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July 15, 2014

Fantasy Freestyle

10 Crazy Predictions Fantasy Writers Should Have Made

by Mike Gianella

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A popular preseason article topic for fantasy baseball writers is “10 Crazy Predictions.” These types of articles usually try to make wild predictions based on a somewhat logical premise. Typically, most of these predictions miss the mark, with perhaps one or two of them hitting the jackpot.

Truth is stranger than fiction, or so the old bromide goes. But every year, it never fails: Something happens that falls completely outside of the realm of anyone’s predictive powers, even for those who are trying to find outliers. Below is a non-inclusive listing of fantasy baseball events that no one in his or her right mind would have predicted in April that are absolute stunners.

1) What post-steroid power drop?
Major League Baseball got their men last August when 12 players agreed to suspensions at the conclusion of baseball’s Biogenesis investigation. Including Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, a total of 14 players ultimately served suspensions or are in the process of serving a suspension (A-Rod).

The assumption was that the hitters in this group would suffer a power drop. Yet this has not been the case at all. Nelson Cruz is enjoying the best season of his career, while Jhonny Peralta has enjoyed one of his best power seasons to date. Factor in prior Biogenesis client Melky Cabrera and most of the hitters who were suspended for PED use at one point or another and who were tied to Biogenesis have had very successful seasons in the majors in 2014. While there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that the substances Anthony Bosch was distributing to players were useless, thus far performance being diminished in light of these players being forced to come clean has not transpired.

2) Miguel Cabrera is the third-highest fantasy earner on his own offense.
Over the past five years, there has not been a more reliable real or fantasy hitter than Miguel Cabrera. Since 2010, he has earned $38, $36, $40, and $42, and has been the third-, third-, second-, and first-best AL-only hitter in that time frame. If you put a $40 bid on Cabrera, it was money in the bank.

Cabrera has still been very solid this year. While his numbers are slightly down, he is still on pace to earn $30, which is good for 10th overall in the AL. But he has been out-produced by Victor Martinez ($32) and Ian Kinsler ($32) thus far. Cabrera slipping a little bit isn’t particularly surprising (he doesn’t steal bases and produces little or anything in that category) but Martinez’s amazing power resurgence and Kinsler’s amazing all around season have put them both ahead of Miggy, at least so far.

3) Francisco Rodriguez is the best closer in the National League
In 2013, Rodriguez was a capable fill-in for Jim Henderson when the latter went down with a hamstring injury. Nevertheless, conventional wisdom indicated that the younger, harder throwing Henderson would claim the job in spring training and run away with it. But Henderson didn’t even leave spring training with the job in hand. When Brewers manager Ron Roenicke inserted Rodriguez into the role, many believed that K-Rod didn’t have the arsenal to hold the job and would simply surrender the job to Henderson or someone else within a month at best.

Heading into the All-Star break, Rodriguez is narrowly out-earning Craig Kimbrel in fantasy, $25 to $24, thanks to K-Rod’s three wins. It is possible that Rodriguez will fade, but thus far he is getting the job done and there isn’t much in his overall numbers that are fluky. At this point, it wouldn’t be surprising if Rodriguez holds on to the top spot all season long.

4) Charlie Blackmon is the most valuable Rockies outfielder
At the start of 2014, everyone was worried about the Rockies logjam in the outfield. Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer were locked into two outfield spots, which left Brandon Barnes, Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, and Drew Stubbs all battling for playing time in one outfield slot. Even in NL-only, most threw up their hands and figured that none of these four outfielders would have significant fantasy value.

Instead, Blackmon has been a top-10 hitter in NL-only while Dickerson has provided top-25 value. Combined, Blackmon, Dickerson, and Stubbs have earned a whopping $78. If you’re wondering where projected starters Gonzalez and Cuddyer rank, they are currently on pace to earn $12 and $11, respectively.

5) The curious case of Casey McGehee
This one isn’t even a fantasy surprise, but simply a baseball oddity that not enough people are talking about. When the Marlins lured McGehee back from Japan, his numbers for the Golden Eagles (30 doubles, 28 HR, .292 BA, .515 SLG) made me anticipate that he would put up something like 13-15 home runs in the majors while hitting around .250 or .260. A power decline seemed likely, but given McGehee’s prior profile, some home run power was expected.

Ninety games into his 2014 campaign, McGehee has one home run. This is surprising, but the shocking part of his profile is that McGehee is having a successful season. His BABIP has been very lucky, but McGehee has also helped himself with an elevated walk rate.

The biggest anomaly of McGehee’s season, though, are his 53 runs batted in to go with his one home run. He has tailed off a little bit, but is still on pace for 91 RBI. If McGehee can pick the pace back up after the All-Star break, he’d be in pretty rarified company. Only 20 hitters since 1901 have hit two home runs or fewer and driven in 90 or more. Of those 20, only four hitters have hit two home runs or less and cracked 100 RBI: Billy Herman (1943), Pie Traynor (1931), Bill Sweeney (1912), and Lave Cross (1902). Herman is the last hitter to drive in more than 90 and hit two home runs or less, so McGehee is gunning for a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in 71 years.

6) Brian Roberts has stayed healthy
In March, it was assumed that Roberts was going to get hurt by mid-April, and that Kelly Johnson would be starting at second base by May (keeping the position warm for the inevitable July import).

Instead, Roberts has put up 301 plate appearances already this season, which already surpasses his highest total since 2009. He hasn’t returned to his levels of 2009 production, but his 4/35/19/7/.246 fantasy line certainly hasn’t been worthless, particularly in deeper mixed and AL-only leagues. If you spent $2-3 on Roberts in an AL-only, well done.

7) J.D. Martinez and Steve Pearce both on pace for $20 seasons
There are always marginal players who surprise and offer their owners more than any rational fantasy enthusiast could expect. In the American League this year, those players are J.D. Martinez and Steve Pearce. Martinez was discarded by the Astros and took a minor league deal from the Tigers—a team where it didn’t seem like he’d have much of an opportunity to play. A significant adjustment to Martinez’s swing led to improved results, but since he was doing his best work in Toledo, it seemed like a case of a veteran hitter beating up on young pitching. Three months later, it is hard to deny that Martinez’s improvements are legitimate. While the pitchers will probably adjust, Martinez is a decent bet for a 20-25 home run season.

Pearce is more of the typical 30-and-over veteran showing signs of life after years toiling in the minors. With a career .161 ISO, Pearce was never exactly a slouch in the power department, but this year he has been off the charts, with a .251 ISO in the first half. Pearce will undoubtedly slip somewhat, but keep in mind this is the first prolonged opportunity he has had in the majors in quite some time. It won’t be surprising to see Pearce tail off but stick as a viable regular Post All-Star.

8) The Astros have viable fantasy starting pitchers
Every year, there is a team where the fantasy pundits advise avoiding their starting pitchers entirely. A few years ago, the Rockies used to be the easy choice for this title simply because of Coors Field, but in recent years different teams have stood in for Colorado. This year’s candidate was the Houston Astros. Mixed-league owners barely considered owning any Astros starting pitchers, while in AL-only these starters barely cost any money at all.

While they haven’t been the best pitchers in the American League, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh have both been extremely useful in all fantasy formats. Keuchel ($20) and McHugh ($16) have both out-earned what was expected from them in the early going, with McHugh in particular surprising due to his nearly non-existent preseason profile. Both pitchers—particularly McHugh—have faded, but if you picked him up on the cheap in the early going, you already made out on this move.

9) Dellin Betances has been a Fantasy God
With the retirement of Mariano Rivera, many wondered how the Yankees bullpen would survive in 2014. The Yankees brought in an influx of offensive talent to replace Robinson Cano and Masahiro Tanaka to bolster the staff, but the bullpen was one area that looked thin. David Robertson seemed like he’d be okay, but the rest of the pen was a potential weak spot.

Instead, Betances has been a real-life and fantasy baseball deity. With 84 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings, Betances is the second best fantasy reliever in the American League, behind only Koji Uehara. Betances has been a shut down reliever in real life, and this has translated over the fantasy in a big way. He is out-earning Robertson $24-19 so far.

10) The San Diego Padres offense would be this bad
Petco suppresses offense, but there were some signs last year that indicated that the Padres might actually hit more than they had in the recent past. Will Venable seemed to be taking advantage of the shorter fences in right field while Jedd Gyorko’s promise as a rookie spoke to 15-20 home runs regardless of the venue. The Padres would never be mistaken with the 1927 Murderers’ Row Yankees, but they were expected to be halfway decent on offense.

Instead, the offense collapsed. Seth Smith ($16) has been the best Padre on offense by far, and after that the Padres have been a disaster, with the team’s second best fantasy hitter - Chase Headley - failing to reach double digits ($9). Struggles were expected for some of the lineup but hitters the club was counting on collapsed. Gyorko (-$1), Everth Cabrera ($8), Cameron Maybin ($5), and Venable ($1) have done next to nothing. This had little if any impact in shallow mixed, but in deeper mixed formats or NL-only, having any of these players has hurt your team very badly.

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

Related Content:  Fantasy,  Predictions

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