Archive for March, 2016

SD-Clayton-Kershaw-2

There is an exciting trend going on in Major League Baseball right now. As the previous Top 10’s thus far have clearly shown, there is an incredible rush of precocious talents at every position around the game right now. However, much of its full potential is often stifled by a matching level of phenomenal pitching as well. There is a golden age of pitching coming together currently, and attempting to pull out who is the best of the lot assures that more than one legitimate, front of the rotation, All-Star level talent will be missed.

When coming together with this countdown, the credentials of the collected group are as eye popping as their signature pitches are. There have been a total of nine Cy Young Awards issued to this group; nearly one per person. There is a league Most Valuable Player, a World Series/League Championship Series MVP and four players alone that will take home nearly $1 million per game this year.

The collected accolades of this group could go on and on, but just be certain: there are three currently active former Cy Young winners that could not even approach the honorable mention of this list, such is how intense the competition for being a true ‘ace’ is in the game today.

So let’s see how it plays out, the Top 10 starting pitchers in baseball today.

To review last year’s list, click here.

 Harvey_

10. Matt Harvey, Mets (Not Ranked in 2015)

2015: 13-8, 2.71 ERA, 188 K’s, 189.1 innings, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts, 1.01 WHIP

Last 2 Seasons*: 11-6, 2.50 ERA, 190 K’s, 184 innings, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts, 0.97 WHIP

The Dark Knight has officially returned. Throughout all of the headlines regarding his work rate, one thing Harvey proved beyond a shadow of doubt last year is that he is still among the elite power arms in the game. After missing the end of 2013 and all of 2014, Harvey reestablished himself atop the Mets’ rotation and it is of no lack of coincidence the Metropolitans conquered the National League as a result.

He wasted no time in returning to his previous form, despite having his innings on overview during the majority of the year. Harvey locked in during the month of August and pitched as well as he ever had, allowing one run over four starts, while running up 24 strikeouts while allowing only two walks. In the postseason, he flew past the 200 innings mark, still averaging a strikeout per playoff inning and going 2-0 overall, including a heroic eight inning effort that the bullpen ultimately lost after his exit in the decisive game of the World Series.

9. Dallas Keuchel, Astros (NR in ’15)

2015: 20-8, 2.48 ERA, 216 K’s, 232 innings, 3 complete games, 2 shutouts, 1.01 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 13-9, 3.33 ERA, 162 K’s, 195 innings, 3 complete games, 1 shutout, 1.20 WHIP

No player in baseball carried his 2014 breakout momentum further in 2015 than Keuchel did. Keuchel confirmed his place as one of the top pitchers in all of baseball, as he guided the Astros back to the postseason and snagged the American League Cy Young award along the way. Keuchel led the AL in wins, innings pitched, shutouts and WHIP, while also finishing within the top five in strikeouts, ERA, complete games and winning percentage as well.

He is a precise pitcher in the classic left-handed way, beating opponents with a sharp mixture of movement on both a slider and sinker, while changing speeds expertly. Over the past two seasons, has won over 50% of his starts and gone the distance eight times. He affirmed his status as a frontline performer by pitching Houston into the postseason by going into Yankee Stadium and holding the home club to three hits over six innings, while running up seven strikeouts in the AL Wild Card game.

8. Chris Sale, White Sox (#3 in ’15)

2015: 13-11, 3.41 ERA, 274 K’s, 208.2 innings, 1 complete game, 0 shutouts, 1.08 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 12-10, 2.92 ERA, 236 K’s, 199 innings, 2 complete games, 0 shutouts, 1.04 WHIP

It can be argued that there is no more deceptively dominant of a pitcher in the game today. Sale continued to reaffirm his place as the top victim of circumstance (also known as the best pitcher on a bad team) in the game today. He is coming off a season where he bested his former career high in strikeouts by nearly 50, despite only making one more start than in the season where he set his previous high.

Sale’s ERA did rise by over a run and a half last season, partially due to being supported by the AL’s worst team defense, which allowed for an absurdly high .324 average against him on balls in play. The improvements that the White Sox made defensively around their infield should greatly assist in raising the results of Sale on the mound. Especially since he is a virtual lock to remain one of the most oft-unhittable pitchers in the game today.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 28: Madison Bumgarner #40 of the San Francisco Giants pitches in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on April 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

 

7. Madison Bumgarner, Giants (#6 in ’15)

2015: 18-9, 2.93 ERA, 234 K’s, 218 innings, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts, 1.00 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 16-9, 2.90 ERA, 217 K’s, 3 complete games, 1 shutout, 1.04 WHIP

On the heels of his super heroic 2014 postseason, expectations were fairly high for Bumgarner has he embarked on the follow up season. And while his remaining at that level was an impossible expectation to believe in, he did continue to ascend up the standings of MLB arms. He matched his 18-win level from the previous year while setting a new personal high in strikeouts for the fourth consecutive year. It was also the fourth straight season his winning percentage increase.

Bumgarner has found a production neighborhood he lives in and has essentially taken out a mortgage there. There is simply not a pitching leaderboard that he will not be a factor on. He’s a lock for 200 innings, 200 strikeouts, his FIP figure is always in the range of 3.00 or lower and he’ll go the distance nearly a handful of times as well. Add in the fact that he’s also going to hit in the range of .250 at the plate, pop five home runs and drive in around 10 runs, and he is the consummate all-around performer on the mound.

6. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (#2 in ’15)

2015: 18-9, 3.53 ERA, 191 K’s, 201.2 innings, 2 complete games, 2 shutouts, 1.18 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 15-8, 2.86 ERA, 218 K’s, 214 innings, 1 complete game, 1 shutout, 1.06 WHIP

Perhaps keeping the King this high is an overinvestment in the past. However, just as a strong season does not create complete stature, neither does one bad half. Hernandez had a morbidly bad second half by his own standards, where he had a drop in velocity, an increase in home runs surrendered and a drop in effectiveness. However this was preceded by a first half where he was his usual self, working to a 2.84 ERA, 11 wins and holding batters to a .214 average.

His second half was exacerbated by a horrible August, where he allowed a. 328 average, a 6.60 ERA and pitched a season low 30 innings. But in rehabbing the entire picture, he went 3-1 in September, dropped his ERA by 3.76 runs and won three out of his five starts, carrying his season wins total to 18. So while his numbers climbed, by keeping it in context, it is not a full fall off by the King, just more or less his crown slipping briefly.

 

5. Jake Arrieta, Cubs (NR in ’15)

2015: 22-6, 1.77 ERA, 236 K’s, 229 innings, 4 complete games, 3 shutouts, 0.86 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 12-5, 2.52 ERA, 154 K’s, 2 complete games, 1 shutout, 0.98 WHIP

Arrieta had a Koufax-level breakout season last year, pitching arguably one of the most dominant campaigns in baseball history. And it really shouldn’t come as a surprise because once you see Arrieta’s mixture of explosive release, power fastball and seasickening slider, it is not hard to understand why he so quickly injected himself not only into last summer’s Cy Young picture (a race which he won handily), but also has thrown himself firmly into the handful of best pitchers in baseball.

During his epic 2015, he led the National League in wins, compete games and shutouts, one of which came in the form of a no-hitter versus the LA Dodgers on Sunday Night Baseball. This performance came amid his extraordinarily dominant second half, where he allowed four runs over the course of two months, while going 10-1 with a 0.75 ERA from August through October. The only question about Arrieta is if he can do it again (the spring thus far has indicated that to be resounding ‘yes’), if so he will continue to launch himself up this ranking towards the elite in all of the game, regardless of position.

4. David Price, Red Sox (#9 in ’15)

2015: 18-5, 2.45 ERA, 225 K’s, 220.1 innings, 3 complete games, 1 shutout, 1.07 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 14-8, 3.01 ERA, 216 K’s, 218 innings, 3 complete games, 0 shutouts, 1.08 WHIP

With the exception of Jake Arrieta, no pitcher in the game had a bigger impact on the pennant race last season than Price did. After being dealt from the Detroit Tigers to Toronto at the trade deadline, Price propelled the Jays up the standings. His August-September performance saw him win nine of his 11 Blue Jay starts, while only being credited with one loss. This win total matched his four month total in Detroit and saw him reach at least 18 victories for the third time in his career.

The cumulative effort of his year saw him be the runner-up for the AL Cy Young. He was also an All-Star for the fifth time and finished second in Fielding Independent Pitching a 2.78 (a figure that measures the impact that pitcher alone has at preventing baserunners). On the tail end of this performance, Price became the most sought after free agent available this winter and properly cashed in on the position—inking a $217 million pact in Boston, making him the highest paid pitcher in baseball history.

 

Schzerer_

3. Max Scherzer, Nationals (#5 in ’15)

2015: 14-12, 2.79 ERA, 276 K’s, 228.2 innings, 4 complete games, 3 shutouts, 0.91 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 18-7, 2.94 ERA, 256 K’s, 221 innings, 2 complete games, 1 shutout, 1.02 WHIP

There are days when there simply is not a more dominant pitcher alive than Max Scherzer. And when those days happen, it is an event of historical proportions. His 2015 was an eye-popping blend of regular authority, one where 11 times he reached double-digits in strikeouts, threw a perfect game in June, then followed it with just a plain old no-hitter in his season finale in October.

Despite the pothole his season hit late in 2015 (a 0-3, 6.43 ERA August), Scherzer has continued to raise the level of his overwhelming outcomes annually. His season-by-season strikeout totals have risen from 231 to 240 to 252 to 276 annually since 2012. Only once in the last five years has he won less than 15 games in a season as well. No wonder he has won 69 games across two different leagues over the past three years.

2. Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks (#8 in ’15)

2015: 19-3, 1.66 ERA, 200 K’s, 222.2 innings, 1 complete game, 0 shutouts, 0.844 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 17-5, 2.30 ERA, 185 K’s, 201 innings, 1 complete game, 0 shutouts, 1.02 WHIP

Greinke has one of the most efficiently, dominant seasons in recent history last year. He posted the lowest full season ERA in 20 years, when Greg Maddux turned in a 1.56 in 1994. Greinke essentially pulled the power plug on all competition, as the highest full month ERA he posted was a 2.04 number in August. Along the way, he had two months where he allowed less than five earned runs and posted a 13-1 record from July 4th through October 3rd. In the same time frame, he pitched at least 7 innings in all but three starts, getting the decision in all but two.

It has just been in recent years where Greinke’s startling regular high level output has truly been understood for how eye popping it is. He has reached double-digits in wins since 2008. Only twice along that time has he failed to pitch 200 innings or make 30 starts. He has now lead each league in ERA once, with a 2.16 ERA in 2009 and last year’s 1.66. He is both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger recipient as well. The $206 million that the Diamondbacks gave him in December was a very sound investment.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (#1 in ’15)

2015: 16-7, 2.13 ERA, 301 K’s, 232.2 innings, 4 complete games, 3 shutouts, 0.88 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 18-6, 1.92 ERA, 257 K’s, 232.2 innings, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts, 0.88 WHIP

2015 was the worst season that Kershaw has produced in his past three.

And now that we have that out of the way, it was also a year where he finished third in the NL Cy Young race (his lowest finish since 2010), struck out 301 batters (the most in Majors since Randy Johnson in 2002) and also finished in the top three in innings pitched, ERA, WHIP, win percentage and complete games. However, by his otherworldly standards, this was a downturn in his overall production.

Thus is the life when you are the best pitcher of your generation: a season that would qualify as a career year for most looks like a slight bump along your unflinchingly dominant way. Entering his age 28 season, Kershaw carries three Cy Young Awards, the 2014 NL MVP, 114 wins, five career All-Star selections, a no-hitter and an all-time MLB record for most consecutive years leading the MLB in ERA, a four year streak broken last year—when he finished third instead.

His sustained dominance has placed him far and away from the rest of the pack atop the mound now. Kershaw cannot be fairly compared next to his contemporaries; he’s simply better placed next to where those already in Cooperstown stood at the same age.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Jacob deGrom, Mets; Gerrit Cole, Pirates; Adam Wainwright, Cardinals; Sonny Gray, A’s.

bryce-harper

The right field position traditionally has one job, and one job amongst all others: to rake. Some of the most potent power threats in the history of the game have called the right corner of the outfield home, including Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Mel Ott and none other than Babe Ruth himself.

In today’s game, the tradition of the spot being home to some of the most prodigious hitters of the day has stayed true. Today, it is home to a trio of bats that have made 40 homers look like child’s play over the past few years, as well as another group behind them that ceaselessly chases 30 long balls with minimal effort. It is a competitive position that has seen a different player be ranked as the top gun at the spot in each of year that this list has been compiled as well. And if all things remain constant, it should continue to be a difficult one to keep a hold on at the top.

This is due to the fact that beyond just the pure power of the spot, it is also rapidly becoming a position that is home to players that would more traditionally make left or center field their home, due to their mixture of speed, on-base talents and glove work. Remember, right field was also where Tony Gwynn and Ichiro made their names as well, so this is nothing new.

So how does this all shake out headed into 2016? And can the new #1 hold his spot for another year? Let’s see who he is, as well as what the competition looks like along the way.

To review last year’s list, click here.

 

espnapi_dm_140605_mlb_news_carlos_beltran_retunrs_wmain

10. Carlos Beltran, Yankees (Not ranked in 2015)

2015: .276/.337/.471, 19 HR, 67 RBI, 57 runs scored, 34 doubles, 0 Stolen Bases, .808 OPS

Last 3 Years: .272/.327/.459 19 HR, 67 RBI, 61 runs scored, 29 doubles, 2 stolen bases, .787 OPS

The ageless Beltran put to bed any notions that he was over the hill at age 38 last year. After a 2014 debut in pinstripes that saw him be both ineffective at the plate and oft-injured, Beltran picked his numbers back up across the board last season and remained the club’s everyday right fielder. His average improved by over 40 points, and his contact rate improved significantly as well.

While he would be better suited for a DH role at this point in his career and could see more platoon work this year (his dWAR came in a full -2 games impact), Beltran’s offensive offering allows him to remain an asset for the Yanks. He is on pace to surpass 400 career home runs and 2,500 career hits this season, and has indicated that it will not be his last one, despite it being the final year of his Yankee deal.

 

9. Kole Calhoun, Angels (NR in ’15)

2015: .256/.308/.422 26 HR, 83 RBI, 78 runs scored, 23 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .731 OPS

Last 3 Years: .266/.321/.439 17 HR, 58 RBI, 66 runs scored, 20 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .759 OPS

Calhoun followed up his breakout 2014 with another strong campaign last season, firmly settling himself in as one of the more underrated overall corner outfielders in the American League. The 28-year-old has hit 43 home runs over the past two years since getting an opportunity at regular playing time, and has done so while only playing over 150 games once.

What rounds him off most however is his defensive capabilities, which earned him the nod for the AL Gold Glove. Calhoun was good for six defensive runs saved, 11 outfield assists and a 2.30 range factor defending the area, which qualified for the best mark in the league.

 

8. Matt Kemp, Padres (#6 in ’15)

2015: .265/.312/.443 23 HR, 100 RBI, 80 runs scored, 31 doubles, 12 stolen bases, .755 OPS

Last 3 Years: .274/.328/.459 18 HR, 74 RBI, 64 runs scored, 28 doubles, 10 stolen bases, .786 OPS

Kemp found his stride in the bat-only, corner outfielder portion of his career in his first season as a Padre. He put to bed the concerns about his durability that had plagued him a few years ago, playing in 150 games for the second time in as many years. And one thing that is indisputable about Kemp: when he is healthy, he hits.

Kemp met the 100 RBI mark for the first time since 2011, while topping 20 home runs, 30 doubles and 150 hits for the second consecutive year. He even had a slight re-emergence of speed on the base paths as well, reaching double digits steals for the first time in 5 years as well. Entering only his age-31 season, Kemp stands to continue on the path of being a steady middle of the order bat that is short of being the superstar he once was, but being more than just a role player as well.

Apr 13, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Mookie Betts (50) is safe at second base then steals third base against the Washington Nationals in the first inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

7. Mookie Betts, Red Sox (NR in ’15)

2015: .291/.341/.479 18 HR, 77 RBI, 92 runs scored, 42 doubles, 21 stolen bases, .820 OPS

Last 2 Years: .291/.348/.471 12 HR, 48 RBI, 63 runs scored, 27 doubles, 14 stolen bases, .818 OPS

Betts has been a man on the move in regards to where his every day position will be. He rose through the system as a second baseman, but also displayed a clear athleticism that related well to centerfield duties as well. And now a year after proving himself in the heart of the outfield, he will move over to the right corner –for now at least.

But regardless of where he take he takes his glove, Betts proved himself to be one of the most exciting young players in the game. In his first full season, he made an impact everywhere possible, saving nine defensive runs in the field (often of the highlight variety), while also living up to the sizeable hype at the plate. In his first full season, he finished with 68 extra base hits, by way of 42 doubles, 8 triples and 18 home runs—good for a .820 OPS. He is on a crash course with being a perennial 20/20 threat.

 

6. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (#9 in ’15)

2015: .271/.325/.540, 40 HR, 97 RBI, 87 runs scored, 25 doubles, 2 stolen bases, .864 OPS

Last 3 Years: .274/.332/.540 26 HR, 68 RBI, 65 runs scored, 21 doubles, 9 stolen bases, .864 OPS

As is always the case, when CarGo is healthy, CarGo is among the most impactful players in the game. Gonzalez finished a season for the first time since 2010, playing a career-best 153 contests and as a result, he finished second in the NL in home runs.

He got off to the worst start of his career throughout April and May, before strapping a rocket to his back mid-summer. He hit 36 home runs from June-September, while topping 20 RBI per month after the All-Star Break. While no longer the speed threat or high average producer he formerly was, Gonzalez settled in nicely as the second hammer to join Nolan Arenado at the heart of the Rockies lineup, although he is likely to be heavily shopped this summer as they continue to retool.

 

5. J.D. Martinez, Tigers (#8 in ’15)

2015: .282/.344/.535 38 HR, 102 RBI, 93 runs scored, 33 doubles, 3 stolen bases, .879 OPS

Last 3 Years: .286/.333/.506 23 HR, 71 RBI, 58 runs scored, 27 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .840 OPS

If anyone had doubts about if the breakout player of the year from 2014 keeping up his out of the blue pace he found once he relocated from Houston, it is safe to say they have been put to bed now permanently. Martinez entrenched himself among the elite power hitters in all of the game last season, running his two-year total for long balls up to 61, the 11th best combined total in baseball over that time.

Since coming to Detroit, Martinez has carried at .296/.350/.543 split line, and drove in a career-best 102 runs ago as well. And despite what he has already established, it stands to reason that Martinez is line to put up even more potent numbers than he did in his Silver Slugger/All-Star 2015, with Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera hitting in front of him, along with Victor Martinez watching his back. Martinez could be on a collision course with another 20+ RBI total increase this year.

 

4. Jason Heyward, Cubs (#5 in ’15)

2015: .293/.359/.797 13 HR, 60 RBI, 79 runs scored, 33 doubles, 23 stolen bases, .797 OPS

Last 3 Years: .274/.353/.415 13 HR, 52 RBI, 73 runs scored, 27 doubles, 15 stolen bases, .768 OPS

Perhaps the game’s premier outfield defender, Heyward alters the game from right field in a way that few players can from a corner defensive position. He took home his third Gold Glove in his only season in St. Louis, contributing a second consecutive year of a posting at least two Wins Above Replacement defensively. He posted a fielding percentage of .990+ for the third straight year as well, while still leading the game in right fielder range factor. Toss in his 10 outfield assists –which brought his two year total to 19— and Jey Hey is one of the most dangerous defenders in the game.

This norm continued while he stayed the course of rounding himself into a much more complete player at the plate as well. He achieved new career-highs in batting average, doubles, on-base percentage and stolen bases, all which contributed to a new personal high WAR of 6.5. And by relocating to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, his long-awaited power surge could finally be sparked as well.

 

3. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (#2 in ’15)

2015: .250/.377/.536 40 HR, 114 RBI, 108 runs scored, 29 doubles, 8 stolen bases, .913 OPS

Last 3 Years: .266/.381/.521 34 HR, 97 RBI, 97 runs scored, 27 doubles, 7 stolen bases, .902 OPS

The most epic bat flip of the decade provided a fantastic cap to a year that deserved it from Joey Bats. It came on the heels of yet another season of being the preeminent power hitter in the American League, as Bautista topped 40 home runs for the third time in his career.  In route to making his sixth consecutive All-Star appearance, Bautista also topped the AL in walks and finished in the AL top 10 in home runs, RBI, runs scored, slugging % and on-base + slugging % as well.

Yet while he has remained a superior power threat, he has also rounded into one of the most balanced hitters in the game as well. 2015 marked the second straight year where he hit at least 35 home runs and drove in 100 runs, while still working more than 100 walks, and still getting more free passes than he strike outs (214 walks compared to 202 K’s).

Stanton

2. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins (#1 in ’15)

2015: .265/.346/.606 27 HR, 67 RBI, 47 runs scored, 12 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .952 OPS

Last 3 Years: .270/.374/.541 29 HR, 78 RBI, 66 runs scored, 23 doubles, 6 stolen bases, .915 OPS

If only he could have avoided yet another freakish injury last season, Stanton could have put on one of the best power displays seen in many years. In only 76 games, he hit 27 home runs, which worked out to a homer every 10 at-bats. If he had stayed at that clip and played a full second half, he would have reached 50 easily with some time to go still in September.

From a pure ability standpoint, there is no one at his level in regards to hitting the long ball today. Stanton is 26 years old and in line to top 200 career homers already this season, all while only playing 150 games in a season once. As his 2014 season showed, he is capable of doing prodigious numbers, even if surrounded by less talent than many other superstars are afforded. The only trick is to keep him on the field, because if he does, there will not be an MVP race in which his name is not mentioned.

 

1. Bryce Harper, Nationals (#3 in ’15)

2015: .330/.460/.649, 42 HR, 99 RBI, 118 runs scored, 38 doubles, 6 stolen bases, 1.109 OPS

Last 3 Years: .296/.401/.534, 25 HR, 63 RBI, 77 runs scored, 24 doubles, 6 stolen bases, .936 OPS

It is asinine to think that it was just last season that Harper was named “Most Overrated Player” in the game in a vote of his peers conducted by ESPN. Because apparently Harper’s ears were wide open for that and he put all of his considerable talents towards creating a coming of age that had to be seen to be believed. With his propensity for running into walls behind him, he launched an all-out assault on everything thrown his way that saw him become the third youngest MVP winner of all-time, behind such substantial company as Johnny Bench and Stan Musial.

At age 22, Harper led the National League in home runs and runs scored, as well as on-base, slugging and on-base + slugging percentages, while finishing second in batting average. His MLB-leading ballpark adjusted OPS+ of 195 showed that he dominated at every park with the same ferocious nature across the board. So complete was Harper’s effort that he hit .335 with 35 homers against righties and .318 against lefties, with only two more strikeouts than walks. Yet, the greatest testament to Harper’s year is that while it was a huge leap from where he was before, at only 23 he has proven that he is the best hitter in the National League already and he is only getting started—he won’t even turn 30 until 2023.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers; Shin-Soo Choo, Indians; Hunter Pence, Giants; George Springer, Astros.

 

475665424-594x356

There is no more fun position in the game than center field. It is baseball’s equivalent of an ultra-amazing wide receiver, an eye-popping wing in basketball or a puck-handling magician at center in hockey. The position is home to some of the most iconic players in MLB history, such as Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb and the Hall of Fame’s newest superstar, Ken Griffey Jr.

As a result, it is a position that carries quite an impressive standard for its current inhabitants. And luckily enough for today’s viewers, it is home to the most diverse collection of talents in the game today. There are two former MVPs at spot who can also be argued as being two of the top three players in the game overall. There is also a collection of power hitting, mileage covering, run scoring, Gold Glove collecting talents that are nucleus of each of their teams. And such is the depth at the position that this description is apt for those that even just missed the list.

As a result, ranking out the top center fielders in any year is a task that is based in a certain level of guaranteed error. So many crucial talents are bound to double back on each other in some way, shape or form. On any given day, a match-up between any pair of players on this list could see them change the game with the glove in the top of an inning, while then following it up in the same fashion with the bat in the bottom of the same frame.

But regardless of that, it is time to get into the task of separating and splitting hairs for the top 10 players in the heart of the outfield, today.

Ellsbry

10. Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees (#6 in ’15)

2015: .257/.318/.345 7 HR, 53 RBI, 15 doubles, 66 runs scored, 21 stolen bases, .663 OPS

Last 3 Years: .277/.335/.401 11 HR, 52 RBI, 24 doubles, 76 runs scored, 37 stolen bases, .736 OPS

It is completely fair to say that Ellsbury has not lived up to the standards of the $153 million deal that he inked before the 2014 season. However, it is also not completely accurate to say that he has been a total bust either. In reality, Ellsbury has settled into a more of a groove of the type of player he truly is: a solid on-base speed threat, whom can make a strong defensive effort while being a traditional top of the line up bat.

As has been his constant story in his career, injuries limited his playing time and effectiveness a year ago. A right knee sprain took curbed him mid-May, after he worked to a .324 average over the first two months of the year. After missing all of June and returning in July, he hit below .230 for the rest of the year. Despite this, his quick start still saw him top 20 stolen bases and work 24 extra base hits. With an offseason of healing time behind him, Ellsbury could continue at the pace that he opened the year at.

 

9. Carlos Gomez, Astros (#4 in ’15)

2015: .255/.314/.409 12 HR, 56 RBI, 29 doubles, 61 runs scored, 17 stolen bases, .724 OPS

Last 3 Years: .276/.338/.468 20 HR, 67 RBI, 30 doubles, 79 runs scored, 30 stolen bases, .806 OPS

This is a rather steep dip for Gomez, who before last season had back-to-back All-Star appearances for the Brewers and had established himself as one of the major all-around threats in the game. However, this is also not what could be called a legit decline for the 30-year-old now Astro. A rash of injuries zapped his power and speed, while limiting him to 115 games. While always a free swinger, his numbers were hampered by a lowered contact rate even by his standards, but regardless of that his skill set remains intact.

Gomez looks primed for a rebound if his health is faithful to him this year. He translates well into the Astro lineup and 81 games at Minute Maid Park look awfully good for him as well. His 12 home run dip was more than half of what he had been good for from 2013-14, and his average declined nearly 30 points. As a result, Gomez is primed to be one of the big bounce back candidates in the game this year.

 

8. Adam Eaton, White Sox (NR in ’15)

2015: .287/.361/.431 14 HR, 56 RBI, 28 doubles, 98 runs scored, 18 stolen bases, .792 OPS

Last 3 Years: .285/.353/.407 6 HR, 38 RBI, 21 doubles, 71 runs scored, 13 stolen bases, .760 OPS

Not enough people know how good Eaton is becoming, and that’s not quite fair. While he showed steady improvement over his first few seasons, Eaton made the big jump last year into affirming himself as one of the game’s better leadoff hitters. He had a major uptick in power last year, hitting 9 more home runs in 2015 alone than he had in his three previous years between Arizona and Chicago.

Otherwise, he showed the ability to either maintain and/or improve everywhere else in his offensive repertoire. He matched his .360+ on-base percentage for the second straight year, while also nearing double digits in triples (19 since 2014) and increasing his hits, doubles, stolen bases and runs scored (from 76 to 98).

 

7. Charlie Blackmon, Rockies (NR in ’15)

2015: .287/.347/.450 17 HR, 58 RBI, 31 doubles, 93 runs scored, 43 stolen bases, .797 OPS

Last 3 Years: .291/.340/.449 14 HR, 51 RBI, 25 doubles, 70 runs scored, 26 stolen bases, .780 OPS

Blackmon proved that his full-time breakout of 2015 was no fluke. While he carried some prototypical home/away splits that are evident for many Rockies bats (.331 home average vs. .238 road, 890 home OPS vs. .695 road), an impact is an impact and Blackmon made plenty of those a year ago.

The 29-year-old had career-highs in OPS (.797), hits (176), runs scored (93), doubles (31), triples (9) and stolen bases (43), the latter of which was good for the second most in the National League. Blackmon also contributed nine outfield assists, while working to a respectable 2.35 zone rating in the field.

 

6. Kevin Kiermaier, Rays (NR in ’15)

2015: .263/.298/.420 10 HR, 40 RBI, 25 doubles, 62 runs scored, 18 stolen bases, .718 OPS

Last 2 Years: .263/.305/.432 10 HR, 38 RBI, 20 doubles, 48 runs scored, 12 stolen bases, .737 OPS

In many ways, he is becoming the Andrelton Simmons of the outfield; a true game changer on nearly everything hit into grass beyond the infield. No Major League defender changed the outcome of more games with his defensive exploits last year than Kiermaier. His 5 defensive Wins Above Replacement outpaced every other MLB by more than 3 wins, while he also had more center field assists (15) and covered the largest range factor (3.26) as well. His 42 defensive runs saved were the most in the game, and he appropriately won both the Gold and Platinum Glove Awards.

While he is still developing as a hitter, the tools that make him such a dynamic outfielder also carried over to the plate as well. Kiermaier hit double digits in doubles (25), triples (12) and home runs (10), in addition to swiping 18 bases as well.

 

5. Adam Jones, Orioles (#3 in ’15)

2015: .269/.308/.474 27 HR, 82 RBI, 25 doubles, 74 runs scored, 3 stolen bases, .782 OPS

Last 3 Years: .279/.313/.479 30 HR, 95 RBI, 30 doubles, 87 runs scored, 8 stolen bases, .792 OPS

Jones’ has comfortably settled into become the top power hitting center fielder in the game, outside of the guy in Anaheim. 2015 marked the fifth year in a row that he has topped 25 home runs, and he had a chance at making it his third year north of 30. However, his remarkable streak of durability –he had played in at least 150 games for four straight years— was clipped due to a string of nagging injuries.

This led to five-year lows across the board for AJ 10, however even in a down year, Jones put up impressive overall numbers, making his fourth consecutive All-Star Game in the process. He is still an above-average defender and is just a year removed from winning three consecutive Gold Gloves. And while he is no longer a threat in the stolen base department (10 steals in 12 chances since 2014), he is a smart base runner that can still stretch the right hit for a tough extra base.

lorenzo-cain

4. Lorenzo Cain, Royals (#7 in ’15)

2015: .307/.361/.477 16 HR, 72 RBI, 34 doubles, 101 runs scored, 28 stolen bases, .838 OPS

Last 3 Years:  .289/.339/.419 8 HR, 57 RBI, 28 doubles, 70 runs scored, 23 stolen bases, .759 OPS

While he had long been most wide-ranging, dynamic center fielder in the American League, Cain made as unexpected of a jump into the overall impact class as any player in the game last season. He had a substantial uptick in power in 2015, which saw his OPS rise by 80 points and reach career highs in home runs, doubles, triples, hits and batting average as well. He fueled the Royals offensive attack by driving in 72 runs, while scoring an additional 101.

His 28 stolen bases remained steady from where his 2014 total was and was good enough for the second best total in the American League. Overall, he contributed an impressive 20.4 Power-Speed figure, which measures a combination of home runs x stolen bases, divided by stolen bases + home runs, and was good for third in the AL. Overall, he contributed a strong 7.2 overall WAR figure, good for fourth in the American League and solidified his third place finish in AL MVP voting.

 

3. A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks (NR in ’15)

2015: .315/.367/.498 20 HR, 76 RBI, 39 doubles, 111 runs scored, 39 stolen bases, .865 OPS

Last 3 Years: .297/.349/.468 12 HR, 46 RBI, 29 doubles, 72 runs scored, 22 stolen bases, .817 OPS

Oh what a difference a full year makes. Staying both healthy and having a full time position were two elusive elements for Pollock throughout the first few years of his career. He gave a great sample sized look at his potential in 2014, but a broken right hand ended his season just as it was taking off after 75 games of posting a .302/.353/.498 split line.

It was a brief, yet clear indicator of what Pollock was capable of, but the question remained whether he could keep up that pace over a full year. And that is a question that no longer exists, as Pollock put on one of the best all-around assaults on the game a year ago. He became a five-tool star, finishing fifth in total bases with 303, which came on the heels of placing in the National League top 10 in doubles (4th), triples (8th), stolen bases (4th) and runs scored (2nd). Add in his (very legit) Gold Glove campaign as well, built on the back of having the top Total Zone runs saved number in the NL (20), and this is a proven quantity as one of the most well-rounded talents in the game.

 

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (#2 in ’15)

2015: .292/.401/.488 23 HR, 96 RBI, 36 doubles, 91 runs scored, 11 stolen bases, .889 OPS

Last 3 Years: .308/.405/.512 23 HR, 88 RBI, 37 doubles, 92 runs scored, 19 stolen bases, .917 OPS

One of the game’s truly elite talents, McCutchen continued his role as one of the game’s most pivotal players in 2015, and as a result, kept the Pittsburgh Pirates among the elite teams in the game. Cutch continued to put on display his plethora of baseball talents, besting a .290 average, 20 home runs, 80 RBI, 35 doubles, 85 runs scored and a .400 on-base percentage for the third straight year. And while his totals dipped some from previous years due to an injury-plagued start, his 2015 was still worthy of a top 5 MVP finish, a fourth straight Silver Slugger and a fifth consecutive All-Star Game. This was due in part the fact he hit .330, .337 and .348 in May, June and August, respectively.

Thus is the life of a perennial MVP candidate, as the 2013 winner of the NL’s top player prize has not left the top 5 in voting since 2012. This is as much of a result of his all-around excellence as it is the fact that it has fueled the Pirates to a regular spot in the postseason picture. Since McCutchen made his All-Star debut in 2011, the Pirates’ annual win total has risen steadily, with last year’s 98-win effort being the most for the Bucs since 1991.

miketrout

1. Mike Trout, Angels (#1 in ’15)

2015: .299/.402/.590 41 HR, 90 RBI, 32 doubles, 104 runs scored, 11 stolen bases, .991 OPS

Last 3 Years: .303/.404/.569 35 HR, 99 RBI, 37 doubles, 109 runs scored, 20 stolen bases, .973 OPS

What else can be said about Trout at this point? It is a moot point to state that he’s the best player in the game, because it goes without saying. At the age of 24, the conversation about how good he can be is done, rather it is about just how legendary he can become. He continued to push his own boundaries again last season, setting career highs in home runs and OPS last season, while also remaining in the AL top 10 in batting average, runs scored and leading the circuit in slugging percentage as well.

While many make light of the fact that his stolen base total declined down to 11 last year, it is far from a loss of a skill set. Rather, it just shows the unavoidable evolution of his game from an ultra-catalyst at the top of the order and into a multi-skilled middle of the lineup bat. Because while his stolen base total dropped, so did his strikeout rate, while his walk rate climbed. Simply put, he is getting better overall because for as much raw talent as he possesses, he is gaining maturity & discipline to go along with it, which is truly a frightening thought. Thus far in his career, Trout is yet to finish any lower than second in an MVP race and he has essentially become the measuring mark for whether another player is worthy of the award instead of him. Because that is what the best player in the game should do annually, and he has yet to fail to live up to his role.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Kevin Pillar, Blue Jays; Denard Span, Giants; Dexter Fowler, Cubs; Randal Grichuk, Cardinals.