2011 MLB Predictions: Who'll Top NL in Each Main Statistical Category?
As spring training moves forward, teams are slowly beginning to see what the future may hold. As the anticipation of a new baseball season grows, so do the expectations for each individual player.
Team leaders, league leaders, MVPs and Cy Young winners alike will be heavily favored to repeat their successful seasons. However, a strong performance in 2010 does not necessarily ensure the same in 2011.
With a plethora of talent in the National League, who will come out on top of each major statistical category remains to be seen. However, we can make some pretty good educated guesses.
Home Runs and RBI: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
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Last season, Jose Bautista shocked the American League when he hammered a league-leading 54 home runs. In the previous six years, Bautista had never hit above 16 homers in a single season.
A feat like that will be difficult to repeat.
But the National League leader is a different story. With a proven track record, Albert Pujols has consistently averaged around 41 homers per season for the last 10 years. If he stays healthy, there is no reason to think that will change.
Also, 2011 is a contract year for Pujols. With his solid record of success, plus the contract incentive, Pujols should retain the home run crown.
The Cardinals are a very good offensive team, so it should be safe to assume they will put runners on base for Pujols to knock in. Therefore, he should come out on top with the most RBI in the National League as well.
Batting Average & On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
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As the reigning National League MVP, big things are expected out of Joey Votto in 2011. His biggest competition in the batting average category last season was Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies, who led the league by hitting .336. Omar Infante was a close third with a .321 average.
In the On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage category, Votto reigned supreme in 2010 with a 1.024 OPS. The only other player to rise above the 1.0 mark was Albert Pujols with a 1.011 OPS.
Generally, OPS is considered a better indicator of a player's performance than batting average because it shows how often a hitter actually gets on base.
While there is stiff competition in both the AVG and OPS categories, Votto is coming off an MVP year. This should give him a little extra nudge to live up to the hype in 2011.
Runs Scored: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
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Entering his fifth major league season, Ryan Braun is in his prime. However, 2010 was a slight letdown for him in terms of runs and average after an amazing 2009 where he hit .320 with 113 runs.
Few players would complain about the .304 average he posted last season, but with youth and good bat speed on his side, Braun is capable of more.
Look for Braun to be anxious to repeat his 2009 numbers and really try to work the basepaths this season. A little extra zip in his step and focus at the plate should add up to enough runs to be the league leader.
Stolen Bases: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins
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After a few down years and an injury that cut his playing time in 2010, Hanley Ramirez should be eager to get back on the horse.
But injuries have not been the only thing to plague this young, talented player. Ramirez has earned a reputation for being selfish, disrespectful and immature.
In 2010, Ramirez took public shots at his manager after being benched for a lack of hustle. He was then benched indefinitely until he issued a full apology to the entire team.
Both youth and pride have played roles in the Ramirez saga, and taming him has been like trying to break a wild bronco. However, Ramirez seems to have learned his lesson.
If he has indeed moved past his attitude issues, Ramirez should be very capable of repeating the 51 stolen bases he recorded in both 2006 and 2007. After the public embarrassment, a little extra effort and a huge burst of speed may be exactly what is needed in order for Ramirez to redeem himself.
At the very least, Ramirez has plenty of incentive to show off his skills on the basepaths once again.
Hits: Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves
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In his first season as an everyday player, Martin Prado set career highs in many statistical categories, including runs, hits and RBI.
In 2011, Prado will be switched from third base to left field. In a less rigorous defensive spot, Prado should be able to not just match but possibly exceed his hit total from 2010.
At 27 years of age, Prado is in his prime and set to have another big year. The 184 hits he collected in 2010 put him at fourth best in the league, even though he played only 140 games due to an injury in August.
If he plays the entire 2011 season, Prado is all set to take over as the league leader in hits.
Innings Pitched: Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
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The leader in innings for 2010, Roy Halladay, may not be used quite as much in 2011. The Phillies will be extra careful to keep their aging ace strong and healthy throughout the year.
But for the Cardinals, Chris Carpenter may see more innings than he did in 2010 as a result of the other Cards ace, Adam Wainwright, having Tommy John surgery earlier this week.
Last season, Carpenter and Wainwright came in second and third behind Halladay for innings pitched with 235 and 230.1 innings tossed respectively. Without Wainwright, there will be more pressure on Carpenter to get deeper into games and pick up the slack.
While he is not exactly a spring chicken at 35 years old, Carpenter has proven that he can be healthy and durable throughout a season. He should own the innings pitched record this year.
Strikeouts: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
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They call him "The Freak" for a reason. Tim Lincecum looks more like an adolescent teen badly in need of a haircut than he does a professional ballplayer. But once the ball goes flying towards the batter, he quickly morphs into someone resembling an actual grown person.
The 231 K's Lincecum recorded in 2010 topped the National League. The next closest was Roy Halladay of the Phillies with 219.
In his first three full years in the big leagues, Lincecum has averaged just over 252 strikeouts a year while pitching at least 212 innings each season. This consistency and total dominance is exactly why Lincecum will continue to own the National League strikeout record.
Wins: Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado Rockies
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In 2010, Ubaldo Jimenez came so very close to reaching the 20-win mark but fell short with 19 due to a rough month in July. The 27-year-old flamethrower had a career year despite missing the 20-win mark.
With both youth and experience on his side this season, Jimenez has an excellent chance to get those 20 wins. If he can cut down on walks and induce more ground balls, Jimenez should top his 2010 performance.
Jimenez also recorded the first no-hitter for the Rockies franchise last season. The potential for this young pitcher is high, but he is perfectly capable of exceeding those expectations. He should end the year as the National League leader in wins.
WHIP: Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
In pitching, WHIP stands for walks plus hits, divided by innings pitched. Basically, this number tells how many baserunners a pitcher allows per inning. In 2010, Matt Cain had a WHIP of 1.08 and took fourth place in the National League for this statistic.
Over the last three seasons, Cain has reduced the number of walks and hits issued while increasing his innings pitched. His WHIP has also improved each consecutive year.
At only 26 years of age and with five full seasons already under his belt, Cain has nowhere to go but up. His postseason experience, winning the World Championship this past year, will also play a big role in his development.
If Cain continues on the same track, he will be the league leader in WHIP for 2011.
Earned Run Average: Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins
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Since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2007, Josh Johnson has lowered his ERA every consecutive year. In 2010, he had the best average in the National League with a 2.30 ERA. In all of baseball, that mark was second only to Felix Hernandez of the Mariners.
At 6'7" and 250 pounds, Johnson looks more like a linebacker than a pitcher. However, his size is an asset on the mound, giving him a strong downward plane when he throws.
Johnson is only 27 years of age and has already pitched in two All-Star games. If he continues to stay healthy, Johnson should once again own the ERA record in the National League.
Strikeout to Walk Ratio and Complete Games: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies
The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, Roy Halladay, was truly a force to be reckoned with in 2010. In his first year in the National League, Halladay scored big in every major statistical category.
But there were a few stats where Halladay really stood out from amongst his peers this past year. Those categories included both Strikeout to Walk Ratio and Complete Games.
Halladay posted a 7.30 K/BB ratio, which was almost double what the next best pitcher posted. Josh Johnson of the Marlins came in second with a 3.88 K/BB ratio.
As for complete games, Halladay threw nine, including a perfect game. He also later pitched only the second no-hitter in postseason history. Second place for complete games in 2010 went to Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals with five.
There are not many pitchers in the league who can throw more than a few complete games in a season. But while the Phillies will be careful with Halladay as he ages, he will still be allowed to go the distance in many of the same circumstances as in 2010.
With such dominance in both statistical categories last year, there is no reason to think Halladay will not come out on top again in 2011.
Wins Above Replacement: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
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We began with Albert Pujols and have now come full circle to end with Albert Pujols as well.
One of the most useful sabermetric statistics is called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. WAR is a single number used to gauge a player's worth to his team based on offense, defense or pitching and defensive position within the context of the year and league.
Essentially, WAR calculates how many wins a player contributed to his team's win total as compared to what the team would have gotten with a "replacement value" player.
The numbers break down as follows: 8+ is an MVP, 5+ is an All-Star, 2+ is a starter, 0-2 is a reserve player and less than 0 is considered a replacement-level player.
In 2010, Albert Pujols scored a WAR value of 7.3, behind only Joey Votto of the Reds, who scored a 7.4 and won the NL MVP award. The battle in 2011 should be between these two players again, with Pujols most likely to come out on top, as it is a contract year for him.