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Rick Lucks's Bold Predictions for 2020


While the coronavirus has delayed the start of the MLB season, Bold Prediction season is in full-swing here at Rotoballer. Not knowing how many games will actually be played makes numerical positions difficult, as 30 HR are a lot more impressive over 100 games than 162. That said, I've tried to base the predictions below on either rate stats that don't care about the raw number of games or rankings that compare players over the time they were on the field.

I pride myself on being one of the bolder Rotoballer analysts, so some of the predictions below may have shock value. I also find myself attracted to a LOT of cheap pitching this year, so hopefully you're looking for some under-the-radar arms to fill out your fantasy staff. When you're done reading my brilliant predictions, check out the link at the bottom to see some of the head-scratchers my colleagues have come up with.

Without further ado, let the insanity begin!

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!

 

Kyle Gibson will strikeout at least a batter per inning

The 32-year-old Gibson isn't anybody's idea of a sexy name, as neither last season's 22.7 K% or his career rate of 18% scream "DRAFT ME!". However, I've pegged him as a sleeper for two key reasons. First, he's joining the Texas Rangers: a franchise that has made players like Mike Minor and Lance Lynn fantasy-relevant after most people wrote them off for good.

Second, his pedestrian strikeout rates mask the fact that he brings two premium wipeout pitches to the table. His slider is simply one of the best in the game (26.7 SwStr%, 48% chase rate last season), while his changeup provides a worthy complement (20.2 SwStr%, 46% chase). Add in the fact that Gibson's 3.80 xFIP last season was more than a full run better than his 4.84 ERA, and you get a rare thirty-something upside play.

 

Patrick Sandoval is relevant in all fantasy formats

The 23-year-old Sandoval posted a 5.03 ERA in his 39 1/3 IP at the MLB level last season, but he has the potential for so much more. Sandoval's changeup looked like a legitimate strikeout pitch in his big league debut (25 SwStr%, 37% chase rate), helping him post a K% of 24.9% despite his big league struggles. He also struck out over a batter per inning at every MiLB stop, in case you think the strikeouts were a small-sample fluke. He also has a low-spin fastball (1,970 RPM) that suggests he could have some contact management ability in a larger sample.

Sandoval is also locked into a rotation spot on a team that figures to provide abundant offensive and defensive support, potentially allowing him to stockpile wins in an era where fantasy owners need all of the help they can get in that category. Considering that he's nearly free in most drafts (FantasyPros ADP of 499), why not take a shot?

 

Caleb Smith is relevant in all fantasy formats

The Marlins aren't anybody's idea of a good team, and Smith's 4.52 ERA and 5.05 xFIP over 153 1/3 IP aren't exciting. However, there is a lot of potential in this package. Smith's fastball combines an above-average spin rate (2,425 RPM) with elite 96.7% active spin, tying with Josh Hader and below only Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Jordan Hicks, Colin Poche, and whoever the heck Jonathan Hernandez is. The result is great for both strikeouts (10.3 SwStr%, 54.5 Zone%) and harmless pop-ups (60.5 FB%, 21.4 IFFB%).

While Smith's .251 BABIP allowed might look like a fluke, his high 52.5 FB% and propensity for pop-ups strongly suggest that it's a skill. He also brings two solid strikeout pitches to the table in the form of a slider (15.1 SwStr%, 43 Zone%, 37.2% chase) and changeup (16.4 SwStr%, 39.5 Zone%, 37.3% chase), so last year's 26 K% could have room to grow. Smith did have injury woes last year as well, so he could rebound to his first-half performance (3.50 ERA, 31.1 K% in 72 IP), especially if a pre-2019 ball is used.

 

Corbin Burnes has a breakout season in Milwaukee

Burnes was horrific in 49 big league IP last season (8.82 ERA), and his performance at Triple-A wasn't any better (8.46 ERA 22 1/3 IP). That said, his 3.37 xFIP suggests what he could do once his 38/6% HR/FB and .414 BABIP regress to something more believable. You have to like the fantasy prospects of an arm who posted a 29.8 K% at the MLB level, especially when it's backed by an elite slider (35.1 SwStr%, 55.9% chase) and strong changeup (19.4 SwStr%, 36.1 Zone%, 30.4% chase).

Burnes also posted the second-highest fastball spin rate among all MLB pitchers in 2019 (2,656 RPM), meaning that his fastball could play up if he can figure out how to harness it (only 59.8% active spin). Even if it doesn't, last year's 8 SwStr% is still good enough for Burnes to turn in a stellar fantasy season.

 

Ryan Pressly beats out Roberto Osuna as Houston's Closer

Fantasy owners seem very sure that Osuna will be one of the top fantasy closers in 2020, but he's not even the best arm in his own bullpen. Here are some comparisons with his set-up man Ryan Pressly:

Osuna: 28.8 K%, 4.7 BB%, 38.8 GB%, 2.63 ERA, 3.60 xFIP in 65 IP

Pressly: 34.1 K%, 5.7 BB%, 50.8 GB%, 2.32 ERA, 2.21 xFIP in 54 1/3 IP

Which one would you rather have with the game on the line? Osuna is also just one reason removed from a mediocre 21.3 K%, a rate that fantasy owners can beat with freely-available waiver arms. Why is Osuna taken in the top 100 again (82.8 FantasyPros ADP)?

 

Fernando Tatis Jr. finishes outside the top-15 SS

The 21-year-old Tatis enjoyed a scintillating debut in 2019, slashing .317/.379/.590 with 22 HR and 16 SB in 377 PAs. Unfortunately, his peripherals just aren't that good. He was caught stealing six times, barely eclipsing the 70% success rate benchmark most contenders look for. His .410 BABIP likely won't be repeated either, as Baseball Savant's xStats say that Tatis only deserved a .259 average last season. His 30.9 FB% also suggests significant power downside if his 31.9% HR/FB regresses to a normal level. With an xSLG 100 points lower than his actual slugging percentage, power loss seems likely.

Most concerningly, Tatis has a ton of swing and miss in his game. His 15.6 SwStr% last season was atrocious, especially considering that his Z-Contact% was only 81.5%. He also hovered around 13% on the farm, suggesting that this is a consistent problem that big league pitchers will be able to exploit. Tatis has all of the tools in the world, but 2020 could see a substantial sophomore slump.

 

Rafael Devers finishes outside the top-15 3B

Like Tatis, Devers was great in 2019: .311/.361/.555 with 32 HR and eight steals in 702 PA. Also like Tatis, his peripherals weren't nearly as good. His career-high 32 HR came despite a career-low 34.3 FB%. His 9.0% rate of Brls/BBE was also slightly lower than his 9.1% mark the year before. His plate discipline also improved on the surface (17 K% last year, 24.7% in 2018), but his 12 SwStr% was only slightly better than his career rate of 12.4% while his 40.5% chase rate was a career-worst.

Boston's lineup also isn't as strong as it looked last season, as Mookie Betts is gone while Xander Bogaerts is unlikely to repeat his career season. Devers isn't any better than he was when he hit .240/.298/.433 in 2018, yet fantasy owners are drafting him as if his 2019 is a baseline with upside potential. Stop that!

 

Victor Robles is the bust of the year

Robles looked good last season (.255/.326/.419 with 17 HR, 28 SB), but his contact quality metrics make him look like the second coming of Joey Gathright. His 88.6 mph average airborne exit velocity was three full ticks below league-average, suggesting that he won't maintain even his modest 11.8% HR/FB. His 4.8% rate of Brls/BBE was also bad, while his 73.7 exit velocity on ground balls was last in MLB among players with at least 100 batted balls. He also hits way too many pop-ups (15.3 IFFB%) for somebody with his wheels.

It all added up to an xBA of .233 and xSLG of .370, numbers that won't play in fantasy or reality. Buck Martinez announced that Robles would be hitting in the bottom of the team's order shortly before spring training was suspended, further hurting his counting stats. There is a real possibility that Robles finishes the season on the waiver wire in redraft leagues.

 

The Arizona Diamondbacks finish with a winning percentage of at least .556 (a 90-win pace)

Projection systems see Arizona as roughly a .500 team, but there are a ton of upside plays here. Kevin Cron has almost the same MiLB numbers as Pete Alonso. Josh Rojas looks like prime Ben Zobrist if he gets a chance. Christian Walker and Kole Calhoun should come close to repeating their strong 2019 campaigns, and Stephen Vogt offers a legitimate bat from the catcher position. Of course, star players like Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar are always nice to have around.

Their rotation is filled with promise (Robbie Ray, Zac Gallen, and Luke Weaver are all strong arms), and their bullpen offers intrigue as well. Outside of the Dodgers, the NL West is a weak division that should offer plenty of easy wins. Honestly, I'm getting a Tampa Rays vibe from this roster.

 

Yasiel Puig's big-league career is over

Puig was actually serviceable in fantasy last season (.267/.327/.458 with 24 HR and 19 SB), but the resulting 1.2 WAR didn't move the needle for either of the teams he played for. By all accounts, Puig is a massive negative in the clubhouse that led the analytically-inclined Dodgers to attempt to give him away for free on more than one occasion.

Why go through the hassle for a guy who isn't a difference-maker?

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Dissecting Contact Quality In Search Of Fantasy Bargains

Of the 1,015 hitters sampled(1) between 2015 and 2019, there were only 14 instances of hitters making more productive contact against pitches outside of the strike zone than against pitches inside of the strike zone based on xwOBAcon. Based on the same sample, the average hitter was a whopping .116 points better against pitches inside... Read More


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


Lineup Order Risers and Fallers: AL West 2020 Review

It’s the offseason and there are about to be a bunch of moving parts. This allows for speculation in terms of players gaining or losing playing time, moving up or down a batting order and much more. The idea here is to highlight some lineup situations for each team and some potential winners or losers... Read More


2021 1st & 2nd Year Players with James Anderson - Benched with Bubba (Episode 317)

Bubba (@bdentrek) is joined by James Anderson (@RealJRAnderson) on episode 317. The guys will go over 30+ first and second-year players. They will discuss their current ADP's in the 2 Early Mocks, what to expect of the players in 2021, and much more. They also go over some listener questions, compare Juan Soto to Mike... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 21st, 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 21st, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 20th, 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 20th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Bubba and Bat Flip 54: 2 Early Mocks APD Player Debates - Benched with Bubba (Episode 316)

Bubba (@bdentrek) is joined by Bat Flip Crazy (@BatFlipCrazy) to take a deeper look at the 2 Early Mocks ADP. They go over some of the positions and look at players with similar ADPs and debate. Going around the diamond discussing some players people are high on and some they are down on with a... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 18th, 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 18th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 17th, 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 17th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


2021 Early Mock ADP Values & Reaches: WPC+ Videocast

Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut prepare for the 2021 fantasy baseball season with a look at early mock draft results from the RotoBaller Expert mock. Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well! Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller... Read More


Statcast Season Review: 2020 Barrel Leaders (Hitters)

The 2020 MLB season will always be one for the record books, even if everything that took place will have multiple asterisks attached to it. Evaluating Statcast numbers is a nice way to find hot and cold hitters, as well as underachievers and overachievers. Now that the regular season is over, let's reflect on the... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 16th, 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 16th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 15th, 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 15th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 14th, 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 14th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Bubba and Bat Flip 53: 2 Early Mocks APD Trends & More - Benched with Bubba (Episode 315)

Bubba (@bdentrek) is joined by Bat Flip Crazy (@BatFlipCrazy) to take a deeper look at the 2 Early Mocks ADP. They dig into trends, some interesting risers/fallers, and much more. They also go over some listener questions at the end to keep the Fantasy Baseball information coming even in the offseason. Be sure to subscribe... Read More