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October 10, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

Looking Back: 10 Bold Predictions

by Bret Sayre

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April is a time of goldmines and landmines for fantasy players. The annals of rotisserie leagues are filled with owners who jumped in head first on a player who could not maintain a small-sample stretch. And we see it every year. Using 2013 as an example, let’s take a look back at the 10 players who hit eight or more homers in April (see if you can spot the two players who actually hit more than 15 homers from May 1 on):

I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t Mark Reynolds.

In what’s quickly becoming one of my favorite traditions, I laid out 10 trends that I believed in this season as the calendar flipped to May. And because October is a time of reflection (and Jose Lobaton walk-off homers), it has come time to look back upon those 10 items and grade myself on the quality of my predictions. It’s report card time!

1. Adam Wainwright will be a top-five starting pitcher

What I Said: “Like I’ve been saying for the past eight months, the 2012 version of Adam Wainwright was way more similar to the elite version than it appeared at first glance. All of the important underlying statistics were nearly identical. But so far this year, he’s taking it to another level… Love him, trade for him, just don’t say that he’s back because he never went anywhere.”

What Happened: He’s unlikely to end up winning the Cy Young Award that I predicted he would in BP’s pre-season award voting, but the six months of ticket taking on the Wainwright bandwagon paid off in all of the leagues I was able to grab him in. He ended up finishing as the no. 3 starting pitcher for fantasy, behind just Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw, and is firmly back in the conversation of the best pitchers in baseball (fantasy or otherwise).

Grade: A

2. Jean Segura will be a top-five shortstop

What I Said: “His .358/.408/.547 line with three homers and seven steals through 103 plate appearances is good enough to not only be the top fantasy shortstop so far this year, but to also be a top-20 overall player. So while this batting average (and to a lesser extent, the power) won’t continue at this pace all season, there is plenty of reason to believe that he’ll continue to be very valuable going forward.”

What Happened: The average and power did both regress over the course of the rest of the season, but it didn’t matter. Segura’s 44 steals just about guaranteed that he’d make this group. In fact, he finished the 2013 season as the #1 fantasy shortstop in the game—and pretty significantly ahead of fellow speedster (and #2 fantasy shortstop) Elvis Andrus. What’s even more impressive is that he barely played during the last two weeks of the season.

Grade: A

3. Both A.J. Burnett and Ryan Dempster will strike out more than 210 batters

What I Said: “You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who predicted this type of jump in strikeout rate from these two veterans in their age-36 seasons. After all, neither guy has posted a double-digit K/9 at any point in his career, and…it hasn’t been a mirage either, as both Burnett and Dempster are seeing big spikes in their swinging-strike rates.”

What Happened: Well, one of these predictions looks a little better than the other. I was very bullish on Burnett coming into the season and he ended up delivering a very nice return on investment. Despite setting a new career high in strikeout percentage (26.1), I missed my target on him because he missed four weeks in June/July with a calf strain. He finished the season with 209 strikeouts. As far as the Ryan Dempster part, that appears to have just been wishful thinking at this point. He struck out 43 batters in April and then never topped 30 in a month the rest of the way—eventually being dropped from the rotation in September.

Grade: C-

4. This year's Mike Trout is Hanley Ramirez

What I Said: “Last year, Mike Trout had zero hits until the second-to-last day of April and went on to be the number-one player in fantasy for the season. Hanley Ramirez had zero hits until the last day of April, and while I'm not going to predict that he'll be the top player for fantasy at the end of the year (that's too bold even for this space), I think he'll perform like a top-10 guy the rest of the way and finish in the top-20 overall—all despite missing the first four weeks of the season.”

What Happened: Two days after this post ran, Ramirez strained his hamstring and would miss the next month of the season. However, from the time he returned from that injury on June 4 to the end of the season, he was one of the most dynamic players in baseball. The fact that he finished the season as a top-five shortstop and top-70 overall player despite playing in only 86 games is just incredible.

Grade: A-

5. Speaking of Mike Trout, he'll be fine

What I Said: “It’s a twisted world we live in when there is concern about a 21-year-old hitter who “only” hit .261 with two homers and four steals during the month of April. But this is a direct result of the expectations Mike Trout has set for himself after going all Mike Trout on us last season…If, for some reason, the Trout owner in your league is getting a little shaky in the hands, reach out yours and tell him/her you can help.”

What Happened: After his disappointing April, which had people shouting “HEY I TOLD YOU SO ABOUT THAT REGRESSION” from all corners of the internet, Trout went off. During the final five months of the season, he hit .337 with 25 homers, 81 RBI, 94 runs scored, and 29 stolen bases. Oh, and he also walked 97 times just for good measure (good for a .453 on-base percentage). He’s ridiculous, but I’m knocking my grade down a few notches on this one since it was like shooting fish in a barrel.

Grade: B+

6. Yu Darvish will be the first pitcher to top 300 strikeouts since 2002

What I Said: “If he makes 33 starts at his current strikeout pace, Darvish will end the season with 319 punchouts. It seems like a ridiculous thought until you actually watch him pitch and realize that he’s using a real baseball with seams, not a scuffed wiffle ball. He’s the most fun pitcher to watch in the game right now, and frankly, it’s not particularly close.”

What Happened: Darvish ended up with the most strikeouts by any pitcher in the majors since Randy Johnson in 2004, but he finished 23 punch-outs short. Even while putting up this gaudy total, Darvish found himself on the 15-day disabled list in July, missing at least one start (the All-Star break may have caused him to miss a second). If he had gotten to 34 starts, he would have at least had a shot at it.

Grade: C+

7. Josh Donaldson will be a top-10 third baseman

What I Said: “Donaldson might seem like he’s come completely out of nowhere, but that’s just not true. From August 14 through the end of the 2012 season, Donaldson hit .290/.356/.489 with eight homers, 26 runs batted in, 29 runs, and three steals in 194 plate appearances. While he likely will not finish the season hitting over .300, that batting average could end up sitting in the .280-.290 range. Add 20-home-run pop and the ability to steal double-digit bases, and the entire package makes for a way more valuable player than his preseason value dictated.”

What Happened: Donaldson not only finished as a top-10 fantasy third baseman (he ended up fifth at the position), but was more valuable than household studs Evan Longoria and David Wright. He finished the season hitting .301 with 24 homers, 93 RBI and five steals, making him one of the biggest bargains in fantasy this year—Donaldson was drafted barely inside the top 400 players this spring.

Grade: A

8. Kris Medlen will finish outside the top-50 starting pitchers

What I Said: “It may just be April, but sometimes it's not just some of the signs pointing south, it's ALL of them. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up, his homers are up, his ground-ball rate is down, his contact rates are up, and his whiff rate is down. One of two things are going to happen over the remainder of the season: Either his ERA will get in line with all of his other metrics, or all of his other skills will need to improve. In that battle, I will always bet on the former.”

What Happened: This one would have looked great if the season ended in mid-August. In his last nine starts of the season, Medlen went 6-2 with a 1.37 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 49 strikeouts in 59 innings, pushing him to a spot just inside the top 30 starting pitchers for fantasy. Maybe Medlen just doesn’t like the first four months of the season.

Grade: D

9. Edward Mujica will save 40 games

What I Said: “Yes, I've officially jumped overboard the U.S.S. Trevor Rosenthal. Mujica has been lights out since moving into the closer role in St Louis, and the only things I see getting in the way of him being one of the more unexpected relievers to record 40 saves are his health and the health of Jason Motte's elbow.”

What Happened: So very close on this one. Mujica was sitting at 30 saves and a 2.01 ERA at the end of July, but his arm just could not hold up the whole season. He was sidelined with fatigue as August wore on, and then couldn’t get it back when he was on the mound in September. In the end, he finished with 37 saves and has been passed in the bullpen for save situations by Trevor Rosenthal as the Cardinals march through the playoffs.

Grade: B-

10. Dexter Fowler will lead the Rockies in home runs

What I Said: “There’s sure to be a lot of talk that this is Fowler’s age-27 season and there’s some sort or sorcery that comes along with it, but when a player gets stronger, balls tend to go farther. It’s science. This prediction does mean that I think he’ll end the season with more bombs than Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Cuddyer, and Carlos Gonzalez, among others, and I think he’ll need at least 25 to get there. He can do this.”

What Happened: On the one hand, Fowler only needed to hit 27 homers to have the outright lead on the Rockies. On the other hand, he hit just four the rest of the season. And while he did miss 33 games due to injury this year, it didn’t matter. I was dead wrong about this one. Way to close on a positive note, Bret.

Grade: F

Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

7 comments have been left for this article.

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