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Ten Bold Predictions for 2018

March 22, 2018
1.       Mike Trout will have a historic season.
Just a real quick spring training statistic: in forty-two plate appearances this spring, Mike Trout has zero strike outs. None. Zilch. He hasn’t punched out all spring.
Let’s just take the time to think about that for a second…let’s imagine a version of Mike Trout who never strikes out. What kind of a season would he put up?
A 0.0% strikeout percentage probably won’t happen this year, but it’s worth noting that Trout’s strikeout percentage has declined about three percentage points per year since 2014. Here’s a table, just because I can’t write an article without a table:  
That is a steady progression towards a more contact-focused approach. And judging by his league-leading slugging percentage last season, Trout hasn’t sacrificed power for contact.
Trout’s batting average on balls in play was .318 last year. That’s a good BABIP for an ordinary player, but it’s well off Trout’s .355 career mark. If Trout’s batting average on balls in play returns to normal and he reduces his strikeout rate by another two or three percentage points, it is not hard to envision Trout winning a batting title. And if he does win a batting title, it isn’t too hard to imagine him winning the Triple Crown. If you look at Trout’s Similarity Scores, just five players score 900 or better on the metric. Of those five, three won Triple Crowns (Mantle, Frank Robinson, and Miggy). The other two were Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey Jr.
And even if Trout doesn’t win the Triple Crown (Giancarlo Stanton has, after all, taken up residency in the American League), there is still the chance that Trout makes history of one kind or another. Maybe this is the year he flirts with a .400 batting average. Maybe he’ll challenge Manny Ramirez’s modern single-season RBI mark of 165. Maybe he’ll make a run at Lou Gehrig’s AL single-season record, or Hack Wilson’s major league record. And maybe there’s a record we don’t know about yet, a record that Trout will have to invent to break. I wouldn’t put it past him.
Whatever happens, we’re guessing that 2018 will be a capstone season for the best player in baseball.
2.       A Braves rookie will get votes in the NL MVP balloting.
This is a question of who-do-you-like more: Atlanta second baseman Ozzie Albies or outfielder Ronald Acuna.
Ozzie Albies, the latest in a long string of brilliant players that the Braves have lured from Curacao (Andruw Jones, Andrelton Simmons), was just twenty years old when he arrived in the majors last year. He posted an impressive wRC+ of 112 in fifty-seven games, and saw his strikeout and walk rate improve against major league pitching.
And there is Ronald Acuna. A month older than his teammate, Acuna posted stringing wRC+’s of 135, 159, and 162 last year while moving up the minor league chain, and then showed up as the best hitter in spring training this year. Acuna was recently sent to Triple-A, a predictable and temporary move that will give the Braves one more year of control over the right-handed outfielder.   
3.       Adam Eaton will lead the NL in runs scored.
The National’s centerfielder, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, is back and ready to hit leadoff on a batting order that should have Trea Turner and contract-year Bryce Harper hitting behind him. Eaton, an under-the-radar player with the White Sox, managed to score 24 runs in just 23 games as a National last year before he went down with an injury. If he manages to score at 80% of that pace, he should be good enough to pace the NL.
4.       Aaron Judge gets demoted to the minors.
We’re predicting that last year’s AL home run champ gets into a tailspin so drastic that the Yankees decide to ship him down to Triple-A to get his confidence back.
5.       The Mets will finish fourth in the NL East.
The Mets are a popular choice to net one of the NL Wild Card slots, but we’re anticipating that the team treads water in 2018. With Atlanta’s young core coming into the majors, and with Philadelphia’s positive signings during the coldest offseason ever, we’re guessing that the Mets end the season looking up at the rest of the division. Except Miami, of course.
6.       The best infielder on the Cleveland Indians will be Jason Kipnis.
With Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez coming off terrific years (and entering their prime, age-wise), this is a steep challenge for the mercurial Kipnis, who hasn’t ever lived up to the numbers his early years hinted at. That said, Kipnis is finally healthy, and he’s had a tremendous spring training, so we’re taking a flier on him as the best player on the Cleveland infield.
7.       Gary Sanchez will not lead AL catchers in homeruns.
This isn’t a knock on Sanchez, so much as it is a reflection on the fact that there a lot of interesting boppers at the catcher position heading into 2018. Sanchez will certainly hit his share of homers, but we’re betting that someone slips past him on the leaderboards. Keep your eyes on Salvador Perez, who has really bought into the flyball movement. Other possibilities include Seattle’s Mike Zunino, who nearly matched Sanchez’s HR/AB ratio (17.4 for Zunino, 15.9 for Sanchez), and Welington Castillo, who popped 20 as a part-timer last year. And I’m a perennial believer in Yan Gomes, who showed improvements in plate discipline last year.
8.       Scott Schebler leads the NL in homeruns.
The departures of J.D. Martinez and Giancarlo Stanton has left the NL home run race up for grabs, and we’re predicting that Reds outfielder Scott Schebler will be the guy who seizes the moment and gets a little black ink on his baseball card. Hitting behind Joey Votto means that Schebler has the chance to drive in a fair number of runs, too.
9.       Tyler Chatwood is the second-best starter on the Cubs.
Last time I checked, the Cubs have Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana in their rotation. And I think that they signed Yu Darvish during the off-season…I remember something like that blipping across my radar. Those are great pitchers! Any one of those guys could pull out a Cy Young campaign.  
But I’m thinking that Tyler Chatwood, the guy who paced the NL in loses last year, will be better than at least three of those pitchers. Why? For one thing, Chatwood has always struggled at Coors, posting a 5.17 ERA in ‘Rado versus 3.75 everywhere else. And although his walk rate is still a problem, Chatwood’s groundball tendencies will benefit from the Cubs strong defensive infield.
10.   Mookie Betts hits sixty doubles.
I am contractually obligated to make a Boston pick, so here it is: Mookie notches 60 doubles. In the history of the game, only six players have crossed the 60 doubles mark (compared to eight 60-HR seasons). More telling: all of those seasons occurred between 1926 and 1936. We’re predicting that Mookie Betts joins the ghosts of Webb, Burns, Medwick, Greenberg, Waner, and Gehringer, and notches the first ‘sixty’ in modern baseball history.
Have your own Bold Predictions? Post them below, and we’ll review everyone’s predictions at the end of the year.
Dave Fleming is a writer living in western Virginia. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at 

COMMENTS (23 Comments, most recent shown first)

I (a Yankee fan) am a little worried. However, although I don't know enough about Boone (and although he looks a little unimpressive, he doesn’t seem to be the kind of idiot Wills was. I mean, asking your grounds crew to draw the batter's box incorrectly was pretty idiotic, as was asking Julio Cruz, an excellent but spaghetti-armed second baseman, to play shortstop. Those were his two best-known pieces of idiocy; I can't remember any others off the top of my head, but there were more. If Boone doesn't turn out to be THAT kind of idiot, maybe we'll be okay. I mean, World Series, here we come ;-) — IF Boonie doesn't shoot the team in the foot first.
2:52 PM Mar 26th
klamb819 - Thank you for the correction and kind words. Only I am the one who needs to apologize for the mistake.

pgaskill - That is what should worry Yankee fans. Perhaps, this is partly why Dave expects a collapse. Like Wills, Aaron Boone is coming from the broadcast booth. Here in Toronto, Buck Martinez came from the broadcast both in 2001 to try to get a .500 Blue Jay club back in competition with the mighty Yankees and Red Sox (a situation that lasted 12 years straight - that we are back at now). I'm not sure what Buck did wrong. He let Roy Halladay pitch and gave centerfield to Vernon Wells. However, they merely continued along the .500 level in 2001 and started off 20-33 (.377) in 2002, so Ricciardi replaced him with coach Carlos Tosca. That was fine with me, because Martinez has been my favorite Toronto broadcaster.

Brian - thanks for the update on what's happening in Detroit.

OK, so, here's my prediction for Toronto - Teoscar Hernandez will get a starting job and the Jays will release Kendrys Morales. I haven't seen or heard this prediction, it's just based on the fact that Hernandez had a monumental month last September and he's keeping it up this spring - just like late blooming Jose Baustita did when he burst forward with stardom. The Jays managed to get sudden late career hitting excellence from Edwin Encarnacion and arguably Justin Smoak. Maybe we shouldn't count Chris Colabello. Another thing, Teoscar came from the Astros organization - and the one other similar surprise late blooming star I can think of off hand did, too: J.D. Martinez.

The other outfielders are doing too well to get rid of - and they already did give Ezequil Cabrera his release. Morales is old and not doing much. Pearce can back up first base as can any of their multitude of quality infielders they now posssess, so Morales is just dead weight.
12:27 PM Mar 26th
Avila is definitely lacking as a negotiator. He announces what he is going to do and puts himself in a position that he has to take an inferior deal.

For instance, he announced beforehand he was trading Kinsler during the meetings. So when Kinsler would only agree to a trade to the Angels, he put them in the drivers' seat. He then whined that the Mets made a better offer, but Kinsler wouldn't agree to go there. Why put yourself in that position? Tell Kinsler he is staying with the team unless he agrees to go to the Mets or the Angels come up with a better offer. Then let them figure out. What they got for Kinsler was atrocious.

He also basically announced they were trading JD Martinez about 2 weeks before it happened. They still had a few days before the deadline when they made the deal. And, they had the fallback option of the draft pick if they lost him in free agency, which wouldn't have been significantly worse than what they got. Maybe the Diamondbacks would have held firm, but maybe they would have folded. Or maybe another team jumps in at the last minute.

I thought they did ok in the Justin Wilson/Alex Avila trade and the Justin Upton trade, but they didn't get any steals. And I would have liked to see more for Verlander, but I don't know what his options were.

He has already announced that Iglesias has no future with the team after this year, so it appears he hasn't learned from his mistakes.
11:02 AM Mar 26th
Wow, that's even worse than Maury Wills's unbelievably poor record with the Seattle Mariners at the beginning of the 1981 season. I wonder how many people remember that Wills was the M's manager for the last third of the 1980 season (20-38) and the first 24 games of 1981, where he "led" them to a 6-18 start. He was forthwith relieved of his duties by new owner George Argyros and replaced with Rene Lachemann. Six-and-eighteen, considered pretty horrible indeed, even for the Mariners at the beginning of their fifth season of existence, is a .250 record, which was the Mets' record in their first year, 40-120.
6:33 AM Mar 26th

Tigers' Sept was even worse: 6-24 = .200 = 32.4-129.6 (or 32-130, rounded).

Apologies for my first-degree nitpickery, hotstatrat. You're usually spot-on, and who among us hasn't made hasty mistakes in math?
1:50 PM Mar 25th
OldBackStop, we don't have to get technical about the time period. In fact, checking my facts, I see Houston didn't get Verlander until after he pitched for the Tigers on August 31st - so it was a month+. However, in comparing these big dumps your key phrase was "previous All-Star level guys". In Detroit's case, their dumped players were all currnently having all-star caliber years. Verlander looks like he's returned to his Hall-of-Fame level of pitching. After he was traded, the Tigers were 6-24 - which would be a 40.5 win and 121.5 loss pace over 162 games.
12:25 PM Mar 24th
@@hotstrat. I sure felt like the Mets took an historic dump midyear last year of previous All Star level guys: Walker, Bruce, Granderson, Duda, Addison Reed, but it was over more than a week.
4:57 AM Mar 24th
Willie McCovey was demoted for 17 games in 1960. He was rookie of the year in '59 for .354/.429/.656 (1.085 OPS) in 219 PAs, with 13 HRs (1 per 14.4 ABs).

Part of the problem was Cepeda was whiny about playing left field, which was how the Giants tried to make room for McCovey. But he also was .244/.371/.474, with just 11 HRs after 74 games. Looks like a pretty good slash to us, but people then mostly just noticed the .244.
2:57 AM Mar 24th
Why would you demote him?

1988: .260 .352 .478 134 32
1989: .231 .339 .467 129 33
1990: .235 .370 .489 144 29
1991: .201 .330 .383 103 22, but by now he's an established player.

That said, I will be astonished if Judge's slash line isn't better than any of those.
6:37 PM Mar 23rd
But did McGwire get demoted?
4:59 PM Mar 23rd
Aaron Judge getting demoted would not be wildly different from Mark McGwire hitting .231 in 1989, then .201 in 1991, soon after his 49 homers in 1987.
3:22 PM Mar 23rd
Responding to my own question:

The Tigers are probably emulating the success of the Royals, Cubs, and Astros of late - getting really bad in order to help themselves get really good. However, I think there are some problems with their approach:

1. Other teams are aware of this strategy and of the under-value of pre-arb players in the market and the over-value of post free agency players. They just couldn't get as much value for this star sell-off as teams have in the past.

2. Other teams are still getting what looks like better value for their trade deadline deals - but the Tigers are not as good negotiators?

3. Perhaps, they are not as good evaluators of talent?. Although, J.D. Martinez wasn't much of a prospect when Detroit signed him exactly four years ago tomorrow. In fact, he had been released by Houston. But what have they done lately since Dave Dombrowski's departure?

4. The saddest part is that the Tigers seem to have one of the worse organizations for drafting and developing players. You need to have that in place in order for this Phoenix strategy to work.
9:28 AM Mar 23rd
For the record, not just Justin Verlander, JD Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Alex Avila, and Justin Wilson, but Justin Upton, too.

Has a team ever sold off that much talent in one week before? The 1998 Florida Marlins and 1977 Oakland A's lost a ton of talent, but mostly as free agents. You could point to the 1915 or 1934 Philadelphia Athletics. Even if those talent losses were as large, all in one week, and were all trades for cash or prospects, that was a long long time ago when baseball team building was a rich man's hobby compared to the serious professional businesses they are today.

So, I'll throw the question out here for a few days, then ask Bill, if that's OK with him (and assuming he doesn't address it here): has any team sold off that much talent in one week for essentially prospects or cash since, say, the Rule IV Draft era began in 1964?
8:55 AM Mar 23rd
I’ll take a shot, Dave:
1. Trevor Bauer will win the AL Cy Young award.
2. The Minnesota Twins will play Cleveland in the ALCS.
3. Byron Buxton will become the new BJ Upton, hitting 20 homers, stealing 40 bases and striking out more than Frasier Crane at an NBA groupie party.
4. At least one of you yahoos will mention that BJ’s name is Melvin now. I predict that it will happen, even though I predicted that it will happen.
5. The Chicago Cubs will return to the World Series and win, 4-2 over the Indians, who will then set Lake Michigan on fire.
6. Most of you won’t get that joke.
7. Mike Trout will win the slash triple crown. Jose Altuve will finish second in all three categories.
8. David Price will win 17 games and strike out 230 batters.
9. The Cleveland Indians 5-man opening day rotation will combine for 1,000 strikeouts.
10. The Phillies will make the playoffs.
As always, fun stuff, Dave. Were you playing roulette right before you wrote this? You mixed red/black bets in with 1/35 bets, and (Judge) you even put in a bet on 00. I love it!

12:40 AM Mar 23rd
If Kipnis really is the best Indian IF this year, I'm going to be one happy camper. But spring training is spring training, and we've all had plenty of time to see what Kipnis really is. He's good. But he is what he is.
11:50 PM Mar 22nd
Schebler is a good dark horse for HRs. Besides the peripherals that probably caught your eye, he played 49 games with a badly injured shoulder before submitting to the DL. His HR rates were 1 every 22.9 at bats in those 49 games and 1 every 13.6 in his other 92 games. His OPS+ was 84 when injured, 120 healthy. He still finished with 30 HRs.

The latter rate works out to 44 HRs in 600 ABs, and 37 in 500. That could be the biggest problem. With Duvall, Hamilton and rookie Jesse Winker, the Reds plan to divide roughly 2,000 outfield at-bats among 4 players.

The other issue is maintaining last year's HR/FB rate (.190 on B-Ref & .224 in Fangraphs. There are 12 active players with rates above .200, and another 7 over .190, so it's hard to do but not blue-moon rare. Justin Bour is on the list, and Steven Souza Jr. Scheber's quick, upper-cut swing passes the eye test. As they say, when he hits them, they stay hit.

My bold prediction: George Springer learns from Reddick & overtakes him for the lead in Catcher's Interference, beating out 27 teams.
8:15 PM Mar 22nd
Opening Day must be close, Dave's prediction column is here.

After the first three, I thought to myself, "Aha, by going from 50 to 10, he's leaving out the really over-the-top ones." Then I got to Number 4. Then Numbers 6, 7 and 8.

And Dave: who's helping you out? I don't remember your using the editorial We before now.

Never mind, it's always a pleasure to read.​
5:25 PM Mar 22nd
I agree that the Phillies and the Braves are sleepers. Hopefully they knock down the Nats more than the Mets.
5:16 PM Mar 22nd
I predict that this year you will do 10 predictions instead of the usual 50.
4:47 PM Mar 22nd
Couldn't agree more on Yelich. It's a big improvement, hitting-wise, going from Miami to Milwaukee. I wouldn't be surprised to see MVP votes and a 30/30 season for Yelich this year.
3:41 PM Mar 22nd
Christian Yelich has an MVP type season for the Brewers
2:40 PM Mar 22nd
Just wanted to comment on the seeming irony (although I do know what you mean) of sending a guy to the minors to boost his confidence.
(re Aaron Judge)
1:35 PM Mar 22nd
I hate to say this, but my Detroit Tigers look to be headed for 105 losses - give or take a bunch. If Miggy has a decent comeback, they might break 60 wins. After jettisoning Justin Verlander, JD Martinez, Ian Kinsler, a come back season from Alex Avila, and their best reliever Justin Wilson - and all they received was a bunch of B prospects - which amounts to about 80% of their farm talent, they could break the record for most consecutive seasons with 100 losses in the Rule IV Amateur Draft era.​
12:27 PM Mar 22nd
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