Halpin’ Hand: AL predictions, revisited

Welcome to the second annual "review my preseason predictions column." To refresh your memories, in February I made educated guesses about fantasy stats for a player on every MLB team. The idea was for the predictions to have no better than a 50-50 chance to be correct, with some having longer odds than others. Last year, I got 11 1/3 points out of 30. Yes, I gave myself partial credit and will be doing so again. Let’s get on with it. If you have any comments, insults, etc. — and based on the results, you probably do — fire away at the bottom of the page. Next week, we’ll look back at the National League predictions, in which I most certainly did NOT predict that David Wright would hit fewer than 10.5 home runs.

Prediction: Orioles: Adam Jones will hit 20 home runs and steal 15 bases

What I wrote: Jones missed most of August last year with a broken foot, just after a few weeks when he started to heat up (three HR, 13 RBI, 17 R in 18 games). He’s 23, he’s talented, and he’s ready for a mini-breakout. If you’re skeptical, check out his Triple-A numbers from 2007 when he was just 21 years old. I love this guy. What happened: Nineteen homers and 10 steals, thanks in no small part to a sprained ankle that limited Jones to four games after August 23. I don’t like the bad-luck start we’re off to.

Prediction: Red Sox: Clay Buchholz will start more games than John Smoltz or Brad Penny

What I wrote: Smoltz is 41 years old, and his shoulder is now held together by a combination of Krazy Glue and duct tape. Penny had shoulder issues of his own last season, and while he was an All-Star in 2006 and 2007, he’s also posted just a decent ERA while spending his career in two pitcher’s parks in Florida and Los Angeles. Buchholz, on the other hand, is just one year removed from having the most buzz of any young pitcher in the game. He was horrible at the start of 2008, walking too many people and giving up a bunch of home runs before being demoted. Something’s telling me to give the 24-year-old Buchholz a mulligan, since he was so dominant in the minors in 2007. There’s a decent chance that Buchholz and Penny could both start for much of the year, with 87-year-old Tim Wakefield being the odd man out, but I’ll stick with my prediction. What happened: 30 starts for Penny (24 in Boston), 16 for Buchholz, 15 for Smoltz (eight in Boston). Can I change this one to what should have happened rather than what did happen? No? OK — I’ll take a half point.

Prediction: White Sox: Paul Konerko will hit at least 30 home runs

What I wrote: Konerko fell off a cliff last season, but he was bothered with an oblique injury for much of it and was extremely unlucky from a BABIP standpoint (.247). Add that to the fact that at least 50 percent of this column’s readers could hit 25 homers if they played 81 games at The Cell, and we can bet on Konerko for his customary 30. What happened: Twenty-eight, with none in his final 10 games. Damn you, Konerko.

Prediction: Indians: Fausto Carmona’s ERA will be closer to last year’s 5.44 than 2007’s 3.06

What I wrote: I know Carmona has tremendous ability to induce ground balls, and I’m definitely guilty of having a sometimes-irrational bias against pitchers with low strikeout rates. But I don’t care how hurt he was — 58 strikeouts against 70 walks in 120 innings? That’s a guy people think is going to bounce back? I think I’d rather risk a fantasy pick on Carl Pavano. What happened: I think 6.32 gets us a little closer, don’t you? Carmona’s K/BB ratio actually improved from last year’s horrendous 58/70 to this season’s simply unacceptable 79/70. If you’re thinking about drafting Carmona in 2010 as a bounceback candidate, perhaps you should consider fantasy rugby instead. One point for the good guys. P.S. I was right about the Pavano thing, too. Extra credit?

Prediction: Tigers: Miguel Cabrera will win the American League MVP

What I wrote: No, MVP is not a fantasy category, but for Cabrera to win the award, he’ll probably have to hit .320 with 40 homers and at least 130 RBI. I think he’s going to be a monster, and I have him ranked 11th overall. Go get him. What happened: He hit .324 with 34 homers and 103 RBI, but he’s not going to finish higher than third in the MVP voting. On the bright side, he lapped the field in "most times getting really drunk the night before the final regular season game and duking it out with his wife."

Prediction: Royals: Coco Crisp will hit a dozen home runs and steal 30-plus bases

(Prediction I thought long and hard about making, but chickened out: Zack Greinke will win the American League Cy Young.) What I wrote: Remember 2004 and 2005, when Crisp hit 15 and 16 home runs, respectively? I don’t know why the power disappeared after his move to Boston, either, but he hit seven homers and stole 20 bases last year in 118 games. With an everyday job, he should be able to reach the numbers above, even if he’s never stolen 30 bases in a season before. What happened: Three homers, 13 stolen bases and a season that ended on June 12 due to a shoulder injury. Serves me right for bailing on Zack the Ripper.

Prediction: Angels: Brian Fuentes will save at least 40 games

What I wrote: K-Rod didn’t rack up saves with the Angels just because he’s a good closer — he also had more opportunities than anyone else. Since 2005, he’s ranked first, tied for first, fourth and first in the majors in save opportunities, averaging 54 per season. Fuentes is a good pitcher who put up really nice numbers at Coors, and if he gets between 45 and 50 chances, there’s no reason why he can’t crack the 40-save barrier. What happened: Jackpot! Fuentes saved 48 games in 55 opportunities, despite having a 3.93 ERA. Among the 16 MLB closers with 30 or more saves, the only ones with higher ERAs were Brad Lidge (7.21) and Fernando Rodney (4.40). Heck, the guy almost lost his job in September. Is there anyone out there who still disagrees that saves is the dumbest statistic in baseball? Even so, I’ll take one point. When I die, I want the first paragraph of my obituary to read as follows: "John Halpin, who led the successful movement to eliminate saves as a fantasy baseball scoring category, died yesterday when he collapsed following a 90-minute roll at a Las Vegas craps table. He was 122 years old."

Prediction: Twins: Francisco Liriano will strike out at least 200 batters, with an ERA below 3.25 and a WHIP below 1.20

What I wrote: This year will be Liriano’s second since Tommy John surgery. He struggled early last season, but after returning from Triple-A in early August, he was 6-1 with a 2.74 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP and 60 strikeouts against 19 walks in 65 2/3 innings. The only reason I have him ranked 23rd among starters is his injury history, but by the time you read this I might have already moved him up. He’s ready. What happened: A 5.80 ERA, a 1.55 WHIP and 122 Ks in 136 2/3 innings. Oh, and he spent a few weeks in the minors before getting sent to the bullpen. Thanks for nothing, Francisco.

Prediction: Yankees: A.J. Burnett will start 25 games or less

What I wrote: Speaking of injury histories … I still have no idea what the Yankees were doing by giving $82.5 million to this bastion of fragility. Burnett’s started more than 30 games just twice in his career — both, coincidentally, in seasons immediately preceding free agency. He can still be an SP3 in a mixed league if he throws 160 innings, because he’ll strike out a lot of batters with a decent ERA and WHIP. But he’s not anything close to an ace, because he’s always hurt. Let someone else have him. What happened: As a fantasy analyst, I found it surprising that Burnett started 33 games and stayed off the disabled list for the second year in a row. As a Yankee fan, I found it terrific. I’ll take that tradeoff.

Prediction: A’s: Matt Holliday will not reach .300, 30 home runs or 100 RBI

What I wrote: Quick, name the really good Rockies’ hitters who went to other teams and remained really good hitters. OK, that’s too much work — I’ll do it for you. 1. Larry Walker, who was traded to the Cardinals at the deadline in 2004. Walker was fantastic in the Cards’ drive to the World Series that year and hit well in an injury-shortened 2005 before retiring.
2. There is no No. 2. Holliday might be better than Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla and Andres Galarraga, but you should bet against him maintaining his elite status in Oakland. Anyone who picks him in the first round of a mixed league draft is crazy. What happened: Dammit! If I had known Holliday would get traded to St. Louis — the land of always-sunny fans and instant improvement due to some sort of mysterious pixie dust — I would’ve gone in another direction. He batted .286 with 11 homers and 54 RBI in 93 games with the A’s, but in 63 games in the heaven known as batting behind Albert Pujols, he hit .353 with 13 homers and 55 RBI. I knew this was going to happen as soon as the trade news came out. Holliday’s combined stats were .313-24-109, and instead of petitioning the prediction committee for a waiver, I’ll take a third of a point for his low HR output.

Prediction: Mariners: Felix Hernandez will win 15 games with an ERA below 3.30 and finish in the top 10 in MLB in Ks

What I wrote: I’ve been betting on a Hernandez breakout for a couple of years, and maybe we all expected too much, too soon. After all, as U.S.S. Mariner pointed out during the offseason, the M’s ace is seven-and-a-half months younger than Rays phenom David Price. King Felix will turn 23 on April 8, and while his walk rate did go up last year, his strikeout rate also went up slightly, and his ERA dropped to 3.45. The numbers above would all represent improvements, but not unreasonable ones. Long live the King. What happened: One point – The King has officially arrived as a fantasy ace. Hernandez went 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA and 217 strikeouts (seventh in MLB). Again, he’s only 23 years old. Look out.

Prediction: Rays: B.J. Upton will hit at least 25 home runs and steal at least 50 bases

What I wrote: I’ve been writing for FOXSports.com for two years, and by now you might be sick and tired of my man crush on Upton. You know what? I don’t care. This is the season when you’ll say, "Oh, so that’s why Halpin liked him so much." Either that or, "Upton’s terrific, but I wonder if Halpin’s wife thinks it’s weird that he has an I (HEART) BOSSMAN JUNIOR tattoo." It’s superstardom time. What happened: Umm … 11 homers, 42 steals and a putrid .241 batting average. I hate him with every fiber of my being. My 2010 fantasy man crushes list might include an Upton, but it won’t be this one.

Prediction: Rangers: Josh Hamilton’s numbers will decline in batting average, home runs, RBI and runs scored

What I wrote: This is more of a hunch than anything else. I thought Hamilton would fade down the stretch last year, and while he did so in July and August, he bounced back in September. Unless he really is the real-life Roy Hobbs, figure on at least a slight regression, or maybe a DL stint. Last season was too perfect. What happened: Cha-ching! One point for me, as Hamilton declined precipitously in BA (.304-.268), HR (32-10), RBI (130-54) and runs. On a related note, who do you think is the biggest one-hit wonder?

  • a-ha (Take on Me, 1985)
  • The Divinyls (I Touch Myself, 1990)
  • Chumbawumba (Tubthumping, 1997)
  • Josh Hamilton (Texas Rangers, 2008)

    Blue Jays: Travis Snider will be sent back to the minors before June 1

    What I wrote: I covered Snider last week, but wanted to mention him again since I can’t bear the thought of you drafting him. He looks very talented, but he’s 21 and has exactly 150 plate appearances above Double-A. While he was pretty good at Double-A, he wasn’t exactly Babe Ruth (17 HRs, .818 OPS in 98 games). I think the hype train is moving a little too quickly on Mr. Snider. What happened: The date was actually May 22 — piece of cake, and one more point. With that said, Snider returned to the Jays in mid-August and hit a decent six homers in his final 130 at-bats. Next February, I’ll only write good things about him. I think he’s ready now. Result: 5.83 points out of a possible 14, which is OK. We’ll check in on the NL version next week, but I just took a quick glance, and I don’t think I’m going to be happy.

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