We all want to be right.
It’s why we play fantasy baseball, to prove our knowledge superior to our competition, to emerge with the most correct predictions resulting in the best overall roster.
For many, though, it’s really more than that. We don’t only want to be right, we want to make the boldest predictions and we want to be right about those. We, in essence, want to be the first to discover the next superstar, or to be the first to know when a player’s career performance is about to fall off a cliff.
These extreme takes are what upside — or ceilings, profit potential, possible reward, whatever your term of choice — is about. Conversely, though such predictions are typically more positive than negative, there are many that hint at a player’s downside — floors, busts, regression or similar terms.
Experienced fantasy baseball owners know projections, and the rankings that result from them, set specific, median-level expectations for each player. They set a rational middle ground, from which we make most of our draft-day decisions.
The flaw in projections, however, is their lack of context, their inability to account for player volatility — “risk/reward” prospects, if you will. As I stated in this space last year, projections effectively take every player’s skill set, playing time, health and other factors into a proverbial blender and hit puree. They ignore the fact that certain players have a massive range of possible outcomes, while others might annually hit their projected numbers with the precision Greg Maddux had painting the corners.
For example, Colorado Rockies sophomore David Dahl is a player with an extremely high ceiling — this is what we call his best possible statistical outcome — but also a rather low floor — this would be his worst possible outcome — entering 2017. These are the players I’m talking about when I say, “He has a wide range of possible outcomes.” Dahl is coming off a season during which he batted .315 with 25 home runs and 22 stolen bases across three levels (including his 63 games for the Colorado Rockies), but at the same time, he had an unsustainable .404 BABIP during his big league stint and appears destined to strike out about once every four trips to the plate, making him a batting-average risk (especially in his road games). And that’s all before we get to the stress reaction in his rib that threatens to cost him a portion of April.
Conversely, Chicago White Sox left fielder Melky Cabrera averaged a .290 batting average, 14 home runs and 79 RBIs in the past three seasons, never finishing further than 17 batting-average points, two homers or seven RBIs off said averages in any single year. That gives him a high likelihood of, once again, finishing 2017 within range of that very three-year average.
Nothing against Cabrera — the consistency kings are important to your team’s success, too — but this column is for the Dahls of the fantasy baseball world. This is the place where I annually make my bold predictions, helping you identify those potentially high-profit gems (or, on the flip side, help you avoid those risky bets sure to go bust) that will ultimately win you your league.
The qualifier upfront: None of these statements represent guarantees, and in fact they’re far from it, and not one is a prediction I’m using to drive my own draft-day valuations. These are all educated guesses, and you can use them however you wish: Your own draft preparation, friendly banter with your buddies and/or league mates, or even something to jot down so that at the end of the season you can remind me, “Boy, Tristan, you were way off on this one.”
After all, it was in this space last season that I predicted Adam Wainwright would make at least 32 starts of 220 innings and a sub-3.00 ERA. (In fairness, I also got plenty of “really-out-there” picks right, including predicting that Jonathan Villar would not only steal more than 40 bases, but also add third-base eligibility.)
Tristan’s bold predictions for 2017
Byron Buxton will become only the ninth player in history to manage at least 20 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a single season played at the age of 23 or younger.
Jim Johnson will finish with at least 40 saves and 60 strikeouts and finish among the 10 best at his position on the Player Rater.
For the third time in five years, Chris Davis will lead the majors in home runs.
Yasmani Grandal will lead major league catchers in home runs. You read that right: He’ll hit more than Sanchez will.
Kyle Schwarber will lead catcher-eligible hitters in home runs. You read that right: He’ll earn his catcher eligibility in ESPN leagues on June 28.
Jarrod Dyson will be the American League’s leading base stealer, and he’ll do it by doubling his 2016 total in the category of 30.
Speaking of Dyson, the AL’s “new Jarrod Dyson” will be Delino DeShields. Despite not coming to the plate more than 300 times, DeShields will steal at least 30 bases.
Yoan Moncada will be back with the Chicago White Sox on exactly May 16, not a day earlier, not a day later, and will hit 15 home runs and steal 30 bases in his allotted major league time. Note: He will provide little other tangible fantasy value and will ruin fantasy owners in head-to-head leagues during the Labor Day (Sept. 4-10) week.
Though it’s not quite as bold a prediction as last year’s, Carlos Correa will nearly double his career home run total of 42 en route to winning the American League’s MVP award.
In a three-year span, Bryce Harper will have gone from National League MVP (2015), to unfairly characterized the year’s biggest bust (2016), to National League MVP (2017). I know, it’s probably even less bold than my AL pick, but of the two Harper camps this preseason you can place me in the one that’s all-in on him.
Byung Ho Park will finish with numbers right in range of his 2016 ESPN projection: 557 plate appearances, .252 batting average, 26 home runs.
Cam Bedrosian will finish among the top 12 closers on the Player Rater.
He’ll only fall short of the lead because Mitch Haniger will hit at least 25 home runs and steal at least 10 bases while finishing at least 25 outfielder spots higher on the Player Rater than teammate Leonys Martin.
Joc Pederson will hit at least 35 home runs and walk at least 100 times.
The St. Louis Cardinals have had only two players hit as many as 30 home runs in the past five seasons combined. Two players — Matt Carpenter and Randal Grichuk — will do it this year alone, and they’ll come awfully close to having four do it — adding Jedd Gyorko and Stephen Piscotty to the list.
Tyler Glasnow will win the National League’s Rookie of the Year award.
Michael Conforto will have forced himself into the New York Mets’ every-day lineup in right field no later than May 10, and he will not only lead his team in isolated power, but he’ll mount a serious challenge to Yoenis Cespedes for the team lead in home runs.
For the second consecutive year, Travis Jankowski will be the game’s most beneath-the-radar, 30-plus steal source. Better yet: He’ll steal 40-plus this time.
Chris Archer will be the American League pitcher who gets “Justin Verlander-ed” — that is, deprived of a deserved Cy Young award (albeit sans Kate Upton commentary this time), mainly because of his bland 14-10 record.
Following his trade to the Washington Nationals in July, Jose Quintana will be one of the five most valuable fantasy starting pitchers the rest of the way.
Robbie Ray will show the greatest amount of improvement in ERA among qualifiers from 2016 to 2017, lowering his number by more than a run and a quarter.
The Philadelphia Phillies won’t have a single pitcher save as many as 10 games, but Hector Neris will be their highest-placing relief pitcher on the Player Rater, ranking among the 25 best at his position and serving as the team’s only member of the top 60 relievers on said Rater.
Gleyber Torres will be the New York Yankees’ every-day shortstop no later than June 15, 2017.
Joe Kelly will not only strike out at least 80 batters in relief — he’ll save at least 20 games for the Boston Red Sox.
Ender Inciarte will steal at least 30 bases and score at least 100 runs.
Though he isn’t initially expected to be part of the Cincinnati Reds’ rotation, Cody Reed will ultimately wind up their most valuable fantasy starting pitcher.
Neftali Feliz will notch every single one of the Milwaukee Brewers’ 37 saves this season.
Vince Velasquez will finish by far as the Philadelphia Phillies’ most valuable fantasy starting pitcher, and he’ll rank among the 25 best at the position on the final Player Rater.
“Final Boss” Seung Hwan Oh will lead all of baseball with 48 saves.