MLB Spring Training 2012: Predicting Every NL East Team's Home Run Leader
Strikeouts are alright, steals are fine and outfield assists are nice, but home runs are still the most consistently exciting and gratifying plays in baseball.
In this current age of sabermetric statistics and analysis, we know that categories like home runs and RBIs aren’t the best measures of a player’s worth (sorry Mark Reynolds), but that doesn’t mean we enjoy seeing the ball jacked out of the park any less.
And even after all the scrutiny that classical statistical measures have come under, home runs remain the quickest—and most macho—way to put runs on the board.
So with the 2012 season nearly upon us, and not a minute too soon, let’s take a look at who will likely end up leading each National League East team in homers.
Atlanta Braves: Jason Heyward
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After an All-Star rookie season in which the highly-regarded Heyward finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, the outfielder suffered an unexpected sophomore slump in 2011. Last year, Heyward batted only .227 with 14 homers. He's too good to struggle that much again in 2012.
This pick is mostly based on Heyward's pedigree and promise, plus the fact that he is as big and strong as an ox. The Braves have some other good power hitters in Brian McCann, Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman, and I think they will all end up with somewhere around 25 to 30 home runs.
Just based on pure potential, though, I think Jason Heyward will end the year with the most long balls; I'm sure he's spent a lot of time this offseason watching film and fixing the holes in his swing. This season could be a breakout year for Heyward, and I think we'll see a big spike in his home run total.
Home Run Prediction: 28
Miami Marlins: Mike Stanton
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Mike Stanton has always had big-time power; back when he was 18, he hit 39 home runs for Class-A Greensboro. Stanton had 22 homers for the Marlins his rookie season, and belted 34 last year as he showed no signs of a sophomore letdown.
Entering 2012 at just 22 years young, Mike Stanton is already one of the most feared power hitters in all of baseball.
Nearly 25 percent of fly balls hit by Stanton in 2011 were home runs, and there is no reason to expect any power regression from the Marlins' slugger in 2012.
While the Marlins have some other strong hitters on their roster (I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Hanley Ramirez hit 33 to 37 homers this year), Mike Stanton is a serious threat to actually lead the Major Leagues in home runs at some point—maybe even as soon as this season.
Home Run Prediction: 44
New York Mets: Ike Davis
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Assuming Ike Davis can stay healthy this season, I think he'll have a pretty nice year. His 2011 campaign was derailed due to injuries, but he did hit .302 with seven home runs in only 36 games.
Despite Citi Field being somewhat of a power-sapping wasteland for hitters (ESPN rankings had it as the third most difficult stadium in the majors to hit a home run in last year), Davis is only getting stronger and more experienced as a hitter. His home run to fly ball ratio was about 17 percent last year—an increase of almost five percent from his rookie season.
Meanwhile, David Wright has not been the sure 30-home-run guy everyone expected him to be for some time now. While he did have 29 homers in 2010, his combined total for 2009 and 2011 is just 24.
Granted, he missed some time last season due to injury, but Wright played 144 games in 2009 and had just 10 home runs. During that powerless 2009, Wright's home run to fly ball ratio was only 6.9 percent, which is the exact same percentage that big-time slugger Wilson Valdez posted for the Phillies in 2010.
So no one is really sure what kind of power they are going to get our of David Wright these days. While he could probably still hit 35 home runs, I think he's more likely in the 22 to 25 range, as long as he still plays most of his games at Citi Field.
Ike Davis, on the other hand, should quietly have a great season in 2012. He's a guy who could make a lot of fantasy owners very pleased with a mid-round pick.
Home Run Prediction: 27
Washington Nationals: Jayson Werth
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I expect Jayson Werth, just like Jason Heyward, to have a big bounce-back year in 2012.
After signing a seven-year contract for $126 million, Werth was under a lot of pressure to be the man on offense for a team that wasn't quite ready to compete last season. Yet even in a year during which he clearly struggled, Werth still hit 20 home runs in 2011.
Werth should be under a little less pressure in 2012, since he won't be one of the only attractions in DC anymore. With Stephen Strasburg back, Ryan Zimmerman healthy, Gio Gonzalez acquired via trade and a potential cameo from Bryce Harper, Nationals fans will have more to focus on than just Jayson Werth.
Plus, we've seen that when good players are around him Werth tends to do well—he hit 24, 36 and 27 home runs in his three most recent seasons with the Phillies before signing his mega-deal.
That power didn't just disappear. Even though he was probably pressing last season, it was still evident in spurts, and Werth is too talented not to crank out at least a couple good seasons in DC. With a promising, young team around him in 2012, Werth has a chance to prove his worth and step up as a leader.
Home Run Prediction: 32
Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Howard
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Yes, he's recovering from an Achilles injury.
Yes, he has a terrible contract.
And no, he's not the same player he was during his 2006 MVP season.
Still, Ryan Howard hits a ton of home runs.
His home run totals since his rookie season are 58, 47, 48, 45, 31 and 33. And while he might never hit 45 home runs again, his last two season totals aren't all that bad. There are plenty of players who would give a kidney to hit 33 home runs.
Of course, the big question with Howard in 2012 is how he recovers from that Achilles injury suffered during his last at-bat against the Cardinals. The Phillies are optimistic he'll be back sometime in mid-May, which would give him plenty of time to hit 25-plus dingers.
Regardless of his exact return, though, who else on the Phillies is a sure thing to hit 25 home runs? Hunter Pence is a great hitter who played out of his mind when he got traded to the City of Brotherly Glove last season, but 25 home runs remains his career max. Chase Utley has the knees of Greg Oden, and at this point he isn't concerned with hitting a ton of homers so much as just staying on the field.
I actually was tempted to put John Mayberry here, but I just don't think we've seen enough of him to make a judgement on his abilities one way or the other. He had a great power season in 2011, but logged only 267 at-bats and was platooning in the outfield most of the time. It'll be interesting to see if his success last season translates into a big year this year, if pitchers figure out how to pitch him better and if he even gets a full season as a starter.
All things considered, I think Ryan Howard will come back from injury by Memorial Day and end up leading the Phillies in home runs. As the main source of big-time power in the Phils' lineup, they absolutely need him to produce. He's still strong, he's still big and he'll be motivated to make up for the way last season ended and silence everyone who is criticizing his contract.
That's really saying something about how I expect Howard to do in 2012, because his contract is awful.
Home Run Prediction: 27