With today’s designated hitter breakdown, it brings to a close the second annual installment of my rankings of the Top 10 players at each position entering the spring. Coming to such conclusions is an imperfect science to say the least, based on both what is proven, predicated and set by precedence in some areas. But at the end, the goal is to get a snapshot of the players who have the biggest current impact at each position, pitted against each other. And that is a goal I do believe I achieved yet again.
Not to say that there were not a few close calls along the way, as well as players that I believe could easily turn in better 2015 returns than their ranking dictates. When putting 115 players into tiers, this is bound to happen.
One of the most hotly debated rankings was the placement of Pirates outfielder Starling Marte at #3 in left field, a spot that put him over such players as Matt Holliday, Justin Upton and Hanley Ramirez. The ranking of Marte so high is admittedly a gamble; he is clearly talented player that has turned in some impressive extra base hit, stolen base and defensive performances over the past few years. However he also is coming in off the benefit of a scorching hot second half of 2015 and is still yet to turn in a full year of the type of excellent play that many others below him have on that list. There are even some that make argument that he should not be considered even among the top 10 players at the position currently, let alone upper third.
But he is a perfect example of what a portion of the goal of the ranking is: to get it right going ahead. If he performs at a 15% decreased clip of his second half average, he still pulls in at just south of a .300 average at .297 and when combined with his proven ability to run up steals, runs scored and triples, Marte is an elite level contributor at the spot. And by taking him so high on the list, I am betting his development continues and he does.
Going in the opposite direction, there is the fact that I left the American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber outside of the top 10 starting pitchers this year. This could be seen as a ridiculous notion and I understand that. How can the guy that was just recognized as the best pitcher in his league not be considered among the top 10 players at his spot, especially on a list that includes four other pitchers (included then ALer Max Scherzer) that he beat out for the honors?
It is a valid argument, however one that is being made at the wrong position to jockey for position. The upper class of starting pitching hierarchy is one that is reached by reaching (and staying at) the elite level of pitching in my mind. And while Kluber had a solid 2013 (11-5, 3.86 ERA, 147 innings), followed by his massive 2014, it still does not surpass the regular standard set by the 10th man on the list in Jordan Zimmermann, or even other runners up in Cole Hamels or Jon Lester, among others. If Kluber comes back and anchors another tremendous year for the Indians, a full expectation of him making a Johnny Cueto-like jump into the top 10 will be realized.
Sometimes making a big debut into the rankings is simply a matter of the being aligned at the right position at the right time as well. While Kluber could not make it into pitcher’s top 10, there were several notable players that did make either high initial impacts or substantial jumps up the list.
Jose Abreu of the White Sox is easily the most notable of the group, because he did it at such a difficult position to make a dent within. The AL Rookie of the Year debuted at #4 on the first base charts after his huge breakout year. Part of this was a function of his undeniable impact on the field, but another portion was due to the fact that first base is undergoing a bit of an overhaul as well. While Miguel Cabrera and Paul Goldschmidt set a clear cap atop the position, it is open season some underneath that level with younger impacts such as Abreu and Anthony Rizzo fighting for position among a group of veterans such as Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto and Edwin Encarnacion who all make comparable impacts.
Another such major debut belong to Anthony Rendon, who checked in at #5 among third basemen. Third base is it usual mixture of impact depth, but is also seeing some of its long-time stalwarts such as David Wright, Evan Longoria and Aramis Ramirez beginning to slide some. That shake up allowed for Rendon’s big 2014 to push him to strong debut among his positional contemporaries in the same fashion that Matt Carpenter did just a year ago, who checked in just a spot above Rendon this year.
All in all, there a plenty of debates that can be made among these type of ranks, because for the most part there are only a few positions where there is a clear cut top guy. Giancarlo Stanton, Robinson Cano, Troy Tulowitzki, Adrian Beltre and Clayton Kershaw have it on lock. There are some very interesting to watch wages for positional supremacy between Cabrera and Goldschmidt, Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey and Yadier Molina, and Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Greg Holland.
Debates such as these are part of what makes the game the game, and the fun in how to determine it. Coming up soon at The Sports Fan Journal, I will begin to release my Top 100 players in the game today, which is built on slightly different set of parameters. Recent impact is offset by a look into the three year window of player more than just their immediate impact in the game. Developmental trends (both upward and downward) come into play more and award winners see a greater precedence set as well. There is no cap on players per position either, so more first basemen, starting pitchers and outfielders work their way into the scene as well.
There is a lot to sort out and a lot of work to put into the inexact science that its final result is, but for now here is a recap of the rankings by position. For the full article on each, click the header above each ranking column. (Top 3 at each position noted below)
Top 10 Catchers—January 28th (Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, Jonathan Lucroy)
Top 10 First Basemen—January 29th (Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt, Adrian Gonzalez)
Top 10 Second Basemen—January 30th (Robinson Cano, Jose Altuve, Ian Kinsler)
Top 10 Third Basemen—February 3rd (Adrian Beltre, Josh Donaldson, Evan Longoria)
Top 10 Shortstops—February 4th (Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Desmond, Jhonny Peralta)
Top 10 Left Fielders—February 5th (Alex Gordon, Michael Brantley, Starling Marte)
Top 10 Center Fielders—February 6th (Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Jones)
Top 10 Right Fielders—February 9th (Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Bautista, Bryce Harper)
Top 10 Starting Pitchers—February 10th (Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale)
Top 10 Relief Pitchers—February 11th (Craig Kimbrel, Greg Holland, Aroldis Chapman)
Top 5 Designated Hitters—February 12th (Victor Martinez, David Ortiz, Nelson Cruz)
For kicks, what would a lineup look like made out of the top ranked player at each position? Here’s my take at the ultimate All-Star Team:
- Mike Trout-CF
- Robinson Cano-2B
- Miguel Cabrera-1B
- Giancarlo Stanton-RF
- Troy Tulowitzki-SS
- Victor Martinez-DH
- Buster Posey-C
- Adrian Beltre-3B
- Alex Gordon-LF
Now that’s downright ugly right there.
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