MLB

Ten bold MLB predictions for second month of 2017 season

Joe Maddon
Michael Dixon
Written by Michael Dixon

A month of action is down. We’ve already spent some time looking back at the first month’s winners and losers, as well as its surprises and disappointments.

But what are we predicting for May?

What do we think is in store for some of April’s most disappointing teams like the Giants, Cubs, and Royals? At least some regression may make sense for Aaron Judge, Miguel Sano, and Dallas Keuchel. But what are the chances that it actually happens? What top prospects are we expecting to see at the MLB level before June 1?

What bold predictions are we making for the second month of MLB action?

1. Aaron Judge holds commanding MLB HR lead entering June

Judge’s start not only tied an MLB rookie record for April and set a rookie record for most home runs in 25 games. Still, while that is unprecedented, hot starts for rookies are not. More often than not, rookies cool down once the veterans figure out their weak spots.

But convention simply doesn’t apply to Judge. The New York Yankees right fielder is too darn strong.

We don’t think Judge is going to cool off. In fact, we’re going the other way. By the time June 1 rolls around, he’ll be at least five home runs ahead of MLB’s next most prolific home run hitter.

The path sets up well for Judge in May. Aside from a six-game road trip against the Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Rays, he’s going to be hitting in traditionally home run friendly parks. That includes three games at Wrigley Field, two at the Great American Ballpark, three at Camden Yards, and of course, 11 at Yankee Stadium. A guy with Judge’s power doesn’t need short porches and jet streams, but they sure don’t hurt.

In June, July, and August, the weather gets even hotter. Pitchers get tired, balls get left up and they carry even better.

So, as good as April was and as strong as we think May will be, the best may come after that. It’s scary to think about.

2. New York Mets call up Amed Rosario

Things went pretty bad for the Mets in April. New York posted a losing record and seemingly every key player on the team got hurt. The thing is, the Mets entered the season with a great deal of hope. The first month was abysmal, but it’s still early enough to turn things around.

For that to happen, New York needs a shot in the arm. It needs to take a chance. The Mets need to bring Rosario up to the show.

There’s not much more for Rosario to do at the Minor League level. His glove is already top notch. After he hit .324/.374/.459 between high-A Binghamton and AA St. Lucie in 2016, he’s off to an even better start at AAA Las Vegas in 2017.

Rosario’s impact in Queens would be different than what Judge is doing for the team in The Bronx. Rosario has pop. But he’d resemble a young Jose Reyes, getting on base and doing damage once there.

It’s the kind of spark that the team needs. The season can still be salvaged, but not with the players currently on the roster. Rosario can be a difference maker. The Mets need to bring him up and let that happen.

3. Royals will fire Ned Yost

Apr 6, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost walks back to the dugout in the sixth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Twins beat the Royals 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Yost has had a brilliant run with the Royals. He led the team to a winning record in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Before that, Kansas City hadn’t enjoyed three straight winning seasons since 1987, 1988, and 1989. Of course, those seasons also netted the Royals an American League pennant in 2014 and a World Series in 2015.

Many of the key players are still on the team. But following a disappointing 81-81 season in 2016 and a dismal start in 2017, it appears that the great run is over.

Kansas City is one of many teams off to a disappointing start, but as we’ve detailed, this start is different. The Royals are a small market team with a load of free agents. At least some of those players are going to be moved.

When that happens, the best thing Kansas City can do for Yost is to let him go elsewhere. Yost will turn 62 in August and frankly, it’s hard to imagine him wanting to run a team that’s not going anywhere for a few years.

Bringing in a new guy to oversee the rebuilding project just makes sense. Letting go of someone who managed the team through such a successful era won’t be easy. But for both the manager and team, it’s the most sensible thing to do.

4. Dallas Keuchel continues progress towards another Cy Young

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Houston’s ace was unconscious in the season’s opening month. He concluded April with a spotless 5-0 record, a 1.21 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 3.37 FIP. We could also point out that he’s thrown a quality start in all six outings, but even that’s misleading. A quality start is six or more innings pitched with no more than three earned runs allowed. Keuchel has gone at least seven innings in all six of his starts and has allowed no more than two earned runs in any of them.

But it’s not just the results that impress us. It’s how they’ve been achieved.

His 2.22 BB/9 rate is solid but not surprising. Even in a down year in 2016, Keuchel had a well above average 2.57 BB/9.

What’s a really good sign is that opponents are simply not making loud contact against Keuchel. His line drive rate (per Fangraphs) of 14.2% is even better than the 18.7 Keuchel posted in 2015 when he won the American League Cy Young award.

A good BB/9 rate shows that a pitcher has good control. The positives of that are quickly offset if his pitches are finding the middle of the plate and being smacked around the yard. But a good line drive rate indicates that the pitcher has good command. That’s a lot harder to adjust to. That’s a pitcher who can not only throw strikes, but throw them in the right spots.

Now, make no mistake, we’re not thinking that Keuchel is going to continue at this specific pace and challenge Bob Gibson’s ridiculous 1968 ERA of 1.12. That’s just unrealistic for a starter in this era. But if you’re looking at Keuchel’s April and thinking that a sharp regression is order, think again.

We think May is going to be another step towards a second American League Cy Young Award in three years.

5. Top prospect Yoan Moncada makes Chicago White Sox debut

Moncada is tearing up the minor leagues. MLB’s top prospect has absolutely nothing more to prove in the International League.

Now, if the White Sox were struggling, there might be some logic in remaining patient. But Chicago is not struggling. Quite the opposite, in fact. Through May 4, the South Siders are 15-12, tied for first in the American League Central.

Chicago general manager Rick Hahn has made it clear that Moncada still has some developing to do. That would point to him being kept in the minors for a while.

But as surprisingly good as the White Sox have been, they’ve gotten next to no offensive production from their second basemen. Chicago’s keystones have combined for a .198/.300/.281 slash line with zero home runs, four RBI, and three steals. There’s certainly plenty of room for improvement there.

On a bad team, sure, let Moncada develop. But on a team that’s actually winning, you can’t let such a hot prospect sit in Triple-A while your Major Leaguers at his position are doing virtually nothing. It’s only a matter of time before manager Rick Renteria and the Chicago front office sees that.

6. Miguel Sano will continue hot streak

Apr 22, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins first baseman Miguel Sano (22) hits a double in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins third baseman entered 2017 with a career .249/.346/.489 slash line. Admittedly, when someone with that career line starts a season .314/.443/.686, the first thing we want to do is get the regression police on the phone. Something has got to give.

But as was the case with Keuchel, we’re not seeing a sharp regression in Sano’s future. In fact, we’re seeing more of the same.

Consider some of the following points.

Sano is walking in nearly 19 percent of his plate appearances. That’s well up from an anemic 10.9 percent in 2016 and even significantly better than 2015’s more respectable 15.8 percent. Extra walks will not only help an OBP, but they’re also a sign of a hitter being more selective.

Another good sign of a more selective hitter is a declining strikeout rate, which Sano has. Sano has struck out in 33 percent of his plate appearances, and while that’s not exactly a low total, it is down. In 2016, he struck out 36 percent of the time. In 2015, he K’d in 35.5 percent of his plate appearances.

Of course, the last piece of the puzzle is that Sano is not only making contact, but better contact. His line drive rate of 23.5 percent is well up from 2016’s total of 20.2 percent. Strangely, Sano is actually hitting fewer line drives in 2017 than he did in 2015. But he’s hitting significantly more fly balls (47.1 percent in 2017, 42 percent in 2015) and his home run to fly ball rate is much better (33.3 percent in 2017, 26.5 percent in 2015). So, while the line drive rate is lower, the loud contact rate is much higher.

Travis Sawchik of Fangraphs detailed a change in Sano’s approach. Thus far, it’s working.

Regression is logical for most guys. But we think Sano will buck that trend.

7. Giants will continue to plunge

Caption: Apr 29, 2017; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy (15) in the dugout during the fifth inning against the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Things went terribly wrong for the San Francisco Giants in April. If there’s any silver lining for the team and its fans, it’s that things can’t get any worse in May. In fact, conventional logic says that the Giants will get much better. San Francisco is a combined 62-26 in May over the last three years.

Still, we’re less than convinced that 2017 will fall in line with 2014-2016.

It’s tempting to say that the Giants will fire Bruce Bochy. It’s ridiculously easy to say that they should. But the reality is that San Francisco hasn’t fired a manager in-season since 1985, eight years before the current ownership group took the reigns. It’s essentially impossible to see Bochy, a man who’s won three World Series, being the one that the trend is broken with.

But the case is not hard to make.

Going back to his days as the San Diego Padres manager, Bochy has relied a lot on his bullpens. For the most part, that hasn’t been a problem. He has had good bullpens in San Diego and San Francisco. But much like 2016, his 2017 relievers are well below average. Still, Bochy uses them in a formulaic way, often bringing in shaky, cold relievers with men on base.

Conventional baseball logic also says that batting a speedy player at the top of the order is a good idea. After all, you want someone with speed on base when your best hitters are batting. But speed is only an effective tool if a runner can reach base. Additionally, the advantage of a fast runner is tempered when your team rarely steals, or even hits and runs. Players like Gorkys Hernandez don’t belong in a lead off spot, especially when one of the team’s best on base guys — Joe Panik — often hits at the bottom of the order.

Strangely, less accomplished managers would be more inclined to adjust. But Bochy has managed nearly 3,600 games and with three World Series wins has a virtually guaranteed spot in the Hall of Fame. That makes him far less likely to change his style on the fly.

But as long as Bochy is managing this Giants team in his typical fashion, it’s going to suffer. Don’t expect any seismic turnarounds in May.

8. Dansby Swanson continues to struggle

Just like logic says a surging player will come back to the pack, it also says that a slumping player will find his form. To some degree, that logic applies to Swanson.

But while a low BABIP suggests some bad luck, some of Swanson’s other peripherals suggest that he’s genuinely struggling.

As it does with so many others, it starts with his line drive rate.

Swanson’s 2017 strikeout rate is identical to 2016’s (23.4 percent) but when he’s making contact, the ball isn’t being hit as hard. In 2016, Swanson was hitting a line drive 22.7 percent of the time he contacted a ball. In 2017, the number is down to 18.1 percent, nearly five points lower.

That’s huge for anyone. Still, a more prolific home run hitter (like Sano) might be able to get away with that. But Swanson’s offensive game centers around hitting line drives, finding gaps and occasionally hitting home runs.

Long term, Swanson will be fine. He’s experiencing the same struggles that rookies often do. But until he starts to play to the strengths of his game, it’s hard to project short-term success.

9. Mike Trout maintain strong pace as Angels flounder

As he does every year, Trout is thriving. He entered play on Thursday slashing at .358/.452/.717 with eight home runs, 21 runs scored, 20 RBI and five steals. We’re not expecting any big drops in May. The guy is a machine.

With that said, it’s hard to be optimistic about his team.

The Los Angeles Angels closed play on May 3 with a 15-14 record, trailing only a strong Houston Astros team. But we’re not buying it.

First of all, despite Trout’s heroics the Angels are a mediocre to downright bad offensive team. They’re 20th in runs scored (112), 19th in batting average (.242), 20th in OBP (.311) and 28th in slugging (.341).

Take Trout out of the mix and those slash stats go to .228/.293/.325, good enough for 27th, 28th, and 30th in the league.

Los Angeles’ pitchers have posted a 4.08 ERA, which ranks 13th in the league. But as mediocre as that is, when we look at the actual pitchers on the team, it seems like they’ve overachieved.

The 15-14 record looks good, but we’re thinking that the -10 run differential is more indicative of what kind of team this is. It’s hard to imagine that not showing up in May’s record.

10. World Series hangover continues in Chicago

We know that this seems harsh. Usually championship hangovers are diagnosed in teams struggling to stay .500, getting blown out in their losses and squeaking out a few wins out of nowhere. That doesn’t apply to the Chicago Cubs. But compared to the last two seasons (especially 2016), Chicago’s April in 2017 was well below par.

What’s even more notable is that, despite playing in the perfectly mediocre NL Central, the Cubs have failed to gain any traction. Sure, Chicago sits in first place. But through play on May 3, it’s only three games ahead of the last place Pittsburgh Pirates. By contrast, the Cubs were five games up ahead of the second place team (also the Pirates) on the same date last year.

With all but six games coming against division rivals, Chicago should have owned April again.

Instead, it looks like a flat team. It’s starting pitchers have been awful at the beginning of games, often putting the offense behind.

May offers a more impressive non-divisional run of games. That includes a three-game series against the Yankees, three on the road against the Los Angeles Dodgers and three at Coors Field, which isn’t exactly a place where struggling pitchers figure things out.

Teams get tired after championships. The Cubs have had two deep postseasons runs in a row. Given how incredible their championship story was, Chicago’s players experienced even more afterglow than normal following the World Series win.

It’ll be up to someone else in the division to jump up and make the Cubs pay for their struggles. But we’re not expecting a lot from the champs this month.

About the author

Michael Dixon

Michael Dixon

Bay Area born and raised, I have extensive experience in both the print and online worlds. There are few things in this world I love doing more than talking sports.