The start of the season is a common time to make bold predictions. I’m not feeling overly bold today — would need some Pepto-Bismol to get through all those risky predictions — but I will put some money on players who I feel have a good chance at being a fantasy MVP or Cy Young for your team. I’m going to avoid the most obvious names, like Trout and Kershaw, but I’ll highlight some less touted stars who may be essential to victory. For fun I’ll throw in a player who may be available on the waiver wire as an honorable mention.
Jose Altuve may have dropped a bit in batting average and stolen bases from 2014, but he doubled his home run output. If I had the choice, I’d take a repeat of 2014 over him retaining the power. Why? As I’ve been saying all winter, elite BA and SB are becoming harder to find. Here’s a guy who has proven he can post a .300 average and steal 35+ bases. He plays in the middle infield, which always results in a slight boost in value compared to OF guys like Ben Revere. I choose Altuve over Gordon here because I feel there’s a slightly better track record for Altuve, he does have the ability to hit some homers, and he’ll likely put up a better average given Gordon’s BABIP spike in 2015.
Mookie Betts surprised some last year, and he almost reached 20/20 in his first full season. Can he do it all in 2016? I say yes. Normally I like players with a strong track record, but there were no significant changes from the first half of 2015 to the second half — he was solid all year, and that’s taking into account his bumpy April batting average. He gets the green light and has enough speed for 25+ stolen bases in 2016. His HR/FB did improve some in the second half of 2015, so if he can stay at 10% for most of 2016 plus keep his fly ball rate above 40%, he should reach 20 HR, though I don’t see 25 unless he gets lucky with some errant gusts of wind. I like him more than Starling Marte because Marte hits the ball on the ground more often, so even with a good HR/FB, Marte’s HR upside is capped.
I’ve liked Edwin Encarnacion for a few years, and it’s no surprise I’m touting someone who’s on more than one of my own teams. He never has perfect health, failing to reach 550 at bats in a season, but he’s still productive at 500 AB with undisputed power. What’s more, he posts a great walk rate to help in OBP, and whereas some power hitters are risky due to a high K% or poor contact rate (see Kris Bryant, Chris Davis), Edwin sports solid rates, which sets a higher BA floor. Goldschmidt and Miggy may deserve to go before him, but because Edwin costs a little less, he’ll provide a better chance for profit.
Waiver Wire Honorable Mention: I tip my cap to Asdrubal Cabrera (21% in Yahoo, 11% in ESPN) as the guy to target in the FA pool. He’s not exciting at all, but he has a full-time gig with the NL champs. He reliably put up 14-16 HR over the last four seasons. If he keeps his BABIP at or above the league average, he can hit .260 or higher. A cranky knee may reduce his SB chances, but it’s possible he could reach 10 for the year. For the life of me, I can’t understand why he doesn’t get more respect.
Call me crazy, but I peg Kenley Jansen as one of the best pitchers you can roster in 2016. Closers have won the Cy Young a few times in MLB history, so he gets my vote for fantasy purposes. Let’s get the two negatives out of the way. He has health issues, and he’s a fly ball pitcher who doesn’t have a great HR/FB ratio for a reliever. That said, he was in the top-20 last year for inducing soft contact, and 14% of his fly balls were weak infield flies. Now for the juicy stuff. Jansen had a K/BB ratio of 10.0 last year. His K/9 is insane, and that tiny walk rate puts him a cut above some of the other well-known fireball relievers (Chapman 4.5 BB/9, Kimbrel 3.3). The Dodgers were a bit overhyped in 2015 but should still give Jansen enough wins to flirt with 50 saves.
I traded for Gerrit Cole in at least one league because he’s going to break out, mark my words. Oh, wait, he already did that in 2015, ranking as the #8 SP in ESPN’s Player Rater. And yet in terms of ADP for 2016, he sat around #10-12 SP, depending on the site you use. There’s not a lot of room for true profit at the top of the rankings, but if you can get the #8 SP at the #12 price, you’re doing well. Maybe people think it was a bit of luck in 2015? Not really. His strand rate was a little lucky in the first half, but overall his metrics were solid all year. His K/9 dropped a bit, but he improved his BB/9 to offset that. He continued to hold right-handed batters to a low OPS, and he made great gains against lefties (.729 in 2014, .597 in 2015). It wasn’t all luck because his BABIP against lefties was league average. I like Cole for a full repeat, and there’s a chance he could eke out even more.
Jose Quintana isn’t even the ace of his own team; Chris Sale has him beat. However, Quintana is a surprisingly reliable option for your #2 SP. He’s not a fireballer, but his great walk rate offsets the small loss in strikeouts compared to other #2 SP. Despite a slight ground ball tilt, his BABIP is rather high the last two years. This is partly due to a poor defense behind him: the White Sox were 24th in fielding percentage in 2015, made the 7th most errors, and were 28th in defensive efficiency. The down side is that the team doesn’t seem likely to improve much defensively. However, despite that, Quintana managed 25 quality starts in 2015. His metrics are as steady as his stats the last three years. With a little luck (either personally or team-wide), he could win 14 games and drop his WHIP below 1.20. Not every team can staff three #1 SP, so if you missed on a second ace, Quintana will give you a solid base to work off of, which allowed you to take risks with your lower SP.
Waiver Wire Honorable Mention: I could take Hellickson here, but he’s a pretty well-known option, and James just covered him. Instead I’ll pick Josh Tomlin (11% in Yahoo, 3% in ESPN). His warts are obvious: a HR/FB rate of 15% for the last two years, and an obviously lucky BABIP in 2015. That said, his elite walk rate creates a good chance for a strong WHIP, and he has a decent K/9 (8.1 in 2014, 7.8 in 2015) for a bench SP in fantasy. He had a good GB/FB ratio in 2014, but it flip-flopped in 2015. Perhaps that was due to his shoulder issues? There’s risk, but if he finds a way to reduce his hard hit and HR/FB ratio at all, he could put up a solid fantasy season. Again, things have to break right, but he could be 2014’s version of Phil Hughes.
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