Baseball has always been the stats nerd’s favorite game, and it seems like every year there’s a new advanced statistic set to measure the angle at which a player drops his bat or how slowly a replacement-level player jogs to first on a pop-up. But the beauty of baseball is that these minute measurements and the stories they tell become part of an ever-specific history of the sport, one that allows us to contextualize everything we’re seeing. The other beauty of baseball, however, is that all those advanced projections and “on-pace-for” numbers make little-t0-no difference in the first few weeks of the season. There are some things you can’t measure, and no matter how arithmetically sound your predictions are, as of right now, it’s all just speculation. And that’s kind of a whole lot of fun.
Houston Astros will win 110 games
The defending champion ‘Stros were the best team in the AL last season by a hair, though FanGraphs has them being better than the rest of the AL again this year by a more substantial margin. After winning three of their first four games of the 2018 season, Houston is projected to go 96-62 the rest of the way, about five full-games better than the Yankees are projected to win. So how could Houston bump that number up to become a rare 110+ game winner? Well, playing well in April and September helps, and retaining your batting order while adding Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander to the mix for a full-season can’t hurt.
While a lot of teams end up finding their midseason form around, well, midseason, the ones who end up playing comfortably in September are usually the ones who got off on the right foot in April. Last year, Houston was so good in the 89-game first half — though in April and May, specifically — that having a terrible August meant relatively little to their playoff picture. Houston faces the likes of Minnesota, Seattle, San Diego, Oakland, the White Sox and the Angels in the season’s first month. Those teams combined to play exactly one playoff games last season (nice, Minnie!), but we can assume Houston isn’t complaining one bit.
Giancarlo Stanton hits 70 home runs
This one shouldn’t even seem that outrageous. It just shouldn’t. Stanton hit 59 home runs last year, including 18 in August alone, and 33 of them in what is considered perhaps the worst hitters’ park in baseball. Even with a successful effort to move in and lower the outfield fences prior to the 2016 season, Stanton’s old home at Marlins Park was and is still is pretty damn spacious. Now, let’s toss him in the polar opposite of Marlins Park: Yankee Stadium. Let’s put him in the most hitter-friendly park on the most hitter-friendly lineup in the league, sandwiched between two hitters in Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez who have demonstrated regularly just how easy it is to turn even a good pitch into a souvenir. Let’s give Stanton a shorter porch in right field than he’s ever had before, knowing full well he can already turn on any pitch and send it to any spot in the park. He rarely had the option at home last year to miss a pitch and still hit it out, and that alone may be worth an extra 10 home runs this season. So far in 2018, Stanton’s already homered twice in one game, including one with a faster exit-velocity than any opposite-field homer has ever been recorded to have. It’s about to get crazy in the Bronx.
Billy Hamilton steals 80 bases
Hamilton regularly stole over 100 bases in the minors, including a staggering 155 bags nabbed during his age 21-season across single and double-A. However, he has yet to touch 60 so far in his major league career, teetering out at a career-high 59 last year. To be clear, it’s not that 59 steals isn’t like, really pretty good, because it is. But anybody who remembers the hype surrounding Hamilton when he first broke through in 2013, remembers expecting this kid to come into the league and steal 60 bases in half a season like it was nothing. So far, though, he isn’t even close, and the reasons are pretty obvious: Hamilton’s just not great at getting on base. He struck out 133 times last season and walked only 44 times, an absolutely awful split for any base-stealing leadoff hitter, finishing with an absurdly bad .299 on base percentage. An extra 21 steals this season is a bold prediction, but we know that if Hamilton gets on base he’ll have the green light to run, and we know that he can run with the best of them. At age 27 and playing on a one-year deal, Hamilton’s entering both the prime of his career and perhaps the end of the road with the Reds. All of that hinges on his ability to breakout the way people have been expecting him to for a long time.
Shohei Otani racks up 200 strikeouts
One start into his professional career, and it’s clear that Shohei Otani, the pitcher, has devastating stuff. Following a frustrating Spring Training as both a pitcher and a hitter, Otani’s fastball topped out at 100 mph in his debut, and averaged nearly 99 mph for the day. His splitter and slider were both nasty at times, though the latter was inconsistently placed and eventually got deposited in the stands for a 3-run homer. Still, he struck out 6 and generated 18 swings-and-misses. The big question with Otani, though, will be how many opportunities he gets to pitch. If he only makes 20 starts this year, the chances of him reaching the 200 K plateau are slim, though I believe 25 mostly-quality starts would get him there. But the Angels are no-doubt itching to see if this two-way phenom really has the kind of power and speed to be a complement to perennial MVP Mike Trout, and if he does? Well, he probably won’t get to that 25th start. Something tells me, though, that this is exactly the kind of problem the Angels signed up to deal with.
Bartolo Colon Wins 10 Games at Age 45
Another baseball season, another opportunity to watch Bartolo Colon defy everything we knew about how an athlete should look and perform. He’s set to start Monday night for another new team — the Texas Rangers — and while it may not seem like he has a permanent spot in the rotation, just wait. Bartolo has a way of just getting in there and not letting go. Colon was bad last season — really bad, actually — but he still started 28 games between the Twins and the Braves. He had an 8.14 ERA in 13 starts for Atlanta. Imagine any prospect coming up and doing that and getting a second chance, let alone starting another 15 games for a different team. It seems inconceivable, but that’s the magic of Bartolo Colon. The man won 18 games with a 2.65 ERA at age 40, racked up 76 wins from between the ages of 38-44, and there were very few moments in that entire period where anyone knew if the guy was still good. Given the state of things in Arlington these days, and the unpredictability of a major league season, winning 10 games at age 45 should be nothing for Bartolo Colon. Total cakewalk. You heard it here first.