Long-shot Lounge 2021: Eight bold fantasy baseball predictions

Scott Pianowski
·4 min read

Baseball starts in two days. You need some fun predictions — some long shots — and I’m here to fill that gap.

Public perception can be a nebulous game, but what I’m presenting are ideas that I think are more plausible than the market might believe. To some degree, I have to guess what the public really thinks, but in my heart, I believe everything I’ve outlined below would come as a surprise to many.

If you disagree on any of that, it’s totally cool. Have fun with it. Share your own picks; I’m @scott_pianowski on Twitter.

Jacob deGrom wins 20 or more games

Although deGrom already has two Cy Young Awards in the bag, he’s never won more than 15 games. Some mediocre support has played into that, but mostly it’s been about bad luck and bullpen missteps. New York has rebuilt its roster and is a bonafide World Series contender again. Put me down for all the deGrom angles, props, and daydreams.

Jose Altuve isn’t a Top 175 player

The stolen base trend is going in the wrong direction, and he was only a major power source in one season, the 2019 outlier year when everyone conked home runs. On the wrong side of 30, and with an ordinary body type, this is not someone I can approach proactively. The NFBC ADP on Altuve is slightly ahead of Nelson Cruz — I would bet on the Cruz side 100 times out of 100.

Chris Sale doesn’t win a game

My buddy Frank Schwab pointed out that there’s a 6.5 win prop on Sale, and I think you have to hammer the under side of that. Boston is unlikely to contend and there’s no urgency to rush Sale back from his Tommy John surgery. I take no joy in fading Sale; he’s long been one of my favorite players to watch, and he has warrior guts and the nerve of a burglar. It breaks my heart that he never won a Cy Young Award. But his body has been through the shredder, and a comeback is going to take time. I’ll be open-minded for 2022.

Juan Soto walks 190 times

Sometimes I feel cheated that I was born far too late to see someone like Ted Williams, but Soto is Williams 2.0, the type of offensive player that breaks the game. And National League pitchers are going to nibble, nibble, and nibble some more when Soto comes up, especially if it’s a high-leverage situation. It’s frightening to see last year’s .351/.490/.695 slash and consider (1) Soto was a mere fifth in the MVP vote, and (2) it probably doesn’t represent his theoretical maximum. But National League pitchers aren’t stupid; a lot of Soto at-bats this year will feature zero strikes and zero swings.

Washington Nationals' Juan Soto (22)
Juan Soto is the second coming of Ted Williams. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Gio Urshela smashes his projections

It’s not easy for a New York player to be underrated, but Urshela has flown under the radar and carried a giveaway ADP all spring. The projection algorithms refuse to give him a full season because he hasn’t been asked to play one yet; there’s no reason he can’t get to 150 games and return something around .300-93-25-100. He’s a quality defender, a high contact guy, and has mastery of the strike zone. So what if he didn’t have a major pedigree a few years back? Why do we hold that against players?

Ryan Pressly leads the majors in saves

Pressly misses plenty of bats, is always around the plate, plays for a legitimate pennant contender, and has a manager — Dusty Baker — who prefers a push-button closer. Last year’s ERA and WHIP were slightly bloated by an unlucky hit rate, but his under-the-hood stats remain stable. Pressly was a major bargain early in draft season, and still a reasonable target in the second half of March.

Mookie Betts scores 150 runs

Ultimately, this comes down to injury luck and load management. We know Betts will get on base constantly, knock a few over the wall, and run the bases as well as anyone in baseball. And the Dodgers have a loaded group behind him. I’ll be seeking out runs-scored props for Betts.

Andrew McCutchen is an All-Star again

I’m not sure just how bold this is, but given that he hasn’t made the game since 2015, I suppose this merely reflects a need to stay healthy. He’s played 116 games in Philadelphia, with this return: .352 OBP, 77 runs, 20 homers, 63 RBIs, six steals (he was 4-for-4 last year). He’s still capable of 110 runs, 20-25 homers, double-digit steals if the body holds up. McCutchen does so many little things well, and he’s parked at the top of a formidable lineup. I love betting on the smartest players.