As I sit here, wondering how to start this column, and still wiping the sweat from my fingertips as I hammer out the final two fantasy baseball composite ranking lists (top 40 outfielders and top 40 starting pitchers), I realize the empty screen is a lot like the MLB 2011 season. At the moment, it is a virtual clean slate. None of the many 2011 storylines have been written.
And for every team and every fan, hope is springing eternal. The Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates have just as much chance, hypothetically at least in the standings, to make the 2011 World Series as the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. We know that will soon change, but for the moment, anything can happen.
Which gives us fantasy baseball people a chance to think big, too. To make some predictions that seem wild, crazy and bold at the moment, but that could pan out over the course of a season. I know my bold predictions before the 2010 season were more hits than misses.
After months of analyzing rankings, researching players and developing various strategies for the 2011 season, it is time to draw some bold conclusions. To take all that mass of stories and content and advice and polish them up into one stream of 2011 prediction awesomeness.
So for better or worse, here are my bold fantasy baseball predictions for the 2011 season. You may not agree with many of them—or any of them for that matter—but I’m sticking to them.
1. Mike Napoli will hit more home runs than any other catcher and finish the season as a top-five fantasy option at the position. Me likes the new digs, the new lineup and the opportunities for some DH action to keep him fresh for the season.
2. Joe Mauer will not finish in the top three among fantasy catchers in 2011. For my full reasoning/argument on this, go here.
3. Geovany Soto will be one of the most valuable commodities at the position this season. Look where he was drafted in your league. I bet you 10 bread-bag twist ties that he finishes the season above a good many catchers taken rounds before him.
1. Adam Dunn will hit more home runs than anyone else in baseball. The guy is right up there every year. This season, he’s hitting for the best offense he’s ever played with in a hitter-friendly park and legitimately playing, for the first time, in a spot where he could not only make the playoffs, but perhaps sneak into the World Series.
2. Adrian Gonzalez will not be a top-five first baseman in 2011. I loved him with San Diego, but Boston is a much different place to play. It is more hitter-friendly than San Diego, but there is also much more hype, media and hoopla to deal with. Add in the fact that first base is deep, and I fully expect bounce-back campaigns by guys like Prince Fielder and Mark Teixeira and a big season out of one Adam Dunn. Not saying they’ll all finish ahead of Gonzo at the end of the season, but enough of them will to keep Adrian out of the top five.
3. Brandon Belt will win the NL Rookie of the Year honors and should be owned in every non AL-only league.
1. Dan Uggla hits 40 homers with Atlanta and is mentioned on a few MVP ballots. The Braves always find ways to get the most out of players, and Uggla has produced well under the radar for years. More on Uggla and my fascination with him here.
2. Robinson Cano will not finish 2011 as the top fantasy second baseman. Coming off a career year, it will be hard for Cano to repeat his 2010 performance, and there are guys like Ian Kinsler who could take over the top slot.
3. Aaron Hill will be the most valuable second baseman in the fantasy world this year. Look where he was drafted again in your league, realize that he had the league’s worst BABIP among all major position players in 2010, and then read this very informative article on BABIP.
1. Casey McGehee will be a top-five third baseman in 2011. Think I’m nuts? Look at the RBI totals he’s produced since taking over as a regular player for the Brewers. No one has produced more RBI at the position than McGehee than Alex Rodriguez during the past year or so. And A-Rod is declining. More on him here.
2. Pablo Sandoval will be one of the best draft-day bargains at this position in 2011. Sandoval seems to have found some purpose in life again, trimming his robust waistline and taking his profession a lot more seriously.
3. Jose Bautista will hit no more than 32 home runs in 2011. The guy who smacked 50-plus in 2010 doesn’t have a track record that supports him repeating that feat. Short of him slipping PEDs into his Wheaties, Bautista’s numbers will see some back-slidage.
1. Starlin Castro will finish as a top-eight fantasy shortstop in 2011, possibly higher depending on how the rest of the field pans out. His talent seems legit and he’ll get plenty of opportunities to produce.
2. Jimmy Rollins won’t finish as a top-five shortstop. This isn’t a knock on Rollins, the guy. I’ve loved Rollins for years in fantasy leagues, even when he rips my heart out. But there is little denying that his skill set is diminishing, he can’t finish a season without time on the DL.
3. Ian Desmond will be a consensus top-10 shortstop in 2012 fantasy rankings. He just will.
1. Rajai Davis will be the most valuable fantasy outfielder in 2011—perhaps the most valuable fantasy player in all of baseball. That bold enough for you? Too bad. The guy has played his way into the Toronto leadoff spot. The Blue Jays offense will again be surprisingly potent in 2011 and Davis has blossomed during the offseason in his new digs. I wish I had more analytical stats to prove my insanity, but I don’t. Call it a hunch from here.
2. Travis Snider will be a top-20 fantasy outfielder. And that is being generous. There is a reason he keeps finding his way onto the rosters of your favorite chinstrapninjas. He will blossom in 2011.
3. Ichiro Suzuki will once again be the most overrated player in the game. Unless your league awards an extra 100 points for a Gold Glove, than Suzuki is really only giving you batting average. Sure he scores runs, but then again, who will be driving him in this season?
1. Gio Gonzalez will be the most valuable fantasy starting pitcher in the game this season. He’s nearly forgotten in many leagues, and there are a lot of young upside arms to salivate over. However, Gonzalez seems destined for big things. At least that’s the inner-jzak hunch working its way to the surface.
2. CC Sabathia will disappoint a lot of fantasy owners this year. Again, it isn’t that I don’t like Sabathia. He plays for my Yankees, for one. However, take a good look at his numbers, which have declined steadily the past couple years. He’s also maintained a high workload—something that is bound to blow up sooner or later. I’m hoping for later, but my gut suggests sooner.
3. Justin Verlander wins the AL Cy Young. I said it last year, and I’m sticking with it until he does…at least for one more year. He’ll be a fine anchor to your fantasy staff, too.
1. Craig Kimbrel will be a top-five closer in 2011. The Braves are the perfect place for a closer to get opportunities, and Kimbrel will capitalize all season. He’s got enough oomph in his throws to keep batters off-balance and will thrive in Atlanta.
2. Jose Contreras will have more saves than Brad Lidge in 2011. Perhaps not so bold a statement after Lidge’s most recent injury that will keep him off the mound for three to six weeks, but the season is 162 games long. Still, his injury history and wildly inconsistent production when healthy will finally catch up to him. It isn’t that I love Contreras as a closer, but more the situation that Contreras finds himself in.
3. Joel Hanrahan saves 30-plus games in 2011. I know he pitches for the Pirates and Evan Meek is breathing down his neck. But his stats in general have been trending in the right direction, and despite some shakiness in spring ball, Hanrahan looks like he’ll be the ninth inning guy moving forward.
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