I apologize for being a few days late with my “bold predictions” but instead of writing on Opening Day, I was actually attending the Phillies/Braves game. I’m really not that sorry, it was my first Opening Day, and what a better way to end it than with a walk-off Phillies win? Ultimately we still have about 99% of the season left, so without further adieu here are my bold predictions for the 2021 MLB Season.

Heading out West: Trevor Bauer and Yu Darvish will both have ERAs over 4.00

I really want to take this a step further and say that neither Darvish nor Bauer will finish in the top 10 of Cy Young voting. The issue with that is that both pitchers are on very good teams and will likely have solid win totals simply because they get more run support. But there is a lot of reason to believe both pitchers will show huge regression this year.

If you read my article earlier this year about the Yu Darvish trade you may already have an idea as to why I feel this way about Darvish. I feel the same with Bauer because he also pitched in the worst offensive division in baseball last year, the NL Central. So, despite finishing 1-2 in the NL Cy Young last year and having career years, I believe both pitchers will have much tougher seasons in 2021.

To put in perspective just how bad the NL Central was in 2020, every single team in that division finished in the bottom third of the league offensively. The list, ranked by runs scored, is below and it’s flat-out embarrassing.

  1. Chicago Cubs  – 20th
  2. Milwaukee Brewers – 26th
  3. Cincinnati Reds – 27th
  4. St. Louis Cardinals – 28th
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates – 30th

In a normal year, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal because in 162 game season they would have pitched against East and West teams from both the AL and NL. But, in the year of Covid-19, Bauer and Darvish played 2/3 of their schedule against NL central teams and 1/3 against the AL Central. Below is how the AL Central ranked and aside from the Chicago White sox it’s not much better than the NL.

  1. Chicago White Sox – T-5th
  2. Minnesota Twins – T-18th
  3. Detroit Tigers – 23rd
  4. Cleveland Indians – 24th
  5. Kansas City Royals – 25th

Of the 10 teams that Bauer and Darvish faced last year, only one of them ranked in the top half of the league offensively. Now, they both move to an NL West division that had three teams rank in the top 10 offensively and all five teams rank in the top 20. In addition to that, the schedule has expanded so they will have to face teams in the east as well. Looking at the Padres’ July schedule they play seven games against the Nationals, seven against the Rockies, three against the Phillies, and three against the Braves. All four of those teams finished in the top 15 in offense last year, so realistically that month will be tougher than the entire season for Darvish last year.

Moving to LA, from August 3rd until September 1st the Dodgers play seven games against the Mets, three against the Phillies, three against the Braves, three against the Angels, three against the Padres, three against the Rockies, and two against Houston. Four of those seven teams finished in the top 10 offensively last year and the other three finished in the top 15. Good luck Trevor, you might want to pitch with both eyes closed for that stretch.

Obviously, the schedule is a huge factor in all this but I will also mention that pitching in front of fans is very different than pitching in empty stadiums. If you know Trevor Bauer at all you know he’s a bit of a headcase and will often tweet back at fans on Twitter when they bash him. I think it’s fair to assume that he might be somewhat affected when he travels to away stadiums and has to listen to fans chirp at him during the game.

For Darvish, you don’t have to look very far to see his struggles under pressure in the past. I have to imagine heading back to LA isn’t exactly going to be a “welcome party” after his postseason collapse a few years ago. He has a reputation as someone you can rattle, so pitching in front of fans in other stadiums won’t be a cakewalk either. When you look at all the factors I think it is not only possible but probable, that both of these guys finish with 4.00+ ERAs. If you look at their 2019 stats, the most recent full season they’ve played, it wouldn’t be off at all.

Zach Attack: Both Zach Eflin and Zach Davies will have ERAs below 3.50

I know both of these guys seem pretty random for someone to have bold predictions on, but I actually follow both of these pitchers more than the average fan. I lived in Chicago for a few years and saw Davies while he was with the Brewers multiple times against the Cubs. As for Eflin, I’m a huge Phillies fan so I have been tracking his production ever since he came up with them. I believe both of them are in for breakout years.

For Zach Davies, “breakout” might be the wrong word choice. I say that because Davies has been a solid pitcher for a few years now but often gets overlooked because he doesn’t overpower hitters with velocity and nasty “stuff.” That being said, Davies had a 3.55 ERA in 2019 and most recently a 2.73 ERA in 2020. A lot of his success has to do with increased usage of his change-up, which he used about 20% or less from 2015-2018 before jumping to usages of 31% and 41% in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

For those that don’t really understand pitching, a good change-up can be an absolute game-changer. Yes, curveballs and hard sliders seem like flashier pitches but if you look around the league at some of the top pitchers (Strasburg, Degrom, Scherzer, Luis Castillo, Kyle Hendricks, etc.) many have absolutely devastating change-ups. Especially for a guy like Davies who barely cracks 90mph, being able to mix speeds and keep hitters off-balance is critical. I believe he will continue to build on his success from last year and stay right around the 3.00 ERA mark.

Moving to the NL East, I strongly believe Zach Eflin will have a career year as well and be the solid third starter the Phillies have been looking for. Since 2017, Eflin has consistently improved year over year, peaking last season where he had a sub-4.00 ERA for the first time in his career. Now entering his age 27 season and his prime I think he will continue to build on that improvement.

Last year, Eflin saw a huge increase in Ks per nine, jumping from 7.11 in 2019 to 10.68 in 2020. He also showed a much better ability to throw strikes, dropping his walks per nine from 2.64 to 2.29. The result was a K/BB ratio that almost doubled year over year, going from 2.69 to 4.67. From what I’ve seen so far in the preseason and Eflin’s first start there are no indications that he is slowing down in that regard.

Of the two, I think Davies has a slightly easier path to sub-3.5 considering he plays in a much easier division. The NL East is going to be an absolute gauntlet this year with all five teams being legit playoff contenders. That being said, if Eflin’s first start against the braves is any indication, it looks like he’s up for the challenge.

Small Sample Size: Fernando Tatis Jr. will hit under .285 

I’ve had this take for a few months, but given the injury that Fernando Tatis Jr. suffered on Monday night, I won’t get too into the details. If you haven’t seen the injury I included the video below. It’s a shame because despite what I thought about his performance this year, Tatis Jr. is one of the most exciting young players in baseball.

This injury looks very similar to the one Michael Conforto of the Mets suffered a few years ago. I hope it isn’t that bad because it took Conforto almost two years to really get back to 100%. So my prediction will most likely end up being correct but not for the reasons I had expected.

As I said, I don’t want to get too into the details because the injury definitely changes things. I will note my biggest concern though, which was that in the last 29 games of last year (half the season) Tatis only hit .236 with an OBP of .333. Slumps absolutely happen, especially with young hitters but my only point with this take is that coming into this year Tatis had not even played 162 games. Despite this, many fans were ready to crown him the best player in baseball and a sure thing .300 hitter. I’m by no means saying he’s a bum by pointing out his .236 average in the second half of last year, but with such a small sample size and having not played a full season over the course of two years, it’s too early to say what he really is. But in my opinion, he’s probably somewhere in the middle (a .270-.280 hitter), which is why I predicted him to hit below .285 this year.

Unfortunately, we will have to wait a little while to see how that take pans out but so far my other predictions are off to a relatively good start. Bauer and Darvish currently both have ERAs over 4.00 and both Zachs have ERAs under 3.5. It’s obviously way too early to call anything yet but that won’t stop me from enjoying how the first week of baseball has played out. Especially with a 4-0 start for the Phillies. I’ll be sure to revisit how these predictions look around midseason but in the meantime, go Phils!