It's a bases loaded situation in the bottom of the ninth inning. You are on the edge of your seat as your team is down by 1. All's you need is a bloop base hit to the outfield and you win the game. The crowd is going nuts as (you fill in the blank here) comes to the plate. All 30 teams have "that guy" who could make your evening a pleasant one or make it tough to go to sleep that night. This installment will look at all 30 teams and their most unpredictable hitter. Undoubtedly there will be disagreements so feel free to chime in with your opinions. Enjoy!
This may seem a bit odd right out of the gate but I'm going to jump on the "past his prime" bandwagon. Derek Jeter had quite a turbulent off season with his ongoing contract struggle with his beloved Yankees. This never would have happened two or three years ago when Jeter was leading the Yankees to their 26th world championship.
Last year Jeter had a down year and the buzzards were circling "the captain". After he signed his incentive laden contract, Jeter will be on a mission to prove that last year was a fluke and that he will be back around his career .314 average or maybe it is the end for Jeter.
The Tampa Bay Rays just signed two former teammates with the Red Sox: Johnny Damon and our next unpredictable hitter Manny Ramirez. The "Manny being Manny" routine has seemed to have run its course with the Dodgers parting ways with the slugger to the White Sox as a rent-a-player in the later part of the 2010 season. His numbers have been on the decline the past two years and the Rays are hoping he can reverse this trend in the 2011 season. It's hard to tell what will happen with Manny but at this point in his career, you never know which Manny will show up.
Probably the number one, most unpredictable hitter, going into the 2011 season is Toronto's Jose Bautista. Bautista led the majors last year with 54 home runs. Bautista had a career high of 16 home runs going into last year then exploded for his 54. That stat alone brings back memories of Brady Anderson of the Orioles way back when we Anderson clubbed 50 then fell off the face of the earth.
Over the past three years, Ortiz has been an enigma for the Red Sox. In 2008, he had his worst season as a member of the Red Sox hitting 23 home runs and driving in 89I. Prior to that, he set career highs in home runs with 54 (2006) and RBI's with 148 (2005). From 2008-2010, Ortiz has been under fire because of his very slow April starts so much to the point that Red Sox pundits talked of wanting to bench the designated hitter. He finished strong those last three seasons but it's taken more and more time to get heated up. This may be the year that age finally catches "big Papi".
The new Orioles shortstop was supposed to be the Twins answer at that position for the next few years. Instead it was a one year marriage that ended up with a trade to the Orioles. Hardy is a slick defensive infielder in which he has very few peers. His offense is another story. Hardy plateaued in 2007 with the Brewers hitting .277 with 26 home runs and 80 RBI. His offensive production has gone down hill ever since. This was a tough call as Mark Reynolds is a strikeout machine, but there were flashes for the Twins last year until the injury bug hit him again so it's difficult to tell what J.J. Hardy the Orioles got for 2011.
Delmon Young had a breakout season in 2010. The former #1 overall pick finally started to come into his own as a productive hitter in the Twins line-up hitting 46 doubles, driving in 112 and hitting 21 home runs. This is a far cry from his 2008 and 2009 seasons when he topped out at 69 RBI and hit a combined 44 doubles. Which Delmon Young will show up this year? The Twins hope the one from 2010 but until he puts back to back successful seasons together, Twins fans will have to play the wait and see game.
Carlos Guillen is a great hitter. The problem with Carlos Guillen is his health. Since maxing out at games played in 2006, he has seen his games played decline over the past four seasons with a career low with 68 games played. When Guillen is healthy, he's an integral part of the Tigers offense. With the additions of Victor Martinez and a healthy Magglio, Guillen should get plenty of opportunities to produce for the Tigers this year if he can stay healthy.
In the words of White Sox GM Kenny Williams "we're all in" for the year. That means how the Sox are fairing by July will ultimately decide whether or not they are in championship or rebuilding mode. One of the keys to their season will be Gordon Beckham. Williams brought in slugger Adam Dunn and resigned Paul Konerko to big contracts. The players around him will determine how big these signings were. Beckham is a prized jewel in the White Sox organization. He played in 131 games last year but posted worse numbers than the year before all the way across the board. In my opinion, it is essential Beckham has a solid year for the White Sox but he has a lot of work to do based on last year's numbers.
Plain and simple: the Indians need Travis Hafner's bat in their line-up. The Indians are in a process of rebuilding and have some solid pieces in Shin-Sho Choo, Grady Sizemore and a stud behind the plate in Carlos Santana but not a true DH. Hafner has been on a steep decline since his career year in 2006. Hafner has the ability to change the game with one swing of the bat but unfortunately for Indians fans, that has been the exception versus the standard with "Pronk".
This was a tough one as the Royals aren't exactly blessed right now with hitters up and down the line-up. However, one player had to be selected so after some thought, I decided to go with Alex Gordon. To say Gordon has been a disappointment for the Royals would be an understatement. After being drafted number two overall in the 2005 draft, Gordon has fallen considerably short of Royal fans expectations. He was sent down to triple AAA Omaha the majority of the 2010 season and ended up switching positions from third base to the outfield. Gordon has the tools to be a good hitter at the major league level. Unfortunately it hasn't come yet for him. Royal fans hope this is the year it all comes together for him.
Kendry Morales isn't on this list because of lack of production. He's on this list because of a freak leg injury that robbed him of most of the 2010 season. Morales has a breakout season in 2009 hitting 39 home runs and driving in 108 while hitting ,306. He had hit 11 home runs in 51 games before his injury in 2010. Morales will be a vital figure in the Angels line-up. With Abreau, Hunter and now Wells, Morales will be the "young gun" in the middle of this potentially high powered offense. Hopefully he can come back and have the season he did in 2009. Angels' fans will be ecstatic if he could.
I selected Adrian Beltre for the following reason: what type of season will Texas get under this new contract Beltre signed? His first season in Seattle wasn't bad as he hit 19 home runs and drove in 87 but compared with his numbers the season before the Dodgers, they weren't as good as some may have expected. Same song different verse this season. Beltre put up solid numbers in his one year in Boston and now is armed with a 5 yr-$80 million contract with the Rangers. Will the numbers be the same as Boston or more like Seattle? For this much money, the Rangers hope its the latter.
Figgins signed a 4 year $36 million contract with Seattle last season. It didn't go real well for Figgins or the M's. Figgins didn't come close to putting up the numbers he did in Anaheim last season so there is work to do this year. If Seattle is to be a contender, and with the players coming up they could be, in the American League West, Figgins has to improve his all around numbers in order for this to happen. The M's can't rely solely on Ichiro for the offense. Figgins has to step up and be the player the M's hoped he would this year.
The Athletics put some money down this year to solidify an already solid pitching staff. That staff may allow less than four runs every night out. The problem is their offense may score about two runs a game and that will be based solely on speed. Kevin Kouzmanoff may be the only power source on this A's team. The A's tried to lure Adrian Beltre to Oakland this year but pulled out towards the end. Beltre would have been the power hitter the A's need in their line-up but so it goes. Kouzmanoff will be asked to knock in the big runs and provide the power for an A's line-up that is definitely short in the power department. Can Kouzmanoff be this guy? If so, he needs to improve on his career high of 23 home runs in 2008.
Beltran didn't make to many friends last year when he elected to have knee surgery before the 2010 season started. After signing a 7 year-$119 million contract with the Mets after almost single handedly winning the World Series for the Astros, Beltran's numbers have slowly been in decline. His Mets numbers peeked in 2006 and have been on a downward spiral since then. At this moment, the Mets are really lacking the big bat in the middle of the line-up. Jason Bay had a decent season and David Wright's numbers were improved in year number two at Citi Field but Beltran must step up and add that third dangerous bat. With his injuries and declining numbers, Mets fan hope in Beltran's walk year they get what they paid for in 2006.
This may seem like an odd choice for a team that lost Adam Dunn to free agency and not having Bryce Harper up at the beginning of the season, but Jayson Werth is the big bat in the Nats line-up. Werth signed a huge 7 year-$126 million contract to stay in the same division as his old team the Phillies. What makes this player unpredictable is how will he be able to handle the pressure put on him via his big contract? Does Ryan Zimmerman scare enough pitchers to pitch to him instead of Werth? The Nationals must think so and so too do National fans.
"J-Roll" is the, in the words of Reggie Jackson, "the straw that stirs the drink" for the Phillies. He leads off, plays shortstop and is the catlyst for the potent Phillies offense. When he is hurt, they simply don't score like they are capable of. With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley behind Rollins, pitchers are more apt to go right at him in so much they don't issue the walk and set up the 2 run home run that Howard and Utley are capable of hitting every time up. Rollins needs to have a come back year for the Phillies. Everybody is sold on their pitching but oddly enough, it's their offense that could give them problems this year if J-Roll isn't back to his old self.
When thinking of unpredictable hitters, John Buck's name probably wouldn't be on any normal list. However with him signing with the Marlins in the off-season, he will be counted on to protect Mike Stanton and Hanley Ramirez. Buck set a career high in home runs and rbi last year with the Blue Jays. Buck will need to produce those same numbers this season for the Marlins to be a contender in the tough NL East.
Chipper Jones, even at age 38 (he'll be 39 in April), is the heartbeat of the Braves. He has MVP honors and a world championship to his name. He is also coming back from major surgery and is hoping to get one more solid season out of his body. With Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman presumably the future of the franchise, Jones still gives the Braves a solid stick in the middle of the line-up. People are expecting the Braves to challenge the Phillies for supremacy of the NL East. In order to do this, Chipper will need to have a full productive season.
Colby Rasmus will be counted on this season to produce around King Albert and Matt Holiday. Rasmus made waves last year with some comments last year about a strained relationship with manager Tony LaRussa and demanded a trade. The Cardinals didn't give in and are now expecting big things from the young slugger. The Cardinals aren't heavy on offense so Rasmus's bat will be essential for the Cardinals to contend in the NL Central.
Like the White Sox in the American League, the Brewers seem to be going "all in" in this 2011 season. With Prince Fiedler more than likely testing the free agent market at the end of the season and the trade for Zach Grienke in the off-season. The Brewers are a popular pick to win the Central. The "other" player the Brewers received in the Grienke deal is short stop Yuniesky Betancourt. Betancourt clubbed 16 home runs and drove in 78 for the Royals last year. Plugging Betancourt into a line-up that already includes: Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder the Brewers are sure to score runs. The question is, can his offense production translate over to the National League? The Brewers certainly hope so.
The Reds signed the world series MVP to take the place of Orlando Cabrera. Renteria's numbers haven't been as in years past but with this Reds line up, he won't be asked to produce as much as mayhbe he was in San Francisco. With Joey Votto, Scott Rolen, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, Renteria's job will be to get on base and score runs (on the offensive side). He will need to pick up the production that Cabrera had during his short tenure in the Queen City. This line-up could rival the Brewers as the best in the NL Central if not the National League but Renteria will have to produce at a high level to make this perception reality.
The big off-season signing for the Cubs may be the biggest unpredictable hitter in the Cubs lineup. Pena signed a 1 year-$10 million contract to take the place of Derek Lee who was traded last season. Pena really blossomed into one of baseball premier power hitters while in Tampa. Strikeouts and a low average though have been Pena's biggest issues at the plate. Pena's best season was in 2007 when he hit .282 with 47 home runs and 121 rbi. He did though strikeout 142 times. It's really kind of difficult to figure out what the Cubs are doing with their organization. As stated earlier, there is no doubting Pena's power numbers but how long will Cubs fans put up with all the strikeouts that come with it?
Barmes signed a one year free agent contract with the Astros this off-season to presumably play short stop. Barmes is more known for getting injured in 2005 lugging up a slab of deer meat from then teammate Todd Helton when he fell and broke his collar bone. Barmes was having a respectable season up until the that point and then had a couple more decent seasons in 2008 and 2009 but lost his mojo in 2010. The Astros are not going to contend this year and have a few pieces in place for the future but in order to salvage anything this season, Barmes will have to duplicate is 2008-2009 numbers.
This is definitely a cop out but looking at the Pirates line-up, they are all so young it's hard to find one hitter that you can identify as unpredictable. You could make an argument for newcomer Lyle Overbay and his 20 home runs last year. You can make an argument for Garrett Jones and him being the only power source last year for the Pirates. You could make an argument for Ryan Doumit who had such high expectations that he hasn't really lived up to yet. You get the picture? This team has one superstar in the making in Andrew McCutchen and he is also the only known name on the Pirates organization (which is sad for this once proud franchise). Check back in a couple months to see who we can tab as unpredictable for the Pirates.
"Car-Go" took the league by storm last year with a monster second season. He hit 34 home runs, knocked in 117 and stole 26 bags. He also hit .336. MVP numbers right? Yes indeed they are however when you break the numbers down between the confines of Coors Field and his numbers on the road, there is a huge discrepancy: .380 at home vs. .289 on the road, 76 rbi at home and 41 on the road, and 26 home runs at home and 8 on the road. If this guy played at Coors Field all 162 games, he'd rewrite ever record baseball has. Alas that's not how things work out and the numbers show he's not the same guy away from home. Does this make him any less of a player? Not at all but it does make him an unpredictable hitter, especially on the road.
Kelly Johnson put up his best numbers as a major leaguer last year after coming over from the Braves in 2009. He hit 26 home runs and drove in 71 while striking out 148 times (the amount of strikeouts on this team was incredible when you put Mark Reynolds into the mix). His best overall year was in 2008 with the Braves when he hit .287, had 12 home runs and drove in 69. His power numbers definitely increased upon his move to the desert but for the Diamondbacks to contend, he's going to have to put up the consistent numbers that he did last year from here on out. The Snakes have Chris Young and Justin Upton as stars and to have Johnson put up solid numbers would vault the team ahead of the Padres and the Dodgers in the NL West.
Many people forget that the Padres actually have to bat throughout the course of the game because everybody talks about their pitching. With the departure of Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres offense may be one of the weakest in the major leagues, down there with the Royals and the Pirates. Ryan Ludwick will be asked to pick up the majority of the rbi opportunities that Gonzalez would have knocked in last year and he'll be asked to do this with limited protection. When Ludwick had his breakout year with the Cardinals, he had this first baseman named Pujols who nobody wanted to pitch to ahead of him and Ludwick was the direct beneficiary of it. Ludwick hasn't put up those numbers since then and I would say he won't again this year.
This was a tough choice as well. Kemp was the golden child last year in baseball magazines all over the country with his solid numbers across the board. He could hit for average, hit for power and swipe some bags but his 2010 season didn't stand out as much as the previous two seasons did. He had some off the field personal issues and on the field didn't help himself with his suspect defense in center field. Kemp has the tools to be an absolute stud and this Dodger offense, although it doesn't have a lot of household names, does have solid players in James Loney and Andre Either to contend in 2011. Kemp will be a key to this but who knows if the same Matt Kemp from 2008 and 2009 will show up in 2011.
Sandoval kind of fell of the map last year for the world champs. There weren't many "Panda" sightings during the playoffs and world series as Juan Uribe got most of the time at third base. Prior to last year, 25 home runs, 90 rbi and a .330 average made Sandoval a hot commodity at the hot corner. There have been some questions about his weight and his work ethic but nobody can question is talent when he's on. I don't think 13 home runs, 63 rbi and a .268 average is any indication of what type of player he is but the difference between the two seasons definitely makes him an unpredictable hitter for the Giants.