2019 Bold Hitter League Leaders by Mike Podhorzer March 27, 2019 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 are even more difficult! Just getting one right is worthy of celebration. Because these are bold, I automatically disqualify players I don’t personally believe would be considered bold or is projected to finish top five in the category. So I challenge myself and it typically causes me to bat .000. This is more for fun and dreaming of what could be than any serious attempt at being right. We’ll start with the hitting league leaders in each of the five categories, split up by league. American League Batting Average – Whit Merrifield Though Merrifield hit .304 last season, his batting average projections are all over the place, ranging from a low of .274 to a high of .295 (the Fans, of course). The non-Fans high sits at .288. That’s pretty shocking. The reason is because no one seems to believe in his BABIP skills. I do, because I have xBABIP to consult. His .361 xBABIP ranked 21st out of 448 on my spreadsheet. That mark was no fluke as he also posted a .362 mark in 2016, which sandwiched a lower .316 in 2017. He possesses all the ingredients of a high BABIP guy — lots of line drives, power, speed, and rarely hitting into the shift. Of course, we can’t expect him to repeat that near 30% line drive rate, which was driving that xBABIP, but he’s been a high line drive guy before and line drive rate for hitters is a skill. Home Runs – Randal Grichuk I expected better from Grichuk last season after his move to a significantly more favorable home run park in Toronto. He got off to a brutal start and then before he had a chance to turn things around, he sprained his knee and missed a month of action. When he finally returned in June, he made up for lost time. His HR/FB rate nearly reached 20%, which would have been a career best, while his strikeout rate declined to 25.5%, which also was a career best. He also hits fly balls in the mid-40% range, which is exactly what you’d like to see in a future home run champ. Grichuk still hasn’t recorded more than 446 at-bats in a season, so he’ll need to get above 600 for the first time to give me a real shot here. If he doesn’t stink in April again and avoids injury, I think the playing time will be there to give him a chance. RBI – Eddie Rosario Did you realize that Rosario figures to open the season as the Twins cleanup man? He won’t have the greatest trio of OBP guys ahead of him, but none of them are weak either. His power is for real and his HR/FB rate should rebound says xHR/FB. Runs – Tommy Pham Though the Rays lineup figures to have a ton of different looks all season long, Pham will likely slot into the two hole more often than not. With a Pod Projected .375 OBP, excellent speed, 20+ homers that will result in automatic runs scored, and a respectable offense knocking him in, he should easily eclipse the 83 runs projected by the Depth Charts. Stolen Bases – Byron Buxton Buxton led baseball in Sprint Speed last year, which essentially just confirms what we already knew — he’s a speed demon. Staying healthy and actually getting on base has been the problem. One of these years, the light bulb might finally turn on, and perhaps it’s this season. Adding to the potential upside here is that he’s simply an awesome basestealer, as he has gone 46 for 51 on his career stolen base attempts. National League Batting Average – Jeff McNeil It’s not often you find a rookie who posts a sub-10% strikeout rate in nearly 250 plate appearances. McNeil is almost always posted high single digit or low double digit strikeout rates in his career, though it’s not because he makes such an elite rate of contact. Instead, he makes good, not great, contact, but also swings a lot. It has mostly resulted in low walk rates and he was a true anti-three true outcomes hitter in his Mets debut, rarely walking, striking out, or homering. He had no business posting a .359 BABIP, but he has posted high BABIP marks at times in the minors, and owned more high BABIP-conducive batted ball distributions as well. With that strikeout rate and an expected increase in homers, it won’t require such a hefty BABIP anyway to lead the league in average. Home Runs – Franmil Reyes Yesterday, I boldly predicted that Franchy Cordero would be the Padres most valuable outfielder. However, today, I’m betting on Franmil to deliver the homers. See, I think Cordero has a great shot at 500 plate appearances because of his ability to play center and bat on the strong side of a platoon. But because he’s a lefty, his playing time might be capped. On the other hand, Reyes is likely to either open the season in the minors, or win the right field job and get all of the plate appearances. Unless, of course, the Padres decide to carry five outfielders and have one of Franmil or Renfroe waste away on the bench. We know Franmil owns massive power and he actually hit the seventh farthest homer of 2018. The only issue is a low fly ball rate, as he posted a mark just below 30% in his MLB debut. It’s going to be nearly impossible to lead the league in homers with a fly ball rate that low while striking out 25% of the time. So he’ll need to get that FB% well into the 30% range, at least, to give me a shot. RBI – Yasiel Puig With Scooter Gennett out for a while, Puig figures to take over the cleanup spot. And oh what a cleanup spot that is. Behind OBP monsters Jesse Winker and Joey Votto, along with the no slouch Eugenio Suarez, this is a drool-worthy spot to drive in runs from. Moving to one of the best parks for right-handed homers, from a park that suppressed them, should boost Puig’s power and lead to even more ribbies. Runs – Andrew McCutchen This was one of my easier selections, so I’m shocked the highest runs scored projection stands at just 86. This is a guy everyone, including myself, is projecting for a .360+ OBP, and he’ll be hitting in front of a pretty darn good 3-4-5. He should also see an uptick in power, as he moves to the best park in baseball for right-handed homers, from a park that severely hampered them. More homers equals more runs scored. Stolen Bases – Garrett Hampson This wouldn’t be nearly as bold if Hampson had been handed the second base job. But at this very moment, we still don’t know how the playing time at the position is going to shake out as he continues to battle Ryan McMahon. While Buxton is faster (than everyone), Hampson was no snail, ranking ninth in Sprint Speed last year. He stole 51 bases at High-A in 2017 and 38 bases between the minors and Majors last year. He’s also projected to post an above average OBP, so “you can’t steal first base” won’t apply here.