2021 Bold Hitter League Leaders

Every season, in addition to posting my standard bold predictions (which I’ll publish next week), 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, though I actually have hit on a couple over the years. This is more for fun and dreaming of what could be, rather than any serious attempt at being right. Naturally, I use my Pod Projections to identify players with that 80th-90th percentile upside to vault to the top of the category mountains.

Today, I’ll start with the bold hitting league leaders in each of the five categories, split up by league. Next Monday I’ll move on to the pitchers.

American League

Batting AverageDavid Fletcher

Coming off a .319 batting average, Fletcher doesn’t seem so bold, but ATC is only projecting a .283 mark this year, and they are actually the most bullish of all the forecasts! They key for Fletcher is his low strikeout rate fueled by his microscopic SwStk%. He simply rarely swings and misses. Putting more balls into play is a path to a high batting average. Last year, he posted a career high .348 BABIP, but the projections aren’t buying it.

ATC is the high forecast at just .310, meaning all of them are projecting BABIP marks well below his career average? Why? With a batted ball profile heavy on line drives and a willingness to go the opposite way, he’s deserving of an above league average BABIP, giving him major batting average upside compared to the projections.

Home RunsEddie Rosario

Right now, Rosario owns the ultimate combination for home run upside — a strong strikeout rate, with four straight sub-20% seasons, including his last two below 15%, plus lots and lots of fly balls. His FB% has been over 40% the past three years. All that’s left now is dreaming on a HR/FB rate spike in his new home ballpark. A mid-teens mark has been perfectly acceptable given his strikeout rate and fly ball ways, as it has resulted in mid-20s and low-30s home run totals. But now he moves from a park that sported a 97 left-handed home run factor in 2020 to one that sported a 104 factor. That’s a meaningful swing.

Since his HR/FB rate is currently not that much higher than the league average, it leaves ample room for upside, as opposed to a hitter who already posts mid-20% marks that you wonder how much better things could possibly get. Just a jump to the 20% range would allow him to sniff 40 homers and battle for the league lead.

RBIXander Bogaerts

Bogaerts shouldn’t be considered bold here, but considering he’s projected to finish in a tie for 11th in RBI, he qualifies for this list. I always look to expected cleanup hitters for the RBI title, as they typically have the most opportunities to drive in runners. Bogaerts is going to bat behind some pretty solid OBP guys, and J.D. Martinez’s power decline is actually good, as it means fewer times the bases are cleared when Bogaerts gets to the plate!

RunsWhit Merrifield

For RBI, the strategy is to pick a cleanup hitter. For runs scored, it’s a leadoff hitter. With Andrew Benintendi and Carlos Santana now in the fold, an improved lineup should lead to more run scoring opportunities. Merrifield gets on base and has the power to drive himself in more than a dozen times.

Stolen BasesNick Madrigal

Picking anyone here is so silly when the projected leader is forecasted for nearly doubles the steals as the second ranked guy! Still, I think Madrigal is a good “if it’s not Adalberto Mondesi, then who?” answer. Madrigal’s calling card is his unbelievable contact skills, as his strikeout rate and SwStk% marks in the minors may make some people do a double take thinking there must be a mistake. Because of all those balls in play, plus his decent plate patience, he’s got some serious OBP upside. He stole 35 bases during 2019, and although he’s not one of the fastest in the league, he should be on base enough to attempt a good number of steals.

National League

Batting AverageChristian Yelich

You would have laughed at me if Yelich was my bold batting average league leader heading into 2020, as he was coming off two seasons of .320+ marks. Then 2020 happened, and the combination of a strikeout rate spike and BABIP collapse pushed his batting average down to a shocking .205. And now, the projections are all scared to ignore 2020 and project a stronger rebound. Notice how his SwStk% actually declined from 2019, and yet his strikeout rate skyrocketed? He didn’t suddenly get all whiffy. That should give you the confidence to mostly ignore last season’s actual strikeout rate and project a return to his normal level.

Home RunsC.J. Cron

Ever season, I cross my fingers that some power hitter is going to sign with or get traded to the Rockies, just to see what kind of an effect Coors Field ends up having on him. This year, we get to see Cron, who isn’t exactly the thrilling guy I usually hope for, but he’ll do. Not only does Coors increase HR/FB rate, but it also reduces strikeouts. The biggest question is how much he’ll come the plate, as he’s only cleared 500 PAs once, and that was only 560 PAs. If he plays 150 games or so, I think a mid-30s to even flirting with 40 homers is a good possibility.

RBIKeston Hiura

Hiura is in the ultimate situation to shock in RBI. He owns massive power, so he’ll knock himself in often and whoever happens to be on base. Plus, he’s hitting behind a trio of strong OBP guys. Obviously, strikeouts have been a major issue and he’ll frustrate by striking out with the bases loaded and missing out on a juicy run scoring opportunity. But all those strikeouts also offer a path for upside, as hitters improve their contact skills all the time. If we already know he has strikeout problems and still projects as a strong RBI guy, imagine if he improved that strikeout rate!

RunsTrent Grisham

Grisham is going to lead off for one of the strongest offenses in the NL. That’s the first step to leading the league in runs. Next, he walks often, so his OBP will be solid even if his batting average doesn’t get him on base nearly as much as you would hope. Last, he has power, so will be knocking himself in 20+ times. He just needs to remain healthy and stay in the lineup against left-handers.

Stolen BasesVictor Robles

Robles is the most obvious guy here that technically qualifies as bold given his eighth ranked ATC stolen base forecast. Entering Spring Training, he figured to bat near the bottom of the order. However, a solid showing so far has catapulted him to the top of the Nationals lineup. Why does that matter for steals? Two reasons — that’s an additional 100 plate appearances and it kills the risk he’s on base in front of the pitcher and doesn’t want to make the last out trying to steal, making the pitcher lead off the following inning.

Remember also that he swiped 28 bases in 2019 and that was with just a .326 OBP. I’m not projecting anything better, nor are the projection systems, but any type of offensive breakout that includes a reduction in strikeout rate, increased walk rate, a higher BABIP, or a combination of the three, is going to lead to a much higher OBP and far more stolen base opportunities. Obviously, this is true for literally every hitter. But Robles’ marks in these three metrics are meh or worse and he’s just 23, so there are still (hopefully) years and years of potential growth ahead of him.





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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Anon
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Anon

Cron almost seems like too easy of a pick. He has never posted great overall EV numbers but that overlooks the fact that when he does connect, he really connects. IN the Statcast era he has the 8th most batted balls hit 113 mph or better behind Stanton, Cruz, Judge, Trumbo, CarGo, Trout and Gallo. Lower it to 110 mph and he drops to 14th but it’s still mostly heavy hitters (and Hosmer) ahead of him.

The 1 year he did have 560 PA he hit 30 HR in the Trop which has a 94 park factor for HR for RH hitters. He hit 25 HR in 499 PA for the Twins where the park factor was 101.

He has zero competition for ABs (unless Greg Bird somehow miraculously gets healthy which could create a platoon which would be bad)

I think the projections are conservative. If Arenado can churn out 40 HR with pedestrian EV and max EV numbers (he has never had a batted ball over 111.2 mph), Cron should be able to do the same.

Anon
Member
Anon

This is being downvoted but go look at Arenado’s and Cron’s Savant pages. They are more or less the same in almost everything outside plate discipline numbers – EV, SweetSpot%, xBA, xSLG, xwOBA, and Hardhit%. LA differs a little but they’re pretty equal there the last 4 years and Cron actually has a pretty significant lead in both barrel% and xwOBACON. The difference between them is Cron has been hitting in bad to average hitter’s parks while Arenado has been playing on the moon.

Fun stats: Arenado had 207 HR on 216 barrels from 2015-2020. Cron had 107 HR on 181 barrels from 2015-2020.

I just don’t see where Cron going something like .275/35/90/90 is all that outrageous and frankly something like .285/45/100+/100+ is not as insane as it sounds on first blush given the name. The 1st set is only a little bit more ambitious than the projection systems are giving him and the projections are giving him only a little over 500 PA because of all the partial seasons in his career to date. But the projection systems don’t know that his partial seasons are mostly due to being stuck behind Pujols in Anaheim. He missed a month and a half in 2016 with a fractured left hand, a couple weeks in 2017 with a left foot contusion, 2 different 10 day stints in 2019 with right thumb inflammation and of course a month and a half last year with a left knee sprain. That’s it. A lot of his missing time is just him being sent to the minors.

(BTW, the flip side to this is I am not high on Arenado. He has excellent plate discipline numbers but he is not the most authoritative striker of the ball. Consider that from 2015-2018 Matt Carpenter (to pick a guy from his new team) had 168 barrels and 108 HR while Arenado had 167 barrels and 158 HR. )

(BTW 2, all the numbers above are taken from Savant’s website which for some reason differs from the Statcast numbers here on FG. Which I don’t understand)

SucramRenrut
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Member
SucramRenrut

Couldn’t the fact that Arenado has more homers on barrels also suggest the exact opposite of what you’re claiming? Sure some may be Coors, but he could also be hitting more “crushed” barrels (I think that’s the term someone coined recently) than line-drive-up-the-middle barrels.

Anon
Member
Anon

Nope.

Using Savant’s search function:

Average EV on just barrels 2015-2020 (min 150 barrels):
– Arenado – 103.1 mph, 62nd of 69.
– Cron – 106.8 mph, 9th of 69

The 6 non-Rockies hitters around Arenado (3 up, 3 down, I’ll leave out Blackmon who is at 103.4 since he is also at Coors) are Belt, Carpenter, Votto, Betts, Rendon and Altuve. Combined they have 1,146 barrels and 712 HR. That’s a 62% ratio compared to Arenado’s 96% (it’s not a conversion rate since you don’t have to hit a barrel to hit a HR). BTW, Blackmon has a very similar thing as Arenado – 150 HR on 179 barrels or 84%.

The 6 hitters around Cron are Sano, Avisail Garcia (don’t be surprised, he hits the ball hard), Springer, Trout, Trumbo and Harper. That’s 1,309 barrels and 859 HR for a 65.6% ratio.

Heck even Stanton (110.5 mph on barrels) can’t touch the 2 Rockies’ ratio of HR to barrels with 158 HR and 246 barrels or 64%. Nelson Cruz – 220 HR, 331 barrels so 66.4%

I’m not going to figure it for every single guy but it is very, very clear that Cron should hit a LOT of HR this year if he stays healthy.

But maybe Arenado hits it harder when he barrels it up? Crushed barrels? Nope.

Total barrels with EV over 108:
– Arenado: 8
– Cron: 75

Over 110:
– Arenado:0
– Cron: 50

I didn’t know where I was going to go with this when I started looking into it but the more I look at it, the more I think Cron could very easily have a monster season. He hits the ball so much better than Arenado and Blackmon. His plate discipline numbers aren’t quite as good but if he is just flat mashing, they will probably trend the right direction for him

Anon
Member
Anon

Some other notable Rockies:
– CarGo: 95 HR on 127 barrels, 74.8%
– Story: 134 HR on 174 barrels, 77%
– Desmond: 49/70, 70%
– DJLM: 40:67, 59.7% (such an odd hitter though)
– Dahl: 38/55, 69.1%
– Reynolds: 48/51, 94.1%

I think you get the picture – for most major league hitters the ratio is right around 62 to 65% but for most Rockies hitters it’s 70% and up

Anon
Member
Anon

Ooo, ooo, here’s another fun one. Remember how I said Cron has 50 barrels at 110+? That’s more than any Rockies hitter has. CarGo had 34, Story is next with 18. The entire franchise only has 92 such barrels.

carter
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Member
carter

So you are telling me 80 home runs, right? That is what I have him down for. Nice. I will win a lot of leagues. In all seriousness though I was IN on him last year. In Detroit! I probably drafted him in every damn league. You had best believe I am going to be in on him in Coors, especially with a ball that is possibly dejuiced.

Every year I go to Vegas and try to get some larger futures on guys I like to lead the leagues in props. I actually like Seager this year to lead the league in hrs at his absurd 100-1 odds. Cron isn’t even listed! Aquino is listed. Odor is still listed and he isn’t even in the MLB. Cannot get a Cron bet in. Sigh.