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Nate Green's 10 Bold Predictions for 2019

Here at RotoBaller, we offer only the best, most factually-grounded fantasy analysis. Then, once a year, along comes everyone's favorite exercise: the Bold Predictions.

Ah yes, wherein those of us who write analysis about a sabermetric-driven sport are encouraged to make the wildest guesses about the coming season in fantasy baseball. Some statistical basis ought to still be present, but even the faintest glimmer becomes an excuse to go nuts.

Below: my said Bold Predictions.

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Clayton Kershaw is the #1 fantasy starter

Let's lead off with the boldest prediction of them all.

And yet, imagine this being "bold" even two years ago. Obviously, this depends a great deal on health. Still, Kershaw is only 31, younger than aces Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Yes, Kershaw is dealing with a significant health problem right now (his shoulder), and he also missed a few starts last year. Also, the 2018 metrics were not encouraging. So, this prediction basically runs on "it's Clayton Freaking Kershaw!" and the idea that some older-in-age aces will miss a bit of time (but Kershaw won't). If there's any pitcher who can reinvent himself on the fly, however, it's Clayton Freaking Kershaw!

Heads up, I'm considering this a win if he's top-five.


Joey Gallo hits .229 with 51 home runs

This would represent a 20-point and 10-homer bump from Gallo's career-highs, set in 2017. Gallo's power is truly ridiculous; 22.5% of his batted balls last year were barrels. Max Muncy and Khris Davis tied for second in this stat at 16.9%. When Gallo makes contact, he is 33% more likely than anyone to barrel it up. Can he limit the strikeouts to 30%-ish while keeping that insane power? If we're being bold in our predicting--and I think we are--then yes!


Franmil Reyes hits 42 home runs

That number isn't completely made up. Let's engage in some ridiculously bad science. So, Reyes is listed at 6'5" 275. Aaron Judge is 6'7" 282. Thus in both height and weight, Reyes is approximately 97% Judge. This is potentially Reyes' first full season; Judge hit 52 home runs in his first full season. Judge hit 19 of his on the road, so using the 100% scientific size-to-homer ratio (SHR), that should give Reyes 18 road home runs. Judge also homered 33 times at home, so by "SHR" (pronounced "sure," as in, "sure, this is reasonable"), that would be 31 for Reyes.

It's only fair to look at park factors at home, however. Yankee Stadium had a 1.279 park factor in 2017 when Judge hit his 33 home runs there.  Last year, Petco had a 0.983. If that happened again, that gives Reyes 24 home bombs (.983/1.279*31) for a total of 42. If you came to Bold Predictions for hard science, my apologies.

Of course, Reyes' playing time remains in question. Travis Jankowski's injury clears some room in the San Diego outfield but it's still a crowded place. There is something that could make Reyes way for a starting job, however: a trade. And most places are better for a home run hitter than Petco Park. But the season technically begins right now, and you'd think the Padres would have converted their outfield surplus into something else by this point if they were so inclined. So maybe Hosmer will struggle again and Myers can move to first to make room for both Reyes and Hunter Renfroe?


Anthony Rendon leads all third basemen in home runs

Third base is a loaded position. Nine players who hit 30 or more home runs last year retain third base eligibility this year (Yahoo). Rendon only hit 24, one off of his career-high set the season prior. And they don't call him "Tony Two Bags" for nothing, with 123 doubles since 2016 that rank behind just Jose Ramirez and Mookie Betts among all players.

But it's a contract year and Rendon has the strength to turn those doubles into bombs (with a barrel rate last year that ranked 20th out of 186 players with 300 batted ball events). He has just chosen not to. Put him down for 36.


Patrick Corbin leads the Nationals in strikeouts with 260

Max Scherzer turns 35 in July and is on a durability streak that defies everything we know about pitchers — he has made 30 or more starts for 10 straight seasons. Stephen Strasburg has only made 30 or more starts twice. Corbin has done it three times. If Scherzer's streak comes to an end this year - and again, he's 35 - that opens the door for someone else to lead the club in K's.

Corbin is the better bet than Strasburg to start 33 times, so the prediction is him. Corbin's absurd 15.6% swinging strike rate ranked second in baseball last year (behind...Max Scherzer, of course), so the slider expert's seventh-ranked 30.8 K% was no fluke. It wouldn't be bold enough if we didn't bump him up a bit to roughly an extra K every two games (he had 246 last year).


Aaron Hicks will be top-two in home runs on the Yankees

In one sense, this isn't that bold; Hicks tied for second on the Yankees with 27 home runs last year. On the other hand, Aaron Judge missed 50 games. Giancarlo Stanton led the squad with 38 bombs in his second straight season of 158 or more games. Injury proneness may or may not be real, but it would be unsurprising if either Judge or Stanton missed significant time again.

Of course, Hicks missing time would also not be surprising, and he's already dealing with a back issue this spring. He went from 15 home runs in 2017 to 27 last year; splitting the difference, that's six more this year for 33. That mark may be a little too modest for bold predictions, so don't let me call this a half-win if he does reach 33, but the other guys combine for 100.


Ryan Yarbrough wins more games--er, gets credited with more wins--than Blake Snell

This prediction relies on the unpredictability of wins, and on Yarbrough retaining and maintaining his role of following an opener in Tampa. Even if Snell is just as effective in 2019 as he was in 2018, there is a lot of room for his ERA to climb from 1.89 closer to his FIP of 2.95, which will, in turn, ding him in wins.

He'll also see fewer opportunities due to a regression in run support — although it wasn't too crazy last year, with the Rays scoring 4.7 runs for him compared to 4.4 on average. Yarbrough, meanwhile, returns to his role after recovering from his groin injury and continues merrily on his win-vulturing ways.


Christian Yelich duplicates his 36 HR and 22 SB

Almost everyone thinks that Yelich will have to come down from his career MVP year last season. ZiPS is friendlier to him than any other Fangraphs projection system and still sees "just" 28 home runs and 19 stolen bases. Steamer goes as low as 26-15.

Still, Yelich posted an 8.8% barrel rate that ranked ninth among the 300 BBE crowd, sandwiched between Giancarlo Stanton and Javier Baez, while setting a career-high in hard hit percentage at 50.8%. Yes, his launch angle remained stuck at 4.7, so it's hard to believe that he can duplicate 36 homers again, but how often is there enough chatter about a player regressing to make his merely keeping pace a bold prediction?


Hunter Strickland posts single-digit saves...and throws a baseball at you-know-who

Welcome to the dumbest Bold Prediction. The first part is to make this fantasy relevant, but it's also not super bold. The second part would be very weird since the Mariners and Phillies aren't on each other's schedule in 2019. There are two ways it happens, then: Strickland gets moved or they meet in the All-Star Game (or the Mariners play the Phillies in the World Series, but...). Even if the latter happens, you have to think Alex Cora wouldn't be blase enough to let Strickland and his arch-nemesis, dating back to 2014, actually play each other on the national stage.

So then, Seattle will struggle this year and deal Strickland to some bullpen-needy team where he won't close (both contributing to his low saves count)...and that new team, unaware of the history, will play the Phillies and will let Strickland face Philadelphia's prize free agent acquisition. Bygones ought to be bygones at this point, but Strickland doesn't have the greatest control (BB% of 10+ in both 2017 and '18), so perhaps nerves will make one get away. And he'll be ejected anyway, and sparks will fly, and let's just move on shall we?


The number one player in standard fantasy

This would very much pain me as a Nationals fan (who, as you can see, nevertheless still holds a grudge against Hunter Strickland), but let's just call it like it is: Bryce Harper, whom RotoBaller ranks "only" 14th this preseason, playing at Citizens Bank Park is a match made in heaven. Sure, last year it played almost the same as Nationals Park (a 1.190 HR park factor vs the 1.179 in D.C.), but in 2017, Citizens Bank blew away even Yankee Stadium with a 1.409 HR factor compared to Nats Park's 1.040, and that is much closer to the historical case.

The call here is for Harper to tie Gallo for the MLB-lead at 51 home runs; the year Harper hit 42, the Nationals played in a league-average park for home runs, so Philly will open him up even more. That season, in 2015 Harper scored 118 runs and drove in 99 despite playing for a team whose second-best hitter was Yunel Escobar, so his Phillies teammates should bring that up too. Give Harper his career-high in steals (21 in 31 tries in 2016; give him last year's 81% efficiency for 21/26) and a .300+ average and that ought to do it for being fantasy baseball's best asset, just when everyone was wondering if 2015 was a fluke.

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