As the season draws near, it is time for some bold predictions. I produced a similar piece last year where I proclaimed that Josh Hader would be the number-one reliever in fantasy. If anyone else made that claim before last season, I sure as hell didn’t see it. To be fair, I also said that Jose Alvarado would be a top-five closer last year. What can I say? These are bold predictions. They are not mild predictions. These are not things that are expected to happen, or even likely to happen. Most of them will not. Some of these may look downright ridiculous in a couple of months. But, hey, if you can’t look ridiculous in front of the world in print, then who can you look ridiculous in front of? Unfortunately, the boldest prediction of all may be that the season starts on time.
The point of this column is to shine a bit of light on some players who I am higher or lower on than most. I decided to take a different tact this year and make one bold prediction for each position. This way, I can highlight one or two people at each position, rather than wax poetic about the 20 different shortstops who could post top-100 value or talk about what a wasteland the catching position appears to be. So pick my bold predictions apart and feel free to post yours in the comments below.
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Bold Predictions for 2020 Fantasy Baseball
Danny Jansen (ADP: C19) will outproduce Will Smith (ADP: C7)
I can hear it now… “Mick, you’re overreacting to Spring Training numbers, which are meaningless.” It is certainly possible. Jansen flopped as a rookie last year to the tune of a .207 batting average. But he seems to have an edge on Reese McGuire for the starting gig on what should be a very interesting offense. Jansen exhibited elite defensive metrics last season and his offensive output this spring should put him in the driver’s seat. The last time McGuire was seen in the driver’s seat, well, let’s just say that the story does not have a happy ending. As for Smith, he burst onto the scene with 15 home runs in just 54 games played with the Dodgers last season. I believe that people mistakenly think that last year’s numbers reflect the totality of who he is as a hitter. I think they only tell part of the story.
Smith was third in all of baseball among hitters with at least 100 batted-ball events with a 23.7-degree launch angle. That leads to a lot of home runs when a hitter is in a groove. When he is not, the results aren’t always pretty. Some of the hitters who finished 2019 in the top 10 in launch angle include Travis Shaw, Jay Bruce, Derek Dietrich, and Austin Riley. These are players who are extremely streaky hitters who are prone to lengthy cold streaks. I think Smith fits that mold, but his value is skewed because we never really saw an extended drought last season. To be fair, Mike Trout was also on the list. But I think it is safe to say that Will Smith is no Mike Trout. Smith is more likely to look like Stephen Vogt in 2020 than Mike Trout. Consider this:
Smith – 23.7-degree launch angle, 36.4 percent sweet spot percentage, 89.5 MPH average exit velocity, 396 foot average home run distance, 39.2 percent hard-hit rate, 10.7 percent barrels per batted ball event, 6.6 barrels per plate appearance
Vogt – 22.4-degree launch angle, 37.8 percent sweet spot percentage, 89.8 MPH average exit velocity, 395 foot average home run distance, 41.1 percent hard-hit rate, 10.4 percent barrels per batted ball event, 7.1 barrels per plate appearance
C.J. Cron (ADP: 282.46) is a top-12 Fantasy First Baseman
At the risk of regurgitating my work, I was asked recently by the fine folks over at FantasyPros to give my thoughts on this year’s top sleeper. Instead of rewording what I wrote while trying to avoid a bad Cron/Coronavirus joke, I will just repost what I wrote the other day. Enjoy.
“My sleeper pick for the 2020 season is Cron. Over the last two years, he has averaged a home run every 19.25 plate appearances. Despite this vulgar display of power, major league teams and fantasy owners alike continue to devalue him. Cron is falling past the 20th round in most drafts and will be playing for his fourth team in as many years. He is now in Detroit, where he should play first base and hit cleanup. The lineup and ballpark leave something to be desired, but the opportunity is there for him to put up big numbers given a full allotment of at-bats. Cron has the kind of power that plays anywhere.
The 30-year-old finished sixth among 250 qualified hitters in Brls/PA (barrels per plate appearance) and 21st in xSLG (expected slugging percentage) last season. He improved his SwStr% (swinging-strike rate) from 13.9 in 2018 to 11.8 in 2019 while also increasing his hard-hit percentage from 36.6 to 44.6 percent. Those gains did not show up in his actual batting average, which remained at .253 year over year. However, his xBA (expected batting average) rose from .251 to .277. Cron can easily hit 30 homers and bat .260 if he can remain healthy. Those are thresholds that, even with last year’s altered baseball, were reached by just 38 hitters in 2019. Cron is an ideal fit for a corner infield spot given his price point and high floor.”
Whit Merrifield (ADP: 58.63) finishes outside the top-50 hitters
I want to start by saying that I do not think Merrifield will completely bottom out. He is a solid source of batting average and runs. His 311 combined runs and hits were tied for second-best in all of baseball last year. Also, the Royals have a soft schedule to start the year. There is a possibility Merrifield starts hot and rides the wave into the summer. However, some things make me nervous about him heading into this season. He does not provide the pop you would normally find from an early-round pick. Even with last year’s bouncy ball, he mustered just 16 home runs while playing all 162 games.
I also do not expect Merrifield to steal bases with the frequency or success he has shown in the past. His sprint speed has gone from 32nd in MLB in 2017 to 44th in 2018 and 92nd in 2019. During that same period, his stolen base percentage went from 81 percent in 2017 and 82 percent in 2018 down to 67 percent last year. Merrifield is now 31 years old. While he likely has some solid seasons left in the tank, his stolen base aptitude may continue to decline. Perhaps even more worrisome is that the Royals also figure to run less under Mike Matheny than they did under Ned Yost. In Yost’s 10 years at the helm in Kansas City, baserunners attempted a stolen base on 5.8 percent of opportunities. Cardinals baserunners attempted steals on just 3.7 percent of chances under Matheny.
Dansby Swanson (ADP: 261.75) finishes higher than Corey Seager (ADP: 139.27)
Justin Turner (ADP: 151.48) finishes as a top-50 hitter
See, I don’t hate all of the Dodgers! Justin Turner is in one of the best lineup spots in all of baseball. He is slated to hit third for the Dodgers. He will bat behind Mookie Betts and Max Muncy. Betts is one of the premier leadoff hitters in the game, and Muncy gets on base at a high clip. Turner has ideal protection in Clay Bellinger, the reigning NL MVP. Turner’s Statcast metrics have been better than the league average in virtually every category in each of the last five years. One thing I noticed when researching Turner is that his production seems to decrease with runners on base and in scoring position over the past three years. Since 2017, here are his plate appearances numbers per home run, measured as PA/HR, along with his batting average:
Bases empty – 22.5 PA/HR, .311 batting average
Runners on – 27.6 PA/HR, .302 batting average
Scoring position – 49 PA/HR, .275 batting average
This has led to a rather pedestrian RBI total given his opportunities to drive in runs. Turner is a veteran who does not seem to get rattled. This leads me to believe this is simple variance rather than a byproduct of him pressing or anything along those lines. He will have plenty of plate appearances with runners in scoring position this season. If he can cut down on that 49 PA/HR and bump that batting average up a few ticks in those situations, he should put up huge numbers when in the lineup. I envision a season like Anthony Rizzo had last year. Rizzo scored 89 runs and drove in 94 while hitting 27 home runs with a .293 average. He finished as last year’s 43rd ranked hitter in 2019. Turner is a solid value considering where he is going in drafts.
Avisail Garcia (ADP: OF60) finishes as a top-30 fantasy outfielder
Avisail Garcia has had an odd career. He was likened to Miguel Cabrera when he came up with the Tigers. He was largely disappointing in Motown before being shipped to Chicago in the middle of 2013. Garcia finally got his first taste of Big League action in 2015 and 2016 but was mostly underwhelming. Then, out of nowhere, he hit .330 with career-highs across the board in 2017. It seemed like he finally found his hitting stroke. Then in 2018, he had a .236 average and .281 on-base percentage. So much for that. Garcia left Chicago in free agency and signed with Tampa in January of 2019. As is often the case with players going to Tampa, Garcia filled a solid role with the Rays. He hit .282 with career-highs in home runs (20) and stolen bases (10). He again elected free agency and signed with Milwaukee.
Garcia is not guaranteed full-time at-bats in 2020. That is why he can be had at such a discount. But the talent and surroundings are there for a big year out of Garcia if the opportunities present themselves. The easiest path to a full-time gig would be an injury to Ryan Braun. While I will not wish harm on anyone, Braun is not exactly the picture of durability. Braun played 144 games in 2019, which was the most he has played since 2012. He is no sure thing to play as many games this year as he did last year. Garcia can also get more chances if Justin Smoak does not pan out at first base. In that scenario, Braun would likely shift to first while Garcia would play in the outfield. If either scenario plays out, Garcia could be a steal late in drafts.
Dylan Bundy (ADP: SP65) will outproduce Zack Wheeler (ADP: SP28)
Josh Hader (ADP: RP1) will not lead the Milwaukee Brewers in saves
I know, blasphemy. How dare I go against the very man who made me look smart just last season? For me, there are a couple of factors at play here. First and foremost, Craig Counsell really likes using Josh Hader to get more than three outs. He recorded four out or more in 23 of his 61 appearances last year. That may seem like a large number, but it is a major decrease from his 2018 usage. That season, 60 percent of his outings lasted longer than an inning. I believe that is Counsell’s ideal scenario – to space out Hader’s outings and make them last longer. With the new “three batter rule” going into effect, I think Counsell will try to mirror his 2018 usage of Hader. That season, Hader finished with six wins and 12 saves in 55 games.
Milwaukee may also have some intriguing bullpen pieces depending on how the next couple of weeks play out. Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes are a couple of pitchers vying for the fifth spot in the rotation. Both have had excellent springs and offer tantalizing upside. It is possible that one or both could join Hader at the back end of the Brewers’ bullpen. Corey Knebel, Milwaukee’s closer from two years ago, is due back in May. I would not expect him to be thrust into the mix for saves right away, but he may be an option as the year rolls on. I think there are scenarios in which Hader winds up with between 10-20 saves rather than 37. He will still be a very valuable reliever for fantasy purposes, but I think he may fall well short of his expected save output in 2020.
For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2020 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
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