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Written by Lewis Pollis (Contact & Archive) on February 12, 2011
Last week, I kicked off my MLB predictions with my predictions for who the best position players and pitchers in the American League will be. Now, it's time for the National League along with my best guess for their stats.
First Base: Albert Pujols
.329/.435/.606, 43 homers/131 RBI/116 runs/9 steals, 7.9 WAR
Even after one of the worst seasons of his career, there's no question that Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball. Of course, for most players, hitting .312 with 42 homers, 118 RBI, and an 1.011 OPS would be considered a tremendous success, not a down year. With Pujols, though, any season in which he doesn't win an MVP trophy seems like a disappointment, and there's no reason to think he can't improve on his fantastic 2010 campaign this year.
Snubbing the reigning NL MVP isn't easy, but great as Joey Votto was last season, it's hard to see him beating Pujols again. That's not to say Votto isn't for real -- he's only 27, and last season wasn't a fluke -- but Prince Albert will almost assuredly be No. 1.
Second Base: Chase Utley
.297/.403/.501, 24/96/100/17, 7.0 WAR
Utley was in the midst of a down year when a thumb injury cut his 2010 season short. Of course, in Utley's case, a "down year" means he led all second basemen in OBP (.387) while playing sterling defense (12.9 UZR/150) and posted 5.2 WAR in just 115 games. And given that he set a new career-low for strikeout rate (14.8 percent), while posting second-best walk rate (12.3 percent) and had his worst BABIP (.288) since 2004, there's reason to believe his struggles were partly due to bad luck.
Rickie Weeks, Dan Uggla, Kelly Johnson and Brandon Phillips all are legitimate candidates to be the Senior Circuit's top second baseman, but there's no question that Utley should win.
.294/.373/.516, 30/98/94/3, 6.8 WAR
Shin-Soo Choo may be the most underappreciated player in the game, but Ryan Zimmerman isn't far behind him. After quietly emerging as one of the best third basemen in 2009, Zimmerman was even better in 2010, hitting 25 home runs with an OPS just under .900. He combined his potent bat with a phenomenal glove (17.8 UZR/150) to produce 7.2 WAR, making him the third-most valuable player in the league
Zimmerman might not have the name recognition of David Wright or Pablo Sandoval, but over the last two seasons, no third baseman in the league has come close to what "Magnum Z.I." has done for the Washington Nationals.
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki
.302/.374/.548, 33/104/109/16, 7.2 WAR
How amazing was Troy Tulowitzki last season? Yes, he missed 40 games with wrist and groin problems, but he still posted 6.4 WAR -- or, the equivalent of 8.5 wins over a full season. Not to mention that Tulo was the biggest reason why the Colorado Rockies were in contention for as long as they were. After Sept. 1, he hit 15 homers in 29 games with a .780 SLG (yes, that's SLG, not OPS).
Florida's Hanley Ramirez makes this pick harder than it otherwise would have been, but with Han-Ram coming off a down year and Tulowitzki's huge edge on defense, the choice is pretty clear.
Catcher: Buster Posey
.311/.380/.484, 22/87/72/1, 5.3 WAR
I tried not to give into the hype here, but there's no way around the fact that Gerard Dempsey Posey is the best catcher in the National League. He's unlikely to duplicate the prodigious power he displayed last season in 2011, and a 6.8 percent walk rate isn't going to cut it in the majors. That said, his contact skills are phenomenal, he's shown plate discipline and pop in the minors, and he's only 23 years old. That's a dangerous combination.
Brian McCann and Geovany Soto are strong competitors -- fun fact: Soto's OPS last year was better than Posey's, .890 to .869 -- but my money's on the kid from San Francisco.
Outfielders: Matt Holliday
.319/.397/.530, 28/116/98/13, 6.8 WAR
.288/.403/.487, 23/84/91/12, 5.5 WAR
.309/.362/.574, 30/109/102/23, 5.4 WAR
Matt Holliday more than earned his $17 million salary in 2011, hitting .312/.390/.532 with 28 homers, 103 RBI, 8.2 UZR and 6.9 WAR. You might not expect a 31-year-old to be able to improve on those impressive numbers, but there's a good chance Holliday could outdo himself in 2011. He posted a career-best 15.6 percent strikeout rate last year.
Jason Heyward earned comparisons to Hank Aaron before his first MLB game, and he didn't disappoint in his much-talked-about rookie season. At the age of 20, Heyward walked in almost 15 percent of his plate appearances. His power wasn't otherworldly (.179 ISO) and his strikeout rate was a tad disappointing (20.5 percent, compared to 13.7 percent in the minors), but he still flashed five-tool talent en route to posting 5.0 WAR. The power will come, and the whiffs should come down as he gets used to MLB pitching. But Heyward is already a star, even if he's still a work in progress.
Meanwhile, Carlos Gonzalez earned an $80 million extension and a place in the MVP discussion after hitting .336 with 34 homers, 117 RBI, 111 runs, 26 steals, and an eye-popping .598 SLG in his age-25 2010 season. His poor walk rate (6.3 percent and dropping) and .384 BABIP are red flags when considering his 2011 production, but he could take a big step back and still be one of the best outfielders in the game.
Once again, whittling down the list of outfielders meant making some tough calls. Jay Bruce had a fantastic 2010 season, but he still hasn't reached his offensive potential. Jayson Werth's giant contract has many people thinking he's overrated, but even if he is, he's still a great player. Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres and Angel Pagan all came out of nowhere to have tremendous success last year. Colby Rasmus, Justin Upton and Andrew McCutchen have yet to achieve their potential as superstars. And Andre Ethier and Ryan Braun could be among the game's top players if they learned to play defense.
For more of Lewie's work, visit WahooBlues.com. Follow him on Twitter @LewsOnFirst or @WahooBlues.