During postseason baseball, there's always the one player who managers point out and say to stay away from him, the best slugger on the team. The guy who's the "Man" for his team, guys like Justin Upton, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez, who can change the game with one swing and forever write their names in history. It's where stars shine the brightest, and the weak are exposed, the biggest stage in the game. Read on for the 9 guys pitchers are most careful with when pitching, and why each slugger is most feared.
Fielder's massive beard fits his frame and personality perfectly, and adds to the aura Fielder exudes. It's hard not to like a person like Fielder, and his play makes it all the easier for fans to love him. His light-tower power is an attention-grabber, and every pitcher he faces knows exactly what Fielder wants to do with each pitch. With 33 homers this season, pitchers are right to pitch around him.
Fielder is built like a bowling ball, and he uses all his strength to hit homers a very, very long way. With the game on the line and Fielder up to bat, more often that not, the pitcher is going to walk him and take their chances with the next guy.
Curtis Granderson is having an unbelievable season, and is one of the leading candidates for AL MVP. Granderson is batting .268 with 40 homers, 113 Runs batted in, 131 runs scored and 24 stolen bases. If that doesn't scream MVP then I don't know what does. He's a five-tool player with enormous confidence and talent to work with.
He bats behind Jeter and in front of Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, so it's not like he can be walked to face the next batter. Teams are going to have to pitch to Granderson, and he's going to make them pay, even if he doesn't hit a homer. With 24 steals and 131 runs, Granderson puts pressure on the pitcher and makes him lose concentration as he faces Teixeira and Cano.
Justin Upton is the unquestioned leader of the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks, and the one guy opposing pitchers try to stay away from in that lineup. Upton has monster power, with 30 homers, and has really come into his own this season. Before this year, teams knew he had talent, but he hadn't quite put it all together yet. He took off as the season went on. July was his biggest month and he hasn't looked back since.
In July, he had eight homers and 22 runs batted in, and teams began to realize he was tapping into his unlimited potential. This was around the time when his name was mentioned in NL MVP conversations and his play was starting to be recognized on a national level. Now, pitchers try to avoid him and force others like Miguel Montero and Chris Young to make plays.
Miguel Cabrera is one of the rare sluggers who can also hit for a very high average, and is that much more dangerous because of this. Usually pitchers can pitch around a slugger, but when he can hit for contact in addition to power, it becomes incredibly hard to do that. When this is coupled with a reduced strikeout rate, it all adds up to a very dangerous hitter.
Since the Tigers are having unbelievable team success offensively, it makes Cabrera even harder to pitch around. Victor Martinez, Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta are responsible for that, and make pitchers get very nervous when Cabrera steps up to bat.
Adrian Gonzalez is also in the conversation for AL MVP, and rightfully so. Gonzalez is one of the great all-around hitters in the game, and a downright terror for right-handed pitchers. Gonzalez has 23 of his 26 homers against right-handers and bats about 30 points higher (.346 as compared to .315) against righties. When a lefty can hit for a .336 average, most teams have to use specialist left-handers to try to get him out, and even that doesn't work often.
Gonzalez is in a similar situation to Curtis Granderson in the area of pitching around. Pitchers can't pitch around him, because ahead of him are Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, and behind him are David Ortiz and Carl Crawford. Pitchers are going to be very upset when they play the Red Sox in Boston with the short porch in right field and an abundance of lefties in the Boston lineup.
Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies is one of the rare physical specimens in the game. He has a massive frame, and uses every bit of it to crush whatever the opposing pitcher offers. Howard is right up there with Prince Fielder in terms of light-tower power and charisma. He's performed at a high level in postseason before, and knows exactly how to handle the pressure that comes with playing in October.
Howard can change the game with one swing, and is in the same situation as Granderson and Gonzalez. It's very difficult to pitch around him with bats such as Chase Utley and Hunter Pence in the lineup. Look for Howard to perform very well in the postseason, and when pitchers miss their mark, he'll make them wish they had walked him.
Ryan Braun is another five-tool superstar, and he certainly can swing the bat with a lot of power. Braun may not have the physique of a Fielder or Howard, but he has the ability to hit the ball a long way. Braun is batting .333 with 31 homers, 103 runs batted in and 31 steals. It's not often you see a 30/30 season, but Braun did just that this season.
How do you stop someone who bats in front of Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks? Walk him? All three players were All-Star starters and can crush a bad pitch. They may be the best trio of hitters in the league, and Braun sets the tone by hitting for high average.
Mark Teixeira is having a big-time season with 37 homers and 104 runs batted in, and is the most dangerous switch hitter in the league. Teixeira can hit for consistent power from both sides, and completely neutralizes plans by the opposing manager to bring in a specialty relief pitcher.
Teixeira is part of the monster that is the Yankees offense, and is a perennial Gold Glove first baseman. No relief pitcher wants to come in to face Tex because of his switch hitting and the help around him in the lineup. It seems like the best hitters have such good players surrounding them in the lineup, and Tex is no different, his job is made much easier by Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano.
Chase Utley is one of the more skilled players in the league, and can strike fear in an opposing pitcher with one swing. Utley won four straight Silver Slugger awards from 2006-09 and has established himself as one of the premier second basemen in the league. He has had three seasons with over 30 homers and four seasons over 100 runs batted in, and would have more if he had been healthy for this season and last.
With a beautiful swing and the ability to hit for contact, Utley can destroy right-handed pitchers, and is surprisingly good at hitting off left-handed pitchers. He also has the speed to make pitchers nervous on the mound and rarely is caught stealing. In the past three years, he has been caught only four times out of 54 tries.
That sets up a very interesting scenario for lefty pitchers, do they walk Utley to face Howard or take their chances with Utley? Plus, Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence provide even more problems for pitchers.