Opening Day will be here on Monday. It’s time for some predictions.
1. Christian Yelich will finish top 5 in NL MVP voting.
Yelich has had a phenomenal young career so far, but has not gotten the attention he deserves. The 25-year-old outfielder has hit .293 with an on-base percentage of .368 in three and a half seasons, but did not really receive national attention until his performance for Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
After mashing 21 home runs and hitting .298 in 2016, Fangraphs projects Yelich to hit only 16 long balls this season. However, his 14 home runs after the all-star break last season and his career-high 38 percent hard-hit percentage showed a power surge that could lead to 30 home runs this year. If he can finally get the average up over .300 and the Marlins can put up a winning record, Yelich will be in the MVP conversation.
2. Wei-Yin Chen will be the Marlins’ best starting pitcher.
After posting four successful seasons in Baltimore, Chen had by far the worst season of his career in his first campaign with the Marlins. The 31-year-old lefty’s 4.96 ERA should be taken with a grain of salt, considering he battled injury for basically the entire season.
The ERA looked bad for Chen last season, but his other stats looked surprisingly good. His 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings was a career high while his 1.75 walks per nine innings was the second-lowest of his career.
Chen has always relied on his fastball, and has thrown it almost 51 percent of the time throughout his career, but that fastball took a hit 2016. Due to the elbow problems he experienced, Chen’s fastball dropped almost one mile per hour on average. If Chen is healthy in 2017, he should be able to regain the effectiveness of his fastball and return to the pitcher who pitched to a 3.34 ERA in 2015.
3. Giancarlo Stanton will play more than 150 games.
This prediction is so bold because it has never happened before and because there is no statistical evidence that can be used to back it up. Stanton played exactly 150 games back in 2011 and played 145 in 2014, but has never played more than 123 games in a season besides that.
The 27-year-old slugger had his worst offensive season in 2016, hitting .240 and getting on base at a .326 clip, which were both career lows. He played in only 119 games after suffering a season-ending injury in August and was an overall disappointment in 2016.
Stanton may have hit the lowest point of his career, so there’s now nowhere to go but up. He may be injury-prone, but 2017 may be the season where he can finally stay healthy.
4. The Marlins will have the best bullpen ERA in the National League.
Don Mattingly’s bullpen was fairly average in 2016, but it has added a few pieces that will put the bullpen over the edge. The Marlins’ relievers posted a 3.63 ERA and 9.17 K/9 last season and they should even improve drastically in 2017.
A.J. Ramos struggled a little bit with his control last season, but was overall a successful closer and saved 40 games for the Marlins. He will handle the 9th inning and Kyle Barraclough, who broke onto the scene in 2016, will mostly have the 8th inning. Barraclough struck out 113 batters in just under 73 innings last season and allowed only one home run in that span.
Now, the Marlins have also added two pieces that can get the job done at the back end of the bullpen—Junichi Tazawa and Brad Ziegler. Tazawa posted a 3.58 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in just over five full seasons with the Red Sox, while Ziegler has been one of the league’s most under-appreciated relievers over the past nine seasons.
Ziegler’s 2.44 career ERA and .238 career batting average against him show how nasty he has been from his low arm slot. The 37-year-old righty has experience in every bullpen role, and could be the most important Marlins reliever in 2017.
While Miami’s one-inning guys should be great, they will also have long relievers who can make a real impact. David Phelps figured out that he is best in an Andrew Miller-like bullpen role, and Dustin McGowan finally found his perfect role a the major league level. Plus, with Jose Urena ending up in the bullpen instead of the starting rotation, the Marlins will have another flamethrower to turn to.
Miami’s combination of relievers will make teams dread getting deep into games and having to face the most talented bullpen in the National League.
5. Derek Dietrich will have more hits than Adeiny Hechavarria.
Hechavarria has always been known as a defense-first shortstop, but this may be the year in which he possibly loses his starting spot. He hit only .236 last season and posted a wRC+ of only 56—the lowest of his career. Dietrich, on the other hand, hit .279 last season with a wRC+ of 117.
The argument for Hechavarria is that he is an elite defender, but that is simply not true. The 27-year-old shortstop had a revised zone rating of .843, which is classified by Fangraphs as just above average.
It would take some moving around to start Dietrich over Hechavarria in the infield, but if he is hitting and the shortstop, don’t be surprised if Mattingly makes the move.