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March 27, 2012
20 Questions for 2012
Spring training is winding down, and Opening Day is within sight, which means it’s predictions time here at Baseball Prospectus. You can read our picks for the season's final standings and major award winners elsewhere, but we also polled our staff on several key themes relating to the upcoming season, including how Jesus Montero will spend his time in Seattle and whether the Marlins' poor attendance really was all about the ballpark in Miami. The results are here for your interpretation, and we invite you to choose your sides in the comments.
Despite holding a 200-175 advantage in stolen bases since 2007, Crawford’s disastrous 2011 campaign still lingers in the minds of BP staffers. In his first season as Boston’s left fielder, Crawford got off to a slow start and never attempted more than six steals in any month, his 18 swipes and 75 percent success rate his worst since 2002. Meanwhile, after rib injuries cost him nearly all of 2010, Ellsbury finished second in the American League MVP race and set career highs in nearly every offensive category, though he ran less frequently and with less success.
Rays pitchers’ .267 batting average on balls in play was the lowest in the game, and Hellickson was no exception, his .224 BABIP outpacing second-place Justin Verlander by 13 points. Moustakas hit .287 in Triple-A before slumping to .263 after being called up to Kansas City in June.
Moore struck out 210 batters in the minors before fanning 15 more in his September debut. Upton has averaged 153 strikeouts per season since 2007 and has topped the 150-whiff mark in four of the last five seasons. If Moore were guaranteed a spot in the Rays rotation this season, this question would be less relevant, but as it is, he is in competition with stalwarts Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis for one of the final two spots in the rotation.
Cespedes is known for his tantalizing power-speed package, but there are concerns about how much contact he’ll make against big-league pitching. After three partial seasons in Boston, in which he hit .248/.290/.416, Reddick finally has a full-time job after joining the A’s in the deal that shipped closer Andrew Bailey eastward.
The Marlins have placed last in the National League in attendance in each of the past six seasons, but a new stadium and several high-end free agent signings could propel them out of the cellar for the first time since 2005. The Nationals averaged 30 percent more attendees per game than the Marlins last year, and their roster is full of exciting young talent, headlined by Stephen Strasburg and, maybe by mid-summer, Bryce Harper.
Rodriguez’s home run percentage has declined in each of the past four seasons, from 7.6 percent in 2007 to 3.7 percent last year. Granderson established a career high with 41 home runs in 2011, finishing two behind Toronto’s Jose Bautista for the league lead and smashing his previous high of 30.
Reyes has battled hamstring and oblique injuries en route to averaging just under 100 games played per season since 2008. Venters led all of baseball with 85 appearances last year, and his bullpen-mate Kimbrel finished tied for second place with 79. Historically, only 17 percent of relievers to make 75 or more appearances appeared in the same number of games, or more, the following season.
Ramirez has seen his home run totals drop from 33 in 2008 to a career-low 10 in 2011, a year in which he battled leg, back, and shoulder injuries that forced him to the disabled list for the first time in his career. The DL is familiar territory for Johnson, who has missed time with elbow, shoulder, back, and forearm injuries that have limited him to an average of 18.6 starts per season since 2006.
In his two major-league seasons, Revere has posted a cumulative slash line of .262/.305/.301. He showed patience in the minors, so there’s an expectation that his on-base percentage will rise, but how much of his .408 minor-league slugging percentage will translate to the big leagues? A total of 36 outfielders have earned at least 500 major-league plate appearances and posted an OBP lower than their SLG, most notably Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn (.308/.392/.382). A better comparison may be Otis Nixon, whose speed and defense—Revere’s two greatest strengths—enabled him to enjoy a 17-year big-league career. During that career, Nixon averaged a stolen base every 10 plate appearances and carried a 1.19 strikeout-to-walk ratio, comparable to Revere’s numbers in the minors (9.3 plate appearances per stolen base, 1.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio).
A 15 percent jump in opponents’ batting average on balls in play over 2010 contributed to a disappointing season for Jimenez. In July, he was traded to Cleveland in a deal that netted Colorado top pitching prospect Drew Pomeranz, who is expected to take one of the final two spots in the Rockies’ 2012 rotation.
If he stumbles his way to at least one triple this year, Ortiz’s streak of 12 seasons with at least one three-bagger will equal Joe Morgan’s longest such streak. Gordon hit zero home runs in his 233-plate appearance major-league debut last year, but he did have seven jacks in the minors, none of which was of the inside-the-park variety.
Stanton’s power is one of the few indisputable 80-grade tools in the game, and he’s poised to post even greater home run totals than the 34 he notched in 2011 as he continues to refine his approach. Houston’s demotion of Jimmy Paredes last week dropped the Astros infielders’ combined 2011 home runs from 48 to 47, though they’re unlikely to approach that total in the big leagues this year.
Wells held a slight edge over Loney in extra-base hits in 2011, but Loney takes the efficiency cake in dollars-per-extra-base-hit, $113,372.09 to $595,170.46.
If 2010 had never happened, this would be a no-brainer. Because it did, however, Nathan must be approached with caution. He struggled out of the gate in 2011, losing his closer’s job for a period of time before reclaiming the role and tallying 14 saves for the Twins. Capps was the team leader in saves with 15, and he enters this year as the Twins’ closer after Nathan signed a free-agent deal with Texas this offseason.
Trout made his much-ballyhooed debut last summer but doesn’t have a clear path to at-bats in Anaheim this year with Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter, and Kendrys Morales alive and well. Rumors that Harper could break camp in the majors died down when the Nationals demoted their burgeoning franchise icon to Triple-A for seasoning last week.
Vernon Wells and teammate Jeff Mathis received plenty of press last year for their respective horrible performances, but neither of them could approach Dunn’s level of ineptitude in his debut with the White Sox. Dunn’s −2.7 WARP set a record, and he failed to hit more than 19 home runs for the first time in his career. This spring, Sale joined Boston’s Daniel Bard and Texas’ Neftali Feliz as prominent relievers attempting to make the transition to starting. Unlike Bard and Feliz, Sale has never started a game as a professional, and his lithe frame draws concerns over whether he can hold up for 180 innings annually.
After four disappointing seasons in Kansas City, Gordon finally broke out last year, posting the 12th-best OPS in the American League and setting career highs in nearly every offensive category. Hosmer made his debut in early May and rode the typical rookie roller coaster en route to a .293/.334/.465 season. Odds are good that Hosmer will improve upon his 799 OPS, but BP staffers aren’t as convinced that Gordon will maintain his high level of performance.
Shields’ 11 complete games in 2011 more than doubled his career total entering the season and were the most thrown since Randy Johnson’s 12 CG in 1999. Andrus bounced back from a disappointing 2010 to sock five home runs and set a career high with 27 doubles.
Bourjos—like gorgeous—was one of 2011’s biggest surprises, rebounding from a .204/.237/.381 rookie season to go .271/.327/.438 while holding off prized prospect Mike Trout. Speaking of surprises, that’s what the Angels delivered when they inked Pujols to a 10-year deal in December, luring the St. Louis icon to the west coast (and the designated hitter slot) for the latter part of his career.
Montero isn’t likely to provide Gold Glove-caliber defense behind the plate, but the Mariners seem determined to try him out at catcher until he proves incapable of handling the position. Perez took over as Kansas City’s starting catcher last August and signed a five-year contract with the club this offseason but is likely to miss all of the first half after suffering a knee injury in spring training.
Questions and comments by Bradley Ankrom.