- Matthew Berry, Fantasy
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"You're back? I thought we just got rid of you."
I know, I know. But there are a few rituals that must occur every spring. Pitchers and catchers report. You go outside and angrily mow until the lawn has been razed to the ground when Brandon Beachy, Patrick Corbin and Kris Medlen, members of your 12-team, NL-only dynasty team are pronounced out for the year (just me). And you need to come up with a name for your fantasy baseball team.
It's always among my favorite columns to do every year, and, as I mentioned in Love/Hate, even though I am stepping away from baseball this year, I still planned to do a bold predictions piece. So here's a combo column featuring the best team names shared by readers and my annual rendition of "You heard me." Yeah, yeah, it's weird, but whatever, I'm done with baseball after this, so rules are out the window. Anything goes. I just took off my pants.
So, there were way too many great team names to print all of them, but if you search Twitter for the hashtag #TMRTeamNames, or if you go to my Facebook page, you'll see another 900 or so. I can tell you there were many names that were funny but not appropriate for a G-rated column. Also, I don't know how to break this to people, but "Honey Nut Ichiro's" is so last decade. Every year, I get people suggesting this as if it's the greatest, most original name ever. Stop. It isn't. Same for a popular name involving former outfielder Eric Byrnes and current Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy. Just ... just stop.
Here were the 10 printable names that got the most likes on my Facebook page, and the people who suggested them.
•Ethier said than Dunn -- TJ Sopoci
•Mama Said Tanaka You Out -- Greg Knapp
•The Balking Dead -- Kimberly Walters Ratliff
•Cain in like a Breaking Ball -- Cory Draper
•These Aren't the Roids You're Looking For -- Jess Faneuf
•Wacka Flaka Tanaka -- Mikey Onorato
•ManBearPuigs -- many suggested this one
•Wacha, Texas Ranger -- Sam Reynolds
•Are You Samardzija than a 5th grader? -- Stephen Wirsch
•Yordano Ventura: Pet Detective -- suggested by many
Now, here's a bunch more that I just liked.
• Little House on the Frieri -- Jacob Goodman
•Free Machado Rides -- Thomas Joseph
•Bay of Puigs -- many suggested
•50 Shades of Sonny Gray -- many more
•Tanakatomi Plaza -- Michael McIver
•Notorious P.U.I.G. -- Joe Good
•Straight Cashner Homie -- Matt Koster
•If Loving Yu is Wong, I don't Wandy be Wright -- Todd Wilson, who wins the award for most player puns shoved into a single name
•Matthew Berried With Children -- Mike Whitman
•I Profar Dos Equis -- Tony M. Hensler
•I still believe in his talent -- AJ Phillips
•Another Gattisfied Customer! -- Roger Cryer
•Puig Vomit -- Michael Secre, with a shoutout to Howard Stern
•I like Big Buxton and I Cano Lie -- Michael Merck
•When's the re-draft -- Brian Anthony
•The Scioscial Network -- Jarrett Pflieger
•I'm Keith Hernandez -- Jeremy Nelson
•Rosario Speedwagon -- Mike Mikniks
•Gatniss Everdeen -- James McKeon
•Matthew Berry is my homeboy -- Jeff Heath
•Lambo Calrissians -- Brian Green--Young
•I like the cut of your jib -- Brent Brown
•Olney4U -- Billy LaRue
•Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ken, and the Cast of Street Fighter -- Michael Chornesky
•What can I get for $1? -- Chris Derendal
•The Flying Hellfish -- Sean Groark
•Big Fat Semi Colon -- Justin Salinger
•WachaMole -- @jarnold231
•Kings of Leonys -- @reddreddoch
•UnFrozen Cashner Lawyer -- @sportssynic
•Yeah, Jeets -- @mikelovetro
•FunkyColeMolina -- @joshualoeb
•Taijuan Walker, Rapper or World Capital? -- @thecover3
•Milk Was a Bad Joyce -- @mtwiz_24
•Tom Emanski's Back to Back to Back AAU National Champions -- @brian_benedict.
•Enter Xandman -- @millerweaponx
And, of course, my personal favorite...
Nate's a Weasel -- @yon_lee
There were way too many to get to, so, if you have a little time to kill, definitely check out the hashtag on Twitter or my Facebook page. Good stuff, gang.
Time now for "You Heard Me!" my annual bold predictions piece. The idea, of course, is that I say something outlandish that I think will happen, and you look at me as if you can't believe what I just said, and I say: "You heard me!"
Now, these are bold predictions. For a bold prediction to actually be bold, it has to be fairly unlikely to happen. Miguel Cabrera hits .300? Not a bold prediction. Miguel Cabrera hits .250? Bold. (And not an actual prediction, by the way. Love Miggy once again this season).
Last year in this column, I had some pretty good bold predictions: Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton not among the top 20 on the Player Rater; Hisashi Iwakuma as a top-20 starting pitcher; 20 home runs for backup catcher Evan Gattis; an ERA over 5.00, fewer than seven wins and a finish outside the top 60 among pitchers for Roy Halladay; more than 40 steals for Eric Young Jr. (and I'm back on him this year, too) and Paul Goldschmidt as the No. 1 fantasy first baseman. Those are among the ones I nailed.
Of course, I also predicted Brandon Morrow to finish as a top-10 pitcher, Phil Coke to save 25 games and Rickie Weeks as a top-four second baseman. Massive misses there. This is high-risk, high-reward, unlikely-to-happen territory we are entering here.
So how does this help you? Well, for one thing, you can make yourself feel better about your own predictions ("at least I'm better than this guy") or your own writing. (Not gonna lie. This intro is very similar to the previous intros of "You Heard Me." Only so many ways to introduce bold predictions.) The idea isn't for me to nail highly improbable predictions, it's to identify players I have a strong feeling on one way or the other -- end-game potential gems or slight upgrades/downgrades to guys you'll be drafting.
For example, last year in this piece, I said 250 strikeouts and the Cy Young Award for Yu Darvish; 200 strikeouts for Matt Harvey; Ervin Santana wins 14 games, has a sub-3.50 ERA and strikes out 185; Justin Ruggiano goes 20/20; and Andrew Cashner, who was in the bullpen at the time, wins double-digit games, has more than 170 strikeouts with an ERA of under 3.50 and WHIP under 1.25.
Technically, I got all of those wrong. Darvish didn't win the AL Cy Young; Santana won nine games (I blame the brutal run support) and had only 161 K's; Harvey had 191 strikeouts; Ruggiano went 18/15; and Cashner did win double-digit games, had a 3.09 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, but only 128 strikeouts. So technically, I got all of these predictions wrong, although I doubt people who drafted any of those guys were upset with what they got. All of those guys more than returned the value of what it cost to acquire them. Of course, the people who went after Erik Bedard, Aaron Hicks, Kevin Youkilis and Brian Roberts because of me ... well, they had reason to be upset. Yeesh. They're not all winners, kids.
Enough caveats for you? Good. I've done one prediction for each major league team and provided my reasoning, for better or for worse.
Arizona Diamondbacks: A.J. Pollock goes 20/20. My thinking: He has the pop and speed, he just needs full-time at-bats. If he can learn to hit righties a little better and Cody Ross can't get healthy (both entirely possible), Pollock will get his PT.
Atlanta Braves: Andrelton Simmons, currently going in the 15th round (and 12th among shortstops), finishes the year as a top-5 shortstop on our Player Rater. My thinking: The power is real, and the contact rate tells me the average is coming up. There are a lot of health risks at the top of the shortstop chart; playing every day with an improved batting average and a little more speed (he did steal 26 bases in 131 games in the minors in 2011) vaults Simmons into the top five.
Chicago Cubs: At least 220 strikeouts for Jeff Samardzija with a sub-3.50 ERA and sub-1.20 WHIP. My thinking: Well, last year in this column I predicted 220 strikeouts for him, and he came within six of that. Of course, the rest of it wasn't good, but he got unlucky somewhat. Needs to get walk rate back to where it was in 2012, and I think he will. With luck (or just no bad luck), he becomes the pitcher I thought he'd become last year. Especially if he gets dealt.
Cincinnati Reds: Tony Cingrani, currently going in the 18th round, finishes the year as the Reds' highest-ranked pitcher on the Player Rater. You heard me. My thinking: The injury to Aroldis Chapman means it won't be him; Johnny Cueto can't stay healthy; Homer Bailey could crumble under the pressure of $100 million; and I put Mat Latos on the "love" list this year, meaning I've probably cursed him. Most importantly, Cingrani has a K/9 of over 10 as a starter, has a slot in the rotation and needs only to get his walk rate down a bit to become the fantasy ace he can be.
Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki plays at least 150 games. My thinking: Just because he hasn't done it since 2009 doesn't mean he can't! As Stephania Bell always likes to say, there's injury-prone and then there's bad luck. Tulo is injury-prone, but he also has had some bad luck, and at some point all luck runs out, good or bad.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Among Dodgers starting pitchers, Zack Greinke finishes no higher than fourth on the Player Rater. My thinking: Clayton Kershaw is the easy one, but Hyun-Jin Ryu is no joke, and a strong year from Dan Haren in the NL West won't shock anyone. Meanwhile, here's what I wrote about Zack in this year's Love/Hate: "His K/9 dropped under eight for the first time since 2010, he had his lowest ground-ball percentage since 2009, his walk rate was slightly up, and there's no doubt he was helped by the fourth-highest strand rate in baseball." Add to that the fact he has pitched fewer than 180 innings in two of the past three years, and I won't be the one paying the going rate for Mr. Greinke's services this season.
Miami Marlins: Double-digit wins, a sub-3.40 ERA and sub-1.10 WHIP for Henderson Alvarez. My thinking: Just 23, he was a top-20 pitcher in ground-ball percentage last year, and, although he pitched well, the underlying numbers suggest he might have gotten unlucky. He also has pitched well this spring. The Marlins aren't good, but they'll be better than last year. He's not gonna help in strikeouts at all, but you could do worse at the end of your NL-only draft.
Milwaukee Brewers: A .285 average and 25 home runs for Khris Davis, currently going in the 19th round. My thinking: The power is legit (at least 15 home runs in every season of professional ball). All he has needed is playing time. This year, he finally gets it.
New York Mets: Eric Young Jr. leads the National League in steals. That's right. You heard me. My thinking: If Billy Hamilton flames out (a possibility), EY Jr. finally has a full-time gig to himself on a team that has no better leadoff options and that needs to generate offense. Forty-six steals last year despite posting his lowest OBP since his rookie season, and he's not even being drafted among the first 60 outfielders.
Philadelphia Phillies: Thirty home runs for Ryan Howard. My thinking: My hate for Ryan Howard has been well documented over the years, and, more often than not, I've been right. Certainly, the past two years have made me look good. But maybe the hate has gone too far. Finally healthy, he improved his strikeout and contact rates last year (when he played). If he can stay healthy, he'll play every day and swing for the fences.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Pedro "Hey! It's a-me!" Alvarez, currently being drafted ninth among third basemen, is a top-three fantasy third baseman this year. My thinking: We know the power is insane, it's just about the average. He did improve his strikeout rate in the second half last year, and there definitely are some injury-prone guys at third this year. I say he hits closer to .260 than .230, and that'll be enough to make him a stud.
San Diego Padres: Andrew Cashner (being drafted in the 17th round) and Tyson Ross (undrafted) are both top-30 fantasy pitchers this year. My thinking: When in doubt, go with the pitcher in Petco. Cashner was my bold prediction for this piece last season, and he clearly had a big year, so obviously I'm a believer. Think he picks up where he left off while adding some more strikeouts, and Ross, with a K/9 over 8 and inducing ground balls more than 50 percent of the time, will continue how he finished last year. A 2.95 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 80 innings in the second half.
St. Louis Cardinals: Peter Bourjos hits at least 15 home runs and steals 25 bags. My thinking: Defense gets him in the lineup every day, and finally some decent luck with health keeps him there. He's always had the power and speed potential; this year he makes good on it.
Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman is not a top-10 third baseman this year. My thinking: Super-streaky, he has managed to eventually bail you out the past few years, but one of these years that big spurt isn't going to come, especially given the increased strikeout rate and nagging injuries that always seem to ail him.
Baltimore Orioles: Twenty stolen bases for Jemile Weeks. My thinking: Well, he's done it before, stealing 22 in 2011. If they decide to send Jonathan Schoop down to Triple-A, Weeks has to beat out only Steve Lombardozzi for at-bats, plus, once Manny Machado comes back, Ryan Flaherty. Weeks isn't any good, but neither are those guys.
Boston Red Sox: Jon Lester, currently being drafted outside the top 30 of starting pitchers, finishes as a top-12 starting pitcher on our Player Rater. My thinking: Seemed to finally get it back together in the postseason last year. Keeps it going in a contract year.
Cleveland Indians: The Indians, who don't have any pitchers being drafted inside the top 40, have three pitchers in the top 30 starters on the Player Rater. My thinking: Justin Masterson has another big year; Danny Salazar puts it all together for a full season; and Corey Kluber, with his K/9 over 8.00 and his walk rate just over 2.00, has his breakout season.
Detroit Tigers: A sub-3.50 ERA, a sub-1.15 WHIP and 175 strikeouts for Rick Porcello. You heard me. My thinking: Increasing strikeout rate and ground-ball rate of more than 50 percent, he puts it all together this year. People forget he's just 25.
Houston Astros: Jonathan Villar leads baseball in steals. My thinking: He'll hit well enough to play every day (not a tall task in Houston); he has crazy speed; they need to generate offense; and there's a chance Billy Hamilton won't stick.
Kansas City Royals: Two hundred strikeouts for Yordano Ventura. My thinking: He's very young, of course, but the skill is there. They say he could pitch 180-200 innings this year, so, if it ends up a lot closer to 200, he's got a shot.
Los Angeles Angels: Other than Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun is the highest-ranked Angels hitter on the Player Rater this year. My thinking: Josh Hamilton never met an outside ball he wouldn't swing at; Pujols keeps trending downward; and Calhoun does everything solidly, with a little speed, some pop and a good batting average. He's not gonna hurt you in any one category the way the rest of the players on that team might.
Minnesota Twins: Phil Hughes has an ERA better than 4.00, a WHIP better than 1.30 and double-digit wins. You heard me. My thinking: Good pitchers' park; better division to pitch against; he had a sub-4.00 ERA on the road last year; and, if ever there was a guy who needed a fresh start, it's him.
New York Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka, currently being drafted as a top-15 pitcher, finishes outside the top 40. My thinking: It all comes down to wins. He's not a huge strikeout guy to begin with, and, as we saw with Yu Darvish, it can take time to adjust to the strike zone in America. Plus, he has thrown a ton of innings for a young guy, so injury is a potential risk, as well.
Oakland A's: Scott Kazmir has a sub-3.75 ERA, a sub-1.30 WHIP and 175 strikeouts. My thinking: He pitched better than expected last year, and going to the AL West and that ballpark should help. With a K/9 of over 9.00, and a year back to get settled, he just needs to stay healthy to be productive.
Seattle Mariners: Robinson Cano, who has at least 25 home runs in each of the past five seasons, hits fewer than 20 this time around. My thinking: Much worse ballpark for him; he's traditionally been worse on the road than at Yankee Stadium; and he wouldn't be the first guy to flame out after getting a crazy-big deal.
Tampa Bay Rays: An ERA of over 4.00, a WHIP over 1.30 and single-digit wins for Matt Moore. My thinking: In his breakout year, he increased his walk rate and got lucky in a few areas. And I'll take the under on 17 wins, as well.
Texas Rangers: Leonys Martin is a top-15 fantasy outfielder. My thinking: Tons of speed, enough pop to help a little there, decent enough batting average. They don't have anyone else, really, so he's gonna play every day in a great ballpark surrounded by great hitters.
Toronto Blue Jays: R.A. Dickey is a top-10 pitcher. My thinking: Hey, he's done it before! The back hampered him the first part of last year, but, when finally healthy in the second half, he was close to the Dickey we remember, and he threw his "fast knuckler" at a rate similar to that of his Cy Young Award year. If he gets some run support for wins, watch out.
There you have it. A bold prediction for every team in Major League Baseball. And more of them will come true than you think. You heard me. But before I walk off the diamond one last time, I just wanted to say that I got a ton of nice tweets, emails, notes and comments after announcing in Love/Hate that I was focusing on football this year. I read every one. Thank you for the kind words and support. Meant the world to me. Here's to a great baseball season, fantasy and otherwise.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- now has to find a way to write about Bartolo Colon in football season. Berry is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. You may also have heard: He's written a book.
Matthew Berry's final fantasy baseball column combines two traditional preseason favorites: his bold predictions and a collection of the best team names submitted by readers.