Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Postseason Hitters in the American League

The American League features the three best offenses in baseball. The next two will determine whether the Red Sox join their slugging buddies, the Yankees and Rangers, in the playoffs. What is kind of interesting about all three offenses is that none of them feature a single batter who has had a tremendous season. The best hitter in the American League is Jose Bautista and he will spend the winter hoping the Blue Jays get him some more help. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Rangers each feature deep lineups with no easy outs and the Divisional Series could feature some high scores.

The Rangers have eight batters with at least 20 doubles. Five of those hitters also have at least 25 homers. At the beginning of the season, it appeared that Michael Young did not like losing his third base job. He bounced back quickly and had a career-high .338 average with his sixth season of at least 200 hits. Young only had 11 homers, but had 41 doubles and 106 RBI. He hit .357 after the All-Star break, and hit .400 off of Yankee pitching. Adrian Beltre had his second straight excellent season. Last year, he was with the Red Sox and this year he hit .293 with 32 homers and 105 RBI in just 122 games. Beltre missed August with a hamstring strain, but hit 11 homers in September to prove that he is healthy. The free swinger only had 25 walks this season, so he may have some difficulty against better pitching in the playoffs. Ian Kinsler matched Beltre’s team-leading 32 homers and scored a team-high 121 runs. Kinsler played in a career-high 154 games and hit .337 in September with 11 homers. The second baseman hit just .111 against the Yankees, but hit six homers off of Red Sox pitching and five off of the Rays. Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz combined for 240 games. Hamilton missed the majority of May, but managed hit 25 bombs and an even .300. Cruz also missed a large chunk of May and the first half of September. Since returning from his hamstring strain, he hit just .200 with two extra base hits in 37 at bats. Cruz only had one hit in 17 at bats against Yankee pitching. The hottest hitter on the team in September has been Mike Napoli. The catcher is hitting .418 in September with 13 walks and 11 extra base hits. He could be a decent late round flyer.

It seems that the Yankee lineup is in a state of transition. MVP candidate Curtis Granderson led the squad with 41 homers, while former MVP Alex Rodriguez had an injury plagued campaign and only played in 99 games. This will be the first season since 1997 that A-Rod will not hit 30 homers. He has just 16 with one game left and is hitting just .197 after the All-Star break. Granderson had never hit more than 30 homers prior to this season. He crushed Ranger pitching for six homers in 32 at bats and a .438 average. Granderson had less success against his former team, hitting just .160 against the Tigers. Mark Teixeira was second on the team with 37 homers, but he has struggled in September. The first baseman is only hitting .227 with four extra base hits in 75 at bats. In his last two years as a Yankee, Teixeira is only hitting .250. He had not hit below .280 since 2004. The middle of the infield had once again become a strength for New York. Robinson Cano led the team with a .305 average and contributed more than 100 runs and RBI for the second straight year. He has hit at least 34 doubles in each of his seven major league seasons and has hit 25 or more homers three years running. Cano hit just .200 against the Tigers with two extra base hits in 25 at bats, but hit four homers and a triple against the Rangers. Derek Jeter hit .330 after the All-Star break to show that he still has some skills at age 37. Captain Jetes scorched through August with a .387 average and hit .314 in September. The shortstop had ten hits in 26 at bats against the Rangers (.385). Lastly, don’t overlook Nick Swisher, who led the team with a .373 on-base percentage. He had a quiet September (.197), but hit .367 against Texas.

Miguel Cabrera stands in as the most dangerous hitter in the American League. He won the batting championship with a .343 average and led the Tigers in virtually every offensive statistic. Miggy also heads into the playoffs on a hot streak with 14 hits in his last five games. Granted, that was at home against the Orioles and Indians, but if you believe in the Tigers you should take Cabrera early. He last played in the postseason in his rookie year 2003 with the Marlins. Cabrera hit above .400 against both the Yankees and Rangers. In his first year as a Tiger, Victor Martinez has had an excellent season. He hit .324 with 38 doubles and 102 RBI. He hit a season-high four homers in September (12 on the season). Martinez did not hit well against the Rays (.238), so he will hope that Tampa Bay doesn’t win today. Alex Avila was the best hitting catcher in baseball (Martinez and Napoli mostly DH’ed). He hit .296 with 19 homers and 33 doubles. Unlike most catchers, the 24-year-old did not fade in the second half (.307, nine homers). He hit above .380 against both the Rangers and Rays. Jhonny Peralta always finds a way onto my fantasy teams because how many shortstop eligible players hit 20 homers? Peralta also had a career-high .301 average, but only hit six of his homers after the break. He hit .260 or worse against all four prospective playoff teams. Magglio Ordonez has played well in September. He is hitting .400 in a somewhat limited role. In two playoff runs (2000 with the White Sox and 2006 in Detroit), he has not hit above the Mendoza line.

Of the two teams vying for the Wild Card spot today, the Red Sox have the more fearsome offense. Despite their September swoon, Boston has MVP candidates in Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury as well as hitting depth with David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Carl Crawford. You can probably scratch Kevin Youkilis off your list since the third baseman hasn’t played since September 15 with hip troubles. After playing only 18 games in 2010, Ellsbury has remained upright and had this season’s most surprising power. After hitting 20 homers in his first four seasons, the 28-year-old has mashed 32 bombs this year to go along with 38 steals and 119 runs. He has hit 21 homers since the All-Star break and hit .365 in September. Ellsbury hit six homers against both the Yankees and Rays. In his first year in the American League (since being a youngster with the Rangers back in 2004 and 2005), Gonzalez hit a career-high .338. Some of his long hits that would have been homers in the past fell for doubles this year, but he did hit 27 homers and 45 doubles. He hit only .131 vs. the Rays, .183 vs. the Yankees, and .130 vs. the Tigers, but had 15 hits in 36 at bats against the Rangers. In his 14th year in the league, Ortiz hit 29 homers and .308. Big Papi also swatted 40 doubles. He hit more homers (five) against the Yankees than any other team (well, he hit five against the Blue Jays), but had problems with Rays pitching (.180). Pedroia bounced back from an injury-shortened 2010 with 101 runs and a .303 average. He hit 20 homers for the first time in his career and had 26 steals. He hit .406 against Yankee pitching, but just .160 against the Tigers. Crawford’s first year as a Red Sock was a struggle. He hit a career-low .255 and only walked 23 times in 129 games. He did hit well in the 2008 playoffs with six extra base hits and seven steals in 16 games.

If the Rays jump past the Red Sox today (or tomorrow in a one-game playoff), they have a lot of inviting hitters. Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton led the team in homers with 29 and 23, respectively. Neither batter was able to hit above .250 and Upton struck out 160 times. The center field is hitting .347 in September with five homers. Longoria is also hitting well in the last month at .282 with his own five dingers. Johnny Damon keeps clicking along. He had 16 homers and 19 steals in his 16th year in the league. He only hit .143 against Ranger pitching. Other hitters consider if Tampa Bay makes the postseason include Ben Zobrist, Casey Kotchman, and Matt Joyce. Zobrist is only hitting .218 in September and did not hit well against the other playoff teams. Kotchman was taken out of the last game with chest tightness. He hit .298 against the Yankees. Joyce hit a career-high 19 homers and hit .391 against the Tigers.

Perry Missner is fantasy college hoops greatest champion. You can challenge "Big Chief College Basketball" in a league today. He is also the Treasurer of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.