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Midseason Mea Culpas


Anyone who has read my work already knows this, but I've never been fully comfortable with the term "expert."

Why? The universe is chaos, especially when it comes to the weighted random number generators that we call sports. The few who are able to make a living as sports bettors still typically aren't much more accurate than simply flipping a coin. This isn't false modesty - I do consider myself good at the game and good at writing about it, at least to the level where I've managed to get paid to do so for half a decade. It's just the truth. We are all guessing at the end of the day; my guesses are simply more educated than most.

But when you spend hours every week dispensing advice about a game that displays only occasional adherence to rhyme or reason, being wrong is inevitable. With the All-Star break approaching, let's look back at some of my worst calls this spring and try to learn from the experience.

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Players I Liked Too Much

Adam Frazier, 2B/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

What I said: "After three seasons as a utility player, Frazier is finally getting a shot at everyday at-bats in Pittsburgh...[a] plus average, double digits in HR/SB, and 80+ runs scored are all realistic possibilities. He deserves a look at the end of many drafts."

What's actually happened: Frazier is indeed around an 80-run pace because he has managed to stick in the leadoff spot for the majority of the season. The pop and speed haven't really been there, though, as he's hit just four home runs and stolen only three bases in five attempts. And .275 isn't a bad batting average at all, but it won't move the needle much for fantasy squads.

Chances this might pan out anyway: Frazier hasn't been bad, and could still hit all these benchmarks with a few modest hot streaks. But he's also seen less and less time as the leadoff man in recent weeks, and simply isn't that dynamic of a player. (Okay, but nobody expected much of Frazier. This one isn't that bad. Let's get serious.)

Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

What I said: "I may be in the minority here, but I expect Votto to bounce back to pretty much where he had been [before 2018]. For 2019, I might actually prefer him to Cody Bellinger." Oof...yeah, that's the good stuff.

What's actually happened: We all know how fantastic Bellinger has been. Unfortunately, Votto has much more closely resembled the 2018 model than the hitting machine he used to be. Not only has his power remained depressed, he's on track for the worst batting average and highest strikeout rate of his career.

Chances this might pan out anyway: To be fair, Votto has shown some signs of life recently as he hit .299/.390/.506 in June. However, even that surge has left him with a .271/.366/.416 overall line. If he can keep it going, the end-of-year numbers may wind up respectable, even good. But he won't return a profit on his draft price, and he damn sure isn't going to be better than Bellinger.

Yu Darvish, SP, Chicago Cubs

What I said: "Very surprised at how little love Darvish [is] getting based on early ADP. Fairly high on him...great rebound candidate. Would be comfortable with him as a #3, could be a #2."

What's actually happened: Darvish was never a control artist in the best of times, but he couldn't buy a strike for the first six weeks of the season. He walked seven in his debut and six in a May 9 start against the friggin' Marlins, who rank dead last in walk rate at present. Over that span of eight starts, he issued an astounding 33 free passes in 36 innings.

Chances this might pan out anyway: Darvish has gotten it together with just 16 walks in his last 60 frames, and he continues to rack up strikeouts. Unfortunately, what has also continued is his inability to prevent home runs; despite a career best ground ball rate, he's allowing 1.9 HR/9 after clocking in at 1.3 and 1.6 the prior two seasons. Gonna go ahead and say he's probably not opting out of his contract after the season.

 

Players I Didn't Like Enough

Josh Bell, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates

What I said: I can't actually find a single instance of me discussing Bell this spring, either in columns or the weekly Monday AMA on Reddit. That's how little I thought of the guy.

What's actually happened: Only four hitters in MLB have a higher weighted on-base average than Bell - Bellinger, Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, and Charlie Blackmon. The Pirates' slugger ranks fourth in the league with 26 homers, which is already tied for his career high in just 84 games. He leads baseball with 81 RBI, and his 67 runs scored is tied for third. Oh, and he's also hitting over .300, no big deal.

Chances this might pan out anyway: Unless Bell is stricken by whatever mysterious ailment has caused Jose Ramirez to turn into a scrub, this will stand as an egregious oversight. Hell, it still might even then.

Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, San Diego Padres

What I said: "The power and speed are legitimate, though the average shouldn't be counted upon given the high strikeout rates he has routinely run in the minor leagues. I don't think he'll be up before Super 2."

What's actually happened: Tatis broke camp with the Padres and, despite missing over a month with a hamstring injury, has produced 12 homers, 13 steals, and a 1.006 OPS. Were it not for Pete Alonso, he'd be the clear favorite for top rookie honors in the National League.

Chances this might pan out anyway: This one might actually turn. Tatis is almost certainly not going to keep running a BABIP well over .400 or keep hitting homers on nearly 30 percent of his fly balls, and as great as he's been so far, he's still striking out a ton. The usual concerns with rookies - pitchers making adjustments, the grind of a longer season than they're used to - are present as well. Like everyone else, I had no qualms about Tatis long-term - I just didn't see this explosion coming this soon, and at the risk of further egg on my face, am expecting a second-half fade.

 

The Friday Meta is Kyle Bishop's attempt to go beyond the fantasy box score or simple strategic pointers and get at the philosophical and/or behavioral side of the game. It is hopefully not as absurd, pretentious, or absurdly pretentious as that sounds.

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