Posts Tagged ‘Joey Votto’

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Annually, one of the toughest positions to put in tiers is the first base slot. This is largely due to it being the home to many of the game’s greatest all-time bats. Jimmie Foxx, Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray and the great Lou Gehrig have all added to the legend of the position, providing quite a standard to keep for the premier first sackers in the game today.

This a group with multiple MVP winners and a pair of sure fire Hall of Famers. It is a group where there is an already inducted member of the 500 home run club, and whom is joined by the game’s preeminent home run hitter of today. There is a Triple Crown winner, a newly crowned World Series champion and one of the game’s most emergent stars as well.

The first base position truly has something for everyone, and endures as the most toughly debated position in the game yet again.

Before beginning this list allow me to mention an organizational note for these rankings moving forward. I rank players at the position that they played the majority of their games at the previous season. So Edwin Encarnacion and Prince Fielder, both of whom were All-Stars last season and appeared in 2015’s top 10 list of 1B here, have been moved over to designated hitter.

To review last year’s Top 10 First Basemen, click here.

 

10. Albert Pujols, Angels (#10 in 2015)

2015: .244/.307/.480, 40 HR, 95 RBI, 22 doubles, 85 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .258/.319/.464, 28 HR, 88 RBI, 26 doubles, 74 runs scored

2015 was a renaissance of sorts for Pujols. He met the 40 home runs plateau for the first time since his St. Louis days and for seventh season in his career. He also made his first All-Star appearance as an American Leaguer in the process. He finished 5th in the AL in homers and 10th in RBI as well, before a re-occurrence of a previous foot injury that slowed his year tremendously and will see him likely miss all of spring training this season.

Regardless of this though, Pujols has remained an elite run producer, having driven in 200 runs since the beginning of 2014. And while he will never meet the previous standard that will see him reach the Hall of Fame one day, when even mostly healthy, he remains potentially one of the most dangerous hitters in the game.

 

9. Eric Hosmer, Royals (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .297/.363/.459, 18 HR, 93 RBI, 33 doubles, 98 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .291/.347/.437, 15 HR, 77 RBI, 34 doubles, 79 runs scored, .784 OPS

Hosmer is the anomaly in the rankings here, as he brings more finesse than brute impact at the position. He has been a three-time Gold Glove winner in the past three seasons, while regularly staying north of 30 doubles, twice topping 175 hits and a driving in north of 85 runs, including a career-best 93 a year ago. He’s a run producing, on-base threat that plays a hug role in the non-stop machine that is the Royals offensive effort.

What works against him is that he has struggled for both consistency (he has been an every other year contributor thus far…with history saying 2016 could be rough) and lacks true power production at a position that is heavily populated by them (he is yet to reach 20 home runs in any of his six seasons). Yet, he plays a vital role in the Royals ‘One for all’ approach to offensive production, where he is the perfect mixture of a high on-base percentage, gap hitting threat in the heart of their order.

 

8. Freddie Freeman, Braves (#8 in ’15)

2015: .276/.370/.471, 18 HR, 66 RBI, 27 doubles, 62 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .296/.385/.478, 20 HR, 84 RBI, 32 doubles, 81 runs scored, .863 OPS

The usually durable Freeman battled wrist injuries last season and played in a career-low 118 games, just a year removed from suiting up for all 162 in 2014. He still turned in some solid totals despite being limited to 481 plate appearances, and played at a pace that would have placed him close to his 2014 totals of 43 doubles and 175 hits.

If anything, Freeman showed a clear improvement in his raw power numbers in the jump from his age-24 and 25 seasons. Freeman matched his 2014 home run total in 44 less games (he homered once every 23 AB’s, up from every 33 in ’14) while still keeping his overall extra base hit ratio steady (9.4% of his total hits). Despite playing in an even more diminished Braves lineup, Freeman appears to be prone to be an independently successful batter, regardless of the lack of true protection around him.

 

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7. Chris Davis, Orioles (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .262/.361/.562, 47 HR, 117 RBI, 31 doubles, 100 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .252/.347/.544, 42 HR, 109 RBI, 30 doubles, 89 runs scored, .891 OPS

No one has hit more home runs over the past four years than Davis has, and due to this rarefied (and electrified) air around him, the O’s decided to make him the highest paid player in franchise history this offseason. This is based on the expectation that “Crush” continues to mash the ball at the explosive rate he has since reaching Baltimore(6.5% of ), when he led the MLB in home runs for the second time in three seasons. In addition, he has accounted for a phenomenal 14 Wins Above Replacement in just 2013 and 2015 alone.

Davis is also an underrated fielder and athlete, who can help at multiple positions, having spent an increasing amount of time as a corner outfielder as well. He is a classic slugger, whose batting average is marginal (.255 for his career) and who carries a prolific strikeout rate (MLB-worst 208 a year ago). His status is also compounded by the struggles he faced in 2014, as he was suspended for non-approved (but non-PED) prescription drugs and stumbled into a .196 average. However, there are few players as capable of having the instant impact that Davis creates.

 

6. Jose Abreu, White Sox (#4 in ’15)

2015: .290/.347/.502, 30 HR, 101 RBI, 34 doubles, 88 runs scored

Last 2 Years: .303/.364/.540, 33 HR, 104 RBI, 34 doubles, 84 runs scored, .904 OPS

What a start it has been for Abreu in his MLB career. Back-to-back seasons of 30 HR, 30 doubles, 80 runs scored and 100 RBI. At $7 million per year, he is firmly in line as baseball’s greatest value going currently.

And he is also in line to hit at the core of the best lineup that has surrounded him in his young career this upcoming season. Although his average dipped down 27 points from his phenomenal rookie season, he still turned in a very strong .290 mark and should see better pitches than he did a year ago as he will be flanked by the powerful Todd Frazier now. So it reasons to believe that an even bigger year could be on the way from the powerful Cuban.

 

5. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers (#3 in ’15)

2015: .275/.350/.480, 28 HR, 90 RBI, 33 doubles, 76 runs

Last 3 Years: .281/.342/.474, 26 HR, 102 RBI, 35 doubles, 76 runs, .817 OPS

Mr. Consistency. Gonzalez has been one of the steadiest, yet most underrated run producers in the game over his career. While Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Joc Pederson and Hanley Ramirez have taken the lion’s share of credit for fueling the Dodger offense over the past few seasons, it has been Gonzo that has been the proverbial “straw that stirs the drink”.

His penchant for driving runs in has been so consistent that the 90 RBI he finished with in 2015 was his lowest output since 2007. His consistency also carries over in the fact that he has played at 156 games in each season since 2006, has only once posted an on-base percentage south of .340 in the last 10 years and has stayed in the top 20 in MVP voting in seven of the past eight years, regardless of league played in.

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4. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs (#6 in ’15)

2015: .278/.387/.512, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 38 doubles, 94 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .265/.365/.484, 29 HR, 86 RBI, 35 doubles, 85 runs scored, .848 OPS

Rizzo is one of the fastest rising stars in the game today, and as he sits at the heart of the emergent Cub lineup, 2016 could prove to be his true breakout year as a superstar in the game. Over the past two years, no National League first baseman has hit more home runs than Rizzo’s 63, and as a result, he has twice finished in the top 10 in NL MVP voting the past two seasons.

In the mold of a classical power conduit at first base, Rizzo is already the best at what he does in the game. But beyond that, he is one of the more well-rounded players in the game between the lines as well. He offsets high strikeout rate by reaching base at a .386 rate and working the count very well. An athletic and durable player (he led the NL in both games played and plate appearances last year), Rizzo also added in 17 stolen bases last season as well, the second most for a first baseman in baseball.

Rizzo is rounding into one of the best all-around players in the game. And considering this is a guy that was traded twice before turning 23, that’s not too bad of a feat.

 

3. Joey Votto, Reds (#7 in ’15)

2015: .314/.459/.541, 29 HR, 80 RBI, 33 doubles, 95 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .300/.438/.498, 20 HR, 59 RBI, 26 doubles, 76 runs scored, .935 OPS

The on-base animal played the best baseball of his career in the second half of 2015, and that is quite a feat to pull off, considering he has a National League MVP in his trophy case as is. But his phenomenal post-June body of work, which saw him hit .405, .315 and .337 in consecutive months, while reaching base at a ridiculous .535 clip over that same time span. To put that in context, if he maintained that clip for a full year, it would be the fifth best season of all-time, behind only some of the finest campaigns from Barry Bond, Babe Ruth, Ted William and John McGraw.

Votto put to bed any questions about if injuries had begun put his day of top-level production behind him. His .459 overall on-base percentage was the second highest of his career (he has led the NL in the category in four other seasons), and hit 29 home runs as well, which should service as a silence notice to those that say he “could” or “should” hit for more power.

At the end of the day, he finished third in NL MVP voting, despite the Reds being far afterthought in the NL Central race by even the All-Star break. And he confirmed he will continue to apply his craft on the Cincinnati Riverfront for the foreseeable future, refusing to wave his no-trade clause even amid the deconstruction of the Reds’ roster around him.

 

2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (#1 in ’15)

2015: .338/.440/.534, 18 HR, 76 RBI, 28 doubles, 64 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .332/.415/.566, 29 HR, 107 RBI, 35 doubles, 89 runs scored

To put the excellence of Miguel Cabrera with a bat in his into proper context is a rather difficult task. He is the premier hitter in the game and is gaining a seat in the conversation for Top 10 ever. After all, this is a man that has won a pair of MVP’s, achieved the long-elusive Triple Crown, drove in 100 runs a year for 11 straight seasons—all before turning 33.

So snap shotting his impact is difficult, but not impossible. His 2015 season, for example, provides a specifically strong chance to appreciate his impact. It was a season where he went to the disabled list for the first time in his 12 year career, missing the majority of the month of July and still fought to return in just over a month. And what did he do on the other end of that? Only win his fourth batting title in the last five years.

It was a mark that he did not stumble into either, as he hit .393 upon returning in August from the DL, hitting like a man that had to prove himself. Instead, he is a man that has hit .334 since that first batting title in 2011 and hit his 400th home run and 1,400th RBI a year ago. He carries the highest active batting average in the game and turns 33 in April, so those counting stats stand a pretty good chance of getting some substantial upgrades as well.

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1. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (#2 in ’15)

2015: .321/.435/.570, 33 HR, 110 RBI, 38 doubles, 103 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .309/.412/.556, 29 HR, 101 RBI, 38 doubles, 94 runs, .968 OPS

There is no better overall infielder in the game today than Goldschmidt. Over the past three seasons, he has transformed himself into a perennial MVP contender, having more finishes in the top two in MVP voting than any other National Leaguer, albeit without winning one yet.

He had his best campaign to date, and the one he had the best opportunity of taking home the hardware, ended early by a stray fastball to the back of his hand in 2014.

But Goldy bounced back without a step lost last season, remaining as one of the elite overall players in the game. He finished in the top three of all NL Triple Crown categories, with a .321 average (3rd), 33 home runs (5th) and 110 RBI (2nd). In addition to this, he tied career-bests in hits (182) and runs scored (103), posted career-bests in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, which all combined into a 1.005 OPS, second to only Bryce Harper in the National League. Add in that he swiped a personal high of 21 bases as well and won his second Gold Glove in three years, and it forfifies the fact that he is one of the top 5 overall talents in the game today.

 

Left on Deck: Brandon Belt, Giants; Mark Teixeira, Yankees; Lucas Duda, Mets.

To catch up on last year’s picks for top first baseman, 

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Picking the top first baseman in the game is always a tough equation, simply due to the fact that there are so many of them that a team’s lineup is built around. Ideally, it is the prime source of power on a club, but in many cases it is also the home of a team’s top overall bat.

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That is the case here again, as the group that falls in as my selections for the top 10 1B’s in the game is so deep that in couldn’t include winners of a Gold Glove or batting title at the position just a year ago. With the exception of starting pitcher, there is no position where the standard is higher to be considered an elite, top 10 level performer. The average return among the upper half of this list alone is a season of turning in a .300 average, with 31 home runs, 107 RBI and a .921 OPS, which is a stunning level of production to be regularly tied to in more than one category.

Yet that is what it takes to walk among the best at the position, which puts less of a premium on anything other than raw production than any other place that requires a glove in the game. So with no further delay, CSP’s selections for the top 10 first baseman in the game headed in the spring of 2015.

 

1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (#1 in 2014): Miggy’s average is far above what most anybody else alive—or dead—is capable of reaching in their best years. And it turns out that even his down years are also a cut above what most others are capable of. He battled a bone spurs and a fracture in his foot all year, but still made it to the field 159 times. And in the course of it all he led the American League in doubles with 52, while finishing in the top ten in 11 different categories and second in extra base hits with 78. The game’s best bat has proven itself slump proof.

2-year average: .329 average/.983 OPS/34 HR/123 RBI/192 hits/73 extra-base hits

2. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (#2 in ’14): A freak hand injury ended his 2014, but in just over 100 games he was on pace to shatter what he had achieved the year before when he finished second in the National League Most Valuable Player vote. There is no better overall first baseman in the game than Goldschmidt, who is capable of swiping a bag and is a Gold Glove fielder as well. If he can string together a few more full years at the level he is at now, he’ll be the quick answer to best first baseman in the game.

2-year average: .302 average/.946 OPS/28 HR/97 RBI/152 hits/68 extra-base hits

3. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers (#9 in ’14): Gonzalez quietly is one of the most regularly productive run producers in the game. He has topped 100 RBI in five consecutive years and led the NL for the first time in the category a year ago. Add in the deft fielding that brought him a fourth Gold Glove as well last year, and he is one of the game’s most complete properties.

2-year average: .284 average/.810 OPS/24 HR/108 RBI/167 hits/64 extra-base hits

4. Jose Abreu, White Sox (Not Ranked): He blew up on the scene as a rookie, becoming an All-Star, Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger winner and the AL leader in slugging percentage in his first go around. Abreu checked in among the top five in all of the Triple Crown categories and set quite a high expectation for his curtain call this year.

5. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays (#8 in ’14): No one has averaged more home runs over the past two years than Encarnacion has. The 32-year-old Dominican has kept his on-base + slugging figure north of .900 each of the past three years and has also stayed in the top three of home runs-per-at bat since 2012.

2-year average: .270 average/.903 OPS/35 HR/101 RBI/136 hits/65 extra-base hits

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6. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs (Not Ranked): No player made a stronger statement of arriving on the scene than Rizzo did a year ago. He pulled his average up by 50 points and hit a career-best 32 home runs, figures which were impressive enough to net him a top 10 finish among NL MVP voting. He also covers a stunning amount of ground in the field, making him one of the rare first basemen that can impact the game with his legs, glove and arm as well. All of this and he does not turn 26 until August.

2-year average: .258 average/.822 OPS/28 HR/79 RBI/146 hits/64 extra-base hits

7. Joey Votto, Reds (#2 in ’14): He is coming in off of a down year where he only made it to the field 62 times due to a quadriceps injury, and it is the second time in three years his season has been clipped. But when he is healthy he is one of the most productive batters in the game, having been the most frequent baserunner in the National League from 2010-13, sporting a .434 OBP during the stretch.

2-year average: .291 average/.891 OPS/15 HR/48 RBI/116 hits/40 extra base hits

8. Freddie Freeman, Braves (#7 in ’14): He took a step back from the huge step forward he took in 2013, but Freeman still is one of the most productive young hitters in the game and the now clear cornerstone of the Braves franchise. He finished second in the NL in doubles (43) and has reached 175 hits each of the past two years.

2-year average: .303 average/.871 OPS/20 HR/94 RBI/176 hits/58 extra base hits

9. Prince Fielder, Rangers (#6 in ’14): It is a turning point season for Fielder, who never got off the ground in his first year in Arlington. He was one of the many Rangers who lived on the disabled list, and on the heels of a severe downturn towards the end of his Detroit tenure, it is reasonable to wonder if he is more name than performance value now. But considering he has never had a full season where he did not hit at least 25 home runs, he has earned a bit more benefit of doubt.

2-year average (’12-’13): .295 average/.878 OPS/28 HR/107 RBI/178 hits/62 extra base hits

10. Albert Pujols, Angels (Not Ranked): It’s not fair to call it a comeback, but Pujols settled into a groove that showed he far from out of gas in 2014. He hit 28 home runs, 37 doubles and drove in 100 RBI for the 12th time in his 14 year career, while also hitting his 500th home run at age 34. He is not the St. Louis model of himself that assured himself a plaque in Cooperstown, but he is still an impact bat for the Halos.

2-year average: .267 average/.781 OPS/22 HR/84 RBI/136 hits/50 extra base hits

 

Runners Up: Justin Morneau, Eric Hosmer, Adam LaRoche, Joe Mauer

 

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A few years ago, first base was clearly a class system. There were the handful of elites, and then just the rest of the guys, many of which were young up and comers. But the cows have come home to the barn and how the first base spot is the deepest of any in the game, due in part to many of those young talents panning out in a major way.

Of the the top 4 finishers in both league’s Most Valuable Player voting in 2013, the three will man first this summer. Of current starting first basemen, nine have won the league’s MVP at one point or another in their career, and of that group only three will even qualify for this Top 10 list.

That’s the type of depth that is at work right now around the game, and that is why even a surefire Hall of Famer couldn’t crack this list. Here’s what’s in store at a position that is sure to create some frustrated almost All-Star by mid-summer…

10. Eric Hosmer, Royals: He kicked his sophomore slump out of a moving car, hitting over .300, with 188 hits and 34 doubles to boot. He won his first Gold Glove in the process, with his 122 assists being far and away the best total of AL first basemen.

9. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers: One of the most consistent run creators in the game, he’s topped 100 RBI for four straight years, while keeping his average over .293 over the course as well. He has owned the alleys, hitting 124 doubles since 2011 started.

8. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays: He’s hit 78 home runs over the past two seasons, due in part to the discipline he has developed at the plate. He cut his strikeouts by 32 and walked 20 more times than he whiffed.

7. Freddie Freeman, Braves: The axis of the Atlanta lineup raised his average 70 points while keeping his power numbers steady and driving in 100 runs for the first time. Also a superb fielder, he’ll challenge for his share of Gold Gloves moving ahead.

6. Prince Fielder, Rangers: He will move to the perfect ballpark for his prodigious power in Arlington. Until last season he owned a streak of six years of at least 30 home runs, and has driven in 100 RBI in six of the last seven seasons.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Minnesota Twins

5. Joe Mauer, Twins: The move to first could very well extend, and improve, the career and quality of Mauer’s performance. He won the Silver Slugger at catcher a year ago, hitting just a point higher than his career average at .324.

4. Chris Davis, Orioles: Crush was making an assault on history early in the year, cranking out 30 first half homers. He led the Major Leagues with 55 long balls and 138 RBI, and added 42 doubles as well, joining Babe Ruth and Albert Belle as the only players to reach those marks in a single season.

3. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks: It all came together for the first time for Goldy a year ago, and he’s only getting started. He led the NL in RBI, and tied in home runs as well. He finished second in the MVP and won his first Gold Glove as well. He is becoming one of the best all around players in the game, and the type of talent that a winner could be built around.

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2. Joey Votto, Reds: The criticism is that he does not drive in enough runs and is overly obsessed with getting on base at the cost of taking more swings. However, he chooses his shots often enough to hit .317 average and to lead couple that by leading the NL on on-base for four consecutive years. So the game’s best line drive hitter continues to make his impact in one way or another.

1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: The move back to first changes nothing about the productivity. One of the great hitters all-time in the middle of his prime. The winner of the of consecutive MVP awards, he has a .338/.417/.620 average split over the last two years, while averaging 44 home runs, 138 RBI and 199 hits per year over the stretch as well.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Albert Pujols, Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss

For more on the game in the real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For further content, find me at I70 Baseball and The Sports Fan Journal.

One of the great debates of any year is what exactly is “most valuable”. Does it mean the player with the best numbers, the one that made the most irreplaceable difference or the best player on the best team? Every year there is a case for each type of candidate for the award, however in this year’s National League, there is more variety than ever before.

There are the candidates with the raw power numbers, as well as those with the balance of impact across the board. In the same vein, there are the engines that pushed the league’s best teams, as well as those that had major seasons, but couldn’t quite pull their team along with them. Also, there were those that made major impacts on the pennant chase, but did so around injury. Yet then, there were those that had such a unique touch across the board, which numbers alone can’t quite account for it all.

Yes, it was a grab bag year from the National League’s best, but in the end, the most all-encompassing impact comes from the player who’s impact simply blanketed not only every game he participated in, but also the rest of the fortune of not only his club, but the approach of every team that faced them.

2013 Stan Musial Most Valuable Player—Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three

The Numbers: .319, 12 HR, 80 RBI, 161 hits, 68 runs, 44 2B, 3 SB, .836 OPS, 5.7 WAR

What Yadier Molina brings to the St. Louis Cardinals simply crosses over just what he does at the plate or how many snap throws he makes on would be base runners. Because it could be argued that there is a player that impacts the game in more ways than Molina does, but it would be a losing debate. Ranging from what could be the finest glove in the game, to the game’s best quarterback behind the plate and concluding with a bat that carries its own weight as well, there’s literally nowhere to escape Yadi’s grasp.

If you are a raw numbers guy, Molina is not your man. Likewise, for the mathematical baseball crowd, he won’t be thrilling either. Yet, for a dye in the wool baseball guy, Molina had a season that was of epic proportions. This was not always the case, but now Molina has become among the more consistent hitters in the game. He finished fourth in the NL batting average, second in doubles and struck out a mere 55 times in 541 plate appearances. With runners in scoring position, he turned it up to a .373 clip.

Behind the plate, he was once again the measuring stick for all catchers, throwing out 43% of the few runners that challenged him on the bases and allowing a paltry three passed balls in over 1115 innings caught. One of the toughest feats in sports is to quantify the value of a catcher in calling a game, but it was there in-between the lines that he had his defining impact. Tasked with a pitching staff that lost three of its projected Opening Day starters in the first half of the year, as well as its first two closers shortly thereafter, he worked wonders behind the plate. By the end of the year, he made a staff that deployed 12 rookies across the year into a 96-win team, who finished in the top five in NL ERA and opponent average against. By their own acclimation, the success of Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal was tied to “throwing whatever Yadi put down.” And all of this was a bonus to stellar return to form that Adam Wainwright authored following his lead as well.

The individual numbers at the plate do tell a great story, yet in the terms of “most valuable” the story can go far beyond one component of man’s year. And Yadier Molina touched more parts of the success of the National League’s best team than any other, and in that, he defined every definition of the award’s purpose this summer. Those 96 wins say more about what Molina pulled off than the average, RBI and Gold Glove say combined. Sometimes, less truly is more–especially in the ultimate game of inches.

The Rest

2. Andrew McCutchen-Pirates: .317, 20 HR, 84 RBI, 185 hits, 97 runs, 31 2B, 27 SB, .911 OPS, 8.2 WAR

Another whose impact was bigger than his numbers showed, the numbers were lower in several areas for The Cutch than they were a year ago, but his 2013 effort led the Pirates back to prosperity. Along the way, he finished in the top 10 in three in the NL in hits, on-base percentage and hit .339 after the All-Star Break.

3. Paul Goldschmidt-Diamondbacks: .302, 36 RBI, 125 RBI, 182 hits, 103 runs, 36 2B, 15 SB, .952 OPS, 7.0 WAR

Goldschmidt gave the stat sheet the Thanksgiving turkey treatment all summer, leading the NL in RBI, tying for the circuit lead in home runs and finishing in the top three in four other categories as well.

4. Matt Carpenter-Cardinals: .318, 11 HR, 78 RBI, 199 hits, 126 runs, 55 2B, 3 SB, .873 OPS, 6.6 WAR

Carpenter’s breakout season provided the spark to the Cardinal punch. He led the NL in hits, runs and doubles, as well as double plays turned in his first season at second base.

5. Freddie Freeman-Braves: .319, 23 HR, 109 RBI, 176 hits, 89 runs, 27 2B, 1 SB, .897 OPS, 5.5 WAR

Freeman was perhaps the most underrated player in baseball this season. Along the way, he finished third in both RBI and average, and was elected to his first All-Star Game.

6. Clayton Kershaw-Dodgers: 16-9, 1.83 ERA, 236 IP, 232 Ks/52 BB, 3 CG/2 SHO, 0.92 WHIP, .195 BAA

7. Hanley Ramirez-Dodgers: .345, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 105 hits, 62 runs, 25 2B, 10 SB, 1.040 OPS, 5.4 WAR

8. Joey Votto-Reds: .305, 24 HR, 73 RBI, 177 hits, 101 runs, 30 2B, 6 SB, .926 OPS, 6.4 WAR

9. Allen Craig-Cardinals: .315, 13 HR, 97 RBI, 160 hits, 71 runs, 29 2B, 2 SB, .830 OPS, 2.3 WAR

10. Jayson Werth-Nationals: .318, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 147 hits, 84 runs, 24 2B, 10 SB, .931 OPS, 4.8 WAR

Here it is, the full run of the CHEAP SEATS’ Baseball Bloggers Alliance Award rundown—the Award Tour.

Stan Musial Most Valuable Player Award

National League—Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

American League—Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

Walter Johnson Pitcher of the Year Award

National League—Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

American League—Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

Connie Mack Manager of the Year Award

National League—Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates

American League—John Farrell, Boston Red Sox

Willie Mays Rookie of the Year Award

National League—Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins

American League—Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays

Goose Gossage Relief Pitcher of the Year Award

National League—Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

American League—Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox

Yadier-Molina

Yet again the National League Central was home to one of the most diverse pennant races in the game a year ago. The Pittsburgh Pirates came out the gate with their best (and longest) runs in nearly 20 years, as they sat in first place at the All-Star Break, in front of the Cincinnati Reds and defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Yet, that grasp on the division didn’t last in the second half, a part of the year where the Milwaukee Brewers put together an assault on pushing into the postseason picture. But in the end, the Reds made the regular season their own down the stretch, winning the Central by nine games, the largest division title margin in either league. Yet, in the end, it was the St. Louis Cardinals who pushed their season the furthest from the Wild Card spot again, finishing one game away from a second consecutive World Series.

2012 Finish

1.                   Reds (97-65)
2.                   Cardinals (88-74)**
3.                   Brewers (83-79)
4.                   Pirates (79-83)
5.                   Cubs (61-101)
6.                   Astros (55-107)

This season, it’s a new division in where in the fact it’s a smaller division. Gone are the Houston Astros, who joined the Chicago Cubs as one of two 100 loss teams in the Central. That subtraction will make the fight for the division rougher in and of itself. The Reds are bringing in perhaps their most complete team of any season. The Cardinals loom constant in the division, as the most clutch team in baseball in the last two pennant chases. The Brewers and Pirates are both just outside the hump of the Cards/Reds, but both have shown plenty of fight and have made the changes needed to cut the division down. Meanwhile, the Cubs rebuilding continues, and they could be in position to spring a rise as well. So who’s the best in the revamped middle of the NL?

All Division Team

Catcher: Yadier Molina-Cardinals

First Base: Joey Votto-Reds

Second Base: Brandon Phillips-Reds

Third Base: Aramis Ramirez-Brewers

Shortstop: Starlin Castro-Cubs

Left Field: Ryan Braun-Brewers

Center Field: Andrew McCutchen-Pirates

Right Field: Jay Bruce-Reds

McCutchen took a huge step forward in 2012: his 194 hits led the NL and he gathered his first Gold Glove.

McCutchen took a huge step forward in 2012: his 194 hits led the NL and he gathered his first Gold Glove.

Starting Pitcher: Adam Wainwright-Cardinals

Starting Pitcher: Johnny Cuerto-Reds

Starting Pitcher: Yovani Gallardo-Brewers

Starting Pitcher: Mat Latos-Reds

Righty Relief: Mitchell Boggs-Cardinals

Lefty Relief: Sean Marshall-Reds

Closer: Aroldis Chapman-Reds

Top 10

  1. Ryan Braun, Brewers
  2. Joey Votto, Reds
  3. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
  4. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
  5. Aroldis Chapman, Reds
  6. Matt Holliday, Cardinals
  7. Brandon Phillips, Reds
  8. Jay Bruce, Reds
  9. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
  10. Starlin Castro, Cubs

Lineup

  1. Cardinals
  2. Brewers
  3. Reds
  4. Pirates
  5. Cubs

The Cardinals led the NL in hits a year ago, and finished in the top 5 in average, runs scored and total bases. With Jon Jay atop the lineup for a full season, those numbers could each increase. Meanwhile, sparked by Braun and a resurgent Aramis Ramirez, the Brewers seven of the eight everyday players reached double digits in home runs.

Cincinnati's All-Star tandem of Bruce and Votto combined for 79 doubles and 48 homers in 2012

Cincinnati’s All-Star tandem of Bruce and Votto combined for 79 doubles and 48 homers in 2012

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Reds (Votto/Ludwick/Bruce)
  2. Cardinals (Holliday/Craig/Freese)
  3. Brewers (Braun/Ramirez/Hart)
  4. Cubs (Rizzo/Soriano/Castro)
  5. Pirates (McCutchen/Jones/Alvarez)

The re-emergence of Ludwick (26 home runs, 80 RBI) gave the middle of the Reds line up some much needed right handed power. Votto had another now-standard type of season for him (.337 average, 40 doubles), despite missing over 50 games. Alfonso Soriano had a career-high 108 RBI and topped 30 homers for the first time in 5 years.

Table Setters

  1. Reds (Choo/Phillips)
  2. Cardinals (Jay/Beltran)
  3. Pirates (Marte/Walker)
  4. Brewers (Aoki/Weeks)
  5. Cubs (DeJesus/Schierholtz)

There’s a diverse group of lineup lead offs in Cincy. Choo and Phillips are both 20 homer/20 steal candidates, while Carlos Beltran is an early indicator of the big bats up and down the Cardinals lineup (32 homers, 97 RBI). Norichika Aoki had made a big debut, stealing 30 bags and adding 50 extra base hits as well.

Bench

  1. Pirates
  2. Brewers
  3. Cardinals
  4. Reds
  5. Cubs

Pittsburgh is taking to the strength in numbers approach. With Travis Snider, Jose Tabata and Gaby Sanchez all rotation in and out of the starting linup, there’s always going to be at least two impact bats in reserves. Add in John McDonald, and that’s a deep offering. The Cardinals depth is lead by the presence of a couple of Matt’s (Adams and Carpenter) that will offer various impacts for both resting and alternating lineup approaches.

Rotation

  1. Reds
  2. Cardinals
  3. Brewers
  4. Pirates
  5. Cubs

The Reds had a coming of age in their rotation a year ago. Four of their five starters reached double digits in wins to go along with ERA’s under 4.00; a result strong enough for the team to resist putting Aroldis Chapman in the rotation. The Cubs have boosted their rotation with Edwin Jackson, but the health of Matt Garza and return of Scott Baker are key to if this team can actually surprise the rest of the pack in the Central, which they have the potential to do.

Wainwright won 14 games and struck out 184 in nearly 200 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery.

Wainwright won 14 games and struck out 184 in nearly 200 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery.

1-2 Punch

  1. Reds (Cuerto/Latos)
  2. Cardinals (Wainwright/Lynn)
  3. Brewers (Gallardo/Lohse)
  4. Pirates (Burnett/Rodriguez)
  5. Cubs (Garza/Samardzija)

Johnny Cueto won 19 games with a 2.78 ERA last season, and continued his accent up the ranks of most underappreciated hurlers in baseball. Lance Lynn won 18 games in an up and down first season as a starter, and Adam Wainwright had a gradual yet impressive, 14-win return, from Tommy John surgery as well. A return completely from him gives the division a legitimate Cy Young front runner candidate.

Bullpen

  1. Reds
  2. Cardinals
  3. Cubs
  4. Brewers
  5. Pirates

The back end of the Reds bullpen is a nightmare. Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton are among the best left-right setup combos in baseball, and Chapman waits in the wings as arguably the best power pitcher in baseball (a record 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings). The Cardinals bullpen took a hit when Jason Motte was shutdown indefinitely with an elbow injury. He tied for the NL lead in saves with 42 a year ago.

Defense

  1. Reds
  2. Brewers
  3. Cardinals
  4. Cubs
  5. Pirates

There’s a trio of Gold Glove worthy centerfielders in the Central, with McCutchen, Jon Jay and Carlos Gomez. But there’s only one award to go out, and The Cutch took it home a year ago. Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto are among the elite defensive infielders in the game, while Yadier Molina (five consecutive GG’s) is among the greatest defensive catchers ever.

While the power in Milwaukee gets the headlines, the trio of Braun, Gomez and Aoki combined for 97 steals as well.

While the power in Milwaukee gets the headlines, the trio of Braun, Gomez and Aoki combined for 97 steals as well.

Speed

  1. Brewers
  2. Pirates
  3. Reds
  4. Cardinals
  5. Cubs

With the exception of Milwaukee, it is not a very fast division. The Brewers outfield of Braun, Gomez and Aoki each topped 30 steals, with a total of 97. Pittsburgh has an aggressive, quick team with Sterling Marte, Josh Harrison and McCutchen topping five triples.

Manager

  1. Dusty Baker, Reds
  2. Ron Roenicke, Brewers
  3. Mike Matheny, Cardinals
  4. Clint Hurdle, Pirates
  5. Dale Sveum, Cubs

Baker has pulled the Reds to two consecutive division championships, while the Cardinals as a team have reached the previous two National League Championship Series, which Matheny did as a rookie manager last year. Hurdle has the Pirates on the verge of snapping their record losing season streak, and received a two-year contract extension to do so.

Finances

  1. Cubs
  2. Cardinals
  3. Reds
  4. Brewers
  5. Pirates

The Cubs are in the midst of an intentional rebuilding run, but if they wanted to go all in immediately to fight into the picture, the funds are there. Team president Theo Epstein is just biding his time by building within, before inevitably releasing the okay to make the type of additions that no other team in the Central has the resources to match. The Cardinals shored up their final questionable contract situation for the foreseeable future by reaching a $97.5 million extension in March.

Impact Additions

  1. Shin-Soo Choo (Reds from Indians)
  2. Kyle Lohse (Brewers from Cardinals)
  3. Edwin Jackson (Cubs from Nationals)
  4. Randy Choate (Cardinals from Dodgers)
  5. Kyuji Fujikawa (Cubs via Japan)

Acquiring Choo, who is pending free agency, was a win-now move for the Reds who are looking to find a way to carry their regular season runs into October. After what felt like the longest, coldest winter ever, Kyle Lohse found a 3 year home in Milwaukee, in a move that could tilt the balance in the Central some.

In less than a year, the powerful Rizzo has become one of the biggest rebuilding pieces on the North Side.

In less than a year, the powerful Rizzo has become one of the biggest rebuilding pieces on the North Side.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  2. Todd Frazier, Reds
  3. Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
  4. Michael Fiers, Brewers
  5. Jeff Sarmardija, Cubs

Rizzo has raw power to spare, and as soon as he touched Chicago a year ago, he became the guy they built their lineup around. He hit 15 homers in his Cub debut, and shows the type of profile to become an All-Star as soon as this year. Frazier stepped when Votto went down last year and hit 19 homers as third and first baseman, as well as some outfield.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Oscar Tavares (Cardinals, Outfielder – AAA)
  2. Shelby Miller (Cardinals, Pitcher –MLB)
  3. Starling Marte (Pirates, Outfielder—MLB)
  4. Billy Hamilton (Reds, Center Field—AAA)
  5. Garret Cole (Pirates, Pitcher—AAA)

The Cardinals top two prospects are ready to burst into the MLB scene, but only one has a clear path. Tavares hit like he belonged in the spring, but Miller will get his day in the sun first, as he made the club as fifth starter. Hamilton has stolen 258 bases the last two years in the Reds system, and as soon as he finds a position, he’ll be among the elite speedsters in the MLB too.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Reds
  2. Cardinals
  3. Brewers
  4. Pirates
  5. Cubs

While 2012’s Central was the scene of the biggest gap between the best and worst in baseball, which is a thing of the past. There are four legitimate contenders for the postseason bunched together, and if everything plays out as it forecasts, it will be the toughest division to get out of in baseball. While it has produced three of the last six Wild Card winners, winning this division will never have been more important, because the chance to rack up wins, without a title, is going to be difficult.

One thing is certain, is that every team can hit in the division, so the margins of who can keep their red flags flying the lowest is of the utmost importance. The two-time runners up in St. Louis have the talent to win the division, but have the challenge of staying healthy in front of them, as well as a lot of “ifs” regarding their pitching staff. The Brewers can hit, and worked on their pitching some, but the staff as whole is still a cut below St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Winning it one way will be tough. As for the Cubs, they are quietly improving, but it’s going to be closer to two years off before they have everything in place to factor back into the race.

That leaves the Reds in a similar position. They have the bats, pitching and ballpark to shape the division in their favor. The decision to leave Chapman in the bullpen gives them the most dominant unit of any team in the division via their pitching staff. They can play defense behind them, and get the runs to support their effort consistently. If Joey Votto’s knee is healthy, Shin-Soo Choo can be steady enough in the field at his new position in center and health continues to be their ally (only two non-rotation starts in all of 2012), they will hold off the pack, and take their third consecutive Central title. But what happens from there…is still uncertain.

For more on the season to come, and everything Opening to closing Day related, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Justin Verlander

A couple of weeks ago, I broke the Top 100 Players in Baseball coming into 2013. As to be expected, it cause several levels of debate, from the way that such a decision was arrived at, all the way down to the results in the end. As the course of it went along, the players were ranked as a large pool, not by position, and in the end, some players landed interesting places.

But what is does this say about the strength of each position in game? If you go back and take it apart to assess “who’s the best (fill in blank position) in baseball, what does my Top 100 say about that. Well to save the time on that, I’ve done it for you. Today we’ll rank the Top 5 players by position, as well as breakdown what the game looks like at each spot both today, and moving forward.

To refresh on the entire list, head to The Sports Fan Journal, where the full Five Part Series is listed here.

 

Catcher

13. Buster Posey

15. Yadier Molina

38. Joe Mauer

81. Matt Wieters

92. Brian McCann

Catcher was tough at the top, with the margin between Posey and Molina nearly requiring a daily check of the box score to decide who’s better on that day. Overall, only six catchers made the list, with Miguel Montero being the only one missing here.

First Base

8. Joey Votto

9. Albert Pujols

23. Prince Fielder

33. Adrian Gonzalez

39. Mark Teixeira

Votto and Pujols are another pair that can trade off by the day, but overall the entire first base position could be in a different place by next year. Fielder, Gonzalez and Teixeira all had career-low efforts in some of their signature categories last season, which an upswing could pull each of them back to the top 25.

dustin-pedroia

Second Base

5. Robinson Cano

36. Brandon Phillips

47. Dustin Pedroia

58. Ian Kinsler

98. Chase Utley

It’s Cano, and then everybody else. Robby is on the verge of pushing for the best in the game period, but everybody else isn’t so bad overall; but they pale in comparison. The 31 slot difference between Cano and Phillips is easily the largest of any other everyday position.

Third Base

1. Miguel Cabrera

16. Evan Longoria

18. David Wright

22. Adrian Beltre

42. Ryan Zimmerman

Quiet as kept, the current group of third baseman around the league could be the most impressive group of any era in baseball history. This group has multiple MVP-caliber competitors as well as the last two World Series MVPs in Pablo Sandoval and David Freese as well.

Shortstop

24. Troy Tulowitzki

28. Jose Reyes

53. Elvis Andrus

56. Starlin Castro

59. Hanley Ramirez

Shortstop as a whole is a position that’s steady across the board, but is in transition some. Andrus, Castro and Ian Desmond are emerging, and prospect Jurickson Profar could easily force his way into the mix. But Tulowitzki remains the best due to a mixture of potential, and few legit challengers to his class thus far.

Carlos_Gonzalez white classic

Left Field

3. Ryan Braun

4. Mike Trout

19. Carlos Gonzalez

29. Matt Holliday

45. Bryce Harper

With Trout moving over to the left corner, the position has taken a swing upward. The Harper/Trout era will now pit them against each other from the same position, so for comparison’s sake, this is a story that just keeps getting better.

Center Field

7. Matt Kemp

10. Andrew McCutchen

35. Adam Jones

41. Curtis Granderson

61. Jacoby Ellsbury

What fantastically deep group there is roaming the middle of the outfield there is in the game today. Kemp, McCutchen, Jones and Ellsbury have each been major players in each of the last two MVP races. It’s a deep position as well, with Michael Bourn, Austin Jackson and Shin-Soo Choo all representing the diversity that comprises the spot now.

Right Field

12. Josh Hamilton

20. Jose Bautista

32. Giancarlo Stanton

54. Jason Heyward

62. Jay Bruce

No position may have more raw power than right field right now. Stanton is a 50 home run season waiting to happen, and Bautista has already passed the mark. Heyward and Bruce are as well-rounded players as imaginable on the corner, and neither is close to their 30th birthday.

Starting Pitcher

2. Justin Verlander

5. Clayton Kershaw

11. Felix Hernandez

14. David Price

21. Stephen Strasberg

Picking the top 5 pitchers in baseball is a task at best. Especially in the current era of wide spread dominance, staying on top is truly an impressive feat, which Verlander has pulled off in 2011-12. Strasberg appears after giving a glimpse of what could be in only 159 innings last year, but a case could be made for no less than 10 other arms to crack into the top 5 with no real arguments.

Relief Pitcher

17. Craig Kimbrel

37. Mariano Rivera

55. Jonathan Papelbon

78. Fernando Rodney

86. Jim Johnson

Considering that Aroldis Chapman will move to the starting rotation, Kimbrel’s position as the best ninth inning guy in the game is virtually untouched. Rivera and Papelbon have consistency on their side, but an emerging group of closers featuring Johnson, Jason Motte and Sergio Romo are all closing in on overall elite league status as well.

 

That’s what it is for now for the year in looking at the players, but coming up next week it’s time to look at the teams, with the third annual CSP divisional previews. Until then, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan for up the second info on everything I’m up to.

Los Angeles Dodgers Photo Day

It’s tough to do an intro to the very best of the game and just why they are, so I won’t bother. The credentials on the best of the top 100 players in baseball are below and speak for themselves. But just to quantify why they are who they are, this is a rundown of just what they have accomplished along the way:

  • 10 Players
  • Nine MVP/Cy Young Awards
  • 40 All-Star appearances
  • Five World Series Championships
  • And $134,000,000 coming their way this season

All things considered, they’re worth it. It is a level where 30 home run seasons are answered with “What’s wrong with him?” instead of congratulations for the effort. Where if they give up a home run from the mound, there’s legitimate shock. It’s also a place where there’s constantly someone else pushing you, where an injury or simple down year (by their standards) gets them seen as having a “bad” season. Dominance is what it takes to get to this level, but answering expectations, repeatedly, is what it takes to stay here.

Here’s the 10 best in the world at doing just that. For now at least …

 

10. Andrew McCutchen-Center Field-Pittsburgh Pirates: The Cutch nearly became not just the undisputed man in Pittsburgh a year ago, but nearly all of baseball. His tear through the first half landed him a starting All-Star gig and firm placement in the MVP race. While the Pirates faded in the second half, he still led the National League in hits with 194 and set other career highs in home runs (31), RBI (96) and average (.327), while also topping 20 stolen bases for the fourth consecutive year.

9. Albert Pujols-First Base-Los Angeles Angels: He had a down year in 2012, hitting “only” .285. But for the unmatched historic standard he set for himself in his first decade in the game (posting averages of 40 homers, 121 RBI and hitting .323), it’s understandable why  a career-low 30 home runs is frowned at. He’ll pass 500 home runs and 1,500 RBI in his upcoming 12th season and remains the most devastating first-base bat of all-time.

8. Joey Votto-First Base-Cincinnati Reds: For as good as Pujols still is, Votto’s all-around game has edged him to top of the first base heap. He hit 44 doubles before being curbed by a knee injury in July, which landed him 24 off of setting a new record, despite missing two months. He’s a line-drive hitting terror with a .313 career average and has led the NL in on-base percentage for the past three seasons. As testament to his steady approach, he has only popped out 10 times in his career.

7. Matt Kemp-Center Field-Los Angeles Dodgers: If not for a hamstring injury that sent him to the disabled list for the first time in his career, Kemp was set up for another tear through the summer. He launched 12 homers in April alone before the injury and still rebounded to hit a respectable 23 on the year despite missing 50 games. Consider that to be a glimpse of what could have been for the man one year removed from 39-homer/40-steal 2011…..

 

To see the rest of where this year’s CSP Top 100 Players ends at, head over to The Sports Fan Journal now: http://www.thesportsfanjournal.com/sports/baseball/the-2013-top-100-players-in-baseball-the-top-10/#sthash.qpLfExvj.dpuf

 

And for more in real-time, as well as the world on the World Baseball Classic, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.