This puts me right around the Mendoza Line, or Jose Bautista's last season as a Blue Jay. J.A. Happ won half as many games, and Kevin Pillar posted a career-high walk rate (over 5%). Luckily, I went 5 for 6 out of divisions as I slid the Houston Astros into a wild-card and had Seattle winning the AL West, while correctly predicting the World Series of Houston vs Los Angeles, though I had the Dodgers winning it all.

1. Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte will combine for more at-bats than Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis
This one I'm not sure is entirely bold, as incumbent starters Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis have a poor track record of health. When healthy those two are the best options for the role, though Ross Atkins has done a good job insulating them with Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte over the winter. Steamer has Travis and Tulo projected for 374 and 351 at-bats respectively, with Solarte at 300 and Diaz at 189. The 40-man crunch is a real thing this time of year, and I would not be suprised if Tulowitzki ends up on the 60 day DL by Opening Day. Solarte will play all over the diamond and I'm betting he gets closer to the 500 number. I'm not entirely sold on Diaz, if he is the Jays starting shortstop for an extended period of time things might get a little ugly. No denying that he has the upside to be much better than the 821 at-bats Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney had last year.

2. Justin Smoak will hit less than half as many home-runs as last year (38) O/U 19.5: Under
In gambling, you're told never to chase your losses. Well last year I was dead wrong about Smoak, as I predicted he would be off of the team by the all-star break. So this year I decided to double down on my Justin Smoak hate, as I am saying he will not hit 20 home runs this season. He hit 23 homers in the first-half last year, with 15 in the second-half. First half slash line: .294/.360/.575/.936, second-half: .241/.349/475/.824. His BABIP and ISO both dropped by 40 points, though he did walk a bit more in the second half. If he stays healthy and gets every day at bats than he could easily fall into 20 home-runs, but I think that last year might have been what his 95th percentile season looks like.

3. Kendrys Morales will not end the year with the Blue Jays
Let's bring back the prediction from Smoak last year, and apply it to Morales. I actually think he should have a better season than last year, as his barrel rates and expected average metrics all indicate that he was unlucky last year, but some of that luck is self-generated as he routinely runs low BABIP rates due to his footspeed. A few more home-runs is likely, though, and a good start to the season would help this prediction, as it might make him more appealing to a team as a contract-for-contract type swap to a team looking to add some pop. There aren't many teams rushing to form that line, and it might be the type of move is reserved for the off-season.

4. Roberto Osuna will lead MLB in saves
Despite having eight blown saves last year, Osuna actually had the best metrics of his young career last year. Most WAR, lower xFIP, highest strikeout rate, lowest walk rate, highest ground ball rate, lowest HR/FB rate. Everything you would want except he had the lowest strand rate of his career at 59.5 percent. He is amazingly still just 23 years old, and constantly improving. He trailed league leader Alex Colome by 8 saves last year at 47 to 39. With a little luck and a higher strand rate, he could easily emerge as one of the elite closers in the game. For the Jays to get to their projected 86 wins, they will need to be able to close out those one-run games that they have struggled to win the past few years.

5. Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guererro Jr. will be called up by August 1st
Let's get to the fun one. These are BOLD predictions, right? I've already laid out the case for Vlad to be up this year. Let me make the case for Bo.

Bichette is one year older than Vlad, and has enjoyed similar success at all the same levels. Management seems to feel comfortable letting these guys move through the levels together, and I think their start at AA New Hampshire will go along way to making this prediction come true. I'm envisioning an agressive promotion to AAA in late May/early June if they continue to rake as I expect them to. That gives them another two months or so in Buffalo to force the Jays hand. As I mentioned above, shortstop could be a potental need on the big league roster and Bichette just happens to play there. If come July, the Blue Jays are in the thick of the race and both Vlad and Bo are raking in AAA it will at least make it a tough decision for Atkins and co.

These were both against major league pitching, with Bichette going opposite field on an elite reliever who allowed 4 home runs in 75 innings last year. These guys can help this club now, and Marcus Stroman, an outspoken member of the team, feels the same.

I get that service time is a major factor here, and I'm assuming an awful lot to go right with two young players who haven't played above A-ball. There's nothing bold about predicting them to debut in May of 2019.

6. Teoscar Hernandez will lead all Blue Jays outfielders in HR+SB
Another one of my favorites, I think this might have been my favorite move(s) that Atkins has made thus far, as both trades involving Francisco Liriano seemed to work out great. He's been hitting for power this spring, though he has had the continued issue of strike-outs. He struck out 37 percent of the time in his brief stint last year, though it was at 21% in the minors and 23% in his minor league career. Atkins and Shapiro have stated they want to get younger, faster, and more athletic, and Hernandez ticks off all of those boxes.

Playing time is the main concern here, though I think Teoscar dot com is currently one of the Blue Jays 3 best outfielders. Randall Grichuk looks to have displaced his roster spot, though he has a career 30 percent strikeout rate himself. They could both provide similar value if given the playing time, as a full season could see something like 20/20 for Hernandez and 30/10 for Grichuk (in a healthy productive season). The metrics for Grichuk are solid defensively in a corner, though Hernandez would be the best bet to take over for Pillar in case of an injury, assuming Alford isn't ready by then. I'm not entirely sold on Pearce as an outfielder, but unfortunately both Smoak and Morales block him from where he should be playing. Granderson is 37, though having a great spring and coming off a 2 win season. I'm not entirely sure how Hernandez gets enough at-bats to make this work, but it could be one of those situations that works itself out naturally.

7. Josh Donaldson will come top 3 in MVP voting, behind winner Byron Buxton
If Justin Smoak was a first half player last year, than Donaldson was the complete opposite. He was on fire last year after the all star break, with 24 of his 34 bombs coming after the all-star break. But that is not the boldest prediction here, as I snuck in that Byron Buxton will win the AL MVP.

I think because of how polarizing a player Buxton can be, there have been a ton of differing opinions on him. He's an extremely hyped top prospect, and definitely had some struggles when entering the league. He would be the perfect argument against bringing Vlad and Bo up at such a young age, as Buxton has never really put it together for a full season. Despite that, he is still just 24 - basically the same age as Anthony Alford - and provides such immense value as a defender and on the basepaths that he really doesn't have to provide all his value with his bat. He was thrown out once last year in 30 tries - and that was on a play where he overslid the bag. With all due respect to Kevin Pillar, he's the best defensive CF in the American League, and he really came on in the second half due to increased contact rates. If he can maintain those changes, he's going to run a really high BABIP due to his speed and ability to hit the ball hard. The sky is the limit, and a 25-30 HR/40SB type of season isn't completely out of the question. He was at 3.5 WAR last year and projections have him around there, and I think he has the potential to double that in a ceiling season.

8. The Minnesota Twins will win the AL Central
If I'm predicting the Twins best player to win the MVP award, than that team has to make the playoffs. On January 8th, I wrote about how I like their chances. Since then, they have added Lance Lynn, Addison Reed, Logan Morrison and Jake Odorizzi, taking advantages of a lot of the discounts provided in this years market. Losing Ervin Santana to injury and Jorge Polanco to PEDs no doubt hurts their chances, but both will likely be available for the stretch drive. They have a much better line-up than they get credit for.

Tim has predicted that Cleveland will win the division by more than 8.5 games. There is no doubt that they have the better frontline pitching, though Cleveland didn't do much over the off-season to improve the club. They replaced OBP-king Carlos Santana with Yonder Alonso, and lost a bit of depth in the bullpen. Francisco Lindor is great, but Jose Ramirez just enjoyed a career-year (though most metrics support the breakout) and Edwin Encarnacion is one year older and Micheal Brantley and Jason Kipnis are no models of health. Minnesota's projected outfield of Buxton-Rosario-Kepler is much stronger than Zimmer-Chisenhall-Naquin. I still have Cleveland in the wild-card, but the Twins aren't getting enough love anywhere. The rotation is underwhelming, but they should have no trouble gathering wins in the division they play in.

9. Aaron Sanchez doubles his projected win total (1.6 WAR)
Does this qualify as bold? I'm not sure. The projection systems seem too low on him, as they are baking in injury concerns after missing most of 2017 with a blister. That basically sums up the Jays season in 2017. He was worth 3.8 wins during his breakout 2016 season, and if the arm (and subsequent fingers) remain healthy I see no reason why he can't be around the same. Him and Stroman are both major keys (major key alert) to contending in the divison this season. Both have the ability to strike-out more guys than they do, and every year I wonder if they will make that leap. The infield defense isn't necessarily the strongest, especially if Tulo isn't manning shortstop every day.

10. Joe Biagini makes an impact, in the Rotation
Coming over from San Fransisco as a rule-5 starting pitching prospect, he was put in the bullpen as a way to gain a young, controllable pitcher with some back-end rotation upside. He found success as a reliever, posting 1.2 and 1.4 wins above replacement out of the pen, and occassionally making spot starts. He had some dominant outings and some dreadful ones, but the repitoire is there for me if he narrowed down his pitch selection and stayed in the starting mind-set year round. It is difficult to transfer from a reliever to a starter, especially mid-season, so the smart money is on him being the Opening Day starter - in Buffalo - and having him available to start the first time that he is required. In todays day and age starters are pitching fewer and fewer innings. That means you need depth more than ever, and Biagini provides invaluable depth if he can continue his development in AAA and build on a few solid outings.

BONUS. Kevin Pillar gets traded
This isn't one I'm terribly confident in, or one that I'm even sure will happen. It sort of depends on whether Alford - or even Hernandez - emerges capable and ready to take over every day duty in center field. If they are in it, they may want to keep Pillar, unless they are able to add another asset that can help them in a baseball trade. If the Blue Jays are not in contention around the trade deadline, than I'd buckle up if I was just about any veteran - this could be the year of the big tear down if things don't break right. I can see a ton of appealing options to contenders on short deals - Pearce, Happ, Estrada, Smoak, and of course Donaldson. But I won't go there, and stick with Pillar, as he is a guy that could be traded regardless of where they are in the standings due to the emerging depth in the organization in center field.

AL East: Boston
AL Central: Minnesota
AL West: Houston
Wildcard Game: Cleveland vs New York (Decided I don't trust the Angels pitching enough, they are in the mix with a few other teams)

NL East: Washington
NL Central: Chicago
NL West: Los Angeles
Wildcard Game: Philadelphia v St. Louis

NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard
NL ROY: Ronald Acuna, Nick Senzel, Scott Kingery
NL MVP: Freddie FreemanKris Bryant, Trea Turner
AL Cy Young:  Luis Severino, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber
AL ROY: Willie Calhoun, Franklin Barreto, Micheal Kopech
AL MVP: Byron Buxton, Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson

Anyone have predictions of their own?