Projecting MLB Sluggers: The Top 5 in 2012

Tuesday November 22, 2011

Peter Stein (Fantasy Baseball Analyst – MLB reports):  Accompanied with my projections and analysis, I profile the top-five fantasy baseball sluggers to target for 2012. I encourage your thoughts and feedback!

1. Ryan Braun

2012 Projections: .321 38 HR 119 RBI 108 R 32 SB

Given that he is at the prime of his career having just turned 28 on November 17, Ryan Braun ranks at the top of the list. He is the complete package and enjoyed a 2011 season that had fantasy owners drooling and was named the 2011 NL MVP today! He was a machine in all five of the standard fantasy categories with a .332 average, 33 home runs, 111 RBI’s, 109 runs and 33 SB’s. The exciting thing is that the will only continue to get better. The home run total has the potential to reach 40 and I don’t see reason why Braun won’t steal 30 bases again. Braun is by no means one of the speediest players baseball, but he is truly one of the smartest base runners. He steals at a career success rate of 80% and was only caught 6 times in 2011. Some people wonder about the effect that Prince Fielder’s potential departure will have on Braun, but I am not overly concerned. Braun is truly a special and hall of fame caliber player because he not only possesses all of the physical tools, but also is one of the game’s smartest players. He continually makes adjustments and just has such an impressive knowledge of the game that allows him to better utilize his talents than others.

2. Albert Pujols

2012 Projections: .312 39 HR 120 RBI 117 R 12 SB

Albert Pujols has been the best fantasy player in baseball since he emerged onto scene in 2001. Ten Ruth-like seasons later, the slugger might find himself in a new uniform. Furthermore, his somewhat “down” season in 2011 has caused concern for many fantasy owners.  But before we expect an A-rod-like decline, lets take a closer look at the numbers. Through the Cardinal’s first 54 games, Pujols batted .257 with 8 home runs and 28 RBI. That means in the team final 108 games, which included the time missed with the wrist injury, he batted .322 with 29 home runs and 71 RBI’s. That is the Pujols that we have all been accustomed to over the last decade. I will not go into detail explaining just how good Pujols has been throughout his career because you should already know by now. Last year was the first season he did not put up .300 30 HR and 100 RBI. He missed this feat by one RBI and one point of average, in a season that included an uncharacteristic 50 game stretch (contract issues?).  I expect Pujols to be back in St. Louis next season, and all though he well on the back nine of his career, he is still too good and has a lot left in the tank. Expect the usual numbers, the type that he continued to put up despite his slow start to the season in 2011.

3. Miguel Cabrera

2012 Projections: .336 34 HR 122 RBI 109 R 2 SB

Did you know that Miguel Cabrera is only 28 years old? I sure didn’t. He has been an offensive force for almost a decade. In my mind, he is the game’s best pure hitter and will only continue to get better. He managed to have another elite season in 2011, despite all the controversy and off the field issues he had to deal with.  He continues to improve at the plate and BB right is on the incline while his K rate declines. For these reasons, and his career .317 average, there is no reason to not expect his average to hover around .330. He is an average anchor for your lineup that will also exceed 30 HR and 100 RBI’s and runs. The only thing he does not do is steal bases. However, refer to my article last week, Cabrera is the type of average and power anchor that can allow your team roster a space for the one-trick ponies, i.e. Michael Bourn. Overall, just expect more of the same from Cabrera: which means elite production in four of the five standard fantasy categories, average, runs, home runs, and runs batted in.

4. Matt Kemp

2012 Projections: .296 33 HR 108 RBI 103 R 34 SB

At 27 years of age, Matt Kemp is also just entering his prime. He missed a 40/40 season by just one home run and batted .326 and drove in 126 runs, which led to being the runner-up for the 2011 NL MVP award. However, he is easily the most difficult to predict on the list. If I expected him to improve upon or even just repeat his 2011 season, he would be at the top of the list. We simply cannot expect Kemp to be this fantasy-tastic again in 2012. Matt Kemp’s .380 BABIP lead all of major league baseball, however he does hold a career .352 clip, which is tops in baseball. Therefore, expect regression in his batting average in the .290-.300 range. Kemp also strikes out a lot, not like in 2010, but he still struck out in 23 percent of his at bats in 2011.  When you are not putting the ball in play at a high rate, there is potential for a lot of volatility. Given his skill set, 2011 was essentially a best-case scenario for Kemp.  The other four guys on the list make contact much more consistently and therefore have been more consistent throughout the career and are easier to project forward. Furthermore, I am not encouraged by the line up around built around Kemp. He is still elite, but it is unwise to expect him to repeat 2011. He will come down to earth but still provide across the board value for your team.

5. Joey Votto

2012 Projections: .316 32 HR 112 RBI 115 R 11SB

At 28 years of age, Joey Votto is also in the prime of his career. His 2011 season, with heavy expectations after an MVP season, was a down season for Votto. A down season in which he batted .309 29 HR 103 RBI 8 SB. And if this type of season is Votto’s worst-case scenario, you can live with it! However, given his age and peripheral stats, all signs point to an improved season for Votto in 2012. Votto is a pure hitter who continues to gain better command over strike zone, as his walk rate his increased steadily in each of the four last seasons. The average will always be there for Votto, just a notch below Cabrera. The biggest concern for fantasy owners was the drop in power, form 37 to 29 home runs. However, Votto hit the ball in the air more often in the second half of the season and hit 16 post all-star HR’s in 260 at-bats, compared to just 13 in his 339 at-bats before the break. Furthermore, his .222 ISO was well below his 2010 season (.276) and career average of .237. Therefore, expect him to bounce back to the 35 HR territory with elite average. The true wildcard for Votto is what he does on the basepaths. He stole just 8 bases in 2011, but if he puts a greater emphasis on running like he did in 2010, with 16 stolen bases, then he has the potential to provide extreme five-category value to your roster.

Honorable Mention:         

Jacoby Ellsbury: His .230 ISO in 2011 (career .152) explains his surprise 30-home run season. Ellsbury’s peripheral indicate he will be more of a .300 20 HR 80 RBI 40 SB type players, making him a notch below Braun and Kemp.

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Fantasy Baseball Analyst, Peter Stein.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Peter on Twitter (@peterWstein).***

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Posted on November 22, 2011, in Players: Fantasy Baseball Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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