Cockcroft: 10 Bold Predictions

Originally Published: March 28, 2005
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN Games Fantasy Edge
We're less than a week away from opening night, and for more than two months now, we've been offering you our thoughts and advice towards building a championship fantasy baseball roster. However, as you've surely seen on these pages, no two people share identical opinions on the game or its players. Some people base their player evaluation solely on the numbers, while others let their personal feelings on players mainly drive their decisions. Most of my thinking is based heavily on statistical analysis and trends, with personal feeling -- hunches, really -- carrying much lesser weight. But I do have my share of gut feelings, and in this week's column, I think it'd be fun to share some of my strongest ones. Presenting my "10 Bold Predictions" for the 2005 season:

Barry Bonds rides into the sunset. The Bonds question has been fantasy baseball's most prominent one the past week, since he said he would miss half or all of the season rehabilitating his knee following a second surgery in six weeks. The bottom line is that any prediction regarding Bonds' fantasy status for 2005 is just that, a prediction. There really isn't any precedent or analytical method for determining his return timetable. Even if you listen to Stan Conte say the rehabilitation process from this surgery is a six-week one, I think Bonds truly doesn't want to play baseball anytime soon. And I'd rather not have a player on my fantasy team who sounds like he lacks the interest to play. As for my prediction, I see Bonds coming back by June 1, playing at around 80-90 percent of his former self -- think the .300-40-100 model of the late 1990s scaled down to games played -- and making another trip back to the disabled list but getting in around 60-70 games, enough to easily pass Babe Ruth for second place on the all-time home run list. Bonds calls it a career after the season, falling 31 homers shy of Hank Aaron for the most all-time.

A.J. Burnett is a factor in the NL Cy Young race. It might not seem like a "bold" prediction to say a pitcher is merely going to earn some votes in the Cy Young balloting, but keep in mind that last year, only nine pitchers earned a point in that race, with Ben Sheets and Brad Lidge the "worst" who earned at least one vote. I won't predict Burnett as the Cy Young winner -- it'd just be irresponsible and, quite frankly, I don't see him being that good -- but I think he's going to be named on a handful of ballots. Burnett was throwing every bit as hard late last year as before his Tommy John surgery (9.36 strikeouts per nine innings after the All-Star break last year, compared to 8.94 in 2002), and amazingly had even better command than before the operation (2.88 walks per nine after the break in 2004, compared to 3.96 in 2002). I see big things -- 18 wins, 200 strikeouts, 3.25 ERA.