I have initiated the turbo feature on my crystal ball and lo and behold, it now has the capability of sharing with us the 2013 league leaders in all five hitting and pitching categories! Who knew crystal balls were so useful. Yesterday, I was bold about individual players doing various random things, and today I will be bold about individual hitters doing specific things.
Batting Average – Salvador Perez
As a result of a knee injury suffered last year, Perez has yet to play a full season at the Major League level. He makes fantastic contact and his K% would have ranked as the fourth lowest among all qualified batters. Last year, his BABIP was just .299, right near the league average, while his small sample 2011 yielded a much more intriguing .362 mark. His MLB career comprises just 437 at-bats, but he has been a line-drive machine and posted below average pop-up rates so far. That’s the recipe for a high BABIP and when it’s combined with a near league best contact rate, you’re left with the potential for a very sexy batting average.
Home Runs – Chris Carter
The move from Oakland to Houston is a blessing for Carter’s power potential as Minute Maid Park inflates right-handed home run production, while the Oakland Coliseum hampers it. While Carter’s high strikeout rate is going to hurt his potential power output, he could pull a pretty good Adam Dunn impression. He hits a high rate of fly balls and the Astros appear committed to giving him every day at-bats in left field. If he doesn’t cut it there defensively, they have enough other potentially crappy players Carter could steal playing time from at other positions.
RBI – Mark Trumbo
Hitting behind Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, all of whom should have well above average on base percentages, should afford Trumbo with a multitude of ribbie opportunities. And of course, when you also have 30 home run power, it makes it that much easier to knock those runners in. Since he’ll be the full-time DH, there’s a concern he won’t start in NL parks. However, if Peter Bourjos isn’t hitting, it’s possible they shift Trout to center and move Trumbo to left for those interleague games to get his bat in the lineup.
Runs – Desmond Jennings
This is the second straight seasons Jennings’ name appears on this very list in this same category. He has shown better walk rates in the minors and the skills to post high on base percentages. If he could stay healthy all year, he has the speed and enough power to make it all the way around the bases quite frequently. He’ll need to quit hitting so many pop-ups though and then his BABIP will have a chance to leap over the .300 barrier, leading to a higher OBP and greater run scoring opportunities.
Stolen Bases – Darin Mastroianni
Perhaps the boldest prediction on this list. In fact, Mastroianni will open the season on the Twins bench as Aaron Hicks was recently named the starting center fielder. But, Hicks is no sure thing and has never seen a pitch at the Triple-A level. His wOBA projections are pretty awful and it’s not inconceivable he gets demoted by the end of May. That would open the door back up for Mastroianni to do what he does best — steal bases. Even while not starting, he’ll still have numerous opportunities for base thievery as a pinch runner or maybe late inning defensive replacement for Chris Parmelee that gives him an at-bat.
Batting Average – Norichika Aoki
Aoki made his stateside debut last year and performed admirably. One of the most exciting parts of his game is his ability to make contact — he ranked sixth in that department among qualified batters last year. He also hit a ton of ground balls and posted a below league average pop-up rate. With good speed, those ground balls should lead to a higher BABIP. He could certainly hit line drives more frequently, but if he fails to, he should still manage to increase his BABIP above last season’s merely average .304 mark. With a few more liners and maybe a bit of good luck sprinkled in, a batting average well above .300 isn’t so far fetched.
Home Runs – Paul Goldschmidt
Goldschmidt was a bit disappointing in the home run department last season and some may forget the enormous power he displayed in the minors previously. Last year, Goldschmidt’s average home run and fly ball distance ranked 16th in baseball, suggesting that he was actually unlucky in terms of the rate his fly balls left the park. He should also see more at-bats and it’s possible some of his line drives become fly balls, giving him additional opportunities to put one into the Chase Field pool.
RBI – Freddie Freeman
The Braves lineup got a makeover during the offseason and Freeman is now expected to hit behind Jason Heyward and Justin Upton. Both of them have the potential to post strong on base percentages, while Andrelton Simmons should be acceptable from the leadoff slot. Freeman himself is at a good age and has the skills to take another step forward, while he should also increase his at-bat total from last year.
Runs – Shin-Soo Choo
Choo takes his high OBP, respectable power game to Cincinnati to hit lead-off in front of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and the rest of the gang in red. He moves to a better ballpark and a more potent lineup and that should lead to him easily eclipsing his current career high in runs scored of 88. He does rely on a high BABIP, but he hits few pop-ups, lots of line drives and more ground balls than flies. In other words, it’s exactly the distribution you would want to see from a hitter you’re not sure will sustain a high BABIP.
Stolen Bases – Starling Marte
The sophomore is expected to be the every day lead-off hitter for the Pirates, bringing his power and speed combination to Pittsburgh fans. He stole 12 bases last year in just 182 plate appearances, which extrapolates to 41 thefts over the 628 plate appearances the Fans are projecting he will receive this season. He clearly has a ton of speed as he recorded 13 triples in just 388 at-bats at Triple-A last year. His stolen base success rate hasn’t been that great in previous years, so it’s something to monitor, but if nothing else, if gives him additional upside if he could improve upon that percentage.