It's crazy prediction time here at Fake Teams. Readers love columns like these, because they can come back at the end of the year and either flood the comments sections with praises of my genius, or develop writer's cramp by gleefully calling me an idiot over and over.
Well, I'm guessing they're looking forward to the "idiot" part more so. Nonetheless, here are six bold fantasy pitcher predictions for the oncoming season. They may seem crazy and misguided now, but let's check back in on October 1st and see who is laughing. Hint: probably you.
Matt Moore will be a top ten fantasy starter.
Perhaps this doesn't qualify as a bold prediction, per se, since Moore is generally expected by many baseball fans to break out sooner rather than later. However, after a rookie season that was viewed as a bit of a disappointment (mostly due to overly lofty expectations), Moore isn't getting quite the fantasy publicity that he was heading into last season. That's too bad, because he's about to become one of the best pitchers in the American League.
I probably sound like a broken record, but Moore's career path so far has been quite similar to teammate David Price. Both struggled mightily in their respective rookie seasons, but both pitched better as that year went on. In his second full year, Price nearly won the Cy Young Award. I think Moore is poised to follow his lead, only with even gaudier strikeout numbers. Moore got his home run problems under control in the second half last season, and will benefit from a rangy Rays defense, a friendly (albeit ugly) home park, and a year of major league experience under his belt. Expect star numbers from this guy in 2013.
Chris Sale will disappoint many fantasy owners.
The White Sox converted Sale into a starting pitcher last year and he looked like a revelation in the season's first half, posting a minuscule 2.19 ERA and earning a trip to the All-Star Game. However, much of that success was due to a ridiculously low rate of home runs allowed (just five in 102 innings). That corrected itself with a vengeance in the second half (fourteen taters in 89 innings), and Sale didn't look like the same pitcher as the season wound down.
If you're asking yourself which half season was the fluke, consider this: Sale is a fly ball pitcher who starts half of his games in one of the more homer-friendly ballparks in baseball. I'm not saying Sale will be bad, but I've seen him go pretty high in fantasy drafts this year, and I'm worried. I wouldn't be shocked at all if he ends up with an ERA closer to his 4.03 second half total, which would make him a useful fantasy starter, but not the star many owners seem to think he'll turn into. If it isn't clear, I'm not a big fan.
Zack Greinke's ERA will finally catch up with his xFIP.
Since seemingly forever, Greinke has posted incredible strikeout-to-walk numbers, only to end up with and ERA that seemed about a run higher than those peripheral numbers would suggest. To wit: his xFIP (for the uninitiated) in each of the last three seasons has been lower than his actual ERA. In 2011, it was plain ridiculous, as his 2.56 xFIP belied a 3.83 actual ERA.
The culprit behind all this is a seemingly sky-high .357 BABIP with runners in scoring position since 2010. What happened before 2010? Oh yeah, Grienke had one of the best single pitching seasons in history. In 2012, Greinke's xFIP was more in line with his ERA, and chances are it will continue to even out. He should find the pitcher-friendly environs of Chavez Ravine to his liking and he should be one of the National League's most productive fantasy pitchers.
Aroldis Chapman will be back in the bullpen by the All-Star Break.
The Cuban-born flamethrower clearly has more value as a starter in both fantasy and in the real world, but I think two things will happen. One: Chapman will hit some bumps in the road early on in his new conversion to starting, and the outcry from fans, media, and manager will be so strong that the Reds will have little choice but to install him as their closer again. It will be made that much easier because, Two: Jonathan Broxton kinda sucks.
Chapman was so good as the Reds' closer last season that I think a lot of fans are going to be grumbling at his shift to the rotation. Chapman famously broke FIP last year and posted one of the most utterly dominant seasons of any relief pitcher in history. Not all relief-to-rotation conversions are success stories. We only have to go back to last year to find Neftali Feliz's struggles as an example of that. It's easy to see Chapman stringing a few bad starts together, struggling with his control, Broxton walking batters and blowing saves, and fans and media types calling for heads. Since manager Dusty Baker doesn't even want Chapman in the rotation, anyway, the front office is going to be faced with a ton of pressure from all sides to keep him out of that closer's role after his superlative 2012.
Derek Holland will be twice as good as Matt Harrison.
In terms of pure stuff, Holland beats out Harrison any day, but as for results, it's been another story. Over the past two seasons, Harrison has been a solid, inning-eating mid-rotation guy who has put up surprisingly low ERAs and solid win totals. Meanwhile, Holland has made headlines more for his standup comedy and a mustache that would seemingly belong in a window-less van near an elementary school. Last year, Harrison won eighteen games, while Holland gave up a ton of home runs and struggled to keep his ERA out of the fives.
This is the year of correction, though. As I detailed here, Holland's troubles in 2012 were due to an elevated home run rate against right-handed hitters that was probably a fluke. He actually cut his walks down while maintaining the same exact whiff rate. Harrison, meanwhile, isn't impressing anybody with his relatively low strikeout rate and averagish stuff. Holland's home run woes seem easily correctable, and he's simply a better pitcher than Harrison when he's got his head on straight. Harrison is still solid fantasy fodder, but Holland has the potential to be an upper tier pitcher, so if you're going to spend money on one of the two, make it the latter.
Greg Holland will lead the league in saves.
I've gone over my man crush on Holland and his microscopic home run rate myriad times in these pages, so I'll spare you the semi-creepy details this time. Suffice it to say, he's going to be great, and I think he's going to rack up a crap ton of saves. Due to the general volatility of the statistic, save totals are generally impossible to predict. So why am I doing it now? Because the 2012 Baltimore Orioles, that's why.
Before you think I've gotten a wee bit too far into the Jameson and am now just spouting non sequiturs, let me explain. The Orioles last year were a vastly improved team that succeeded largely on their (likely horrifically flukish) ability to win one-run games. Since they played in a lot of close games, their closer, Jim Johnson, had easily the most save opportunities in the league, and thus led the league in saves.
This year the Royals stand to be improved, too, and the improvement will come on the pitching side of the ledger, what with the addition of James Shields, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana. Their offense still ain't anything special, even with likely improvement from Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. The Royals have quietly assembled a pretty darn good bullpen, and I think they are going to play in a lot of close games, similar to the 2012 O's. This will give Holland a ton of save opportunities, just like Johnson last season. Since Holland never gives up home runs, he's less susceptible to the quick blown save, and I think he's going to pile on saves and be perhaps the season's top closer.