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12 bold predictions for the 2024 MLB season

12 bold predictions for the 2024 MLB season

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

With Opening Day around the corner, it’s time to make some bold predictions about the MLB season. While rooted in analysis and based, in part, on last year’s performances, these are supposed to be more fun than serious. Here are 12 things that probably won’t (but maybe will!) happen this season:

Aaron Judge will hit 70 home runs.

Why it could happen: Despite missing 56 games because of hip and toe injuries last year, the New York Yankees slugger hit 37 home runs, the second-most ever by a player who appeared in 106 games or fewer. Judge’s toe injury may have affected his ability to pull the ball, as only 13 of his 37 home runs in 2023 were to left field, compared with half of his AL-record 62 bombs in 2022, but the power indicators were still there, and now he’ll hit behind Juan Soto. Judge’s average flyball distance was higher in 2023 than it was in 2022, and his ratio of home runs to flyballs was nearly identical at 18 percent.

Why it probably won’t: The only two players to eclipse 70 home runs in a season — Mark McGwire in 1998 and Barry Bonds in 2001 — both admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during their careers. Since MLB instituted a universal drug-testing policy in 2008, no one has hit more than 62. FanGraphs’ Steamer projects Judge, who said his toe will require “constant maintenance” and dealt with an abdominal injury in spring training, to hit 46 home runs.

Gunnar Henderson will be the AL MVP.

Why it could happen: Henderson, who was the first Baltimore Oriole since pitcher Gregg Olson in 1989 to be the AL rookie of the year, hit .255 with 28 home runs for the AL East champions. He broke Cal Ripken Jr.’s franchise rookie record for extra-base hits while playing solid defense at shortstop and third base, and after overcoming a slow start in 2023, he’s poised to improve on his numbers in 2024. Ripken followed his rookie of the year campaign in 1982 by winning his first of two MVPs the following season. History just might repeat itself in Baltimore.

Why it probably won’t: Historically, the MVP tends to lead his league in wins above replacement, a metric that quantifies a player’s total value by comparing his performance to a hypothetical replacement-level player across various benchmarks. Henderson is projected to be in the top 10 for wins above replacement in 2024, per Steamer, but isn’t even expected to be the best player on his own team. That honor goes to catcher Adley Rutschman, who is forecast to end the season with 5.7 fWAR. (If Judge hits 70 homers, Henderson might have to settle for MVP runner-up.)

The Kansas City Royals will win the division.

Why it could happen: The AL Central was baseball’s weakest division in 2023, with four of its five teams finishing below .500 and the 87-win Minnesota Twins claiming the title by nine games. After bringing up the rear a year ago, the Royals signed their star shortstop, Bobby Witt Jr., to a record extension and were active in free agency, adding starting pitchers Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha, reliever Will Smith and slugger Hunter Renfroe. Left-handed starter Cole Ragans, acquired in a trade deadline deal for Aroldis Chapman last year, is a potential breakout star after going 5-2 with a 2.64 ERA in 12 starts with Kansas City.

Why it probably won’t: The Royals tied a franchise record with 106 losses last season, and the lineup has plenty of questions outside of Witt. Catcher Salvador Pérez, the only remaining player from Kansas City’s 2015 World Series-winning team, will be 34 in May and has combined for 46 home runs over the past two seasons after hitting 48 in 2021. First baseman Vinnie Pasquantino is coming off shoulder surgery that limited him to 61 games in 2023.

Pablo López will win the AL Cy Young.

Why it could happen: The Twins’ right-hander is one of the most underrated starters in the majors. He went 11-8 last season with a 3.66 ERA after adding a sweeper to his arsenal and posting the highest average fastball velocity of his six-year career. His ERA should have been 3.33 when adjusting for events that were more within his control (walks, strikeouts and home runs allowed), which would have ranked 11th among all pitchers. Reigning AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole is expected to miss the start of the season.

Why it probably won’t: López has been a picture of health the past two seasons, starting 32 games in each year, and if he can avoid the arm troubles that plagued the start of his MLB career, he should at least be in the Cy Young conversation. But the competition in the AL is stiff, even beyond Cole, with Kevin Gausman, Corbin Burnes and Framber Valdez among the names with better preseason odds of claiming the award.

The Oakland Athletics will win more games than the Los Angeles Angels.

Why it could happen: The potentially Las Vegas-bound A’s upgraded a starting rotation that had the second-worst combined ERA last year by trading for Ross Stripling and signing Alex Wood. (A closer look at last year’s pitching woes reveals Oakland’s starters had the second-biggest difference between their ERA and expected ERA based on events outside their control, per FanGraphs.) Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projections have the A’s improving on last year’s 50-win total by 14 games.

Why it probably won’t: While Oakland’s pitching may be improved, the lineup — which ranked last in the majors in runs — doesn’t look much different. Second baseman Zack Gelof is a budding star, and designated hitter Brent Rooker and first baseman Ryan Noda are coming off career years, but the A’s will need others to contribute to avoid a third consecutive 100-loss season and last-place finish.

Julio Rodríguez will go 40-40.

Why it could happen: Rodríguez overcame a slow start to 2023 and ended the season with 32 home runs and 37 stolen bases, joining the 30-30 club in his second season. He was the only player to rank in the 90th percentile or better in batting, base-running and fielding run value last season, per MLB’s Statcast data. At 23, Rodríguez probably has his best years ahead of him. The rate of hits on the sweet spot of the bat, also known as barrels, sees a sharp increase from ages 20 to 25, and a player’s hard-hit rate (balls with an exit velocity of 95 mph or more) sees a slight increase during that span.

Why it probably won’t: Ronald Acuña Jr. smashed 41 homers and stole 73 bases last season, but don’t let the Atlanta Braves star’s historic season fool you: Joining the 40-40 club is no small feat. Acuña became only the fifth player to do it and the first since Alfonso Soriano in 2006.

Spencer Strider will strike out at least 300 batters.

Why it could happen: In 2023, Strider struck out 281 batters and produced the fifth-highest strikeout rate in baseball history (36.8 percent) among pitchers qualifying for the ERA title. His fastball is nasty, averaging between 96 mph and 99 mph with a maximum velocity of 102.4 mph. The key to the 6-foot Strider’s success is his release extension — 7 feet in front of the pitching rubber, which ranks 13th among starters since 2021, per data from TruMedia. Strider’s perceived fastball velocity is 98.9 mph, second only to Jacob DeGrom (100.0 mph).

Why it probably won’t: Only 19 pitchers since 1900 have struck out at least 300 batters in a season, and the feat has become more rare in recent years as teams limit pitchers’ innings. The Yankees’ Cole was the last pitcher to eclipse the mark, with 326 in 2019.

Trea Turner will be the NL MVP.

Why it could happen: After signing an 11-year, $300 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies last offseason, Turner struggled to get comfortable in his new home. With a bit of unexpected encouragement from the notoriously tough Philadelphia crowd, which gave him a standing ovation Aug. 4, Turner turned things around. In 48 games from Aug. 4 on, he hit 16 home runs with 42 RBI, 42 runs and nine stolen bases. His fWAR during that span ranked third in the majors behind Mookie Betts and Rodríguez.

Why it probably won’t: Turner’s production this season figures to fall somewhere between his incredible second half of 2023 and his career 162-game average of 24 home runs, 82 RBI and 42 stolen bases. That’s all-star material, and deserving of a standing ovation, but not enough to garner MVP consideration.

Christian Encarnacion-Strand will lead the NL in homers.

Why it could happen: There were questions about Encarnacion-Strand’s playing time entering spring training, but Noelvi Marte’s 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance opens the door for him to be the Cincinnati Reds’ primary first baseman. With a regular spot in a strong lineup and the benefit of playing half his games in the most homer-friendly ballpark in the league, CES is set up for a monster year after hitting 13 homers in only 63 games as a rookie.

Why it probably won’t: Last year’s NL home run leaders — Matt Olson, Kyle Schwarber and Pete Alonso — didn’t go anywhere, and Shohei Ohtani’s arrival makes this prediction even more bold.

The Milwaukee Brewers will repeat as division champs.

Why it could happen: The Brewers haven’t won back-to-back division titles since 1981 and 1982, but the team has enough young talent to offset Manager Craig Counsell’s defection to the division rival Chicago Cubs and Burnes’s trade to the Orioles. It will take another strong season from catcher William Contreras, a rebound by shortstop Willy Adames and major contributions from free agent acquisition Rhys Hoskins to outperform expectations. Center fielder Jackson Chourio is one of the top prospects in baseball.

Why it probably won’t: Milwaukee overperformed by winning 92 games last season. Based on its run differential (plus-81), it was expected to finish with 90 victories. According to the BaseRuns metric — a measure of how many runs a team should have scored or allowed given its offensive and defensive performance — the Brewers’ expected win total was 85. Their unproven starting rotation could be without right-hander Brandon Woodruff for the entire season as he works his way back from shoulder surgery, and closer Devin Williams will miss about three months with stress fractures in his back.

The Los Angeles Dodgers will set the single-season wins record.

Why it could happen: The Dodgers have won at least 100 games in four consecutive non-coronavirus seasons, including 111 two years ago. This year’s lineup is more loaded than that group, thanks primarily to the addition of Ohtani, who signed a 10-year, $700 million deal, and the considerably cheaper acquisition of slugger Teoscar Hernández. The pitching is also better and potentially dominant, with Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto and former Tampa Bay Rays ace Tyler Glasnow leading one of the game’s deepest staffs.

Why it probably won’t: PECOTA projects Los Angeles to win 100 games in 2024 — 16 shy of the record shared by the 2001 Seattle Mariners and 1906 Chicago Cubs. If we absolutely knew the Dodgers were a team with enough talent to win 117 games, they would have a roughly 7 percent chance of doing it. Why? Because randomness in game outcomes, variability in player performance, injuries and the influence of situational factors such as weather and umpire decisions affect short-term results.

Jung Hoo Lee will win the NL batting title.

Why it could happen: Lee hit .340 during his seven-year career in the Korean Baseball Organization before signing a six-year, $113 million deal with the San Francisco Giants in December. The left-handed hitting outfielder, who will turn 26 in August, struck out only 304 times in 3,476 at-bats in the KBO and is expected to lead off for San Francisco. He got off to a hot start in spring training, with six hits in his first 13 at-bats, including a home run that left his bat at 110 mph.

Why it probably won’t: The transition from Korean baseball to the major leagues isn’t always a smooth one. In 2021, shortstop Ha-Seong Kim hit only .202 in his first year with the San Diego Padres after hitting .306 in the KBO the season before. One reason for the difficult adjustment could be the average fastball is around 90 mph in Korea and 94 mph in MLB. According to data from TruMedia, hitters from 2008 through 2023 had a batting average of .291 against fastballs thrown between 88 and 91 mph, and a .279 batting average against fastballs between 91 and 94 mph. That’s a big difference for anyone chasing the batting title.

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