Major League Baseball’s opening week has finally arrived. On Thursday, all 30 teams will take the field. With the exception of the All-Star break, there will be baseball every day between then and the end of October. All that’s left for us to do before the season begins is make some bold predictions.
You can find our positive, happy bold predictions here. Below, we present our predictions on what will go wrong this season.
Adalberto Mondesi is not a top-100 player
The widespread, semi-blind belief in Adalberto Mondesi has been one of the hardest things for me to understand this offseason. Sure, I see the upside, but how is there this huge swath of the fantasy community willing to gloss over the downside? We’re talking about a guy with 500 career plate appearances across three years, and a .238/.273/.406 slash line in those trips to the plate. Yes, he did hit 14 homers and swipe 32 bags in 291 plate appearances last year, but he had a 3.8% walk rate, 26.5% strikeout rate, and almost certainly unsustainable 19.7% HR/FB ratio. He also never hit more than 14 homers in a full minor league season. There is a very ugly floor associated with Mondesi, but all most people are willing to acknowledge is the ceiling. Given his extreme youth and lack of experience in the majors, a floor season is much more likely than a ceiling one. Mondesi drafters are going to experience significant regret.
Patrick Corbin is not a top-30 starter
I’ve been sounding the alarm on Patrick Corbin all offseason, and his spring performance has only made me more confident. I’ll admit to some confirmation bias there, but whenever a pitcher rises dramatically up draft boards because of what could be an outlier strikeout season, and then fans 19 batters in 24 innings the following spring, there’s good reason to feel better about the initial impressions we've been discussing here this winter.
Corbin’s strikeout rate leapt to a career-high 30.8% last year, up more than nine percentage points from the previous season. It rose largely because of an increased whiff rate for his slider and the addition of a curveball. The problem, though, is that the slider was identical in velocity and shape to the pitch it had always been, while the curve’s whiff rate of 13.4% was solid, but not spectacular, and certainly not a huge factor in a 42.6% increase in strikeout rate.
Rather, Corbin’s increased strikeout rate derived mainly from a bump in chase rate to 37.9%, an increase of nearly four percentage points from 2017. Hitters are going to adjust, and Corbin will have to prove he can adjust back to counter their new approach. That’s not a bet I’m willing to make.
Joey Gallo is not a top-15 first baseman
Has there ever been a less desirable 40-homer hitter in MLB history than Joey Gallo? The guy has to hit 40 homers to justify his average draft position, and he’s still likely to be no better than eighth or ninth at his own position. One slump or run of bad luck threatens to derail him all season. He’ll be a strong three-category player if he meets expectations, but he provides no speed and will be a drag on batting average and OBP in even the best circumstances.
Gallo finished draft season ninth among first basemen in ADP. I’ll say he easily finishes behind the eight who were taken ahead of him in a typical draft. From there, give me Max Muncy, who could be Gallo with plate discipline, and Edwin Encarnacion, who has nearly as much bankable power with much better rates, ahead of him. Knocking Gallo outside the top 15 at the position became more challenging when Matt Olson suffered a broken hamate bone, but we stll have a group of Miguel Cabrera, Eric Hosmer, Luke Voit, Carlos Santana, Yuli Gurriel, Jose Martinez and Pete Alonso to help push Gallo outside the top 15. Plus, Olson could still do it, depending on his recovery time. And, again, if Gallo hits, say, 32 homers, his value drops significantly. No one is more dependent on the long ball for value than Gallo, and that makes him vulnerable to a precipitous fall down the rankings.
Starling Marte is not a top-20 outfielder
This one has as much to do with the position as it does with the player. Outfield is deep, and there are some excellent players who finished outside the top 20 in ADP. A non-comprehensive list of such players includes Eloy Jimenez, Michael Conforto, Eddie Rosario, Yasiel Puig, A.J, Pollock, Michael Brantley, David Peralta, Victor Robles, Andrew McCutchen and Michael Brantley. I’m not saying that all of those players will finish ahead of Starling Marte in the rankings. I’m simply pointing out that you can be a very good outfielder and still not be in the top 20 at the position.
It does have something to do with the player, though. If you only look at Marte’s stat line from last year, you’ll likely see nothing amiss. He stole 33 bags, his fifth straight year with at least 30 steals in a full season, and hit 20 homers. That belies some of what was happening in the background. His sprint speed, as measured by Statcast, declined yet again, falling to a career-low 28.6 feet per second. That had him tied for 83rd in the majors with the likes of J.T. Realmuto and Mikie Mahtook. Speed isn’t the only factor in stealing bases, but it’s worth noting that his success rate of 70.2% was also a career low. Just as Gallo is dependent on homers for much of his fantasy value, Marte is dependent on steals. If he swipes fewer than 25 bases, his fantasy value takes a significant hit. Combine that likelihood with the depth of his position, and it isn’t hard to push him outside the top-20 outfielders.
Jon Lester spends most of the season on the waiver wire in leagues of all sizes
Jon Lester was one of the most fortunate pitchers in the league last year. He won 18 games and pitched to a 3.32 ERA that was completely unsupported by his peripherals. His strikeout rate plummeted to 19.6%. His walk rate shot up to 8.4%. His FIP and xFIP were both more than one run higher than his ERA. He had a 1.31 WHIP, his second straight year allowing at least 1.3 baserunners per inning. Lester benefitted from an 80.3% strand rate, an unsustainable number for almost any pitcher, and certainly one who strikes out as few batters as he does at this stage of his career.
Among pitchers who qualified for the ERA title, Lester had the 11th-smallest difference between his strikeout and walk rates, while his spread of negative-1.07 points between his ERA and FIP was second-worst in the majors. He does have the benefit of a strong infield defense, but his ground-ball rate cratered to a career-low 37.7% last year. Lester remains a name brand, but that ultimately won’t matter in fantasy leagues.
Yadier Molina is a drop candidate by May 1, and on most waiver wires by June 1
This would take some doing for an established fantasy option at the wasteland that is the catcher position, but it is well within Yadier Molina’s reasonable range of outcomes. He has 38 homers in just more than 1,000 plate appearances the last two years, so I’ll grant him some power. Even if we're generous and pencil him in for 20 homers—most projection systems have him between 13 and 15, for what it’s worth—that's likely to be his only meaningful contribution. His batting average has been middling for years. He detracts from a fantasy team’s OBP. He doesn’t have significant run-scoring or RBI upside. He should hit for decent power and could push 70 RBI, but that’s about all he’ll do. And that’s in a best-case scenario.
Molina is a catcher in his age-36 season (he turns 37 in July) who has logged more than 16,000 innings behind the plate in his career, including the postseason. The Cardinals may have traded Carson Kelly in the deal that sent Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis, but the Cardinals could still take it easy on Molina this season. At some point, he is not going to be a paragon of durability, and he has missed 65 games over the last two seasons. Combine his modest production with all the wear and tear on his body and his advanced age, and this is the season that Molina finally falls out of favor with the fantasy community.