It’s time to eat a little crow here.
About this time a year ago, I wrote the Home Run Leader Odds story for the 2011 Major League Baseball season. Well, let’s just cut to the chase. I wrote: “Sportsbook.com lists (Toronto’s Jose) Bautista at +1500 to repeat as the MLB home run champion, but that is clearly wasted money. I’m not saying Bautista is completely a one-year wonder, but I’d be stunned if he ever hits more than 35 homers again. And with Vernon Wells having been traded, that’s just one more reason for pitchers to pitch around Bautista.”
The Jays’ Bautista proved he’s for real, again winning the home run crown with 43, two more than runner-up Curtis Granderson of the Yankees (who saw that coming as well!?). The Cardinals’ Albert Pujols was the favorite a year ago at +700, but I wasn’t a real fan of his. One guy I loved was the Brewers’ Prince Fielder in a contract year and he did put up 38 bombs to finish one behind the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp for the NL lead. I also thought the White Sox’s Adam Dunn was good value at +1500 – Dunn went on to have one of the worst statistical seasons by a full-time player in baseball history.
Anyway, on to this year. I am curious if a book will do a prop on whether the home run champ will come from the American or National League, because it sure seems a lock it will be the AL with both Fielder and Pujols moving to the Junior Circuit. Plus, you still have guys like Miguel Cabrera, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Reynolds and Co. in that league. The NL has Kemp and then an apparent major drop-off to Dan Uggla, Mike (Giancarlo) Stanton, a tainted Ryan Braun, and Ryan Howard, who is coming off a major injury and is out probably until late May at the earliest.
Somewhat surprisingly, Sportsbook.com lists the Marlins’ Stanton as the +800 favorite to hit the most dingers this year. Stanton has as much power as anyone and hit 34 last year, but the favorite? Plus, we don’t yet know if the new Marlins stadium is pitcher- or hitter-friendly, although ownership has deemed it a pitcher’s park. Plus, it has larger dimensions than Sun Life Stadium did a year ago, which was definitely not that hitter-friendly.
Bautista is +900 to threepeat. That just doesn’t happen. A-Rod didn’t do it. Barry Bonds didn’t do it. Mark McGwire didn’t do it, Ken Griffey didn’t do it, and so on. Toronto’s Rogers Centre is very hitter-friendly, ranking in the Top 6 in homers at the park, but some think that’s because the Jays were stealing signs. I don’t like Bautista to win again.
The Angels’ Pujols is next at +1000 but I think he is trending down. In fact, he has hit fewer homers in each of the past three seasons, from 47 in 2009 to 37 last year. Plus, he will have to learn new pitchers having moved to the AL and Angel Stadium ranked among the bottom six in the majors last year in home run rate.
There’s a logjam at +1200: the Red Sox’s Adrian Gonzalez, Yankees’ Teixeira, Tigers’ Cabrera, Tigers’ Fielder and the field. I always think Teixeira is a home-run champion waiting to happen and he plays in a very hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium (No. 4 in home run rate). The problem with Tex is that he is usually terrible the first six weeks or so of the season. He had just five homers at the end of April last year and still finished with 39, third in the AL.
I don’t like Fielder in large part because of the Pujols effect: new league, less hitter-friendly park now. Cabrera should see even more pitches to hit with Fielder behind him, but he still only had 30 a year ago. I think Comerica hurts him as well. Plus, Cabrera hits for such a high average that in a way it hurts his homers – i.e. he’s not a “swing for the fences or nothing” type guy. Ditto for Gonzalez, who hit 27 in his first season in Boston a season ago.
The guy I love is the Rangers’ Nelson Cruz at +3000. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is the top home-run park in the majors and Cruz showed what he is capable of in last season’s ALCS with six homers and 13 RBI -- no one else in major-league history has hit six homers or collected 13 RBI in a playoff series. Cruz became the first player to hit six homers in two postseasons, and he did it in back-to-back years.
The only worry with Cruz is health. Since becoming a full-time player in 2009, Cruz has averaged only 120 games due mainly to groin and hamstring strains. He has five stints on the disabled list since 2010 and last year was sidelined for 29 games because of a strained left hamstring and strained right quadriceps muscle. But in addition to strengthening his legs during the offseason, Cruz reported to camp at 12 pounds below his playing weight from last season, when he had 29 homers in 124 games. If he could play 150 games, that’s like 64 dingers. Take a flier on him.
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