Have you ever played the game where you try and guess how many M&Ms are in the jar? Of course you have.
Now whether you’ve actually had any success playing this game is an entirely different conversation. I’d like to think our MLB stat projections are a little more informed than your run-of-the-mill M&M guessing, but at the end of the day, they’re both just guesses. For example, who could have predicted Nolan Arenado bashing 42 homers last year? And what about Jake Arrieta winning the Cy Young Award? Nobody saw that coming. But just because we aren’t always right doesn’t make predicting any less fun.
So here’s what I’ll do. Every Thursday until Opening Day (that gives us nine weeks to work with), I’ll highlight one particular stat and give five player projections for each category. From there, I’ll guess whether each player will outperform or underperform their projection. Think of it like the high jump. The bar has been set and now it’s up to the player to either leap over that projection or fall short. Sound good? Let’s get to it.
Nelson Cruz, DH/OF, Seattle Mariners
2015 Total: 44 HR
*Composite Projection: 35 HR
Cruz has this weird Benjamin Button thing going on. While most players are well into their decline phase by age 35, Cruz continues to improve. Cruz got popped for PEDs two years ago and has somehow gotten better since then. I’m not entirely sure how that happens but I’m trying not to lose sleep over it.
While it may have felt like Cruz slowed down as the season went on last year—he smashed 10 homers in April and another eight in May—that actually wasn’t the case. He hit more home runs after the All-Star break (23 to be exact) while upping his slugging percentage from .546 to .592 in the second half. Overall, Cruz’s .566 slugging percentage was his highest since 2010, back when he still had the benefit of playing half his games at hitter-friendly Globe Life Park. Cruz’s contact rate went down last year (71.5 percent contact rate with a career-high 164 strikeouts) but not enough for fantasy owners to press the panic button.
The difference, it seems, is that Cruz is playing more than he used to. He’s averaged 601.5 at-bats over his last two seasons, a huge leap from 2010-2013 when he averaged just 468. You don’t need to be a mathematician (though I guess it couldn’t hurt) to see the correlation between more at-bats and higher home run totals. Sure there’s more injury risk when you get older, but consider this: Cruz served as Seattle’s DH 72 times last season. That number is only going up. The fewer reps Cruz gets in the outfield, the better chance he has to stay healthy. Cruz probably won’t hit 44 homers again but I’m guessing he’ll top the 35 he’s projected for. Prediction: Over
Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
2015: 47 HR
Composite Projection: 39 HR
In the end, it all worked out for Chris Davis. He shrugged off Baltimore’s initial seven-year, $154 million offer, didn’t hear back from anyone for a while, watched while the Orioles flirted with Yoenis Cespedes, then signed a seven-year, $161 million pact to stay in Baltimore. Way to earn your commission, Scott Boras. Either way, it’s one of the weirdest contracts you’ll ever see. Davis will get his last check from the Orioles when he turns 51. It’s like the sequel to Bobby Bonilla’s famous deal with the Mets.
Most of you know the drill by now with Davis. He strikes out a ton but when he gets ahold of one, you better have a new baseball ready. Davis has been following a pattern the last few years. He went ballistic in 2013, fell off the map in 2014 and then went back to being awesome again in 2015. Conventional wisdom would tell us Davis is likely to regress in 2016 and after slugging an incredible 47 homers last year, it would be pretty hard not to. With that said, Davis’ splits aren’t as bad as you think (he actually hit for a higher average against lefties last year, albeit with much less power) and he plays in one of the cushiest home parks in baseball. According to ESPN’s park factor stats, Camden Yards was the second-easiest stadium to homer in last year behind only Miller Park. Naturally, 29 of Davis’ 47 bombs came in Baltimore.
Whenever you have a dominant power hitter like Davis, there’s always a concern that opponents will stop pitching to him a la Barry Bonds in the early 2000s. Davis did walk a lot last year (84 free passes) but with Manny Machado hitting behind him, you can’t completely pitch around him. Expecting Davis to match last season’s home run total is a little aggressive but I think he’ll clear 40 homers for the third time in four years. Prediction: Over
Todd Frazier, 3B, Chicago White Sox
2015: 35 HR
Composite Projection: 30 HR
Good ol’ Todd Frazier, winning the Home Run Derby, listening to Sinatra, saving a guy's life. Nobody embodies the American dream quite like Frazier. He’s coming off his best year yet with 35 homers and a career-high 89 RBI. Lost in Frazier’s feel-good story is that his production fell off a cliff in the second half. He hit just .220 after the break with a brutal .390 slugging percentage. It’s like when Bobby Abreu got on a roll at the Home Run Derby a few years back (okay, more than a few) and suddenly forgot how to hit. Frazier was obviously pressing, as evidenced by his 26-percent strikeout rate in the second half (he only whiffed in 19 percent of his at-bats before the All-Star break). Whatever happened to Frazier at the end of last year is only going to get worse as he transitions to a new team in a different league (at least he’s out of the ultracompetitive NL Central).
Frazier actually finds himself in the middle of a decent lineup in Chicago and could get some pretty good pitches to hit if other teams don’t feel like pitching to Jose Abreu or Melky Cabrera. Frazier’s not going to fall off completely but asking him to repeat last year’s production is a bit ambitious. The 30 homers he’s projected for sounds about right but I’ll play it safe and go with the under. Prediction: Under
J.D. Martinez, OF, Detroit Tigers
2015: 38 HR
Composite Projection: 32 HR
2015 wasn’t a fun year for Detroit, but at least the Tigers unearthed a budding superstar in J.D. Martinez. I’m not sure when it happened but somewhere down the line, Martinez made the leap from Quad-A player to the best hitter on Detroit not named Miguel Cabrera.
You’ll notice the popular projection is significantly lower than J-Mart’s 2015 total. The easiest reason for downgrading him, simply put, is because he’s never had a year quite like the one he just had. I’m not saying that’s a valid criticism. I’m just saying that’s the perception surrounding Martinez and most of the other perceived one-hit wonders you’ll find around MLB.
But let’s go ahead and poke a hole in that theory. Martinez homered once every 15.7 at-bats last season compared to once every 19.2 at-bats in 2014. That’s a noticeable improvement but the two numbers aren’t exactly miles apart. The real difference between Martinez now and a few years ago when he had a blank Wikipedia page (I’m assuming), is that the Tigers have finally given him an every-day role. The 596 at-bats Martinez saw last year were 155 more than his previous career-high. And at age 28, Martinez is smack dab in the middle of his prime.
35-plus homers seems like it would be tough to reach twice in row. But of the seven players who got there in 2014, four hit that mark again in 2015. Of the three players who didn’t reach 35 (or more), only Jose Abreu saw more than 400 at-bats. I think Martinez is still getting better and I’d be shocked if he fell short of his projection. Prediction: Over
Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins
2015: 27 HR
Composite Projection: 40 HR
You want to talk about a high ceiling. Stanton’s ceiling is Saturn. Like how is this hit even possible? The two runs the Marlins got for this weren’t enough. That should have been a 10-run homer.
Of course, there’s always been a gap between Giancarlo’s massive potential and his actual stats. To this point, his career-high in homers is only 37. Part of the problem, actually most of the problem, is that Stanton can’t stay healthy. He’s missed 190 games since 2012, meaning he’s been sidelined about 30 percent of the time. Keep in mind he’s homered once every 13.5 at-bats over that span. If Stanton kept that up over a full season (we’ll say 500 at-bats to be safe), he’d finish with 36.9 home runs, an impressive number but still well short of his projection. Last year he improved that rate to once every 10.3 at-bats. Over 500 at-bats, that’s roughly 48 homers. Now we’re getting closer to what Stanton’s ceiling might actually be.
If only it were that easy. The Marlins aren’t an offensive juggernaut and it would be pretty easy to pitch around Stanton, particularly with underachiever Marcell Ozuna batting behind him. And remember, 500-plus at-bats is no sure thing with Stanton. If we split the difference between Stanton’s career home run rate (35.3 homers per 500 at-bats) and what he was on pace for last year, he’d land right around 42 homers. Add in the usual amount of injuries and I don’t think Stanton’s making it to 40. Prediction: Under
*Compiled by FantasyPros