50 Fearless Forecasts, 2014

March 19, 2014
1.      Mike Trout makes a run at .400.
Starting off on the bold end of the Fearless Prediction Scale (FPS), we’re predicting a run at .400. Two years ago, during Trout’s rookie season, I discussed Trout’s chances of hitting .400, concluding that his odds were held back by a high strikeout rate and low walk rate. In 2013, both of those moved in the right direction: his walk rate went from 10.5% to 15.4%, while his whiff rate dropped from 21.8% to 19%. His second-half was remarkably strong: he posted an impressive .479 on-base percentage after the All-Star break. He’s twenty-two, the same age that Ted Williams was when he hit .406. I think it’s coming.
2.      Miguel Cabrera makes a run at the RBI record…for a #3 hitter. 
Because we can’t mention Mike Trout without mentioning anti-SABR hero Miguel Cabrera, we’re predicting that the Detroit slugger, hitting behind Kinsler and fastball-seeing Torii Hunter, gets people checking on what the actual record for a #3 hitter is. It’s not Wilson’s 190, nor is it Gehrig’s 184….both of those players batted cleanup. I’m fairly sure it’s Ruth’s 171 RBI in 1921, which would still be a pretty remarkable total.
3.      The Padres make the playoffs.
We’ll say that the San Diegans take the Wild Card, though the NL West is going to have a few teams vying for those Wild Card spots.
4.      Ryan Braun is the most valuable fantasy player in the NL this year….
While it’s unlikely that Ryan Braun will win an NL MVP again in this lifetime, here’s betting that he has another season of fake baseball greatness, posting a batting line in the approximate range of 105/36/112/18/.317. Not too bad.
5.      …And the Brewers win the NL Central.
Predicting a playoff appearance for the Brew Crew isn’t fearless enough, so we’re calling that the Brewers leapfrog over the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds, and win the Central Division in 2014.
6.      George Springer will be the first 20-20 player to post a sub-.200 batting average.
Say hello to 2014’s Most Interesting Player: George Springer is that weird three-true-outcomes player who is also terrifically fast. It is not out of the realm of possibility that he could one day post a 40-40 season with an average under the Mendoza line. The Astros are going to be really fun to watch this year.
7.      J.J. Hardy leads the Orioles hitters in home runs.
Hardy led major league shortstops in homeruns last year, so the power isn’t any secret. What makes this a bold pick is the competition: he shares a lineup card with last year’s champ Crash Davis and the always robustly power-hitting Adam Jones. Here’s thinking 2014 is a breakout year for J.J.
8.      Brandon Belt has a better season than Eric Hosmer.
A lot of prognosticators are predicting a big jump from Kansas City infielder Eric Hosmer, based mostly on pedigree and a strong second-half that saw his batting average jump from .285 to .323, and his OPS improve from .760 to .852. While that improvement is a good portent for things to come, it’s worth noting that Brandon Belt of the Giants had a more drastic improvement over the second half of 2013, seeing his batting average jump from .260 to .326, and his OPS jump from .784 to .915. While Hosmer is a year-and-a-half younger than Belt, we’re predicting that the Baby Giraffe has a bigger year than Hosmer.
9.      Yasiel Puig plays fewer than 100 games this year.
Call it Fred Lynn Conundrum. Or the Grady Sizemore Paradox. Or…just call it "I-get-really-nervous- about-players-who-go all-out-on the-baseball-diamond. I absolutely love watching Yasiel Puig play baseball, but I think there’s a good chance that his recklessness lands him on the DL for at least a couple of weeks in 2014. And with the Dodgers not short of reasonable (and extremely well-compensated) outfielders, they don’t have to rush Puig back until he’s 100% healthy.
10. Tim Lincecum gets back to Cy Young form.
This prediction isn’t based on any bright blip in the statistical record, but on the sheer guts it takes to keep the pencil-‘stache that Lincecum’s been rocking in spring training. You have to have confidence to pull that off, and it is widely accepted that pitching is 15% skill and 85% ridiculous facial hair. Just ask Brian Wilson.
11. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion combine for 80+ HR.
Though I’m not a big believer that Toronto will contend in the AL East in 2014, I’m predicting a big year for the Canadian Bash Brothers.
12. Jason Heyward leads NL in runs scored.
In 2014, Heyward will join the likes of Dwight Evans and Brian Downing, as that rare power-hitting leadoff hitter. I don’t know if he’ll stick in the #1 slot, or slide down if Freeman and Gattis struggle, but I love the decision, and have Heyward as one of my favorites for NL MVP. Speaking of the Braves…
13. Freddie Freeman hits fewer than 20 HR. Evan Gattis hits more than 30.
While we’re on the subject of the Braves, I’m thinking that Freddie Freeman’s BABIP/HR rate drops significantly in 2013. And I’m thinking that El Oso Blanco – smoter (smater? smooter?) of the longest homer in 2013, makes up for it by leading NL catchers in homeruns.
14. Ike Davis will lead the Mets in homeruns, with more than 30.
I’m a big believer in Ike Davis, who was excellent after his return from Triple-A. If he stays on the field, he should out-homer more celebrated teammates David Wright and Curtis Granderson.
15. At least one foul ball will be thrown back into the field of play during the first game of the season.
The first game will be held in the Sydney Cricket Grounds this year, where I imagine that at least one fan will throw a baseball back onto the field of play. This is because people actually do this during cricket matches: they toss the ball back into the field of play, because having to use a new ball would ruin everything. Cricket is a strange sport and I hate it. Also, it’s worth noting that this is the one prediction that I have a slim chance of influencing, because I will be in Sydney for the game.
16. a. Billy Hamilton steals 100 bases.
b. Billy Hamilton posts an on-base percentage better than .360.
Splitting this into two predictions, because I really love Billy Hamilton.
I think the first prediction is slightly less bold than the second one. Everyone knows that Hamilton has the speed to steal a ton of bases, but questions linger about his ability to actually reach base with any consistency. Certainly, his .308 on-base percentage in Louisville last year makes posting a .370 rate in the majors extremely unlikely, but prior to last year Hamilton posted walk rates of 12.8% and 16.9%. I think he’ll have a walk rate close to 10% this year, and leg out enough infield singles to stay at the top of the order.
17. The Reds don’t make the playoffs.
That said, I’m not sold on the Reds ability to contend in 2014. I don’t think they win the NL Central, and I have them out of the Wild Card, too. This prediction might spiral into its own article. 
18. Joe Mauer, moved to first base, hits under.300.
This is just me being contrary, but the consensus opinion that Mauer will turn out to be a better player as a full-time first baseman isn’t a sure thing.
19. Yu Darvish strikes out 300 batters.
We haven’t seen a pitcher whiff 300 hitters since Pedro Martinez in 1999, but I think Darvish crosses the mark. I don’t know if this prediction even qualifies as fearless, or if it’s just 10% above ‘pretty likely.’
20. All five Pirates starters will be better than average.
Going by ERA+, I think that the five starters who make the most appearances for Pittsburg will all post ERA+ of 100 or better. I’m particularly excited to see a full season of Gerrit Cole, who has a chance to battle with Jose Fernandez for a few Cy Young Awards.
21. Either Mike Moustakas or Will Middlebrooks (or both!) will hit 30 homeruns this year.
I’m optimistic that at least one of these big-bopper 3B’s having a breakout season in 2014, and I wouldn’t be surprised if both of them do it. Moustakas has had an excellent spring, and Middlebrooks should have ample chances to put up another three-HR game in 2014.
22. Jason Castro will be one of the three most valuable catchers in the AL this year.
While McCann is the logical guess to top the chart, things have thinned out at catcher in the AL this year. With Mauer at first and Cleveland’s Carlos Santana getting reps at the hot corner, the door is open for Jason Castro to come up big in 2014.
23. Jose Abreu will lead AL 1B in homeruns, and win the Rookie-of-the-Year.
I am feeling very bullish on the Cuban import, who has a track record in the Cuban League more impressive than the numbers of Cespedes or Puig. The White Sox had an excellent off-season.
24. The Yankees infield (1B, 2B, 3B, SS) will have a lower combined WAR than Robinson Cano.
I’m going with WAR here because Cano’s counting stats will take a big hit in Seattle. I’m still flummoxed by the Yankees decision to let Robby go, so that they could sign Ellsbury and Beltran.
25. The Yankees pitching, adjusted for park effects, will be the best in the AL.
And now for some positive news: I think the Yankees pitchers will post the best ERA+ in the American League. They don’t seem splashy, but they’ve got remarkable depth in their rotation, and Robertson will be an excellent closer in 2014.
26. Both Michael Pineda and Jesus Montero will have bounce-back seasons, rejuvenating hopes for their careers.
These bounce-back seasons might not happen in the major leagues: Jesus Montero is probably getting a full year at Triple-A in 2014. But I’m thinking that the two players start showing off the skills that made this trade seem like a big deal a few years ago.  
27. Felix Hernandez has a bad year.
 For years, I’ve been predicting that Felix will come down with Johan Santana/Tim Lincecum disease, and become the next Bright Young Pitcher to flame out in his thirties. I think, honestly, that it’s already sort of happened. While his strikeout rate in 2013 was the best of his career, his ERA+ was just 121, about where it’s been for the last three years. I think we’re a distance away from the 2009-2010 version of King Felix, and his current stats are bolstered by a good park and a division where he gets to play games in Anaheim, Oakland, and Triple-A Houston.
28. The 2014 World Cup will be won by a South American country that isn’t Brazil.
I’m thinking Argentina, but don’t sleep on Uruguay. I heart Diego Forlan.
29. The best fantasy player on the Cubs will be Justin Ruggiano.
Out of Miami, I expect Ruggiano to be one of the very best fake-baseball bargins in 2014. If you want to take a flier on your last pick, you could do a lot worse than Ruggiano.
30. Grady Sizemore will hit 15+ homeruns, and play 110 games for the Red Sox.
Speaking of players to take a flier on, here’s guessing that Grady Sizemore has a productive year in 2014, netting the Comeback Player of the Year in the AL.
31. Jose Fernandez will have an ERA under 2.00.
Getting to the ‘Optimistic About NL Pitchers’ portion of the evening….I think Jose Fernandez surprises everyone by pitching better in 2014 than he did in 2013. My favorite player in the NL.
32. Madison Bumgarner wins the NL Cy Young.
The current Best-Pitcher-No-One-Ever-Talks-About will take a big stride forward, winning the NL Cy Young ahead of Jose Fernandez and Clayton Kershaw.
33. Josh Donaldson will continue to be an excellent player, posting a WAR over 6.0.
A lot of people are down on Donaldson, who came out of nowhere to post an MVP-level season in Oakland last year. I think the strides he made in 2013 will carry over into 2014, and he’ll be a valuable player for the A’s again.
34. Oakland will lead the majors in homeruns.
Speaking of the A’s...despite their carnivorous ballpark, they’re going to lead the American League in homeruns this year. So you have that to look forward to.
35. Jed Lowrie will better Jedd Gyorko and Brett Lawrie in four out of five traditional fantasy stats.
I love Jed Lowrie for fantasy this year: he’s a #3 hitter with shortstop/2B eligibility, who is getting drafted a million miles below The Other Jedd and The Other Lawrie. There’s a reasonable chance that Lowrie is the most valuable non-steal middle infielder in fantasy baseball this year.
36.  Paul Goldschmidt has his arm bitten off by a salt water crocodile in Australia; fails to hit 30 homeruns or have a WAR better than 4.0.
We’re pessimistic about the ‘Zona first-baseman.
37. Chris Davis turns into Pedro Alvarez.
And we’re pessimistic about Crash Davis’s ability to maintain the .335 BABIP he’s enjoyed over the last two seasons. While he’ll hit a lot of homers, I think the batting average and walk rate will decline, sending his counting stats spiraling downward.
38. Chris Carter turns into Chris Davis
Not to worry, though: Chris Carter will be this year’s version of Chris Davis, hitting a ton of homers while watching his strikeout rate drop. Here’s something interesting: Carter hit .279 on the road last year, with 19 homeruns. At home that dropped to .164 and 10. Who says environment can’t influence performance?
39. Domonic Brown remains Domonic Brown, goes 30-15.
Another player I’m high on is formerly touted prospect Domonic Brown, who had an impressive six-week stretch at the plate before injures/pitcher adjustments slowed him down. I’m thinking Brown puts together a good 2014, hitting 30 homers and stealing 15 bases.  
40. Jason Kipnis is the best middle infielder in fantasy baseball in 2014.
Did you know that the word ‘kip,’ in British parlance, means to nap or rest, and is also used to describe a rooming house? It is also the hide of a young animal, and a unit of weight equal to 1000 pounds, or half a ton. It is also the monetary unit of Laos. So we’re learning a lot today.
41. Corey Kluber is one of the 10 best starting pitchers in the AL.
Kluber had an xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.10 last year, good enough for 11th among starters, between Chris Sale, Jose Fernandez, Stephen Strasburg, and Max Scherzer. Just let that factoid rattle around your noggin’ for a while.
42. Bryce Harper goes all Ducky Medwick on us, becoming baseball’s great villain en route to winning the Triple Crown.
Bryce Harper is probably a very nice young man, and it’s probably unfair for me to root for him to become the bad guy in baseball. But with Alex Rodriguez gone, we need someone to marvel at/root against, and Harper seems the logical choice. For one thing, he drives this. And the Nats figure to be a dogfight with the Atlanta Moral Majorities in the NL East division this year, which should lead to more exciting confrontations like this one. Here’s hoping that Harper embraces the hater-ade, and becomes baseball's version of Steve Nash.
43. The Nationals win 100+ games.

I think they’re going to be really tough this year. If enough of their great players sync up with big seasons, there might not be a race in the NL East. Just rattling this team off: they have Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister in their rotation…any of those guys would be a #1 or #2 on most staffs in the majors. They have Harper, Span, and Werth in the outfield, Ryan Zimmerman at third and Ian Desmond at shortstop, and Ramos behind the dish. Their bullpen has Soriano, Clippard, and Storen. There aren't a lot of obvious weak spots on that team.
44. Matt Adams will be the breakout star in St. Louis this year.
The Cardinals get a breakout performance from someone every year, because that’s The Cardinal Way. They’re all about breakout performances and awkward clubhouse conversations regarding the appropriate use of social media in St. Louis.
45. Albert Pujols will have another disappointing season.
How much money do the Angels still owe him? (Checks, realizes that Mike Trout will probably be wearing a Yankees uniform in five years. Quietly weeps.)
46. Jacoby Ellsbury will have a lower WAR than Brett Gardner.
I still don’t understand why the Yankees felt like seven outfielders and Brian Roberts was a better plan than six outfielders and Robinson Cano. But I digress.
47. Yordano Ventura will have a better K/9 than any other AL starting pitcher.
He seems like he’ll be fun to watch, in much the same way that Edison Volquez has been fun to watch.
48. Matt Harvey will play in a major league game in 2014.
The Mets are trying to be cautious with their once-and-future ace, but I think that Harvey will see some playing time down the stretch, even if it’s in the bullpen.
49. A player in the Hall of Fame will admit to having used steroids.
Going a tad off the grid, but I think it happens this year. As an aside, it’s really refreshing to hear Mike Schmidt’s comments about steroids. He’s one of the few great players to talk about this issue directly, and honestly. Here’s hoping a few other players follow his lead.
50. Matt Kemp will be the Dodgers outfielder traded mid-season.
While it’s likely that the Dodgers will shop Crawford or Ethier first, I think Kemp is the only player of the three who will bring something back on the trade. The Dodgers have a lot of stars, but all of their hitters except Puig (22 years old), Dee Gordon (25), and Kemp (29) are on the wrong side of 30. I think they’ll shop Kemp for a younger centerfielder or an infield prospect.
Five Completely UnFearless Bonus Predictions
1.      Shin-Soo Choo will go 20-20
Here are Choo’s HR/SB splits from various years:
2009: 20 HR, 21 SB
2010: 22 HR, 22 SB
2012: 16 HR, 22 SB
2013: 21 HR, 20 SB
So steady. So boring.
2.      Joey Votto will lead the NL in on-base percentage.
It’s been four years in a row, which is pretty reee-diculous. I really don’t know if Votto is just a very good player, or an all-time great that no one is appreciating. According to baseball-reference, his nickname is "Votto-Matic." I’ve never heard that nickname before, and I won’t respond to it.
3.      Matt Holliday will hit around .300, with 20 HR and 100 runs scored/RBI.
Matt Holliday might be the single most underappreciated good player of the last decade. Sure, Ben Zobrist posts a WAR every year that Miguel Cabrera would envy, but at least the Big Z has a few sabermetric obsessive praising his multi-position talents. Matt Holliday’s just ignored by everyone, despite the fact that he is the #3 hitter on a perennially excellent baseball team. Did you know his OPS+ is 138….for his career? That’s the same as David Ortiz and David Wright, but no one ever seems to talk about Holliday as being a hitter on the level of those guys. It’s strange.
4.      Clayton Kershaw will be excellent.
Predicting anyone other than Clayton Kershaw to win the NL Cy Young qualifies as a bold prediction, because Kershaw is an excellent pitcher who has all of the secondary advantages going for him. Good home park? Check. Plays on a contending team that will get him those pesky ‘W’s in the scorebook? Check. Nice away parks to visit in the division? Check, check (San Diego and San Francisco). Left-handed? Check. On the right side of the aging spectrum? Check. No health issues? Check.
5.        Derek Jeter will retire at the end of the season.
Our long national nightmare is over. Whew.
Dave Fleming is a writer living in Wellington, New Zealand.

COMMENTS (21 Comments, most recent shown first)

Through the first 3 games, Trout is hitting .400. I think we can already call that one a win!
2:05 PM Apr 3rd
I LOVE the way Carlos Beltran plays baseball, and I wish him the best. So I HOPE he gets to play in 100 games this year. But I doubt it One year older, one year more brittle.

And while I hate the expression "face of the franchise," if there is one team that has had one since forever, it's obviously the Yankees. 2015? Brett Gardner?
5:18 PM Mar 22nd
P.S. to the post below:

I guess it's not well enough recognized; I assumed it was essentially automatic knowledge, because really it's literally an axiomatic thing.

The belief that BABIP tends toward such a narrow center (which seems to have become a solid basis for much in sabermetrics) implies that batting average tends to be very closely correlated (inversely) with strikeout rate (and of course taking the number of home runs into account). So, if you say you think someone's batting average will be pretty low because of a very high strikeout rate, even if you're not explicitly thinking in terms of that principle, really that's where you're coming from. I don't disagree that USUALLY this reasoning applies; of course it does. But to take this idea so much to the bank that we start thinking that we hardly take at player's BA seriously at all if it comes from an unusually high BABIP, that's a mistake, and it represents an overplaying of sabermetrics' hand.

A good example of this is Austin Jackson. I think that by now we've gotten used to the fact that he's a player whose batting averages are going to be all right, and maybe it's almost forgotten what the attitude was toward him when he first came up and hit near .300 his first year. It seemed to be assumed, in sophisticated circles, that this was a fluke and his future BA's would be poor, unless he cut way down on his K's. What was ignored was that his BABIP's had always (i.e. in the minors) been unusually good; for whatever reason it's simply a characteristic of how he hits. (I've tried to figure out what it comes from, in the chances I've had to watch him, and I have no idea; it doesn't seem to be the most obvious things we might think of.) And yeah, his BA did come way down in his next year, but [i]that[/i[ was a fluke. He has continued having much-higher-than-average BABIP's. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying this is a frequent thing. But it does apply for some players (BTW another one is Derek Jeter, big time), and based on his last 2 years, it seems like Springer might be one of them.
2:16 PM Mar 21st
Dave: That's exactly the same as what I was talking about; I just spoke sort of in 'shorthand.' Y'know, for brevity and stuff. :-)

The thing is: If you're going on his K-rate (as you said) and you think that means he'll have a low batting average, whether or not you're thinking explicitly of what I called "the BABIP thing" (i.e. that it's generally in a pretty narrow range), you are! Because otherwise, you'd be thinking that the best predictor of his batting average is, well, his past batting averages. :-)
2:00 PM Mar 21st
What's wrong with Harper's choice of transportation?
1:23 PM Mar 21st
I am completely with you on the Yankees. I have no idea why, if they were going to spend all of this money, they didn't just pay Cano and just play Soriano in left, Gardner in Center and Ichiro in right. They spent over 200 mill on Ellsbury and Beltran who are both injury prone and Gardner looks like virtually the same player as Ellsbury for 100 mill less. That would have been a pretty decent OF and they would still have Cano, and still could have signed McCann and Tanaka.
10:56 AM Mar 21st
Great stuff as usual, Dave; I'll go the other way on Freddie Freeman, though. I think he's going to cruise to 30-35 homers this year, and my bold prediction for him would be 40 and the MVP award. Has anyone else noticed how much he looks like Eddie Mathews?
12:51 PM Mar 20th
Nope...I'm sure Springer will post an excellent BABIP in 2014. It's that pesky k-rate that has me worried....I think one of the projection systems predicted a 40% strikeout rate.
3:43 AM Mar 20th
Oh, I suppose I get it. (re: my comment below)

Are you sure you're not being too much a 'prisoner' of the BABIP thing?

He had incredibly high BABIP's each of the last two years. I guess you're assuming that's not a characteristic of his. I'd guess that it rather is.
2:13 AM Mar 20th
About Springer: Why are you thinking he'll have anywhere close to such a low batting average? I mean, it's not that I'd expect him to hit over .300 up here as he did the last couple of years down there, but....
1:41 AM Mar 20th
Oh, I shall. It might take me a little while to post it, but a long article about Sydney will definitely happen.
9:44 PM Mar 19th
Oh, and Dave: fun article, as usual.

I hope you're planning on filing a lengthy piece on your trip to Sydney.
9:37 PM Mar 19th
Oh....a few assorted comments on the Phillies....

I think Ryne Sandberg could be a good manager somewhere: he obviously knows the game, and he was a good minor league manager.

But...the Phillies are just about the LAST team that Sandberg should be managing. They're an old team; a team with a ton of veteran players who've all done this before. They don't need their manager yapping at them about 'hustling'...

Jimmy Rollins, who's had one of the fifteen longest careers for a shortstop in baseball history, knows what he needs to get done to be ready for the season. Sandberg picking a fight with him was silly...it was a move that is reasonable to pull with young players, but pointless to try out on old veterans with no-trade clauses.

When I read the accounts, I thought: "That's it for the Phillies." They've got the wrong guy managing that team, in the same way that Bobby V was the wrong guy in Boston.

Sometimes it doesn't matter who the manager is...the team is good enough to win regardless, or they're bad enough to lose. The Phillies are in a middle ground: they're trying to contend this year, trying to get one last run out of Utley, Rollins, Lee, etc., but they're long shot to do it in that division. The manager absolutely matters on that team, and from what I gather Ryno isn't the right one for the job.

9:35 PM Mar 19th
49. A player in the Hall of Fame will admit to having used steroids.

I hope you're right and I hope it's somebody everyone would have bet their firstborn that he was clean.

So what do you have against cricket? I think it's a lovely game. Can you tell me how they're going to fit a ballpark into a cricket oval? Those things are huge.
9:29 PM Mar 19th
Paul Goldschmidt has his arm bitten off by a salt water crocodile in Australia

Which won't be half as painful as rooting for a team overseen by Ruben Amaro, Jr.
8:39 PM Mar 19th
5:47 PM Mar 19th
Randy Johnson struck out more than 300 batters from 1999-2002. Thanks for the article, Dave. I always look forward to the fearless forecasts.
12:56 PM Mar 19th
Pale Hose
#23....Keep that up and you'll have me drinking the White Sox cool-aid.
12:42 PM Mar 19th
When did Oakland's ballpark become carnivorous, and should the East Bay fans organize against this contentious issue?!
9:12 AM Mar 19th
40A. Cleveland changes their team name from "Indians" to "Kips." A club spokesman explained that they wanted to go retro, both in terms of naming the team after a brief sleep and after part of their star second baseman's name. However, in a bizarre twist, the team will keep its Chief Wahoo logo because it doesn't want to seem too easily influenced by culutural pressures.
8:35 AM Mar 19th
When they give the cricket scores on the BBC, I have no idea what they're talking about.

But boy! They sure sound excited.
5:33 AM Mar 19th
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