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March 20, 2013

The Lineup Card

11 Horribly Wrong Predictions We Have Made

by Baseball Prospectus

‚Äč1. Kris Benson is Going to be the Next Big Thing
In 1996, I became obsessed with former first overall pick Kris Benson. There was plenty of buzz around the Clemson righty back then, after a remarkable college career and trip to the College World Series. Later that summer, Benson was named as the "ace" of the 1996 US Olympic baseball team. Sixteen-year-old me thought that he was going to be amazing, and so, in an attempt to look smart, I told people that the eventual top pick in the MLB draft was in line to be a star. Back then, this qualified as stunningly deep baseball knowledge among my friends. Benson (who, according to Wikipedia, owes the spelling of his first name to baseball fan parents who named all of their children with monikers starting with K, because that meant "strikeout") played in the minors in '97 and '98, but when he finally emerged in 1999, I was still obsessed and still predicted stardom and drafting him in the occasional roto league that I played in. And for what it's worth, at age 24 and 25, he was worth 3-4 wins. Not bad.

But as my friends will tell you, I clung on to the idea that Kris Benson was going to... break out... any minute... now... for a long time. He'd been hurt (and was out for all of 2001). He was still young. He was a first overall pick! I went through all the stages, and eventually I had to give up on the thought that he would ever be the Cy Young Award winner that I thought he'd... ah, who am I kidding? If Kris Benson made an MLB roster, I'd still be telling everyone to pick him up. —Russell A. Carleton

2. Abraham Nunez Will Win a Gold Glove
If anyone has a recording of the pre-game show from the Pirates’ radio network before the Bucs played the Houston Astros on September 26, 1997, I beg you to please destroy it. Perhaps I was blinded by the fact that the Pirates had played meaningful games into the last week of the season before being eliminated for the National League Central the night before. Or it might have been that I wasn’t thinking straight after making my first visit to the Astrodome—which had been a dream since childhood because I thought playing baseball indoors was pretty cool—and finding out the so-called Eighth Wonder of the World was nothing but a rat-infested dump. Whatever the reason, as a guest on the pre-game show that night, I predicted that then-Pirates rookie shortstop Abraham Nunez would someday win a Gold Glove.

Oops. It turned out that Nunez made more starts at both third base and second base than shortstop during a 12-year careerspent primarily as a utility infielder with the Pirates, Cardinals, Phillies, and Mets. He never won a Gold Glove, but he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and a true student of the game. The Royals are fortunate to have him as the hitting coach of their Burlington farm club in the Appalachian League, even if he doesn’t have a Gold Glove on his resume. —John Perrotto

3. The 2012 Rockies as a Sleeper Pick
I predicted the Rockies to be a sleeper team because they had a solid core—Troy Tulowitizki, Carlos Gonzalez, and a few other bats—and a decent supporting cast of role players. (A few of whom were off-season additions: Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, and Michael Cuddyer.) They were not too different from the pre-budget explosion Dodgers that opened the season playing well. Alas, my expectations for their pitching were far too optimistic, and it didn't help that the Rockies dealt with some injuries and poor performance from other players I was counting on to produce. They might have played differently than expected, but not in a positive manner. —R.J. Anderson

4. Circa 2006, the Diamondbacks Would be the Best Team Over the Next Decade
I was in college, and who doesn't do stupid things when they're in college? The important thing, kids, is that you learn from it. I like to think that for me, it was a lesson in not overreacting to one team's farm system, no matter how great it seems with the pieces in place at the big-league level. In BP's top 50 prospects plus the 15 honorable mentions heading into 2006, the Diamondbacks placed six.

8. Chris Young
19. Stephen Drew
27. Carlos Quentin
41. Justin Upton
HON. Carlos Gonzalez
HON. Conor Jackson

That season, they also had the National League Cy Young winner, 27-year-old Brandon Webb. He held up the next two years, and the team won the NL West in 2007, so they were looking good. But the prospects weren't enough to cover up some age spots that I didn't feel like noticing, and that group slowly broke apart. This year, fittingly, there are none left and the Diamondbacks have been far from the best team in baseball. —Zachary Levine

5. Picking Chris James Over Barry Bonds in the Minor-League Portion of a Roto Draft
In March 1986, I faced a choice between two outfielders in the minor-league portion of our Roto draft. I was in high school and had no stomach for math. Besides, the available baseball wisdom at that time wasn't what it is now. Here is how I evaluated the two players based on their 1985 numbers:

Player

BA

HR

RBI

SB

Chris James

.316

11

73

23

Barry Bonds

.299

13

37

15

Important factors that I neglected to consider include:

  • Age/level: James did his damage as a 22-year-old in Triple-A, while Bonds did his as a 20-year-old High-A.
  • League/park: James played in the hitter-friendly PCL, Bonds played in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League.
  • Playing time: James had 555 plate appearances, Bonds had 296.
  • Pedigree: James signed as an undrafted free agent, Bonds was the sixth pick overall in the 1985 draft.

James didn't do much for my Roto team that year: .283, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 0 SB. Bonds would have given me .223, 16 HR, 48 RBI, 36 SB. He would have helped in three categories and hurt in one, as opposed to being irrelevant like the guy I took.

On the bright side, our league folded shortly thereafter. We all went to college, so the agony of having James on my team as opposed to Bonds lasted a year or two rather than a decade or two. —Geoff Young

6. Betting on the 2011 Braves
Sometime in the last 20 minutes of an excruciating, 80-minute macroeconomics lecture during the fall of my junior year at Tufts, I IM'd a classmate asking him if he'd "like to make the postseason interesting." (My first mistake: deciding, for no reason other than extreme boredom, to do this with nearly two weeks remaining in the regular season.) We spent the rest of that class creating back-of-the-envelope (or, back-of-the-macro-notebook) odds, and—feeling comfortable about their diminishing, but still strong edge in the National League wild-card race—I doubled down on the Braves, my pre-season World Series pick.

A five-game skid and eight losses in 10 games later, the final regular-season standings looked like this. While witnessing firsthand the reactions of Red Sox fans that had just endured their own team's collapse, I walked into that same macroeconomics classroom two weeks later to pay up and face the embarrassment of having chosen not only a team that failed to win the pennant, but one that went 3-9 after I reaffirmed my faith in its chances. Which, I suppose, might still top spending 80 minutes deciphering a foreign professor's explanations of endogenous growth models. —Daniel Rathman

7. Taking Michael Saunders Over Mike Trout in a 2011 Minor-League Draft
No, I never predicted that Michael Saunders would have the better career than Mike Trout. It was the second round of my home league’s farm draft, and the two names at the top of my list were Saunders and Trout. I had already selected Martin Perez with my first pick and didn’t want to add to my risk profile with a prospect as far away as Trout. My initial rankings had Trout ahead of Saunders, but I looked at Trout’s age and blinked. Saunders isn’t a complete zero in fantasy baseball, but, obviously, I’d love to own Mike Trout for the next three years. —Mike Gianella

8. Roy Halladay was Going to Stink Again and Again and Again
Upon discovering Voros McCracken's (now famous) piece explaining how pitchers had limited control on allowing hits on balls in play, I thought I'd stumbled onto the secret to my bar-gument dominance. Like anyone who only partially understood the underlying theory might do, I gripped onto strikeout rate (K/9 specifically) as a proxy for pitcher quality. A series of unfortunate events prevented me from being "right" about Chien-Ming Wang's demise, but I was convinced that a declining strikeout rate was the beginning of the end for a young(er) Roy Halladay after 2004... and 2005, and 2006. Boy, is my face red. —Tim Collins

9. Jeremy Hermida is Going to Break Out
It all looked so promising, though, admittedly, I was going through a pretty heavy minor-league plate discipline phase at the time. The excitement around Jeremy Hermida really started after his 2003 season in Low-A Greensboro, when he hit .282 with six homers and drew 80 walks as a teenager. The power started to come in High-A; 10 homers and a .441 slugging percentage is nothing to shake your head at in the power-starved Florida State League. But then, 2005 happened. Oh sweet, beautiful 2005 in the Southern League. Hermida hit .293/.457/.518 with 18 homers, 23 steals, and 111 walks (versus only 89 strikeouts) in 507 plate appearances. Then he hit .293/.383/.634 with four homers in a 41 at-bat sample in September of that year. And the reports were just as glowing as the stat page. He was a top-five prospect in baseball after that 2005 season, and a favorite for Rookie of the Year honors in 2006.

It turns out he never won that Rookie of the Year. Or made a single All-Star team. Or was worth even one win, according to WARP, in any given season (except for his one decent season in 2007, when he was worth 2.4 wins). That step forward never came, though I believed it would year after year. Maybe he was a change-of-scenery guy? I thought every team in baseball should take a chance and trade for him.

And after four full seasons with the Marlins, the Red Sox finally did that. I still believed. I even drafted him in a few deeper fantasy leagues. The only problem was that he was terrible. Since then, he’s been on the Athletics, Reds, Padres, and now the Indians. This spring, he didn’t even make it past the first round of cuts, as he was assigned to minor-league camp on March 6. It turns out there’s only room for one 29-year-old, former elite prospect on the Indians’ roster, and that is Scott Kazmir for now. If only Hermida would just get another chance… —Bret Sayre

10. Shawn Chacon Turned a Corner with the Yankees
The Yankees were—as they often seem to be—desperate for starters leading up to the 2005 trade deadline. The team had munched its way through the likes of Darrell May and Tim Redding in one start apiece, and general manager Brian Cashman's starting rotation resembled a badly-sewn patchwork quilt. But in July, lightning struck for the Bombers. Twice. First, Aaron Small emerged from journeyman obscurity to go 10-0 in 15 starts down the stretch, and Cashman dealt for the Rockies' Shawn Chacon.

If Small was the Yankees' walking miracle, Chacon was the second coming, hurling 79 innings down the stretch and going 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA (though FIP gives him a much uglier 4.56 mark). As a 14-year-old, I didn't pay much attention to sabermetrics. If I had, maybe I would have pointed to Chacon's low strikeout rate and high walk rate as two major red flags that could prevent him from repeating his post-All-Star break performance. Whoops. Instead, I was more than happy to proclaim Cashman a genius and dub Chacon a superb starter who had definitely turned a corner once he was fitted for pinstripes. Sadly, that was not the case; Chacon was consistently bombed in 2006, a Pirate by the trade deadline, and later became more famous for beating up Astros then-general manager Ed Wade in a clubhouse confrontation. —Stephani Bee

11. Chris Carpenter for 2013 Comeback Player of the Year
You don’t have to look long to find one of my worst predictions. In January, I offered Chris Carpenter as a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. Given that Carp had effectively missed four full seasons with injuries (2003, 2007-08 and 2012), it was something of a leap to pencil him in for anything, even a comeback award. His 2013 PECOTA forecast wisely limited him to 50 innings.

So it’s no surprise that just two weeks later, before spring training had even begun, the Cardinals announced their longtime ace would not pitch in 2013. Carpenter had halted his off-season throwing program after the return of numbness in his shoulder, a condition that required surgery in 2012 and kept him out of action for most of the year. Carpenter made an appearance at the Cards’ Florida training complex this week, but as part of a family vacation. After 20 years as a pro, 2,171 major-league innings and nine surgeries, he has earned it. —Jeff Euston

21 comments have been left for this article.

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