Ceilings and floors, ceilings and floors.
You'll increasingly hear this phrase echo around fantasy baseball circles, and it exemplifies the greatest flaws in rankings and cheat sheets. Those of us who have played this game for years are probably experts at organizing players by their anticipated value.
Here's the problem: These things identify only one possible outcome for each player -- his most middle-of-the-road result.
What about the players with the widest range of potential outcomes? Call them whatever you wish, boom/bust, risk/reward, upside/downside -- or high-ceiling/low-floor -- these are the players who very often play the most major parts in your championship quest.
Take Bryce Harper, for example. In the past four seasons (working forward), the 2015 National League MVP has finished No. 353, No. 7, No. 93 and No. 50 on the ESPN Player Rater. Bear in mind that at the time he injured his knee last Aug. 12, he graded out a clear top-10-overall player as well. During this span, he had four different months with at least a .350 batting average, 8 HRs and 20 RBIs. During this same time, he averaged just 128 games played per year.
Harper possesses one of the highest statistical ceilings of anyone in fantasy baseball, which is largely the reason so many -- this columnist included -- are willing to consistently spend a first-round pick on him. At the same time, his is one of the lowest floors of anyone ranked anywhere close to that range. These are traits that must be accounted for when you're examining any set of rankings. Are you willing to take the chance that this will be one of those years where everything clicks, Harper stays healthy and another MVP-caliber year results, or does the bust risk for the lofty price tag scare you?
Conversely, Anthony Rizzo has been eerily consistent during that same four-year span, especially over the past three seasons. From 2015 to 2017, Rizzo's annual average stat line is 157 games played, .281/.388/.521 slash rates, 32 home runs, 106 RBIs and 96 runs scored. During that three-year span, he never finished further from that annual average than three games played, 11 points of batting average, four points of on-base percentage, 23 points of slugging percentage, one home run, five RBIs or three runs scored. Few players can claim that level of consistency.
Though it's somewhat unfair to term Rizzo as "low-ceiling" -- his median-expectation stats are awfully high-grade -- in relative terms, his ceiling is pretty close to his median projection, as is his floor. He's one of the most predictable stars in baseball.
This column is for the Harper fans of the fantasy baseball world -- the ones who want to know where these highest ceilings and lowest floors reside. These are my annual bold predictions, which bring an additional dimension to my rankings, identifying the players who have the widest range of potential outcomes.
Use them as you wish. Jot down notes about them on your cheat sheet, so you know where to find the most potential profits during your draft. Or merely print them out and put them in a safe place until October so you can call me out on how many of them I ultimately got wrong. It's all good. After all, I got my Michael Conforto, Robbie Ray and Luis Severino predictions almost spot-on in 2017. I also horribly, horribly missed with my Tyler Glasnow, Jim Johnson and Seung-Hwan Oh predictions.
That's how this kind of thing goes. Remember, this is the risk/reward, or rather, the high-ceiling/low-floor prediction game. You're identifying the best (or worst) possible outcome for the player in question -- the 5 percent at the extremes.
Another thing about predictions: How "bold" they are is a relative thing. Some of these might seem fairly obvious to some, but completely bonkers to others. I try to account for a wide range of players, positions and categories. They are also listed in alphabetical order by player so you can easily find a specific name.
Here we go!
Tristan's bold predictions for 2018
The Cleveland Indians will become the first team in baseball history to have three different pitchers strike out at least 225 batters, with Trevor Bauer becoming their newest entrant to this group. (This one's perhaps less "bold" than some others, but it highlights how remarkable it is that it has never previously been done.)
Alex Bregman will become only the second infielder in history to manage at least a .310 batting average, 35 home runs and 15 stolen bases in a season played before his 25th birthday, joining Alex Rodriguez (1996, 1998 and 2000).
Byron Buxton will become only the 10th player in history to manage at least 20 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a single season played at the age of 24 or younger. (Hey, if I keep predicting it, it's bound to eventually happen, right? But seriously, his 2017 second half fully supports this possibility.)
Kole Calhoun, who has never managed more than 83 RBIs in a single year in his career, will plate 105 runners in 2018.
Nicholas Castellanos will hit 40-plus home runs.
Alex Claudio will save 30-plus games.
Patrick Corbin will effectively replicate his 2013 final-season numbers, finishing among the top-25 starting pitchers on the Player Rater.
Sean Doolittle will finish the year a top-five fantasy closer.
Steven Duggar will win the San Francisco Giants' starting center field job and manage at least 12 home runs and 24 stolen bases.
Adam Eaton will pick up right where he left off, scoring 120 runs -- with 20 stolen bases in the process.
Delino DeShields will double his career total of 32 stolen bases en route to capturing the American League's crown in the category.
Nathan Eovaldi will strike out 150-plus hitters.
Marco Estrada will post an ERA no greater than 3.50 while setting a new personal best in strikeouts. His current best is 176, set last season.
Dexter Fowler will manage his first career 20/20 season, while scoring 100-plus runs.
Kyle Gibson will strike out more than 170 batters while posting an ERA below 4.00.
Yasmani Grandal will hit 30-plus home runs.
Jon Gray will strike out 200-plus batters.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will make his major league debut at the age of 19, at least one month before Sept. 16 (which would be his half-birthday, so he'd be 19 1/2), and he'll bat at least .300 in the games he gives you.
The Diamondbacks' leader in saves this season will be Greg Holland, who shuts the door at least 30 times.
Chris Iannetta will deliver fantasy managers at least 20 home runs and 60 walks.
Tommy Kahnle will be the highest-finishing relief pitcher on the Player Rater who fails to notch at least five saves.
Jason Kipnis will finally stay healthy enough to have that season of .280, 20 HRs, 15 SBs. He has reached each threshold previously, just never in the same year. And he'll do it if only because I don't have him on a single team this year.
Manny Machado will become the fourth shortstop in history to hit 40-plus home runs, and the first to do it since Alex Rodriguez (1998-2003).
Jose Martinez will find his way into 500-plus plate appearances and bat at least .290 with 20 home runs
Nomar Mazara will hit 30-plus home runs.
Lance McCullers Jr. will finally stay healthy enough to strike out 200-plus batters.
Francisco Mejia, currently DH-only in ESPN leagues, will play enough at catcher to earn in-season qualification there, but he'll also play well enough to finish among the top 15 at the position on the Player Rater.
Roberto Osuna will shave off more than a run and a half from his 2017 ERA (3.38) while saving at least 40 games.
Jose Pirela will hit 20-plus home runs while adding in-season position eligibility at both second and third base.
Stephen Piscotty will surpass both of his 2016 totals of a .273 batting average and 22 home runs.
Nick Pivetta will have a 4.25 ERA or lower and at least 170 strikeouts, placing himself clearly among the "roster-worthy" fantasy starting pitchers in mixed leagues.
Despite not being recalled until May 15, A.J. Puk will finish the year the highest-ranked Oakland Athletics starting pitcher on the Player Rater.
Wilson Ramos will finish among the top-five catchers on the Player Rater.
Eduardo Rodriguez will finish among the top-35 starting pitchers on the Player Rater.
Nick Senzel will be recalled on May 1 and finish second in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting.
Jorge Soler will hit 30-plus home runs.
Drew Steckenrider will take over the Miami closer role no later than Memorial Day and will save 25 games for them.
Whether he makes the Reds' Opening Day rotation or not, Robert Stephenson will strike out 150-plus hitters.
Jameson Taillon will finish among the top-25 starting pitchers on the Player Rater.
Mike Trout will become only the fourth player in history to bat at least .320 with 40 home runs and 25 stolen bases in a season, joining Barry Bonds (1993), Ellis Burks (1996) and Larry Walker (1997).
Jonathan Villar will steal 40-plus bases, starting a new streak of consecutive seasons with at least that many thefts. He had four in a row at all professional levels combined from 2013-16.