The fantasy baseball season is almost here (finally!). Here are some bold predictions for the 2017 campaign featuring resurgences by Chris Archer and Michael Brantley, as well as an appearance by the Kung-Fu Panda himself.
Archer was 9-19 last season. Doesn’t look great, right? There is reason to believe the Rays starter will return to form in 2017. His 2016 BABIP was still very good at .296 and his xFIP (3.41) indicates that his ERA should dip in 2017. Archer did experience a jump in his fly ball rate from 10.4% up to 16.2%, but this was actually common across the league. Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, and Yu Darvish all saw their HR/FB rates rise in 2016. I expect home run numbers to come back to earth this season and Archer to soar.
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Giancarlo Stanton will finally live up to his fantasy potential
After an offseason of globetrotting, it’s time Giancarlo Stanton live up to the lofty expectations. The Marlins outfielder, who’s built like a bronze statue and sometimes hits the ball so hard you wonder if it actually went into the stands that fast or was vaporized, hasn’t been the dominant fantasy asset he should be.
For starters, Stanton has only played more than 123 games twice in seven seasons. Player durability is always a concern for fantasy owners as there is nothing more frustrating than the 15-day DL. Second, Stanton has been plagued by strikeout issues throughout his career. The only time he’s struck out less than 120 times was in his abbreviated 2015 season when he played 74 games. If he can show a little more patience at the plate and stay healthy, Stanton could have a massive payoff in just about any fantasy setting.
USA TODAY SportsSteve Mitchell
Michael Brantley will hit 40 doubles and steal 30 bases
It seems like a decade since Michael Brantley was third in the MVP voting, hit .327, and won a Silver Slugger award. Injuries will do that. Brantley missed nearly the entire 2016 season with a shoulder injury appearing in only 11 games. I think Brantley surges back this year and has a monster season. Brantley is – in many ways – the complete opposite of the aforementioned Stanton. A patient technician with a smooth offensive game. Speaking of patience, Brantley has only struck out 70 times in a season once.
Pablo Sandoval will hit 20+ home runs
Pablo Sandoval has been a major disappointment since he joined the Red Sox. In his career with the San Francisco Giants, Sandoval was a two-time All-Star and hit .294/.346/.465 and averaged 11 stolen bases and 15 home runs per season. Since he joined Boston he’s been a .242/.290/.361 hitter with a total of 10 homers and zero stolen bases. Almost all of 2016 was lost due to injury, but Sandoval has come on strong this spring with a league-leading 19 RBI and .351/.362/.667 splits.
Will his regular season stats look like this? Probably not. But I think 2017 will be the year of the Panda.
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY SportAnthony Gruppuso
Bryce Harper will hit a career high .330+
By his standards Bryce Harper had a poor 2016. His .243 batting average was the lowest of his career, and his BABIP plummeted from .369 to .264. The decline in his production is most likely an indicator that 2016 was an anomaly, illustrated by the phenomenally sharp decline in BABIP. When you factor in that he walked 108 times (fourth in the MLB) and was given relatively few pitches to hit, I think Harper will rally in a big way this year to the tune of a .330+ batting average.
USA TODAY SportsBrad Mills
Verlander will have his worst fantasy season yet
Justin Verlander had a great second half (8-3 with a 1.96 ERA) in 2016, but I think this is the year Verlander has the worst fantasy season of his career. Verlander is 34 years old and pitched 227 2/3 innings last year, which was third in the major leagues. When was the last time an increased workload at age 34 helped any professional athlete? Combined with the fact that the Tigers are getting a little long in the tooth offensively and you’ve got a recipe for regression.
Jon Gray will have a sub-3.00 ERA
With all their offensive firepower, isn’t it about time the Rockies had a real ace? After this spring it looks like the Rockies might’ve finally found their guy. Gray has had four quality starts in the Cactus League and looks like the missing piece to compliment the NL’s best offense.
Gray's Spring Starts
Getty ImagesJim McIsaac
Zack Greinke will rebound
This list is full of stretches, but this one might be the boldest of them all. Greinke has been a colossal disappointment since he signed with the Diamondbacks (for $206.5 million guaranteed, no less). As bad as Greinke played last season, he actually wasn’t awful before the All-Star break. He was 10-3 with a 3.62 ERA.
Looking at his numbers a little closer, I think Greinke was a victim of two things: the league-wide spike in home runs and underestimating how the switch to a hitter’s park like Chase Field would affect him. If Greinke can just cut down on the times he gets shelled (13 of 23 HR he allowed came in four starts) he might be able to salvage his time in Arizona before it spirals completely out of control.
Sonny Gray won’t be a dumpster fire (at least by the second half)
Sonny Gray’s 2016 was a complete mess. Unlike most of the pitchers on this list, Gray is still a relatively young guy. Gray has also had some success in the league (third in Cy Young voting in 2015), which leads me to believe he can at least come back to the surface in terms of his overall performance. Gray’s HR/FB percentage was hilariously inflated in comparison to his career numbers (up to 17.5% from his career average of 9%).
One would think there would be some improvement in that area just by regressing to the mean. Gray was also dealing with injury issues as he made two trips to the DL and started only 22 games. I think by the time the second half of the season rolls around, Gray will have worked out the kinks and be at least a serviceable major league starter.