Miggy may not win a Triple Crown again, but it’s hard to see him not winning at least one of the categories. Photo by Flickr user Chuck Welch.
We learned something in 2012. Despite many sabermatricians not being terribly impressed by the Triple Crown stats, they still matter in baseball. (Side Note: My computer spellchecker doesn’t recognize the word “sabermatricians”. The only suggestion it gave me was geriatricians. Take that for what it’s worth.)
Regardless of how much those stats impress you, they carry great relevance in fantasy baseball, as they make up three of the five standard categories. When you consider that these stats reflect runs and even steals sometimes, the Triple Crown matters in fantasy baseball. So, let’s take a look at the three players in the American and National Leagues that should win those categories.
Before I go on, you may feel free to disagree with me and voice those disagreements, but I know that I am intentionally not going to name a player twice here. I’m not saying that can’t happen, there are 3-4 players I could see winning a Triple Crown, but that would defeat the purpose of this list. Let’s take a look.
Home Runs: Miguel Cabrera
This was really close between Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols, but Miggy gets the nod for a few reasons.
- Comerica Park is better for hitters than Angel Stadium.
- On the same note, the pitching in the AL Central isn’t as strong as it is in the AL West.
- Both men should be protected by feared hitters, but Pujols’ protector, Josh Hamilton, is more erratic. In 2012, he hit .223 in June, .177 in July, and .245 in September/October. He’s dangerous, but I don’t think good pitchers fear him when things are going bad. That means a lot of walks and corner pitches for Albert. Prince Fielder, who bats behind Cabrera is a bit more consistent, as his worth 2012 month was .247. Sure, he’ll slump at times, but the slumps won’t be as prolonged. That will get Miggy better pitches to hit.
- Pujols has been great, but he’s shown more cracks over the last few seasons than Cabrera.
Cabrera’s strength is just scary. Even in big parks, he doesn’t even need to get a great amount of the ball to hit it out, and that’s tough to pitch against. Maybe more, he can hit the ball out to all fields, and you don’t see that too often in baseball, even with the great hitters.
It’s just hard to look at this season and not see Cabrera around 40 (or more) homers. In our Tigers’ preview, I predicted that Cabrera would hit 39, and think I might have shorted him a little. When you have a guy that strong, who can hit to all fields, and has a guy like Fielder protecting him, it’s hard to see anyone leaving the yard more than your reigning AL Triple Crown winner.
RBI: Albert Pujols
Hey. What do you know? Another category that came down to Pujols and Cabrera. In addition to not wanting to repeat any players, Pujols gets the honor here for a few reasons.
- As good as Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter are, both missed some time last year. Hunter isn’t getting any younger, so thinking he’ll get 145 or more games is very optimistic. Meanwhile, Pujols will have the luxury of driving in Mike Trout, as well any number of good players who could be the Angels’ second hitter.
- In the first season Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were together, they went 3-4 in that order and made the World Series, with both players having great years. I think it’s safe to say that those two will stay 3-4, in that order. Now, Pujols and Hamilton are in their first season as teammates. Both have put up good numbers, but have scuffled at times in recent years and if they do, I could see Mike Scioscia shuffling those two to kick-start things. That opens the door for Pujols to have Trout, whoever the number two hitter ends up being, and Hamilton available to drive in. Even if that happens, he still gets a dangerous Mark Trumbo protecting him.
Looking at last season, Pujols drove in an impressive 105 runs. Four of those came before the beginning of May. That is not a typo. That means he drove in 101 runs from May on. Two things happened to Pujols there. One, he finally got settled in to Anaheim, and never underestimate how important it is to get comfortable in your surroundings. Two, Trout got called up at the end of April. Now, he’ll be in a comfortable situation with Mike Trout in front of him in the order all year.
That looks like about 130 RBI to me.
Average: Robinson Cano
A lot jumps out at me when trying to justify this pick. But what I really like is that a guy with the power of Robinson Cano has never had 100 strikeouts in a season. So, when he swings the bat, the ball is put in play. That, along with a good walk rate (which Cano has), is a great start to a great batting average.
Something else that’s important for someone who’s going to lead the league in hitting is that he sees good pitches to hit. This won’t be the best Yankees team to ever go through The Bronx, but you really can’t pitch around anyone, because they do have hitters up and down the order.
Taking a look at his average over the last four years, he’s always been over .300 and has hit a total of .314 in that time. Any time you can say that a .302 average drags down the production, you’re talking about a great hitter. That’s what happened to Cano in 2011. In 2012, he matured a lot, drawing more walks and bumping his average 11 points. I look for that to continue in 2013, making him very hard to beat for the American League batting title.
Home Runs: Ryan Braun
If you had asked me this question last October, the answer would have been Giancarlo Stanton. The guy has averaged 31 homers a year while playing an average of 124 games. But then the Miami Marlins went ahead and decided to trade away pretty much all of the protection he had in the lineup to Toronto, and I can’t see any team giving Stanton a pitch to hit in a meaningful spot. Stanton will likely be protected by Logan Morrison and while I like LoMo, he’s A.) Not that good of a hitter and B.) Injury prone, to say the least.
Another candidate was Jay Bruce, but I don’t like his placement in the Cincinnati order, as most of the feared hitters there bat in front of him. So, again, I see him getting pitched around. This is especially true with Bruce, as he will chase bad pitches.
That leaves Ryan Braun, the NL’s reigning home run champ. The man who plays in a big time hitter’s yard, and has plenty of protection around him in a potent Milwaukee lineup. Braun has failed to hit 30 homers once in his career. Say what you want about him, but he can slug the ball out of any park in the country, and Miller Park isn’t exactly Yellowstone.
This is sort of a process of elimination pick, but it’s also out of great respect for how good Braun is. In case you were wondering, nothing that’s been revealed this offseason scares me away from Braun, either.
RBI: Matt Kemp
Matt Kemp didn’t get the nod at home runs because he doesn’t play in as good of a hitter’s park as Braun, and I also imagine that most of the feared hitters in the Los Angeles lineup will bat in front of him. That means that he might not see fat pitches to hit, but he’ll have plenty of men on base.
If Kemp hadn’t been hurt, he would have driven in about 105 runs in 2012, assuming he stayed at the same pace. He was beaten up so much in 2012 that it may be easy to forget what a tear he was on before going down, which came before Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez got to town.
The lineup could be shuffled a few ways, but the most sense would be Ramirez second, Gonzalez third, Kemp fourth, and Andre Ethier fifth. That staggers the lefties and righties, and also puts Kemp up with men on base an awful lot. A guy as dangerous as him should go well beyond 115 RBI.
On an interesting side note, I made comment joke to Nash about Stanton: He may hit 40 homers in 2013 and drive in 50 runs. I was only half kidding. Obviously 40/50 is a gigantic stretch, but it’s hard to see him even approaching 100 RBI in that lineup unless he tops 50 homers.
Average: Andrew McCutchen
You might be wondering how I am predicting that guy who had never broken .300 before 2012 isn’t going to regress a little bit. That would be a fair question, but the answer is simple. Andrew McCutchen is really good, and we haven’t even seen the best yet.
I love Buster Posey, but it’s hard to imagine a catcher repeating as batting champion. I know that Joe Mauer did that not too long ago, but he had the luxury of the DH. Posey doesn’t have that. I am not expecting a regression season from Buster, I just don’t see him repeating as batting champ.
McCutchen is just scary. It’s unfortunate that Pittsburgh’s team doesn’t win enough to get him the spotlight he deserves, although getting the cover of MLB 13 is a nice sign that people know about him.
If you want to point out that the .327 average last year came out of nowhere, I’d like to say that it’s no more of an anomaly than the .259 average in 2011 was. Take away those two years, and we’re looking at a .286 career hitter.
Again, maybe that isn’t batting title worthy, but remember that he’s only 26. Young players often struggle with average, as they don’t really know how to rely on anything more than their talent. When you get a few years under your belt, you pick up on other things. That’s where McCutchen is.
Also, even from the right side, McCutchen will get plenty of infield singles with his speed, and that always helps. You’re not going to get a line drive every at bat.
Following up on a .327 average won’t be easy, but McCutchen is the man to do it. With that, he’ll be very hard to beat for the NL batting title.
We’re near the end of our Countdown to our February 18th Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit:
13 Dollar Players Who’ll Triple Your Money
12 Bargain Bin Outfielders
11 Pitchers You Shouldn’t Touch With a 60’6″ Pole
10 Spot Starters Who’ll Jump to the Next Level
9 Guys to Give You a Complete LIneup
8 Geezers Over 35 Who Still Have Their Giddy Up
6 Hitters with Plate Skills
5 Prospects with 2013 Fantasy Baseball Value
4 Middle Infield Late Rounders