The 2016 MLB season is underway and here are some BOLD predictions. But just because I am predicting these things, doesn’t mean that I think they will actually happen. However, I do think that there’s a fair chance for any of them to happen and I’ll support each prediction with an explanation. Then down towards the bottom are some End of Season Predictions with division champions, pennant champions World Series Champions, and awards.
10 BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR THE 2016 MLB SEASON
1.) Brandon Belt will hit .300 with 25 HR and 10 SB to be a top 5 first baseman in standard 5×5 roto leagues. I went over Belt in the 2016 Fantasy Baseball First Basemen Rankings, but basically I think that this is the year that he puts everything together. He’s already a very good hitter that hits a lot of line drives, gets hard contact, and doesn’t pop the ball up. In order to hit .300, he has to trim his strikeouts A LOT, but he showed signs of improvement there as he finished Spring Training with 10 K/10 BB in 60 PA, which translates to a 16.7% in each category. Belt has ranged from 21.9% to 27.2% in K% throughout his career, so if he falls anywhere under the low end of that range then a .300 AVG could be within reach. Belt has reached double digits in SB before, but his career high in HR is only 18. His home park in San Francisco certainly does him no favors for the long ball, but he can just hit the ball at such a hard rate with a good average distance that his power can really begin to show at age 28.
2.) Marcell Ozuna will hit .290 with 30 HR and 10 SB and be a top 10 outfielder in standard 5×5 roto leagues. In the 2016 Fantasy Baseball Outfielder Rankings, I forecasted Ozuna’s breakout season. Ozuna hit very well after a demotion last season and then upon returning to the Majors. He has an up the middle approach with power to all fields. He appears set to hit 2nd for the Marlins where he will have a lot of chances to drive in Dee Gordon and a lot of chances to score runs with Giancarlo Stanton a couple spots behind him. Also, hitting 2nd could provide him with extra SB opportunities in front of a light-hitting Christian Yelich. The Marlins are moving in their fences and lowering them in some parts of the stadium, which could aid a few extra HR in Ozuna’s favor. Barry Bonds is the new Marlins hitting coach and he might know a thing or two about hitting. Lastly, Ozuna completed Spring Training with just 4 K compared to 6 BB in 52 PA, which is a drastic change from his past regular season stats and past Spring Trainings, and a lower K% will really boost his AVG (he also showed a K% under 20% upon returning from his demotion last year).
3.) There will not be a Mets pitcher in the top 30 starting pitchers in standard 5×5 roto leagues. I don’t really want this bold prediction to come true as I own Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Jacob deGrom in at least one league each, but I do think it is a real possibility. However, if it happens, it won’t be because of poor performance. Instead, it would be because of injuries. Harvey had Tommy John surgery in 2013 and is coming off a 37.2 IP increase from his previous career high. DeGrom had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and is coming off a 37.1 IP increase from his previous career high. Syndergaard had a right elbow injury (no Tommy John) in 2014 and is coming off a 65.2 IP increase from his previous career high. Moreso, all of them averaged over 95 MPH on their fastball last season, which is just even more troublesome for players who have had elbow issues in the past. There is one other Mets starting pitcher to consider and that is Steven Matz who is not ranked inside the top 30 in the consensus fantasy starting pitcher rankings, but he also is a former Tommy John surgery patient from 2010. There is a chance that Matz could sneak in to the top 30 if all three others do not.
4.) Maikel Franco will lead all fantasy third basemen in home runs (including Miguel Sano who is only 3B eligible in some leagues). Franco hit 14 HR in 80 games played last year, but there’s definitely room for growth in what is his age 23 season. For a power hitter, his 47.0% groundball rate was rather high and a few ticks above the league average. But he displayed in Spring Training the ability to get some more lift on the ball to hit it in the air more. The more balls that he hits in the air, the higher the chance that he’ll hit HR at a greater rate. So not only was he hitting it in the air more in Spring Training, but he was indeed converting a lot of them into HR as he led the Grapefruit League with 9. One of the quicker things to stabilize is groundball/flyball ratio, so this is a very encouraging sign for Franco’s power heading into the season. He’ll face some incredibly stiff competition with Josh Donaldson, Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Manny Machado, Todd Frazier, and Miguel Sano, but he can stand a chance if he maintains these adjustmens.
5.) Garrett Richards will be a top 10 starting pitcher in standard 5×5 roto leagues. I went over Richards in the 2016 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher Rankings, but for a refresher, Richards returned last year from an ACL injury that he suffered late in the 2014 season. Through the first half of the 2015 season, he was not the version that we saw in 2014 and he likely was not yet at full strength from the injury. But in the second half he saw much better results as his strikeout rate shot up and he just looked much sharper. Richards has always been a hard thrower, but for the type of velocity that he has, he has not struck out batters at a rate that could be expected. However, this Spring Training he was really dialing it up hitting 100 MPH on the radar gun at times — something that he hadn’t done in a very long time. At the very least, it seems like he’ll be back at his 2014 velocity levels after losing a tick in 2015. But there could be a great chance that he’s even faster with his velocity this season, which in theory would help him to strikeout more batters. Also, Richards possesses a particular set of skills that has been proven in the last few years (by pitchers like Jake Arrieta and Dallas Keuchel) to lead to great results. Those skills are being a groundball heavy pitcher and inducing soft contact/avoiding hard contact. Richards will likely also have to trim his walk rate for this bold prediction to come true, but I do believe it is possible. I almost went with “Garrett Richards will win the AL Cy Young” for this bold prediction, but I think the prediction I went with is bold enough. But let’s just say I am calling Richards my darkhorse for the award. Scroll towards the bottom for my actual Cy Young pick.
6.) Keone Kela will record 30 saves and be a top 10 relief pitcher. Shawn Tolleson seized the closer job early in the season from Neftali Feliz last year for the Rangers, but he could just as quickly give it away this season. Tolleson got a slow start to Spring Training as he nursed a back injury and the results that he had in the games that he did appear in were not good. Moreso, last year in the playoffs, manager Jeff Banister didn’t turn to Tolleson in save situations. Instead, he went with Sam Dyson, a groundball specialist who they acquired from the Marlins. Meanwhile, the youngster Kela dealt with a minor injury in the middle of last season, but after some time off to rest and get better, Kela was lights out the rest of the way. Kela profiles much more like a prototypical closer than either Tolleson or Dyson, so he could easily be the guy that the Rangers go with if Tolleson’s spring struggles and back woes continue. Lastly, Kela dominated his Spring Training outings with 8 K/1 BB in 5 scoreless innings. I think the soon-to-be 23-year old is ready for the challenge.
7.) In an effort to do his best 2015 Dallas Keuchel impersonation, Kyle Gibson will post a sub-3.00 ERA and over 8.00 K/9. Last year, Gibson finished the year at a 3.84 ERA and 6.70 K/9, so these would be some pretty big leaps if he rings true on this prediction. After completing his first 6 starts of last season with just 9 K in 36.1 IP for an absurdly low 2.72 K/9, Gibson recorded 134 K in 158.1 IP the rest of the way for 7.62 K/9. His ERA didn’t fare as well as his K/9 did after those first 6 starts though, so he’s definitely got some work to do. Gibson is a groundball pitcher like Keuchel (though not quite as great as Keuchel is at it) thanks to a sinker and a changeup that gets batters to swing at the top of the ball often. It’s not that he’s bad at limiting hard contact, but it would help Gibson if he could do it more often to help suppress his BABIP even further from the .287 mark it has been at the last two seasons. Shaving that down to .270 with some extra fortune would go a long ways to fulfilling this bold prediction. Gibson also posted strong results with 22 K/7 BB in 22.2 IP in Spring Training (with a 2.78 ERA, but ERA isn’t a stat to generally care about in Spring Training). So there is some promise here and while hoping for Gibson to be the 2016 version of the 2015 Dallas Keuchel seems like a bit of a stretch, being the 2014 version of Keuchel (2.93 ERA/1.18 WHIP) is within reach.
8.) Corey Seager will finish outside the top 10 fantasy shortstops in standard 5×5 roto leagues. I have Seager at #9 in the 2016 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings, so to me, it’s not that hard to envision him falling out of the top 10. But if you look elsewhere around the interweb, there is a hype machine around Seager and he is generally ranked as the 4th or 5th shortstop. There were things from Seager’s small sample of 2015 data that just have too much excitement over him in my opinion. We know his BABIP is coming down from the .387 mark he had last year — that’s an easy one — because he can’t keep hitting the ball at a hard hit rate of 46.8%. And then there’s the fact that his BB% and K% were way too good for the amount of time he was swinging and suffering swinging strikes. He was worse than average in swing% and swinging strike%, yet he was well above average in BB% and K%. That makes very little sense and he should regress towards the league averages in both, which resemble his Minor League numbers as well. Seager might hit high in the order in the 2nd spot, but he could also hit in the bottom half, and if he doesn’t get off to a good start then he’ll most likely be in that bottom half, which will strip him of run opportunities and better RBI chances.
9.) Daniel Murphy will hit 25 HR and be a top 5 second baseman in standard 5×5 roto leagues. I talked about Murphy in the 2016 Fantasy Baseball First Basemen Rankings and I noted his historic post-season performance where he hit 7 HR in 14 games. But the power surge for Murphy started well before the post-season in August when he made a conscious approach to try and hit for more power by just changing his mentality and also altering his mechanics. From August through the end of the regular season, he hit 8 HR, which was 2 more than what he did in the first 4 months of the season. It was the Mets hitting coach who helped him a lot with these changes though, so it’ll be interesting to see if Murphy can maintain the power gains now that he’s in a new uniform in D.C.
10.) Silvino Bracho will lead the Diamondbacks in saves. Who? Bracho is a 23-year old reliever that got a taste of the bigs last year as he appeared in 13 games after appearing in high-A and AA before his promotion. He dominated the Minors with very high strikeout rates and very low walk rates — such a rare combination to see from a young reliever, or starter for that matter. He didn’t quite carry the low walks over to his short MLB stint, but the strikeouts were still there and he’s secured a spot in the D-Backs bullpen for Opening Day. Currently, they have Brad Ziegler tabbed as closer, but he’s really more suited to be a specialist as a setup man. Tyler Clippard was signed in the off-season and he closed games for the A’s for part of last year and he was one of the league’s best setup men for a while, but he’s showing signs of decline. And then there’s starting pitcher converted to reliever, Daniel Hudson, who seems to be finding his niche as a reliever, but Bracho offers the most goodness out of anyone. Plus, it seems as if the D-Backs have been grooming him to close as he’s collected saves at every stop he’s made.
END OF SEASON PREDICTIONS
AL MVP: Carlos Correa
AL Cy Young: Carlos Carrasco
AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Berrios
AL West Champions: Houston Astros
AL Central Champions: Cleveland Indians
AL East Champions: Toronto Blue Jays
AL Wildcards: Seattle Mariners and
Boston Red Sox Kansas City Royals (EDIT on 4/3/16: Changed my mind and decided to go with the Royals over the Red Sox as a Wildcard team)
ALCS Champions: Houston Astros
NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
NL Rookie of the Year: Steven Matz
NL West Champions: San Francisco Giants
NL Central Champions: Chicago Cubs
NL East Champions: Washington Nationals
NL Wildcards: Arizona Diamondbacks and Pittsburgh Pirates
NLCS Champions: Chicago Cubs
World Series Champions: Chicago Cubs