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Behind the Numbers: 10 Fearless Predictions

David Regan

David Regan

David Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, and was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

Two months of data may not seem like enough time to forecast rest-of-year performance, but let's take that data and do it anyway. Here are 10 predictions, many of which I will try and go out on a limb on at the sake of risking reader ridicule:

1. Yasiel Puig will be the best Dodger outfielder the rest of the way

So I'm basing this off of three things:


  • Seeing him play live in Arizona three times in March, with one of those games being his 4-for-4 (triple, HR, SB) game.
  • His debut, particularly that throw.
  • His $42 million contract.

Puig has played one game, but I've already read comparisons to Bo Jackson and Roberto Clemente among other illustrious athletes of days gone by. Puig though is just an impressive physical specimen, generating power to all fields and for a big guy, showing Jose Canseco type speed on the base paths. I won't predict 40/40 seasons in his future other than to say he has the tools to do so. I've read that he may have issues adjusting to major league breaking stuff, and while that's true, you don't think Double-A pitchers were throwing curves and sliders to Puig? He still hit .313/.383/.599, with 50 percent of his hits going for extra bases in what isn't exactly a hitter's league.

As for what happens when Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp get healthy is TBD, but it's quite clear that Andre Ethier isn't going to finish the season as a Dodger. Expect the Dodgers to be willing to eat a significant portion of what's left on Ethier's ill-advised $85 million contact to move him. Hey, maybe they can trade him and $40 million to the Cubs for that reliever they cut loose this spring – Kevin Gregg.

Bottom line: Puig is clearly already better than Ethier, and given Kemp's struggles this year, he may be better than him as well. Crawford was having a bounce-back year prior to getting hurt, but I would expect some regression there, perhaps to a .800 OPS, something I think Puig can exceed this year.

Edit: I wrote all of the above prior to Tuesday night's game in which Puig electrified the crowd with a pair of home runs and five RBI. Suddenly, the prediction doesn't seem all that “out on a limb”. Still, you do deal Puig for Kemp if you get that offer, right?

2. Zack Wheeler won't live up to the hype

One scout I read compared Wheeler to A.J. Burnett, which isn't awful, but Matt Harvey has certainly put some distance between himself and Wheeler for the Mets' 2014 Opening Day starter discussion. In Triple-A, Wheeler has had six walks in one game and three in four others, resulting in an overall 3.7 BB/9, which isn't awful, but it could use improvement. Scouts seem to think that Wheeler will have much more difficulty improving his control and command at the big league level, and it seems more to do with his mechanics than anything. Harvey had a 3.9 BB/9 in Triple-A last year and that rate now sits at 2.1 so far in 2013, so perhaps Wheeler will follow the same path. Assuming that happens though is risky, as not all top pitching prospects develop as quickly as guys like Harvey and Shelby Miller. I think Wheeler can be a solid No. 2 starter in time, but he's still got some work to do.

Bottom line: We'll see him soon, he'll be good, but he's not a savior.

3. Wil Myers will be the Rays' best hitter from June through September

Myers has hit .439/.477/.976 with five home runs in his last 10 games, and with the deadline for Super-Two arbitration eligibility soon to pass, Myers will be on his way to Tampa Bay sooner rather than later. What they really should do is pull a Longoria/Moore and bring him up Wednesday and sign him to a six-year deal the next day and they don't have to worry about these sort of financial issues. Let's be clear: the only reason he's still in Triple-A is this: $$$.

Here are the team's splits by OF/DH:

LF: .280/.350/.505 – Pretty good actually thanks to Kelly Johnson's surprising season.
CF: .248/.322/.417 – Desmond Jennings has been a disappointment so far, but he's not losing his job.
RF: .244/.324/.411 – This would look much better if we just pulled Matt Joyce in (.287/.381/.564 in RF).
DH: .185/.306/.318 – And this is where it gets ugly. Luke Scott and Shelly Duncan just haven't done justice to what should be a high-offense position.

Bottom line: Myers will be up by mid-June and will likely slot in left field, with Kelly Johnson moving to the DH slot. Am I 100% confident that he will have a better second half than Evan Longoria? Not completely, but given that he appears back to his Triple-A MVP type ways of 2012 and given the scouting reports, it wouldn't shock me.

4. Rex Brothers will finish with more saves than Rafael Betancourt

Betancourt is about to get Pipped. Even before the injury, the 38 year-old has been showing serious signs of a decline:

Velocity – Down 1.6 mph over last year and 2.5 mph compared to 2011.

The walks – Famous for posting back-to-back identical 1.16 BB/9 rates in 2010-2011, Betancourt saw an increase to still excellent 1.9 last year, but this year it's mushroomed to 4.1

Swinging strike rate – Down from five straight years of 12%+ to just 10.1% this year.

Basically his stuff just isn't fooling guys anymore, so they can remain patient and wait for a pitch to hit or just walk to first.

Brothers on the other hand is the future. I wasn't sure he'd get the gig over Wilton Lopez and Matt Belisle, but it's tough to argue with a 0.36 ERA, is it not? That number is of course going to rise given Brothers' 4.4 BB/9 and unsustainable 96.7% strand rate, but he's also just 25, so there is room for continued improvement. To Brothers' credit, his BB/9 last year was 4.9, so we've already seen some improvement. He's yet to allow a home run while pitching half his games in Coors Field, so while we know a HR/FB% of 0% is unlikely, we should at least give him some credit for keeping the ball in the park, no?

Bottom line: If you have DL slots, don't cut him just yet, but Betancourt's save total might not increase this year.

5. Miguel Cabrera will win another Triple Crown

Cabrera is looking to go down as one of the better right-handed hitters of all-time, and the hits just keep on coming this year. Headed into Tuesday night's games, Cabrera and Chris Davis were 1-2 in each of the three categories, with Cabrera leading in BA by 10 points and RBI by 13, and Davis having the HR lead 20 to 17. If you don't think a .382 BABIP is sustainable, Cabrera's career mark sits at .351 and he's had marks above .360 four times previously. He's drawing more walks and striking out slightly less than last year while currently topping a .300 ISO, a mark he's never finished with in his career. He's homered three times in his last five games and is frankly, a hitting machine right now. We have to think Davis is going to cool off in terms of the average given his .408 BABIP, but he's probably the biggest threat to lead the league in HR and derail back-to-back Triple Crown seasons for Cabrera.

In other Triple Crown category news, a couple surprises for me: Jhonny Peralta is batting .332 and Mike Napoli is fourth in the AL with 45 RBI.

Bottom line: Hopefully you ended up with Cabrera and not Ryan Braun if you were picking inside the top three this spring.

6. Anthony Rendon will be the Nationals' second baseman from June 15 through the end of the year

So I wrote this headline before the news Tuesday that Danny Espinosa would be placed on the DL with a wrist injury and Rendon would be recalled. The Nationals used Steve Lombardozzi at second base Tuesday, but given he's hit just .234/.246/.298 through Tuesday, Lombardozzi is of little threat to Rendon playing every day. Before hitting the DL, Espinosa was batting a paltry .158/.193/.272, and amazingly, Espinosa has never been above .200 this season, and his plate discipline has been non-existent (2.4% BB%) after being at least average in prior seasons. He was probably going to be replaced sometime this month, and Rendon was the likely candidate. Rendon had a 1.064 OPS in Double-A before being promoted a level and playing three games in Triple-A and then being summoned to the big club. He has power, contact ability, and plate discipline and at some point this year, he'll be hitting in the middle of the Nationals' lineup.

Bottom line: Assuming Rendon can handle the position defensively, he could quickly become one of the league's top offensive second basemen.

7. Coco Crisp will finish as a better fantasy player than Matt Kemp

Considering Crisp is having a career year (.300/.401/.513) and Kemp is not, this may not be much of a stretch, but do we really expect Kemp to not close the 274-point gap in the pair's OPS? He'll close it, but even though Crisp is on the cusp of dropping out of his prime at age 33, there is still a lot to like about the improvements he's made at the plate this year. Not that he was a hacker prior to 2013, but Crisp has really embraced his role as a leadoff guy, improving his BB% from 8.9% to 15% year over year. He's also cut his K% to a career-best 8.8% and we can't say his .300 average is BABIP inflated given his reasonable .307 BABIP. He's swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone, and Crisp's 4.3% swinging-strike percentage is among the best in the league.

Bottom line: A little drop-off is probably to be expected, but Crisp is really seeing the ball well right now and is a safer guy to own than Kemp.

8. The Brewers will blow things up in July and deny the Astros a third consecutive No. 1 overall pick

Despite having two of the league's better hitters in Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez, the Brewers still rank 20th in runs and 16th in team OPS. Really though it's been all about the starting pitching, and this is a club that has the lowest starter's ERA in the league at 5.60. Yovani Gallardo has probably been the biggest disappointment with his 5.05 ERA, but Kyle Lohse has been fairly mediocre in his own right (4.37 ERA, 5.5 K/9), and the team is getting nothing out of Marco Estrada (5.32) and Wily Peralta (5.94). They decided to give Alfredo Figaro a shot in the rotation after Figaro had pitched all year out of the bullpen, but Figaro allowed four runs on three homers in five innings over a recent spot start, so it's tough to be optimistic there. Figaro has averaged 95.1 mph with his fastball, so that's intriguing, and you can't argue with a 1.8 BB/9, but wow, 2.1 home runs every nine innings.

Bottom line: So what does this all mean? Well given that the Brewers have drafted so poorly in recent years, the farm system isn't going to be of much help. There is a lot to like on the offensive side, including Jean Segura, but in order to get the necessary pitching to compete in the future, they may have to deal a guy like Yovani Gallardo and/or Aramis Ramirez. You have to figure Braun, Gomez, and Segura are about the only guys off limits. Of course as we found out Tuesday, Braun might be off limits more for what he's alleged to have done off the field than what we know he can do on it.

9. Eventually I'll notice that Everth Cabrera is a pretty good fantasy option

I've always had in my mind that Cabrera is a guy limited to having upside in one category (steals), giving him NL-only value, but little value in 12-team mixed leagues. That seems to be changing in 2013, as Cabrera is taking real steps forward in multiple areas. Currently hitting .276/.361/.396 with 23 steals, Cabrera has also already doubled last year's home-run output to four and his triples output from three to four in close to 200 fewer PA's. Cabrera has also made progress in other key metrics (year-over-year comparison):

BB%: 9.6% to 10.7%
K%: 24.5% to 16.4% - huge progress

He's also hitting more line drives, and though a 58.3% GB% is higher than we would normally like to see, it's not necessarily a bad thing given his speed. When he swings, Cabrera usually makes contact, as his 6.5% swinging-strike rate is by far the lowest of his career.

Bottom line: Petco Park will limit the HR upside to the 8-12 range, but Cabrera shouldn't have a problem exceeding 50 steals, and now that the average and power are respectable, he's at least a top-six fantasy shortstop.

10. Mets fans will continue to wonder what could have been as Carlos Gomez shoots for 30/30

According to FanGraphs, Gomez has a higher WAR (3.5) than Mike Trout (3.4) and Joey Votto (2.8), while the Mets' outfield consists of Rick Ankiel as a starter in center, flanked by Lucas Duda and Marlon Byrd. Gomez is batting .323/.367/.577 with 10 homers and 11 steals, positioning him for an All-Star appearance and a run at a 30/30 season. Gomez is still a guy we'd like to see walk more (4.6% BB%), but he's striking out slightly less than he did in his days with the Twins and Mets. A .382 BABIP isn't sustainable, but given his wheels, Gomez could certainly maintain a mark above .300, though expecting too much more than .280 the rest of the way is probably wishful thinking. What is real is that he's taken yet another step forward in his power. Here is how Gomez's isolated power (ISO) has trended the past few years:

2010: .110
2011: .177
2013: .254

Vladimir Guerrero was a guy who got by quite well with a low walk rate, and Gomez could have a similar prime to his career, with perhaps a little less power. If you think Gomez is simply having a good couple months before the big fall, look back to the second half of 2013:

First half: .233/.280/.423, 33 AB/HR
Second half: .278/.321/.488, 18 AB/HR

Bottom line: The average probably isn't real, but the power is. Safe to say that the Johan Santana trade involving Gomez didn't work out so well for the Mets.
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