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Oh yeah. You knew @Roto_Dubs was closing this bad boy. After all that soft cheddar you gotta bring that Jordan Hicks FIRE in the ninth! I kid, my colleagues are MOSTLY terrific (*sideways glance at Kyle*).

Love doing these every year, no matter how tragic the final results are. This series is a chance to take our unfulfilled desires and hopeful predictions for the coming season and then take them to a place that nobody would expect.

Is this list mostly based on my own personal affinities and disdains for specific players? You know it is. I make every effort during my Bully Ps to throw some stuff out there that could happen while mixing in some soon-to-be swing-and-misses. After all, if you're not having fun with these, why do them? On to the insanity.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off, with exclusive access to our season-long articles, 15 in-season lineup tools and over 200 days of expert DFS research/tools. Sign Up Now!

 

Jack Flaherty wins the NL Cy Young Award

Jumpin' Jack, man. I'm a Flaherty stan for sure, but it's with good reason. As a rookie, Flaherty struck out 182 fools in just 151 innings pitched--good for a K% of 29.6%. Sweet Christmas, that's the good stuff. Thanks to that swing-and-miss stuff, Flaherty worked his way to a 3.32 ERA--again, as a rookie--and established himself as one of the best up-and-coming arms in the National League. I say he takes a monster step forward this year, because there are no peripheral stats that suggest anything Flaherty did last year was unsustainable. That 3.32 ERA is backed up by a sexy 3.57 SIERA, so it's not like he was simply getting lucky all season.

The big leap he'll need to take is in the innings department. Flaherty didn't suffer some big injury that limited him to 152 innings--he made 28 starts. Doing the quick math and that equates to just over 5.1 innings per start. He'll need to go much deeper much more often if he's gonna chase down that Cy Young Award, but with a full year of experience under his belt and no long-standing injury history, I think he gets to 200 innings. However, he will not only have to pitch incredibly well, but he'll also need his contemporaries to not out-pitch him. He'll need some miracles like...

 

Max Scherzer finishes outside the top 10 starting pitchers

There is a non-zero chance that Scherzer is literally the Greek god of strikeouts, with a temple buried somewhere in the Mediterranean and everything. HOWEVER...I ask you, how long can he keep this torrid pace up? If you look at his last six seasons, you get one of the most impressive stretches in baseball history; he's averaged 218 innings pitched, 270 strikeouts and just a shade under 18 wins per season.

I dare say we can call that his prime. But he turns 35 this season, and at a certain point, he's going to run out of steam. As fiery as Mad Max is, there is an expiration date on his dominance. There is no single stat I can point to that indicates THIS is the year it happens, but it's going to make my first bold prediction a lot easier to come to fruition if it happens, so here we are.

They're not all gonna be analytical gems, folks.

 

Framber Valdez finishes the season with 10+ wins

We're working with a small sample size with this one, I know. Framber Valdez was outstanding over five starts (eight total appearances) at the end of last season for the Houston Astros, and he's very much in the mix for the fifth starting rotation spot heading into 2019, and his path got a little easier now that Josh James is on the shelf.

He's still duking it out with Brad Peacock, and as of yesterday (3/19), A.J. Hinch said Peacock is the leading candidate to grab that last rotation spot thanks to his phenomenal spring performance. If Valdez is shuffled into the bullpen to begin the season, he still should have a legitimate impact and come away with a few wins, and I truly believe he'll be the next guy up once another starter is required.

Valdez has been a strikeout machine in the minors, with an average K% over 22%, well above average. He does have to work through some control problems, but ultimately, I think he gets his 10 wins out of a combination of bullpen and starting opportunities. He's not a draft day target, but keep him on that watch list for the dog days of summer when the Astros start looking for some extra depth to their suddenly thin starting rotation.

 

Christian Yelich finishes outside the overall top 20

Christian Yelich was an extremely deserving MVP last season. It would have been an outrage if he didn't win. However, I simply can't buy that the MASSIVE gains he made in almost every measurable metric are his new standard. Some of his success can be chalked up to the new ballpark and team--a heavy-hitting Brewers lineup in Miller Park is simply more ripe for counting stats than the terrible Marlins and their eyesore of a stadium.

These gains were just too massive to be sustainable. Just going to rattle off a few stats here with the jumps he made from his very good 2017 season to 2018; homers? Doubled them (18 to 36). Batting average? Up 44 points (.282 to .326). Runs? Up 18 (100-118). RBI? Up 29 (81 to 110). Steals? Up six (16 to 22). His ISO? Up well over 100 points (.156 to .272) and well above his career average (.166). That's simply too much to think he can repeat. Regression to the mean is real, and Yelich owners are about to feel it.

Don't get me wrong, Yelich is going to be a terrific roto asset this season--he's a perennial 20/20 threat and his batting average should sit right around .300. But if you think he's going to go bonkers with another MVP-level season, you're ignoring his well-established benchmarks. A top-30 finish should be within his grasp, but no way he cracks the top-20.

 

Jordan Hicks leads the majors in saves

Move over Aroldis. There's a new big gun in town, and it's Jordan Hicks. Hicks was positively electric in his rookie season, leading his team in relief innings, relief strikeouts, and holds. He brings a 100+ mph sinker to the table that dives away from barrels with stunning efficacy and backs it up with an 86 mph slider as a finisher. At just 22, Hicks should be one of the better relievers in baseball for years to come.

But I'm ready to anoint him now. Hicks is currently in the mix to win the Cardinals' closer job, and his main competition is new Cardinal Andrew Miller. Miller has experience closing, but some of his best outings and seasons have come in the "fireman" role. His devastatingly lengthy lefty-ness is a great asset when the meat of the lineup comes up late in a game, and that oftentimes is NOT during the ninth inning.

I think the Cardinals wisely put Miller in a more fluid role, using him when he's most needed rather than in a specific inning or situation. That will leave Hicks' flame-throwing for the save opportunities--think what Miller and Cody Allen used to have going on in Cleveland. Hicks' filthy stuff and propensity for forcing ground balls when he's not striking folks out makes him a terrific closer option, and the Cardinals are going to give him enough opportunities to lead the league in saves.

 

The top roto asset on the Yankees is NOT Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton--it's Miguel Andujar

This one doesn't even feel all that bold given how incredible Andujar's rookie season was. He led all rookies in homers, RBI, hits, and doubles, and tacked on a robust .297 batting average and 83 runs scored. Sweet Christmas, that's a lot of stuff.

There is reason to believe that Andujar can be an even more productive asset in 2019 given his position in one of the most potent lineups in all of baseball, and the fact that there is almost nothing you can point to that indicates his rookie season was a fluke. If you want to get real picky, he's not that great at getting on base because he walks at such a low rate (4.1%), but if an aggressive approach nets you THOSE results you don't question it.

The biggest question mark here is whether or not Judge and/or Stanton can keep pace with Andujar's production, and understand that this bold prediction is a nod to Andujar, not a slight against them. I say Andujar gets the job done and ekes out the production he needs to top them.

 

Danny Jansen finishes behind only Gary Sanchez and J.T. Realmuto

#BABYMUTO. About to make that a thing.

Jansen earned a late-season call-up at the AAA level last year, hitting .275 with 12 homers across 88 games and even chipping in five steals. I'm most interested in his nearly 1:1 walk-strikeout ratio at that level, as he collected 44 bases on balls compared to just 49 strikeouts--if that ratio is sustainable at the next level, Jansen could profile as a J.T. Realmuto-lite with the potential to blossom into the genuine article as soon as this year.

Fortunately for this Bold Prediction, the catching position is hot garbage this year. Jansen's contact and on-base abilities give him a high floor in addition to one of the higher ceilings at the position on draft day. Babymuto is going to take a giant leap forward this season and we're going to watch these three square off for the top catcher spot for the next few years. Take it to the bank.

 

Jesse Winker leads the majors in OBP and runs scored

If Jesse Winker does not lead off for the Reds this season, I will pitch a fit like a kid who doesn't get a candy bar in the checkout line at the grocery store. We will post the video on Rotoballer.com.

ASSUMING THAT HE DOES BECAUSE HE SHOULD...Winker is in a terrific position to be one of the top leadoff men in baseball. Winker was on his way to a true breakout in 2018 before his season was cut short by a shoulder injury. What he did before then was unbelievable for a then-24-year-old; Winker managed a .405 OBP across 89 games thanks in large part to his absurd 14.7 BB%.

There isn't a ton of pop in his bat, but maaaannn can Winker make contact with the best of them. If he's getting on base at that clip, with all the handsome thunder coming up behind him (Eugenio Suarez, Joey Votto, Matt Kemp, Scooter Gennett, Nick Senzel, Yasiel Puig, and lions and tigers and bears, OH MY) he's going to be a genuine threat to score 120 runs. The Reds are going to be a much better team than anyone gives them credit for this year, and it's all going to start with their table-setter.

 

Bryce Harper finishes outside the overall top 30

For all the money talk that flew around Bryce Harper this offseason, people seem to have forgotten that in Harper's seven professional seasons, he's been wildly inconsistent in what he returns for your investment on draft day. For starters, he's only played in 140 or more games three times in his career--that's pretty darn concerning for a guy so young. On a separate note, for every MVP-level season he's had, he's also got an objectively bad season under his belt.

His 2015 season was Herculean, and well-deserving of the MVP award he won for it. He followed that up by cutting his homer total nearly in half and losing almost 100 points in his batting average. He bounced back with an injury-shortened (111 games) but explosive season in 2017, and then went all-in on the power game last season, clubbing 34 homers and finishing with more than 100 RBI and 100 runs, but not even cracking .250 in batting average.

There is so much upside for Bryce Harper but you absolutely HAVE to consider the long stretches (and sometimes seasons) where he just plain doesn't play well. Perhaps the change of scenery and security of his new contract does him good and I'm wrong here--but I'm betting we still see a healthy serving of "Bad Bryce" this season.

 

Josh Donaldson finishes top-three in MVP voting

If you've followed me on Twitter through any baseball season, then you know there is a very specific gif that I use whenever Josh Donaldson cracks a mammoth homer:

Related image

The Bringer of Rain was a perennial MVP candidate for three full seasons from 2015-2017, averaging 37 homers, 103 runs scored and 100 RBI over that time span in addition to hitting between .270 and .297 every season. His hot streak finally came to an end in 2018 thanks to a host of shoulder and calf issues, which limited him to 52 games and the highest K% of his career.

Donaldson is now back to full health and will be hitting in the meat of one of the more potent lineups in the National League, and is going to return to that MVP form we saw him in for years.

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