2020 Bold Hitter League Leaders by Mike Podhorzer July 21, 2020 Every season, in addition to posting my standard bold predictions (which I’ll publish on Thursday), 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 already 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. That said, if there’s any season to get a bold league leader choice correct, this is it. We might see some very surprising names atop the categorical leaderboards. We’ll start with the hitting league leaders in each of the five categories, split up by league. American League Batting Average – Nick Madrigal Madrigal is the team’s fourth ranked prospect and 42nd overall, but we aren’t sure yet when he’ll make his Major League debut. Our projections expect him to earn significant playing time, which is obviously necessary to meet the minimum requirements to be eligible for a batting title. Madrigal’s skill set is unheard of. He rarely swings and misses, and amazingly since High-A in 2018, his SwStk% has actually declined at each level as he has climbed the ladder. His strikeout rate has never exceeded 4.7% at any minor league stop!!! One of the keys to a high batting average, of course, is putting the ball in play, and Madrigal may prove the best in baseball at doing so, even as a rookie. Then all it would take is a slightly above average BABIP and the batting title is all his. Home Runs – Franchy Cordero It’s time to get back on the Franchy bandwagon! Unfortunately, the Royals and their home park of Kauffman Stadium was a poor landing spot, as it’s one of the most difficult parks for left-handed home runs. However, it’s not that much worse than Petco Park where the Padres played, so it’s not a drastic change in home environment. Because of injury, we’ve only seen 273 MLB plate appearances, so it’s difficult to gauge what to expect. But in 2018, he posted elite barrels per true fly ball and average fly ball distance metrics, albeit over a small sample. It’s clear he possesses mammoth power, so it’s only a matter of staying healthy now. RBI – C.J. Cron When boldly projecting an RBI leader, I want a clean-up hitter, as that slot averages the greatest number of ribbies. Cron is slated to take up the spot on his new Tigers team after proving his 2018 power breakout was no fluke. His FB% has trended downward, so if he can reverse it, that should mean more home runs and additional runs batted in. Runs – Max Kepler When boldly projecting a runs scored leader, I want a lead-off hitter. Kepler slotted there for the majority of last year and is expected to do so again this season. While the Twins ranked second in the American League in runs scored last year, they should once again be a powerhouse after the addition of Josh Donaldson. The only question for Kepler is whether he could come close to repeating last season’s breakout. If he continues to pull his flies at last year’s rate and doesn’t regress back down to previous marks, then he should come close. Stolen Bases – Manuel Margot There was a time when fantasy owners expected Margot to steal lots of bases. That never happened, but he still owns good speed. Expected to serve as a reserve outfielder in Tampa, Austin Meadows bout with COVID-19 has thrust Margot into a starting outfield role, at least temporarily. However, if he performs well, there’s opportunity he could keep a job, as Kevin Kiermaier has struggled offensively the last two years and always struggles to stay healthy, while expected DH Yoshitomo Tsutsugo is a complete unknown and could fail. National League Batting Average – Kevin Newman With above average speed and an elite strikeout rate (though he’s no Madrigal!), Newman owns similar type skills as Madrigal, but to a lesser degree. The projections don’t give him much credit, expecting his batting average to decline into the high .270 to low .280 range. But a bit of luck goes a long way when you’re making so much contact. Home Runs – Tyler O’Neill Everyone expected top prospect Dylan Carlson to earn a starting job at some point, but Tyler O’Neill is intriguing in his own right. Yes, he has struck out a ton in the Majors so far, but has performed much better in the minors. His Statcast power metrics have been exceptional, though he was far more exceptional in 2018 than 2019, and, both seasons were over a small sample size. There is a lot that needs to go right here for O’Neill to make this prediction look good, but he clearly has the power to get hot for a two month span. RBI – Jay Bruce Clean-up hitters! The implementation of the DH in the National League was a boon to Bruce’s value, who was set to be a bench bat for the Phillies. Now he should serve on the strong side of a platoon at DH and bat behind some strong OBPs. The latter point is key because the more the hitters ahead of you get on base, the more opportunities you have to drive them in. Bruce put concerns to bed about his power last year as his ISO fully rebounded, and then some, off his 2018 career low. A powerful Bruce means more RBIs. Runs – David Dahl Dahl isn’t your prototypical lead-off hitter, but he figures to open the season batting there for the Rockies. Dahl has been a popular sleeper in recent seasons, but injuries keep preventing him from playing a full season. Perhaps fewer games this year will give him a better chance of making it all the way through. A Rockies hitter with power and a decent enough OBP, hitting in front of a solid group of lads, means lots of runs scored in the future. Stolen Bases – Jon Berti Berti came out of nowhere last year to swipe 17 bases over just 287 plate appearances for the Marlins. While he doesn’t currently have a starting job, he has experience playing every position except first base and catcher. The Marlins have enough sketchy players slated to start at the moment, there could be ample playing time available for Berti to show off his wheels.