Revisiting bold preseason fantasy predictions

As second half nears, one fantasy writer reviews his calls

July 7th, 2017

Bold predictions are inherently jovial, whimsical, outlandish, possibly even blasphemous.
You know you probably weren't bold enough if you got too many correct, and you probably were too bold if you got too many incorrect. Mine typically follow suit. I don't expect to get every prediction correct by the numbers, but I do hope each prediction is correct in spirit. My "spiritual" success in this regard, I've noticed, typically reflects upon how well my teams performed in a given season.
Accordingly, I take my predictions seriously, and I sincerely use them as a collective barometer for how I had gauged value plays in the preseason. I don't remember any of my predictions, really, and I'm revisiting them in real time with you. Here goes:
1. Alex Dickerson is a top-30 outfielder.
With Dickerson having undergone season-ending back surgery without ever playing a game in 2017, this prediction is kaput. I'll revisit this one next year. With power up around the league, I might step off the gas a little bit on this one. Given the outfield landscape this year, I think a healthy, productive Dickerson could be a top-40 guy with a top-30 ceiling, maybe. No use pondering it now, though.
Odds: 0 percent
2. Mike Montgomery is a top-50 starting pitcher.
Short answer: he's not. He's the 104th-best starting pitcher per ESPN's Player Rater. The prediction was predicated upon Montgomery (1) nudging out of the No. 5 role in the Cubs' rotation, and (2) sustaining his late-season effectiveness from last year. He did one of those better than the other. The ground balls are there -- that's why I liked him in the first place -- but a 5-percentage-point drop in strikeouts minus walks (K-BB%) has pushed his ratio of strikeouts to walks (K/BB) from usable-but-not-great territory into straight-up-bad territory. Fortunately, he was dirt cheap in just about any league format imaginable, so his lack of success was never a devastating threat to fantasy teams. And there's still an outside chance he pulls it together. But given the Cubs sound like somewhat-desperate buyers at the deadline, I anticipate him being crowded out of the rotation come August and September.
Odds: 1 percent

3. is a top-15 second baseman.
To be clear, Saladino wasn't supposed to be very good. Good mustache! Not good stats. He hasn't seen Major League action in, like, a month and a half, so that's part of the reason he doesn't even crack the Player Rater's top-50 second basemen. The other reason is that he hasn't performed well when healthy. It's a small sample, but: less running, way more strikeouts, and nary any power to speak of. What he has done better is produce more fly balls (up more than 10 percentage points) and more batted balls to the pull side, however. The fact that he has no home runs this year is probably an anomaly, and he may even have the skills to reach 15-20 homers in a full season of work. That won't happen this year, though, which means it might not happen any year once emerges.
Odds: 1 percent
4. is a top-60 starting pitcher.
Phelps hasn't even started a game this season. Cool. Cool. Cool. The bad news is the Marlins were actually serious about rolling out subpar pitchers in order to keep Phelps in the bullpen. The good news is he sustained some, although not all, of his gains from 2016, striking out more than one-fourth of the hitters he's faced with a decent ground-ball rate. Perhaps his zone-contact rate regression was inevitable, but he has countered by getting hitters to chase more often and make less contact when they do. There's an argument to be made that his strikeout rate last year was too high to begin with, given his peripherals. We're seeing the real Phelps, and a 3.64 ERA/3.70 FIP/3.59 xFIP will do, even if he's not an elite bullpen arm at this point. He arguably still has enough usable pitches to flirt with success in a rotation, but, again, not in 2017.
Odds: 0 percent
5. is a top-40 outfielder.
Yes! I completely forgot about this one. Hindsight feels like I should've gone bolder, but Conforto ended the preseason without the Mets' blessing or a guaranteed path to consistent playing time. Ironically, he's not in ESPN's top-40 outfielders right now, but that's due to his bruised left hand injury. His April and May were bonkers before and redefined what "bonkers" means. He started to fade prior to hurting his hand, but he couldn't reasonably sustain that kind of performance anyway. Regardless, it's all legitimate.
Odds: 95 percent

6. Tony Zych saves 10 games.
No. No. He did get one save, though. His peripherals don't look too different from last year's -- if anything, they look better -- but the results haven't been there. I mean, they have; a 2.42 ERA counts as "results," but a 4.88 xFIP certainly doesn't. That's the risk of relying on small samples. But what could we do? We had no choice with Zych. An 11.4 percent swinging strike rate and a near-60 percent first-pitch strike rate will get you places, though, so I anticipate his K-BB% will improve from its meager 9.2 percent right now. There's no reason to get too excited about him at this point, but it wouldn't surprise me if he became one of the game's better relief pitchers, albeit not an elite one, in the second half.
Odds: 1 percent
7. Chris Davis (significantly) out-earns .
Ha… ha ha. It's Stanton and not Davis who's healthy for once, but that's hardly the crux of this prediction at this point. Real talk: Davis was on pace for 38 home runs prior to his oblique injury. The issue, though, is his strikeout rate, which skyrocketed above its already troubling levels. Meanwhile, Stanton has actually made legitimate strides in his plate discipline for the first time in, well, ever. He's on pace for 40-plus homers, although his former batting average on balls in play (BABIP) magic from prior seasons has evaporated. Davis is toast here; now, it's Stanton vs. himself to prove he's not actually injury-prone.
Odds: 1 percent
8. (significantly) out-earns Danny Duffy.
It doesn't help that they've both spent significant time on the disabled list, but at least it levels the playing field. Their rankings: Shoemaker is SP73 per ESPN's Player Rater and Duffy, SP75. Neck and neck. The premise here was that Duffy reminded me of nothing more than a glorified Shoemaker -- slightly more "skilled," maybe, but a fly-ball pitcher with generally the same outcomes (roughly 8.5 K's-per-nine, 2.5 walks-per-nine kind of thing). Duffy collapsed further than I thought, essentially losing all his gains from his breakout 2016 season. Meanwhile, Shoemaker has been inefficient with free passes. He's looked like his typical, somewhat homer-prone self outside of that. I have faith in both of them; Duffy's curve and slider arguably are his two best pitches, and Shoemaker's peripherals suggest his walk-heavy approach has been a bit fluky. But the point here was Duffy wasn't much better than Shoemaker. I'd like to think I was right.
Odds: 50 percent

9. is a top-15 catcher.
OK! OK! I'm feeling it now! Barnes is the No. 15 catcher on the Player Rater right now, and there's no reason that, in a vacuum, he shouldn't stay there. He walks as often as he strikes out, he hits for modest power, and he runs with modest speed. I hoped he would fill a utility-slash-backup catcher role, and fill that role he has. His four homers, four steals and .284 batting average are almost exactly what I would have expected from his prorated end-of-season line. He reminds me a lot of J.T. Realmuto, who is a legitimate top-five catcher. Barnes is one injury away from possibly joining the ranks. #FreeAustinBarnes!
Odds: 80 percent
10. is a top-10 starting pitcher.
Ugh, Aaron. Why'd you have to get injured? Top 10 was already a stretch pitching for Philadelphia. His draft price is essentially equal to his current value right now, though, and that's with him missing a month of action with a back issue. That's getting closer to, ah, the spirit of this prediction. He was too obviously underrated this season. (Noteworthy: 25 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings across his last three starts. That's good.) In terms of peripherals, he ranks 23rd in both FIP and xFIP (min. 70 innings), suggesting he could be a top-25 pitcher in the absence of luck. It's not quite top-10, but considering the current crop of elite arms, there wasn't much room for him to break in anyway.
Odds: 1 percent
A version of this article first appeared at FanGraphs.