The 2017 Major League Baseball season is fast approaching and I have again decided to go out on several limbs and release my annual predictions. Last year I went 2 for 6 so hopefully I can up my game and improve on those numbers.
Prediction #1: Munenori Kawasaki to have a better year than Adam Rosales
A few months ago I wrote a piece in which I suggested that the A’s should pick up Kawasaki as a utility infielder. He can play 2B, 3B and SS and his career slash line is .237/.320/.289. Not great, but not too shabby for a guy who can play all three infield positions and can be an extremely positive influence in the clubhouse (something the A’s desperately need considering Billy Butler and Danny Valencia got into a locker room brouhaha last year). Kawa spent the bulk of 2016 with the Cubs AAA affiliate where he slashed .255/.352/.312. While he did play 14 games with the big club after Schwarber went down (.333/.462/.429) he was never going to crack that line-up. Interestingly, Kawasaki was released on March 28th, and while the Cubbies are hoping to re-sign him to a minor league deal I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bottom feeder in need of some infield depth reach out to him.
What does this have to do with Rosales you ask? I received a fair amount of flak from Oakland fans for suggesting that they sign Kawasaki. “So we are supposed to sign this guy just because he’s wacky!?” one young upstart asked incredulously. Apparently he didn’t read the entire article. Anyway, the A’s ended up signing Rosales to fill that infield utility role despite the fact that his career slash line is .227/.298/.367 (that’s worse than Kawa’s, for those of you playing at home). The A’s are paying Rosy $1.25 million while Kawa makes the league minimum ($507k). To top it all off, Kawa is also a better fielder than Rosales at all three infield positions. So my rationale is that if Kawasaki has a better year than Rosales, the A’s should fire GM David Forst and hire me instead (or at least bring me on as an assistant or something).
Prediction #2: Greg Bird to establish himself as one of the AL’s top first basemen
HR/RBI – 30/100, .275/.360/.575, 2017 All Star
After sitting out the 2016 season following shoulder surgery Birdy has been on a tear pretty much since spring training started. In 20 games he’s slashing .447/.527./1.085 and has 7 home runs and 13 RBI’s. To top it all off, his OPS is an out-of-this-world 1.612 (yes, you read that correctly). Of course it’s only spring training so it doesn’t really matter that much, but it does mean that he’s seeing the ball well and is making good contact when he gets a pitch to hit. Positive signs if nothing else. Based on his 2015 season, I projected him to hit 39 home runs, drive in 109 runs and score 91 runs over 550 at bats. Obviously these are based on a sample size of just 157 big-league at bats but the kid knows how to hit, no matter how you want to look at it. Those right field seats being just 318 feet away won’t hurt either.
Current nickname: Bird dog (this is right up there with Matt Ryan’s “Matty Ice” as far as creativity goes. 2/10).
Nickname suggestions: The River Avenue Raven, The New York Nighthawk, Dr. Tater von Mashenberg.
Prediction #3: Pablo Sandoval to be terrible, again!
How does that old story go, the one about the farmer and the viper or something? A farmer is walking through the snow and sees a viper that is nearly frozen to death. He picks up the viper and sticks it inside his coat to warm it up. The snake warms up and promptly bites the farmer, thus killing him. While the farmer is slowly dying he’s all “WTF bruh!? I just saved your life. Why did you bite me?” And the viper is all, “Because I’m a viper. That’s what I do.” The end.
What’s the point of that story? The point is people (and snakes for that matter) are who they are and no matter how hard they try, they are unlikely to change. Many a person has vowed to get “jacked and cut” by summer, only to fall off the wagon at the first sign of adversity (also known as March 1st). Our friend Pablo has been getting progressively “bigger-boned” every year since he entered the league in 2008. His ever-expanding girth finally had enough of an effect on his play that the Sox benched him. Then we had the whole “injured my shoulder but I don’t know how” story and – surprise, surprise – Panda has been “working hard this off-season” and is now “in the best shape of his life” (kudos to Crash Davis for helping Panda with his interviews). Yes he’s thin now, but only when you compare him to his old, fat self. When compared to everyone else he’s still a fat baseball player, and that’s saying something. Either way, Sandoval will get his shot. He may even play well for a while too (slashing .351/.362/.667 this spring), but eventually he will revert to who he really is – a lazy ballplayer whom, after signing a monster contract in 2015, lost the drive and desire to work hard. Like a spurned lover, the Red Sox will not be so willing to forgive him this time around, nor will they be as likely to refrain from airing any dirty laundry in public. Keep an eye out for Brock Holt around the end of June.
Pro tip: The Sox are tied to Sandoval until 2019, owing him a remaining salary of $54.8 million. They also have a team option for 2020 at $17 million with a buyout clause for $5 million (minimum total owed now sits at $59.8 million). If Sandoval somehow manages to string together 4 months of decent baseball look for the Sox to deal him, even if it means eating some of that monster contract.
Prediction #4: Jameson Taillon to flirt with, and possibly win, 15 games
Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s Canadian, and could theoretically pitch Canada to a win at the World Baseball Classic one day, but I like Taillon a lot and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
By looking at a bunch of stats that I made up (which won’t make any sense to you), I have Taillon ranked 4th in overall effectiveness among starting pitchers (1, 2, 3 is Kershaw, Porcello, Tomlin). Whether you agree with my “4th most effective pitcher” proclamation or not, Taillon already has the makings of an Ace who can anchor the Bucs’ rotation for the next half decade. Through 18 starts as a rookie, Taillon went 5-4 with a 1.115 WHIP over 104 innings. He averaged just over 5 2/3 innings per start but should increase his workload as the Pirates continue to stretch him out (he went over 6 innings just three times last year). While he notched just 5 wins, the Pirates went 8-1 in the other nine games Taillon started. In each of those nine games he threw just 6 innings and left with the lead four times, tied three times and behind just twice. Looking at pitchers with at least 10 starts, Taillon ranked 7th in K/BB rate (85/17 – 5.00), 112th in K’s/9 (7.36) and 6th in pitches per inning pitched (14.90).
So far, he looks solid this spring (12 1/3 IP, 9 H, 10 K, 1.05 WHIP) although for pitchers, spring training is really more about getting your arm in shape and striking out Tim Tebow.
Anyway, 15 wins. You heard it here first.
Prediction #5: Daniel Coulombe to dominate
WHIP: <1.000, K’s/9: 10+, Opp OBP: <0.275
Despite posting solid numbers in the 2016 regular season Coulombe has been terrible this spring. The only upside? He was terrible last spring too! The A’s purchased Coulombe, who wears his hat unsettlingly straight for a lefty, from the Dodgers in September 2015. Up to that point he had thrown 12 2/3 innings in the bigs, going 0-0 with a 6.39 ERA and a 1.737 WHIP. While Oakland fans were undoubtedly shaking their heads when Forsty the snowman announced this beauty of an acquisition, Coulombe has more than proven his worth since joining the A’s. In 2016 he tossed 47 2/3 innings, posting a 3-1 record while punching out 54 batters and allowing just 37 hits. He was also the proud owner of a 1.133 WHIP.
The reason I think Coulombe can put up even better numbers in 2017 is simple, The A’s have quietly assembled one of the best bullpens in baseball (no, seriously). They have a solid relief corps with a good mix of experience and youth. They’ve got lefties and they’ve got righties. As it specifically pertains to Coulombe, he’s likely to face less righties and more lefties, as the A’s now have more (and better) options when it comes to facing right handed hitters.
Coulombe’s splits were as follows:
|PA||K/BB||Opp OBP||BB Rate||HR Rate||K Rate|
As far as the rest of the group taking some of the burden off of Coulombe, at first glance some of the numbers indicate otherwise. For example, this group had 101 save opportunities between them last year but converted just 71. But fear not, a large part of this was Casilla converting just 31 of his 40 chances across the bay in San Francisco, and Axford, thrown in the fire when Doolittle went down, converting just 3 of 10. Madson also chipped in and went 30 for 37. Now that Doolittle is healthy again (knock on wood), these guys can go back to their usual roles and routines. Being a closer requires a special breed of cat and tossing just anyone into such a role doesn’t always work. It’s as much about mind-set as it is about velocity and repertoire. If The Bull-DOOzer can remain healthy the A’s will essentially have a bullpen with six set-up men and a lights out closer. Having quality throughout will enable Bob Melvin to evenly distribute the workload which should help to keep guys fresh and throwing at their best.
Prediction #6: Junior Guerra to regress, big time!
By traditional measures Guerra had a great season in 2016. Over 20 starts he went 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA and a 1.130 WHIP. Before we go any further let me be clear: I am NOT saying that Guerra is a bad pitcher, nor am I saying that he is going to have a bad season in 2017. What I am saying is that he will REGRESS and his 2016 season should therefore be treated as somewhat of an outlier. This is basically a warning to all you Rotoheads out there who will do your very best to overpay for this guy.
The stats that most concern me are his K’s/BB ratio, his BB/9 and his ground out/air out ratio. Respectively they are: 2.33 (113th out of 184 pitchers with at least 10 starts), 3.18 (112th) and 1.17 (76th). I’d be less concerned if he had posted some ungodly K’s/9 figure thus demonstrating that he could just blow the ball by guys at will, but he didn’t (7.40 K’s/9 – 107th). Remember, Guerra is 32 and is entering just his second MLB season (he pitched 4 innings for the White Sox in 2015 but that doesn’t really count) so it’s not as if he has a ton of experience to draw upon. His minor league numbers are fairly unimpressive as well. From 2008 – 2014 he played foreign and indy league ball exclusively, making stops in Honolulu, Wichita and Venezuela. Add this to the fact that the Brewers were ranked 25th in Jonah Keri’s first edition of The 30 rankings of 2017 and you’ve got a recipe for heartbreak and disaster.
My advice, throw his name out early and hope some other suckers bid on him. If they don’t, you’ve got him for a buck, which is decent value.
BONUS PREDICTION: Mike Trout to go 40/40
I was going to throw Mookie Betts into this one but he’s still just 24 and hasn’t yet reached his peak as far as his power hitting goes. Mini-Mantle on the other hand has shown that he’s capable of hitting 40 home runs (41 in 2015) and stealing 40 bases (49 in 2012) in the past. Now he just needs to put them together.
Obviously it will be difficult considering he doesn’t have much protection these days. This allows teams to pitch around him more so than he’d like. The silver lining is that these walks give him the opportunity to steal bases but if you asked him, I’m sure he’d rather have the chance to swing the bat and possibly hit a double, home run, etc.
Ideally the Angels will someday find another legitimate middle-of-the-order bat. This would allow Trout to shift to lead-off or the two hole, and enable him to collect more plate appearances and hopefully hit more home runs (he currently hits one HR every 21.25 PA’s/17.84 AB’s). This is obviously a somewhat long-shot prediction but any baseball fan will agree, if anyone is gonna go 40/40, it’s Trout.