Collette Calls: 2023 AL East Bold Predictions

Collette Calls: 2023 AL East Bold Predictions

This article is part of our Collette Calls series.

Welcome to the ninth season of these bold predictions. When one goes bold, the accuracy rate tends to suffer, much like a hitter who sells out for home runs and sees his strikeout rate worsen. I do not mitigate that risk by taking the safe way out because I am efforting to help you see the potential upside or downside in players that the market may be missing. Last season's calls in this column included:

I also said I was very worried about Mookie Betts and that he wasn't worth his market price, as well as wishcasting several other positive outcomes on marginal players which never came close to materializing, so this is far from an exact science. 

The purpose of this annual series remains the same: to get you to think differently about players. We can often fall into the trap of groupthink, following what ADP reports tell us or what the projection systems say about a particular player. More

Welcome to the ninth season of these bold predictions. When one goes bold, the accuracy rate tends to suffer, much like a hitter who sells out for home runs and sees his strikeout rate worsen. I do not mitigate that risk by taking the safe way out because I am efforting to help you see the potential upside or downside in players that the market may be missing. Last season's calls in this column included:

I also said I was very worried about Mookie Betts and that he wasn't worth his market price, as well as wishcasting several other positive outcomes on marginal players which never came close to materializing, so this is far from an exact science. 

The purpose of this annual series remains the same: to get you to think differently about players. We can often fall into the trap of groupthink, following what ADP reports tell us or what the projection systems say about a particular player. More often than not, those avenues are helpful guides. There's strength and numbers, and averaging out projections from multiple sources can remove outliers just like looking at ADP from 50+ drafts helps offset someone who took Daulton Varsho 27th overall last season. (Even I was not that bold!) I like to look at the possibilities of both marginal players as well as established players who have slipped to the margins. What is their upside and downside if everything breaks well or poorly for them? These aren't just wild dart throws at a hitter and pitcher on each team, as I show my work and then let you decide how to act upon the data. At the end of the day, you are responsible for how you leverage the inputs you utilize for your fantasy prep, whether it's the great work at this website or other websites, podcasts or social media guidance on the variety of avenues which exist in today's fantasy marketplace. We've come a long way since the days of running to the local 7-11 for a Slurpee and the latest copy of Baseball Weekly to get John Hunt's latest fantasy advice every Wednesday, although I dearly miss that publication. 

Enough reminiscing. Let's get started with this year's bold predictions, beginning with the AL East! This year's format will have a bit of a new wrinkle as it will include the player's current ADP data from NFBC since December 1st for Draft Champions formats, as well as the projections our site has for the player alongside the freely published projections from Steamer and THE BAT, which can be found on the Fangraphs player pages.

Baltimore Orioles

Jorge Mateo (ADP 203; Min 154, Max 269) repeats as AL steals champ

SOURCE

PA

AVG

OBP

HR

RBI

R

SB

RotoWire

347

.226

.272

8

31

40

21

THE BAT X

323

.228

.273

7

40

40

18

Steamer

295

.226

.273

7

30

31

16

Whit Merrifield is the last player to successfully defend his stolen base title in the American League, leading the league in steals in both 2017 and 2018. Prior to him, Jose Altuve did so in 2014 and 2015. The reason this prediction is bold is because Mateo is currently not projected to have a starting job with Baltimore as the club is ready to give Gunnar Henderson the starting shortstop job and recently signed Adam Frazier to play the other side of the bag. Mateo's current path to playing time would appear to be limited to the short side of a platoon with Frazier. The $8 million contract Baltimore gave Frazier would make it seem that they view him as a starter, but he also did play at least 15 games at three positions last season, so perhaps they view him as a versatile utility man. Either way, the uncertainty is what creates the buying opportunity because if Mateo were to be named the starter, his ADP would quickly jump toward his current MIN value rather than sitting outside the top 200.

Yes, Mateo absolutely has his flaws in that he is allergic to getting on base via a non-batted ball event, and despite all that speed, he has but one career bunt for a base hit. Yet when he does get on base, the magic happens. 88 percent of the steals in baseball take place at second base, so using a formula such as stolen base attempts (SBA) divided by all events (single + walk + HBP) which get you to first is a solid guide post of who likes to run when they reach first. Nobody, and I mean nobody, runs more than Mateo when he gets on first (SBA/1BH+BB+HBP):

Player

Team

Attemps

Opportunities

Percentage

Jorge Mateo

Bal

44

96

46%

Randy Arozarena

TB

44

147

30%

Bobby Witt Jr.

KC

37

129

29%

Cedric Mullins

Bal

44

161

27%

Ronald Acuna Jr.

Atl

40

148

27%

Adolis Garcia

Tex

31

131

24%

Julio Rodriguez

Sea

32

137

23%

Tommy Edman

StL

35

156

22%

Marcus Semien

Tex

33

158

21%

Starling Marte

NYM

27

130

21%

He also had a 79 percent success rate in his stolen base attempts, four points above the league average, so he's certainly earned the right to continue to be as impatient to leave first base as he is to get out of the batter's box. Mateo is out of options, so Baltimore will keep giving him chances to show he can improve at the plate and not continue to get himself out with impatience and a poor approach. His defense and speed almost guarantee him getting late-inning appearances throughout the season, and he's an insurance policy for any injury issues to the left side of the infield. Roster construction is a necessary part of the equation when looking at taking the risk with Mateo, but in standard formats, I believe it's one worth taking.

Kyle Bradish (ADP 364, Min 296, Max 450) is a top-100 pitcher in 2023

SOURCE

IP

K

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

RotoWire

148

140

5

0

4.86

1.41

THE BAT

149

133

8

0

4.45

1.36

Steamer

155

144

9

0

4.13

1.32

Bradish is currently the 145th pitcher drafted just behind the rotting carcass of Aroldis Chapman. I wrote up Bradish at length late in 2022 so I'll refer you to that article as to why I believe he has the chance to surprise many this season. 

Boston Red Sox

Jarren Duran (ADP 554, Min 455, Max 658) is a top-100 oufielder

SOURCE

PA

AVG

OBP

HR

RBI

R

SB

RotoWire

388

.217

.268

5

31

44

10

THE BAT X

244

.247

.307

5

23

31

8

Steamer

321

.241

.301

8

34

38

10

Duran has seen his ADP plummet since last season, when he was just inside the top 400 and was drafted as highly as 242 overall. Duran was given the opportunity to play around the injuries which hit the Boston roster but finished the season with a .221/.283/.363 line, which only validated concerns detractors had after his miserable performance with Boston in 2021. Duran has seen 335 major league plate appearances and has a 68 wRC+ to his name as well as a 31 percent strikeout rate. Duran has hit .272/.353/.503 with 26 homers and 34 steals in 590 Triple-A plate appearances over the past two seasons, which is why it's tough to give up on him. The homers are helped by the cozy dimensions of Polar Park, but the speed is real, as Duran is one of the fastest players in the league with a top-10 home-to first-sprint speed. That metric is a better indicator for hidden steals sources than pure sprint speed, although Duran is top 10th percentile there as well. 

Duran has the starting center field job when a righty is on the mound, and he could stay in the lineup against lefties if he shows improvements at the plate given or else get spelled by Rob Refsnyder. Duran's speed upside makes him a very attractive fantasy gem because the bottom of the top-heavy Boston order will need to focus on manufacturing runs. Duran's acquisition cost is essentially a late reserve-round pick these days, and those rounds are made for targeted category dart throws like this. Duran has an 80 percent career stolen base success rate as a professional baseball player, so he's earned a license to run. He just needs the keys to get on base to utilize that license, and what appears to be a rebuilding Boston lineup is giving him every opportunity to do so this season. 

Chris Martin (ADP 548, Min 342, Max 675) is a top-150 pitcher

SOURCE

IP

K

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

RotoWire

148

140

5

0

4.86

1.41

THE BAT

149

133

8

0

4.45

1.36

Steamer

155

144

9

0

4.13

1.32

Must…resist…Coldplay jokes. This pick isn't here to project any issues with Kenley Jansen as the closer as much as it is to highlight the growing importance of high-leverage non-closing relievers in fantasy baseball. Garrett Whitlock won eight games for Boston in 2021 without starting a single contest. Adam Ottavino won 7 games and saved another 11 under Alex Cora that same season, while Brandon Workman won 10 games and saved 16 more in 2019. Simply put, Cora has a thing for finding a favorite high-leverage reliever and using them frequently. Enter Martin, as the club liked what they watched him do for the past few seasons in the National League and inked him to a two-year deal to bolster their bullpen. Martin has nine wins and nine saves in his seven seasons in the major leagues but has yet to have the opportunity presented to him this year as he likely pitches the final two seasons of his career. 

Martin's acquisition price is where it is right now because he has only helped in ratios and strikeouts as a reliever, as he's lacked the decision volume in wins or saves to really gain notice. Last season, 22 of Martin's 56.1 innings came in innings 4-6, but in innings 7-9, he held opposing hitters to a .206/.217/.349 triple-slash line with 35 percent strikeout rate while dealing for both the Cubs and Dodgers. Martin profiles well for this full-time high leverage role as he rarely walks batters while striking out plenty of them and generating more grounders than flyballs. Martin had the fifth-best K-BB% of all relievers in the late innings last year, trailing only Edwin Diaz, Pete Fairbanks (more on him later), Andres Munoz, and Ryan Helsley:

RELIEVER

IP

K-BB%

ADP

Diaz

62

43%

22

Fairbanks

24

40%

199

Munoz

65

33%

150

Helsley

64.2

31%

68

Martin

56

31%

548

If we add the filter of numbers in just the 7th-9th innings, Martin jumps to third place on the list and by wOBA was one of the 25 most effective late-inning relievers in baseball last season. There's a reason Boston targeted him in free agency, and I firmly believe Martin is worth a reserve-round pick even in 12-team mixed-league formats or for teams looking to employ the LIMA strategy and replicate whan Ron Shandler first popularized and Doug Dennis recently used to dominate AL Tout in 2022. 

New York Yankees

Oswald Peraza (ADP 335, Min 257, Max 214) is a top-250 player

SOURCE

PA

AVG

OBP

HR

RBI

R

SB

RotoWire

534

.285

.356

15

45

61

12

THE BAT X

285

.244

.299

7

26

33

10

Steamer

258

.249

.308

8

31

30

10


Peraza is an intriguing fantasy asset given he's the 28th-ranked shortstop at a position which lacks depth. He has an espresso-size cup of coffee at the big league level but has an impressive minor-league resume highlighted by plenty of speed and an 82 percent stolen base success rate. He hit 20 homers and swiped 35 bases between Triple-A and the majors last season and doesn't even turn 23 until the midway point of the season. The Yankees' lineup is thick enough to allow Peraza all the time he needs to hit in front of whichever catcher is starting that day, so there's little pressure on him to produce at the plate, which has impacted many a young shortstop on other teams before Peraza. He isn't Anthony Volpe, but he doesn't need to be. The Yankees will need to eventually figure out how these two coexist, but that is not your problem. He has the skills to be a very productive fantasy asset with the potential to be very impactful in steals and score more runs than most bottom-of-the-order hitters given the depth of the Yankee lineup around him. The upside is well above the projections for him.

Carlos Rodon (ADP 49, Min 35, Max 67) is not a top-40 pitcher

SOURCE

IP

K

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

RotoWire

137

183

11

0

2.82

1.01

THE BAT

182

231

14

0

3.17

1.05

Steamer

181

235

13

0

3.14

1.06

This prediction originates from the sage advice of my good friends Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf  who have consistently preached in their SMART system as part of their rules of engagement: Do not pay big bucks for free agents who signed big-money deals to play in a new city. Before we get further into Rodon, the table below shows last year's free agents which met these requirements and what those players earned in 15-team standard mixed-league formats:

The average value of that group last year was $10, and the average value of the free agent pitchers in the group was $2.40. It would be fair to put Rodon in Scherzer's class, and even Scherzer earned $19 last year. Gausman, the last pitcher to be made even more attractive by the Giants, saw his value drop to $11 last season in his first year with Toronto. Let's not forget that Gerrit Cole did not exactly have a smooth debut as a Yankee, but can be forgiven with the 2020 season what it was as a whole. There's a reason why Colton and the Wolfman are fantasy legends.

Rodon is also coming off his career-high workload at 178 innings and has only twice pitched over 160 innings in his major-league career, battling durability issues throughout most of it. That is my larger concern with Rodon, because just when we want to forgive him for past health transgressions, he could have a flare-up and miss more time. The confluence of the big contract and a new home plus the lack of continuous durable seasons is driving me to fade him in the market as I believe he will have challenges matching last year's volume. 

Tampa Bay Rays

Brandon Lowe (ADP 181, Min 155, Max 214) outearns Nathaniel Lowe

SOURCE

PA

AVG

OBP

HR

RBI

R

SB

RotoWire

438

.243

.333

23

62

64

4

THE BAT X

572

.235

.323

23

74

68

4

Steamer

585

.240

.322

27

81

75

4

This is not even the Rays fandom coming out from me; I cannot believe how far Lowe's value has fallen one year removed from him challenging 40 homers in a year where many struggled to adjust to the loss of the 2019 bouncy ball. Sure, Lowe has his issues against tough lefties, but this is a guy whose key power indicators have lived in the red zone for his young career and now he's going after the likes of Jorge Polanco? In my best Kevin Hart voice, "WHAAAAATT??!!" Lowe struggled with back troubles throughout the season, going on and off the IL, with different peaks and valleys throughout the season never quite looking much like the 2021 version which saw him get taken as early as the late fourth round this time last year. 

When Lowe is right, he has some of the best power indicators you will find from a middle infielder and will also benefit from the defensive changes, as he should get a small boost in batting average as teams have overshifted him 80 percent of the time over the past two seasons. Even in his terrible season, he still posted a 104 wRC+, showing he was slightly above-average offensively. He does have his issues against lefties, which impacts his strikeouts and batting average, but this is a strong three-category player with the athleticism to throw in double-digit steals with enough opportunities. If you look at all the second baseman in the league and had to bet who would hit 30 homers this year, Lowe would likely be at the top of that list, yet he's currently 12th by ADP and lumped in with the likes of Jonathan India, Vaughn Grissom and Whit Merrifield. Lowe lost his outfield eligibility on draft day, but should gain it back in-season at some early point given Kevin Cash's tendencies. 

Simply put, even Lowe's 155 min pick is absurdly…Lowe. Nathaniel (no relation) is currently just outside the top 100 at 108 with a Min/Max range of 81 to 129. I still do like the corner man this season, but I believe 2022 was the high end of his batting average abilities. The big guy had 19 infield hits thanks to some well-aimed baseballs against the shift despite his tendency to hit the ball the other way and has persistent issues with handling velocity. Last season, Brandon's ADP was 80 while Nathaniel's was 232, and now we see the two roles flip this quickly? I'll be a homer and pass on the former Ray and take the current one at this price all day long. 

Pete Fairbanks (ADP 199, Min 153, Max 259) is a top-50 pitcher

SOURCE

IP

K

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

RotoWire

38

55

4

6

2.61

1.18

THE BAT

65

86

3

16

3.04

1.12

Steamer

65

84

4

16

2.92

1.11

If you heard a loud giddy scream in early November, that was just me being thrilled to acquire Fairbanks on my debut XFL team for all of $5. Sure, he has but 15 saves in his four-year major-league career, but I do firmly believe he will establish himself in the closer role in 2023 as much as any Tampa Bay reliever can be named a full-time closer. After all, there was not a single reliever with more than eight saves on this team last season as the saves were spread around 11 different relievers, with the club breaking the double-digit total for a fourth consecutive season. That said, they have attempted to go with primary closers at times, with Sergio Romo saving 25 games in 2018, Emilio Pagan saving 20 in 2019, while Nick Anderson and Andrew Kittredge both had their chances before injuries derailed them. Fairbanks reminds me of peak Nick Anderson before Kevin Cash overused him in the Covid postseason.

Fairbanks has had his own troubles staying healthy, with two Tommy John surgeries in his history as well as an oblique injury which cost him a large chunk of last season, but once he eventually returned, he looked like a new man with his fastball command. Fairbanks has always been able to hit 100+ mph but often struggled locating that pitch where he needed it to be and would take several hitters to find it. As mentioned earlier, only Edwin Diaz had a better K-BB% than Fairbanks did last season, albeit in a larger sample size. The big difference with Fairbanks last season was how quickly he got ahead in the count, which forced the batter to get into protect mode to decide whether 100+ was coming at them or the 11 to 5 slider which goes ears to toes was headed their way:

Both pitches had whiff rates greater than 30 percent, but it was Fairbanks's fastball that had the higher whiff rate at 38 percent marking the second consecutive season he's exceeded the 30 percent benchmark with his four-seam whiff rate. The slider didn't gain any new whiffiness, but the league batting average against the pitch dropped 78 points last season as the league looked overmatched against Fairbanks with his newfound command. He allowed one home run last season, and it came on the very first pitch he threw after his lengthy stay on the IL off the bat of Austin Hays

I first wrote Fairbanks up in early September to set the stage for offseason drafts because I believe he's in for a huge year for fantasy managers. Giddy up!

Toronto Blue Jays

Brandon Belt (ADP 520, in 386, Max 608) is a top-30 first baseman

SOURCE

PA

AVG

OBP

HR

RBI

R

SB

RotoWire

356

.258

.368

18

45

45

2

THE BAT X

420

.222

.326

19

55

50

2

Steamer

346

.222

.323

14

42

41

2

Belt just signed a deal with Toronto as the club continues its efforts to diversify its righty-heavy lineup but finds himself 45th on the ADP chart for first base. Belt gives the Jays an experienced strongside platoon bat at DH as long as his knee is fully recovered, as knee troubles wrecked his 2022 productivity on the heels of his surprising late-career power surge of 2021. Even with the more balanced schedule, the conditions are right in Rogers Centre as well as the other AL East parks for him to have a bounceback season assuming his lower half is 100 percent. 

Justin Choi recently wrote up some excellent points at Fangraphs showing some potential hidden value for Belt. If you have listened to me on the airwaves over the years, I've said one thing repeatedly: power hitters are nothing without their lower half. How else do you explain Belt losing 21 homers as rapidly as he did from 2021 to 2022? I'm not saying 25+ homers is repeatable, as the figure clearly looks like the outlier among his historical stats, but the conditions are right here for him to challenge 20 homers and his current market value still leaves him as a reserve-round power option for fantasy managers. The platoon situation limits his shallow mixed-league viability, but other formats should be more interested now that Belt has found a good place to call home in 2023.

Alek Manoah (ADP 68, Min 59, Max 84) is not a top-40 starting pitcher

SOURCE

IP

K

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

RotoWire

190

185

13

0

3.13

1.09

THE BAT

180

162

12

0

3.73

1.17

Steamer

199

195

12

0

4.03

1.22

I know this one comes across as tough because Manoah has really yet to come across any adversity at the major-league level. Heck, outside of the minor-league season being shut down in 2020, he hasn't faced any adversity as a professional. In 308 major-league innings, he has a 2.60 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP and has held opposing hitters to a .197 average with a 17 percent K-BB%. Over the past two seasons (min 300 IP), only Max Scherzer and Julio Urias have a lower ERA tha Manoah. Our projections for him are the loftiest of the three, but I find myself looking at the why behind the Steamer projections for him.

The graph below shows all pitchers from that qualifying group with their BABIP and LOB% referenced; note where Manoah is on the chart as someone who has enjoyed benefits in both metrics over the past two seasons compared to the group:

I'm reminded of Jeremy Hellickson, who had both the best LOB% and BABIP of all starting pitchers in 2011 and 2012 (look it up) and whose third full season resulted in a 12-10 campaign with a 5.17 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. Hellickson and Manoah are similar in that both had one pitch, Hellickson the changeup and Manoah the slider, which they can dominate a hitter with, but different in that Manoah can get the punchouts when needed while Hellickson was never that guy. Still, Manoah has found himself straying from the group over the past two seasons, so one has to either believe this is a sustainable level of performance or that he'll regress back to the pack this season. Last season, his actual ERA was 2.24 while his xERA came in over a run higher at 3.31, while three of his four pitches had xBA's 25 or more points higher than the actual outcomes. 

In summary, I'm not saying that Manoah is a bum and should be avoided, but I believe we should pump the brakes on him a bit this draft season. He is currently the 20th starting pitcher off the board and is coming off a season where he logged over 200 innings between the regular and postseason. The Lance Lynn body doppelganger would seemingly be able to shoulder such a workload, but even that big man saw his workload drop in 2015 after consecutive 200 inning seasons.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Collette
Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999, and here at Rotowire since 2011. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Sleeper and the Bust podcast every Sunday. A ten-time FSWA finalist, Jason won the FSWA's Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2013 and the Baseball Series of the Year award in 2018 for Collette Calls,and was the 2023 AL LABR champion. Jason manages his social media presence at https://linktr.ee/jasoncollette
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