Super Bowl’s over, so that means its baseball season again. With a week until pitchers and catchers are due in Florida & Arizona, it’s like a holiday around here in the CHEAP SEATS. I can’t wait. So, in order to ring in the year right, I’m ringing it in with the best, 100 best at that. This is pretty straight forward, no? This is a rundown of the top 100 players in the game for 2012. This breaks down as one part best player/another part biggest impact. It’s going down in four parts over the next week, all leading into the big preview-diction of each division coming into next year.
So no delay, this will explain itself. Here’s numbers 100 down to 76 of the best players in baseball, according to CHEAP.SEATS.PLEASE. Any debate, agreements, oversights, undersights (that can be a word for now), hit the comment box below, let’s get this as “right” as a subjective blog listing can be.
100. Stephen Strasberg, Nationals: Probably no player has a chance to appear higher on this same list year as the returning phenom in DC (and not just because the list caps at 100, you know what I mean). The skill to be not just among the best (116 strikeouts in 92 career innings), but THE best is there. He just has to stay on the field now.
99. Andre Ethier, Dodgers: Last year was a roller coaster for the Dodgers’ right fielder. In the first half, he knocked around a 27-game hitting streak & an All-Star nod. In the second half, he was slowed by a controversial knee injury in the second half, only to still grab his first Gold Glove.
98. Tyler Clippard, Nationals: Perhaps the most versatile pitcher in baseball; he can be an effective starter, a shutdown middle reliever and a late inning door slammer as well. (Numbers)
97. Nick Markakis, Orioles: His arm gets most of the press, but he top 180 hits for the 5th straight year, and gathered in his first Gold Glove as well.
96. Josh Beckett, Red Sox: The Sox bulldog ace toughed out a train wreck of a season, and he still posted his best ERA of his career and stands to still be the lone dependable starter on the staff again.
95. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays: The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year pitches with the maturity of a man much more seasoned. As a 24 year old, he kept his ERA south of 3.00 over 190 innings, and is a big part of what could be the league’s best rotation.
94. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies: After playing in free agency for a while, he landed back in Philadelphia and with a much bigger role. With Ryan Howard out for most of the season & Chase Utley still rounding back into form, his production and consistency will be crucial to Phils staying in the mix in the new look NL East.
93. Josh Johnson, Marlins: The stuff is all there, the team is forming around him and now all the Marlins’ ace needs is his health to rejoin the party as well. He was lights out the first nine starts last year, posting a 1.64 ERA before a shoulder injury took him down.
92. BJ Upton, Rays: All the tools (23 homers, 36 steals), but just as many lows (.243 avg/161 strikeouts) as highs. He’s at the age (26) where it could all come together, and this promise is what keeps Tampa’s faith in him so strong. If he finds a way to put it all together, he could have a vintage Alfonso Soriano-type run.
91. Heath Bell, Marlins: Had yet another 40 save year in his last summer in San Diego, reaching 43 a year ago. The Marlins are hoping he can be an anchor for a team that is gear towards competing right away, and that he extends a prime that has seen him be an All-Star the last three years a bit longer.
90. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians: Injuries kept Choo from ever really making a huge impact in the Indians’ revival last summer, but if he can regain his 2009-10 form, which he averaged a .300 average and 20 homers with 21 steals, the Indians may close the gap.
89. Joakim Soria, Royals: His ERA rocketed up over two runs from the year before, but I’m taking that as an anomaly and that Soria will be back to his usual dominant self this season. That would mean a 38 save year with a 1.86 ERA, his three-year average before last year.
88. Jay Bruce, Reds: Votto & Phillips get the headlines, but Bruce is making history in right field in Cincinnati. He became the 3rd fastest player in MLB history to reach 100 home runs in September.
87. Pablo Sandoval, Giants: The Panda got his kick back last year, and is back on pace to become one of the truly complete hitters in the game again. He rebounded from a rough 2010 & a broken hand early in 2011 to hit .315 and a first trip to the All-Star game.
86. Derek Jeter, Yankees: He isn’t what he used to be, but he’s far from washed up as well. The Captain made his biggest headlines for his 3,000th hit, but in the midst of it all he still swung the stick at a .297 pace for the other 161 hits he got last year.
85. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies: As a new Phillie, Pap will take on the job of cleaning up any mess that baseball’s best rotation may leave on the table for him. Having the fastest pitcher to ever reach 200 saves is a bonus to any club.
84. David Ortiz, Red Sox: Big Papi followed up his renaissance season by both hitting over .300 and topping 100 RBI for the first time since ’07. He’s another guy that’s playing for both a contract and even a bit of respect this year after settling on a one year deal to hang around Boston.
83. Hunter Pence, Phillies: Steady does it here: he hit exactly 25 homers for three consecutive years before dipping to 22 last year. To pick up the difference, he hit a four year high of .314 and cut down 11 runners, showing off one of the best arms in the business.
82. Carlos Beltran, Cardinals: He’s lost some speed, but at the plate he’s still an all-around (and balanced) threat. He’s found new life as a right fielder, and will be yet another weapon to the World Champions in St. Louis.
81. Jonny Venters, Braves: In his first two years in Atlanta: a 1.89 ERA & an average of 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings are his resume. And he’s doing this with maximum exposure: his 85 appearances led the Majors in 2010.
80. Alex Gordon, Royals: The long wait for the coming of age of Gordon finally ended in 2010. In first full year in leftfield, he led the MLB in outfield assists with 20 and brought home a Gold Glove. At the plate, he raked in 45 doubles, 23 homers and picked his batting average up 88 points to .303.
79. John Axford, Brewers: He proved he was no fluke, and led the NL in saves with 46 in first full season. Overall, he’s locked down 71 of his 76 save chances over his first two years, and will bring a streak of 43 consecutive closed into 2012.
78. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals: Mike Rizzo traded a boatload of prospects to Oakland for the young lefty, and for good reason. Over the past two seasons, he’s averaged 16 wins and 201 innings despite not yet turning 26 and playing for some subpar A’s teams.
77. Matt Cain, Giants: No premier pitcher gets less support than Cain does annually (just over 3 runs a night last year), but he still turned in his second year of a ERA under 3.00 in the last three years. Yet still could only net 13 wins out of 33 starts.
76. Mike Napoli, Rangers: Few players turned it up like Napoli did last year. He went from afterthought trade piece to perhaps the best hitter in the World Series. Overall, he hit .320 and knocked out 30 homers. He’s arguably the best hitting catcher in the game now.
I’m back with #75 thru 50 bright and early next week, so get your debating minds together and get ready to walk it down to #1 right here. Follow me on Twitter in the meantime if you just can’t wait at @CheapSeatFan.