MLB Playoffs: 10 Batters Who Can’t Be Ignored
MLB Playoffs: 10 Players To Watch
“Big-time players make big-time plays.”
It’s an old adage, and while it does hold true to an extent, every successful playoff team has a few hitters that produce at a higher level than expected, giving their team the an edge over the competition.
This is what makes baseball a bit different that the other professional sports. The NBA is a star-driven league where outcomes are more often than not reliant on how a team’s top player performs. In the NFL, the quarterback who plays at the highest level will win the majority of games. In baseball, however, success is less based on the performance of a single player and more about timely hitting. An elite batter can be avoided in baseball, thus giving the other eight hitters a chance play hero.
These players have shown signs (be it this season or in the past) that they can be difference-makers under the right circumstances, and in the short season that is the MLB postseason, they are more than capable of coming up in the clutch. We are down to the 10 best teams in all of baseball, and star power is far from unique, making the lesser established bats vital. Sometimes it is with the obvious play (a walk off homer or a clutch RBI double in the bottom of the eighth), but the value of taking the extra base or swiping a bag can also be the difference between advancing and going home. In the coming slides, I dive into the top 10 batters that you need to keep an eye on, as they are players capable of changing the landscape of the postseason.
10. Gaby Sanchez
The Pittsburgh Pirates have some home-grown talent and brought in a couple of proven players to solidify their roster for first playoff run 1992, but they have a sneaky talent in the 30-year old Gaby Sanchez.
The reserve first baseman is batting .318 since the all star break, peaking at just the right time. He may not be a well-rounded hitter that can be counted on against all types of pitchers, but that’s not his role. He ranks second on the Pirates with a .337 batting average against left-handed pitchers (minimum 100 at-bats against LHP), making him a bench option that is more than capable of producing in a pinch-hitting role. While neither the Cincinnati Reds nor the St. Louis Cardinals are loaded with left-handed starters, they both rely heavily on lefties out of the bullpen, making Sanchez a player who could directly influence the outcome of a game or two.
9. Matt Adams
With the health of Allen Craig very much up in the air, there is a good chance that Matt Adams will have the consistent playing time that he has earned over the last month. Adams adds a pure power hitter to an otherwise very patient, station-to-station St. Louis Cardinals offense that grinds out every single at-bat.
What has Adams done since starting on a regular basis for the laid-up Craig? He’s hammered (watch a Cardinals game, this man doesn’t hit cheap home runs) eight bombs on his way to an impressive .325/.349/.650 September slash. He bats sixth on most nights, and if opponents decide to pitch around MVP candidate Yadier Molina and the proven Matt Holliday, Adams will assume the role of primary run producer. Most power hitters have to worry about getting pitched around, but Adams has no such worry due to the depth of the Cardinals lineup, allowing him pick his pitch and drive it. No longer a backup, Adams’ power will be on full display this postseason, allowing the national audience to appreciate his true power.
8. Mike Carp
The Boston Red Sox offense scores a ton of runs, and it’s not only from the names you know. Yes, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are elite talents that are capable of carrying Boston to a title, but without the threat of a player like Mike Carp looming, they can be pitched around and avoided.
What do David Wright, Robinson Cano, and Adrian Beltre all have in common? They have all made multiple All-Star appearances, but they all also had a lower slugging percentage than Carp (.524) this season. He has dominated right-handed pitching this season and has already produced a few big hits, indicating that he is not afraid of the clutch moment. The American League is loaded with right-handed closers, making Carp a great candidate for ninth-inning at-bats and thus a batter I’m keeping an eye on as a potential game-changer.
7. Dee Gordon
Is he a hitter without flaws? Not even close. But sometimes, postseason success is more being placed into the perfect situation. The 25-year old Dee Gordon has swiped 66 bags in 616 career at-bats, and with a constantly injured Hanley Ramirez, he could have an expanded role sooner rather than later.
With the emergence of Yasiel Puig and the healthy (for now) Matt Kemp, the Los Angeles Dodgers have the ability to drive in runs, and Gordon could serve as the spark atop the lineup. The reserve shortstop has been used sparingly this summer (only 26 at-bats since the beginning of August), but he’s flashed the ability to impact the game in a positive fashion if inserted late (.385 batting average with five stolen bases in that stretch). The Dodgers are going to shut down opposing offenses, making Gordon’s speed and ability to steal a run potentially the difference in a pitcher’s duel with the Braves (league leaders in ERA).
6. Jed Lowrie
The Oakland Athletics aren’t going to light up the scoreboard and figure to be in a handful of low-scoring games this postseason. That being said, they have more power than you might guess, and it all starts from their shockingly powerful shortstop in Jed Lowrie. The A’s middle infielder has improved his slugging percentage by 50 points since the All-Star Break, and has proved his power to be legitimate with back-to-back strong seasons (31 homers in his last 898 at-bats).
Most switch hitters have an obvious preference as to what side of the plate they’d prefer to hit from, but that’s not the case for Lowrie. The 29-year old has hit 93.3 percent of his homers from the left side, but holds a batting average that is 26 points higher from the right side, something that has given opposing managers headaches all season long. He doesn’t do anything at an elite level, but a middle of the order hitter with very few holes is valuable in the age of matchup pitching late in games. The A’s will struggle to score runs without strong production from their shortstop, making him a hitter worth watching should Oakland make a run.
5. Chris Johnson
Okay, so maybe that is a bit extreme, but Chris Johnson has given the Atlanta Braves production at the hot corner that they thought they’d be lacking for years to come. He’s been in the thick of the NL batting title race all season long, and has provided a level of consistency you expect from the game’s elite (at least a .283 batting average in every single month this season, with two months over .365).
In the middle of an offense that strikes out a ton, Johnson’s ability to produce with runners in scoring position (.345 batting average) has been huge. He’s batting .391 this season against left-handed pitching, and with two southpaws in the Dodgers' projected rotation, Johnson could be the X-factor in a deep Braves playoff run.
4. Victor Martinez
It may have taken Victor Martinez a little while to get used to being the Detroit Tigers' everyday designated hitter (.232 batting average through June), but he’s heating up at the perfect time (.364 batting average and .504 slugging percentage since the All-Star break). He’s the under-appreciated part of this juggernaut, and as teams begin to implement the “don’t let Miguel Cabrera beat us” strategy, I expect V-Mart to hold the key to the Tigers' explosive offense this postseason.
Martinez’s ability to switch hit figures to tax bullpens as they attempt to match up with Cabrera and Prince Fielder. He has postseason experience (30 percent of his hits in the 2011 postseason went for extra bases) and should continue to see plenty of pitches due to the quality of the batter ahead of him in this Detroit order. Cabrera is great, but without protection, he won’t see a pitch in his zip code. If Martinez’s September is indicative of his October, then there is the very real possibility that he is the Tigers' most valuable player this postseason.
3. David Freese
The St. Louis Cardinals are loaded, but does any one player have more postseason credibility than David Freese? The 2011 World Series MVP (.397/.465/.794 slash with seven multi RBI games) proved that he has the ability to seize the moment and catch fire, but is once again flying under the radar as we enter the 2013 postseason.
The top five hitters in the Cardinals lineup are as productive as any quartet in all of baseball, giving the six/seven-hole hitter (80 percent of Freese’s 2013 at-bats have come from one of those two spots) plenty of opportunities to play hero. In 2011, Freese was the beneficiary of Albert Pujols constantly being pitched around, and while no Cardinals player will receive that treatment this season, the top of this order is more complete. Confidence is an amazing thing, and there is no way that Freese will let his disappointing regular season (.261 batting average) affect his mindset as the postseason begins.
2. Billy Hamilton
The Cincinnati Reds added their speedy prospect to the lineup in September for one reason: to steal big bases in big games. Billy Hamilton has lived up to the hype thus far by stealing five bases before he had a major league at-bat and adding another four thefts in his first start, earning the Billy Bolt nickname.
The Reds roster is set up perfectly for Hamilton to not only serve as a situational speedster, but to potentially play meaningful innings. Hamilton easily could slide into the no. 9 hole this postseason, adding a switch-hitting threat to bat ahead of the unique leadoff hitter in Shin-Soo Choo (.424 OBP but also 21 homers). If Hamilton can get on base (or pinch run) and force pitchers to worry about him advancing a base, the attention that is paid to strong hitters like Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips will naturally decline. Hamilton’s speed can affect the game in a variety of ways, and I expect the Reds to give the youngster every ability this postseason.
1. Jhonny Peralta
Remember this guy?
After serving his 50-game suspension as a result of the Biogensis clinic in Miami, the Detroit Tigers are looking for a way to get the bat of their one-time shortstop into their postseason lineup on a regular basis. The general thought is that Jhonny Peralta will move to the outfield, allowing the Tigers to keep the defense of Jose Iglesias on the field. Peralta’s .305 batting average this season was huge in forcing opponents to pitch to the middle of the Detroit batting order, and I expect him to pick up right where he left off.
Peralta is batting .347 with runners in scoring position this season, holds a .347/.400/.556 slash against lefties and a .346/.406/.534 batting line at home. The Tigers may lack a true leadoff hitter atop this stacked lineup, but a contact hitter like Peralta is equally as effective when batting in front of that sort of power. He is another player with playoff experience (133 at-bats and a respectable .271 BA), giving me confidence that he won’t shy away from the big moment. The Tigers rely heavily on their big bats, and the only way they see pitches to hit is if the top of the order can get on base. Adding Peralta is better than any September call-up, and gives Detroit yet another weapon at their disposal for this postseason.
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