Let’s check in on my bold league leader predictions. While I rarely get any of these right, the hope is that some of the highlighted names outperformed and their appearance on this list gave you the nudge you needed to go the extra buck for them. We’ll start with the hitters.
Batting Average – Whit Merrifield
Merrifield managed to post a near identical batting average to his 2018 mark, finishing at .302. That was good for 10th in the AL. Shockingly, Tim Anderson led the league in batting, thanks to an insane .399 BABIP. While Merrifield generally performed as expected, his steals tumbled and were cut by more than half. He was also caught the same number of times in almost half the attempts as 2018. At age 31 next year, I wouldn’t project much of a rebound in steals.
Home Runs – Randal Grichuk
While everyone and your grandmother were bopping 20 homers, Grichuk actually did make me look pretty good by setting a new career high in dingers at 31. However, that wasn’t due to a jump in HR/FB rate like everyone else, it was completely the result of a career best in at-bats…by 140. Since everyone joined the home run party, Grichuk’s 31 long balls ranked in a tie for just 21st in the league. Since he’s nothing special defensively and owns terrible plate discipline, I would worry about his job security unless he could finally take that power to another level.
RBI – Eddie Rosario
There we go! While Rosario didn’t lead the league in RBI, he did finish sixth, setting a new career high of 109, 31 more than his previous high. This is exactly the spirit of these bold league leaders I intended them to be. The most exciting thing here is the declines in his strikeout rate, a mark that has dropped from 25.7% in 2016 all the way down to 14.6% this year. Since his BABIP dropped below .300 for the first time, he might have more fantasy value upside, as his BABIP could rebound, boosting his average back toward .300.
Runs – Tommy Pham
Somehow, some way, Pham only managed to score 77 runs, despite setting a career high in plate appearances and posting a .369 OBP. He even batted second the majority of the season. It wasn’t totally the Rays offense fault, as the team finished seventh in runs scored in the AL, but they certainly didn’t help.
Stolen Bases – Byron Buxton
You knew it couldn’t be much longer before a guy whose season was ruined by injury would appear as one of my picks. Once again, Buxton failed to complete a full season, lasting just 295 plate appearances this time. He stole 14 bases in that time, despite just a .314 OBP, putting him on pace for around 28 swipes. I get that it’s hard to give up on him. But now his price might finally be cheap enough to take that flyer as previous owners must be sick and tired of his injury and/or poor performance shtick.
Batting Average – Jeff McNeil
SOOOOOOOOO close! McNeil finished fourth in the NL in average with a .318 mark, losing by just about .011 to Christian Yelich. McNeil combines an excellent strikeout rate, with strong BABIP ability thanks to a solid line drive rate and excellent ability to avoid the dreaded pop-up. A double digit HR/FB rate offered surprising help as those 23 homers were another 23 guaranteed hits to add to his total.
Home Runs – Franmil Reyes
SOOOO close again! Okay, so maybe not close, but a super spirit award here. Reyes slugged 37 homers, which would have ranked tied for ninth in the NL and seventh in the AL. Amazingly, he did all that while hitting fly balls at a below league average clip. Imagine when he gets the invitation to join the fly ball revolution! Unfortunately, this is a risky skill set. He’s weak defensively, strikes out a lot, and walks at just a league average clip. It’s the kind of skill set that with any sort of drop in power could make him useless very quickly.
RBI – Yasiel Puig
Puig did post a career high in RBI, but that was just 84, despite hitting fourth the majority of the year. It’s not often you find a guy in the middle of solid lineups who posts a .191 ISO with 24 homers that fails to crack 90 ribbies.
Runs – Andrew McCutchen
There’s another injury I knew we were due for! McCutchen got in less than half a season before tearing the ACL in his left knee, ending his year. He scored 45 runs in his 262 plate appearances. If we assume 650 plate appearances, that’s about 112 runs scored, which would have set a new career high for him and been just the second time he has scored more than 97 runs in a season. That run total would have tied him for fifth on the NL leaderboard.
Stolen Bases – Garrett Hampson
Though I owned no shares, I apparently did acknowledge there was serious upside here. Hampson initially lost the second base job to Ryan McMahon, a battle that was still ongoing when I published my predictions. He was eventually demoted to Triple-A, but ultimately returned and reminded people why many were so excited about his fantasy potential with his play in September. In that month, he hit .318, stole nine bases, and even homered five times. He’s going to be hyped once again heading into next year’s draft season.
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.