2011 Bold Predictions-Part 1

One of the more exciting things to think about as the season approaches is which players are going to have the break through seasons?  Who are going to be this year’s Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto and Jose Bautista or David Price, Jaime Garcia and Ubaldo Jimenez?  For the past few years I have tried to answer that question with “Bold Prediction” columns over at Fanball.  I could’ve sworn I posted at least the 2009 iteration here, too, but I can’t seem to find after an extensive search.

I’m hardly the only one undertaking this task as Ron Shandler and crew have their Longshot Caucus over at BaseballHQ.com and Matthew Berry has his You Heard Me! piece over at his page on ESPN.  I believe he will be releasing that soon and it’s always a fun read.  Both are, in fact.  Hopefully I am able to deliver to that end as well.

In case you don’t remember from previous versions over at Fanball, the bold predictions column isn’t a bunch of aimless predictions, but rather it looks at a player’s whole profile, in the pros and minors, and tries to project out some best case scenarios for them.  These aren’t surefire bets, they are longshots that need a myriad of factors to go right if they are to happen.  You should reasonably expect between 15% and 20% of them to come to fruition.  The point is to get you thinking outside of the box(score) and not focus so much on what we’ve seen, rather entertain what we could see.

I am not going to have the Brady Anderson 50 home run season-type prediction in here because nothing in his profile would’ve told me that was possible so I wouldn’t project it.  Some of these may be “duhs” to you which simply means you’re already looking at possible outcomes beyond what we’ve seen to date.  In the end if there is a prediction you agree with and it causes you to go the extra buck on a guy and outperforms his cost, but doesn’t necessarily meet the exact figure in the prediction, it’s still a win (i.e. I had Gio Gonzalez projected for 175 Ks last year coming off of a season in which he had a near-6.00 ERA.  He finished with 171 and a 3.23 ERA.  If you bought in, you certainly profited significantly).

Some of the other calls from last year include:

  • Shaun Marcum will pick up right where 2008 left off
  • Luis Valbuena will hit 18 HR and steal 18 bases
  • Juan Pierre will steal 70 bases
  • Kelly Johnson will hit 21 HR and .300
  • Manny Ramirez will hit 40 HR
  • Nate Schierholtz will hit .320 with 15 HR
  • Ubaldo Jimenez wins 20 games
  • Billy Wagner will save 40 games (“And might very well be the league’s best closer.”)
  • Mike Stanton will hit 17 HR
  • Mike Jacobs will hit 35 HR
  • Lastings Milledge will hit 20 HR, steal 20 bases
  • Joey Votto will hit 35 HR, drive in 120 runs

That’s a decent sample of wins and losses.  As you can see, some were incredibly far off the mark by October, but you could have envisioned a scenario where they came true and you wouldn’t have have been utterly baffled as to how like you probably were after Ben Zobrist’s 2009 line of .297, 27 HR, 91 RBI, 91 R and 17 SB.  Yes, I highlighted some of the big wins there.  I definitely did not have a 58% success rate as this sample of 12 might lead you to believe.  In fact, I went 18-for-73 yielding a 25% success rate.  Let’s see if we can top that for 2011:

AL East

Baltimore Orioles:

J.J. Hardy hits a career-high 33 home runs – A bum wrist (and other various bumps & bruises) have sapped his power the last two years after a pair of mid-20s home run seasons in Milwaukee back in 2007 and 2008.  He moves to a very hitter-friendly ballpark and he is reportedly finally 100% healthy and clear of the wrist issues.  He is in the midst of his prime and I’m buying the clean bill of health.  He is going very late in fantasy drafts at the most scarce position on the diamond.  If you out on the “studs” at short in an AL-Only, wait on Hardy.

Zach Britton pitches 120+ quality innings at the big leagues – His absurd sinker and devastating slider are major league ready while his changeup is catching up quickly.  He will almost certainly start the season in AAA, but he shouldn’t be there long.  The O’s rotation is hardly stable as it currently stands so once the Super 2 Deadline passes, he should be inserted into the big league rotation where I think he will be an instant success.  “Quality innings” is a bit vague so to clarify, I’m thinking he can net a 3.50ish ERA (give or take .15 for random variance) with 6.5 K/9 and 2.0+ K/BB.  The strikeouts will rise as he gains experience, but he will utilize that sinker to induce a ton of groundballs as he gains his feel for the big leagues.

Nick Markakis finally has the .300-30-100 season – I made this one last year and I’m headed to the well again.  I was only off by 18 home runs and 40 RBIs last year!  Joking aside, he is just too good of a player to be hitting 12 home runs in a season.  A 30-home run season would be seven higher than his previous career high and 10 more than his last three seasons.  He is still at the front end of his prime so don’t rule out an explosion that would shock the narrow-minded.

Jake Fox’s regular season home run total won’t match his Spring Training total… – … because he’s not good.  He has eight as of this writing and even if he doesn’t hit another one this spring, he still won’t top that figure in the 2011 regular season.  Don’t waste your money.

Boston Red Sox:

Jacoby Ellsbury hits .320 with 16 HR – The speed will be there, too, but with a career high of 70 there is nothing that would be all that bold.  If he met this projection, he would be a Carl Crawford-lite.

Jon Lester posts a 2.50-2.75 ERA with 24 wins en route to an AL Cy Young – I had too many wins-based predictions for pitchers last year which was dumb because I’m always beating the “skill doesn’t always translate to wins” drum so I was leaving the projection in the hands of the offenses, defenses and bullpens when I was really trying to comment on the pitcher’s skill.  I included the 24-win mark in Lester’s prediction because I think he has the appropriate backing of offense, defense and bullpen to reward his increasingly excellent skill.

New York Yankees:

Alex Rodriguez hits 52 home runs – It’s hard to really predict anything that can reasonably be considered bold with A-Rod, but he’s 35 years old and has back-to-back 30 home run seasons leading many to believe he is firmly into his decline phase.  There is some skill erosion, but the decline is much smoother with transcendent players like A-Rod and I think he has at least one more MVP-type season in him.  He is a bona fide bargain at a very thin position as he goes mid-to-late second round in many leagues.  The best part about A-Rod, other than the fact that he’s finally healthy again, is that there’s a very high floor so why not invest?

Nick Swisher hits 38 home runs – He’s actually getting better the deeper he goes into his prime and though he hasn’t topped 29 in the last four seasons and 38 would be a career-high, the potential is there especially in that park.  He’s another guy with a high floor having played 150+ games each of the last five seasons.  The batting average isn’t quite the risk that many make it out to be as his .219 season in 2008 is now the clear outlier of his career.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Evan Longoria hits .324-41-133 – No, I’m not among those freaking out about his 11 homer  drop from 2009 to 2010.  After all, his OPS dropped a whopping .010 to .879.  This guy is a superstar and as such he will have some truly excellent seasons in his career.  I am looking at his age 25 in 2011 as the first such season.  All three figures would be career highs and while it wouldn’t necessarily come out of nowhere as he’s a clear first round pick, it would definitely be a profit-laden season.  Some outlets have questioned his mid-first round status, but I think it’s justified even if he “just” repeats 2010 because third base is so lame after the star cut.

James Shields posts a 3.25 ERA – His base skills actually showed significant improvement in 2010 yet his surface stats were the worst of his career because of an atrocious 1.5 home run rate.  He’s not a flyball-heavy pitcher, in fact he’s had a sub-40% flyball rate each of the last three years, yet when someone got a hold of one it was gone.  His skills are just too damn good for a 5.18 ERA or even the 4.14 ERA from 2009. I’m seeing a major course correction.

Toronto Blue Jays:

Ricky Romero shaves nearly a full walk off of his control rate and takes his ERA below 3.00 – I could see the strikeouts rising up above eight per game, but I’m not betting on it just yet as he seems to understand that inducing groundballs is the more efficient way of pitching.  I love that he has the groundball and strikeout in his arsenal.

Travis Snider completes his Adam Lind Path to Stardom – I hope he doesn’t take every step Adam Lind has after Lind’s 2010.  Both had a strong call up, then regressed in their true rookie season and bounced back to average in another half season of play.  Lind followed it up with an explosive 2009 hitting .305 with 35 HR and 114 RBIs.  I’m not sure Snider will hit .305, but he could also top the 35 homers that Lind hit.  I think a big season is in the offing and he’s two years younger than Lind was during his ascension.  Put Snider down for .270 and 38 bombs.  His RBIs will be determined by batting order.

Brandon Morrow improves his walk rate and cuts over a run off of his ERA – With his incredibly electric stuff, Morrow could accelerate his progression with improved command.  Regardless of how much he can improve his walk rate, I think there is a legitimate ceiling on Morrow’s 2011 because the Jays will cap his innings.  I could see the cap ending up somewhere around 175.  In a surprise announcement today, he will start the season on the disabled list with elbow inflammation.  Hopefully this curbs his value a few days before one of the biggest draft/auction weekends of the season.  As I mentioned re: Kevin Slowey yesterday, don’t draft for April.  If anything, take advantage of any inherent discount brought on by his missing a start or maybe two.

Next Up: AL Central

The goal is to put these up throughout the day tomorrow.  I didn’t realize how lengthy they were going to get as I originally intended to go AL/NL in a two-parter.  That would’ve been too long (that’s what she said) so I’m breaking it up by division.  I will also have my Middle Reliever Guide out this week.  I was hoping for today, but again this project expanded a bit more than I expected.

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