Starlin Castro – In the crazy town of Chicago, this 22-year-old shortstop certainly has the gift of game. He has been approaching the level of top tier at his position, but this has as much to do with his upside as the general lack of talent among other shortstops in the league. Looking at his 2012 season, it could very well be interpreted as a disappointment due to his drop in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging. To contrast, he has already reached a career high in home runs and should do the same in stolen bases. On the surface, his strikeout rate and frequency of pitches outside of the strike zone that he is swinging at have both increased, a potential cause for concern. However, when combined with some of the other factors, I believe that he is trying to employ a more aggressive approach. The increased strikeouts could simply be a tradeoff for him increasing his home run to fly ball rate, which has led to an increase in home runs. This appears to be more of a continual trend rather than a fluke because he has increased his isolated slugging in each year since reaching the majors. The Cubs may have noticed because this season he moved from third to fifth in the batting order, suggesting that they may expect him to continue growing as a power hitter. For the rest of the season and next year, I optimistically see a rebound in his batting average along with an increase in slugging, with a .290/.340/.450 line.
Hunter Pence – After his fantastic 2011 season, he has been posting a career-low OPS this year. That might be why last month Hunter fully embraced his name and went on the Caveman diet. I don’t know if the hunter-gatherer diet will lead to increased slugging or improve any other areas, but I am definitely in favor of Pablo Sandoval having a teammate who is on a diet. This year Pence has the highest strikeout rate and the lowest contact rate of his career, which is worrisome since I do not see anywhere that he has made significant progress. It is possible that he will never again reach the level of success he had last year, which was aided by a batting average on balls in play well above his career average. At this point, I think his upside for this and next year is his career line of .280/.340/.470.
Dexter Fowler – It seems like this guy is a perennial breakout candidate and this year he’s rocking an .887 OPS, easily a career high. There are a couple of factors contributing to an eventual regression, but he will likely be an .800+ OPS player for many years ahead. He has always been a high on-base player, with a career OBP over .360, but his current .391 mark is more the result of a high BABIP rather than a large improvement in his walk rate. His slugging has been propelled by a home run to fly ball rate more than twice his career average. Still, he has made a significant improvement in his line drive rate, which hints that he may be able to sustain better contact over the long-term. For the rest of this season, I expect him to perform at a level between his 2011 and 2012 lines, near .280/.370/.460.
Nick Swisher – Swisher is consistently a reliable outfielder in OPS leagues. This year he is striking out more and walking less than you would expect, but not enough to create a red flag. I feel like he’s undervalued in most leagues since he’s so consistent that he’s pretty boring. He has virtually no upside, but the great thing about him is that his downside is very limited, with an .800 OPS as his likely baseline. His batting average can be questionable at times, but he always has a nice on base percentage and solid slugging for an outfielder, or any hitter for that matter. This year he’s been right in line with his career averages and I see no reason why he would diverge from that path. Going forward, I expect .260/.360/.470. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.