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Predicting the Top 10 Finishers for Runs in 2019


Welcome to my never-ending journey through baseball numbers past, present and future.

Today we are going to predict the 10 MLB players who will lead the league in runs scored for the 2019 season.

Before we start, however, let's look back at a little bit of history in order to give ourselves an idea of who those 10 players might be. After all, we're not just going to pull their names out of thin air (I promise).

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A Brief History Lesson

In the last three seasons (2016-18), seven players have finished inside the top 10 in runs more than once: Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, Jose Ramirez, Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant, George Springer and Jose Altuve. Blackmon is the only one to finish inside the top 10 in all three seasons.

Only four of the players who accomplished the feat in 2016 (Blackmon, Altuve, Springer, Bryant) appear on the list in 2017 as well. Only Blackmon and Ramirez made the list in both 2017 and 2018. That's 14 of a possible 20 spots that have been occupied by different players from one year to the next.

This tells us to expect some new faces in addition to the usual suspects in 2019. Last year's list looks just as much like a 2039 Hall of Fame ballot as it does a single-season statistical comparison, but history indicates that a handful of the following players will fall outside the top 10 this year (games played included to denote tiebreakers):

  1. Mookie Betts - 129 (136 GP)
  2. Francisco Lindor - 129 (158 GP)
  3. Charlie Blackmon - 119
  4. Christian Yelich - 118
  5. J.D. Martinez - 111 (150 GP)
  6. Matt Carpenter - 111 (156 GP)
  7. Jose Ramirez - 110
  8. Alex Bregman - 105 (157 GP)
  9. Ozzie Albies - 105 (158 GP)
  10. Nolan Arenado 104

As you can see, I'm really up against it here.

At first glance, Ozzie Albies is the most likely to fall off this list in 2019. For one thing, his on-base percentage was .305 last year; an astoundingly low number for a player in the top 10 in runs scored. He also recorded 82 percent of his plate appearances in the top two spots of Atlanta's batting order in 2018. The Braves appear poised to give Ronald Acuna and Josh Donaldson the nods in those respective lineup positions to start 2019, so Albies will likely be batting behind the best hitters on his team as opposed to in front of them.

Other than Albies, no one from this top 10 jumps off the page as "likely" to disappear from the list going forward, so I've narrowed it down to the five players most likely to stay instead.

 

The Incumbents

Mookie Betts - OF, BOS

After averaging nearly a run per game in 2018, Betts has reached the 100-run summit in each of the last three seasons. I see no logical reason for him to fall short in 2019, as he will still be surrounded by the likes of Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez in a lethal Red Sox lineup. I can throw as many stats at you as you'd like, but if you're not already sold on the reigning MVP of the reigning World Series champs, numbers aren't going to change your mind.

Charlie Blackmon - OF, COL

The Rockies have scored the second-most runs in baseball since 2016; Blackmon individually leads the league in the same time frame. Like Betts, he'll have the continued privilege of hitting in front of productive teammates like Arenado and Trevor Story, and at a notoriously hitter-friendly home park to boot. Unless Blackmon's career .359 OBP takes an inexplicable dip in 2019, he's as safe a bet as any to find himself on the runs-scored leaderboard once again.

Alex Bregman - 3B, HOU

Of all the MVP-caliber numbers Alex Bregman put forth in 2018, one stands tall in my personal evaluation process: he was one of four qualified hitters to post a walk-to-strikeout ratio above 1.00. Hitters can get lucky in a variety of statistical categories, even for prolonged stretches, but a BB/K of 1.13 is all on Bregman and it isn't a fluke. He routinely puts the ball in play and when he doesn't, he draws free passes. That will continue to play just fine in the top half of Houston's star-studded lineup, and Bregman should eclipse the 100-run mark again.

Matt Carpenter - 3B, STL

Matt Carpenter has been one of the more consistently productive hitters in baseball for the better part of a decade, casually posting a career OBP of .377 and wRC+ of 132. He's scored 100 or more runs thrice in his career, excels in the leadoff spot, and has added upper-tier home-run power to his repertoire, evidenced by his career-high 36 long balls in 2018.

If Carpenter is able to replicate his individual performance from 2018, I can only imagine the impact new teammate Paul Goldschmidt will have on his overall numbers. We've been conditioned to expect a decline from players in their mid-30's, and Carpenter is entering his age-33 season, but I'm not going to bet against him until I see the drop-off with my own eyes. He's been shouldering a large share of the offensive load in St. Louis for a couple of years now, and he's about to hit in front of a future Hall-of-Famer. Another season with a .370-or-better OBP in a markedly improved top of the Cardinals batting order should yield another elite run total from Carpenter.

Jose Ramirez - 3B, CLE

When I look at Cleveland's offense as a whole, I'm admittedly concerned about the departures of Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Brantley. Ramirez has evolved into such an independently successful player, though, that I'm not sure their losses will have a significant negative impact on him.

Ramirez led all of baseball in BsR (baserunning runs above average) last season at 12. The difference between Ramirez and everyone else at the top of the BsR leaderboard is that Ramirez also finished in the top five in home runs with 39. He is an incredibly tough out, too, boasting the fourth-lowest strikeout percentage (11.1) in the league since 2017 and the second-highest BB/K ratio (1.06).

These numbers and metrics are all fancy ways of saying Ramirez is an aggressive (but smart) runner who just happens to always be on base, and can also challenge for the home run crown. The Indians' batting order may have a few unknown quantities at the moment, but Ramirez won't have any trouble continuing to lead the charge.

 

New to the Party

Now that I've insulted several MVP candidates (and last year's NL winner, for that matter) by excluding them from my 2019 top-10-in-runs predictions, I guess I'd better find some suitable replacements, huh?

By this point, you've probably gathered that I hold a few key things in high regard when determining who I expect to cross the plate most often in a season: contact-hitting ability, high walk rates (and thus high OBPs), base-running ability and supporting cast. Power is all well and good, too, but that's more of an icing-on-the-cake attribute. After all, Kyle Schwarber can hit for power.

With these factors in mind, I've come up with five players I believe can and will crack the top 10 in runs scored for the 2019 season, ordered from least surprising to most.

Mike Trout - OF, LAA

This feels like a cheap way to be able to look back and say, "Hey, I was right about that!" But let's be honest: predicting a sub-par statistical season out of Mike Trout is like predicting the New England Patriots will miss the NFL playoffs; it's just contrary. Let's dive into his numbers.

The last time Trout finished inside the top 10 in runs was 2016, when he finished first overall. That's also the last time he played in more than 140 games. His run totals since then? He scored 92 in 2017 (114 GP) and 101 in 2018 (140 GP). His OBP has never dipped below .441 since 2016 and he's hit at least 29 home runs in each of the last three seasons. The only thing that can prevent Trout from doing pretty much whatever he wants on a baseball field is, well, not being on the field to begin with.

Even without an elite supporting cast, Trout is going to reach base frequently enough over the course of a full season that his teammates can drive him in 100 times by accident. If you hail from a certain major city in the northeastern United States, maybe you're taking Betts with the first overall pick in 2019 drafts out of loyalty, but make no mistake: Trout is going to produce elite numbers across the board once again, including runs scored.

Aaron Judge - OF, NYY

While we're on the topic of "obvious candidates to lead the league in meaningful statistical categories," we might as well discuss Aaron Judge.

After an electrifying 2017 campaign, the pinstriped behemoth had his 2018 numbers hampered by the fact that he missed 50 games. Even so, he amassed 27 homers, 77 runs, and 67 RBI while slashing .278/.392/.528 with a 149 wRC+.

The one category in which I'm not crazy about Judge over the last two years is his exorbitant strikeout rate of 30.6 percent, third-worst in the league. That said, I can't ignore his third-best walk percentage of 17.3. He might take the lonely walk back to the dugout too frequently for my liking, but when he's not doing that, he's crushing extra-base hits and drawing free passes.

Assuming Judge can avoid extended absences from the lineup in 2019, his on-base and slugging numbers in a loaded Yankees offense should yield a run total much closer to the 128 he scored in 2017.

Paul Goldschmidt - 1B, STL

You didn't think we were finished discussing the Cardinals' shiny new first baseman, did you?

Since his first full MLB season in 2012, Goldschmidt ranks third in all of baseball in OBP at an even .400. He's second in that same span in runs scored with 681. If that's too large of a sample size for you considering some of the elite talents that have arrived on the scene since 2012, let's narrow it down to the last four seasons (2015-18). In that time frame, he ranks third in both OBP and runs scored. For what it's worth, he also ranks inside the top-30 in BsR in both spans.

We're talking about a guy with the on-base skills of a leadoff hitter, the power of a cleanup hitter, and above average base-running ability. If I were in charge of building the Cardinals lineup for 2019, I'd bat Goldschmidt second; right behind Carpenter and right in front of Marcell Ozuna and Paul DeJong. In that alignment, Goldschmidt can easily be expected to cross the plate 100-plus times.

Ronald Acuna - OF, ATL

Ronald Acuna had his overall 2018 numbers marred by injury and the increasingly annoying service-time loophole, scoring 78 runs in 111 games. If he had played in 150 games at that clip, he'd have scored 105 runs and cracked the top 10. The Braves aren't going to send him down to Triple-A for a month to start 2019, and he'll instead likely open the season as Atlanta's leadoff hitter.

Behind him in the order will be two hitters with MVP upside, Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman. We can safely bank on truckloads of runs being scored by the top three hitters in Atlanta's lineup.

It's also worth mentioning that Acuna didn't truly break out until August last season. In August and September combined, he hit 15 of his 26 home runs, scored 45 of his 78 runs, and drew 28 of his 45 walks. We'll still have to factor in a few more growing pains for the 21-year-old, but not nearly as many as we associate with the average baseball player. If Acuna can put together a full season's worth of what we saw in the latter stages of 2018, an OBP of .400 and 100-plus runs are well within his grasp.

Jean Segura - SS, PHI

It took Jean Segura a few years to put it all together, but the new Phillies shortstop has very much turned the corner as an offensive player since 2016.

What Segura lacks in the walk-rate department, he more than accounts for by being a supreme contact hitter. Since 2016, he ranks eighth in the league in batting average at .308. Batting average has become an archaic means of evaluating a player, but his contact ability will play well in front of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins in Philadelphia's batting order. Simply put, pitchers aren't exactly going to dance around Segura to get to those guys; he's going to see pitches to hit.

Segura also rarely strikes out, posting a 13.4 percent clip over the last three seasons (27th-best in MLB). A good comparison for Segura's plate prowess is Indian-turned-Astro Michael Brantley. Neither draws a high volume of walks, but their on-base percentages have both hovered above a healthy .350 for the last three seasons due simply to their ability to put the ball in play.

Unlike many of the other players we've discussed, Segura is unlikely to drive himself in very often via the long ball. His career-high in home runs is 20 (2016 with Arizona), and he's hit just 21 combined the last two seasons. That said, he's transitioning from Seattle to a considerably more hitter-friendly home field at Citizens Bank Park, and he can flirt with that 20-homer total again.

Segura has averaged 91 runs per season since 2016 while playing in an average of 140 games over that span. I'm counting on him getting closer to that 150-155 games-played total this season. Considering his proven ability as a pure hitter, along with his place in a re-energized Phillies lineup, I like Segura to be the most surprising player to crack the top 10 in runs for 2019.

 

Your 2019 Top Run-Scorers Are...

There you have it - my top 10 players for runs scored in 2019. In the interest of doubling down, I'll end with my predictions in order from 1-10:

  1. Alex Bregman
  2. Mike Trout
  3. Ronald Acuna
  4. Aaron Judge
  5. Jean Segura
  6. Mookie Betts
  7. Charlie Blackmon
  8. Paul Goldschmidt
  9. Jose Ramirez
  10. Matt Carpenter

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