It is I, Hobbstradamus, here to predict all things as it relates to the 2021 fantasy baseball season! Well, rather, here to make eight detailed predictions about the upcoming campaign, all of which have played some role in how I constructed my onslaught of 2021 fantasy teams. What if we call it Baseball Hobbspectus? Any better? No? Okay, I’ll keep trying. But no matter what we call this or how creative I try to get, in the end, these are not empty predictions. I have stock in all of these. While some are much bolder than others, all of the statements to follow, if true, will translate to a varying degree of success across my teams this year. So, close your eyes, walk slowly towards the creepy humming sound reverberating through the walls, and enter the void with me as we run through some of my favorite and more interesting predictions regarding the upcoming season.
1. Andrew Vaughn hits 35+ home runs and wins the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
I have to admit, this one is becoming seemingly less bold by the day. However, I stand by the fact that Vaughn is MLB ready and will not only be one of the biggest contributors in the White Sox lineup this season, but one of the top overall offensive performers in the American League. In case you missed it, I went over my preseason expectations on Vaughn back in January, at which time I made a “bold” prediction that we would see Vaughn in the big leagues to stay by early May. Well, we got that and then some. Vaughn is ready to hit the ground running and should come accompanied by a safe floor in the batting average department to go with the pop. I’m penciling in 35+ bombs for Vaughn in his debut campaign. Don’t get it twisted. This Vaughn may not wear 99, but he’s still my wild thing. Note: I originally wrote this for 30+ home runs, but decided to spice things up a bit. Who isn’t hitting 30+ these days? Bring on those weighted balls, Manfred — as long as they aren’t blue.
2. Bryce Harper produces his highest finish on the Razzball Player Rater since his 2015 NL MVP campaign.
This past week, my fiancé and I were watching a Dodgers-Angels Spring Training game and she remarked, “I feel like Anthony Rendon is very overrated.” To that point, I replied to the effect of how comical it is how we use the terms “overrated” and “underrated” and how quickly those two terms can replace one another. Prior to 2019, if you would have asked me about Rendon, I would have said he was an underrated player. One World Series and one mega contract later, and I have to whole-heartedly agree with my fiancé.
Such is the same for Bryce Harper. From 2016-17, following his 2015 NL MVP and first place finish on the Razzball Player Rater, Harper was, without a doubt, overrated as both a real world player and as a fantasy asset. His finishes of 45th and 62nd in those two seasons did not reflect the draft capital it took to acquire him and following his signing of a 13 year, $330MM contract with the Phillies in 2019, it didn’t take long for Harper to be dubbed as “overrated” in the mind of the casual fan. Two years later, it is my belief that Harper has flip-flopped in that regard and is, in fact, underrated both in the real world and in fantasy. In his two seasons with the Phillies, Harper has finished 17th and 16th on the player rater, and was far better in 2020 alone than the numbers indicate. His .308 xBA was 40 points lower than his batting average of .268. And despite having a .279 BABIP, Harper still slashed .268/.420/.542 with a 159 OPS+ (second-highest of his career), 13 home runs, 33 RBI, 41 runs and eight stolen bases. With that, he finished in the top 8% of the MLB in exit velo, hard hit rate, xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, barrel rate and walk rate. Harper is still an elite plater and more than capable of finishing as a top-10 fantasy player in 2021. If you disagree, you’re simply reinforcing my point that Harper has gone from overrated to underrated in a span of 2-3 seasons.
There are so many reasons to be bullish on Gausman this year that it’s hard to decide where to start. His 3.62 ERA/1.11 WHIP in 59 2/3 innings pitched was solid, but when you factor in the 79 strikeouts (11.9 K/9), 3.38 xFIP and 15.2% SwStr%, he starts to look like an ace. But you don’t have to take my word for it, take it from my good friend Levar! Erm, I mean, Grey Albright in his Kevin Gausman sleeper. Conversely, while I don’t expect Scherzer to fall off the map on the heels of his questionable 2020, I’m also not expecting top-20 starter fantasy production. He should continue to miss bats, but I’m concerned about both the health and Scherzer’s ability to induce soft contact. His 1.3 HR/9 last year was his highest since 2011 and his .249 expected batting average against, .330 expected slugging against and 8.4% barrel rate against all ranked in the bottom 38% of qualifying pitchers. I expect him to perform better than those numbers in 2021, but not better than Goose — who is bound to give fantasy managers the golden egg this season.
4. Christian Yelich finishes inside the top three in NL MVP voting and ends the year as a top-five fantasy outfielder.
If you don’t know my strong feelings regarding Yelich in 2021 yet, either you haven’t been reading Razzball or your browser has been redirecting you to Hobbs Johnson’s player page every time you click on one of my posts. For those needing a refresher, I picked Yelich to be this year’s Most Valuable Fantasy Hitter in the 2021 Razzball Staff Picks and went off the deep end at the onset of March with my Christan Yelich fantasy outlook. After the first five picks, there is no name I would have rather drafted at the six spot than Yelich this year. I have him finishing as NL MVP Runner-Up to Juan Soto. Bank on it.
5. Clint Frazier hits 30 home runs and drives in 85+ while batting above a .275 clip.
Similarly to Yelich, Frazier’s 2021 ADP baffles me. Sure, I get that the Yankees resigned Brett Gardner, but you know who is an above average everyday MLB outfielder? Frazier. Know who isn’t? Gardner. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good Gardy Party — at my last one, my friends and I all got drunk off tea leaves and planted hella turnips. But seriously, look at Frazier’s pro-rated 162 game totals over the past two seasons: .267/.347/.497, 30 home runs, 96 RBI, 83 runs and six stolen bases. Can someone remind me how this is a bold prediction? Or how his ADP averaged out to 166th overall? His ADP of 191 at ESPN is an absolute joke. Like, a bad joke. Otherwise known as a Matthew Berry joke. If you want to focus on the .275 average as a reason this is bold, someone needs to get you some help. Even if Frazier hits .260, but eclipses the aforementioned thresholds in homers and RBI, he’ll represent an absolute steal based on his ADP.
6. We will see a member of the 2020 MLB Draft class start a game on the mound in 2021.
I threw this one in as a means to provide a slightly bigger prospect emphasis into this piece, but I do believe it to be true. Whether it’s Asa Lacy, Emerson Hancock, Reid Detmers, Cade Cavalli or someone else, I think the lack of available innings at the Major League level could force at least one organization’s hand. With this being a full-length campaign, I’m less optimistic that Max Meyer has a shot at a promotion and even if he does get one, he would almost undoubtedly have to be coming out of the bullpen.
7. James McCann will finish outside the top 10 fantasy catchers.
Okay, this one really isn’t that bold. Let’s say, outside of the top 12. Truthfully, I have nothing against McCann and I’m happy for the guy for securing the type of contract he did at age 30. But to begin with, he’s realistically near the back-end of the top 10 even if you’re high on him, which I don’t happen to be. McCann was a .240/.288/.366 hitters from 2014-18, averaging 15 home runs, 35 RBI, 27 runs and one steal per 162 games. Then he put it all together from 2019-20, slashing .276/.334/.474 with 162-game averages of 28 homers, 82 RBI, 90 runs and six steals. No one’s really buying that, right? Sure, he only needs a percentage of that to be a high-end starting fantasy catcher, but he posted those numbers in Chicago splitting time for the most part and not being exposed to the everyday grind of being an MLB catcher. He’s not going to catch anyone by surprise this year, that’s for sure, and he’s already in his thirties. Did I mention he’s a catcher with respective BABIPs of .359 and .339 the last two seasons? Oh yeah, and he’s a Met.
8. Mike Trout will steal 15+ bags and make countless owners wish they drafted him at 1.2-1.4 instead of gifting him at fifth overall.
Everyone seems to be discounting Trout this year simply because he no longer possesses the same degree of base-stealing ability as Ronald Acuna Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto and Mookie Betts. Um, what? I’m not saying Trout is going to steal as many bags as Acuna or Tatis, but in 2019, Soto stole 12 bags in 150 games and Trout stole 11 in 134 games. So just because Trout only recorded one steal in an abbreviated 60-game season during a global pandemic, we’re assuming double-digit steals are a distant dream? Trout still ranked in the 94th percentile in sprint speed last season. The Angels can’t even win with him running. There’s a lot of incredible people in this industry that are far smarter than I am, but this is one I simply don’t understand. Trout steals 15 bags this year and even if he doesn’t, he cracks double digits.
That’s all for this week! As always, I’m happy to take this conversation into the comments section or on Twitter, where you can find me @WorldOfHobbs.