Updated: Jan 23
Happy New Year everyone! Ah, I can hear the manager ejections already, lovely! Players are being traded, signed, and are preparing to compete for starting jobs as Opening Day approaches. Every year, baseball fanatics everywhere make guesses as to who they think will be amazing and who will fall short. Sometimes we're right, most of the time we're wrong. Nonetheless, predictions will always be made and in this article, four batters and four pitchers will be dissected and analyzed to determine if their prediction is likely to occur, or if it's just too bold for its own good.
1) Jeff McNeil will win NL MVP
ADP: 83.79 per NFBC
Oh you getting bold bold! You know it and Jeff McNeil is one of the most talented contact hitters in major league baseball, with upside for even more production. Last season, he had a line of .318/83/23/75/5, with a 6.2% BB and a 13.2% K in 567 plate appearances. Digging deeper, his .318 average was good for top ten in baseball, his .384 OBP was top 20, and his .916 OPS was good for top 30(min. 300 PA). With all that being said, McNeil, going into his age-28 season, still has time and the skill set for statistical growth.
From July 16th to the end of the season, McNeil hit 15 of his 23 homers, emphasizing his power growth. In 248 PA in 2018, McNeil only hit three home runs. An increase in his hard hit% from 30.2% in 2018 to 37.6% last season tells some of the story about his growth. Most importantly however, are his contact skills. Amazingly, per Brooks Baseball, in 509 PA in 2019 vs a fourseam, sinker, changeup, slider, curve, and splitter, McNeil hit .270+ vs each pitch. Beyond that, his highest slugging percentage came vs the curve ball at a whopping .702, in only 47 at bats however. Overall, Jeff McNeil is a player who understands how to make contact, regardless of the pitch or velocity. That skill set, with his continual power growth in an improving Mets lineup, will lead Jeff McNeil to the 2020 National League MVP Award.
2) Emilio Pagán will lead the AL in saves
ADP: 169.70 per NFBC
Yes over Aroldis Chapman, yes over Roberto Osuna, and yes, especially over Ian Kennedy. Most of those names are household bullpen guys, so who the heck is Emilio Pagán? Well in 2019, Pagán was top ten in the American League with 20 saves. Jose Alvarado was the initial closer to start the season but it was Pagán who earned more of the opportunities to close as the season progressed, taking opportunities from fellow closing candidate Diego Castillo as well. A significant reason why Pagán was allotted so many opportunities to close was due to Alvarado and Castillo suffering from injuries throughout the season, allowing him to showcase his talent.
According to Fangraphs, from July 1st to the end of last season, Pagán had a 56:4 K:BB, 16 saves and a 3.29 ERA in 38.1 innings pitched. During that same time frame, his 38.1% K and 13.1 K/9 were good for top 20 in all of baseball, while his 2.7% BB was good for top ten(min. 25 innings pitched). More than that, he earned a SIERA, or skill-interactive earned run average, of 2.24. Analyzing a pitcher's SIERA is one of the more accurate ways to assess a pitcher’s raw talent and goes a long way in predicting their future success. SIERA essentially eliminates factors that are out of a pitcher's control when determining their earned run average. So, because Pagán's ERA sits 3.29 and his SIERA is 2.24, it tells us that Pagán has been able to induce a high number of grounders and pop-ups, and overall softer contact, yet a lot of that softer contact went for hits, thus inflating his ERA.
In all, Pagán is a talented pitcher, but is by no means perfect. During that same time frame, batters hit a fly ball off of him 52.9% of the time, to just a 28.2 ground ball percentage Furthermore, he blew eight saves throughout the season, so he is not without fault. However, towards the end of the season, Pagán showed enough skill for the Rays staff to consider awarding him the default closer role, and he will ride that role to being the AL leader in saves.
3) Christian Walker will lead the NL in home runs
ADP: 207.11 per NFBC
But doesn't he strike out a ton and isn't it tough to score runs in Chase Field? Yes and yes, but who isn't striking out at at least a 25% clip in recent years? Look at Aaron Judge, he has yet to have a season where he strikeouts out at a clip less than 30% but has an ADP of 28.18 per NFBC because why? He hits homers and he hits the ball with authority. Enter Christian Walker who's 46.1% hard hit rate last season was 28th overall in baseball, right in front of Ronald Acuña Jr. Beyond that, his line of .259/86/29/73/8 in 603 at bats would be a solid season for any hitter, add on a .348 OBP, a .476 SLG and a wRC+ of 112 and this is a player who had a substantial offensive impact for the Diamondbacks in 2019. The impressive factor here is that Walker can get even better.
In 2019, he both raised his walk rate to 11.1% from 5.7% in 2018 and lowered his strikeout rate from 41.5% to 25.7%. Yes, he only played 37 games in 2018, a very small sample size, but he is gradually improving his plate discipline going into his age-29 season. In fact, from July 3rd to the end of the season, Walker earned a 13.4% BB and a 22.6% K. In that same time frame, he hit 15 of his 29 home runs. From Pete Alonso to Cody Bellinger, the National League boasts elite power hitters and players, but in 2020, Christian Walker's plate and bat skills will continue to grow as he finishes 2020 as the National League home run leader.
4) Eduardo Rodríguez will be the best starting pitcher in the AL East
ADP: 130.79 per NFBC
And by best, I mean when people think of who had by far the most impressive pitching season in the American League East, we will look no further than Eduardo Rodríguez. Oh come on, stop looking at me like that! We're talking about a guy who had the 2nd lowest overall hard hit percentage against in all of baseball at 28.7% in 2019, with his 48.5% ground ball rate being top 30 and his 203.1 innings pitched being top 15 in all of baseball(min. 90 innings pitched). As a whole, Rodríguez pitched to a 3.81 ERA with a 213:75 K:BB in 34 starts.
Now when you dig deeper, you see from July 5th to the end of the season, 17 starts and 105.2 innings pitched, Rodríguez had a 53.2% ground ball rate, 2.90 ERA and went 6+ innings in 13 of 17 starts. Rodríguez has the ability to eat innings while limiting runs through inducing more ground balls than fly balls and through limiting hard contact against him, with his fly ball% in that same time span being 30.2%.
Moreover, a huge factor that could make Rodríguez an even better pitcher is simply eliminating the use of his cutter. In reference to Brooks Baseball, in the same aforementioned time period, his cutter was hit to the tune of a .367 SLG and a .263 BA. Those aren't high marks generally speaking, but no other pitch by Rodríguez was hit harder than his cutter, a pitch he used 15.5% of the time during that span. If he completely drops the usage of his cutter, it could allow him to hone in on his other pitches and potentially see better results. In all, if Rodríguez continues to develop his game, entering his age-27 season, he will be the best starting pitcher in the American League East in 2020.
5) Jesse Winker will be a top ten fantasy outfield option.
ADP: 305.28 per NFBC
Year after year, we expect to see Winker embrace his elite plate discipline and ride it to success. He flourishes with his plate discipline but we have yet to see Winker use these plate skills to improve his bat skills, and the reasons behind that are largely out of Winker's control. Specifically, every year since 2017, we've been faced with either time-consuming injuries or Winker wasn't afforded the playing time we believed he deserved. In fact, he's yet to reach 400 plate appearances in a MLB season. That will change this year.
In 384 PA last year, Winker had a line of .269/51/16/38/0 with a 9.9% BB, 15.6% K, .357 OBP, .473 SLG and a 41% hard hit rate. That is very good plate discipline, and in fact, it is actually worse than 2018's marks of 14.7% BB and 13.8% K. In other words, Winker got more aggressive at the plate in his age-25 season. His O-Swing% and Z-Swing% both marginally increased, while his general swing% went from 40.8% to 44.1%. However, these changes resulted in a decreased Z-Contact% and general contact%, telling us that Winker is ultimately struggling to discover what will allow him to succeed in the Majors. In all, Jesse Winker is a talented baseball player attempting to find his stride as a player, but little bumps on the road are continually throwing him off. In 2020, David Bell will afford Winker enough at bats and playing time in left field, despite the arrivals of Josh VanMeter and Phillip Ervin, to allow him to become one of 2020's most coveted breakout players and ultimately a top ten fantasy outfielder.
6) Mike Soroka will not be a top 40 starting pitcher
ADP: 104.63 per NFBC
Don't get me wrong, Soroka has one of the more promising futures of anyone in baseball. However, 2020 is not the year you want him on your fantasy squads. Last season, he had a 2.68 ERA in 174.2 innings pitched, with his ERA being top five in all of baseball(min. 125 innings pitched), a big reason why the expectations for him are high. Furthermore, his 5.9% BB was solid but his 20.3% K tells a story of a pitcher who isn't striking out guys a great rate. So how did he produce such a stellar ERA? Well Soroka is a ground ball pitcher. His 51.2% GB rate was top ten in the majors last year(min. 125 innings pitched). So we have a young pitcher who understands how to generate ground balls over a large sample size while also limiting walks, what will stop him from being a top 40 starting pitcher?
To start, his SIERA of 4.40 was over a run higher than his ERA of 3.20 from July 4th to the end of last season and his ground ball rate decreased to a still solid 45.7% during that same time span. This could have simply been the result of fatigue but it also tells that Soroka was pitching over his head to end the season. In fact, Soroka's season long SIERA of 4.28 tells the story of a pitcher who has gotten lucky virtually the entire season and one who is still trying to figure out what works for him. A talented young pitcher who could see regression he's never experienced before in his second official major league season? Stay away guys, just for this year. Players like Frankie Montas, Jesús Luzardo, Lance Lynn and more will be available a little after Soroka per NFBC. Be patient and wait for the better value. Guys in keeper and dynasty leagues, please understand that you are holding Soroka right now. For everyone else, expect Mike Soroka to not pass as a top 40 starting pitching option in 2020.
7) Ryan Mountcastle will win the AL ROY Award
ADP: 410.45 per NFBC
Alright let me introduce you. Ryan Mountcastle is a 22 year-old infielder for the Baltimore Orioles. He was drafted by the Orioles in the first round of the 2015 draft. Despite being only 22, Mountcastle has had a lot of professional experience to prepare for his MLB debut, 2,217 minor league plate appearances to be exact. In those ABs, he has hit 70 homer runs, with 38 of his homers coming since 2018. Beyond this, he does have trouble working walks, given his career 3.7% career walk rate, and his K% last season was a below average 23.5%. So in all, we have a typical power hitter who doesn't walk much and loves to swing, what's going to propel him over the other rookies?
Simply put, Ryan Mountcastle will be this year's Pete Alonso. Before Alonso's rise to stardom, his profile was similar to Mountcastle's. Alonso had a good amount of preparation in the minor leagues and his 26.4% K was right aroud Mountcastle's mark. They both hit over 20 home runs in their seasons before their call-ups, but Mountcastle hit .312 while Alonso hit just .260. As a whole, Mountcastle has above average contact ability and power, and he will ride these skills to the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2020.
8) Yu Darvish will win the NL Cy Young Award.
ADP: 70.72 per NFBC
Over Cole? Yes. Even after his struggles early last season? Definitely. In 2019, Yu Darvish pitched to a 3.98 ERA in 178.2 innings, factor in a 229:56 K:BB and this would be a solid season for an pitcher. Beyond this, when you add in a 3.39 xFIP and a 3.55 SIERA, you see the larger picture of a guy who pitched a lot better than what his surface stats portray. Then, following his July 3rd start at the Pirates, one in which he allowed four earned runs on seven hits in 6.2 innings pitched, Darvish became argubly the best starting pitcher in baseball.
From July 12th to the end of last season, Darvish earned a 2.76 ERA, 2.37 xFIP and a 2.45 SIERA in 81.2 innings pitched, with his xFIP being good for 2nd overall in all of baseball during that time, only behind Gerrit Cole(min. 50 innings pitched). Furthermore, his seven walks were the lowest in all of baseball and his 118 strikeouts were top five in the league(min. 50 innings pitched). As a result of his late season dominance, his K/9, BB/9, K% and BB% during that time frame were all top five marks among starting pitchers. In short, Darvish was a top five pitcher for the last three months of the 2019 season and it was no fluke. Of 1202 pitches thrown in those 81.2 innings, 846 went for strikes, a 70.4% strike rate. Darvish was attacking the zone, attacking hitters, controlling the zone and simply dominating lineups, and no one had an answer for it, that is Cy Young level dominance.
A big reason why Darvish created all this success was from his high slider usage. From July 12th to the end of the season, Darvish threw his slider 42.02% of the time. Additionally, despite the high usage, his curve, splitter and fourseam produced the most whiffs. This tell us that Darvish has multiple plus pitches that he knows how to use to make batters whiff or create soft contact.
It is worth noting that Darvish does also possess a cutter, sinker, and changeup, an overall lethal arsenal of pitches that he has found out how to use together masterfully. Darvish's new found success in his mixing of pitches and along with his general skill set will allow him to continue dominating through 2020, eventually leading to his first ever National League Cy Young Award.
In this Fantasy Baseball article, I stated eight bold predictions that could come true or could completely fall through. I then backed each argument up with proof and statistics. Are they too bold? Not bold enough? What or whom do you guys want us to write on next? Let us know!
Twitter: @FantasyLogician, @starks_industry & @AintDunneYet
Thank you for reading guys! These are my first ever fantasy pieces and I want to help YOU all gain as much knowledge as possible for the upcoming 2020 Fantasy Baseball season.
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Written By: Micah S. Henry
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