Stunning MLB Predictions That Could Actually Happen in 2022

Zachary D. RymerMay 3, 2022

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 27: Taylor Ward #3 of the Los Angeles Angels hits a grand slam home run in the game against the Cleveland Guardians at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on April 27, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Now that it's May, enough time has passed in the 2022 Major League Baseball season to accept some early trends as absolute truths and adjust expectations accordingly.

So, here are seven outrageous predictions that might just come true.

In putting these predictions together, we wanted to avoid lay-ups. We were only interested in outcomes that rarely (if ever) happen. We're not 100 percent confident that these things will actually go down, yet we've nonetheless chosen to trust in whatever tea leaves that, in proper Lloyd Christmas fashion, say there's a chance.

Take us away, Josh Hader.

60 Saves for Josh Hader

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 20: Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Josh Hader (71) delivers a pitch in the ninth inning of an MLB game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 20, 2022 at American Family Field in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Francisco Rodriguez's 62-save season in 2008 remains the only 60-save season in major league history. Only four years ago, however, Edwin Diaz came close with 57 saves for the Seattle Mariners.

There's therefore hope for Jordan Romano—and especially for Hader.

While Romano has already saved 11 games, he's appeared in 13 of the Toronto Blue Jays' 24 games. That workload isn't sustainable, and the same may be true of the good fortune Romano has enjoyed.

Hader, meanwhile, is the first pitcher to go 10-for-10 in save opportunities to start a season since Jose Mesa in 2005. The Milwaukee Brewers left-hander has pitched 9.1 innings and struck out 15 batters with only two hits, four walks and zero runs allowed.

In keeping with the theme of his recent seasons, the 28-year-old has succeeded with his slider. Its 68.4 whiff rate is the best in the game, and that largely stems from how he continues to use it in perfect harmony with his fastball:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Josh Hader, 97mph Fastball and 83mph Slider, Overlay. <a href="https://t.co/GmpbIE4VNg">pic.twitter.com/GmpbIE4VNg</a>

If Hader is going to join K-Rod in the 60-Save Club, he will almost certainly have to surpass his career high of 61 appearances from 2019. To wit, Rodriguez appeared in 76 games for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in '08.

A given? Not exactly. But whereas Hader used to be a multiframe fireman in his first three seasons, the Brewers have taken to using him exclusively for single innings in the last two seasons. As long as they keep that up and continue to hand him frequent opportunities, a path to 60 saves will be there.

Carlos Rodon, Strikeout Record Holder

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 20:  Carlos Rodon #16 of the San Francisco Giants in action against the New York Mets at Citi Field on April 20, 2022 in New York City. The Giants defeated the Mets 5-2. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Elsewhere on the topic of electric National League southpaws, it's fair to say Carlos Rodon's first season with the San Francisco Giants is going well:

Stats By STATS @StatsBySTATS

In each of his 4 starts in 2022, Carlos Rodón of the <a href="https://twitter.com/SFGiants?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@SFGiants</a> has:<br><br>-struck out 8 or more<br>-allowed no more than 3 hits<br>-allowed no more than 1 run<br><br>The only other pitcher in the modern era to do that in 4 straight starts at any point in a single season was Jacob deGrom last year

There's also this: Whether you go by his per-plate appearance or per-inning figures, the 29-year-old Rodon is tracking toward the highest single-season strikeout rate in history.

This is, of course, the second year in a row Rodon has started red-hot. He pitched a no-hitter in his second start for the Chicago White Sox in 2021, and he was still sitting on a sub-2.00 ERA as late as June 24.

That's about when Rodon, who has had shoulder and Tommy John surgeries in the last five years, began to break down. He made just 12 starts and pitched to a good but not great 3.05 ERA the rest of the way, with greatly diminished velocity to boot.

As they've thus far tasked Rodon with pitching on four days' rest only once, the Giants may have learned a lesson from that. If they can keep giving him extra rest throughout the season, he may stay healthy. If he pitches 162 innings, he will qualify for the ERA title and, by extension, a place on the all-time strikeout rate leaderboard.

Otherwise, all he needs to do is keep throwing the ball by hitters. He's obviously doing that quite well for someone who really only throws a fastball and slider, which speaks to just how nasty those two pitches have been.

150 Walks for Juan Soto

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals rests during a break in the game against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park on April 27, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
G Fiume/Getty Images

Shifting gears to position players, even we don't want to mislead anyone into thinking Anthony Rizzo can maintain his 63-homer pace or that Eric Hosmer is going to hit over .380 (more on that later).

But 150 walks for Juan Soto? We can see it.

This might seem like a random accomplishment, but only five players have ever drawn that many bases on balls in a single season. The most recent was Barry Bonds, who drew 232 walks in 2004, which is still hard to believe as A Thing That Happened.

Yet Soto did come close by drawing 145 free passes in 151 games last season. If he can draw walks at the same rate and play in more games this year, he will have a shot to join Bonds, Mark McGwire, Eddie Yost, Ted Williams and Babe Ruth in the 150-Walk Club.

The 23-year-old is off to a good start on one of those fronts in that he's played all 24 of the Washington Nationals' games. But after walking in 22.2 percent of his plate appearances in 2021, he's down to 19.8 percent.

That walk rate is still the best in MLB. And it's ahead of where his walk rate normally is at this time of the year; Soto doesn't typically start taking ball four with extraordinary regularity until the second half of the season:

  • 1st Half: 16.3 BB%
  • 2nd Half: 21.1 BB%

One reason to believe that this pattern will hold is that Soto is likely to have less protection in the lineup come the trade deadline Aug. 2. As both are pending free agents, sluggers Nelson Cruz and Josh Bell are going to be primo trade candidates.

If Soto's path does lead to 150 walks, he would become the youngest player to cross that threshold. Basically, another feather in his cap as arguably the best young hitter in baseball history.

An Angels MVP Not Named Mike Trout or Shohei Ohtani

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 27: Los Angeles Angels right fielder Taylor Ward (3) is congratulated by teammates after hitting a grand slam home run in the bottom of the second putting the Angels up 6-2 over the Cleveland Guardians at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Wednesday, April 27, 2022 in Anaheim, CA. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

At the outset of this season, it was a good bet that the American League MVP would come from the Los Angeles Angels. Slugger and ace Shohei Ohtani was the reigning winner, and center fielder Mike Trout won the award three times from 2014 to 2019.

Now Taylor Ward is throwing his hat in the ring as well.

Los Angeles Angels @Angels

atAngels is a Taylor Ward fan account <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoHalos?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GoHalos</a> <a href="https://t.co/IT5NbnsjLw">pic.twitter.com/IT5NbnsjLw</a>

Though the caveat is that he's played only 16 of the Angels' 24 games, Ward really has been that good. He's slashing .393/.493/.746 with five home runs and has a .424/.457/.939 line and four homers since moving into the leadoff spot April 25.

"He keeps doing it," Angels manager Joe Maddon told reporters Friday after Ward clubbed his fifth homer, off White Sox ace Lucas Giolito. "Just quality at-bat after quality at-bat."

One thing that makes Ward's small-sample-size success so compelling is that his underlying metrics pass the smell test. His expected stats include a .325 xAVG and .609 xSLG that rank in the 94th and 93rd percentiles.

Besides, Ward hasn't come out of nowhere. The 28-year-old was a first-round pick in 2015, and he teased major league stardom with a 1.011 OPS and 27 home runs in Triple-A as recently as 2019.

For now, Ward is only having a moment. But if it blossoms into a breakout, the Angels could produce their third different MVP in four years. That hasn't happened since Johnny Bench, Pete Rose and Joe Morgan won for the "Big Red Machine" Cincinnati Reds in 1972, 1973 and 1975.

120 Losses for the Cincinnati Reds

CINCINNATI, OHIO - APRIL 22: Manager David Bell of the Cincinnati Reds relieves Hunter Greene #21 of the Cincinnati Reds in the fourth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on April 22, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Speaking of the Reds, we're not sure we can adequately summarize the state of the team better than Joey Votto did Thursday: 

C. Trent Rosecrans @ctrent

<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Reds?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Reds</a> Joey Votto on the team's 3-16 start: "it's an awful and embarrassing experience." <a href="https://t.co/b0ySF6ufPj">pic.twitter.com/b0ySF6ufPj</a>

And that was when the Reds were merely 3-16. They're now 3-19, making them the first team since the 2003 Detroit Tigers to drop 19 of its first 22 games.

If Cincinnati keeps losing at this rate, it would become the first team in major league history to rack up 140 losses. So, yeah. No further punchline, your hinor.

The good news for the Reds is they've seemingly underachieved. Their Pythagorean record, which weighs runs scored and allowed, is a not-pathetic 5-17.

Even if Cincinnati gets on that track, however, it would still be on pace to lose 125 games. Not as futile as the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, maybe, but only they and the 1962 New York Mets have lost 120 games.

It should be shocking that the Reds' outlook is so grim, but it's really not. When you wave goodbye to a free agent such as Nick Castellanos and trade Sonny Gray, Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez, you're not exactly trying to win.

At the rate the team is going, aces Tyler Mahle and Luis Castillo might as well pack their bags. If that day comes, the Reds could become even more powerless to divert their march toward baseball infamy.

A Pitcher with a Sub-1.50 ERA

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - APRIL 26: Logan Gilbert #36 of the Seattle Mariners delivers a pitch to the Tampa Bay Rays in the second inning at Tropicana Field on April 26, 2022 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

In case you haven't already heard, the 2022 season is shaping up as a great time to be a pitcher and a terrible time to be a hitter.

The leaguewide strikeout rate is down to 22.9 percent, but that's little comfort to hitters since basically every other measure of their effectiveness has taken a turn for the worse. Most notably, their .232 batting average is the worst in MLB history.

As for why this is happening, here's the short version of a long story

  • The ball is dead
  • Batters are getting more at-bats against relief pitchers
  • Pitchers are throwing more breaking balls and off-speed pitches
  • Defensive shifts are plentiful and effective

As if all this wasn't scary enough for hitters, MLB probably can't boost offense with a midseason change like it did last year. There likely isn't another sticky stuff ban coming to the rescue.

So, might as well begin a watch party for a starting pitcher with a sub-1.50 ERA.

That hasn't happened since Bob Gibson made history with a 1.12 ERA in 1968. Not counting Shane Bieber's 1.63 ERA in the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season, only Dwight Gooden, Greg Maddux (twice) and Zack Greinke have come close to a sub-1.50 ERA since then.

If ever there was a time for the streak to be broken, it's now. Led by Seattle Mariners right-hander Logan Gilbert and his 0.64 ERA, there are 15 pitchers with ERAs in the 1.00s. And there is no shortage of pitchers who could join the race once their ERAs more closely align with their dominance.

Just sayin': Blue Jays righty Kevin Gausman may have a 2.27 ERA, but he's struck out 41 with neither a walk nor home run allowed through 31.2 innings.

A Batting Champion with a Sub-.300 Average

San Diego Padres' Eric Hosmer hits an RBI single during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, Wednesday, April 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
AP Photo/Aaron Doster

Though Gibson's '68 season is the stuff of legend, it might not be the most telling data point that shows just how hard it was for hitters that year.

Instead, consider that Carl Yastrzemski won the American League batting title with just a .301 average. That was and still is the lowest batting average ever for the top finisher in either league.

Since this season is shaping up to be even worse than 1968 in the batting average department, it seems logical to ask: Might a batting title winner finish with an even lower average? Dare we say even below .300?

It looks like a long shot. Led by Ward and his .390 average, 25 batters are hitting in the .300s. More broadly, the tide seems to be rising as the weather warms. The MLB average has ticked up to .234 over the last week.

And yet, even a .234 average would still be below the .237 that the league hit back in 1968. There's also a question of how many of the 25 leading hitters can hang on. Of the bunch, all but five are overperforming relative to their expected batting averages.

As such, we're going to file the notion of somebody winning a batting title with a sub-.300 average in the "Would Not Surprise Us" folder. If it came close to happening in the worst season for hitters on record, then why couldn't it happen in a campaign that's making a push to be the new worst season for hitters on record?

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.