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The (mostly positive) bold prediction list for the 2015 fantasy baseball season

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It’s bold predictions week at Fake Teams, and I’ve listed some players that I have stronger opinions about than others. Marcus Stroman finishing as one of the best pitchers in the American League would have been my favorite prediction this year, but sadly, he's out for the year with a knee injury.

Some of these predictions are bolder than others. I wanted to make it somewhat realistic to be right about these, so I didn't go wild.

The positives

1. Matt Harvey will finish as a top 5 starting pitcher

Harvey is currently the 16th SP being taken in Yahoo leagues. Fantasy owners have downgraded him, I think, mostly because of an innings limit. It was originally thought that Harvey would be capped somewhere around 160-170 IP, similar to fellow Boras client Stephen Strasburg’s innings limit in his first season post TJ surgery. However, the Mets have said that they would be willing to extend Harvey’s innings limit to around 200 IP based on how he looks, and have also added that they will not be shutting him down before the season ends.

Harvey’s 2013 2.00 Fielding Independent Pitching was 8th best in baseball history dating back to 1950, and his command has been excellent this spring, both in games and in bullpen sessions. He’s routinely sat in the mid 90s and topped out at 99 mph, and is showcasing a hellacious curve ball and plus change up to combine with his wipeout slider. The guy is a monster, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Harvey finish in the top 3 when the season ends. I'll settle for top 5.

2. Mookie Betts will finish as a top 25 player

Mookie Betts is one of my favorite players in the game. He’s the leadoff hitter for a potent Red Sox lineup in a high run scoring environment in the AL East. He’s speedy and has the capacity to steal 30 bases. He has plenty of pop and can conceivably hit 15 HR with lots of doubles. His pitch identification is ridiculous, which will lead to selective at bats, plenty of walks and a high on base percentage. His hit tool is also well above average, and a .290 batting average is realistic. I expect him to score 100 runs, with 25-30 stolen bases, 12-15 HR, and lots of extra base hits into the gap.

3. Xander Bogaerts will finish as a top 5 SS

Tell me what other shortstop this home run swing reminds you of:

That looks like a young Hanley Ramirez to me. Bogaerts already has the top prospect pedigree, and he bulked up this past winter, which will increase the odds of him controlling the bat better and generating more exit velocity on his batted balls. He hits in a high run scoring environment in the AL East and the Red Sox have a lot of good hitters in their lineup, which increases RBI and run scoring chances for him. I love Bogaerts this season and I think he’s going to breakout.

4. Wilmer Flores will finish as a top 10 SS

Flores is only being drafted in 6% of Yahoo leagues and isn't even in the top 30 ADP for the position, so him finishing in the top 10 is quite the bold statement based on how fantasy owners view him this preseason. I wrote an extremely detailed article on Flores back in February, here. My conclusion was that I don’t think he’s a bad defensive SS at all, and his offensive upside is excellent for the position. 20 home runs with an above average batting average is attainable with his skill set, and I don’t think his defense will warrant a replacement or move to another position. RBIs and runs scored are tough to predict because of sequencing, but Flores is a guy who shortens up his swing with runners in scoring position and puts the barrel of the bat onto the ball to get those runners home.

5. Brandon McCarthy will finish as a top 100 player

I have written about McCarthy twice this offseason, most recently in this article. The short version is that McCarthy changed his process on the mound last year and had fantastic results with it, and he's moving to Los Angeles, where he will get plenty of run support and pitcher friendly parks in most outings. Love McCarthy in 2015.

6. Dustin Ackley will finish as a top 150 player

I drafted Ackley at pick #284 in one of my industry leagues, so this is one of my bolder predictions. Ackley changed his process at the plate in the middle of last season and had a huge increase in hard contact. The percentage of his at bats that ended in a hard hit ball soared to 22% from July-September, a number that would have placed him among the game's best hitters. Some have argued that his poor September statistic line negates this, but even if we throw out July and just count August and September, Ackley's hard hit% stayed at about 22%, so his results from August-September didn't reflect how well he kept hitting the ball. Ackley is probably going to platoon with Rickie Weeks in 2015 which will limit his upside to some degree, but I expect him to perform well this year.

7. Wade Miley will finish as a top 150 player

Miley's ADP in Yahoo is 240, and I'm predicting him to outperform it by about 100 slots. His career road ERA (3.31) is a full run lower than his ERA at Chase Field (4.33). Last year, it was even more pronounced, with a road ERA of 3.17 in 105 IP and a Chase Field ERA of 5.61 in 96 IP. His home run to fly ball ratio is also significantly lower on the road. Miley pitches much better near sea level and out of those terrible conditions in Arizona, and while Fenway Park isn't the ideal landing spot for a LHP, Miley generates a lot of grounders and had a large increase in bat missing last year. The Red Sox lineup is potent and he should win at least 15 games.

8. Dallas Keuchel will continue to #shove in 2015

This shouldn't be a bold prediction considering Keuchel's production last year, but most fantasy owners aren't buying that he is legit based on his ADP of 250+. I'll define "#shove" as Keuchel finishing in the top 20 in both ERA- and FIP-.

The negatives

I hate writing negative articles about players, so I will keep this part brief.

1. Anthony Rizzo will not be worth a top 15 pick

Rizzo is going very high in drafts based on his production last year, but I don’t like his quality of contact rates from last year. The baseball industry uses these rates as more predictive of future performance than actual production, and Rizzo’s percentage of his at bats that ended in a hard hit ball (defined as exit velocities of 90+ mph with beneficial trajectory and contact on the sweet spot) last season was close to average. His percentage of at bats that ended in a medium hit ball (defined as exit velocities of 75-89 mph) was below average.

Some have argued that it was approach related; that Rizzo was shortening his swing, or that he was taking what the pitcher gave him. Here’s the thing: hitters can still generate hard contact/put the barrel on the ball even when they shorten up or change their approach at the plate. This is an example of Wilmer Flores doing that with two strikes and still generating a hard hit ball:

Based on the data, Rizzo put the barrel of the bat on the ball about as often as the average MLB hitter. I’m no sabermetrician or anywhere near an analytical expert, just a humble fantasy owner, so keep that under consideration. But it’s enough to scare me off Rizzo this year at his high draft slot.

2. Jose Abreu will not be worth a top 10 pick

Jose Abreu is largely being drafted in the top 10 this year, but the projection systems predict a 40 point BABIP drop from last season, and his quality of contact rates last year weren’t special. The percentage of Abreu’s at bats that ended in a hard hit ball (again, defined as exit velocities of 90+ mph) was 37th best in baseball, which is very good, but not elite. The percentage of Abreu’s at bats that ended in a medium hit ball (defined as exit velocities between 75-89 mph) was below average. He also saw a huge drop in power in the second half, which some have argued was due to fatigue, but it could just as well be from the league adjusting to him. Abreu might adjust back to the pitching as he sees more of it and continue to rake, but I'm less comfortable predicting that. I'm going with a disappointing season (based on his fantasy ADP) for Abreu.