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Eric Samulski's 10 Bold Predictions for 2020


I've read these columns for years, so it's kind of surreal to be putting out my own. As somebody who constantly over-analyzes, I tend to be less risky in my fantasy decisions because a part of my brain always walks me back from the ledge.

With that in mind, I tried to mix up the levels of boldness here. You won't find any mild Taco Bell salsa packets, but we're gonna mix in some medium boldness with a little extra spicy.

As with all bold predictions, the most important takeaway from this is more about the players that I believe in (or don't) and less about the numbers or rankings which are fun but not as actionable for fantasy players.

Editor's Note: Love the strategy of season-long fantasy sports? Live for the short term gratification of DFS? Try Weekly Fantasy Sports on OwnersBox - a new weekly DFS platform. Sign up today for a FREE $50 Deposit Match. Offer expires Thursday night! Sign Up Now!

 

Josh James is a top-40 starting pitcher.

Josh James was primed to win a spot in the Astros rotation in Spring Training last year before a quad injury delayed the start of his season. When he came back, the Astros used him primarily out of the bullpen, where his elite fastball was able to play up. However, people are writing James' up-and-down rookie season too quickly. Yes, he had some struggles in the bullpen.

He's worked primarily as a starter for his entire minor league career, amassing a K% over 30 the last two years. He has two solid off-speed offerings, with a slider that gets a 56.3 Whiff% and a changeup that registered a 50.7 Whiff%. Both pitches also show elite vertical movement, while the slider has proven to be a true wipe-out pitch for him. Without any truly high BB% before moving to the bullpen, there's no reason why James should be viewed as a "former starter." Austin Pruitt may be the current favorite to land the fifth spot in the Astros rotation, but James will eventually overtake him and become a fantasy SP3.

 

Shane Bieber is not a top-20 starting pitcher.

I know I'm in the minority here, but I just can't fully buy into Bieber as an ace. There's just something about that fastball. Despite posting a .231 BAA with it last year, the pitch registered a .267 xBA, .505 xSLG, 91.7 mph exit velocity and only 13.7% Whiff%. It's not a particularly good pitch, and he seemed to get relatively lucky with it last year. Even with his fastball over-performing it's expected metrics, he gave up a 8.7 barrel%, which was above league average. If that fastball registers numbers that are closer to the underlying metrics, you're going to see even more hard contact, and it will make his secondary offerings less effective.

I don't think Bieber will all the sudden become ineffective, but I think we'll see a rise in BABIP overall, plus more hard contact on his fastball, which will lead to an ERA closer to 3.80 or 3.90 than the projected 3.60. That plus a decrease in his K/9 to under 10, and I think you're looking at an arm that finishes outside the top-20.

 

Eric Thames hits 35 home runs.

Man, I was a much bigger believer in this prediction just two weeks ago. In 2017, when Thames came back stateside and hit 31 home runs, he was one of everybody's favorite stories. Then he was limited to 96 games in 2018 and he apparently flopped last year. However, his numbers were eerily similar to 2017. He had the same xBA and Sweet Spot%, marginally worse K%, better exit velocity and more optimal launch angle. He managed 25 home runs, but nobody seems excited about him going to Washington.

Thames is currently slated to be on the strong-side of the platoon with oft-injured Ryan Zimmerman and hitting in a park that Eno Sarris' work suggested was one of the best spots to look for power bats. I see a path to 500 plate appearances and 35 home runs for Thames, which could push him to fantasy relevance in a strong lineup.

 

Rougned Odor is a top-10 second baseman.

Odor is the hill I'm willing to die on this year. I've already written long pieces on him here and here and here. I think he's set for a strong year.

 

Jason Castro is a top-10 catcher.

Jason Castro's 2019 was lost in the shuffle because his teammate, Mitch Garver also broke out over more at-bats. However, Castro showed impressive exit velocity and lead the league in Brls/BBE% growth. His Hard-Hit% also improved 14%, and he showed growth in xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA over his 2017 numbers. His K% did jump as he sold out for more power, pulling the ball more and hitting more fly balls.

Now that Castro has the starting job in a strong Angels lineup, and if he gets 120-150 more at-bats than last year's 275, Castro could be a 20-HR bat at the catcher position, which would vault him up the position rankings. Plus, I waited on him for too long in TGFBI and he got taken out from under my nose, which means he'll play well enough to make me regret it.

 

James Karinchak, Brad Boxberger, and Robert Stephenson lead their teams in saves.

Let's go for a menage-a... I mean, let's get three for the price of one here. Everybody is always looking to snag saves on the waiver wire, but I'll suggest avoiding the logjams on bad teams and throwing some darts on guys who are going overlooked. Karinchak is the most high-profile of these names, but his ADP is 358 in TGFBI leagues, so he certainly won't cost a lot. Brad Hand has gotten increasingly shaky over the last three years, seeing a consistent rise in ERA, Hard Hit %, and Pull% while also seeing a drop in velocity by over one mph on his fastball. With the diminished velocity, batters are not only getting around on him better, but it's impacted the effectiveness of his slider, which has dropped in pVAL for three straight years. I expect Hand to falter and with Emmanuel Clase already hurt, that will open the door for James Karinchak, who led the minors in K/9 and showed the ability to miss major league bats in a small sample size last year.

Boxberger and Stephenson are two guys I also think can take advantage of shaky closer situations. Brandon Kintzler is currently the closer in Miami, but Boxberger has had more success in the past and, after spending the offseason working with Driveline to fix his mechanics and build arm strength, is currently back to throwing 96 (the hardest he's thrown since 2014. Stephenson I simply believe can take advantage of Raisel Iglesias' inconsistency. The 30-year-old was not a stable option as a closer in 2019 and the Reds are trying to compete now after signing Castellanos and Moustakas, so I don't think they'll have the same patience they did last year. Stephenson is a former top prospect who has re-made himself as a bullpen option, notching a 31% K% last year on the back of a 95 mph fastball and a slider that had a 17.1 pVAL.

 

JaCoby Jones finishes with a 20-20 season and is the Tigers' best fantasy outfielder.

As of right now, Jones seems locked into a starting role, and potentially a leadoff spot, on the Tigers. Since he debuted in 2016, he's had only one season with over 100 games and has never been a reliable fantasy contributor. As of right now, Jones seems locked into a starting role, and potentially a leadoff spot, on the Tigers. Since he debuted in 2016, he's had only one season with over 100 games and has never been a reliable fantasy contributor.

Most projection systems have him for over 550 at-bats but only see 15 home runs. I'm not sure I agree. I think that's more of a floor for Jones if he gets that many at-bats, which he seems likely to get barring injury. With the improvements to his quality of contact, and a home-to-first time of 4.33 seconds, which puts him just behind Jose Peraza and Jackie Bradley Jr., I could see Jones flirting with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases to go along with 70 runs hitting at the top of a lineup.

 

Hyun-Jin Ryu finishes with a better fantasy season than Kenta Maeda in the battle of ex-Dodgers.

On the surface, Ryu appears to be another pitcher leaving the Dodgers for a much worse situation. The Rodgers Centre is a strong hitters park, and the turf makes the infield play much faster than other stadiums. However, the Blue Jays finished the season as the 12th-ranked infield based on OAA, and Ryu also finished last season as the 168th-ranked pitcher in OAA while he was on the mound, so it's not as if the Dodgers defense helped him much while he was pitching. His numbers last year were not built on fluky batted-ball metrics or other-worldly defensive factors, so it's possible that the hate on Ryu has gone too far considering he has two straight seasons of a sub 2.40 ERA and three straight seasons of a sub .300 BABIP. Yet, somehow projection systems are calling for a .307 BABIP. I'm not seeing it.

Meanwhile, there is some concern about the defense Maeda is moving to. Last season, he benefited from the Dodgers defense enough to finish as the 75th-ranked pitcher based on OAA while he was on the mound, at two outs above average. He likely won't be helped like that in Minnesota, as the Twins finished 26th as a team in OAA last year. Newly-signed Josh Donaldson is strong at 3B, finishing 18th in OAA, but the rest of the infield is a concern. Miguel Sano, his new first baseman, finished 118th, Luis Arraez finished 128th, and Jorge Polanco finished 138th. That's mildly problematic for a pitcher who has a career GB% over 40. The consistent innings will be a plus for Maeda, but pitching with a substantially worse infield defense is an issue and moving to the AL might also be a slight hit to his value since he'll have to face the DH. He'll still likely be fine, but I don't see enough overall improvement to bump him over a pitcher that has been substantially better than him for the past two seasons.

 

Chance Sisco Finishes as a Top-15 Catcher.

As a former catcher, I like to make sure we all keep talking about catchers. In reality, this one is essentially because I found myself drafting Sisco in TGFBI and want to reassure myself that it was the right pick. In limited playing time with the Orioles so far, Sisco has produced a strong 10.4% barrel%, 89 mph exit velocity, and 15.4-degree launch angle, which puts him in an optimal range for home runs.

In fact, his 89 mph exit velocity would have put him in the company of Nicholas Castellanos, Gleyber Torres, and Domingo Santana. While Sisco has competition for playing time in Baltimore, he's on the strong side of the platoon as a LHH and has hit at every level during his minor league career (.305 career average). If the power begins to come for the 25-year-old, the Orioles will let him keep hitting regardless of his mediocre defense.

 

Lewis Brinson becomes rosterable in 12-team leagues.

Let's go bold. Lewis Brinson, the centerpiece of the trade that saw Christian Yelich head to Milwaukee, has been a bust for Miami. However, he also showed a solid barrel rate during his stint in the majors in 2018, and, most importantly, has cut down on his K%. In fact, this spring he is showing even more growth in terms of plate discipline and contact.

If he can put the ball in play more, he can make use of his speed and plus power. The Marlins are also a young team going nowhere this season, so if there are any flashes from Brinson, they are going to try and see what they can get out of him. I'm going to be on the pedigree and the changes he seems to be making at age 25. (Ed. Note: @Roto_Chef approves of this prediction)

 

BONUS: Lewin Diaz is called up in July and hits 20 home runs.

While we're talking about Brinson, I just wanted to squeeze in one more Marlins prediction (I'm not sure why). Word out of spring training is that the Marlins are so high on Diaz (the 1B prospect they got for Sergio Romo) that they're debating carrying him on the major league roster to start the season.

While I can't see that happening, I think Jesus Aguilar will get shipped out before the deadline to open up at-bats for Diaz. He's had a sub 20% K% throughout the minors while amassing a hard hit rate over 45% and a .270 ISO in AA. He did all of that with a .270 batting average in 2019. When he's up, I believe he's gonna hit and potentially win people some leagues if they can land him in FAAB.

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Week 6 was like the 2020 of fantasy football weeks. All those great matchups meant nothing, those studs let you down, and your bench likely went crazy. The good news is that we didn't have any season-ending injuries to running backs or games canceled due to COVID, so in retrospect maybe we shouldn't complain. The... Read More


FAB Bidding - Week 7 Waiver Wire Targets

Whether it's injuries, bye-week blues, or simply poor performance, we've got the waiver-wire cure...but it just might cost you! Alongside our famous waiver wire pickups list and our weekly waiver wire columns by position, this column focuses on suggested waiver wire bidding percentages for fantasy football owners in leagues using a Free Agent Budget (FAB). In... Read More


Waiver Wire Express - Week 7 Lightning Round

Week 6 was relatively healthy and had no coronavirus delays, so let's just take a moment to bask in that. That said, we still saw Miles Sanders (knee) and Zach Ertz (ankle) go down, while Mark Ingram (ankle) has a bye to get healthy. Week 7 byes are Baltimore, Indianapolis, Miami, and Minnesota. Let's get... Read More


Running Back Waiver Wire Pickups - Week 7

Fantasy GMs are to be commended for rising to the unique challenges that have unfolded during this regular season. Injuries to critical players is an unwelcome reality that occurs every year. This is also the case for backs that were expected to operate as RB1s, but have been relegated to committees. However, this season has... Read More


Wide Receiver Waiver Wire Pickups - Week 7

Six weeks of NFL football are behind us, aside from a pair of Monday games, including a late afternoon game between the Bills and the Chiefs. In terms of wide receiver production this week, we didn't have the huge breakouts like we had in Week 5. Chase Claypool didn't score four touchdowns. In fact, only... Read More


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Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 23rd, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 23rd, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


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