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JB's 10 Bold Predictions for 2018

Opening Day is rapidly approaching and our experienced writers will be offering their most daring predictions for the 2018 fantasy baseball season. Nick Mariano, Rick Lucks, Pierre Camus, and Kyle Bishop all have given it their best shot at being bold so far. But it's all been child's play up to this point.

Many people don't know this, but Bold is actually what the "B" in my name stands for. I live for the bold!

Lets get rowdy, shall we?

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JB's 10 Rowdy Predictions for 2018

1. Evan Gattis finishes the season as the #1 Catcher in fantasy

Starting things off ROWDY as can be. A crowded lineup and two DL stints kept Evan Gattis from joining in on the 2017 HR craze. But let's not forget that he is just one year removed from hitting 32 HR in just 499 PA. This year he is slotted for starting DH duties with the retirement of Carlos Beltran, and FanGraphs projects him at 580 PA. I see this as very feasible with less time behind the plate - meaning less probability to spend time on the DL again. But why do I see El Oso Blanco as the top backstop in Fantasy? Well let's compare him to the current unanimous #1 ranked Catcher Gary Sanchez. Last year Sanchez hit scored 79 R, hits 33 bombs and drove in 90 RBI. This year he is similarly projected to go 72/31/90. Gattis is projected to score 71 R, hit 30 HR, and 93 RBI in that stacked Houston lineup. Current ADP consensus has Sanchez drafted 24th overall, with Gattis going off the board at 148th. What are we doing here??

I see the BA difference between the two catchers as the main argument (aside from the false injury risk). For the BA gawk, I point to the drastic drop in K% last year for Gattis - from 25.5% in 2016 to 15.4% in 2017. If this improved plate discipline and career-high contact mixed with a career-high LD% continues in 2018, the BA has the potential to continue rising up into the high .260's - which is also where I see Gary Sanchez finishing. El Oso Blanco is going to end up being one of the best values of the entire season.


2. Justin Bour hits 38 HR and is a Top 10 First Baseman

I made Bold predictions last year involving two Marlins that did not pan out. So obviously I have to double down this year on those same two players, starting with Justin Bour.

Despite missing the month of August with an oblique strain, Bour finished 2017 with 25 HR, 83 RBI, and a sexy .289 BA in 109 games. It was a pleasant surprise to see the youngster take a step forward against southpaws, hitting a respectable .253 compared to just .233 in 2016. He has also decreased his GB% and increased his LD% for the second year in a row. Even though injuries have prevented us from seeing the whole picture, the power is legit. Bour hit a HR every 17.16 PA. Edwin Encarnacion hit one every 17.61 PA - and hit 38 HR over a full season. Bour's .247 ISO ranked right in between Encarnacion and Jose Abreu. His 23% line drive percentage was the same as Joey Votto and is why his BA has and will continue to be beneficial. His monstrous 38.8 Hard% ranked right in between Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton. The kid can mash.

2018 Justin Bour is 2017 Justin Smoak - who just so happened to also hit 38 HR AND finish the season as the 10th ranked first baseman in fantasy. Sure the Marlins lineup is a shell of itself after losing Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon, and Marcell Ozuna, but did you watch the Blue Jays last year? While it is far from optimal, hitting clean up around veterans such as Starlin Castro, JT Realmuto, Martin Prado, and Cameron Maybin and the youngsters Lewis Brinson and Brian Anderson will be enough for Bour to put up useful run scoring numbers to go along with the impressive power and BA. It's happening this season!


3. Kyle Barraclough is the Marlins Closer by June, and is a Top 10 RP the rest of the season

Okay, now we get to Marlins Redemption Part II.  The closer situation in Miami is about predictable as they come. The 38 year old sinkerballer who battled back injuries all last season has the job to open Spring Training. The 27 year old fireballer who owns a 12.09 K/9 across 2 and a half Major League seasons is left to sit and wait. Brad Ziegler's velocity was at an all-time low last season, and it definitely affected the effectiveness of his offspeed pitches - which both saw negative weighted values for the first time in his career. He had a great April, then a flat-out awful May and June. Then had a great August, followed by an awful September. At the age of 38 and an ailing back, its obvious Ziegler can no longer be affective over a full season (or ever half a season), which is why the closer carousel will be spinning in Miami before the first three months are over.

Kyle "Bearclaw" Barraclough is by no stretch of the imagination a "safe" option in real life, but the fantasy upside is mesmorizing. Across 72.2 IP in 2016, he boasted a 14.00 K/9 and 2.85 ERA. His 5.45 BB/9 ratio however, showed that there was plenty of polishing left to do. Last season the strikeouts dropped drastically to a 10.36 K/9 while both his LD% and FB% increased. The good news from 2017 was a much better performance over the second half of the season for Bearclaw (2.13 ERA). Really it came down to two polarizing months: May and August. Across 10.2 IP in May, Barraclough owned a 5.91 ERA, 2.16 WHIP, and a 9.3 K/9. Over 9 IP in August, he owned a 1.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, and a 14.0 K/9. The main difference between those two months is ironic for a pitcher with command issues, because in May his pitches were all up in that strike zone. Here are the heat maps for his Fastball and Slider pitch location in May (Top Row) and then August (Bottom Row).

It sure looks like a guy who has a history of poor command who just issued seven walks in the month of April, trying to over-correct by pounding the heart of the strikezone. But in August he went back to the more YOLO style of pitch location, and the results were fantastic. Keep the fastball up, keep the slider down, sprinkle in the saves and you got a Top 10 RP.


4. Matt Carpenter returns to 2015 form, reaches 100 R and 100 RBI

Matt Carpenter is my kind of baseball player. Him and Freddie Freeman have been my favorite statistics guys for a few years -the on-base ability, the line drives, and especially the hard contact. Of course Freeman has blossomed into an absolute monster, where Carpenter has bounced back and forth and flirted with the fantasy star line on a few occasions. In 2015 Carpenter scored 101 R, smacked 28 HR, and plated 84 RBI. Since that outburst he has hit too many FB - most likely in attempt to avoid the shifts that have terrorized his BABIP. He was shifted to the top of the Cards lineup due to the fourt highest BB% in baseball (17.5%). So even in a down season the man's on base ability produced 91 R. This year Mike Matheny stated Carp will likely hit 3rd in the lineup - behind Dexter Fowler and Tommy Pham, and in front of Marcell Ozuna, Yadier Molina, and Paul DeJong. You can't ask for a much better situation for a guy that gets on base at a .384 clip. Can you imagine Joey Votto in that situation??

While the previously awesome line drive numbers are sadly diminishing and rising into flyballs, Carpenter still set a career high with a 42.2 Hard% in 2017, good for 8th best in the league. That kind of pop mixed with his elite plate discipline.. from the three hole in that offense - I can't imagine a world where Matt Carpenter doesn't end up with 100 RBI (would be a career first) and 100 R this year. Currently, FanGraphs (Depth Charts) projects for just five players to reach 100 R and 100 RBI in 2018. I'm predicting Carpenter makes it six - and you can draft him in the 12th round.


5. Miguel Sano hits over 40 HR, leads all Infielders

Now that the wait is over, and we know Sano will not be suspended by the league for a pending sexual assault case from 2015, I feel much better with this prediction. We have yet to see the full beast released from Sano over an entire season, even though we all know he has seemingly unlimited power potential. But I believe that 2018 is the year that we see the explosion. As you read in the previous bold prediction, I am a sucker for the hard contact and believe eventually it always leads to fantasy gold - except for Brandon Belt, I'm done waiting for that to come around. Sano had the fourth highest Hard% in baseball last year at 44.8%. He was practicaly leading the MLB in almost every Exit Velocity stat through the first two months of the season. At the All-Star break he had 21 HR, .538 SLG, and a .262 ISO. Then August came, and the poor guy was plunked on the same hand twice. I ain't making excuses for the guy, but that would sure affect my at bats for a hot minute. Nevertheless he hit only seven more dongs over the second half, and lost roughly six weeks to a nagging leg injury that was stated as a "stress reaction". It turned out to be a little bit more serious than that, and the youngster now has a titanium rod in his lower left leg.

Fast forward to this spring, and Sano has already returned to action. Sure he showed up to camp heavy, but it is kind of hard to do adequate cardio when recovering from metal being implanted into your leg. Plus, I'm not one to complain about a power hitter putting on a few pounds. He looks completely fine, Paul Molitor is pleased, and he has hit three bombs and four doubles in just 33 PA this spring. Try to remember the kid is 24 years old. The best is surely yet to come, and a whole lot of it is coming this season. He hits over 40 HR, and beats Joey Gallo for the just-now made up Infield HR Leader crown.


6. Joey Votto finishes as a Top 3 ranked hitter in fantasy and wins NL MVP

Just when you think Joey Vottomatic couldn't get any better, he goes and pulls a 2017. The king of plate discipline set a career high contact percentage, and a career low 5.7 SwStr%. I love this guy! But what really gets me excited about this year is the steps he took in the power department, much like the rest of the league. He enjoyed his highest FB% since 2009, his highest Pull% since 2008, and his highest ISO since 2010. All of this while seeing a drop in his HR/FB% from the two previous years and yet he still smacked 36 bombs. I mean, if that HR/FB% spikes to at least the 22% from 2016, and this less strikeouts/more flyballs trend continues for the legend... I can't even imagine what the possibilities are. But I will gladly throw out my rowdy attempt: 110/40/110/.320, oh and don't forget the seven SB. Only two players in the league reached the 100/40/100 threshold last season, sadly both are in pinstripes now, but neither of them peaked .300.

I understand the Reds offense leaves much to be desired, but like Justin Bour, there is plenty enough around Votto (more a compliment to him than the teammates) to reach my lofty expectations. Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are coming off great seasons, Jesse Winker/Jose Peraza/ Nick Senzel could ignite a spark, and between Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler combined you have a useful hitter. Billy Hamilton is um, well, very fast at least. It's not ever a bold statement to say Joey Votto is going to be fantastic, but based on his second round ADP I don't think people are grasping how fantastic he is going to be. They obviously will once he wins the MVP award and finishes ranked ahead of all hitters not named Mike Trout or Jose Altuve.


7. Noah Syndergaard is the #1 ranked pitcher and wins the NL Cy Young

Here is another "bold" prediction that really isn't that bold based on the name, but yet Thor, the freaking god of Thunder, is being drafted in the third round. What are you people doing? 2017 was in fact a disaster, and probably has left a horrible taste in fantasy owners mouths after a torn lat muscle led to Syndergaard throwing just 30.1 IP. But did you see the numbers in those 30.1 innings? He boasted a 1.31 FIP, and in his four healthy full outings struck out 30 batters without issuing a single walk. Go back one year before that and he struck out 218 in 183.2 IP. The man is elite. His FB velocity was up for the third straight year, averaging 99.6 MPH, the highest of any pitcher not named Aroldis Chapman. His sinker is the fastest in the league (98.1 MPH). His slider is - well would you look at that - also the fastest in the league (93.2 MPH) and also has the 15th most vertical movement. I have to stop for a moment. I'm getting too excited.

Through 20 IP this spring, Thor owns a 1.35 ERA and a 10.35 K/9. It's not the perfection we've seen from Clayton Kershaw, but for a guy who barely pitched last season it's exactly what you want to see. After blaming his excessive bulking for the lat muscle injury last year, this off-season Syndergaard has worked on being more flexible, which hopefully I believe will lead to his first 200 IP season. What also has me amped up this season is the new Mets manager, Mickey Callaway. If you didn't know, he was previously the Cleveland Indians pitching coach, whose rotation has been pretty good since he took over in 2013. Also worth noting, Corey Kluber won the Cy Young in 2014. Now its Thor's turn.


8. Luis Castillo finishes the season as a Top 10 SP

By the way, this is not in reference to the minor leaguer in Philly, made that mistake on FanGraphs twice now. Castillo has been an extremely trendy player this off-season, both in sleeper AND busts columns. But I don't think anyone is as high on the kid as me. My infactuation started when I watched him pitch an eight inning gem against the Marlins last July. You can't fully grasp the potential of Castillo until you watch him pitch. Electric is more than an understatement, it's almost an insult. He instantly reminded me of my second all-time favorite baseball player - the late, great Jose Fernandez. The sizzling fastball, the fantastic changeup, and the unfair slider - I was in love.

I am sure everyone has done their own research on Castillo this draft season. You know he boasted a 27% strikeout rate, held opponents to a .198 BAA, AND produced a 59% groundball rate. Did you know only Carlos Martinez and Luis Severino owned a GB% over 50 and a K/9 over 9 in 2017? It is a rare ability. The liberalism on the long ball looks a bit concerning on the surface, I will admit. But his 17.2 HR/FB% was triple what it was in the minors. He also only allowed a 29% flyball rate with a Hard% less than 30, so obviously I expect positive regression in the HR/FB department. But if you look even deeper, he already fixed the issue over the second half of last season. He allowed a 1.96 HR/9 in his four starts prior to the All-Star break, and a 0.81 HR/9 the rest of the way. You can see a more visual representation below, in his ISO/P heat maps from June/July compared to August/September.

The stuff is already there. Now in 2018 he has a chance to flaunt it over a full season, and it is going to be beautiful.


9. A.J. Minter is the Braves Closer by August, and is a Top 10 RP in 2019 ADP

Arodys Vizcaino has a firm hold on the closer role to begin the season. He posted a great stat line in 2017, nailing down 14 Saves with a 2.83 ERA in 57.1 IP. He has always been known for having great stuff, and the 10.05 K/9 from 2017 shouldn't be a surprise from anyone. But there are two reasons why I think by August Vizcaino will not be the man for the Bravos: Regression and A.J. Minter.

Vizcaino's batted ball profile changed drastically last season when he went from a 1.81 GB/FB ratio in 2016 all the way down to a 0.85 in '17. He was very fortunate to own such a high FB% (45.3) and Hard% and walk away with just a 10.4% HR/FB. Speaking of being fortunate, his BABIP and LOB% went from .333 and 65.2% in 2016 to .248 and 83.3% in 2017. Same pitch usage, same pitch velocity, same contact rates - but as you can see...much different results. His xFIP last season, 4.21, was pretty much right on par with his 4.42 ERA from 2016 and I think more accurately depicts Vizcaino than last years 2.83 ERA does.

Now we all know the Braves have remodeled recently, and are not expecting to be vying for the top spot in the NL East this year. This is why I think at the trade deadline a desparate playoff-fringe team will look at Vizcaino's 2017 numbers and be willing to ship a low-end prospect or two to the Braves. Why would the Braves be so willing to move their 27 year old closer, aside from the expected regression mentioned above? The answer is A.J. Minter. Minter made appearances at every level of the Braves organization last season, culminating in 15 IP in the Majors. In those 15 innings, the southpaw struck out 26. Yes, 26. That equates to a 15.60 K/9. The 24 year old is equipped with a 96 mph fastball and a wipeout slider that he threw 49% of the time - which combined for an 18.2 SwStr% in his big league time. The kid is filthy.


10. Carlos Gonzalez bounces back and finishes as a Top 30 OF

Kyle Schwarber, Julio Teheran, Jon Lester. David Price. Johnny Cueto. Chris Davis. Gregory Polanco. Mark freaking Trumbo. What do all these players have in common? They all had poor seasons in 2017, and yet are all forgiven and being drafted before Carlos Gonzalez. The man has one bad season and he completely falls off the radars. Three seasons ago the man hit 40 HR. Two years ago he drove in 100 RBI and hit .298. He is still "only" 32 and plays half his games in Coors Field. Why are we so quick to write him off as being finished?

CarGo reportedly stated poor sleep and not eating breakfast were benefactors to the piss-poor effort we saw most of 2017. I'll admit that seems extremely odd, but I ain't going to judge - especially since when he realized and confronted the problem he proceeded to smack eight dongs and hit over .320 for the last two months of the season. Six of the eight HR came in the final month, and were accompanied with a .390 ISO. .390! I mean how in the hell did that happen if his remaining talent level was equivalent to a 21st round draft pick, which is where he is being drafted in 2018. CarGo easily wins Comeback Player of the Year, and also easily finishes inside the top 30 OF in fantasy.


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