Sean Roberts’ 10 Bold Predictions for 2021

Please wear oven mitts when handling these hot takes.

Some of these predictions are bolder than others, but when adding them up, I think I’d feel good about hitting on one or two. I think some have a fair 10% chance or so of happening, but that’s offset by some other predictions that are probably (definitely) going to embarrass me even by July. Hopefully, it’s a fun look at some of the players and strategies I’m higher or lower than the consensus on, and also at my original google doc draft of this column that includes the truly awful takes I seriously considered deleting before they saw the light of day.


Let’s get nuts.


ADPs are based on NFBC’s February ADPs. I’m comparing player seasons (e.g., “more valuable” or “best catcher”) on Razzball’s 2021 player rating to evaluate my hits/misses.


1. James Hoyt Will Finish as Miami’s Most Valuable Reliever in Fantasy


I stumbled upon James Hoyt while searching our leaderboards for the top CSW% pitches in MLB. He’s buried in the Marlins bullpen at the moment, but even in an age-34 season, I think his slider plays up on a team that doesn’t have any obvious, untouchable relief aces. Hoyt throws the pitch a ton, and it’s a good thing, too, as the pitch had the 7th-highest CSW% among all pitches that were in a hurler’s arsenal at least 50% of the time. Thus far in his career, he’s outperformed his peripherals fairly often, but even with that in mind, the projection systems like him for the third-best ERA in the Marlin bullpen this year.


2. Didi Gregorius Finishes as a Top-10 Shortstop


This one feels a bit like cheating, as every full season since 2017 that Gregorius has played, he’s finished in the top 10. It’s sort of curious, then, that Sir Didi is currently the 17th shortstop going off draft boards. Surely he was helped in his fantasy value from the short porch at Yankee stadium, but last year he posted the highest slugging percentage of his career in his first year in Philly. Since 2016, he’s never hit less than .276 or fewer than 20 homers in a full season. 


3. Joey Gallo Leads MLB in Homers


Count me among those that are worried about homers in fantasy with MLB’s reportedly de-juiced baseballs this season. But if there’s a player that shouldn’t affect too badly, it’s probably Gallo. In 2017 and 2018, Gallo was in the top 1% in all of MLB in exit velocity and barrel%, and the top 5% in hard-hit rate. He actually improved on those rates in 2019, but he didn’t qualify for the major league leaderboard due to injuries. I’m discounting the disappointing 2020 season and betting that those skills didn’t just evaporate in his age-27 season and think that a regular offseason can get him back to form.

Of course, the batting average is always going to be the Achilles heel in his profile on your team, but I’ll live with that in a year dingers will be harder to come by, especially as he’s being drafted as the 46th outfielder off the board, barely mixed-league relevant and behind Victor Robles, for example. 


4. Austin Nola Will Finish as a Top-Two Catcher in Fantasy in 2021


Nola has yet to play in a true full MLB season, but in that limited sample is a career .271 hitter. What’s more, he hit 10 homers in 2019 in just 267 plate appearances and 7 in last year’s abbreviated season in 184 PA. In a full season of trips to the plate, that’s over 20 home runs, and the only catcher projected for 20 jacks and an average north of .265 is JT Realmuto, according to ZiPS.

The Padres lineup provides him with plenty of opportunities for runs and RBI, but I’m most bullish on Nola’s playing time, given that he can play first and has even played a little second (and appeared at third and the outfield). He has more path to playing time than any other catcher, and when the catcher pool is thin, plate appearances are (heart eyes emoji).


5. No Pitcher Finishes With More Than 15 Wins


Given there has never been a full MLB season where fewer than 11 pitchers finished with at least 15 wins, this feels sufficiently bold. Perhaps it’s not as crazy as it would initially seem, however. I’m concerned about starting pitching this year in general simply because we don’t have a great idea of what impacts the truncated 2020 season will have on arms. Couple those potential injuries and inning limits, the continued influence of bullpenning, and more teams experimenting with 6-man rotations, and the recipe is all there for wins to be more difficult to come by than ever. In fact, ZiPS projects only Gerrit Cole and Lucas Giolito to eclipse the 15-win mark this year.

As a result, I’m fading traditional starters in my draft prep and considering how to boost my ratios and strikeout numbers, figuring I can vulture wins or pick them up on the waiver wire through pitcher attrition this year. 


6. Devin Williams Returns Top-20 Pitcher Value


Yes, last year Devin Williams finished as the eleventh-best rated pitcher in fantasy on Razzball’s player rater, but before last year’s small sample size, no reliever in the past 5 years had finished in the top 20 without a save. In Milwaukee, it looks like Josh Hader will continue to be the primary closer, limiting Williams’ opportunities.

This is a bet that Williams will continue to defy both fantasy precedent and hitters’ bats with his historic pitch mix. No pitcher had ever struck out as many of the batters he’d faced in a season while pitching as many innings as Williams did. To return top-20 value, he has some room to regress (and possibly also vulture a few wins or saves), yet he’s being drafted as the 60th pitcher off the board. 


7. Kris Bryant is a Top-3 Third Baseman


While Bryant is being drafted as the 16th third baseman off draft boards, I’m betting here on a return to health. He’s been fully healthy in 4 out of his 6 seasons and has played in 100 games or more in all of his major-league seasons, save for last year. In those four full seasons, Bryant averaged 31 homers and, for his career, has a .280/.380/.508 slash line. Even with an “injury-prone” discount (which may not be fair), Bryant has fallen too far in drafts.

For comparison, Anthony Rendon has played two seasons more than Bryant and played 150 games or more just twice. Rendon is a career .290/.372/.490 hitter, comparable to Bryant’s career line but is going as the sixth third baseman overall. 


8. Giancarlo Stanton Outperforms his Yankee Teammate Aaron Judge


The projections are about even on both of these players, with ZiPS and Steamer averaging 125 games and 34 homers for Judge and 130 games and 39 homers for Stanton. Of course, health is the major obstacle for both of the Yankee sluggers unlocking their fantasy potential, but that seems to be a coin flip for both of them. Given that, I’d rather have the player that’s going 60 picks later and pick up a few extra players in those rounds between the two. 


9. Wil Myers Gets Back to 30/20


Myers is currently the 34th outfielder off the board in drafts, I think largely as a result of a rough 2019 that saw his strikeout rate jump 7 percentage points from the previous year. That seems to be closer to a blip than a new normal, however, as last year Myers trimmed his strikeout rate back down just a little below his career average and hit 15 home runs in 55 games played. I don’t believe the power has gone anywhere, and he’s yet another Padre that benefits from that murderer’s row of a lineup in terms of runs and RBI.

The steals may be the tougher part here, as the lineup blessing can also be a curse in terms of running—after all, why take the risk when you have a grand slam coming right around the corner? But, Myers still ranks in the 85th percentile in the majors in sprint speed, and prior to last year when he swiped 2 bags, he’s never stolen fewer than 13 since 2016 (and that was in 2018 when he played in just 83 games). 30/20 is a feat that’s been done just 16 times since 2015, and you know the names—Trout, Betts, and Yelich, among others, but I think it’s possible Myers gets back to those milestones.


10. Berti For 30


Only six players stole 30 or more bases in 2019, just 10 players accomplished the feat in 2018, and only 4 in 2017. Jon Berti currently isn’t even slated for the Marlins’ regular starting lineup, but I think he could still have a legitimate shot at 30.

Obviously, playing time is going to be the name of the game here. Berti has plenty of defensive flexibility, playing just about every infield position and some outfield. On a young team like the Marlins, I think he could see some combination of super-utility at-bats and replacing struggling or injured players throughout the season and getting regular at-bats. The good news is, he does get on base when he’s in the game, as he projects for the third-highest OBP among all Marlin hitters for 2021. 

In his short major league career, Berti has stolen a base for every 4 games he’s appeared in, and with a deadened ball on a team without a ton of pop, I think he could extend that a bit. I love fantasy players that can slot in a variety of positions and provide some sneaky category wins, and I will be monitoring Berti’s usage and playing time early in the season.


Sean Roberts

Sean Roberts is a baseball columnist for Pitcher List. His work has been featured on Baseball Prospectus, the Hardball Times, and October. He's still getting used to the DH in the national league. @seanroberts.bsky.social

2 responses to “Sean Roberts’ 10 Bold Predictions for 2021”

  1. J says:

    Enjoyed the article, but it’s a little misleading saying ZiPS projects only Giolito and Cole to get to 15 wins as justification that no one will get to 15 wins (though I know this is a bold prediction). ZiPS last year only projected three hitters specifically to hit .300, but it predicted that 41 hitters on average would hit .300, and it would have been deeply wrong if no one hit .300. Someone with a 12 win projection actually probably has a decent percentage of his outcomes projected at 15+ wins, especially since wins are so fickle.

    • Sean Roberts says:

      Thanks! And for sure I agree. I’m more leaning on the workload/inning limits and unknowns of what a 60-game season will do to arms when they have to ramp back up to a full schedule than I am the ZiPS projections here.

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