My crystal ball doesn’t just see the future of random players and how it relates to fantasy leagues. It also knows who will be leading the league in each 5×5 category! Who knew a crystal ball could be so valuable? I will now boldly unveil your 2012 hitting league leaders…
Eric Hosmer- Hosmer has made excellent contact throughout his minor league career and although his contact rate dipped slightly during his rookie season, it still remained at an excellent level. Last year he was a ground ball hitter and generally was so in the minors. Since he does have decent speed, those additional ground balls should boost his BABIP. He hasn’t posted amazing BABIP marks in the minors, save for his 2010 season at High-A, but his power and speed suggest the potential for something well above the league average. And if his home run rate jumps to anywhere near what he did in 2010 at Double-A (13 homers in 195 ABs), his batting average will receive another spark.
Nelson Cruz- This prediction almost solely hinges on Cruz’ health. He has yet to exceed 475 at-bats in a season, which means he must be overdue for a healthy year for a change, right?! We all know how much power he possesses, plus the only time he posted a fly ball rate below 40% was in 2008. He ranked third in the AL in “no doubt” home runs and averaged an impressive 410.3 feet in standard distance on his knocks. Only 7 of his 29 homers were of the “just enough” variety, so he could very well approach the 21% HR/FB level he reached in both 2008 and 2009.
Delmon Young- I have talked a lot about Young recently, and yet somehow didn’t draft him in the LABR mixed league. Assuming he hits fifth behind the great OBPs from Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, Young will be licking his chops at his ribbitunities (please, please add this new, awesome word to your lingo). In this instance, abhorring the base on balls is a very good thing as he will try to take advantage of every opportunity to knock in runs. My full Young projection can be found here.
Desmond Jennings- Despite hitting just .259 last year, his prorated run total over 600 at-bats was 107. That’s because he has great plate patience, walking in over 10% of his plate appearances at nearly every stop in his career. The .303 BABIP has an excellent chance to rise, while his strikeout rate should improve given his history. All this means that he should get on base even more often than last year. When you add in the 15 or so home runs and hitting lead off in a pretty solid lineup, you have the recipe for a run scoring machine.
Peter Bourjos- He has the highest projected Spd rating (the Baseball HQ/Forecaster version, not the FanGraphs one), but also has excellent FanGraphs Spd marks. He has hit over 10 triples every year since 2008, so we know he’s quite the speed demon. He stole 50 bases in the minors in 2008, but his stolen base prowess has declined since. What will make this difficult is his place at the bottom of the order hurting his at-bat total and his poor walk rate limiting his OBP. He clearly has the speed to do it, but he obviously has to run more and improve on last year’s weak 71% success rate.
Michael Cuddyer- He owns a career .272 average and has never hit better than .284 in a season. But, he has never called Coors Field home! Target Field kills home run power, moreso for lefties, but has still hampered right-handers by 17%. Coors Field inflates right-handed homers by 21%, so the increased power alone will boost Cuddyer’s average. Next, Coors reduces strikeouts by 13%. Fewer strikeouts = more balls in play = higher batting average, assuming an equal BABIP. Last is Coors’ overall effect on batting average, as the last three years saw the park boost it by 14%. Cuddyer already makes above average contact, so you throw in the ballpark change, along with a BABIP with room to rise, and out pops the potential for a first time .300 hitter.
Justin Upton- Not the boldest, I know, but I sometimes get real giddy about his potential, even though I never end up drafting him. He hit the third longest home run in baseball last year and his average standard distance was a ridiculous 418.8 feet. Seriously, I have never seen a distance that far from any other player before. Hit Tracker doesn’t have a ranked list of average standard distance, but I’d bet Upton is first. One of the more exciting things is that his HR/FB ratio last year was only 14.8%. He has posted as high as an 18.8% mark, but with the kind of power he possesses, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he posted a 20%+ rate. Based on my projections, a 20% mark would give him 38 homers.
Hunter Pence- Getting in a full season hitting behind some pretty good OBPs, rather than playing in a rather weak lineup, will go a long way into making this prediction a reality. He should hit cleanup while Ryan Howard is sidelined, and like Delmon Young, a mediocre walk rate is a positive when it comes to knocking in runners. He has actually never reached the 100 RBI plateau, but this could very well be the year he finally does. And if he manages to get that fly ball rate up for a change, his home runs will jump and bring the RBI up as well.
Dexter Fowler- Ughhh, I go back and forth between loving him and thinking he’s the overhyped sleeper of the year. I so badly want to love him, but every time I look deeper, I feel like he needs to improve upon too many things to warrant the love he has received. That said, he doesn’t even need to truly break out to lead the league in runs. Just like Jennings, he has excellent plate patience and even with a batting average lower than you’d like to see, his OBP is relatively strong. He has good speed and of course will be leading off in a great hitter’s park in a pretty good lineup.
Starlin Castro- Probably the boldest prediction on this list and I think Castro is very much overvalued in drafts too. But, no non-obvious candidates stood out, so this was the most difficult player to choose. That said, Castro seemingly has great speed but simply hasn’t attempted as many stolen bases as you might expect. Plus, he clearly has more learning to do as his success rate has been just 65% with the Cubs. But, he has hit 14 triples over his first two seasons and his Spd scores (both Baseball HQ/Forecaster and FanGraphs) are good. He could afford to walk more often, but he makes excellent contact which should ensure at least a solid OBP, albeit unspectacular.