Collette Calls: 2023 NL Central Bold Predictions

Collette Calls: 2023 NL Central Bold Predictions

This article is part of our Collette Calls series.

If you are new to this annual series, the premise for this series is most recently outlined here. I have added Ariel Cohen's ATC projections to the tables below as they became available on Fangraphs last month. The ADP data listed below is from the last 30 days in 35 Draft Champions leagues. 

Chicago Cubs

Dansby Swanson (ADP 85, Min 64, Max 104) finishes outside the top 125

SOURCE

PA

AVG

OBP

HR

RBI

R

SB

RotoWire

651

.260

.320

25

83

88

13

THE BAT X

652

.253

.318

23

80

81

13

Steamer

660

.247

.309

22

74

80

13

ATC

652

.253

.314

23

79

84

14

Swanson is coming off a monster fantasy season, one that was perfectly timed for him as he hit the open market and now gets to play for his deceased grandfather's favorite team. It's a great story for those who enjoy those feel-good baseball stories, but we should also be conditioned to the risks associated with players who post career seasons right before hitting free agency and landing elsewhere.

Swanson hit first or second a total of 120 times last season, with Matt Olson and Austin Riley hitting behind him to help drive him in. Swanson was also able to enjoy the fruits of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Michael Harris II getting on base in front of him. That talent in front and behind him at the plate is what allowed him to both score 90+ runs as well as

If you are new to this annual series, the premise for this series is most recently outlined here. I have added Ariel Cohen's ATC projections to the tables below as they became available on Fangraphs last month. The ADP data listed below is from the last 30 days in 35 Draft Champions leagues. 

Chicago Cubs

Dansby Swanson (ADP 85, Min 64, Max 104) finishes outside the top 125

SOURCE

PA

AVG

OBP

HR

RBI

R

SB

RotoWire

651

.260

.320

25

83

88

13

THE BAT X

652

.253

.318

23

80

81

13

Steamer

660

.247

.309

22

74

80

13

ATC

652

.253

.314

23

79

84

14

Swanson is coming off a monster fantasy season, one that was perfectly timed for him as he hit the open market and now gets to play for his deceased grandfather's favorite team. It's a great story for those who enjoy those feel-good baseball stories, but we should also be conditioned to the risks associated with players who post career seasons right before hitting free agency and landing elsewhere.

Swanson hit first or second a total of 120 times last season, with Matt Olson and Austin Riley hitting behind him to help drive him in. Swanson was also able to enjoy the fruits of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Michael Harris II getting on base in front of him. That talent in front and behind him at the plate is what allowed him to both score 90+ runs as well as drive in 90+ runs last season. Swanson will see a downgrade in front of him with Tucker Barnhart and Nico Hoerner occupying the two spots ahead of him and Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki taking the two spots behind him. Swanson saw 371 runners on base when he came to the plate last season, the 39th-highest total in the league. (Pete Alonso was first with 499.) The highest-ranking Cub last season was Patrick Wisdom at 361 and then Nico Hoerner all the way down at 291. Atlanta led the league with 15.6 percent of its baserunners coming around to score, while the Cubs were 26th in the league at 13.3 percent.

I do not believe the overall change of scenery and the impact of a new contract coming off a career season are being fully reflected in the ADP for Swanson, especially someone with a below-average strikeout rate whose expected batting average last season was 21 points below his actual batting average. I believe the Steamer projections are going to be the ones closest to the final numbers for Swanson when 2023 is all said and done, and even those may be a bit optimistic given so much of his 2022 production came in one of the more advantageous lineup spots in baseball. Which Swanson will 2023 fantasy managers get: the one who hit .294/.353/.481 with 15 homers and 14 steals in the first half or the one who hit.254/.298/.404 with 10 homers and 4 steals in the second half?

Jeremiah Estrada (ADP 580, Min 463, Max 684) leads the Cubs in saves

SOURCE

IP

K

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

RotoWire

3

4

0

0

3.00

1.67

THE BAT

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Steamer

38

43

2

0

3.79

1.28

ATC

26

29

1

0

4.20

1.31

This may be one of the boldest ones of this entire series given he has zero major-league saves to date, but when Eno Sarris tweets, I listen:

I also say this as someone who will not quit rostering Julian Merryweather until his arm falls off, and he's now in this organization as well. That said, after watching the surge forward Felix Bautista took last season, we're almost required to get on the Estrada train early before being required to go out and blow a third of our FAAB budget on him in late April. Estrada' Stuff+ score was equal to Jacob deGrom's last season and better than the aforementioned Bautista and even Gerrit Cole. That is how nasty Estrada could be.

Estrada pitched 54 innings last year across four stops in the organization and struck out 86 batters while allowing two home runs and 37 hits overall. His intro music should be Vince McMahon's No Chance in Hell intro from WWE because that's how most at bats end up, as he struck out 38 percent of all the hitters he faced as a professional pitcher. Inexperience is the only thing in his way, because projected closer Brandon Hughes is the only lefty in the Cubs' expected bullpen on a guaranteed contract. This harkens back to a few years ago when Amir Garrett wanted to be the closer in Cincy and Kansas City, only to find out that being the only lefty in a bullpen is a curse rather than a blessing. The risk/reward is rather large here, but that's the price one will have to pay to join the hype machine which is well under way for the reliever. The chart below will start showing picks in the 300s by March:

Cincinnati Reds

Chad Pinder (ADP 699, Min 565, Max 740) is a top-100 outfielder

SOURCE

PA

AVG

OBP

HR

RBI

R

SB

RotoWire

295

.238

.279

9

34

33

1

THE BAT X

279

.237

.288

9

32

30

1

Steamer

348

.233

.279

12

40

36

2

ATC

279

.235

.281

9

32

30

1

Pinder is 163rd on the outfield ADP rankings over the last month, just behind the likes of Zac Veen and Tyler Naquin. I said this in January, and I stand by it:

Pinder has shown top 20th percentile MaxEV four times in his career, most recently in 2021 with an 84th percentile finish. He has his flaws and has never seen 380 plate appearances in a major-league season due to his defensive liabilities and injuries, but Cincinnati can offer him a chance at redemption much like they did with Brandon Drury last season. If you liked Drury heading into Great American Smallpark last season, why would you not like Pinder heading into a similar situation this season:

We've heard about the shallowness of the outfield position all offseason, so there will be opportunities for guys to jump up and surprise. Drury had a 738 ADP in Draft Champion leagues last season and was taken in just 2 of 321 such leagues last winter. Assuming he's healthy and makes the roster, Pinder has a chance (albeit a small one) of embracing the same conditions, allowing him to make the leap from the depths of the outfield rankings into something productive in 2023. 

Nick Lodolo (ADP 126, Min 92, Max 145) is not a top-50 starting pitcher.

SOURCE

IP

K

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

RotoWire

140

178

5

0

3.66

1.26

THE BAT

153

173

9

0

3.99

1.27

Steamer

176

207

10

0

3.67

1.21

ATC

153

180

8

0

3.75

1.22

Lodolo is the 38th starting pitcher by ADP and the 54th pitcher overall. Charlie Morton (ADP 161) is currently the 50th starting pitcher by ADP over the past month. Lodolo is a victim of circumstance here, as he's a talented pitcher on a team whose over/under in Vegas has been set at 65.5 wins. Jeff Erickson's projected win total for Lodolo may look harsh compared to the others, but it's also his inner Reds fan coming out and speaking the truth. It will be tough for the youngster to get his wins for a team with so many flaws and a suspect middle-relief crew.

As it were, Lodolo earned a decision in 11 of his 19 starts last season and finished the season with 4 wins. His numbers on his four-seamer and curveball were as great as the numbers on his sinker and changeup were terrible, but that is to be expected for someone on a learning curve accelerated by the lost 2020 season who nearly tripled his workload from 2021 to 2022. The larger problem here is the home ballpark and the team which plays in it 81 times a season. The Reds are going to fight the Nationals, Pirates and Rockies for the NL basement, so strikeouts will be the only area in which Lodolo has a chance to excel while wins and ERA are at risk. There's too much Hopeium being used by fantasy managers here when more proven veterans with much higher floors, like Morton, are going much later. 

Lodolo has a bright future in this game, but that future is not now. 

Milwaukee Brewers

Sal Frelick (ADP 476, Min 340, Max 564) is a top-80 outfielder

SOURCE

PA

AVG

OBP

HR

RBI

R

SB

RotoWire

NYP

NYP

NYP

NYP

NYP

NYP

NYP

THE BAT X

123

.261

.317

2

12

14

2

Steamer

112

.276

.337

2

12

13

2

ATC

125

.269

.326

2

12

14

3

Frelick has played two seasons of minor-league baseball and has a career triple-slash of .331/.406/.477 with 36 steals in 46 attempts. He profiles as someone who could hit leadoff or ninth in a batting order, but it would take a minor miracle for him to force his way into the top of the Milwaukee order as it looks now, especially since his next major-league at-bat will be his first. However, the bottom part of the lineup has opportunities and the outfield depth chart currently has the likes of Garrett Mitchell and Tyrone Taylor in starting spots — not exactly firm roadblocks to stall Frelick's ascension to the major-league roster. 

What's been most impressive with Frelick is how his strikeout rate has improved after each promotion, going from 18 percent in Low-A to 15 percent in High-A, 13 percent in Double-A and finally 7 percent in Triple-A in 217 plate appearances for Nashville. That type of approach is going to get him on the big-league roster in a hurry, especially if the bottom of the lineup struggles to turn things over. Frelick doesn't have any similar standout abilities in the field, so his skills at the plate will take him as far as he can go. The opportunity is certainly there if one of the other youngsters isn't up to the task, and Frelick may not give the job back if he gets the opportunity to claim it. He's currently the 121st outfielder by ADP over the last month, just in between two other very interesting names in Kyle Stowers and Nolan Jones

Matt Bush (ADP 583, Min 439, Max 695) is a top-150 pitcher

SOURCE

IP

K

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

RotoWire

54

68

3

3

3.83

1.04

THE BAT

55

61

3

3

4.12

1.26

Steamer

63

76

3

2

3.54

1.19

ATC

55

65

2

3

3.72

1.17

Bush is currently 240th by pitcher ADP as the projected setup man for Devin Williams. Williams missed a little time in 2021 but has otherwise been a strikeout machine as the league struggles with his air-bending changeup. The aforementioned Eno Sarris made an excellent point in his recent article that Williams is an extreme pronator and has had cortisone shots in his knee, a calf injury as well as elbow and shoulder soreness in the past. Other extreme pronators in recent years include Brent Honeywell, Jake Faria and Jharel Cotton. I'll pause for a moment while owners look back at what they gave up to catch those rising stars that never took off.

Bush is rather freely available behind Williams and came all the way back from the shoulder issues which wrecked his 2021 season to post a 23 percent K-BB% last season while holding the league to a .193 average along with a 1.02 WHIP. The 11 homers Bush allowed in 59.2 innings were less than ideal, but after nearly a year-long layoff due to injury, some command rust was to be expected. Bush had a .183 xBA on his fastball with a 27 percent whiff rate and a .164 xBA on his curveball with a 35 percent whiff rate. His cutter's xBA was 61 points lower than its actual outcomes, and even it had a 29 percent whiff rate. Simply put, the upside here almost demands a higher ADP than what Bush is currently going at and he could be just the type of guy managers are dumping crazy chunks of FAAB money on in-season should Williams run into recurring health issues. The StatCast Sliders are very enticing for somoene with such a low ADP:

Pittsburgh Pirates

Endy Rodriguez (ADP 396, Min 315, Max 479) is a top-15 catcher

SOURCE

PA

AVG

OBP

HR

RBI

R

SB

RotoWire

NYP

NYP

NYP

NYP

NYP

NYP

NYP

THE BAT X

227

.254

.311

5

26

24

1

Steamer

258

.263

.327

9

33

32

2

ATC

227

.261

.323

7

28

25

2

The leap this prediction is asking him to make would be getting from his current ADP up to 217, where Travis d'Arnaud currently sits. Rodriguez doesn't have to catch to make it on the big-league roster as he played 13 games in the outfield, 18 games at second base and 75 at catcher as a minor-leaguer last season across three levels of the Pittsburgh system. However, it's his bat which is his true strength, as he's hit .304/.394/.533 in 1,230 minor-league plate appearances and doesn't even turn 23 years old until late May. 

Rodriguez, like Frelick, improved his strikeout rate after each promotion last year and finished the season with a cup of coffee in Indianapolis while many of his age peers were still toiling in A-ball. He did hit 25 homers over the three levels last season along with a final slash line of .323/.407/.590 and has seen time both at catcher and the outfield so far in winter ball. The current Pittsburgh depth chart has Austin Hedges as the primary catcher and non-roster invitee Tyler Heineman as the backup. The fact of the matter is Heineman is there to keep that spot warm for Rodriguez once the club finds room to add him to the roster, and Rodriguez could quickly become the primary catcher once Hedges once again shows just how awful he is at the plate. 

Mitch Keller (ADP 393, Min 336, Max 456) is a top-100 pitcher

SOURCE

IP

K

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

RotoWire

123

107

5

0

4.46

1.49

THE BAT

157

131

9

0

4.81

1.48

Steamer

164

142

9

0

4.38

1.39

ATC

157

136

7

0

4.36

1.39

Keller currently sits at 153rd by ADP on the pitcher charts behind Mammmma Mike Soroka. Keller was finally able to stay on the mound for a full season and made the improvements we have longed wanted to see from him. He lost a bit of his strikeout rate as the club did its usual thing and added a sinker into his repertoire, which the league proceeded to hit .301 off with the low whiff rate which follows most sinkers. Meanwhile, Keller was able to get 24 percent and 27 percent whiff rates respectively off his four-seamer and slider, which are his true strengths. The new pitch in his repertoire gives Keller five different offerings to throw at batters. His .263 batting average against was a 53-point improvement over his terrible 2021 season but the high average off the sinker and the nine percent walk rate led to a 1.40 WHIP.

Keller added nearly two ticks of velocity to his fastball and has reshaped his slider with a near 300 RPM spin jump. The league hit .271 off his four-seamer with an xBA of .220, but to his credit, Keller kept his ERA below 4.00 despite the volume of baserunners. He also did it without any crazy LOB% luck, posting a 73 percent mark last season. We do not find many starters with sub-4.00 ERAs and WHIPs as high as Keller's over the past 20 years,  but a very interesting name pops on that list: Scott Kazmir.

Kazmir had a 3.77 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP in 2005 with his fastball and slider combination and then stepped up the next year with a 3.24 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP while making the All-Star team and pitching well for yet another terrible Devil Rays team. Keller shares many of the same characteristics that Kazmir dealt with that year, so I'm looking for him to have a similar turnaround this year for a Pirates team that is efforting to get better. If they were to put Keller on the trade market, his value would grow exponentially given the track record of pitchers leaving that organization for greener instructional pastures.

St. Louis Cardinals

Lars Nootbaar (ADP 184, Min 140, Max 213) is not a top-60 outfielder

SOURCE

PA

AVG

OBP

HR

RBI

R

SB

RotoWire

564

.233

.340

24

66

84

9

THE BAT X

497

.241

.333

17

58

62

6

Steamer

430

.246

.343

17

54

53

6

ATC

497

.244

.338

20

58

66

6

Nootbaar is currently the 41st outfielder by ADP, going between Mitch Haniger and Cody Bellinger. I know the position is more scarce this season than in previous years, but the range of outcomes on the projections table above fails to justify the hype this guy has this winter. Nootbaar is a batting-average risk despite his disciplined approach at the plate as he was a mess against breaking balls last year (.138 avg, .146 xBA, 38 percent whiff rate) which the league fed him in heavy doses. The 18 homers he hit between Triple-A and the big leagues were a career high, but he also has a .231/.334/.441 triple-slash line in 471 major league plate appearances.

The StatCast Slider profile is admittedly attractive, with a lot of bright red and nearly every single skill at or above the 50th percentile, and there could be some wishcasting for a batting-average bump with the shift out of play. Nootbaar's wOBA was 66 points lower when he shifted, as he was in 53 percent of his plate appearances. Looking at that profile, it is easy to see how the market is rather excited about Nootbaar, yet not one of the four projection systems share that same overall optimism. Our own projections are the highest on his run production yet the lowest on his batting average. If you take the worst of each one, you're left with a .233 hitter with 17 homers, 54 RBIs, 53 runs, and 6 steals. The most optimistic outcomes would see him hit .246 with 24 homers, 66 RBI, 84 runs and nine steals, with the latter four marks coming our projections.

This would be the part of a draft where I would be looking for a more proven track record from a bounceback candidate or for some positional flexibility upside at the outfield position myself. Names such as Gavin Lux, Wil Myers, Randal Grichuk and Nick Gordon all pop up 40+ picks after Nootbaar. Beware the ides of the Sophomore Slump. 

Jordan Montgomery (ADP 158, Min 135, Max 188) is not a top-80 overall pitcher

SOURCE

IP

K

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

RotoWire

161

154

7

0

3.80

1.18

THE BAT

173

150

12

0

3.97

1.25

Steamer

176

156

12

0

3.68

1.22

ATC

173

155

10

0

3.70

1.19

This one pains me because I aggressively pursued Montgomery in all leagues last season and was rewarded in many areas, despite the maddening ability for the Yankees to steal wins from him with their inability to score runs in his starts. Montgomery made 21 starts for the Yankees and won three games — THREE — before being dealt to St. Louis, where he earned a win in 6 of his 11 starts. The crazy part of it all was that Montgomery was somehow more immune to the times through the order penalty last season as the league hit .257, .218 and .229 respectively each trip through the lineup, but some ill-timed homers that third time through saw Montgomery pulled from tie games only to see the win go to a vulturing reliever. 

I am now fading Montgomery in 2023 because I'm concerned he steps back more toward 2021 than he does forward from 2022. His expected stats point to quite a bit of batted- ball fortune, which explains the 32-point drop in his BABIP year over year. He maintained the excellent whiff rates on his changeup and curveball, but his changeup also saw its batting average against jump 65 points compared to 2021, and the xBA shows it wasn't all bad luck. Montgomery slings five pitches to righties and lefties and is frequently in the zone, allowing him to keep hitters in protection mode and forcing them to expand their zone, leading to high whiff rate despite the lack of velocity and spin on his pitches. HIs StatCast Slider profile last year is not nearly as sexy as the strikeouts and ratios would lead you to believe:

Montgomery currently sits 65th on the pitching ADP charts, in between Dustin May and Chris Sale. Part of Montgomery's post-trade success last season was the Cardinals encouraging him to use his four-seamer more, as the Yankees had instead encouraged him to pitch backwards and use his two best pitches more often. Montgomery was not crazy about the approach, even though it makes sense to emphasize your best pitches:

What if I told you that of the 11 starts Montgomery made with the Cardinals last season, two of them were against a terrible Chicago team who he nearly no-hit and shut out again two weeks later, and then he stymied Milwaukee the first time out only to get smacked around the next time he faced them. Montgomery also had harsh outings against both Atlanta and the Dodgers while with the Cardinals, doing most of his statistical damage against softer opponents. Proceed with caution.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only MLB Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire MLB fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Collette
Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999, and here at Rotowire since 2011. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Sleeper and the Bust podcast every Sunday. A ten-time FSWA finalist, Jason won the FSWA's Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2013 and the Baseball Series of the Year award in 2018 for Collette Calls,and was the 2023 AL LABR champion. Jason manages his social media presence at https://linktr.ee/jasoncollette
Week 9 FAAB Results - Losing Acuña
Week 9 FAAB Results - Losing Acuña
Fantasy Baseball Injury Report: Acuna Won’t Be Back
Fantasy Baseball Injury Report: Acuna Won’t Be Back
Expert MLB Picks and Predictions Today: Monday, May 27
Expert MLB Picks and Predictions Today: Monday, May 27
MLB Picks: PrizePicks Plays and Strategy for Monday, May 27
MLB Picks: PrizePicks Plays and Strategy for Monday, May 27