2012 MLB Predictions: National League Award Winners and Key Stat Leaders
For the first time in many seasons, Albert Pujols is not the man to beat in the National League MVP race.
For that matter, Prince Fielder is out of the equation too. Both of them are in the American League now, leaving the NL with significantly less thunder.
But we're still going to see some outstanding offensive numbers put up in the Senior Circuit. And since this is indeed the Senior Circuit we're talking about, we can all rest assured that we're going to see some outstanding pitching performances as well.
Below, you'll find my picks for which players are going to top the charts this season, as well as my picks for the big awards in the National League.
Batting Average: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Joey Votto proved that he has a batting title somewhere in him when he batted over .320 in successive seasons in 2009 and 2010. His 2010 season was garnished with excess power and, eventually, an NL MVP award.
Votto took a few steps back last season, batting a pedestrian .309 with a mere 29 home runs. However, the season was not a total loss (I'm exaggerating). Votto showed off increased patience by upping his walk total and he struck out less often than he did in 2010.
By all rights, Votto should have hit over .320 again. He just didn't have quite as much luck in 2011 as he did in 2010, and he was not helped by a second half in which he hit .288. He hit .324 in the first half of the season.
One of the biggest keys for Votto this season is getting better protection behind him in the Reds lineup. That will be up to Jay Bruce, who has been very inconsistent early in his career. He's primed for a breakout, though, and he's looked outstanding in spring training.
If Bruce comes into his own hitting behind Votto, the extra pitches he'll get to hit will help push his batting average up over .330. That will be good enough for a batting title.
In the Discussion: Jose Reyes, Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, Matt Kemp, Carlos Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez
Dark Horse: Pablo Sandoval
RBI: Hanley Ramirez, Miami Marlins
Believe in the resurrection of Hanley Ramirez, my friends.
Ramirez never got on track last season, as he started slow and then watched his season get derailed by injuries and assorted drama. The Marlins continued the drama this offseason by bringing in Jose Reyes, thus pushing Ramirez over to third base.
Over or under 110 RBI for Hanley Ramirez?
But everything we've been hearing about Ramirez since the start of spring training has been overwhelmingly positive. He's healthy, he's happy and he's ready to roll.
Ramirez will be hitting in the middle of Miami's lineup, where he'll get the opportunity to drive in a ton of runs. He'll have Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio hitting in front of him—both of whom will get on base and motor around the bases. Any ball Ramirez puts in play will have a good chance of driving in a run.
Increased power will help too, and increased power is most definitely in the cards for Ramirez. He's never driven in more than 106 runs, but the stars are aligned for him to drive in well over 120.
In the Discussion: Matt Kemp, Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun, Joey Votto, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Holliday, Hunter Pence
Dark Horse: Brian McCann
Home Runs: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
The slugger formerly known as Mike Stanton did a pretty good job of living up to the hype in his first full season in 2011, hitting 34 home runs and slugging .537.
Stanton hasn't peaked yet. He's got enough power to hit upwards of 50 home runs, and it's just a matter of time before he does.
One thing Stanton has to do is continue to cut down on his strikeouts. He struck out more than 30 percent of the time in 2010, and he struck out over 27 percent of the time in 2011. That's a decrease, but 27 percent is still way too high.
But Stanton also showed off better patience last season, a sign that he is maturing as a hitter. It stands to reason that he'll keep maturing this season, leading to more balls meeting the fat part of his bat.
That will be a recipe for a lot of home runs. Stanton was the most powerful hitter in the NL last season (.275 ISO), and he'll be the most powerful hitting in the NL this season.
In the Discussion: Matt Kemp, Michael Morse, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Carlos Gonzalez, Justin Upton, Ryan Braun
Dark Horse: Jason Heyward
Stolen Bases: Michael Bourn, Atlanta Braves
This one's too easy.
Since 2008, Michael Bourn has more stolen bases than anybody in baseball. He has 215, to be exact. That's 49 more than the next guy on the list (Jacoby Ellsbury).
Bourn is coming off a 2011 season in which he tied his career high with 61 stolen bases. Of those, 22 came after he was traded to the Braves.
The Braves are not going to be an elite run-scoring team this season, and they can take nothing for granted with the hitters in the middle of their lineup. So when Bourn reaches first base, he's going to have the green light every time. His speed is a major asset, and they'll use it.
In the Discussion: Matt Kemp, Cameron Maybin, Emilio Bonifacio, Jose Reyes, Drew Stubbs
Dark Horse: Dee Gordon
Wins: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies
This is another easy one.
Since 2008, no pitcher in the majors has more wins than Roy Halladay. He's won at least 17 games in four straight seasons, and he's won a grand total of 40 in his two seasons with the Phillies.
Halladay's struggles in spring training led some to ponder whether he might be injured, but it seems there's nothing to worry about. He told the Associated Press last week that he's just fine, and he looked as brilliant as ever in his latest spring training start.
So it looks like all systems are go for Halladay heading into 2012. If so, that means he's a virtual lock for 230-plus innings and a sub-3.00 ERA. The Phillies are going to struggle to score runs this season, but that won't keep Halladay from piling up wins.
In the Discussion: Clayton Kershaw, Ian Kennedy, Josh Johnson, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Mat Latos, Zack Greinke, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Stephen Strasburg
Dark Horse: Madison Bumgarner
ERA: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Madison Bumgarner is generating a lot of positive buzz this season, and there are high hopes for him heading into the 2012 season.
As well there should be. Bumgarner is an excellent young pitcher and he's primed for a breakout season after getting a full season's worth of work under his belt in 2011.
The numbers suggest Bumgarner was pretty good last season, as he posted an ERA of 3.21 and he had a K/9 of 8.40.
But Bumgarner should have been even better. His FIP was 2.67, which was the fourth-lowest mark in the National League. By all rights, he should have been right up there with the Cliff Lees and Clayton Kershaws of the world.
So I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that's exactly where Bumgarner will be in 2012.
In the Discussion: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Johnson, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Stephen Strasburg, Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto
Dark Horse: Cory Luebke
Strikeouts: Zack Greinke, Milwaukee Brewers
Clayton Kershaw led the National League in punchouts in 2011, striking out a grand total of 248 batters in 233.1 innings of work.
But Kershaw didn't lead the NL in K/9. Zack Greinke did. In fact, he led all of baseball with a 10.54 K/9. He was striking out hitters at a better rate than he did in 2009, when he won the American League Cy Young.
Greinke was limited to just 171.2 innings last season, which was due in part to his starting the season late due to injury and in part to his struggles in the first half of the season. Greinke was much more like his usual self after the break, posting a 2.59 ERA and striking out 102 hitters in 97.1 innings of work.
If Greinke pitches over 200 innings this season, he's going to strike out roughly 240 hitters. He should be considered the favorite to win the NL's strikeout crown.
In the Discussion: Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, Yovani Gallardo, Josh Johnson, Stephen Strasburg, Roy Halladay, Gio Gonzalez, Brandon Beachy
Dark Horse: Anibal Sanchez
Saves: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Craig Kimbrel tied John Axford for the NL lead in saves last season with 46. He was able to do that simply because nobody could hit him.
Kimbrel struck out 14.84 hitters for every nine innings pitched, tops in baseball for pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched. In all, he struck out 127 hitters, which is ridiculous.
There's some concern about Kimbrel given the way he broke down at the end of the 2011 season, but only a little. He's still plenty young and he has outstanding stuff. Better yet, he's going to be handed a lot of leads to protect this season.
As long as he stays healthy, Kimbrel is a lock to lead the NL in saves.
In the Discussion: Brian Wilson, Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Madson, John Axford, Drew Storen, Heath Bell, J.J. Putz, Joel Hanrahan
Dark Horse: Jason Motte
Rookie of the Year: Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals
I was very tempted to pick Bryce Harper to win the NL Rookie of the Year, but there's no telling when or even if he'll get the call to the bigs. In addition, his lack of experience in the minors is a concern.
Shelby Miller, on the other hand, is a guy who I think is 100 percent assured to get the call to the show this season. The Cardinals have some injury concerns in their rotation, and it's going to be very hard for them to resist calling up Miller if they need starting pitching help.
Miller has the goods to answer the call. He has an outstanding fastball that will reach the upper 90s in velocity, and he complements it with a good sharp breaking ball and a changeup that is coming along.
He also has plenty of experience under his belt, as he's been in the Cardinals system since 2009 and has gotten better every step of the way.
When the Cardinals need Miller, he'll be ready.
In the Discussion: Bryce Harper, Devin Mesoraco, Drew Pomeranz, Julio Teheran, Zack Cozart
Dark Horse: Trevor Bauer
Comeback Player of the Year: Johan Santana, New York Mets
There is an unusually high number of candidates in the running for Comeback Player of the Year this season, but I'm going to have to side with Johan Santana.
Santana missed the entire 2011 season due to surgery on his left shoulder. It was iffy at the start of spring training whether Santana would be ready to go for Opening Day, but the word from the New York Daily News is that Santana is looking good to start the season on the hill for the Mets on time.
If Santana was a pitcher who got by on velocity, I'd be worried about him. But he's not. He's always gotten by on his ability to change speeds, and that's something he should still be able to do even after sitting out for a year.
He probably won't recapture his old Cy Young form, but it's reasonable to expect Santana to be a productive starter.
And goodness knows the Mets need as many of those as they can get.
In the Discussion: Buster Posey, Adam Wainwright, Josh Johnson, Hanley Ramirez
Dark Horse: Juan Uribe
Cy Young: Zack Greinke, Milwaukee Brewers
The only thing standing in Zack Greinke's way is health. If he's healthy all season long, he'll be great.
We know this because: a) Greinke has a pretty good track record; and b) because Greinke was truly great once he finally got healthy and in a rhythm in the second half of the 2011 season. If Greinke does what he did in last year's second half over the full season, he's going to be one of the best pitchers in the National League.
I've already predicted that Greinke is going to be the NL's strikeout king this year. If he also manages to win 17 or 18 games with an ERA around 2.50, he'll be an easy choice for the Cy Young.
In the Discussion: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Cole Hamels, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Stephen Strasburg, Josh Johnson, Mat Latos
Dark Horse: Madison Bumgarner
Most Valuable Player: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
The Nationals are my pick to win the NL East this season. They're not going to do that unless they get a boost from Ryan Zimmerman.
He hasn't done it yet, but Zimmerman definitely has the ability to have a season with a .300 batting average, 30-plus home runs and well over 100 RBI. We know that he's going to be an outstanding defensive third baseman no matter what, but he'll need the offensive numbers to be there in order to make a run at the NL MVP.
Just like with Greinke, the only thing standing in Zimmerman's way is health. He has a tendency to be banged up, and that's held him back.
If Zimmerman's health holds up this season, he'll have an outstanding season and he'll lead the Nats to their first division title. That will be worthy of some reward.
In the Discussion: Joey Votto, Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, Hunter Pence, Troy Tulowitzki
Dark Horse: Andrew McCutchen
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Zachary D. Rymer is a lifelong baseball junkie with an impressive collection of Nomar Garciaparra rookie cards and a knuckleball that is coming along. He loves the Red Sox and hates the Yankees, but he has a huge man-crush on Derek Jeter and would like nothing more than to have a few beers with Nick Swisher. He's always down to talk some baseball, so feel free to hit him up on Twitter:
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