Blues guitarist Leo Kottke once said, “I will literally open my mouth not knowing what is coming out.” In the next several paragraphs, you will think that quote came from me after reading these bold predictions.
With the start of the Major League Baseball season in a few short days, all kinds of predictions are being heaped onto the masses. Many are rather conventional: Mariano Rivera will not be an elite closer; The Yankees will miss the playoffs; Troy Tulowitzki will get traded. Guesses like these are not adventurous or prophetic. Rather, they are simple.
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While they will be far from premonitions, I will manifest three predictions that are truly bold. These bold predictions will be followed with sound statistical and objective analysis.
Bold prediction #1: Ben Revere will steal 60 bases in 2013
Rightfully so, doubt is cast upon the Philadelphia Phillies. On paper, they look marginal compared to the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves. Aside from Cole Hamels, the core of the roster is 32 years old or older. They are unlikely to produce results that match their payroll, too.
The trading of pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May to the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Revere came with resistance. Fans were split on the deal. On one hand, fans were pleased the Phillies got younger with the 24-year-old center fielder. On the other hand, nobody was pleased with Revere’s MLB leading 66.9 percent groundball rate with batted balls.
Revere’s 2012 on-base percentage of .333 ranked 34th among all MLB outfielders. Regardless, that does not negate his ability to swipe bags. Last year, he stole 40 bases in 124 games. That total was tied for third best alongside Jose Reyes but behind Michael Bourn and Mike Trout.
Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel is a man of opportunity. When the opportunity arises, Manuel has no problem playing small ball. Since 2007, the Phillies are fourth in MLB with 713 total stolen bases. Whether Revere leads off or hits second behind Jimmy Rollins, Manuel will be satisfied allowing Revere to steal each time he’s on base.
Bold prediction #2: Milwaukee Brewers will win NL Central
Last season, the Brewers finished five games behind the wild-card winning St. Louis Cardinals. Without Prince Fielder’s protection in the lineup, outfielder Ryan Braun produced at a higher clip than he had when he won the NL MVP in 2012. The five games which stood between Milwaukee and the postseason are likely to be forgotten due to the way in which Milwaukee missed the playoffs.
Pinpointing one exact reason as to why a club missed the playoffs is typically erroneous. With the 2012 Brewers, that may not be the case. The circus at closer is what was detrimental. Despite shuffling John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, Jimmy Henderson and Kameron Loe in and out of the ninth inning, the Brewers were close to contention.
Milwaukee led the majors with 29 blown saves in 2012. If we were to adjust for performance and theoretically imagine a scenario where the Brewers only blew half as many saves, it’s feasible to suggest they would have won the NL Central. At a bare minimum, they would have had 97 wins, tying them with the division champion Cincinnati Reds.
In 2013, not many people are high on the Brewers. In the NL Central, the focus is on the Cardinals and Reds. Even the Pittsburgh Pirates are earning some spotlight. While I would recommend not drinking the Kyle Lohse Kool-Aid long-term, I do think they have the tools to be more than formidable once again.
The primary goal is to ensure the ninth inning stays secure. Ace Yovani Gallardo has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. Lohse, Michael Fiers, Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson round out a very underrated rotation.
Last season, the Brewers had MLB’s second-highest team wins-above-replacement (WAR) offensively. Pitching-wise, they ranked 14th. An improved performance from the bullpen would deem the Brewers as a viable threat not just in their division but also in the NL. An underrated lineup led by the best hitter in the NL will push them to the apex of their division. So long as the bullpen doesn’t blow up like it did last year, the Brewers beat out St. Louis and Cincinnati.
Bold prediction #3: Dayan Viciedo will lead MLB in home runs
A batter increasing his home run total by 20 or more from one year to another might be rare but it does happen. In 2012, Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion hit 42 home runs after hitting just 17 the year before. San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley went from four home runs in 2011 to 31 last year as well. In 2010, Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista seen his home run total jump to 54 from 13 the year prior. Therefore, to say it’s not possible is foolish. It happens, and it will happen again in 2013.
Chicago White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo is known as “The Tank” for a reason. In 2012, Viciedo played his first full season and in 543 at-bat’s slugged 25 home runs. Viciedo’s 2012 fly ball rate of 31.4 percent was extremely low compared to what metrics suggest it should be. For instance, Oakland Athletics outfielder Coco Crisp finished with a higher fly ball rate.
Additionally, the 24-year-old slugger has the size, power and strength to fix the deficiencies within his splits. Against right-handed pitchers, Viciedo hit 16 of his 25 home runs. However, his power numbers hid the struggle he had with righties. Last year, he hit for an average of .350 versus lefties as compared to .225 versus righties. Therefore, his power numbers suggest a looming adjustment that will bode well for how many dingers he smacks against lefties.
Naturally, 25 home runs in a first full season at the MLB level is impressive enough. Many in baseball expect fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes to increase his home run total in 2013. However, just as many are overlooking Viciedo. U.S. Cellular Field, the home of the White Sox, is annually near the top in ballparks which allow the most home runs. Viciedo will have the opportunity to prove doubters wrong. Expect Viciedo to eclipse the 45-homer mark in 2013.