Kyle Frank’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2021

Kyle Frank provides 10 piping hot takes for the upcoming MLB season.

When making bold predictions, there is a very fine line between predicting something that isn’t bold enough, and proclaiming something so ridiculously outlandish that it very simply will not happen. Mike Trout finishes as a top-five fantasy outfielder. Not bold enough. Albert Pujols turns back the clock to win the AL MVP award. There’s just no way. The key is to find a nice balance somewhere in the middle of those two statements, so you look like a genius when one or two of them actually come true.

Now I’ll be completely honest right off the bat. These predictions are bold. Like really bold. If I were a betting man, and the line was o/u 1.5 on how many of these predictions I get right, I’d probably take the under. But at the very least, these predictions reflect how I feel about each of the players and teams discussed. And who knows, maybe I do get a few predictions right and impress myself. So let’s get right into it and have some fun!


1. Jesús Luzardo Finishes as a Top-Five Starting Pitcher


Over the past couple of seasons, a lot of hype has surrounded Jesús Luzardo, but he has yet to deliver on those high expectations, mainly due to injuries. Now fully healthy entering the season, I think this is the year the 23-year-old puts it all together.

Luzardo pitched to a stellar 1.20 ERA across 15 innings between the regular season and playoffs in his brief 2019 debut. He followed that up with a decent 4.12 ERA during last year’s bizarre, shortened season. While the ERA was unspectacular, Luzardo had a 44.1% whiff rate with his changeup and a 45.7% whiff rate on his curveball. Those—along with a fastball that averaged 95.5 mph, a cutter, and his new “turkey sub” pitch—should allow him to keep batters guessing all season long. The former top prospect has all the pieces to be great for many years to come, and I think this is the year he enters the “elite” conversation.


2. Gary Sánchez Breaks the Single-Season Home Run Record for Catchers


More often than not, Gary Sánchez looks like one of the worst Major League hitters in baseball. Last season, he batted .147 with a 36% strikeout rate. Most of the baseball world seems to have lost their faith in the Yankees catcher, but I certainly have not. On the few occasions in which he did make contact last season, his 50% hard-hit rate was in the 92nd percentile, and his 17.4% barrel rate was in the top 3% of the league. The year before that, his 19.1% barrel rate was even better!

Now, Javy López currently holds the single-season home run record by a catcher with 43, and topping this number is no easy task. But Sánchez has proven capable of doing it, albeit in shorter spurts. His 34 homers in 106 games in 2019 would have led to 45 bombs if he had played 140 games that season. In 2017, his 33 dingers across 122 games was not too far behind the needed pace either. And in his debut 2016 season, he launched 20 balls out of the park in just 53 games. With the right combination of health and productivity this season, El Kraken is more than capable of threatening López’s record.


3. Only One Second Baseman Finishes the Season Inside the Top 75


And he probably won’t even play any games at second base this season. Gleyber Torres is the only second base-eligible player who I believe will have a top-75 fantasy season, and his eligibility is a gift from Yahoo, as the shortstop hasn’t played an inning of second base since 2019.

Last year, only four second basemen finished in the top-75, and two of them (Brandon Lowe and Cavan Biggio) are projected outside of the top-75 for the upcoming season. That leaves two guys who are expected to finish inside the top-75 in back-to-back seasons. Whit Merrifield had a 27.3% hard-hit rate that was in the bottom 7% of the league last year, and he is now a 32-year-old who has relied on speed as his primary source of fantasy value. DJ LeMahieu on the other hand, has topped 15 homers in a season just once in his career, and his 2.9% barrel rate that sat in the bottom 9% of the league should lead to some regression at the plate.

I’m not saying either of these guys, or any other second basemen such as Ozzie Albies or Keston Hiura are bad by any means, but I also don’t think any of them are a lock for top-75 value either.


4. Jameson Taillon Leads the League in Wins


Coming off Tommy John surgery, Jameson Taillon’s success is far from a guarantee, but I think the former second-overall pick will have a strong year in his first season in pinstripes. In his last full season, 2018, Taillon pitched to a strong 3.20 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP. Two years prior, his 3.38 ERA and 1.12 WHIP were solid rookie numbers, and a sign that his 2018 was not a fluke.

Now he takes his talents over to the Yankees, where wins are almost guaranteed as long as you’re able to make it through five innings without being legitimately bad. In 2019, Domingo Germán recorded 18 wins in 24 starts with just a 4.03 ERA. Only three pitchers got more wins that season, with Justin Verlander (21) leading the way. This year, I expect Taillon to pitch better than Germán did in 2019, and I believe the Yankees will be just as good as they have been each of the past few years. This means that assuming he can stay healthy, Taillon should be able to rack up enough wins to contend for the tops in the league.


5. The White Sox Win 100 Games and the World Series


Full disclosure, I made this bold prediction before the injury to Eloy Jiménez. But that won’t stop me from sticking with it. The White Sox are painfully absent in the depth department, but they still have more than enough talent at the plate and on the mound. Yasmani GrandalJosé AbreuNick MadrigalYoan Moncada, and Tim Anderson make up a young infield with as much talent as any other in the league. Not to mention their other young studs Luis Robert and the hype train known as Andrew Vaughn. Eventually Jimenez will be back, and his return could make this offense unstoppable, that is, if it’s not already.

On the other side of things, Lucas Giolito is a legitimate Cy Young contender, while Dallas KeuchelLance Lynn, and Dylan Cease (more on him later) make up what could be a very strong, underrated playoff rotation. Chicago also has a young, talented bullpen, led by all-star Liam Hendriks. Overall, there is more than enough talent and potential on this team that they could make an incredible run if everything clicks.


6. Dylan Cease Finishes with a Lower ERA than Lucas Giolito


First, let me start by saying this has much less to do with how I feel about Lucas Giolito and much more to do with how I feel about Dylan Cease. The 25-year-old had an impressive abbreviated season in 2020, posting a 4.01 ERA in 12 starts. If you take out his first and last starts of the season however, his ERA becomes 2.98, allowing three or fewer earned runs in all ten starts. And I know spring training stats are to be taken with a grain of salt, but giving up one earned run through 11.2 innings is encouraging.

Cease’s biggest problem is and has always been control, with a 13.3% walk rate last season, but if he is able to improve on that even a little, he should put together a strong year. Reaching an ERA of 3.40 or better is certainly in the realm of possibility, which would be lower than Giolito’s ERA each of the past two seasons (3.41 and 3.48).


7. Adalberto Mondesi Finishes Outside the Top 100


Adalberto Mondesi is arguably the fastest player in baseball, the favorite to lead the league in stolen bases, and he’s only 25 years old. However, speed is his only asset from a fantasy perspective. His batting average each year from 2018 to 2020 was .276, .263, and .256, respectively, with an xBA of .248, .228, and .213 each of those years. Furthermore, while he will get a hold of a few over the course of a full season, 14, 9, and 6 homers are not the reason you’re drafting Mondesi. And playing for the Royals does not help him pile up the runs and RBI, making stolen bases the sole reason he’s being drafted as high as the second round at times.

So what happens if he gets hurt? Injuries are a real possibility when you’re diving around and giving up your body as much as Mondesi does. He has topped 75 games played just once in his career thus far, so he is clearly not immune to the injury bug. Any lengthy absence, or even a stretch of time where he’s a little banged up so he’s not running rampant on the base paths, and the majority of his value could disappear just like that.


8. Aaron Nola Wins the NL Cy Young Award with a Sub-2.00 ERA


In my opinion, this is the prediction with the greatest chance of actually coming true this year. At least the part about him winning the Cy Young. In 2018, Aaron Nola had a huge breakout season, posting a phenomenal 2.37 ERA with a 0.97 WHIP. He struggled by his standards in 2019, before bouncing back with a 3.28 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 2020. Last year, Nola’s strikeout rate rose to an impressive 33.2%, thanks in large part due to a curveball that had a 41.8% whiff rate. When Nola is hot, he’s as good as it gets, allowing just zero or one earned run in 39 of his 79 starts over the last three seasons. He now enters his age-27 season, and I believe he has the stuff to be the most dominant pitcher in baseball.


9. Tommy Pham Finishes as a Top-15 Outfielder


Let’s ignore 2020 when looking at Tommy Pham because it was an injury-riddled two months in which he played just 31 games. From 2017 to 2019, Pham had 23, 21, and 21 homers, along with 25, 15, and 25 steals. He did this while batting .306, .275, and .273. This makes Pham a consistent 20/20 guy with a possibility of 25/25, all while hitting for a nice average as well. Projected to hit in the middle of a very good Padres lineup, the runs and RBI should be there too, as I expect a fully healthy Pham to bounce back in a big way this season.


10. Brad Hand Leads the League in Saves


This one doesn’t seem nearly as crazy to me as some of my other predictions, but the entire baseball world seems to be down on Brad Hand. In the last five seasons, Hand’s worst ERA was 3.30, and this was the only time it was above 3.00. His strikeout rate was in the top 8% of the league in each of those five seasons, reaching a mark of at least 33.4% in each of the last four years. Yes, Hand has lost some velocity on his fastball, but he has clearly figured out how to still be effective despite this, as his ERA, strikeout rates, and hard-hit rates have remained relatively unchanged.

There aren’t too many teams who seem committed to one closer this year, but the Nationals (at least for the time being) seem committed to Hand in the ninth inning. Washington should win enough games to be among the league leaders in save opportunities, and Hand has only five blown saves in 55 tries over the past two seasons. Predicting saves is seemingly one of the most difficult things to do in baseball, but I think betting on Brad Hand is as good of a bet as any in this case.

Photos by Cody Glenn, Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire, Ian D’Andrea | Design by Quincey Dong (@threerundong on Twitter)

Kyle Frank

Kyle studied finance and sport management at UMass Amherst, and he is a die hard Red Sox fan, despite both of his parents rooting for the Yankees. He can also be found writing about the NBA on Fantrax.

2 responses to “Kyle Frank’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2021”

  1. Jake says:

    Doesn’t Johnny Bench hold the single-season HR record for catchers? He hit 45 in 1970

    • Kyle Frank says:

      Yes, you’re right! The site I had looked at specified home runs while playing catcher, and it looks like Bench was only playing catcher for 38 of his homers that season. A bit tougher for Sanchez, but I still think it’s possible!

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