Jesse Pantuosco

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Over/Under: RBI

Thursday, February 11, 2016


There’s no need for a fancy introduction. We’re doing the over/under thing again and this week the dial falls on RBI. 2015 was actually a pretty robust year in the RBI community. Two individuals (you’ll meet them later) finished with over 120 RBI, a threshold nobody reached in 2014. And get this—25 players drove in 90 or more runs last season. That’s the most we’ve seen since 2012. Will 2016 continue the run-production renaissance? Let’s find out.

 

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies

 

2015 Total: 130 RBI

 

*Composite Projection: 101 RBI

 

Often you hear of young players taking that next step. Arenado took about 20 last year. The 24-year-old was on a tear all season and never really let up. Yes, he tailed off slightly in the second half (.281, 18 HR, 60 RBI compared to .293, 24 HR, 70 RBI before the All-Star break) but it wasn’t a big enough dip to cause any real concern. In fact, his best month may have been September. Arenado went out in style with 11 jacks and 32 RBI over the season’s final month. Even with Troy Tulowitzki gone (the Blue Jays acquired him just before the trade deadline), Arenado was still knocking in runs like nobody’s business. The Rockies led the NL in runs last year and Arenado deserves a lot of the credit.

 

For Arenado, I don’t see much changing in 2016. Colorado’s lineup is still loaded (All-Stars Jose Reyes, Charlie Blackmon and Carlos Gonzalez are slated to hit in front of him) and Coors Field will always be a hitter’s paradise. Arenado was better at home last year (.316, 20 HR, 74 RBI) but the widely accepted “Rockies players can’t hit anywhere but Coors Field” narrative is way overblown. Only Yoenis Cespedes and Nelson Cruz bopped more homers on the road than Arenado last season. Pitchers will be more cautious with him this time around, but I think he’ll plate 100 runs in his sleep. Prediction: Over

 

Yoenis Cespedes, OF, New York Mets

 

2015 Total: 105 RBI

 

Composite Projection: 89 RBI

 

Is Cespedes the hero New York deserves? Last year he was—until the games actually mattered. Cespedes enjoyed a torrid stretch with 17 HR and 43 RBI in his first 175 at-bats as a Met. Of course that gave way to a dismal finish as Cespedes belted just two homers with a .339 slugging percentage over his last 30 games (postseason included). We’ve seen the power—Cespedes won back-to-back home run derbies in thrilling fashion in 2013 and 2014. But for fantasy purposes, he’s a Jekyll and Hyde.

 

For years, Citi Field has been among the most pitcher-friendly venues in the sport. Last year, it ranked 28th out of 30 stadiums in park factor. Cespedes accentuated this by hitting .230 with a pedestrian .452 slugging percentage at Citi Field with just six homers in 126 at-bats. If you include the playoffs, Cespedes has logged 1,287 at-bats over the last two seasons. For a 20-something like Mike Trout that might not be an issue but for Cespedes, who turned 30 in October, the injury risk is much higher. Add in the fact that he’s learning a new position (he’s moving to center field full-time) and I think 2016 could be a rocky year for Cespedes.

 

The bar has been set pretty low—Cespedes is only projected for 89 RBI, a hurdle he’s cleared in each of his last two seasons. I’ll play it safe and go a little bit lower, but 89 feels like a good estimate. Prediction: Under

 

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays

 

2015 Total: 123 RBI

 

Composite Projection: 99 RBI

 

This one should be a layup but it’s not. I know what you’re thinking. How in the world could Donaldson fall short of 100 RBI a year after posting 123? Well, it’s been known to happen. From 2010 to 2014, 10 players reached 120 RBIs. Care to guess how many RBI those players averaged the following season? Only 91.3. Five of the 10 didn’t even reach 100 and only Miguel Cabrera went over 120 again. Performing at such a high level must be exhausting. Alex Rodriguez and Josh Hamilton seem to be living proof of that. Both players struggled with injuries the year after plating 120 runs.

 

The good news is that Donaldson is still an incredible hitter. Even before he came to Toronto, he was balling out in Oakland with 93 RBI in 2013 and 98 the following year. Keep in mind, those Oakland teams were not known for their offense. Those totals are much closer to Donaldson’s floor than his ceiling. Donaldson has been relatively healthy throughout that stretch, appearing in exactly 158 games each of his last three seasons. More at bats means more opportunities for driving in runs. It’s not rocket science, people.

 

Not that it made much difference last year when Donaldson led the American League in RBI, but most of Toronto’s elite hitters actually bat behind him. Perennial All-Stars Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki occupy the heart of the order while Donaldson hits out of the No. 2 spot. Donaldson had a gem in leadoff man Ben Revere (.319, 35 runs scored in 56 games for Toronto), but he was traded and will probably be replaced by Dalton Pompey. It’s entirely possible that Pompey will end up being a productive big leaguer. He just didn’t show it last year (.291 on base percentage in 34 games).

 

Regression seems likely for Donaldson, but it’s tough to bet against the reigning American League MVP. Let’s pencil him in for 100, maybe 105 RBI. Prediction: Over

 

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

 

2015 Total: 110 RBI

 

Composite Projection: 96 RBI

 

I guess I missed the memo where every stadium moved their walls back 50 feet, because all these projections are lower than the year before. Offense is dead, apparently. Who calculates this stuff, Clayton Kershaw? Bryce Harper gets all the accolades, but has there been a more consistent hitter in the National League the last three years than Goldschmidt? I doubt it. Goldilocks (I don’t expect this nickname to catch on) boasts a stratospheric .555 slugging percentage over that span with 88 homers (one every 17.9 at-bats) and 294 RBI. Goldschmidt’s 1.005 OPS last year was the highest by a Diamondback since Luis Gonzalez in 2001 (that was the year he did this). I could keep listing stuff but you get the idea—Goldschmidt is an absolute beast.

 

In the National League, only Colorado scored more runs than Arizona last year. Losing Ender Inciarte hurts but the D’Backs are still plenty strong offensively with A.J. Pollock hitting out of the leadoff spot and David Peralta likely to slide in at No. 2. Both were among the NL’s top 12 in on base percentage last season. If that isn’t enough to sell you on Goldschmidt’s RBI potential, consider that Chase Field was the second-easiest stadium to hit triples in last year while having the fifth-highest park factor for doubles. That plays right into Goldschmidt’s hands. Remember, he already has a 125-RBI season on his resume. I expect Goldschmidt to shatter his projection. Prediction: Over

 

Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs

 

2015 Total: 101 RBI

 

Composite Projection: 91 RBI

 

Rizzo had shown flashes before, but 2015 was the year he finally put it all together. The 101 RBI he produced were 21 more than his previous career-high. He also cut down on his strikeouts, punching out in 17.9 percent of his at-bats compared to 22 percent in his previous four seasons. Rizzo’s average did drop in the second half (.255 compared to .298 before the break) but he actually drove in more runs after the All-Star break (53 in 274 at-bats). He’s also stayed relatively healthy, averaging 153.3 games and 572 at-bats over his last three seasons. These are all important signs of progress and at age 26, it seems like Rizzo is just scratching the surface of his monster potential.

 

Worried about Rizzo batting against left-handers? Don’t be. Rizzo didn’t hit for as much power against lefties (.472 slugging percentage) but he actually hit for a higher average (.294) than he did versus right-handers (.272). That means Rizzo is essentially matchup-proof.

 

Looking at Chicago’s stacked lineup, Rizzo should have even more chances to drive in runs this year. The Cubs added free agents Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward to the top of their batting order this offseason. Zobrist’s on base percentage last year was .359. So was Heyward’s. All Rizzo has to do is show up and he’ll knock in 100 runs. I feel good about the over. Prediction: Over

 

*Compiled by FantasyPros



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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