Wilson’s Eleven Bold Predictions: The Samurai Showdown
Back at the outset of the season our Great Leader Bret had all of us here at Dynasty Guru jot down some bold predictions for the season. You can find my original list with context and argument here. Then I checked in on how things were progressing in June, and you can find my cares, worries, hopes, and dreams from the halfway point here. And now, with the regular season officially in our rear-view mirror, it’s time for the final chapter. The Samurai Showdown. Let’s see how I did…
1. LaTroy Hawkins will lead the Rockies in Saves
Boom! Winner, winner, chicken dinner right out of the gate. When Hawkins was signed by the Rockies last winter to “close,” the general assumption heading into the season was that this grand experiment would be concluded at some point in the first couple months of the season, and after a couple blow-ups Rex Brothers would slide into the role that he was really born to play. Well, a couple things happened here. First and foremost, Brothers (and pretty much everyone else in the Colorado bullpen) was terrible. The Rockies posted the worst team bullpen FIP (and second worst ERA), while Brothers walked over SIX batters per nine en route to a 5.59 ERA and 1.85 WHIP. Meanwhile, for his part Hawkins did just enough to hold onto the closer’s role all year. His 3.31 ERA was tops among Rockie relievers with at least 30 appearances, and he managed to lock down 23 of Colorado’s 24 saves. And yes, the Colorado Rockies as a team saved 24 games this year. That was, perhaps needless to say, the lowest team total in Major League Baseball by seven.
2. Andre Ethier will be the most valuable Dodger outfielder in standard leagues
Yeah, I don’t think we really need to spend too much time on this one. After pissing away his shot at seizing the Dodgers centerfield job against righties with a .221/.259/.312 line in June Ethier was pretty much relegated to a straight-up fifth outfielder role for the season’s second half. He received just 127 plate appearances from July 1st on, limping his way to a .238/.344/.338 line with ZERO homeruns and one stolen base during that time. So year…not so much on this one. Ethier’s power appears to be drying up even faster than southern California on the whole, and pitchers have taken notice. His batted ball distance has plummeted from 284 feet three years ago to just 271 feet this season, and as he’s shown himself increasingly unable to drive fastballs pitchers are feeding him a steadier diet of the hard stuff. That in turn has led to more “challenge” pitches in the zone and helped sink his walk rate. He also saw his already-poor numbers against same-handed pitching fall farther and farther into the abyss, as he posted just a 68 wRC+ against southpaws in a tiny 45 plate appearance sample. Still for all the negativity I wouldn’t completely give up on Ethier heading into next year, especially if he does manage to get himself set up with a fresh start elsewhere. It’s tough to get a great feel for where his true talent sits, as this season was basically a lost one on account of sporadic playing time. But he should still presumably be able to offer some platoon value for deeper mixed and –only leagues, and depending on how the offseason shakes out he may or may not be worth remembering on draft day.
3. Bret Gardner will steal 40 bases and score 100 runs
This one’s not technically a win for me, because Gardner ended up stealing 21 and scoring 87. But even after an injury-riddled September collapse in which he hit just .167/.208/.278 while playing through a strained abdomen he still logged top-30 OF value on the strength of a power surge that began last season and crested this summer. After posting a career ISO of .103 through his first five big league seasons Gardner entered last year making a concerted effort to overhaul one of the most passive approaches in the game, and it resulted in a neat little bump up to a .143 mark and career highs in all three extra base hit categories. This year he traded in a few of those doubles and triples to more than double his career high in homeruns, leading to an even greater burst of ISO goodness and so, so much more standard 5×5 love. I’m going to give myself partial credit for tabbing the Gardner breakout even if I didn’t exactly nail the nature of it.
4. Jose Abreu will lead the American League in Homeruns
Soooo close, and but for a stint on the 15-Day DL I think I might have nailed this. There’s not much to say here other than that Jose Abreu is pretty awesome at hitting baseballs. And not only did he turn out to be a pretty good power hitter, he turned out to be a pretty good hitter period. Despite an aggressive approach and a not insignificant amount of swing and miss in his game Abreu demonstrated an exceptional ability to make in-game and even in-at-bat adjustments. He showed himself able to square pitches all over the zone and turn them into line drives, and when he did get under one his brute strength and exceptional hand speed turned over a quarter of the ensuing flyballs into homers. The biggest success story within Abreu’s swing profile has been his ability to handle fastballs, which was the biggest pre-season concern scouts had about how his game would translate. Not only has he demonstrated a preternatural ability to drive outside fastballs, but he’s held his own against inside heat as well. There just aren’t a lot of places pitchers can comfortably go to get him out, and I don’t see much in the way of reason to expect significant regression from Abreu over the next couple years. I’m giving myself a win on this one.
5. Denard Span will be a top-15 outfielder
Nailed this one on the nose. Span’s strong three category contributions combined to produce exactly the 15th most valuable season in standard 5×5 leagues this year. I just wrote a lengthy profile of how Span produced how he produced this year over at Baseball Prospectus, which I’d encourage you to check out. But the basic moral of the story is that he scaled back a newly-aggressive approach to a more happy medium than he demonstrated in his first season in Washington last year. He swung at better pitches, squared more balls, and managed to overcome ongoing pop-up issues to raise his BABIP back up closer to his early career standards. The batting average spike, coupled with an embrace of new skipper Matt Williams’ philosophy of aggressive baserunning led to a resurgent year for Span.
6. Oscar Taveras will still be rookie-eligible at the end of the year
Another one where I was at least headed in the right direction and captured the spirit if not the letter of the prediction. There was a brief flourish of excitement following the Allen Craig trade that maybe, just maybe, the Cardinals were ready to turn over the keys to the castle and commit every day at-bats to Taveras. But between Taveras’ struggles and Jon Jay’s August bedding of the BABIP goddess things just never really got cooking for Taveras in the St. Louis lineup. One positive from Taveras’ otherwise disappointing season: he did manage to stay more or less healthy all year, and that in and of itself constitutes a win. There were other positives, as Taveras’ innate bat-to-ball skills flashed with regularity against even the best pitching in the world. His swinging strike and overall strikeout rates were perfectly reasonable for a young hitter in his first taste of the Show. But his hyper-aggressiveness in the zone led to far too many swings at “quality” strikes – pitcher’s pitches, if you will – and weak, usually on-the-ground contact. Next year will be an interesting one for Taveras, and he very well may embark on the breakout that many envisioned for him this year. But it certainly didn’t happen this year.
7. Jered Weaver will not be a top-75 starting pitcher
I tendered my resignation on writing about Weaver in the mid-season update, and I see no reason to back away from it now. Weaver finished the year as the 34th most valuable pitcher in standard leagues despite a fastball that barely topped 86, a steadily increasing walk rate, and a fifth consecutive season of significant K-BB% erosion. If you can explain it you’re better at this than I. Prediction fail.
8. Josh Bell will enter 2015 as a consensus top-25 prospect
Not quite with this one, but Bell did get pretty close to taking the full leap I was hoping he’d take this season. Fully recovered from a nasty 2012 knee injury the $5 million man raked in the pitching-heavy Florida State League, producing an .886 OPS that was third best in the league (min. 200 plate appearances) and good for a 153 wRC+. The switch-hitter got strong reviews from the left side, while scouts were more reserved about his still-developing right side swing. His approach held after a second-half promotion to AA Altoona in the Eastern League, but he left his power stroke in the swamps. It was only a 100 plate appearance sample for Bell in the advanced league, but it was a homerless one with only two extra base hits. He’ll need to rediscover it next season, as the Pirates are reportedly set to begin the process of transitioning Bell off their overcrowded outfield depth chart to the top of their minor league first base list. Obviously the real world implications of a switch to first are a significant hit to Bell’s prospect status, but for fantasy purposes it doesn’t really matter if the bat keeps developing to the higher end of scouting projection.
9. Brad Peacock will be the most valuable pitcher in Texas
Ugh. Not much to say with this one. Peacock was not good this season, nor was he really even usable for any three-four game stretch as a streamer at any point. My theories on his typical adjustment periods to new levels and outrage over his April bullpen assignment turned out to be wrong. Dead wrong.
10. Grady Sizemore will log over 435 plate appearances
Another close but no cigar. He finished the season at 381 split between Boston and Philadelphia incarnations. They were 381 significantly below-average plate appearances, but they were 381 reasonably healthy plate appearances, and that’s what I had in mind when I made this prediction. If the Sox had been a bit more patient with his struggles out of the gate who knows, maybe I’d get to pop some champagne on this one. But alas, it was not meant to be, and Sizemore can be more or less ignored on draft day next spring.
11. Brett Lawrie will enter 2015 as a post-post-post-hype sleeper after failing to break out again
At this point I dunno if Lawrie even really deserves the moniker, but I’m going to give myself this one because he did show more than enough of that formerly tantalizing promise before he got hurt – again – that he’ll no doubt enter next season retaining the illustrious title of deep-league sleeper. It’s somewhat hard to believe given this is now his third straight season of fooling fantasy owners, but he’ll enter 2015 in just his Age 25 season. And he actually wasn’t terrible at the dish this year. His .247/.301/.427 line was good for a league-average 101 OPS+, and his 12 homers in less than 300 plate appearances offers plenty of intrigue as to what he can do with a full season’s worth of opportunity. That caveat appears to be the real issue with Lawrie though, as his all-out style and apparently very slow-healing body looks like it might just be an impossible combination to overcome. The once-promising double-digit stolen base potential appears gone for good as well, but as a late-middle-round upside play for a CI or bench option Lawrie’ll still probably make a bunch of sense come draft day next spring. And I’ll probably put the same prediction in next year’s column.
And there we have it. All told three legitimate wins, four near-misses, and four catastrophic, what-were-you-thinking misses. In the realm of the pre-season Bold Prediction I’d say that makes for a pretty solid showing, if I do say so myself.