Everyone loves to make bold predictions. It doesn't matter if they're wrong, because by using the word "bold," it implies they don't need to be right. They're just so crazy nobody should believe them in the first place. Sixty homers for Mark Teixeira! A new MLB saves record for Jose Valverde! A full season of games for Rocco Baldelli! Sure, bold is beautiful, but it doesn't win fantasy championships.
I'm here to be the voice of reason. Good, solid numbers win in our game. We want health, consistency, depth and, oh yeah, every once in a while sprinkle in an MVP or Cy Young-type campaign to help. However, if you build your fantasy teams based on wild hopes and dreams, chances are you're going to be staring at an eighth-place finish.
Let's get serious. Last season in the majors, a grand total of five players managed to hit 40 or more home runs. Four of them were reasonable to predict, and the other one, some guy named Carlos Pena, would have been about the boldest comment ever if you had called that 46-home run season. Maybe you tell your buddies you called it, but I'm guessing you still drafted Ben Broussard instead. Only two players stole more bases than the 51 Hanley Ramirez pilfered, and neither Jose Reyes nor Juan Pierre was a shock. On the mound, one pitcher won 20 games, a season after nobody did it in 2006.
What's the point? For all those bold predictions made this time a year ago, how many of them happened? Thanks, Brady Anderson, you created a monster when you had your one season of power glory, and everyone thinks he or she can peg the next 50-homer breakout from a leadoff hitter. Nice work, Luis Gonzalez, we all anxiously await the next old, lefty-hitting veteran to go Bonds on us. And yes, this must be the year someone pulls a Bob Welch and wins darn near every time they stride to the mound. Happens all the time.
I'm sorry to break the news to fantasy owners, but it's very, very rare that the fantasy record books get rewritten by a bold prediction actually coming true, so consider it wiser to go with the ole tried and true draft strategy of acting on what we know and making reasonable speculations. Players will emerge, putting up numbers they've never done before, but I'm skeptical Josh Hamilton will be breaking the home run record or Johan Santana will win 27 games. Just call it a hunch.
That said, I do like Hamilton to stay healthy and put up big numbers, but 550 at-bats and 31 homers are what I call bold. Maybe that's the conservative viewpoint, but it's a lot more realistic. There's really nothing wrong with taking a few chances in a draft, trade or free agent pickup, but balance is key in any fantasy sport. You want production in every category, but it's also wise to mix in some veterans with the kids, durable players with the health risks, even hedge your bets with players from different teams, just in case one franchise just can't get a break. In a lot of drafts, I see someone going high-risk, high-reward with every pick and wonder how that owner will feel in a month when things quickly go awry.
Again, I'm not trying to rain on any parades here. Some of your gambles are going to pay off. I foresee a solid emergence for a number of hitters in addition to Hamilton, like Jeremy Hermida, James Loney, Conor Jackson, Delmon Young, Alex Gordon and even Luke Scott. But I'm not taking ol' cool swingin' Luke in the seventh round. There's still a smart value on the players you want to draft, and if you aim to build the all-prediction team, it's likely your league mates can all predict a poor season for you. Where are the safe players?
Really, they're all around you. They're the ones nobody wants to take, and mainly it's because they're on the wrong side of 30. Then again, I have to tell you, most players have flaws. They're inherently risky. What you should be doing with most of your picks is negating the risk. For every one season out of 20 that the stars align and your bold prediction of Kerry Wood saving 35 games works out, there are 19 seasons of him doing what he's done the past three seasons, totaling 110 innings pitched. Negate the risk.
Evan Longoria is going to bat .300 with 25 home runs? Well, I suppose that is possible, but I'll take my chances on Mike Lowell doing it first. Michael Bourn was born to run and will steal 50 bases? Again, it wouldn't be the biggest stunner of all time, but how far is Shane Victorino slipping in your drafts? Paul Konerko, Johnny Damon and Greg Maddux aren't sexy names in fantasy anymore, but you should have a pretty good idea what they are capable of. So how come they keep dropping in ESPN drafts?
Most rookies, even the top, sure-thing ones, are not going to pan out. We know this because, well, it happens every season. Kansas City's Gordon is a terrific example of a sure thing who was sure disappointing. I think this is actually his year, but what about Brandon Wood and Homer Bailey? If Gordon was merely disappointing, what were those guys? Also, there are so many rookies to watch, but it's the ones who fly beneath the radar that often surprise. I think Jayson Nix in Colorado will have a solid, underrated fantasy season. Nobody's drafting this second baseman, of course. Kind of like 2007 AL Rookie of the Year Dustin Pedroia, don't you think?
So for this spring, I've heard a bunch of wild statements about what might and might not happen in the majors this season. I laugh. That's what you're supposed to do, really, as opposed to taking them seriously. Hey, if Johan really does win 27 games, I guess I was wrong. Maybe Carlos Pena, who I happen to think will hit 39 home runs this season, takes his story a step further and hits 60. And who knows, maybe every closer in the AL West takes a legit run at Bobby Thigpen's save record of 57, set 18 seasons ago!
My bold prediction is that those who live by them in a fantasy league aren't going to look so bold when they're closer to the cellar than first place in June.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com fantasy. You can e-mail him here.