Five Bold Predictions for 2011

Whether it’s sports betting, fantasy baseball, or just for fun, people love to predict the upcoming season. Some develop systems along the lines of PECOTA at Baseball Prospectus while others go with their gut. Whatever method is employed, you can find tons of prognostications with a simple Google search.

Las Vegas, by the way, thinks very highly of the Phillies.

At the Las Vegas Hilton’s Superbook, the odds on the Phillies – with a starting rotation of [Cliff] Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels – to win the World Series shrank from 6-1 to 9-5, making them the new World Series favorite. To win the NL pennant, the odds adjustment was even bigger: from 3-1 to a stunning minus-130. In other words, to wager on the Phillies to win the National League crown, a bettor has to risk $130 to win $100.

Crashburn Alley is not unlike those seers, professional and amateur alike. Here are five bold Phillies-related predictions for the 2011 baseball season.

1. Cole Hamels will have a better 2011 regular season than Cliff Lee.

I’m known as a bit of a Hamels fan for my rabid defense of the young lefty over the past couple years. I will try my best to take off the rose-colored glasses, but I would not be surprised if Hamels finished the season with better numbers than the team’s newest starting pitcher.

Hamels may not have the pristine control that Lee has, but he does miss bats at a significantly higher clip thanks to some added velocity on his four-seam fastball and a newly-created cut fastball. Hamels was very close to Lee in SIERA last year, his 3.19 just a bit behind Lee’s 3.03 and actually beat him in ERA, 3.06 to 3.18.

2. Chase Utley will post a .400 or higher on-base percentage.

Utley’s walk rate ballooned from the 8-9 percent range to 12-13 percent in the past two years. He works the strike zone at an elite level, and the guy can hit as well. Thanks to a thumb injury, 2010 was Utley’s worst offensive season of his career since he started playing regularly in ’05. Even when Utley returned from a 45-day on the disabled list, he couldn’t hit for power. Still, he finished with a .387 OBP.

Barring a nightmarish spring training, Utley will go into the regular season healthy and well-rested, poised to rebound. With that high walk rate and a higher percentage of well-struck baseballs, a .400 OBP is not out of the question for the best second baseman in baseball.

3. Jimmy Rollins will steal at least 10 bases without getting caught in April.

Rollins has had two consecutive sub-par offensive seasons (by his standards). His .296 and .320 on-base percentages and a calf injury limited his opportunities to steal. From 2001-08, Rollins averaged 44 stolen base attempts. He attempted only 39 and 18 stolen bases in ’09 and ’10, respectively. However, with plenty of time to recuperate after a draining season, Rollins is ready to reclaim his spot among the best base-stealers in baseball.

4. One of Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson will be traded by July 31.

Both Lidge and Madson can be free agents after the season. Lidge has a club option for 2012 worth $12.5 million that is very likely to be declined. Given his shaky ’09 season, high salary expectations, age, and recent injury history, Lidge is the likeliest to find a new home.

Madson will earn $4.5 million and is looking towards his first chance for a big payday. He avoided arbitration at this time in ’09, signing a relatively cheap three-year, $12 million deal. Madson has gained considerably more respect since then, however, and will be harder to sign to a team-friendly deal, especially since he is represented by super-agent Scott Boras.

The Phillies have, to this point, committed nearly $160 million to their 2011 roster and still have $113 already committed for ’12. Madson is much more likely to agree to a cheaper deal than Lidge, so Crashburn Alley is predicting that the Phillies will trade Lidge and sign Madson to an extension.

5. Raul Ibanez will hit for at least a .360 overall wOBA.

Ibanez will turn 39 years old on June 2. Many have already come to the conclusion that the left fielder is toast, that he will never again be a productive everyday player. This seems like a fool’s errand, especially having watched Jamie Moyer over the last ten years.

It is true that, in 2010 with a .341 wOBA, Ibanez posted his wost offensive season since earning regular playing time in ’02. However, that mark was not much lower than his career .351 average, and really only looked bad in comparison to his fluky .379 in ’09.

This prediction may not seem that outlandish, but if you listen to the majority of baseball fans and analysts, Ibanez is destined to fall into a bottomless pit offensively going forward. Ibanez may not be a finalist for the National League Most Valuable Player award, but should be productive enough with the bat.

Feel free to share your 2011 predictions in the comments.