While I take to writing about sleepers and finding hidden value in your drafts, this site is actually about playing it safe in fantasy baseball. The projections, for instance, in the cheatsheets are based off past performance and not designed to project bold breakout players. My ideal strategy on draft day is to minimize risk while maximizing production (easier said than done, yes) so making lots of bold moves usually isn’t how I roll. While many fantasy baseball sites have gotten a kick out of announcing their top bold predictions lately, I’m going to flip that in the interest of playing it safe and offer my ten safe predictions for the year ahead.
This, in a way, is actually a lot riskier as a writer because I’m telling you that these predictions have a high probability of being right instead of the freedom of picking random likely-wrong-but-bold guesses. That being said, it’s actually a safe bet that a couple of these will backfire because the only thing predictable in life/baseball is unpredictability. I’m still hoping for a very high success rate here. How’s seven of ten sound?
I respect your time as readers so I’m not going to just post the most obvious safe picks like “Mike Trout will be good.” I’m posting predictions that I feel are safe yet being overlooked by the general public.
1. Justin Verlander returns to form and posts a sub-3.00 ERA
Justin Verlander had a down year by his standards in 2013 with a 3.46 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. After seeing dominant pitchers like Roy Halladay fade away quickly because of injury, the public may be a little scared off by a year like this from one of our era’s most dominant aces. Verlander admitted to injuries playing a role last season so there’s a concern there but he’s shown an ability to remain healthy during the season and has pitched over 200 IP in each of the past seven seasons. Injury or not, his 2013 season was plagued by a high BABIP rate which likely caused the increase in WHIP (and thus ERA). With that returning to normal and his other peripherals staying the same, it’s easy to see him going back to being an ace. Last time he had a season like 2013 was in 2010 and he followed that one up with a Cy Young in 2011. Just sayin’.
2. Robinson Cano’s overall production will experience a drop-off Seattle
As Tom Tango researched, hitters changing teams during free agency usually suffer worse-than-normal regression upon joining a new club and that alone is enough to make me a bit wary of Cano’s new surroundings. On top of that, he’ll be in a much different lineup. When Cano was regularly getting 100+ Runs and RBI’s in a season, he was on a Yankees team that was scoring over 800 runs a year. Last year, he was on a Yankees team that scored 650 runs (which is about what you should expect out of Seattle) and his Run total dropped from 105 to 81.
3. Hunter Pence will have around 25 HR, 10 SB and a .282 AVG… again
You can set your clock to Hunter Pence. He’s as dependable as they come. His stat lines since his first full season six years ago have been nearly identical each year. He’s ranged from 22-27 HR’s and hit .282 or .283 three times. He’s durable and predictable and that’s a damn rare thing in fantasy baseball.
4. Billy Butler will hit .300 with 20 HR and nearly 100 RBI and people won’t care
It’s tough to like a player who is only eligible at DH. It handcuffs a team and ruins your flexibility. As a result, Billy Butler is usually not at the top of many draft boards despite being fairly consistent in what he can give you. He’s a high AVG hitter with a bit of pop in his bat and is able to generate a decent amount of RBI’s because he’s usually batting cleanup. His HR totals fluctuate a bit year-to-year but he’s been nearly the same player each year over the past five seasons aside from that. Plus, he’s durable and has had between 668 and 679 PA’s in each of those five seasons.
5. Adrian Gonzalez will also nearly hit .300 with 20+ HR and nearly 100 RBI and nobody will care that much either
He’s not the 40 HR hitter he once was but don’t hold it against him. We have a pretty clear picture of what we’re going to get out of this current incarnation of A-Gon and he still has room to improve now that he’s healthier than past years. He’ll come close to hitting .300 and he’ll still hit a respectable amount of HR’s and he’ll rake in those RBI’s while hitting cleanup in a good lineup. It’s what he does. He’s only turning 32 (seems like he should be 42 by now) so age is still on his side and he’s played a full season every year dating back to 2006. Don’t hold it against him that he’s not the player he was in San Diego.
6. Prince Fielder hits over 30 HR’s again
We saw a dip in Prince’s power last year but he gets a little gift this year due to the fact that he’ll be going to a park that favors his hitting style. Hitting in Texas should give him a 2 to 3 HR boost regardless of whether his HR/FB improves or not. HR/FB can be fluky and we saw Prince hit way below his career average last year when it came to how many FB’s became homers. Expect a positive regression in that regard and a few extra Texas-induced HR’s as he goes back to passing the 30 HR plateau again.
7. Troy Tulowitzki fails to get 500 AB’s again
I hate to predict injury upon a player but Tulo does not have the ability to stay healthy it seems. He’s only had one season since 2008 where he played more than 143 games. To expand on that, he’s only had more than 470 AB’s twice in the past six seasons. He’ll do quite well when he’s in the games but you’ll remain frustrated by Tulo’s potential again this year.
8. Ryan Braun still hits like Ryan Braun and finishes in the top 8 in value
Why are we down on Braun this year? What turned him from a top three pick to a second round pick? Yes, he was suspended and drugs are bad and all that stuff but do you expect him to be a totally different player now? I fully expect another .300 season that flirts with 30/30 or 40/20 numbers.
9. Cliff Lee continues to quietly be a top five pitcher
He’s getting up there in age but his production actually seems to slowly get better and better as he throws more strikeouts and less walks each year since his evolution in 2008. Steady, reliable and durable is very nice, especially when coupled with the fact that he may end up going to an actual competitor during the season if the Phillies trade him away (speculating).
10. Half of the top 10 closers at the end of the year had an ADP later than 200
That would mean that of the top twenty or so closers, only five of them actually will end as top ten closers. I think MLB managers is slowly moving towards having a shorter hook with closers. In 2011, there were only two closers in the year-end top ten that were drafted later than 200 but then it was six and four in 2012 and 2013 respectively. I think the trend continues and we see more middle relievers stealing closer jobs throughout the year.