All good things must come to an end. It was a fun ride but I think we can agree this column has run its course. A few stragglers are having their drafts this weekend (myself included) but for most of us, the window for hypotheticals has closed. Prediction season is over. The 2016 season will commence Sunday and soon we’ll know the answer to questions like: Can the Royals be a dynasty? Has Theo Epstein finally assembled the perfect team? Will Zack Greinke make the Diamondbacks a contender? And will David Ortiz go out on top? The truth is stranger than fiction, my friends. But before the 162-game marathon known as the regular season begins, let’s spin the wheel for one last Over/Under. I’ve done away with categories this time because I like to live dangerously. Off we go …
Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
2015: 22 HR
*Consensus Projection: 24
If you picked Correa to win Rookie of the Year last season, you weren’t going out on much of a limb. The Astros knew Correa was special when they drafted him first overall in 2012 and last year didn’t do anything to disprove that theory. Not every No. 1 pick lives up to the hype—Mark Appel, Houston’s No. 1 selection the year after Correa, has been a relative disappointment (he was traded to Philadelphia this past winter). Correa is the real deal. But as dominant as Correa was last season leading Houston to its first playoff berth in 10 years, I have my doubts about his power.
In the minor leagues, Correa homered once every 39.4 at-bats. With the Astros, he left the yard once every 17.6 at-bats. So after being a singles hitter for three years in the minor leagues, Correa suddenly becomes Mark McGwire? How does that happen? Well for starters, Correa isn’t built like most shortstops. He’s 6’4 and 215 pounds. And while his home run numbers improved dramatically last season, his .512 slugging percentage in the majors was comparable to what he posted in the minor leagues (.491). Balls that were doubles early in Correa’s career started going over the fence last season. The Astros didn’t promote Correa to the majors until June but he found his power stroke long before that. He homered once every 21.5 at-bats in 215 at-bats between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Fresno last year.
Now the question is, can he keep it up? While some fields favor pitchers and others give hitters a distinct advantage, Minute Maid Park is pretty neutral. In 2014, it favored hitters (13th in park factor) while 2015 was better for pitchers (22nd). Correa did his best work at home last season (one home run every 15.4 at-bats, .573 slugging percentage) but that may have just been a coincidence. His 22 home runs traveled an average of 398.6 feet last season, a respectable but not overwhelming distance. Only four of those blasts were considered “no-doubters” while seven carried the “just enough” distinction. Correa may have had some beginner’s luck last year but 22 bombs in 99 games is nothing to sneeze at. Even if Correa’s home run rate drops a little—once every 17.6 at-bats will be tough to maintain—I think he’ll still beat his projection if he plays close to a full schedule. Prediction: Over
Cole Hamels, SP, Texas Rangers
2015: 3.65 ERA
It feels like Hamels has been around forever but he’s still just 32. With that said, it looks like he’s entered the decline phase of his career. Hamels’ 3.65 ERA last year was his highest since 2009 and .34 above his career average. His ERA has yo-yoed between 2.46 and 3.65 over his last three seasons, which has created sort of a guessing game for fantasy owners. Hamels’ 9.11 K/9 last year was his highest since 2006 so at least he has that going for him.
We’ve seen players respond to midseason trades in a variety of ways. Last year, Yoenis Cespedes (17 HR in 57 games for the Mets) and David Price (9-1, 2.30 ERA with Toronto) took their games to another level while Johnny Cueto (4-7, 4.76 ERA for the Royals) looked like a square peg in a round hole. Hamels, on the other hand, was basically the same pitcher in Texas that he was in Philadelphia. His ERA with the Rangers (3.66 in 12 starts) was almost identical to the one he posted in 20 starts for the Phillies (3.64). Globe Life Park is consistently among the most hitter-friendly stadiums in MLB, but Citizens Bank Park where Hamels came from in Philadelphia isn’t far behind. Globe Life ranked fifth in park factor last season while Citizens Bank was ninth. Citizens Bank was actually the sixth-easiest stadium to homer in last season, well ahead of Globe Life at No. 12.
For Hamels, the biggest adjustment playing in Texas will be the competition he faces in the AL West. That division featured three 85-win teams last season compared to just one in the NL East. One of those teams was Texas, but it’s still going to be tough sledding against guys like Mike Trout and Carlos Correa. I tend to think Hamels’ best years are behind him and playing in one of the league’s toughest divisions won’t help him age gracefully. Prediction: Over
Alex Rodriguez, DH, New York Yankees
2015: 86 RBI
There isn’t much of a precedent for players entering their age-41 season. A-Rod is kind of on his own here, but then again, hasn’t that always been the case? Rodriguez announced he plans to retire after 2017 (unless he changes his mind). If that’s the case, 2015 might go down as his last great season. The 33 home runs he registered were his most since 2008. He also contributed his highest RBI total (86) since 2010. Much of A-Rod’s renaissance had to do with availability. Rodriguez played his most games (151) and saw his most at-bats (523) since 2007, which, coincidentally, was the last time he won AL MVP.
A-Rod’s redemption story lost some of its steam in the second half. His average dropped from .278 to .216, though his home run rate actually increased after the All-Star break (once every 15.5 at-bats compared to once every 16.2). The Yankees may not be the offensive juggernaut they were in A-Rod’s prime, but they can still put runs on the board in a hurry. They ranked fourth in home runs (212) and second in total runs scored (764) last season. New York’s batting average (.251) was only 17th-best, but hey, go big or go home, right?
Most of A-Rod’s home runs were of the solo variety (25) but he still fared reasonably well with runners on base (.264, 61 RBI). He’ll again be hitting in the middle of the order for one of the league’s highest scoring teams. Injuries have hurt A-Rod’s production in past years but that shouldn’t be as big of an issue now that he’s the full-time DH (only six appearances in the field last season). Rodriguez should be plenty motivated now that he trails Babe Ruth by just 27 home runs for third on the all-time list. The wheels are going to fall off for A-Rod at some point, but I don’t think it will happen in 2016. Prediction: Over
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
2015: .276 AVG
Most of us have probably forgotten it by now, but Springer’s 2013 season was truly one of the most bizarre and glorious things you’ll ever see. Over 492 minor league at-bats, he hit .303 with 37 HR, 108 RBI, 45 stolen bases and 161 strikeouts. Where do we start with this? How could someone strike out in almost 33 percent of their at-bats and still hit above .300? The speed/power combo is just as mystifying. Springer hasn’t reached those heights in the majors yet but the fact that he might makes him one of the league’s most intriguing fantasy prospects.
Springer probably would have been promoted sooner if not for his Joey Gallo-esque strikeout rate. He punched out a whopping 334 times over 1,077 minor league at-bats (31 percent) before finally getting the call to Houston early in 2014. Springer’s power translated well to the big leagues (20 HR in his first 78 games) but his average went down the tubes (.231 in 2014). His problem, as we all feared, was a lack of contact. He struck out 114 times in 295 at-bats (38.6 percent) while compiling one of the league’s lowest contact rates (61.0 percent). Though a wrist injury cost him a good chunk of the season, Springer’s contact improved significantly in 2015. His strikeout rate dropped (28.1 percent), his batting average increased (.276) and his contact rate grew to a much more respectable 69.5 percent. Unfortunately, Springer’s commitment to making better contact came at the expense of his power numbers. He homered once every 24.3 at-bats in 2015 compared to once every 14.8 at-bats during his rookie year. His walk rate stayed pretty much the same (11.3 percent of his plate appearances in 2014 and 11.1 last season).
Even with all those strikeouts, Springer was still a .301 career hitter in the minor leagues. While that may be hard to replicate, I could definitely see Springer settling in the .270-.280 range. Prediction: Over
Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
2015: 11 SB
This one fascinates me. Trout nabbed 49 steals as a rookie and has slowly tailed off since then, combining for just 27 thefts over his last two seasons. As Trout’s steal totals have dropped, his home run figures have increased. Among AL hitters, only Chris Davis (47) and Nelson Cruz (44) bopped more homers than Trout (41) last season.
Trout’s body has changed significantly since his rookie year and so has his role. Back then, Trout was a speedy leadoff hitter. This year, he’s expected to hit third between Daniel Nava and Albert Pujols. The last player in MLB to collect 30 steals from the No. 3 spot was Alex Rios in 2013. Trout (6’2, 235 pounds) looks like a linebacker. He’s built to hit home runs.
Part of the reason Trout recorded so many steals in his first two years, besides that he was thinner and faster, was because he reached base more often. Trout posted a .416 on base percentage between 2012-13. Since then, his OBP has dropped to .389. Perhaps that’s why he’s only attempted 36 steals over his last two seasons compared to 95 in his previous two. Trout said he wants to steal more this year but given his poor success rate in 2015 (11-for-18), I don’t see that happening. Prediction: Under
*Compiled by FantasyPros