Despite having one of its greatest seasons in 2011, the NL Central off season was filled with “bad news”. Tony LaRussa retired, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols moved to the American League, the Cubs blew up the front office and coaching staffs and the leak of a positive drug test by Ryan Braun all conspired to take the focus away from the great on field accomplishments.
- 5 of the top 7 NL MVP vote getters came from the Central
- Brewers/Cardinals NL League Championship Series
- Cardinals Win World Series
Those headlines would have been so much more fun to talk about!
In the end, Braun won his appeal and will not miss 50 games as expected. It will be interesting to see how Braun responds to constant heckling on the road and the enormous pressure of not only living up to an MVP award but defending himself against the accusation of being a cheater.
Any drop in production by Braun will give the naysayers ammunition to continue their assault.
In St Louis, some are questioning whether or not Matt Holliday can fill the feature role with Pujols in Anaheim. He has been a consistent and productive player but there is a perception that he was always the second option.
The two lead the rankings for Left Fielders in the NL Central this year and even if they don’t meet unreasonable expectations they will be clearly the class at the position.
2012 LF Rankings
1. Ryan Braun
Since being called up to the majors in 2007, Braun has produced. He hit 34 HR’s in 2007 and won the rookie of the year award. He has hit over 30 in 4 of his first five years. He has driven in over 100 runs in four straight seasons and has a lifetime .312 batting average.
The question now is can he keep doing it under the new pressures and without Prince Fielder protecting him in the lineup.
The guy is just a pure hitter and even if he took something last season to help him through the end, that doesn’t change the fact that he has one of the sweetest and most powerful strokes in the game. He also seems to have the knack for getting the big hits when it counts the most.
That makeup should help him with the rigors he will face this season. I don’t expect anything less than a .310 average 30+ HRs and 100+ RBI. Without Fielder behind him, the possibility of improving on his 33 stolen bases of a year ago is very likely.
Those are studly numbers and will be tough to match for any other player in the division.
2. Matt Holliday
Holliday and Pujols were a terror for opposing teams the last 2 ½ years together and like Braun there are many that wonder if he can do the same without the best hitter in baseball protecting him. The duo socked 189 HRs and drove in 352 runs together between ’09 and ’11.
It should be noted that Holliday has not hit over 30 HR’s in a season since 2007 in Colorado and hit below .300 for the first time since his rookie season in 2011.
Run the career numbers for Braun and Holliday and they are almost identical. The edge goes to Braun here as he is entering his prime and Holliday enters his 9th Major League season. The Brewers also appear to have made the better “replacement” with Aramis Ramirez over St. Louis’ Carlos Beltran.
3. Alfonso Soriano
Soriano was once the most exciting second base prospect in Yankees history before he embarked on a strange and interesting journey that sees him enter season 14 in the major leagues.
He played 2B for five full seasons for the Yankees putting together two monster seasons in 2002 and 2003 when he hit 77 HR’s combined.
He was traded to the Texas Rangers for some guy name Alex Rodriguez and continued his superstar pace and was a 30/30 man his final season in Texas.
Next, a trade to Washington where Soriano was moved to left field and at first refused to even take the field. Ultimately he settled things with manager Frank Robinson and had one of the greatest single seasons ever. He hit 46 HR’s, stole 41 bases and even recorded 20 assists from his outfield position joining the elite 40/40 club.
He would be a free agent at the end of 2006 and the Nationals rolled the dice hoping they could sign him instead of trade him at the deadline. Soriano instead signed an eight-year $136 million contract with the Cubs and heads into 2012 appearing on the decline.
He has only hit over 30 HR’s once as a Cub and his batting average and run production have declined steadily. His first year in Chicago he hit .299 and scored 97 runs with 33 HR’s and 70 RBIs. Last season he hit just .244 and scored only 50 runs. He did hit 26 HR’s and had 88 RBIs. His OBP dropped all the way to .291. He had 16 stolen bases total the last three seasons.
4. Alex Presley
Presley took advantage of a call to the big leagues last season and performed well enough that he should start in left for the Pirates this season. He hit .298 in over 200 at bats in 2011 and hit 4 HR’s while stealing 9 bags. He can play any of the outfield positions and should see plenty of opportunities to prove himself.
He projects more as a fourth outfielder but the ability to play all the spots and hit around .300 should keep him ahead of the others in this division.
5. J.D. Martinez
Martinez was a 20th round draft pick who appeared in 53 games last season for the Astros. He put up huge numbers in college and the minor leagues and has the potential to be a very good major league hitter. He hit .274 with 6 HR’s and 13 doubles.
He has a rather unorthodox swing and it would seem that major league pitchers might find some holes but his strikeout numbers have always been very low and he could emerge along with Presley as solid hitters just below the likes of Braun and Holliday.
6. Ryan Ludwick
Ludwick returns to the familiar NL Central after spending a little more than a full season in San Diego. He had been about a .280 hitter with St. Louis between 2007 and 2010 but struggled mightily in massive Petco Park.
He isn’t the first or last hitter that will experience that type of drop off. He hit 37 HR’s in 2008 but only 30 total in the past two seasons. He will probably creep closer to his pre-San Diego days but he probably wouldn’t start for any other team in the division.