2022 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 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. Tomorrow, I’ll move on to the pitchers.

American League

Batting AverageSteven Kwan

This is a real lottery ticket, as Kwan might not even record the minimum 501 at-bats to even qualify for the batting title! But he certainly has the skills to lead the league in average if he does manage to get the playing time required. The key to a strong batting average is some combination of a low strikeout rate and high BABIP. Kwan’s got the first skill in the bag, as he has posted some super impressive strikeout rates in the minors. Since High-A, his SwStk% hasn’t exceeded 3.5%, which is just absurd. The man just doesn’t swing and miss!

On the BABIP side, he has posted a LD% above 25% over his last 296 at-bats at Double-A in Triple-A in 2021. It’s a tiny sample, but hitting line drives is a skill. His BABIP has bounced around though, so it’s hard to get a good idea of his true talent level. But he’s never posted a mark below .300 and he owns both speed and power. So a BABIP well above the league average should surprise no one.

Home RunsByron Buxton

Over his last three seasons, Buxton has hit a total of 42 homers. That doesn’t sound impressive until you remember that he’s only recorded 636 at-bats during that time. That’s one full season spread across three years! Obviously, the short 2020 season is partly to blame, but it’s also the never ending injuries. The home run total could have been even better if he posted a HR/FB rate better than the 10.1% mark he posted in 2019. But his power didn’t surge until 2020. Something clearly clicked because his average fly ball and line drive distance spiked over 300 for the first time, while his barrel rate skyrocketed.

I’m sure no one would be surprised if Buxton led the league in home runs…if he recorded more than 600 at-bats. The surprise would be that he stayed healthy enough to give himself a chance to lead the league. I can’t predict whether he’ll get injured again, but that’s why this is bold.

RBIAnthony Rendon

Last season’s injury-shortened season was forgettable, as even when Rendon took the field, he was disappointing at the plate. Let’s assume he’s healthy now and his rates rebound. He figured to hit cleanup behind a slew of strong OBP guys, including the monster himself, Mike Trout. Rendon still makes excellent contact, and putting the ball in play is key to recording RBI. That’s because a ball in play could lead to a sacrifice fly or even a fielder’s choice that scores a run.

The one concern here is whether the hitters ahead of him will clear the bases before he has a chance to! The Angels’ top three may very well enjoy the highest projected home run total of any top three in baseball. That will leave fewer men on base for Rendon and could hamper his RBI opportunities.

RunsWander Franco

During his second season in the Majors, former top prospect Franco figures to hit second in the Rays lineup. He makes excellent contact, which will boost his OBP, and more power should be on the way, which should increase his runs scored on home runs. The Rays lineup isn’t projected to score in the upper half of teams in runs, but there’s upside here given the lineup’s youth. Considering Franco himself is just 21, there’s massive breakout potential for him as well.

Stolen BasesJorge Mateo

This is always a tough one, because it requires playing time to beat out the obvious choices and it’s therefore difficult to make a bold choice that has some semblance of a chance. Many years ago, Jorge Mateo was a top prospect. Unfortunately, he never hit enough in the minor to earn an extended look in the Majors. This year, it looks like he may finally have an opportunity in the Orioles infield. He’s still not a very good hitter, but even with just a .293 OBP last year, he managed to steal 10 bases in 13 tries over 209 plate appearances. Multiply that by three for a full season pace and you get 30 steals. Given the sad state of steals and Adalberto Mondesi’s frequent IL trips, 30 steals could easily be enough to lead the league.

National League

Batting AverageKris Bryant

Coors Field might actually be a better batting average than home run booster. The park reduces strikeouts and inflates line drives, so it increases every single hit type. For the longest time, I’ve been dying to see an established star sign with or get traded to the Rockies. We’ve seen some solid hitters go in recent years, but no one with as big a name as Bryant. Since his rookie year, Bryant has brought down his strikeout rate into the low-20% range, where it has stood for the majority of his career. The move to Coors could certainly drive that mark back below 20% for the first time since 2017.

Bryant owns a career .335 BABIP, posting a mark as high as .378 during his rookie year and then four straight seasons over .330. His BABIP has hit lows the last two years, but Coors could easily cover up was has ailed him during those seasons. Since Coors will likely boost his HR/FB rate as well, that’s more hits that will improve his batting average.

Home RunsRandal Grichuk

Why not stick with the Rockies theme here? Grichuk is coming off his lowest HR/FB rate over a full season after remarkable consistency since 2015. However, he also managed to maintain his strikeout rate improvement from 2020. We just discussed how Coors reduces strikeouts, so it’s very possible Grichuk posts another career best strikeout rate this season.

Let’s assume last year was just a flukey down power year. We would then normally expect him to return to a high teens HR/FB rate. Add in the Coors boost and now you’re into the low-20% range. Combine that with perhaps a sub-20% strikeout rate and a 40%+ FB%, and suddenly you’re knocking on the door of 35-40 homers.

RBILuke Voit

I like going with cleanup hitters here and Voit’s in a nice spot hitting fourth for the padres behind a trio of hitters projected for a .340+ OBP. Of course, power is mandatory if you want to knock batters in, and Voit ain’t lacking in that department.

Health will be an important consideration here as he missed time last year due to injury and onnly record 241 plate appearances. We also need to see that his strikeout rate rebounds, as a mark over 30%, driven by an inflated 20.2% SwStk% isn’t going to allow him to drive him a high number of runners, or keep him in the cleanup spot.

RunsTrent Grisham

Who will Voit be driving in to lead the league in RBI? Grisham, of course! While Fernando Tatis Jr. is on the shelf, Grisham takes over the leadoff role, giving him significantly more plate appearances than had he been slotted further down in the lineup.

With both power and ability to get on base, he’s exactly the type of hitter that leads the league in runs scored.

Stolen BasesNick Madrigal

Madrigal swiped just one base last year before getting hurt, and now has just three steals over about a half season’s worth of MLB plate appearances. This is the guy I’m boldly predicting leads the NL in steals?!

I have no idea what happened to his willingness to steal, but he did swipe 35 bases back in 2019 in the minors. He also strikes out so infrequently that he’ll post a respectable OBP despite a low walk rate, giving him ample opportunities to steal bases.

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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2 years ago

My bold pick for NL SB is/was Greg Allen (PIT): 26 SB in 73 games in minors last year. He’s 37 for 43 (86%) in SB in MLB for his career and was seemingly in line for an everyday job. But he tweaked his hammy and may lose his spot to a surging Diego Castillo.