Early Predictions for Who Will Lead MLB in Every Major Stat Category in 2013
It might seem to be a bit late in the season to be making "early" predictions, but there is still a whole lot of baseball yet to be played.
Mike Trout finished the 2012 season with more stolen bases than anyone, but at this point in the season he had only swiped nine of his 49 bags.
On June 5 of last year, Buster Posey was batting just .295—a full 70 points behind teammate Melky Cabrera—but he went on to lead the league with a .336 average thanks to hitting at a .385 clip after the All-Star break and a lengthy suspension for Cabrera.
Miguel Cabrera had 13 home runs and 44 RBI. A good start to the season, but nothing compared to Josh Hamilton's 21 homers and 57 ribbies. Cabrera rode 26 home runs after the All-Star break to the first triple crown in 45 seasons.
You just never know who is going to get hot or who is going to cool off.
But let's make some educated guesses, shall we?
*All statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com and Fangraphs.com and are accurate through the start of play on Tuesday, June 4.
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The Favorite: Mike Trout (42 R)
Runs are a weird statistic. If you break baseball down to its bare bones, runs are literally the only thing that matter. Yet, they are the most impossibly difficult thing to forecast.
Case in point, Trout led the league in runs scored last season, scoring 20 more times than anyone else in the league while also playing in at least 20 fewer games than several other people who finished in the top 10.
Given all of the RBI-caliber bats behind him in the lineup, it only makes sense to assume he'll take the crown for a second straight season.
Biggest Challenger: Joey Votto (46 R)
Votto is currently leading the league in both runs scored and on-base percentage, the latter of which somewhat dictates the former. Everyone with an on-base percentage of at least .400 has scored at least 32 runs this season.
Dark Horse: Coco Crisp (38 R)
Crisp missed two weeks on the disabled list, but he leads the league in runs scored per game played. His rate of 38 runs in 41 games would equate to 150 runs over the course of a 162-game season, which would tie him with Ted Williams for the third-most runs scored in a single season over the past 75 years.
We already know he won't play in 162 games, but if he plays in 140 games, he would exceed the 129-run mark that gave Trout the title in 2012.
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The Favorite: Miguel Cabrera (17 HR)
Power to you if you want to believe that Chris Davis and/or Domonic Brown are undergoing sudden and prolonged Jose Bautista-like power surges, but my money is on the guy who has hit at least 34 home runs in five of the past six seasons rather than a couple of guys who have never reached that number in their careers.
Biggest Challenger: Chris Davis (20 HR)
Despite what I just said two seconds ago, Davis has been amazing and very consistent so far this season. He had nine home runs in April and 10 in May as opposed to Cabrera, who hit just four home runs in the first month of the season and exploded for 12 in May.
Dark Horse: Justin Upton (14 HR)
Speaking of inconsistent, remember this guy? Upton batted .298 with 12 home runs in the first four weeks of the season but has apparently been in a light-to-no coma ever since. He could finish the season with anywhere between 25 and 55 home runs and no one would be surprised.
Runs Batted In
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The Favorite: Miguel Cabrera (65 RBI)
This isn't even up for discussion. Through 55 games, Cabrera is on pace for 191.45 RBI, which would be the most in a single season in MLB history. The next-closest person on the list (Chris Davis) could hit three grand slams tonight and still be looking up at Cabrera on the leaderboard.
Biggest Challenger: Brandon Phillips (45 RBI)
Just in case Cabrera gets injured, let's give a shout out to Brandon Phillips as a candidate for the award. Cabrera has had men on base for 53.5 percent of his plate appearances—and he is batting .412 in those situations. Coincidentally, 53.5 percent of Phillips's plate appearances have also occurred with men on base—though he's "only" batting .330 when given those opportunities.
One of the main reasons the sabermetric community has sullied the runs batted in statistic is because it's so dependent upon the three guys ahead of you in the batting order. If Torii Hunter and Detroit's revolving door of leadoff hitters suddenly stop getting on base, it's solo home run or bust for Cabrera's RBI totals.
Phillips is afforded quite the luxury of batting behind OBP machines like Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo.
Dark Horse: Freddie Freeman (38 RBI)
Despite spending 15 days on the disabled list and batting behind some constantly changing pairing of Andrelton Simmons (.248 AVG), Jason Heyward (.153 AVG) and B.J. Upton (.153 AVG), Freeman is somehow 14th in the majors in RBI.
Since April 29, Freeman is batting .323 with five home runs and 29 RBI.
Now, imagine a world where B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward are actually getting on base more than 25 percent of the time. They're bound to eventually come around, and if Freeman is still stroking the ball this regularly, he could at least lead the National League in RBI at the end of the year.
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The Favorite: Miguel Cabrera (.367 AVG)
OK. We get it. Cabrera is really good.
Biggest Challenger: Joe Mauer (.335 AVG)
His .365 average in 2009 is the best we've seen since Ichiro Suzuki hit .372 in 2004.
Long story short, he has done it before and he can do it again.
Dark Horse: David Ortiz (.333 AVG)
Ortiz is one of just a handful of guys with a batting average that is actually lower than his BABIP.
I wouldn't say that's an indication of an impending improvement so much as Chris Johnson's .438 BABIP is an indication that he's going to continue crashing towards Earth, but it's worth noting that he has been a bit unlucky when the ball is put in play yet still has a .333 AVG.
(You could definitely argue that his inability to beat out what could be an infield single for most guys is contributing to that lower BABIP, but throw me a bone here. If the leaders drift back to the .330 pack, Ortiz will be there).
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The Favorite: Everth Cabrera (23 SB)
(This is obviously assuming he doesn't face a suspension related to Biogenesis, which isn't looking promising as of Tuesday night).
Just a season ago, Cabrera led the National League in stolen bases, swiping a base at a slightly absurd rate of once for every 10.2 plate appearances.
He got a very late start to that season and didn't immediately impress, either. He was called up on May 17th and was hitless in his first 19 at-bats—something I remember all too well because I regrettably dropped him in fantasy after his fifth consecutive 0-fer. He didn't steal his first base of the year until May 24.
By May 25 of this season, he had already stolen 19 bags.
Biggest Challenger: Jacoby Ellsbury (21 SB)
Dark Horse: Billy Hamilton (30 minor league SB)
Hamilton hasn't yet played a game in the major leagues, but he could eventually challenge the all-time stolen base record.
At three different levels of the Reds farm system, Hamilton stole 165 bases last season. That's more than twice the highest single-season total at the major league level in the past 24 years. If you thought Cabrera's 10.2 plate appearances per stolen base was low, Hamilton averaged a stolen base for every 4.1 plate appearances in 2012.
They could call him up in mid-July and he could still lead the league by the end of the year.
Earned Run Average
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The Favorite: Clayton Kershaw (1.85 ERA)
From April 28 through May 20, Kershaw made five starts with a K/9 of 8.5 and an ERA of 0.69. You more than likely didn't hear a thing about it, because Clayton Kershaw is so incredibly good that those numbers aren't even newsworthy from him.
It would be something of a colossal upset if he doesn't have the lowest ERA at the end of the season.
Biggest Challenger: Clay Buchholz (1.62 ERA)
I'm still not completely sold on Buchholz.
His strikeout rate is considerably higher than his career norms, and his HR/FB ratio is the second-lowest in the league and 72 percent lower than it was just a season ago.
It's one thing to improve from one season to the next, but it's unrealistic to assume a guy can cut a 4.56 ERA in half over a single offseason. And that's about what it would take for Buchholz to win the ERA title this season.
Great stuff thus far in 2013—albeit against a pretty forgiving schedule—but I get the feeling he's about due for a shellacking when he takes the mound against the Angels this weekend.
Dark Horse: Johnny Cueto (2.17 ERA)
He isn't officially on the leaderboard because he has only made six starts to this point in the year, but Cueto is a legitimate candidate for the ERA title.
If he can even remotely maintain his current ERA, it will be his third consecutive season with an ERA below 2.80. Since the start of the 2011 season, Cueto's 2.54 ERA ranks second among active pitchers.
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The Favorite: Yu Darvish (111 K)
Darvish pitched seven scoreless innings on Sunday with six strikeouts.
By most standards that's an incredible start, but it decimated his K/9 ratio, lowering it from "He isn't human" to "unbelievable."
He's already 17 strikeouts ahead of the guy in second place (A.J. Burnett) despite making one fewer start than him.
Biggest Challenger: Anibal Sanchez (89 K)
If he could just start working deeper into games, perhaps being in second place in K/9 would have Sanchez closer to Darvish in the raw totals.
Dark Horse: Justin Verlander (87 K)
Verlander has clearly not been himself over the past month.
After seven starts, he was 4-2 with a 1.55 ERA and well on his way to another Cy Young award. However, he has a 7.42 ERA over his past five outings.
His K/9 has been a very solid 10.73, but he's averaging just 6.08 innings per start after averaging 7.06 innings per start over the previous four seasons. If he can get his innings total back up to normal, he should be able to get back into the strikeout race.
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That's right. We're going with quality starts instead of wins. It's a much better indicator of a pitcher's talent than a silly reliance on run support. Deal with it.
The Favorite: Adam Wainwright (11 quality starts)
He's finally fully recovered from the Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the entire 2011 season, and seems to be even better than he ever was.
Wainwright's K/BB is an unbelievable 14.0 and he already has two complete game shutouts under his belt. He's the best pitcher on the best team in baseball and has only failed to finish the sixth inning or given up more than three runs in one of his 12 starts this season. He might finish the year with 30 quality starts.
Biggest Challenger: Felix Hernandez (nine quality starts)
King Felix has at least 21 quality starts in each of the past four seasons and led all pitchers in the category in both 2009 and 2010. Perhaps just as importantly, he has made at least 30 starts in seven consecutive seasons and trails only CC Sabathia for most innings pitched since the start of the 2006 season.
He's a workhorse and his home games are played in a pitcher-friendly park. His K/9 is higher than ever and his BB/9 is lower than ever. This could well end up being the best season of his career.
Dark Horse: Jordan Zimmermann (nine quality starts)
Zimmermann is averaging the fewest number of pitches per inning of all pitchers, using just 13.1 bullets per frame.
A low ERA is a big help in this category, but sometimes half the battle is just making it six full innings.
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The Favorite: Mariano Rivera (20 saves)
Mo may be in second place by two saves, but would you rather bet on a 36-year-old who entered the season with five career saves or the greatest closer of all time? It would only be right for Rivera's career to end with a season of at least 50 saves.
Biggest Challenger: Jason Grilli (22 saves)
It would appear the 2013 Pirates bullpen is the best thing since sliced bread. And I greatly appreciate sliced bread.
Grilli has a 1.05 ERA, a K/9 of 14.38 and saves in 22 out of 22 chances. The only question at this point is whether or not the Pirates will afford him enough save opportunities to stay in front of the more seasoned closers in his rearview mirror.
Dark Horse: Edward Mujica (17 saves)
It's kind of difficult to have a dark horse in the saves department. It's not like a guy can suddenly go out and get four saves in a span of two days and shoot up the leaderboard. If you're not already in the top 10, you're not finishing the season at No. 1.
That said, if anyone other than Rivera or Grilli is going to finish the season with the most saves, it's going to be the guy closing out games for the team most likely to win over 100 games.
Frankly, it's surprising that Mujica isn't already in first place, considering he hasn't blown a save all year, but I suppose that's a side effect of not getting the job until almost three weeks into the season.