Will Joey Votto win the National League batting title this season?
Written by Mike Gianella
Every year, baseball writers of every stripe spend copious amounts of (virtual) ink on their baseball predictions. For most serious writers, this is an exercise in following the crowd, not doing anything original or unique. This isn’t a criticism either; I’m prone to doing the same thing. Predictions, after all, should follow a certain form of logic or wisdom.
A few years ago, Fangraphs started publishing a series of articles where members of the staff would come up with 10 unusual or unexpected predictions for the upcoming season. These predictions were mostly in earnest, but were also primary designed to start a conversation. In that spirit, I’m throwing my hat in the ring and looking back at the projections I did for the Fantasy Trade 411 Draft Guide and discussing my 10 most “shocking” predictions for the 2013 season.
1) The Yankees will be one of the American League Wild Cards
After years of dominating the American League during the regular season, a tepid winter without any significant additions combined with a rash of injuries has put the New York Yankees into the unlikely position of potential also-ran. Every pundit has written them off, and everyone is wondering if the banged up Bombers can stay out of the basement.
What a number of people fail to miss is that while the Yankees are a walking M*A*S*H* unit in late March, only Alex Rodriguez is expected to miss significant time. Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and Derek Jeter all should be back at some point this year, and in Jeter and Granderson’s cases should return sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, the team should have a healthy Mariano Rivera and Brett Gardner to go with a full season of Ichiro Suzuki…something they didn’t have in 2012.
Something the naysayers neglect to mention is that the Yankees staff is strong. A CC Sabathia/Hiroki Kuroda/Andy Pettitte/Ivan Nova rotation is solid, and Rivera and David Robertson ending games should keep the team in a lot of close ones throughout the year. There is some potential for the team to slip, but a mid to high 80s win total isn’t out of the question by any means.
2) Josh Rutledge will be in the minors by June 1…if not sooner
Conventional wisdom in fantasy drafts has Rutledge going very high, and earlier than a number of shortstops. But even if Rutledge’s extreme home/road splits don’t give you pause, his overall profile definitely should. Rutledge never had significant success in the minors, was never considered a top prospect, and has problems getting on base. You can’t steal first, not even in hitter-happy Colorado, and I suspect that Rutledge is going to have enough problems with his OBP that the Rockies may need to send him down to Triple-A for more seasoning. Nolan Arenado is waiting in the wings and Chris Nelson can play second base capably. Maybe Rutledge will eventually succeed, but based on his base skills and prior performance, it seems like a stretch to assume that he will in 2013.
3) Joey Votto will hit .350 (or better)
My projection for Joey Votto in the Fantasy Trade 411 Draft Guide was eye-popping to say the least. But the number that jumped out was the .351 batting average I called for in the guide. Ridiculous? Possibly. But Votto’s lack of infield pop-ups is well documented, he’s presumably 100% healthy, and with Shin-Soo Choo in the fold is arguably in an even better line-up than he was in 2012. If any hitter in Major League Baseball has the skills to pull this off, it’s Votto.
4) John Axford will lose his job by May 15
Perception is a funny thing. Carlos Marmol is constantly called to task for his incredibly high walk rates, and justifiably so, yet John Axford gets a perpetual pass. Last year, Ax seemed to improve in September, but his high BB% speaks to the potential for continued trouble down the line. The only thing that saved Axford from losing his job in 2012 was the lack of a reliable replacement. My educated guess is that “proven” closer Michael Gonzalez will get most of the saves in this pen, but the more important takeaway is that it’s unlikely that Axford can keep walking the park in 2013 and hold onto his job.
5) Justin Verlander won’t be the best pitcher on the Tigers staff
I’m not going so far as to say that Verlander will have a bad year. But I predict that Max Scherzer will have a breakout season, win 20 games, and possibly win the American League Cy Young Award. We’ve all heard this song and dance before and it’s a fool’s errand to parse predictions out of half seasons and small sample sizes, but Scherzer certainly has the stuff and ability to do it. More importantly, his advanced metrics (FIP, xFIP, SIERA) all markedly improved last year. My prediction is that the ERA and WHIP catch up in 2013 in a big way.
6) Carlos Gomez hits 25 home runs and steals 50 bases
While some are predicting a significant slump for Gomez, I see a big year ahead. The power is legitimate (see his HR/FB%) and we all know that Gomez is fast. The batting average will always be a risk, but thanks to the $24 million, three-year contract extension the Brewers handed him this offseason, Gomez will play unless he completely falls off the face of the earth. Gomez hit 19 home runs and stole 37 bases across 452 plate appearances in 2012. Hitting the targets I laid out for him in 600 plate appearances is a realistic possibility.
7) Bryce Harper stagnates…and maybe even takes a step back
In the long run, I suspect that Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are going to both be superstars that our cryogenically preserved heads tell our great-great-great-great-grandchildren about in some sort of dystopian future where the robots have harvested our bodies for their nefarious purposes. In 2013, though, I believe that Bryce Harper is going to have a hard time. The toutocracy are all pointing their fingers at Mike Trout as a regression candidate, but Harper is subject to the same laws of regression, is a year younger, and has to face the same high quality pitchers making the same adjustments. I’ve seen people taking Harper in the first round or paying $35 for him in only formats. That’s a mistake.
8) Matt Moore doesn’t have that big breakout season
Moore is every fantasy expert’s darling this year. I hate to be the wet blanket/sourpuss/voice of reason, but Moore’s high walk rates tell us that we should temper our enthusiasm, at least for now. Yes, Moore was better Post All-Star in the walk department, but this is a case where using partial season stats to support your argument is potentially faulty. I like Moore long-term, and think he could take a step forward this year, but temper your expectations this year and don’t pay for an ace just yet.
9) Zack McAllister is the Indians best starter, and a solid mixed league play
After a quick start for the Tribe in 2012, McAllister blew up and finished with some barely noticeable, pedestrian numbers. However, his peripherals were strong and most of his troubles came with men-on-base due to the long ball. McAllister has struggled once at every level before establishing himself and his 2012 struggles fit the pattern. Except a big step forward in 2013 with an ERA under 4.
10) Ryan Braun doesn’t get suspended (at least not in 2013)
It never fails. Every time even the tiniest piece of news leaks out about MLBs investigation about Ryan Braun, a host of fantasy players panic and refuse to draft him in the top 3. This is a huge mistake. I’m no lawyer, but joint baseball/legal experts like Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk and Wendy Thurm of Fangraphs both indicate that Major League Baseball’s case against Biogenesis is a long shot. Even if Braun is handed a suspension as a result, it’s highly likely that Braun and the Players’ Association will appeal. Barring injury or, you know, an actual failed drug test, Braun plays a full season this year.
Written by Mike Gianella
Senior Fantasy Writer, Baseball Prospectus