I’m generally not comfortable with the whole concept of predictions. When people find out what I do for a living, they ask me to predict the pennant or World Series champion, and then I just hem and haw, equivocating for long enough that the topic is dropped. I’m a believer in uncertainty. I worship at the church of uncertainty. Everything in baseball is probabilistic, and you never find probabilities of 100 percent.
I don’t always like this about myself. Sure, it’s intellectually honest, but it’s also obnoxious. It keeps me from going out on a limb. I want to be bold. I want to make commitments. Conveniently, this assignment showed up, and it forces me to take a stand. It forces me to take 30 stands. There’s no backing down now — I’m tasked with 30 predictions, one for every team. And none of that weak stuff, like “the Astros will win at least 90 games.” I have to be firm, and I have to take a chance.
These aren’t just based on gut feelings. I try to have good reasons for all of them. And these aren’t just predictions that fall in line with what everyone expects to happen anyway — these are predictions that require a little more than that. I’m sure many of them will turn out to look silly. But here are 30 stands, 30 positions I’m taking today.
Prediction: The Angels will finish with a top-10 park-adjusted ERA. This isn’t just about Shohei Ohtani, although he’s a part of it. This also isn’t just about the intriguing six-man rotation, although that is also part of it. The Angels don’t have many starters they can count on to make every single start, but where they might be short on reliability, they’re long on talent. And, very importantly, with the likes of Ian Kinsler, Andrelton Simmons, Zack Cozart and Martin Maldonado, the Angels will field arguably baseball’s No. 1 defense. Run suppression should be more of a strength than a weakness.
Prediction: Kyle Tucker will be starting in left field by the middle of June. I don’t have anything against Derek Fisher or Marwin Gonzalez, but no matter who’s playing left on a regular basis in Houston, he’s essentially a placeholder for one of the top hitting prospects around. Although Tucker has just a half-season above high-A and although he’s just 21 years old, swing changes unlocked his power in 2017, and there aren’t many obstacles remaining in his way.
Prediction: Justin Smoak will hit 40-plus home runs. Smoak is already off to a good start, hitting home runs against the Yankees’ bullpen in consecutive innings over the weekend. I don’t think he’s going to take much of a step back. When I ran a recent query examining the whole of baseball history, I couldn’t find a single hitter with a bigger season-to-season drop in strikeout rate than Smoak managed between 2016 and 2017. With his disciplined eye and improved contact skills, Smoak has finally developed into the force he was supposed to become as a prospect.