As of today, baseball has officially arrived. While I am obviously excited to watch the Mets on Sunday night and for the rest of the year, I am also excited to see how my various fantasy baseball teams play. Anyway, this is all a relatively pointless introduction for my 8 Bold Fantasy Predictions for the 2016. Some of these will be wrong, but that’s why they are bold predictions!
1. Trevor May is the Twins closer at the end of 2016
Trevor May was a middling starter last year, but he solidified his role as a bullpen asset late in the season and looks poised to have a breakout season in 2016. He was a victim of a high BABIP last year and his 3.25 FIP is more indicative of his overall performance than his 4.00 ERA. May has good stuff and a good strikeout rate that will play in the closer role. If he can limit his walks, May should be in line for a major role in the Twins bullpen.
Meanwhile, 33-year-old Glen Perkins was not very good after the All-Star break last season due to injuries and overall decline. He only pitched 19.2 innings in the second half, but he got lit up for a 7.32 ERA and .356 BA against. Perkins was dominant to start the year, but he missed most of the last month of the season and ceded the role to Kevin Jepsen. There’s a good chance that Perkins, despite being one of the most consistent closers to own in fantasy, will not last the year as closer. Perkins’ K/9 dropped from 9.63 to 8.53. His HR/9 rate increased from 1.02 to 1.42. That does not look good.
Jepsen is also an interesting guy to own, but he has an inferior K/9 and BB/9 to Perkins and Trevor May. I think there’s a good chance Jepsen regresses and Perkins falters, leaving Trevor May as the beneficiary. Hopefully May’s velocity will increase in a bullpen role as well.
2. Anthony Rendon bounces back and becomes a first or second rounder once again
While I am predisposed against the Washington Nationals, one of the main reasons the Nationals were unable to hold off the Mets last year was due to a staggering raft of injuries that hit the team. One of the Nats’ key injuries was to 2B/3B Anthony Rendon, who only played 80 games last season with a knee injury.
However, Rendon is still just one season removed from his huge 6.5 fWAR 2014 campaign, which made him one of the most valuable infielders in baseball. He hit .287/.351/.473, had 21 homers and 17 steals. Rendon is going to hit for average and keep a solid walk rate in 2016, as long as he stays on the field. I also think his power should settle between 15-20 homers. And although the Nats were unwilling to risk him on the basepaths last year with his injury, the new Dusty Baker regime should bring more stolen base opportunities for the entire team. I think Rendon will bounce back in a big way and hit over .300 with at least 90 runs to boot. Even if he only reaches 80 percent of my expectations, he is still undervalued in drafts right now.
3. John Lackey will have an ERA over 4.00
John Lackey’s strand rate last season was 82.6 percent. There is no way that happens again. Lackey is also moving to Wrigley Field and he’s 37. He also had Tommy John in 2011. Even though Lackey was fantastic last season, I don’t see any way he turns the clock back a decade. With a 3.77 xFIP and a 3.90 SIERA, I expect Lackey to be poor enough to post an over 4 ERA. The Cubs have enough depth to live with that, but I expect Lackey to be more like Bartolo Colon than Jake Arrieta next year. He also is getting lit up in spring training, whatever that’s worth.
4. Socrates Brito is a top 40 Outfielder by the end of 2016
I was willing to make this claim before AJ Pollock fractured his elbow, but now I’m going full steam ahead behind Socrates Brito. My reasoning is actually fairly bad though. You see, I have a save in OOTP 2015 in which Brito played for 20 years and was a valuable outfielder for several World Series teams. Brito had a good chance at supplanting Yasmany Tomas for the left field job before the season started, and now he is guaranteed regular playing time. He’s a speed demon on the bases, can hit for average, and should at the very least be a good replacement for Ender Inciarte.
Inciarte had 21 steals and hit .303 last season. Brito should score runs alongside a powerful D-Backs lineup, get steals and hit for average. The Diamondbacks have a knack for turning marginal outfield prospects into very good major leaguers (Pollock, David Peralta, Inciarte) and I think Brito is the next man up. Wow, I really just used that cliche. That’s bad for the brand.
5. Maikel Franco will be a top 5 third baseman by the end of 2016
When you think of rookie third basemen from last year, Kris Bryant is the first name that comes to mind. And while Bryant rightfully received his share of praise, his lesser-known parallel in Philadelphia got very overshadowed. If you pro-rate Franco’s offensive numbers to a full season, he would have had very similar production to Bryant. The two had almost identical isolated power numbers, batting averages and slugging percentages. Franco unfortunately got hurt in the second half, but I think that he can come close to Bryant’s numbers, especially in Citizens Bank for 82 games. Meanwhile, Bryant is getting drafted at least 5 rounds earlier.
We’ll see if Franco’s plate discipline holds up (and by the way, he strikes out half as much on average than Bryant), but the raw power is certainly for real, and his average is a good bonus. Third base is loaded at the top this year with Donaldson, Machado, Arenado and Bryant, but I think Franco makes the leap to elite status in his sophomore season.
I really, really wish he wasn’t on the Phillies.
6. Michael Wacha does not finish the season as a Top 50 pitcher
Michael Wacha is a bit overrated. Sorry Cardinals fans, it’s true. His postseason heroics and his 17 wins last season have kept him high on draft boards, but I don’t see very much upside here. Firstly, he’s coming off a major shoulder injury that he did not elect to get surgery on. Secondly, he faded down the stretch and his durability over a full season has to be questioned. Thirdly, his fielding-independent metrics are pretty bad. If you take away 5-6 of those wins, his value will start to drop as his average K/9 and high WHIP start to hurt your ratio stats.
7. This year is the end for John Danks
Despite the Drake LaRoche controversy, I actually think the White Sox will be pretty good this year. Playoff-worthy? Maybe not, but they should have the pieces to finish over .500. However, it would help a lot if they stopped throwing John Danks out every day. Why is this prediction bold? Somehow, Danks has spent 3 seasons on the White Sox rotation without posting an ERA below 4.70. You want fielding-independent numbers? Okay, his average FIP over the last three season has been 4.77 and his average xFIP is a below-average 4.45. He has also averaged 1.4 HR/9 over the last three seasons, which is just terrible.
Those are bad numbers, yet no one has been able to unseat Danks from his fifth-starter spot on the White Sox rotation! Seriously, all you have to do is be slightly above replacement level, and the job is up for grabs. Maybe the White Sox will make a deal, or perhaps someone like Erik Johnson could unseat Danks from the spot. However, the most interesting name is last year’s first-rounder Carson Fulmer, who was incredible in college with Vanderbilt and has unbelievable stuff. Fulmer has a chance at coming up this year, given that the White Sox usually move quickly with pitching prospects. And that, finally, will signal the end of John Danks’ illustrious role as a mediocre starter. It’s really too bad Danks’ shoulder blew out.
8. Wilmer Flores will have some mixed-league fantasy relevance
I couldn’t end this bold predictions piece without some Mets analysis, right? This is mostly wishful thinking, but I think that Wilmer Flores will be a relevant fantasy player at shortstop in 2016. It’s not like the shortstop pool is very deep this year. After Correa, Lindor, Tulo, Seager and Bogaerts, the cupboard is barren. Ian Desmond? Half a season of Jung-ho Kang? This is what we are dealing with here.
Enter Wilmer Flores. Or, reenter, rather, as his crying face was one of the symbols of the 2015 Mets season. Wilmer does not walk very much. Wilmer has trouble with anything outside. However, Wilmer hit 16 homers last year and was able to keep his average at .265, which is playable considering some people have Erick Aybar in their middle-infield or shortstop spot. Flores will give you counting stats. While you should not draft him in an OBP league, he may have value by the end of the season in deeper traditional leagues if he can get playing time. And in NL-only he’s pretty much a must-own, sadly.
That will be the issue, as Asdrubal Cabrera is a better hitter and should get the nod over Flores. However, Mets free-agent hitter acquisitions always turn out to be disasters somehow. I know you’re all thinking of Jason Bay or Michael Cuddyer, but let’s not forget that the Mets signed JOHN MAYBERRY JR. to play a significant role in the outfield last year. Mayberry was terrible. Anyway, don’t rule out a career-worst slump for Cabrera as soon as the season starts (possibly assisted by his lack of spring training).
Also, David Wright will be getting plenty of off days for his spinal stenosis, and Neil (not Nell) Walker is no spring chicken either. Wilmer is projected for 466 plate appearances and 14 homers by Steamer, and that is somewhat viable. Wouldn’t you rather have that than Erick Aybar’s .330-range slugging percentage and 3 homers?
No? Actually yeah, that’s a valid point, but just let me dream for Wilmer okay?