10 Bold Predictions

1.  Trout goes 40/50

                It was at this time last year when former site contributor Mike Hllywa and I were discussing Mike Trout’s inevitable regression.  We both concluded that he had an unsustainable BABIP and that he couldn’t possibly be as good as he was in 2012.  It turns out that we were idiots.  Complete idiots on this one.  Sometimes, certain players transcend “regression to the mean.”  And right now, Mike Trout is that player.

So, how do you make a prediction “bold” for a player with seemingly no ceiling? At this point, would predicting anything short of a 1.000/1.000/4.000 line for Trout be considered “bold?”  At the time of his arrival in the bigs, scouts knew he was an “80 grade runner” (Keith Law, 2012) but thought he could mature into “above average power down the road” (Law, 2012).  It turns out that Keith Law was an idiot too, just like Mike and I were.  After blasting 62 homeruns before his 23rd birthday, Mike Trout could be a monster in 2014.  As an Alden Gonzalez story from earlier in the spring details, Trout plans to cut down his strikeouts and put more balls into play this year by going “up there hacking” and being “aggressive early” in counts.  This doesn’t mean that Trout is going to swing at suboptimal pitches early in the count, simply just to swing.  His percentage of balls swung at outside the strike zone has fallen (which is good) in each year he’s been a big leaguer. Coupling 2014’s increased plate discipline (15.4% BB rate) with his nearly 3% increase in flyballs, Trout’s natural progression up over his career high of 30 in 2012 will be seamless.  He’s recognizing better pitches, making more contact, while hitting those pitches in the air.  Furthermore, of all players who played in 140 games with an ISO over .223, Trout’s 27 homeruns were the fewest, meaning he could have been unlucky on his flyballs.  The dude has got serious power, and he will be a force this year.

                The hardest part in reaching this lofty goal might actually be accruing enough stolen bases.  Trout’s speed remains unquestioned, but batting in the two-hole in front of Pujols and Hamilton might limit his opportunities.  But it shouldn’t, and if Trout is smart he’ll keep running.  After stealing 49 bases in 2012, 50 is hardly out of the question. 

2.  Catching tandem combines for 5 WAR

                Last year, the Angels catching duo of Hank Conger and Chris Iannetta combined for a surprisingly effective 3.1 WAR, or about 8.9 WAJM (Wins Above Jeff Mathis).  Each part of the pair is good at a different aspect behind the plate; Iannetta’s .355 OBP is good for any position (especially catcher) and Conger’s receiving and framing skills came to light last year (149 extra strikes called while Conger was catching per Baseball Prospectus).  Yet they could be better.

 Iannetta’s hand injury and vision problem sapped his power for the first half of last season, yet his power returned in the second half, as his SLG%, ISO, wOBA, and BABIP all returned in the second half. Conger has always shown more power, plate discipline and hit for a higher BABIP in the minors, and will look to recapture that approach in the majors.  Iannetta’s health for a full season in conjunction with Conger’s impressive defense and improved comfortability at the plate could result in a big improvement for the Angels’ catching duo.

3.  Pujols and Hamilton will hit more than 1 homerun for each million of AAV

                With Pujols’ 10 year 240 million dollar deal, and Hamilton’s 5 year 125 million dollar deal, this is basically an expensive way of saying they’ll each hit more than 25 homeruns.  Although, it is slightly disheartening that this can be justifiably considered a bold prediction.  While neither player’s raw power is in question, Pujols’ health and Hamilton’s whiffing are.

                But both of those problems seem to be less of an issue this year.  Pujols is, supposedly, nearing 100% health, and Hamilton returned to a contact rate over 70% and a swing percentage on balls outside the strike zone under 40% in 2013.  Neither of them will justify their astronomical contracts, and Tigers fans will find this out soon enough, but a return to a semblance of Pujols and Hamilton’s better years is more attainable than it has seemed since they’ve resided in Southern California.

4.  Tyler Skaggs will strikeout 200 hitters

                The last time Skaggs was with the Angels he was a nineteen year old A-ball prospect striking out a batter an inning.  Then Dan Haren came over, the Diamondbacks goofed with Skaggs’ delivery, and the Angels traded for him for pennies compared to what they got for him. 

                Skaggs’ prospect allure has fallen quite a bit in the three plus years he stayed in Arizona.  Yet, reports from spring training are that the Angels ungoofed his delivery and he’s back to his plus velocity from the left side.  Skaggs threw 148.1 innings across three levels last year, striking out 151 batters.  Even with a falling velocity and effectiveness, Skaggs leaned on his pure “stuff” and still struck batters out at a clip of more than a batter an inning.  With the caveat of staying healthy all year, Skaggs should be stretched out to at least 175 innings and will follow through with his prospect promise.

5.  Jered Weaver will have an ERA in the mid-4s

                Unfortunately, this is more of an “Inevitable Prediction” than a bold prediction.  Weaver’s drop in velocity has been widely documented, as he’s now throwing his fastball at 47 miles per hour.  Aroldis Chapman, once he has a working face again, could throw two fastballs from Hideo Nomo’s windup faster than Weaver could throw one.  Combining his batting practice fastball with his extreme flyball tendencies has always been a recipe for disaster—and to his credit, Weaver has been able to somewhat control the amount of hard contact to pitch around his deficiencies.  However, his strikeout percentage has dropped three years in a row, his HR/9 has risen three years in a row, and his LOB% has fallen three straight years. 

Nothing is trending in the right direction for Weaver, and I think this is the year where his results regress and meet his peripherals.

6.  Peter Bourjos will stay healthy and double the value of David Freese

                I’ve been very outspoken against this trade since it happened, as the Angels sold low on the best defensive outfielder in baseball for an aging third baseman with a declining skillset.  This is, perhaps, the safest of all of the bold predictions.  Bourjos already has a career ISO greater than David Freese, along with elite defense at a premium position.  I won’t rehash a criticism of the trade, as I did in the Offseason Manifesto, so I’ll make it a quick prediction.  Freese’s main skill is his bat, which happens to be the most tumultuous of the three major facets of baseball (pitching, hitting and defense), and will have to hit to be able to be valuable.  A much less luck-based skill is one’s ability to play the field, as Bourjos does with incredible aptitude.  Bourjos will hit a little, and Freese will field a little, but I think that Bourjos’ glove doubles the value that Freese’s bat brings.   Look for a 5 WAR season for Bourjos and a 2-2.5 win season for Freese.

7.  Kole Calhoun will turn into Bobby Abreu-lite

                The title of this is funny because Bobby Abreu got fat and fat things are always funnier than non-fat things.  Aside from literally being lighter than Bobby Abreu, Kole Calhoun will progress to a not-quite-but-very-close-to-Abreu-esque level.  Go ahead, guess which one is which:

 

K%

BB%

ISO

OBP

BABIP

bWAR

Player A

19.0%

9.3%

.165

.336

.304

0.4

Player B

21.8%

9.8%

.114

.325

.314

0.4

 

In both players first two seasons in the bigs, Calhoun’s being a 247 plate appearance span and Abreu accruing 234 plate appearances, both players shared an identical value of 0.4 wins above replacement.  Both players struck out a little more than league average, both players walked a little more than league average, and both players were able to maintain a steady enough hard contact rate to keep their BABIP’s over league average.

                Any guesses on which one is which?  With numbers these identical, I think one would need another category to set them apart:

 

K%

BB%

ISO

OBP

BABIP

bWAR

Hair Color

Player A

19.0%

9.3%

.165

.336

.304

0.4

Ginger

Player B

21.8%

9.8%

.114

.325

.314

0.4

Not Ginger

 

                ONE MAJOR DIFFERENCE IN THE DATA: Calhoun played these two years at ages 25 and 26, while Abreu played his during his age 22 and 23 seasons.  These players are of different prospect pedigrees and possess wildly different ceilings.  Abreu is a sure-fire Cooperstown inductee whenever he stops pretending to be an outfielder, and Calhoun’s career path, while yet to be determined, is probably going to fall well short of the Hall of Fame.  Still, Calhoun is on a productive path. 

                Much like Calhoun in 2014, Abreu was given the full time right field duty in his third calendar year of MLB experience.  Abreu became an elite hitter that year, hitting .312/.409/.497 with 17 homeruns and 19 stolen bases and being valued at nearly six and a half wins above replacement.  It would be beyond bold to predict Calhoun reaches those numbers, as projecting a walk rate increase of 5% and a BABIP jump of 75 points as Abreu experienced in his third year is insane; yet I do think Calhoun becomes an Abreu-esque player.  Just a lighter version.  A .280/.380/.480 with high teen homeruns and steals year from the human Hot Cheeto is in the makings.

 8. Hector Santiago ends the year with double digit saves

                Which comes first, the need for a closer or the struggles of a starter?  I say the latter, and Santiago struggles enough initially with his command to be demoted by July.  Instead of being sent to the minor leagues to work things out, the latest episode in the Glass Body of Sean Burnett TV sitcom will air, and Santiago will be needed as a power lefty in the bullpen.  Shortly thereafter, the fastball, sinker, changeup repertoire Santiago shows will be needed in the ninth inning as Ernesto Frieri keeps giving up two walks and a three run homerun.  It is here where Santiago will flourish, and will end the season with double digit saves for the Angels as they make their push to the divisional crown.

9.  Raul Ibanez will be below replacement level

                As I wrote earlier in the offseason, signing Ibanez was dumb.  He’s not going to hit for average, get on base at a reasonable clip, hit for power, run the bases well, or play the field well.  I don’t understand the logic on this one.

10.  Kendrys Morales will be the full time designated hitter by June

                The boldest of them all comes last.  Due to the gaping hole that will be the designated hitter spot, the Angels will be forced to look elsewhere for offensive production.  Yet, the Angels’ offense is potent enough with the negative of Ibanez being present, that it will take a while for the zero production to force DiPoto’s hand.  But it will, and when it does, Kendry “Where my S at?” Morales will still be a free agent.

                DiPoto has made it clear with his avoidance of any draft pick compensation free agents this offseason that he is making it a priority to rebuild the farm system.  Signing Morales for the remainder of the season after the draft gives DiPoto the flexibility to sign an impact hitter and retain that draft pick.

                Morales showed an opposite platoon split in 2013 than he has his whole career, as the switch hitter hit better as a right handed batter than as a lefty.  Initially giving it a try and trusting last year’s sample size as a maturation of a hitter, DiPoto will give full time at bats to Morales, regardless of the arm the opposing pitcher throws with. 

BONUS PREDICTION

11.  CJ Cron will platoon with Kendrys Morales at designated hitter by August

                Morales will revert back to his mediocre career .262/.311/.425 ways versus left handed pitching which will force the Angels to make a move to keep competitive in the American League West.  Power hitting designated hitter prospect CJ Cron has shown a slight platoon split in the minor leagues, in which he crushes left handed pitching to the tune of .319/.360/.563 with a .244 ISO.   In what could be one of the most productive and aggressive moves the Angels could make during the season, the Angels will call up CJ Cron and have him finish out the year at the big league level against left handed pitching, and occasionally spelling Pujols at first base versus righties.