March 26 was a Thursday almost two weeks before the MLB season began. I think it was sunny with a high of 67. Or maybe it was raining. Whatever. That day began with me having made 0 bold baseball predictions and ended with my 10 crazy predictions recorded on the Internet for eternity. Now, after 162 games for 30 teams, we can reminisce and look back on those 10 educated guesses and see how it went. Oh, I went ahead and looked up the weather that day and it was only 38, so pretty cold for late March, actually.
I should also say that I will give a brief outlook for each player for 2016 in here as well.
1. Pablo Sandoval will be a top 5 fantasy third baseman this year
Ouch. Not off to a good start here. I thought the move to Fenway would boost his doubles (the green monster can be really helpful) and his homers would increase outside of the pitcher's haven that is AT&T Park in San Fran. Unfortunately, his slugging was down from 0.415 last year to 0.366!! and he didn't even match his doubles and HR totals from 2014. He finished at #51 among hot corner guys on ESPN's player rater. Yikes. Cody Asche finished just ahead of him. Cody. Asche.
His plate discipline declined and his 0.270 BABIP didn't help. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for Panda this year. Looking to 2016, I think his 2014 season with 16 HRs and a .279/.324/.415 is an optimistic projection, but achievable. Sadly, my enthusiastic 2015 projection doesn't look like it will ever happen.
2. Adam Wainwright will not be a top 40 fantasy starting pitcher
Alright! I got one! I was worried about his health before the season and my concerns were justified, even if I was worried about his elbow and it was his achilles that cost him most of the season. He will be back fully healthy next year, but my elbow worries are just pushed back a year, so I'm still selling him for next year and beyond. He finished at 142 on the ESPN player rater among starters, in case you were wondering.
3. Evan Marshall will lead the Diamondbacks in saves
I wish I could get partial credit for this one, but I really can't. I was right that Addison Reed is a terrible closer and would lose his job, which he did early in the season. Things spiraled out of control for him and, after a demotion to AAA, he was ultimately traded to the Mets, where he regained some of his old form. Unfortunately, despite the gaping closer hole left by Reed, Marshall has had his own problems. He, too, found himself trapped in AAA Reno along with Reed. He lasted just 13.1 innings with 'Zona before being sent down. His 6.08 ERA and 1.88 WHIP were obviously bad.
The strikeout potential and control he showed last year never showed up with only seven Ks and five walks. He didn't ever pull it together in AAA, so this prediction was just plain wrong. If you replace "Evan Marshall" with "Brad Ziegler" in my prediction, it would be 100% right. Marshall is a name to keep in mind for 2016, but is way too far off the radar to even be considered a sleeper. Relievers, man, they are so unpredictable.
4. Kennys Vargas will not get more than 400 ABs for Minnesota this season
Another win. His 0.340 BABIP last year covered up poor plate discipline making it look like he was ready for the transition from AA to the majors, but this season, he showed that he isn't ready yet. Despite a still-good 0.319 BABIP this year, his strikeouts and lack of walks killed his average and OBP. Because pitchers were now fooling him, he couldn't square up the ball as well and his power was down significantly with a 0.349 slugging (for a DH!).
All of those struggles forced the Twins to send him down to AAA. He was called up in September and saw very limited ABs. He finished the year with 184 ABs. His role with the team is very unclear for 2016 and he will likely start in AAA, so I'm keeping my expectations very low for him next year. I would stay away.
5. Travis Snider with finish 3rd on the Orioles in home runs
Oops. I really meant to say "Adam Jones" here. Well, it seems I can't get more than one right in a row. Snider's promising power from the second half of 2014 has disappeared this year. He had three home runs. Let's bold that. Three. Home. Runs. He finished tied for 15th on the team in round-trippers. Adam Jones was third with 27 homers, which isn't that many, but still crushing Snider. Maybe this one was too bold, but regardless, I got it wrong and Snider finished the year with the Pirates. I am off this bandwagon and will not be recommending him for 2016.
6. Miguel Cabrera will not be a top-4 first baseman
This is an interesting one. Just like with Wainwright I had injury concerns coming into the year. Also, just like with Wainwright, I was thinking of a different injury than the one that actually happened. I was worried about Cabrera's offseason foot and ankle surgery that limited him in spring training. I thought it would prevent him from playing until mid-May or so. It turns out that his ankle and foot were fine and he was playing like his usual self until an early-June calf injury sidelined him until until mid-August. He was on pace to handily best last season's numbers with 15 homers in only 77 games. At this point, he was a top-3 third baseman on ESPN's player rater.
After returning from the injury, he hit only three more homers and slugged only 0.454. His average and OBP were still elite, but the power dropped off quite a bit. I am selling him in keeper leagues because I just think soft-tissue injuries and lower body injuries are going to keep happening to him in the future as he ages. When he is healthy, he will continue to put up league-leading batting averages and OBPs, but he may never hit more than 25 HR in a season again or play more than 140 games in a season. Adjust your 2016 expectations accordingly. I got this one right, as Cabrera finished way down at #13 among first basemen. A surprisingly large fall, mostly due to the power drought and missed games.
7. Steven Souza will be the best fantasy hitter on the Rays
I originally said he would be second best, but I decided that wasn't bold enough so I moved it to best. Souza has delivered on the power/speed promise he has always shown, but the strikeouts were extreme (34%). His walk rates kept him usable in OBP leagues, but unfortunately he missed 40 days with a hand injury. His teammates, like Evan Longoria and Logan Forsythe (the surprise Ray of the year) were just simply better this year.
On the ESPN player rater, Souza finished fifth on the team, far behind Forsythe (the best hitter on the Rays?), Longoria, Kiermaier, and even Asdrubal Cabrera. Souza's slash line of 0.225/0.318/0.399 doesn't look impressive, but it came with 16 homers and 12 steals, which is almost a Justin Upton-lite counting stat line. I still like him despite the strikeouts for those great counting stats. I think he will once again provide good value in 2016 and if he shows any improvement in plate discipline, he could become even more relevant.
8. Jose Ramirez (CLE) will have more than 500 ABs
Everyone was jumping on the Francisco Lindor bandwagon this spring and I wasn't buying it. I thought he would stay in AAA until August or September. Ramirez showed great plate discipline in the minors and good speed, so I thought he would at least hold his own in the majors this year and get to 500 ABs. Instead, he put up a wRC+ of 36 (league average is 100) and was demoted to AAA. He did better after being called back up to fill in for Lindor's off days and in other places on the diamond, raising his season wRC+ up to 75. He finished with a respectable 355 ABs, but still far short of my target. Oh well. I hope you didn't buy into him too much this year. I don't expect anything useful for him in 2016, we just haven't seen enough progress.
9. Mookie Betts will finish as a top-3 second baseman (in leagues where he qualifies)
I love me some Mookie. It's a fact. I do not hide that. My thinking with this prediction was that he would bat leadoff on the best offense in baseball. Boston's offense never reached expectations, scoring 748 runs (which was still 4th in baseball, believe it or not) instead of the 900 or so I imagined. That, and some early season very bad BABIP luck that caused him to fall to the bottom of the order for a while, made this one look shaky in the middle of the season.
Lucky for me, he picked it up in the second half (so did the rest of the offense) and moved up the rankings. If I put him into the ESPN 2B player rater (he doesn't qualify at 2B in ESPN, but I'm putting him there), he finished...wait for it...just a little bit longer...3rd! I just snuck in. More surprising to me is that he beat out Brandon Phillips and DJ LeMahieu for that spot. Huh? Who saw them as top-5 second basemen this year?
I love him as a fantasy asset, even in the outfield, since he offers a high floor, good speed, and a little pop and will still bat leadoff almost everyday in 2016. Continue to value him as a top-20 outfielder for next season.
10. James Paxton will be the 2nd best pitcher on the Mariners
Well, injuries suck. I think he would have had an
good outside shot at this one with Iwakuma struggling early in the year and Walker having ups and downs, but he had to go and get injured. Again. After 58 innings of mediocre pitching this year, he hurt his finger and missed three months. He has been injured a lot in his short career and there is still breakout potential there, but I just can't endorse him in any leagues yet. Injuries + average performance do not equal mixed league ownership. He came back in September to throw three starts, but he was rusty and looked bad. I expect mixed results when healthy in 2016, but I think I'm done with him as a sleeper pick. For what it's worth, he finished 6th on the Mariners on the ESPN player rater among starters. Behind Vidal Nuno, ick.
Let's tally up my score this year. I got four out of 10, which seems to be decent for bold predictions, but maybe not. At midseason, I thought four was a best-case scenario, so I'm happy to get there. I'll try to do even better with next year's bold predictions, but I can't make any promises. Tschus!