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Nick Mariano's 10 Bold Predictions for 2019


2018 was a banner season for baseball's Marianos, as Mariano Rivera was headed full steam ahead towards a unanimous Hall of Fame entry and yours truly was cruising with the most accurate fantasy baseball ranks of the season per FantasyPros, unbeknownst to me until recently. I'm still riding high off of that and you're all going to have to hear about it.

Some nice hits from last season's bold predictions piece included the resurgence of Trevor Story and Xander Bogaerts, the excellence of Whit Merrifield and the blossoming of Sean Manaea. But I also believed in Yu Darvish and James Paxton to stay healthy and was sipping that Delino DeShields Jr. kool-aid. So, what do I have in store now?

Let's dive in and find out just how I'm going to make it two accuracy titles in a row in 2019!

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Rhys Hoskins is more valuable than Bryce Harper in 5x5 roto leagues.

Hoskins’ first full season saw him crush 34 homers with 96 RBI over 660 PAs, but the overall .850 OPS was disappointing after he cruised to a 1.014 OPS in a 50-game 2017 audition. His career .249 BA and .265 BABIP suffer from a 50.2% fly-ball rate, but true 40-homer power is possible as a result of his patient approach and it’s not like that's a Joey Gallo-ian BA.

Everyone is drawn to Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto without properly inflating Hoskins’ stock, as 100 runs and 100 RBI are on the table in a rejuvenated offense and hitter-friendly park. Harper also hit 34 homers last year with an average below .250, and could easily fall short of Hoskins unless Bryce swipes double-digit baggies. Hoskins trimmed his strikeout rate by five percentage points in the second half alongside a fly-ball and pull rate north of 50%. That spells power, baby. Walk Harper all day and let Rhys gobble up the ribbie pieces.

 

Luke Voit transcends his human form and finishes as a top-five 1B

Yankees manager Aaron Boone has said, “it’s tough for me to envision us having two first basemen” and that DJ LeMahieu could spell the starter. Greg Bird is 26 years old, injury-prone and owns a career .214/.302/.434 slash with 31 homers over 659 Major League PAs. Voit, in just 285 PAs, owns a .288/.358/.564 line with 19 homers and endeared himself to the Bronx faithful by going off in pinstripes. While we're not paying up for a career small-sample size, the opportunity of playing a full season as a starter in Yankee Stadium is juicy.

Voit had exactly 100 batted balls in 2018 and his 12.4% Barrels/PA rate was a full percentage point higher than second place (Joey Gallo) of others with 100+ batted-ball events. His 96.5 mph average exit velocity on flies and liners was a top-25 rate and even though I’m not saying he leads the league in Brls/PA again, he’s in a historically-potent Yankees lineup with a fly-ball approach that plays to the short porch in right/right-center. For what it’s worth, Statcast also gave him the highest xwOBA (.437) of any hitter (min. 150 results, different from batted-ball events), with Betts (.431) and Mike Trout (.430) eating his dust!

 

Corey Kluber is not a top-10 SP

This is really tough to defend because his division is soooo pitcher-friendly, especially for strikeouts, but he went from allowing an 85 mph average exit velocity and 5.5% barrel rate in 2017, to an 87.3 mph AEV and 6.4% barrel rate in ‘18 according to Statcast. His hard-hit also rose over four percentage points per Statcast. That’s not awful and his absurd ‘17 campaign helps paint it in bolder ink, but those small percentage rises can turn into a lot for a 33-year-old arm.

I don't love this, but I want to bring down a top arm amongst other calls that are largely positive. A mini boldish prediction here, “4B” if you will, is that Carlos Carrasco is higher ranked in 5x5 than both Kluber and Trevor Bauer.

 

Anibal Sanchez is a top-25 SP

Health is a fickle monster, but Sanchez finds himself on a Nationals squad that gets to face the Marlins and that Vegas is giving 89 wins right now. Out of 139 pitchers who had 300 batted-ball events under their belt, Sanchez’s 3.4 Barrels/PA was 17th and batters averaged only 90.5 mph on fly balls and liners off of him, the ninth-lowest total.

His changeup was particularly lethal, as hitters slugged a mere .205 off of it -- a mark bested only by Max Scherzer’s change (.192) for pitchers who threw at least 500 of them in ‘18. Jacob deGrom (.215) was third. Not bad company, eh? Couple that with a cutter that yielded a ninth-”worst” .317 SLG (tied with Walker Buehler) and you’ve got a nasty 1-2 punch. I see a recipe for wins, K’s and ratios, with a 1.15 WHIP within reason even as the .255 BABIP of last season faces some regression.

 

Mike Moustakas crushes 40 homers, wins NL HR Title

Moustakas is still just 30 years old, still within his power prime, and hit 38 homers while calling power-zapping Kauffman Stadium his home just two seasons ago. Now, without any midseason trade worries surrounding him, he gets to mash at Miller Park for a full year in a lineup that can bang. I understand he’s not hitting the heart of the order and the BA isn’t top-notch -- that’s why I’m not saying he wins MVP or anything -- but the pop is real and the environment is cushy.

Per Baseball Prospectus’ Handedness Park Factors, Kauffman Stadium was 58th out of 60 for left-handed batters in terms of HR Factor in 2018. Miller Park was seventh on the same list, yet Moose’s HR/FB rate dropped about four percentage points when he was dealt to Milwaukee last year. I’m betting on the larger body of work for both Moustakas and Miller Park to play up in ‘19 here, and it’s only a bonus that he’ll be 2B-eligible soon.

 

Corey Seager doesn’t return top-100 value, finishes within 20 spots of Asdrubal Cabrera in 5x5

I’ve never really understood the name-brand hype surrounding Seager, but you take a hot prospect and stick him in a Dodgers uniform and I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me. Seager is coming off of Tommy John surgery and is hoping to start playing defense in minor league contests later this week, per Bill Plunkett.

Seager hasn’t hit more than 26 homers before and I doubt his power peak comes after TJS recovery. His legs won’t bail his fantasy value out, with 14 steal attempts across 355 MLB games. The Dodgers may push him to 90-100 runs scored and his average could hit .300, but what’s a 90-24-80-2-.295 line worth? And that’s not baking in any rust from April and assuming he’s ready to rock come Opening Day -- which is not a given.

Meanwhile, Asdrubal Cabrera carries eligibility across much of the infield and now calls hitter-friendly Arlington home. That Handedness Park Factor chart from before graded Arlington as the best park overall for righties and fifth-best for lefties and both top-12 for HRs. Derek Carty’s THE BAT projects Cabrera to post a 74-24-80-3-.275 line. I can see that coming awfully close of Seager in 2019, with an ADP nearly 200 picks later.

 

Garrett Hampson & Trevor Story combine for 50 HR/50 SB

This flies in the face of everything Jeff Bridich and the Rockies mismanagement of youth has shown us thus far, but if Story could breakout then we can make this happen. To be fair, the Ian Desmond situation means it comes at Ryan McMahon’s expense, but the wheel of time is moved by blood alone. Also, I can’t do this without including Story!

Story went 37/27 last year and I’m comfortable going 35/25 on him, meaning I think Hampson goes 15/25 while the two becomes an exciting double-play duo in CO. Out of 549 players with 10 opportunities on the basepaths last season, Hampson’s 30 ft/sec was 10th and Story’s 29.6 ft/sec was 17th. The biggest hurdle here might be manager Bud Black’s willingness to run them! Hampson’s BA has cleared .300 at every level, his fly-ball rate sniffs 35% and he uses all fields. That’s enough for a solid 15 dingers.

 

Peter O'Brien clobbers 35 homers

You know who was in 11th place on that xwOBA list at .388, sandwiched between Joey Votto and Anthony Rendon? Yup, it’s O’Brien. He’s a one-tool dude and the counting stats won’t be kind on the 2019 Marlins, but the pop is oh so real.

The difference that showed itself in ‘18 was that instead of striking out a Herculean 40-45% of the time, he brought it down to an acceptable (in this era, at least) 28-30%. He’s 28 years old and only has 153 MLB PAs to his name, but if the whiffs stay manageable then that power plays at any venue.

 

Jorge Polanco is a top-10 shortstop, going 100/20/60/20/.300 from the leadoff spot

Eat your heart out, Byron Buxton truthers. Everyone may have chalked up his 10 HR, 7 SB, .316 BA in 55 games to end 2017 up to the PED suspension that “started” his ‘18 campaign, but he still hit six homers, swiped seven bags and hit .288 in 77 second-half games.

Most projection systems are giving him a realistic shot at 15/15 in his age-25 season, but we’ve seen power spikes (unknown relation to PEDs) and his sprint speed is identical to Francisco Lindor’s. If he can regularly get on base and dance a little ahead of Eddie Rosario and Nelson Cruz then 100 runs are happening.

 

Wil Myers fails to top 400 PAs, finishing around 250th overall

Honestly, this doesn’t feel that bold and I also don’t want to be right. I think Myers is an intriguing talent and he deserved better than to be sent back into the outfield where he always gets hurt. Alas, the Eric Hosmer signing robbed him of the 1B safety blanket and the Padres stacked infield gives him no home on the dirt, so the OF it is. Nevermind that he hit 58 HRs with 48 SBs between his two seasons at first, no, forget that.

The Rays started him in the outfield and he got hurt (right wrist sprain, fracture in ‘14). He came to the Pads in ‘15, made 37 OF starts and 19 1B starts between left wrist tendinitis DL stints. Then the two awesome, full years at first in 2016-17. Last season, he made two starts at first, 36 at third and 39 in the outfield. He would go on the DL with left arm nerve irritation, then an oblique strain and finally, a bone bruise on his left foot.

Mix in a deep Padres outfield with Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero and Franmil Reyes, and San Diego likely won’t feel crunched to rush Myers back in should anything crop up.

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