We are officially less than a week away from Opening Day and its time to get into the spirit. Much like costumes at Halloween and forced familial interaction at Christmas, Opening Day comes with its own special customs – most notable among them: bold predictions.
Aside from watching baseball, what’s more fun than going out on a limb that’s sure to snap within the next six months? Absolutely nothing. Here are five things that are sure to take place (but, you know, probably not) in 2018.
5 Bold Predictions for 2018
Jose Ramirez Finishes as the #1 Overall Player
Many people, justifiably so, take a quick peek at Jose Ramirez’s 2017 campaign and assume the power surge that saw the 25-year-old swat 29 home runs is unsustainable, yet, what if it isn’t? Granted, there was no massive change in batted ball profile from 2016 to last season. Though it’s undeniable that Ramirez’s fly ball rate has skyrocketed since a 266 plate appearance debut back in 2014, his GB/FB ratio in the two seasons in question only differed slightly. However, Ramirez did see a career-best 34.0% hard contact rate jump up from a far more modest 26.8% mark in 2016.
Ramirez also only needed a 14.1% HR/FB ratio to sit as one of the 45 players to hit at least 29 home runs. Of those 45, one had a lower rate: Francisco Lindor. What do Lindor and Ramirez have in common aside from their shared allegiance to Cleveland? They almost never strike out. Because of this, both sat inside the Top-10 in batted ball events last season. Neither needs to rely solely on classic staples of the “power-hitter” archetype with the simple ability to just use sheer volume.
The benefits of a complete lack of strikeouts obviously don’t just stop there. Ramirez has hit .315 over the past two years with a microscopic 5.2% swinging strike rate validating that number at every turn. Ironically, that 5.2% figure is identical to the swinging strike rate that Mookie Betts has put up across the same time frame, which makes sense, as the two are almost the same player. That likeness bodes well for Ramirez as it was only two years back that Betts finished the season as Fantasy’s #1 overall asset. It’s a path that Jose Ramirez could certainly follow in 2018.
Marcell Ozuna Will Lead the League in RBI
How bold a prediction this is depends on your viewpoint. Yes, Marcell Ozuna already proved himself as a major run producer last season, amassing 124 RBI in his final year with the Marlins. Still, it took a herculean 59 home run campaign from Giancarlo Stanton to unseat the incumbent Nolan Arenado from the RBI throne – a position the Rockies’ third baseman had held in both the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
In fact, since the start of 2015, Arenado has 48 more runs driven in than any other player. He’s in his prime and plays 81 games a year at Coors Field. It’s like taking the field against Tiger in the early 2000’s. Not mathematically the most audacious move, but bold nonetheless.
Ozuna took advantage of both a .429 BABIP and massive 189 plate appearances with runners in scoring position last year, the latter serving as the fifth-most of any player in baseball. However, while the situational BABIP will likely prove to be a fallacy, the volume should sustain, as the top of St. Louis’ order reads like an OBP paradise.
The three hitters projected to bat ahead of Ozuna are Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, and Tommy Pham. Those three men combined to have a .386 OBP and 14.8% walk rate across over 1,600 plate appearances in 2017. All that with Carpenter specifically hitting a by far career-low .241.
RBI is an idiotic statistic to quantify a player’s value, yet, they are a fantastic way to figure out the quality of a player’s situation. From where I’m sitting, few will have it any better than Marcell Ozuna. He might not see an opposing pitcher throw from the windup till late June.
Randal Grichuk Will Hit 35 Home Runs
With the aforementioned Ozuna making his way to the Cardinals this off-season, some big changes were in order for the seemingly always crowded St. Louis outfield. Stephen Piscotty was shipped to Oakland and Randal Grichuk was traded to Toronto, a team so devoid of outfielders last season that they finished the year with an American League low WAR of 2.8 among their combined options. It was bleak. Yet, from bleak comes opportunity and really, that’s about all that was keeping Grichuk from reaching his power potential in the past.
Due to injuries, slumping, and a lack of consistent playing time, Grichuk has been held under 500 plate appearances the past two seasons. In both, prorated to 600 PA, the 26-year-old was on pace to hit exactly 30 long balls and it’s not difficult to see why. Despite a very frequent tendency to swing and miss, when Grichuk does make contact, the ball goes really, really far really, really fast.
Among players with at least 1,000 plate appearances since he came into the league in 2014, a list that contains 289 names, Grichuk has the 13th highest hard contact rate at 39.7%. Of the 12 players ahead of him, just two, Lucas Duda and David Ortiz, have a higher fly ball rate than Grichuk’s 43.1% figure. None of the 12 have a higher pull rate. Grichuk doesn’t just hit home runs, his batted ball profile is the dictionary definition.
In 2017, Grichuk had the sixth-highest barrels per plate appearance percentage, coming in slightly behind the Judges, Stantons, and Gallos of the world. With 42 barrels in total, Grichuk put a ball into play at the optimum speed and angle once for every seven of his batted ball events. That’s tempting. We’ve seen how Rogers Centre can be the perfect backdrop for pull-happy right-handed hitters in recent years and I don’t think that narrative is set to change with the arrival of Randal Grichuk.
Charlie Morton Will Finish Top-3 in AL Cy Young Voting
Charlie Morton was the best pitcher no one was paying attention to right up till the World Series. With his fastball velocity spiking at an average of 95mph in 2017, Morton was suddenly an elite strikeout pitcher, fanning exactly 10 opponents per nine across his 146.2 innings. This, while still clocking in as an elite groundball pitcher as well, posting a low for his career, but more than acceptable in a vacuum, 51.8% figure last season. It was a good year. He’s a good pitcher. However, this prediction is based more on the good team he plays for.
Pitcher wins are suited for two things: getting Cy Young votes and winning Fantasy championships. Last year, Morton was able to win 14 of his 25 starts – a fantastic 56% rate. In fact, prorated to 32 starts, that would be 18 wins. The Astros won more than 56% of their games in 2017. To be absolutely specific, they won 62.3% of them. They are thought to be of a similar excellence this coming season, with FanGraphs projecting them for 100 wins, but also to score 5.27 runs per game – their second-highest output. In other words, Houston is a starting pitcher’s dream.
It only takes one year of full health and a little luck to be a surprise Cy Young candidate. Think 2016 with Rick Porcello and J.A. Happ all of a sudden being 20 game winners. The great news for Morton? He’s better than those two gentlemen and while they finished that season as SP7 and SP16 respectively, Morton’s ceiling is higher with his strikeout upside. Plus, at his current ADP, Morton doesn’t need to even come close to winning the award to return value.
Cameron Maybin Will be a Top-30 Outfielder
With everyone in Fantasy Baseball looking for speed and the Marlins just looking for anyone with a pulse to fill out their starting lineup, Cameron Maybin is in a perfect spot at the perfect time. Honestly, the only thing keeping Maybin from 600-plus plate appearances in 2018 is his health which, to be fair, has been quite checkered in the past. However, if you’d like to be a super optimist and indulge yourself in the wonders of what could be if Maybin can lock down the leadoff spot for Miami, we could be looking at plate appearances in the 670-680 range. That’s where this prediction comes alive.
Considering Lewis Brinson is Maybin’s main competition for the leadoff role, its hard to not envision the veteran getting a shot at some point early on in April. For all his prospective tools and skill, Brinson showed relatively average plate discipline throughout his minor league career and looked to be completely flummoxed at the major league level in a cup of coffee last season – swinging at an insane 40.2% of pitches outside the zone.
Conversely, Maybin projects as the ideal top-of-the-order hitter in many ways. With an 11.3% walk rate, Maybin’s OBP was 90 points higher than his ugly .228 average in 2017 – a figure that rests heavily on an outlier .274 BABIP. Maybin also has the speed and stolen base ability many managers look for in a leadoff guy.
Even if the leadoff thing doesn’t happen, 2018 sets up exceedingly well for Maybin. His BABIP and batting average should normalize; his patience at the plate is far better than it was in his last stint with the Marlins, and he’s one of few players with the ability to swipe 30-plus bases. With a couple breaks and a clean bill of health, the soon-to-be 31-year-old will be a huge Fantasy asset as the season plays out.
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