Back in March, I made six bold predictions for the 2016 fantasy baseball season. Here's how I defined a "bold prediction":
I think the nature of a bold predictions piece is to predict things that are less likely to happen in an effort to be bold, so you're bound to look foolish for some of them. If everybody else was predicting the same things, it wouldn't be a bold prediction because it wouldn't stand out from the rest.
Some bold predictions pieces around the web tend to be wildly irrational and don't contain much substance for why the bold prediction will actually happen. I will try to make this a little more bound in reason while maintaining the reach necessary to classify it as "bold". So I wouldn't necessarily bet money on any of these things happening, but I have some reason to believe they're achievable.
Some of these bold predictions were good, and some were not. Let's review.
Bold prediction 1: Matt Harvey will finish as a top 3 starting pitcher
I'm biased, because I am a deranged Mets fan and Harvey is my favorite pitcher of this generation, but I think this one is rooted more in objectivity than bias. In my opinion, the 2013 Matt Harvey, the pre surgery one, was one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history. His 2.00 Fielding Independent Pitching from that season supports my opinion; it's 9th best since 1950. I picked him to finish as a top 5 pitcher last year coming off the surgery, but what I didn't realize was that his throwing wrist was left weakened after the doctor took a ligament from it to use to reconstruct his UCL in his elbow. That made it difficult for him to spin his toxic slider, and the pitch wasn't nearly the same in 2015 as it was prior to the surgery.
That's changed this spring. Check out this 91 mph slider he strikes out Christian Yelich with:
Harvey said he focused on strengthening his wrist this offseason, and it's allowed him to get a feel for the slider again. He's also gotten some of that late life back on his fastball, the type of life that makes the pitch explode on hitters.
It'll be 2.5 years since his arm was cut, and I expect Harvey to shove this year. Harvey is the 11th SP taken by Yahoo ADP at the time of writing this, and I think there's a good shot he finishes way ahead of that.
This was probably the bold prediction I felt best about in March and it turned out to be one of my worst. Harvey had the worst season of his career, pitching to a 4.86 ERA, 19% strikeout rate and 1.47 WHIP. The 3.47 FIP tells a misleading story, because Harvey was giving up tons of line drives all season. He resembled nothing like his prior elite self, and often had a difficult time getting through the batting order more than twice.
It turns out Harvey was pitching through Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a nerve condition stemming from his shoulder that made it difficult for him to feel the baseball because of how numb his fingers were. It explains a lot; a 27 year old in his prime doesn't tend to just completely lose it overnight. Harvey's fastball velocity fell about 1 mph, down to 94.4 mph, but that is still a well above average velocity reading. It was his breaking pitches and command that really dropped off. The slider looked so toxic early in the spring, as you can see in the GIF above, but as his symptoms got bad towards April, the pitch flattened out and was very ineffective.
Had he been healthy, I still feel confident that he would have had a great season, but staying healthy is a skill. The thoracic outlet syndrome makes his future very murky and hard to predict, and I don't know if we'll see the ace version of Harvey ever again.
Bold prediction 1 verdict: bad
Bold prediction 2: Troy Tulowitzki will rebound in a big way and finish in the top 30
It would have seemed absurd a year ago to say that Troy Tulowitzki dominating at the plate is a bold prediction, but his production dropped off significantly last year. He finished 132nd overall in Yahoo's 5x5, behind Carlos Correa, who didn't even debut until June. His wRC+ fell to 100, his lowest since 2008, 33 points behind Carlos Correa's133, and 10th among shortstops with at least 400 PA. He's 66th overall in Yahoo ADP, and I've seen him ranked lower than that in some rankings lists. He's now 31.5 years old, and it's not crazy to suspect he's on the downside of his career now, especially after hip surgery in 2014.
But what has got my attention is that Tulo changed the way he loads as the ball is delivered to the plate this past winter, using a leg kick to get better timing and more forward momentum into the baseball. Teammate "Joey Bats" Jose Bautista's explosion came using a very similar mechanical change.
Tulo's new swing from https://t.co/vBa22zUf08 pic.twitter.com/Hl5Wh4X9Tn— SaberCoach (@SaberCoach) February 24, 2016
He isn't far removed from a 900 PA sample of a 153 wRC+ (adjusted for Coors park effects) and 46 HR over 217 games between 2013 and 2014, either. And while leaving Coors obviously hurts his non park adjusted stats, Rogers Centre's hitter friendly environment is a nice landing spot.
Of course, Tulo is very brittle, and there's a chance he gets injured at some point and makes me look bad, but I love the way his new swing looks, both in terms of timing and pop. I don't think he'll finish as the #1 shortstop, because Carlos Correa is a monster, but I think he could be in line for a top 30 overall finish.
This prediction went up in flames literally days after the article ran when Tulowitzki abandoned his new leg kick and went back to his standard toe tap load.
Not that the Joey Bats esque leg kick would have guaranteed anything, but abandoning it so quickly never really gave the basis of this prediction a chance. Tulowitzki finished the year #216 in Yahoo 5x5 and the 25th(!) overall shortstop. Last year, Tulo finished as the #5 SS in Yahoo.
What contributed to his drop in shortstop ranking was how production at shortstop climbed league wide. League average OPS for a shortstop jumped from .681 last year to .727 this year. 562 HR were hit by shortstops in 2016, compared to just 408 in 2015 and 364 in 2014.
With a park adjusted wRC+ of about 100 in two straight seasons spanning 1000 PA, the sample size of mediocre production for Tulo is getting bigger. Now at 32 years old for the 2017 season, Tulo's days as an elite shortstop are very likely over.
Bold prediction 2 verdict: really bad
Bold prediction 3: Noah Syndergaard will finish as a top 10 starting pitcher
"Thor" has a chance to be one of the best pitchers in the sport right now, and that's not something I would have anticipated saying a year ago. The development he's had in the last year is incredible. He throws 5 plus to plus plus pitches: four seam and two seam fastballs that sit 97 mph, a hellacious curve, an excellent change up, and a developing 90 mph slider that looks like a fastball before breaking. His command improved tremendously as the season went along last year, especially on his offspeed pitches, and so did his pitch sequencing. I love how he pounds the strike zone with his electric stuff and doesn't walk many hitters (5% walk rate as a rookie). Solely writing about him doesn't do him enough justice. Go look at some .gifs I made back in early March. The link also contains more detail about why I like him so much.
This prediction looked great for the first two months of the year when Syndergaard pitched to a 1.84 ERA, 1.68 FIP and 33% strikeout rate. He looked like the most dominant pitcher in the game next to Clayton Kershaw. Syndergaard was showcasing maybe the best pure stuff ever with a 92 mph slider, 99 mph fastball, 90 mph change up and command of all of his pitches.
But a bone spur in his elbow flared up in June, and Syndergaard really was never the same. After the elbow problem flared up, Syndergaard pitched to a 3.19 ERA, 2.77 FIP and 27% K% the rest of the season. That's still very good, but just not the same historic level that he was pitching to in April and May. Syndergaard ended up finishing as the 12th best starting pitcher in Yahoo 5x5, so I wasn't too far off with a "top 10" prediction, but ultimately missed the mark.
Bold prediction 3 verdict: off the mark by a little
Bold prediction 4: Daniel Murphy will continue his power hitting ways and finish in the top 75
I wrote in depth about Murphy in early January here. The point was that he made a tangible change at the plate with the help of hitting coach Kevin Long, and it led to a surge in extra base hits. Murphy's isolated power the last 3 months of 2015, including the playoffs, was a ridiculous .273. Baseball fans remember him for his amazing postseason, but his rise in power hitting started a few months before the postseason began.
Murphy now loads in a crouched down stance, using his lower body more in his swing, and gets his lead foot down much earlier, which puts him in much better position to time up the ball and turn on it as it's delivered to the plate. He has matched this same technique this spring and carried it over to Nationals camp, and when I've watched him, he's been in the same position to turn on the ball and drive it.
Murphy obviously won't be a .270 ISO hitter in 2016 like he was for the last 3 months of 2015 (including playoffs), but I think he's going to sustain more power in his profile, a lot more than the .130 ISO/9 home run per season average that we've seen from him in his career prior. I wouldn't be surprised if he reaches 20 home runs in 2016. That's strong power for a 2B, and as the 12th 2B off the board in Yahoo ADP, at pick 150 overall, Murphy might provide a lot of value for fantasy owners in drafts, especially if he's slotted in a favorable lineup position. Finishing inside the top 100 looks very possible to me, and I'll shoot for top 75 to make the prediction "bolder".
This was easily my best prediction. Murphy dominated the National League and finished #13 in Yahoo 5x5 rankings, well within the top 75. His .985 OPS was third best in baseball, behind only David Ortiz and Mike Trout, and best in the National League. He finished with a .249 ISO, which wasn't far off from the .270 ISO he had in the last 3 months of 2015. Murphy also held his high level of production in the second half with an identical .985 OPS, showing some evidence that the league couldn't make effective adjustments to him as the season went on.
I obviously didn't think he would be this good (and neither did Murphy himself, either, or else he would have taken a 1 year deal). Murphy will enter 2017 as one of the best hitters in baseball and a slam dunk top 20 pick in fantasy drafts.
Bold prediction 4 verdict: very good
Bold prediction 5: Joe Ross will finish as a top 40 starting pitcher
It's hard to fathom how the Nationals managed to convince the Padres (and Rays) to give them both Joe Ross and Trea Turner in the same deal. I absolutely love Ross's stuff; his fastball sits 93-95, can reach 97-98 mph with bowling ball downward movement and a lot of armside run (about 9 inches), and his mid 80s slider is just filthy and generates a ton of swing and misses. His slider seems to be so tight that hitters have a hard time picking it up and laying off it.
The Nationals have talked about a mechanical tweak that Ross made in their minor league system that helped him find success. Harrisburg Senators pitching coach Chris Michalak moved Ross from the first base side of the rubber to the third base side of the rubber to increase deception, making it more difficult for hitters to pick up the ball as its being delivered to the plate. He also changed the way Ross pushed off the rubber by moving his foot placement, making his delivery more efficient and more true to the plate.
Ross's filthy stuff led to a swinging strike rate of 12% last year spanning 13 starts, 18th best among starting pitchers with at least 70 IP in the big leagues last year. He generated ground balls at a 50% rate, with a 22% strikeout rate, a 6.7% walk rate, and a 3.64 ERA, all above MLB average. His fastball moves so much that, combined with the velocity, it appears to be very difficult to square up.
By current Yahoo ADP, Ross is going about 240th overall, the 80th or so SP off the board. I think there's a realistic shot he finishes as a top 150 overall player, and top 40 starting pitcher. As the 80th SP off the board in Yahoo, that's potentially great value.
Ross pitched well when he was on the field, pitching to a 3.43 ERA, 3.49 FIP and 21% K%, but he hurt his shoulder around June and only threw 105 innings. His stuff also flattened out in the summer around the time his shoulder was barking, and I suspect the two were related.
Despite the above average ERA and FIP, Ross finished as the #81 starting pitcher in Yahoo 5x5 and #260 overall, largely because of the lack of innings.
Bold prediction 5 verdict: wrong
Bold prediction 6: Justin Turner will finish as a top 100 player
Turner made a swing adjustment the offseason before he joined the Dodgers and has hit to an elite level since, but you wouldn't know that based on his current ADP of over 200 in Yahoo. Turner has 761 PA with the Dodgers and has hit to a .314/.384/.492 slash with a 148 wRC+ and .178 ISO, and every time I watch him I feel like he's hitting line drives everywhere. A 26% line drive rate with the Dodgers supports that observation; it's 8th highest among players with 700+ PA the last 2 seasons. To put Turner's productivity in perspective, he has the 11th highest wRC+ among hitters with at least 700 PA since 2014.
Turner is knocked down on 5x5 draft boards because his counting stats like runs and RBIs the last 2 years haven't matched his elite slash line, and that's partially because the Dodgers have limited his playing time. With more regular playing time under a new manager, Turner's R and RBI will likely go up (although his slash line may drop with more exposure). I believe in his skills turning into strong fantasy value if he's given enough playing time.
I wasn't 100% sold on Turner this year until recently, but it wasn't skill related: I was scared off by the microfracture surgery he had on his knee this offseason. That is typically a rough surgery for athletes, but Turner says his knee feels good:
Justin Turner with a solo HR. 5 for 10 in Cactus League. Said Microfracture surgery gave him relief, doesn't worry about knee anymore— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) March 21, 2016
Spring training statistics are generally nonsense; what's important is that Turner feels better than he did last year. Turner's current Yahoo ADP is over 200, and while he might be limited during the first month as the Dodgers build him back from the surgery, I think there's a strong chance he significantly outperforms that draft slot in 2016. I'll go with top 100 to make it bold.
This was my second good prediction. Turner finished #78 in Yahoo 5x5 and turned it on after a slow first two months, finishing his last four months with an OPS just under .900 and 24 HR over 428 PA. Turner is a free agent this winter and it will be interesting to see where he signs, because a park upgrade out of pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium would bode well for 2017.
Bold prediction 6 verdict: correct
To wrap it up, two of these predictions were correct, four were wrong, with two of them badly missing the mark. 2/6 on a bold predictions piece isn't too bad, I guess. See you in March for the 2017 edition.