- Matthew Berry, Fantasy
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The part that people forget, of course, is that it's only the best part of sports.
It's why we watch, why we cheer, why we scream and why we cry.
The surprise, I mean. It's been a great NCAA tournament so far. Among the reasons? Wichita State, LaSalle and the Dunk City theatrics of Florida Gulf Coast. We love the unexpected. We love the big upset, the amazing performance. Look, I am not a Heat fan and I was among those piling on LeBron for his "Decision" and the bravado that accompanied it. But even I have to admit what he's doing is unreal. And it's why we love it.
The expected is ho-hum. But the out of the blue? The I-picked-up-Mike-Trout-and-he-led-me-to-a-title? That is what makes sports -- and fantasy -- so special. When the long shot works out.
This is the long shot column.
Everything else you have read, heard, watched and digested this preseason is steeped in scouting and stats. You may not agree with all of it, but I assure you, gentle reader, our projections, rankings, sleepers and busts are all backed by reasonable, well-thought-out, defensible analysis.
This is pure, unadulterated gut-call time. This is a list of things that are unlikely to happen. But, as the owners of last year's No. 1 pitcher on our Player Rater -- 38-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey -- will tell you, unlikely does not mean impossible.
I've written this column twice a year for many years now and I call it "You Heard Me!"
Like, we might be hanging out and I'd say something like, "I say RG III comes back, plays Week 1 and leads my Redskins to a Super Bowl."
And you'd be all, like, "Whaaaaat?"
And then I'd be all, "You heard me!"
It's a bold prediction. Now for a bold prediction to actually be bold, it has to be fairly unlikely to happen. Justin Verlander has 200 strikeouts? Not a bold prediction. Justin Verlander has an ERA over 5.00 and strikes out fewer than 140 while still making every start? Bold.
Some may see this piece as "fluff" or not helpful, but I think it's really helpful. You heard me. Last year in this column, I had some pretty good bold predictions: Edwin Encarnacion hits 34 home runs, Adam Dunn hits 40 (remember how bad he was in 2011?), Chris Perez (injured last preseason and rumored to be losing his job) finishes in the top five in saves and Dickey is a top-30 pitcher on the Player Rater, are among the bold calls I nailed. Because, at the time, even if it doesn't seem so in retrospect, they were bold.
Of course, I also predicted 50 home runs for Adrian Gonzalez, Aramis Ramirez as not being a top-15 third baseman and Francisco Liriano being a top-10 pitcher. Those are a few of the massive misses I had.
But like I said, this is high-risk, high-reward, unlikely-to-happen territory we are entering here. But here's how to use this column, other than using it to make yourself feel better about your own predictions ("at least I'm better than this guy") or your own writing (not gonna lie -- the intro here is similar to last year, too; only so many ways to introduce bold predictions).
The idea isn't that I nail highly improbable predictions, it's rather to identify players who I have a strong feeling on, one way or the other, from potential gems for the end game to guys to slightly upgrade/downgrade on your cheat sheets.
For example, last year I said in this piece that Alfonso Soriano would go 35/100, that Jason Kubel and Paul Goldschmidt would combine for 60 home runs and that Mark Trumbo would finish the year as a top-10 third baseman while hitting 30 home runs. Soriano went 32/108, the Arizona players combined for 50 and Trumbo never did qualify at third, finishing as a top-12 first baseman. So technically, I got all three predictions wrong, though I doubt anyone who drafted any of those guys very late was upset with what they got.
Now, the people who bought into me saying Erik Bedard would win the Cy Young, that Chris Heisey would hit 35 home runs or that Brian Matusz would be a top-30 pitcher on the Player Rater they had every reason to be upset. Yeesh. They're not all winners, kids. But how much did those players cost you? Not much, beyond the opportunity to draft different lottery-ticket types.
Enough caveats for you? Good. I've done one prediction for each major league team along with some quick reasoning behind it. What you do with it after you read it is completely up to you.
Baltimore Orioles: Brian Roberts returns to being a top-10 second baseman this year. My thinking: Health is the issue, of course, but this is a guy with more than 700 plate appearances for three straight seasons from 2007 to 2009. He's having a good spring, and this is the healthiest he's been in years.
Boston Red Sox: 200 strikeouts and a sub-3.85 ERA for Felix Doubront. My thinking: Dude had a K/9 over nine last year, is having a good spring and is just 24. Another year in the bigs to work more innings and get his stuff under control.
New York Yankees: Kevin Youkilis goes 25/100, plays 150 games. My thinking: Hell hath no fury like a third baseman scorned. Pretty sure that's how it goes. Motivated by how it ended with the Red Sox, it makes no sense at all that, with the walking wounded that are the New York Yankees this year, one of the few healthy guys would be Kevin Youkilis. Which is why it'll happen. Skills are mostly still there.
Tampa Bay Rays: Matt Joyce hits 30 home runs. My thinking: If I keep putting him in this column, maybe it'll eventually come true. Worked for Edwin Encarnacion last year. Joyce makes either his third or fourth straight appearance here. I have yet to be right on him. But here's a bonus bold prediction: This is the year I am right on a breakout for Matt Joyce.
Chicago White Sox: Hector Santiago joins the starting rotation, wins double-digit games and is a top-50 starting pitcher on the Player Rater. My thinking: Was actually a decent starter in the minors, they've already said they might use him against lefty-heavy lineups and it's not like the White Sox have a rotation that's impenetrable.
Cleveland Indians: Jason Kipnis is the No. 1 second baseman in fantasy this year. My thinking: The injuries on the Yankees are too much and hurt Robinson Cano's counting stats, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler have trouble staying healthy and Kipnis puts together a full year of what he did in the first half last season, rather than what he did in the second.
Detroit Tigers: Phil Coke saves 25 games. My thinking: They just sent Bruce Rondon down to the minors. Joaquin Benoit gave up too many home runs last year and is better suited to be a setup guy. Al Alburquerque is still inexperienced and walks too many. Octavio Dotel is Octavio Dotel. Meanwhile, Coke closed games in the playoffs when Jose Valverde faltered and had 51 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 54 innings last year.
Kansas City Royals: Ervin Santana wins 14 games, has a 3.50 ERA and strikes out 185. My thinking: We discussed this on the podcast last week and I rostered Santana on my AL Tout Wars team; I'm a believer. Underlying numbers last year were the same as the previous two, just got unlucky with home run/fly ball rate (OK, really unlucky) and strand rate. He's got something to prove.
Minnesota Twins: Aaron Hicks hits double-digit home runs and steals 30 bases. My thinking: Got the starting gig off a hot spring, they'll need to generate offense, he did steal 32 in Double-A last year and I don't even remotely believe any of the other bold predictions I came up with for this team. This one at least has a shot of coming true if Hicks keeps the starting job all year.
Houston Astros: Erik Bedard wins double-digit games, has an ERA under 4.00, a WHIP under 1.30 and more than 150 strikeouts. My thinking: He's my fantasy kryptonite, as Bill Simmons likes to say. Actually stayed healthy last year, but got unlucky with strand rate and his BABIP, to an extent. He still walked way too many, but hoping a return to the AL West actually helps. Not starting him at Texas or anything, but yeah, I can't quit Erik Bedard.
Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are not among the top 20 players on the Player Rater at the end of the year. You heard me. My thinking: I'm hoping I'll be dead wrong. The Angels are my team. But remember, this is supposed to be bold. I'm worried about regression for Trout (average and power have to come down), the declining skills of Pujols and the injury history and free-falling K rate of Hamilton.
Oakland Athletics: Yoenis Cespedes goes .300/30/30. My thinking: Now adjusted to the Major Leagues, sky is the limit. Needs to get a little lucky with the batting average, but the A's are a better team around him than you think. Not great, but better than you think. Believe the hype.
Seattle Mariners: Hisashi Iwakuma is a top-20 starting pitcher on our Player Rater. My thinking: It's what I wrote in "Love/Hate." Had 16 starts last year with a 7.39 K/9 as a starter, with a 2.65 BB/9 and getting ground balls at a 50.9 percent clip. Only others to do that are David Price, Adam Wainwright and James Shields. He needs to get lucky with the wins to make this come true, but I do like him a lot.
Texas Rangers: 250 strikeouts and the AL Cy Young award for Yu Darvish. My thinking: Now adjusted to the MLB season and, more importantly, the MLB strike zone, he improves on last year's numbers, pitches more innings and is the guy we saw over his final seven starts (4-1, 2.13 ERA, 5.3 walk rate) for the whole year.
Atlanta Braves: 20 home runs for Evan Gattis. My thinking: If McCann can't get or stay healthy, Gattis can get hot with the bat and get the majority of the playing time. The pop is real, he just needs the at-bats. Plus, I've already talked about Kris Medlen for two straight years now, I should have at least one piece where I don't.
Miami Marlins: Justin Ruggiano goes 20/20. My thinking: He got lucky some last year and isn't a great player. But he'll hit in the middle of the lineup, they have no one else and just by sheer number of at-bats, he could fall into these numbers if the luck continues.
New York Mets: 200 strikeouts for Matt Harvey, who finishes among the top 20 starting pitchers on our Player Rater. My thinking: Has had a K/9 over nine at every level of the minors, including a K/9 over 10 in 59 innings last year. Gets the control under, er, control and sky's the limit.
Philadelphia Phillies: An ERA over 5, fewer than seven wins and a Player Rater finish outside the top 60 pitchers for Roy Halladay. My thinking: Sometimes you don't slow down when you reach the wall; sometimes you hit it hard and fast and when you do, it isn't pretty. Bonus one if you think Halladay is too easy: Domonic Brown goes 15/15 and flirts with 20/20 and a respectable average.
Washington Nationals: Ian Desmond is the No. 1 shortstop in fantasy this year. My thinking: I'm cheating. It's not that bold at all. He was actually the second-best shortstop last year, behind only Jose Reyes, it's just that no one realizes it (going in the seventh round). Troy Tulowitzki is still a health risk, Hanley Ramirez is already hurt and maybe Reyes takes some time to adjust to the AL. Meanwhile, Desmond keeps the average up while improving even more in power and homers. Still just 27.
Cincinnati Reds: Homer Bailey gets 17 wins, has 185 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.30. My thinking: Homer Bailey is another fantasy kryptonite for me, but he finally seemed to put it together for a full season last year. Now he takes the next step with a good bullpen behind him and underlying numbers heading in the right direction. FYI, came close to having a very positive Devin Mesoraco prediction in here.
Milwaukee Brewers: Rickie Weeks finishes as a top-four second baseman on our ESPN Player Rater. My thinking: Has looked good this spring and had more than 670 plate appearances last year. Rebounded in the second half last year after a tough start in the first half.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Jason Grilli, currently going 21st among relief pitchers, finishes the year as a top-three closer. You heard me. My thinking: Completely different pitcher the past two years, his strikeout rate (13.8 K/9 last year!) suggests a lot of value there along with just the saves. If he keeps the job all year, could see him being just behind Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman on the Player Rater.
St. Louis Cardinals: Allen Craig is the No. 1 fantasy first baseman. My thinking: Declining skills and possible injury on Pujols, maybe Joey Votto's power outage last year was more real than we think and maybe Prince Fielder gets unlucky with the batting average while keeping his power in the 28-to-30 homer range. Meanwhile, Craig stays healthy all year and has some gains in power and runs scored.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt is the No. 1 fantasy first baseman. My thinking: I could easily be wrong about Craig above, and I really do love Goldschmidt, so I wanted to highlight him even more than I did in Love/Hate. If he continues running and the power and average grow a little By the way, if forced to pick someone other than him, I would have gone with a positive Trevor Cahill prediction. I feel he's always underrated and is heading in the right direction.
Colorado Rockies: Eric Young Jr. steals 40 bases. My thinking: I can't do a Tyler Colvin prediction three years in a row. Quitting while I'm ahead. EY Jr. is cheap speed and, between injury and unproven players on the Rockies' roster, I see a lot of ways he could get playing time, in addition to just filling in on days off and pinch running.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Zack Greinke is not a top-30 pitcher this year. My thinking: Already had some slight injury issues, he's had stretches of inconsistency throughout his career. Has a reputation as being a bit fragile mentally, and living in Los Angeles with a ton of money can have an effect on people.
San Diego Padres: Andrew Cashner wins double-digit games, has more than 170 strikeouts and an ERA of under 3.50 with a WHIP of under 1.25. My thinking: The strikeouts are already there, with a K/9 of more than 10 last year. He had good control in the minors, but not yet in the majors. Another year in the bigs, a full-time rotation spot (I say he gets one) and a 97 mph fastball in Petco make for fantasy goodness.
San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum leads the Giants in saves. You heard me! My thinking: My most out-there one, but maybe Sergio Romo struggles with the gig over a full season and is better suited to setup. Meanwhile, Lincecum is terrible again in the rotation but becomes effective out of the bullpen.
There you have it. Season is just about to start. We know the unexpected awaits, these are some of the things I could see happening. What are yours? Let me read your best ones in the comments below or share them on my Facebook page or on Twitter.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- has one last bold prediction: that everyone will love these and there will be no disagreement with any of it. 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.
Matthew Berry celebrates the impending baseball season with some predictions which range from the bold to the outright outlandish, and yet, every single one of them has a chance to come true.