2016 Bold Hitter League Leaders

Every season, in addition to posting my standard bold predictions, I up the ante with my bold league leaders. If you thought nailing a bold prediction was tough, the bold league leaders is even more difficult! Just getting one right is worthy of celebration. Because these are bold, I automatically disqualify players I don’t personally believe should be considered bold. So I challenge myself and it typically causes me to bat .000.

We’ll start with the hitting league leaders in each of the five categories, split up by league.

American League

Batting AverageManny Machado

During Machado’s breakout 2015 performance, he hit .286, which didn’t sniff the league leaders. But he did that while posting a merely average BABIP, which is well below his career mark. Of course, his batted ball distribution doesn’t lend itself to a high BABIP — his LD% is below average, while he hits too many pop-ups. But there’s your path for improvement and a jump in BABIP. Then we get to another driver of batting average, strikeout rate. Could you believe that Machado’s power surge was accompanied by a tiny 6.8% SwStk%?! That’s super impressive. Perhaps he could cut that strikeout rate even further if he continues to swing and miss so infrequently. Last, there’s actually further upside in his HR/FB rate. His nearly 294 foot batted ball distance, combined with the other two components, yielded a near 20% xHR/FB rate. In a home run boosting park like Camden Yards, there’s no reason to think his actual HR/FB rate will lag his expected mark.

He has a real shot to hit .300+ this year.

Home RunsGeorge Springer

Injuries robbed Springer of playing time in his sophomore campaign last year and his power declined after his superb 2014 debut. But this is a guy who posted a 309 foot batted ball distance as a rookie, and over a reasonable enough sample size to not completely dismiss it as a fluke. He also calls home a park that inflates right-handed home runs. Really, the only question here is that of health. It’s why this is considered a bold call, even though his power we are well aware of. If he remains on the field all year, he’ll be in the conversation.

RBIMark Trumbo

I like cleanup hitters as potential RBI leaders as they generally get the most chances to knock in runners on the team. Trumbo moves to a nice hitter’s park and was one of my eight players I identified as having major HR/FB rate upside. He’s going to be in a powerful lineup, with solid OBP guys in Machado and Chris Davis ahead of him. Of course, the downside is all the power that they bring, they will be clearing the bases themselves and not be leaving anyone for poor Trumbo!

RunsJustin Upton

Upton has exceeded 100 runs twice during his career, back in 2011 and 2012. He might do it again this year. Hitting second in front of Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez means he’ll be touching home plate often after he gets on base. And the fact that he’s a power threat with expectations of 25-30 home runs means automatic runs scored. That gives him an edge over speedy guys with limited power that hit atop the order.

Stolen BasesByron Buxton

This is always the most difficult category to be truly bold. There were many ways I could have gone here, all of which didn’t seem very bold. So I opted to go supa dupa bold. Buxton’s page shows that we slapped an 80 speed grade on him back in 2014. He stole 57 bases back in 2013. The biggest question mark is will he get on base enough to even attempt enough steals to have any chance at leading the league. He was very clearly overmatched during his brief time with the Twins last year. He only recorded 59 plate appearances in Triple-A, so who knows if he’s ready to actually succeed at the MLB level. If he could push that OBP above .300 like we’re all projecting, he’ll have a shot to not be a laughable choice here.

National League

Batting AverageNolan Arenado

For the second straight season, I’m highlighting Arenado’s batting average upside. Kind of funny to see both breakout third basemen of 2015 appear as my batting average picks. I sorted my projections by batting average and then checked the BABIP column. The lower the BABIP forecast, the higher the upside in my eyes. Out of the top 27 full-time players in batting average, Arenado is the only one projected for a sub-.300 BABIP. Despite playing half his games at BABIP boosting Coors Field, he has yet to post a BABIP mark higher than .296. As a fly ball hitter who does pop it up, that’s not that surprising. But he seemingly has far more upside than other names given his home park, good contact rate, and newfound elite power.

Home RunsDomingo Santana

This is one of the boldest of the boldies. The strikeouts are ultimately going to determine if Santana has a shot here. But he now plays in a home park that sports the third highest right-handed home run park factor in baseball. And, although I don’t know how long this lasts, he batted leadoff! That’s a lot of extra plate appearances he would receive if he remains there. He has serious power — his batted ball distance last year was 300 feet with a 23.1% xHR/FB rate. Throw in Miller Parks’ home run inflation abilities and he’s almost Giancarlo Stanton lite.

RBIRandal Grichuk

With Jhonny Peralta out for an extended period, it looks as if Grichuk will have the opportunity to cement himself into the cleanup spot in St. Louis. That’s a fantastic place to collect a ton of runs batted in. He’ll be behind strong OBP guys in Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday and brings a load of power to knock those guys in. His batted ball distance sat at 297 feet last year, with an xHR/FB rate of 22.6%. Like Santana above, the strikeouts could cap his ceiling. But he was much better in the minors, as often happens.

RunsJason Heyward

Though you never know with Joe Maddon, Heyward should remain near the top of the stacked Cubs lineup. And woah, is that lineup stacked. I project Heyward for an excellent .358 OBP, plus he brings power, which will give him that same edge I discussed in the Upton blurb earlier.

Stolen BasesJonathan Villar

Yeah, it is almost surely going to be Billy Hamilton or Dee Gordon. If Hamilton proves once again that he can’t hit, he’ll be back in the minors, but Gordon will still be around. Villar is a reasonable darkhorse. The concern here is that everyone just assumes he’s keeping the seat warm for top prospect Orlando Arcia, so he’ll be out of a job sometime during the summer. But what if Villar performs well? He’s just 24, so it’s not like he’s some washed up veteran who you know isn’t part of a team’s future. And what if Arcia disappoints and doesn’t even earn a promotion? Villar hit second yesterday, which will afford him lots of plate appearances and opportunities to steal. Last year, he stole 42 bases between Triple-A and the Majors and has stolen 40+ each year since 2013.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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I haven’t heard anything about the Cubs this year…do they have a good lineup?