Mild Predictions: NL Version

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you. As March is nearing its close, and baseball is inching closer to its beginning, we’ve officially entered the season of Bold Predictions. Not one to shy away from an easy topic to cover, I took a look at NL rosters and featured one bold prediction for each NL squad.

I now happily introduce to you: 15 More stupid things Josh has said this off-season.

Atlanta Braves – Jim Johnson will save 35 games in 2017.  At 23rd in ADP among closers, it’s evident that most don’t share my affection for Johnson. Last season he was 20 of 23 for a 93-loss squad. While the Braves didn’t add much major league ready talent this off-season, they did infuse some much-needed veteran production. Bartolo Colon, RA Dickey and Jamie Garcia are not elite, but they could offer enough to turn this team into a 75 win squad. Solid strikeout totals, good control, and a ground ball lean is a very safe skill set for a closer. This season the volume of opportunities will be there.

Miami Marlins – Wei-Yin Chen wins 15 Games for the contending Marlins. The strikeout increase that typically follows AL pitchers to the NL did not accompany Chen last season. With just 22 starts due to injury, one has to wonder if injuries played a part in his ineffectiveness.

Regardless whether that strikeout rate follows him or not, the Marlins will need at least one starting pitcher they feel comfortable in extending every fifth day. With 185 innings pitched in 2014 and 191 in 2015, Chen would seem the most qualified among the Marlins projected rotation. He will pitch well enough to routinely go 6 innings and happily turn it over to what should be a very solid Marlins bullpen.

New York Mets – Kevin Long will turn Asdrubal Cabrera into a top-10 shortstop. Cabrera doesn’t have the same contact skills of Daniel Murphy, but he has embraced the uptick in pull rate that led to Murphy’s power surge under the tutelage of Long. Increased pull rate has resulted in an increase in hard contact. It is this growth that prompts me to believe that 25 home runs are certainly in play. Pair that with a solid batting average and all that stands in the way of a 170 Runs+RBI is a move into the middle of the lineup.

Philadelphia Phillies – The Phillies starting rotation will post a top-5 ERA. Last season the San Francisco Giants posted the 5th best ERA among starters at 3.71. I fully expect a decline in scoring across the board – should that be the case you could be looking at a Phillies starting rotation that posts an ERA between 3.50 and 3.60.

Eickhoff and Nola both feature solid strikeout totals paired with good control. Velasquez has control issues, but also features the elite strikeout potential needed to minimize those problems. I could easily see all three of these starters posting an ERA below 3.50. If the Buchholz move to the NL matches that of Hellickson’s last season, the Phillies rotation could provide a very unexpected fantasy goldmine.

Washington Nationals – The 1B platoon of Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Lind will produce a top-15 season among first baseman. At 32 and 33 respectively, the days of either taking on a 140+ game workload are over. Could a less demanding workload be what is needed for both to reestablish their once solid skill-set?

Despite declining plate skills and batting average concerns, both continue to show some pop. Their veteran status should earn them a prime lineup spot with plenty of talent to surround them. While their strong-side splits eroded last season, their career marks would suggest a batting average rebound should be expected. A .255 mark with 25 home runs and 160 Run+RBI is entirely in play for the duo.
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Chicago Cubs – Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant will be the only Cubs with more than 600 plate appearances. Considering Zobrist was the only other Cub to exceed 600 last season, this claim is hardly of the bold variety. In regards to fantasy, though, many of the Cub hitters ADP would seem to have a full-time role factored in.

Schwarber is being drafted just outside of the top-75. That price is totally fine if Schwarber is a 530 plate appearance catcher, not so much if he currently qualifies as OF only.  Javier Baez is being drafted among the top-125 Overall. That’s a steep asking price for a player who may have trouble bettering the 450 plate appearances he had last season.

Cincinnati Reds – Scott Schebler is a better version of the 2016 Adam Duvall. Sign me up for a lefty power bat in that ballpark all day long. Unlike Duvall, Schebler has a more balanced batted ball profile that should allow for him to post a decent average and a solid OBP despite not walking 10% or more. With four Minor League seasons of 10 or more stolen bases, the chance at a 25/10 campaign isn’t out of the question.

Potential limitations vs. LHP will affect his overall value, but it could also help preserve a desirable batting average. That is something Duvall certainly didn’t offer last season despite his 33 home runs and 103 RBI.

Milwaukee Brewers – Eric Thames will be a top-10 first baseman. It’s getting to the point where I just trust what the Brewers are doing. I’m not sure what type of batting average you will see from Thames, but I do believe in his approach, and that itself should build an average floor around .250. As the projected number four hitter, Thames will find himself batting behind Jonathan Villar, Keon Broxton, and Ryan Braun. Each of those options posted an OBP above .350 last season. With a surplus of RBI opportunities, if Thames can achieve even 90% of some of his projections you are looking at a 100 RBI bat.

With a little speed and an aggressive approach on the bases, Thames could be a sneaky 12 stolen base option. Throw all this goodness together and Thames will provide the type of season Eric Hosmer owners have hoped for all these years.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Ivan Nova becomes the 2017 version of Rick Porcello. Nova’s control reached elite levels last season as he posted a 1.56 BB/9 over 162 innings. Combine those control gains with Nova’s ground ball lean and all of a sudden you have something to work with. Upon his arrival in the NL, Nova’s strikeout increases exceeded eight K/9 which is a level Nova hadn’t seen since 2012.

Should those strikeout gains stick you are looking at a ground ball pitcher, with plus control, decent strikeout totals, and a real shot at 200 innings for 2017.

St. Louis Cardinals – Trevor Rosenthal leads the Cardinals in saves. Seung Hwan Oh has emerged as a top-5 closer according to his NFBC ADP. He was brilliant last season, posting a 1.92 ERA with a 0.92 WHIP – all the while converting 19 of 23 save chances along the way.   At 34 I am left to wonder what type of effect that 79 inning workload from 2016 could have on him moving forward.

Was last season’s September struggle a sign of things to come? Oh’s 27.7 K% posted during September was a season low while opposing hitters hit .289 with a .763 OPS. Meanwhile, Rosenthal comes into the season with a clean slate, and a 110 career saves to his credit. The patience Matheny extended to Rosenthal last season was based solely on the fact he had been the only closer he’d ever known. That same level of patience will not be granted to Oh should the September issues resurface in April.

Arizona Diamondbacks – Chris Owings puts it together enough to post a 10 HR 30 SB season with a .260+ batting average.  I would really feel comfortable with this if Owings could improve his walk rate. Three consecutive seasons of a sub 5.0 BB% leads me to believe that Owings just is what he is in that regard. Even with the disappointing walk totals, Owings managed to cut his K% below the 20% threshold for the first time in his career.

The strikeout decrease was accompanied by less swinging strikes and better restraint on laying off pitches outside of the zone. This lack of aggressiveness resulted in more pitches in the zone. So while the walk rate itself failed to move, by striking out less, the desired results ultimately surfaced.

Owings’ speed and ground ball profile should project a solid BABIP. With a contact rate north of 80%, a .280 batting average is certainly in play. What affect the new management has on the teams aggressive approach remains to be seen. Until I see otherwise, I look at Owings and see a player with a career 87% stolen base success rate and a player who was 21 of 23 last season.

Colorado Rockies – Ramel Tapia has more plate appearances than David Dahl at the major league level. Prior to last season, David Dahl’s minor league production had fallen far short of the prospect hype that followed him. Low walk totals and high strikeout risk built-in a perception of a batting average risk – .250 with 17/15 is much less attractive than .280+ with the same HR and SB totals.

Along came 2016, and with it was a solid 76 games at AA, followed by a 76 game stint at AAA which saw the allusive walk rate reach 11.7% which was just below double the best prior rate at any level. Upon his first major league stint, Dahl took advantage of a .404 BABIP and posted his first .300 average since a 90 game stint in A-ball in 2014.

So now a rib injury has Dahl on the shelf to begin the 2017 season. Is Dahl truly at the level where he no longer needs to prove himself? Personally I don’t believe that to be the case. Meanwhile, Tapia could take full advantage of Ian Desmond’s injury by earning a bench spot, offering good contact rates and a dependable source for stolen bases.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Yasiel Puig will post a top-20 season among outfielders. It’s been two full seasons since Puig’s production has been even league average. Honestly his “good years” were more a product of ESPN highlights then any actual numbers. Yet, once again, I will head into a season with the hope of Puig becoming an upper-tier fantasy option. At his best, Puig will be a decent contact option that combined with decent wheels and hard contact, will post a plus BABIP resulting in a .300+ batting average.

His ground ball lean will cap the power potential in the low 20’s, but the ground ball rate should lead to a certain level of batting average safety and increased stolen base opportunities. I don’t see the 20/20 many expected after his 2013 season, but a 20/15 season with a plus average is reasonable. With an excellent supporting cast around him and no direct LH platoon option looking over his shoulder, this could be Puig’s final chance to prove his worth as a Dodger. A challenge I fully expect Puig to conquer.

San Diego Padres – Luis Perdomo wins 14 games. In theory, every staff has an ace. Obviously some organizations have it better than others, but every team ultimately has that one guy it counts on the most. Even with a decent spring, Perdomo is no lock for the Opening Day rotation. With or without an Opening Day rotation spot, Perdomo is the lone upside play among the Padres potential rotation pieces.

Solid ground ball rates paired with potential for growth in both BB/9 and K/9 based on Minor League track records. With 146 innings pitched last season, Perdomo would figure to be able to pitch upwards of 160 innings as soon as this season. Take that workload, factor in the skills growth, and you could easily be looking at the Padres staff Ace for 2017.

San Francisco Giants – Jeff Samardzija produces a top-30 season among starting pitchers. 2016 served as a rebound of sorts from a horrible 2015, with Samardzija managing to peel a full run from his ERA over that span. Even with the improvements, Samardzija managed just 12 wins with an ERA of 3.81 – hardly the numbers fantasy owners expected in his return to the NL.

Aside from a small jump in strikeouts there are not many underlying numbers that suggest a production uptick should be expected. Two straight seasons of increased walks, two-year decline in SwStr%, and a three-year increase in contact rate isn’t typically the recipe for future success. Yet, here I am still touting Samardzija and what 2017 could potentially have in store.

First and foremost the potential workload is such an attraction. Four consecutive seasons of 200+ innings helps make up for a below average K/9 and gives Samardzija a better chance at earning a W.  With the influx of sabermetrics into fantasy, we all too often over-analyze K/9 and K% and don’t take into consideration just how the innings totals play into a SP strikeout totals. 220 innings with 180 strikeouts would make someone with 18 Wins this season’s Rick Porcello (Has the comparison gotten lazy yet?).

 

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Josh Coleman
Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.
Josh Coleman

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