Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Now that it's May, hitters are beginning to collect their 100th at-bat and pitchers are starting to creep over the 40- inning mark.
While it's true the baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint, it's getting to be that time when we can start to make realistic projections based on what players have accomplished this season.
Instead of pulling random projections out of the blue, let's play a little game analyzing some intriguing single-category trends this season.
The game is over/under, in which I'll provide a player who has either excelled or underperformed in a particular category to this point and then make a prediction on whether that player will exceed or miss a certain target in that category.
Here's our starting nine, a list of players who have set the fantasy world on fire mixed with those who have simply burned teams to the ground this season:
Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays - over/under 34.5 home runs: The Blue Jays designated hitter has put up a Jose Bautista-esque nine home runs in his first 97 at-bats through Wednesday. Encarnacion had some success with Cincinnati, but he never broke out like we expected, as he made too many errors at third base and never received consistent playing time. He's never hit more than 26 round- trippers in a season, so even getting to the big 3-0 would be unprecedented territory for the 29-year-old. His home run per fly ball percentage of 22 is unsustainable and can be attributed to playing 15 games at the homer-haven Rogers Centre already. With a line drive percentage of just 14 (his career rate is 21 percent), his .320 batting average is likely to fall as well as all of his fly balls will start finding gloves instead of outfield seats. Despite Encarnacion's major head start, he'll likely fall short of 35 home runs this season, coming in around 32. VERDICT: Under
Gerardo Parra, Arizona Diamondbacks - over/under 34.5 stolen bases: Parra has made the most of his opportunity with Chris Young on the disabled list. He hit a grand slam on April 22 and has stolen eight bases as Arizona manager Kirk Gibson has turned him loose on the base paths more than last season, when he had 15. But Young will be back eventually to reclaim his center field spot and Stephen Drew is going to be back by mid to late May, meaning Gibson is going to have to find playing time elsewhere for utilityman and current shortstop Willie Bloomquist. The Diamondbacks also signed Jason Kubel in the offseason to play left field, so you can bet the team will give him every chance to keep that job, meaning Parra might find himself on the bench on most days. Even if he is relegated to a bench role, he'll likely get enough at-bats or pinch running appearances to nab 25-30 bases, but 35 seems a tad lofty. VERDICT: Under
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays - over/under 37.5 saves: Baseball Prospectus published a report in early April noting that Rodney has moved completely over to the first base side of the rubber after starting his motion in the middle of it prior to this season. Could it be that simple? Could that minor adjustment have turned a wild, out-of-control middle reliever with a crooked hat into a dominant relief ace ... with a crooked hat? The answer, so far, is yes. In place of the injured Kyle Farnsworth, the former Detroit Tiger and Los Angeles Angel has assumed the closer role in Tampa Bay to major success. In 13 appearances, Rodney has given up just one earned run while striking out 12 in 11 1/3 innings. He's accumulated eight saves already. He saved a career-high 37 games for Detroit in 2009, but hasn't exceeded 14 in any other season. This year, he will blow by 37, reach 40 and never hand the closer role back to Farnsworth. VERDICT: Over
Kyle Lohse, St. Louis Cardinals - over/under 2.99 ERA: The 33-year-old Lohse has never been more than a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, but this season he's morphed into a dominant ace for St. Louis. Despite a career 4.58 ERA, Lohse's success is not unfounded, as he did win 15 games with a 3.78 ERA in 2008 and 14 games with a 3.39 ERA last season. But 4-0 with a 1.62 ERA? Lohse's Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), which attempts to determine what a pitcher's ERA should be based on outcomes the pitcher can control -- strikeouts, walks, hit batters and homers -- is 4.04, exactly where it was last season. This is likely due to his batting average on balls in play sitting at just .217. The league average BABIP is between .290 and .310 and Lohse's career average is .304, so expect some of those batted balls to start finding holes. Based on that, Lohse's ERA will rise dramatically but still settle in around the 3.20-3.50 range. VERDICT: Over
Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals - over/under 16.5 wins: Speaking of the Cardinals, Lynn's performance has been even more unexpected than Lohse. While filling in for Chris Carpenter, the righty is 5-0 with a 1.60 ERA in five starts after making just two career starts in his rookie season last year. Lynn's ERA is so low thanks to a .198 BABIP and an unreal left on base percentage of 91.7 percent, meaning he's only let 8.3 percent of all runners he put on base touch home plate. The league average is 70-72 percent depending on the season, so once Lynn regresses to the mean, his ERA will rise. However, with an xFIP of 2.88, he still is expected to be a dominant arm, likely due to his 30/7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 33 2/3 innings. The Cardinals won't be able to take Lynn out of the rotation when Carpenter eventually returns, so expect him to hit 17 victories with the second-highest scoring offense in baseball behind him. VERDICT: Over
Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels - over/under 29.5 home runs: Everyone has been trying to put their finger on what is wrong with Pujols this season. Zero homers, a .208 batting average and a .539 OPS in 101 at-bats are not what the Angels expected when they signed Pujols to a huge contract in the offseason, nor is it what fantasy owners expected when they drafted the 32-year-old in the first round. Teammate Torii Hunter and New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez have both defended Pujols on the basis that he just needs to get used to a new league. Whatever the answer, Pujols has let 25 games slip away without putting one in the seats. For a player who has never hit less than 32 home runs in a season, that's shocking, as 256 MLB players have hit one out of the park this year, including Yuniesky Betancourt, Jack Hannahan and Freddy Galvis. Heck, even Dee Gordon has gone deep already. Despite this, I tend to think the greatest hitter of this generation didn't suddenly become Lyle Overbay overnight. Call me crazy, but Pujols has finished a month with seven or more home runs 35 times in his career. All he has to do is throw together a couple of seven-homer months in May and June, and all of a sudden he has 14 or 15 by the All-Star break. Bet on Pujols, take the over. VERDICT: Over
Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays - over/under 34.5 home runs: Lost in the Pujols commotion is the fact that Bautista has a .180 batting average and four home runs in his first 89 games. One year after looking like Barry Bonds, Bautista looks like, well, Jose Bautista, circa 2008. However, like Pujols, Bautista is capable of knocking the ball out of the park in bunches. In 2010, he had four months in which he put up double-digit round-trippers. Last year, he did it once, but had nine in April, seven in July and eight in August. His groundball-to-flyball ratio is comparable to last season and he's striking out less, but his line drive percentage of 13 (compared to 18 last season) means he's making less solid contact. Once he starts squaring the ball up more, his home run per fly ball rate should rise from 10.3 percent closer to the 21 percent he posted in each of the last two years, and the ball will begin to fly out of the park. VERDICT: Over
Brandon Beachy, Atlanta Braves - over/under 200 strikeouts: Beachy would have led starting pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings (k/9) in 2011 if he threw enough innings, as he posted 169 strikeouts in 141 2/3 innings (10.7 k/9). And, while he's started off exceptionally this year, with a 1.38 ERA in his first 32 2/3 innings, he hasn't even come close to that strikeout rate, fanning 22 (6.1 k/9). The reason: He's generating less swings and misses than last season, registering a swing-and-miss percentage of 12 percent (21 percent in 2011). While that will likely increase some, I don't see Beachy cracking 200 strikeouts this season. At his current k/9 rate, he would have to throw 295 innings to do that, which he won't do, and with such a low swing-and-miss percentage, don't expect his k/9 to rise above 9.0 again. VERDICT: Under
Robinson Cano, New York Yankees - over/under 99.5 RBIs: Cano is a curious case. Despite batting either third or fourth for the seventh-highest scoring offense in the majors, Cano has just four RBIs this season. Having one home run will do that to you, but Cano also is 3-for-21 with runners in scoring position (RISP) while batting .327 with the bases empty. In his career, Cano is a .272 hitter with RISP, but the last two seasons he's ramped it up to .322 and .318. Cano's 2009 season seems most similar, when he batted .320 but hit .207 with RISP and, as a result, ended up with 85 RBIs in 161 games. With just four this season, I don't see any way Cano gets to 100 RBIs, even if he starts raking with RISP. To reach the century mark, the Yankees second baseman would have to knock in 19 runs per month over the final five months of the season. He's more than capable of that, as he had three months in the 20s last season, but it's going to be extremely tough to do it five months in a row. VERDICT: Under
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