Posts Tagged ‘MLB’

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In recent years, the left field position has been a blend of what makes the other two spots across the outfield significant. It is home a variety of legit corner outfield power threats, but also features a stash of defensively significant, speed based threats as well.

This year is no different, as the position is home to a grouping of diversely talent players capable of changing the game at any part of it. There are standard bearers who change the game defensively first, to an extent that is shockingly impactful from the spot. There is also a blend of true power conduits, who’s first and foremost goal is to punish the seats beyond the wall. There are also extents of true Five-Tool players, who do a little bit –as well as a lot— of everything across all nine innings.

This all adds up to say there are a lot of ways to make it among the elite at a position that calls upon so many different types of players to make their mark for their respective clubs. But it is also a spot that calls for much from its top-tier producers to stand out amongst each other. So with that, let’s have a look at the best of the best at the very diverse position.

To see last year’s rankings of the position, click here.

 

10. Kyle Schwarber, Cubs (Not Ranked in 2015)

2015: .246/.355/.487, 16 HR, 43 RBI, 6 doubles, 52 runs scored, 3 stolen bases, .842 OPS

He made as big of a late season impact as any rookie in the game. After his late season promotion to Chicago, Schwarber made a habit of launching tape measure shots, launching 13 bombs over the final two months of the season. While he did have some adjustment difficulties once the league got a look at him, hitting .143 versus lefties and .214 over the final two months, his ability to change the game instantly was invaluable.

He played his best ball in the postseason, as he hit .333 and connected for 5 home runs, becoming the Cubs’ all-time postseason leader in the process (dwell on that). And as the currently converted catcher continues to get comfortable in left field, he should embark on the currently carved course of becoming one of the most feared power threats in the National League.

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9. Matt Holliday, Cardinals (#7 in ’15)

2015: .279/.394/.410, 4 HR, 35 RBI, 16 doubles, 24 runs scored, 2 stolen bases, .804 OPS

Last 3 Years: .284/.382/.455 15 HR, 73 RBI, 28 doubles, 70 runs scored, 4 stolen bases, .837 OPS

Injuries severely limited Holliday a year ago, as he twice was sent to the disabled list with a quadriceps that limited him to 73 games. And even before the injury hit, his power numbers were drastically down and stayed low on the other side of his late season return, as hit connected for a career-low four home runs at

What did remain elite for Holliday was his on-base percentage however. He had a very strong first half in that regard before his first injury took him out. He posted a .394 mark on the year, which was fueled by his National League-record setting 45 game streak. If Holliday can re-emerge with a strengthened lower body again, he could remain a solid lower middle of the order presence, even if his elite power days are permanently behind him.

 

8. Christian Yelich, Marlins (#10 in ’15)

2015: .300/.366/.416, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 30 doubles, 63 runs scored, 16 stolen bases, .782 OPS

Last 3 Years: .290/.365/.406 7 HR, 38 RBI, 24 doubles, 64 runs scored, 16 stolen bases, .771 OPS

He overcame a very slow start to 2015 to post improvements across the board for a third consecutive year. This included career best in batting average and on-base percentage, while keeping his extra base hit, stolen base and runs scored levels consistent. He is rounding into becoming one of the more talented top of the lineup hitters in the National League, while continuing to play one of the best defensive left fields in the game.

A player that is entering his age-24 season and has continued to increase his power ratios, while not sacrificing his speed and continuing to increase his contact rate and batting average is a dangerously complete player. He matched his Wins Above Replacement level from his strong 2014 in 18 fewer games a year ago.

 

7. David Peralta, Diamondbacks (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .312/.371/.522, 17 HR, 78 RBI, 26 doubles, 61 runs scored, 9 stolen bases, .893 OPS

Last 2 Years: .301/.351/.492, 12 HR, 57 RBI, 50 runs scored, 8 stolen bases, .842 OPS

Peralta made an understated impact at the core of the Diamondback lineup and played a major part in why they became one of the biggest sleeper successes in baseball a year ago. Peralta took full advantage of his first opportunity as a full-time starter, totaling 53 extra base hits, good enough to finish in the NL top 10 for slugging percentage and on-base + slugging. Add in the fact that he also led the circuit in triples as well, and the sudden intrigue that is Peralta is complete—almost.

Peralta’s late emergence as a hitter is due to the fact that he spent most of his early career as pitcher before converting to an everyday outfielder. With A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt hitting ahead of him, Peralta should continue to be fed plenty of at-bats with ducks on the pond to knock in.

 

6. Ryan Braun, Brewers (#7 in right field in ’15)

2015: .285/.356/.498 25 HR, 84 RBI, 27 doubles, 87 runs scored, 24 stolen bases, .854 OPS

Last 3 Years: .279/.346/.479 18 HR, 68 RBI, 24 doubles, 62 runs scored, 13 stolen bases, .825 OPS

Braun will be returning to the position where he originally rose to prominence in 2016, and will also be doing so on the heels of a renaissance year of sorts. Braun’s production had noticeably dipped post-PED suspension and was also fueled by a string of hand injuries. However, he showed a year ago that he still has plenty of hits left in his bat, and more.

Braun pulled his slugging percentage back up to the doorstep of .500, hitting 25 homers and driving in 84 amid a mostly injured and traded away Brewer lineup. He was a presence on the base paths once again as well, swiping 24 bags and scoring 87 runs.

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5. Justin Upton, Tigers (#5 in ’15)

2015: .251/.336/.454 26 HR, 81 RBI, 26 doubles, 85 runs scored, 19 stolen bases, .790 OPS

Last 3 Years: .262/.344/.470 27 HR, 84 RBI, 29 doubles, 85 runs scored, 12 stolen bases, .814 OPS

Despite being saddled with the daunting task of Petco Park for a year, Upton proved that his power was Petco-proof, as he hit 15 of his 26 home runs at home. While never a ‘leading man’ in the sense of driving an offense single-handedly, Upton has been one of the most consistent power sources in the National League since breaking in as a 19 year old with the Diamondbacks. He has hit north of 26 home runs in four of the past five years, and reinserted the speed element back into his game last year as well, swiping 19 bases, his most since 2011.

As he relocates to Detroit this season, he will be hitting in one of the most enviable positions in the game: in front of Miguel Cabrera. An uptick in fastballs should come his way as a result, combined with having Ian Kinsler roaming the bases in front of him, should prove that his decision to bide his time and land with the Tigers could be a very healthy decision for him.

 

4. Starling Marte, Pirates (#3 in ’15)

2015: .287/.337/.444 19 HR, 81 RBI, 30 doubles, 84 runs scored, 30 stolen bases, .780 OPS

Last 3 Years: .286/.345/.446 15 HR, 57 RBI, 28 doubles, 80 runs scored, 34 stolen bases, .790 OPS

Marte’s varied attack upon a game of baseball continued to reach new heights last summer. In addition to his standard issue 30 stolen bases, wide-spanning defensive exploits (for which he netted his first Gold Glove) and .780+ OPS, Marte expanded his pure power and run production numbers as well. He clubbed career-highs in home runs, hits and RBI, while playing a career-best 153 games.

In the Pirates’ relentless offense, Marte has become an indispensable keystone atop the Pirates lineup. However, with the departures of Neil Walker and emergence of Gregory Polanco, Marte will be able to continue his growth as a run producer from the cleanup spot this season. With Polanco, Josh Harrison and Andrew McCutchen among those that will be ahead of him on a daily basis, Marte could stand to see yet another 20+ runs batted in attached to his 2016 total.

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3. Alex Gordon, Royals (#1 in ’15)

2015: .271/.377/.432 13 HR, 48 RBI, 18 doubles, 40 runs scored, 2 stolen bases, .809 OPS

Last 3 Years: .267/.348/.428 17 HR, 68 RBI, 26 doubles, 72 runs scored, 8 stolen bases, .776 OPS

All in all, Gordon, who came in at the number 1 spot on this list a year ago, had a season that mostly lived up to his standard offering last year. He made his third consecutive All-Star Game, was playing the tremendous defensive that has become his calling card and was actually having his best offensive year overall in some time (44 defensive runs saved since 2013). He carries a strong career on-base percentage of .348, and the .377 mark he posted last year would have been a new career high if held over a full season.

However, a nasty groin injury took him out for a month and a half mid-summer, and it took him some time to get back into form. While his defense slid some (he missed out on a fifth consecutive Gold Glove) and his average dipped as well, that was to be expected as he essential rehabbed while still returning to the lineup. Gordon still remains one of the most versatile presences in all of the game, capable of both setting the table and regularly driving in runs as well (87+ runs scored as well as 70+ RBI in each of his past four full seasons). He was worth every penny of the Royals-record contract he inked to remain the face of the franchise and second greatest player in franchise history, and should continue to remain at the All-Star level he has made his custom.

 

2. Michael Brantley, Indians (#2 in ’15)

2015: .310/.379/.480 15 HR, 84 RBI, 45 doubles, 68 runs scored, 15 stolen bases, .859 OPS

Last 3 Years: .308/.366/.462 15 HR, 85 RBI, 39 doubles, 76 runs scored, 18 stolen bases, .828 OPS

Brantley proved that his breakout 2014 season was no fluke, as he continued to hit at an elite level in all of the game last summer. His 45 doubles led the American League, and overall, only Miguel Cabrera and Jose Altuve have hit for a higher average than his .319 since the start of 2014.

Brantley has quietly become one of the best hitters that (cliché time) “nobody talks about”. But over the past two seasons, his effectiveness at the plate has been at an irreproachable level at the position. A patient hitter who gets the most out of his at-bats, Brantley walked nine more times than he struck out last year, while also cutting his K’s while raising his walk total for the third straight year. He also has made the most of his time on base, by also leading the AL in overall doubles and being successful in 38 of his last 40 stolen base attempts. Brantley has 563 total bases over the past two seasons, as he is just a year removed from a 200-hit campaign and a top three finish in the 2014 AL MVP vote.

 

1. Yoenis Cespedes, Mets (#8 in ’15)

2015: .291/.328/.542 35 HR, 105 RBI, 42 doubles, 101 runs scored, 7 stolen bases, .870 OPS

Last 3 Years: .265/.309/.481 28 HR, 95 RBI, 33 doubles, 88 runs scored, 7 stolen bases, .789 OPS

From day one since he broke in with the Oakland A’s, Cespedes has been one of the most freakish athletes in the game, looking better suited to be strong safety in the NFL than a multi-tooled Major League outfielder. But the latter is what he is and few players have the buffet of abilities that Cespedes puts on display on a nightly basis. Whether it be launching the long ball over the fence at a break neck speed, hawking down a ball in the gap or letting loose a laser beam throw to cut down a runner, Cespedes is one of the rare players that can change the game in every aspect possible.

But what he did in he did in his breakout 2015 was a coming of age of sorts for Cespedes turning those tools into an every night impact. After a deadline deal that sent him to the Mets over from the Detroit Tigers, Cespedes produced full-season type numbers in the course of eight weeks. In 57 games, he hammered National League pitching to the tone of a 17 home runs, a .604 slugging % and .942 on-base + slugging percentage. Over course of his time in New York, the Mets’ offensive production increased by three runs per game, the majority reason why they were able to run away with National League East title. MVP’s are not won in two months’ time, but Cespedes certainly made enough people consider it as a rational possibility.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Brett Gardner, Yankees; Khris Davis, Athletics; Melky Cabrera, White Sox.

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Houston Astros' Carlos Correa throws before a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox Monday, June 8, 2015 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Without a doubt, no position in baseball underwent a more drastic face lift over the past year than shortstop did. The youth movement of the past two years has been aggressive focused at the infield’s most vital position, and as a result, many of the game’s most exciting young talents find themselves battling out for supremacy at the spot, some still yet to even see their first Opening Day as a Major Leaguer.

That is the mark of some substantial talent to be able to make such an impact in such a quick fashion. And the majority of it has been focused in the American League, where no less than seven of the players to come call home. However, do not write off the veterans at the position, many of which are still producing at an elite level at the spot and some of which are continuing to ascend the ladder, in spite of all of the young bloods making their mark.

This is a position that is a virtual certain to create a plethora of All-Star ‘snubs’ over the next few seasons, but the level of competition should be as good as it has been in nearly two decades. All of this, and the game’s top prospect calls the position home and is primed to begin his full-time assault on National League pitching this upcoming year.

Shortstop is once again one of the most exciting positions in the game, and here is how the spot pulls apart when pitted against each other.

To review last year’s rankings, click here.

 

10. Jose Iglesias, Tigers

2015: .300/.347/.370, 2 HR, 23 RBI, 17 doubles, 44 runs scored, 11 stolen bases, .717 OPS

Last 3 Years: .287/.336/.362, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 12 doubles, 29 runs scored, 6 stolen bases, .698 OPS

After missing the entire 2014 season due to a stress fractures in both shins, Iglesias returned to the field better than he left it in 2013. The runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year that season, he took his game to the next level in his second full season, making the American League All-Star team after hitting .314 and stealing 9 bases in the first half of the season.

Injuries again impacted his ability to stay on the field in the second half of the season, as a stress fracture in his middle finger cut his season short after 120 games. Iglesias would likely be higher on this list if not for the constant occurrence of freakish injuries in his young career. But as the owner of an impressive 4.22 range factor for his career, the dual threat Iglesias is poised to do nothing but rise in years to come.

 

9. Elvis Andrus, Rangers

2015: .258/.309/.357, 7 HR, 62 RBI, 34 doubles, 69 runs scored, 25 stolen bases, .667 OPS

Last 3 Years: .264/.317/.340, 4 HR, 57 RBI, 29 doubles, 77 runs scored, 31 stolen bases, .657 OPS

It has been an interesting ride for Andrus over the past few years, as his career has gone on a ride in a number of different ways. For a few years, his output slid overall, seeing his batting average, stolen bases and even fielding metrics take a dive.

However, Andrus made a turnaround of sorts last year. While his offensive metrics continued to slide overall, most noticeably in his defensive impact yet again.

 

8. Ian Desmond, Free Agent

2015: .233/.290/.384, 19 HR, 62 RBI, 27 doubles, 69 runs scored, 13 stolen bases, .674 OPS

Last 3 Years: .256/.311/.423, 21 HR, 78 RBI, 30 doubles, 73 runs scored, 19 stolen bases, .734 OPS

Desmond had established himself as the offensive standard at shortstop over the past few years, winning three consecutive Silver Slugger awards coming into 2015. This came on the back of three straight years north of 20 home runs and driving in 80+ in each of the previous two years, while also stealing 20 bases in each year as well.

However, 2015 was a brutal year for Desmond, seeing his average dip by 22 points and his on-base percentage fall beneath .300. Toss in the fact that his errors continued to climb higher in the 20’s for the third straight year to a MLB-high 27, and Desmond had a rough year. And while a position change could be in store for him, Desmond remains one of the most dangerous bats at the position in all of the game.

Jun 14, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians designated hitter Francisco Lindor (12) reacts to tripping over first base after he hits a single in the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

7. Francisco Lindor, Indians

2015: .313/.350/.482, 12 HR, 51 RBI, 22 doubles, 50 runs scored, 12 stolen bases, .835 OPS

The Indians’ top prospect entering the year, Lindor made good on that tag once he got his opportunity in the big leagues, and did so in a way that was rather unexpected.

Lindor never hit higher than .303 as a minor leaguer over a full season, which he did at level A at the age of 19. He seemed more destined to be a light-hitting, glove first guy up the middle with some speed. Lindor’s offensive output got better and better throughout the year, hitting a peak at .370 in August, before coming back to still impressive .325 in September. While this is likely unsustainable, Lindor did not disappoint with ticketed range in the field either, and by showing there’s some impact to be had in his bat as well, he added yet another intriguing young presence at the deepening talent pool of AL shortstops.

 

6. Andrelton Simmons, Angels

2015: .265/.321/.338, 4 HR, 44 RBI, 23 doubles, 60 runs scored, 5 stolen bases, .660 OPS

Last 3 Years: .252/.301/.357, 9 HR, 50 RBI, 23 doubles, 60 runs scored, 5 stolen bases, .658 OPS

The offensive numbers, while improving, will not wow anyone in regards to Simmons. His .265 average in 2015 was a career high and second-best among NL shortstops, but it still is a rather pedestrian number, as are all of his on-base and power metrics.

However, what is not anywhere near average about Simmons is his defensive prowess, where he is unmatched among infielders in the game today. Since entering the league in 2012, he has posted an insane 15.2 defensive WAR figure, far and away the best in the game at the position. In 2015, he had only eight errors in 687 total chances, while having the second best total range factor in the game. In layman’s terms, he gets to more balls without negative outcome than anybody else in the game, which is the equivalent of carrying a Bryce Harper-like impact at the plate, only with his glove.

 

5. Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals

2015: .275/.334/.411, 17 HR, 71 RBI, 26 doubles, 64 runs scored, 1 stolen base, .745 OPS

Last 3 Years: .278/.341/.435, 16 HR, 67 RBI, 31 doubles, 58 runs scored, 2 stolen bases, .776 OPS

Peralta became a National League All-Star for the first time a year ago, as well as three-timer overall. It came on the heels of year where he blazed out of the gates in the first half, hitting for a .298 average with 13 home runs, a .355 on-base % and stellar .828 OPS. He was the most important offensive presence for the Cardinals, as they began their climb towards carrying the best record in baseball throughout the balance of the regular season.

However, his production tailed off in the second half, as fatigue seemed to weigh in (he started 147 games, the third most in his career), but his offensive totals were still strong. He topped 70 RBI for the second consecutive year and finished in the top 3 of all MLB shortstops in average, RBI and on-base percentage.

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4. Troy Tulowitzki, Blue Jays

2015: .280/.337/.440, 17 HR, 70 RBI, 27 doubles, 77 runs scored, 1 stolen base, .777 OPS

Last 3 Years: .306/.381/.517, 21 HR, 68 RBI, 24 doubles, 73 runs scored, 1 stolen base, .899 OPS

Tulo is a tricky ranking for a number of reasons. Chief among them all is that he has been so much better than any other shortstop in the game for so long now that it is hard to say if his 2015 season was an aberration or a shift towards a slight decline? And it is not as if he was bad overall last season, but when your average season over the past three years prior to 2015 is was a .316/.399/.551 split line, it is a noticeable decline.

There is also the question of the impact that moving away from Coors Field could have on him. After heading to Toronto, Tulowitzki only carried a .317 on base percentage and managed 13 extra base hits in 183 plate appearances. This is a concerning decline, but too small of a sample size to write him off as having his best days behind him in full. He has earned the benefit of the doubt, and at entering only his age 31 season and being based in a very home run friendly Rogers Centre, Tulo should still produce quite well.

 

3. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox

2015: .320/.355/.421, 7 HR, 81 RBI, 35 doubles, 84 runs scored, 10 stolen bases, .776 OPS

Last 3 Years: .281/.327/.392, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 22 doubles, 50 runs scored, 4 stolen bases, .720 OPS

Bogearts made one of the biggest leaps forward in the game last year, as he made the most of his unquestioned year opportunity as Sox shortstop. Both his 196 hits and .320 average were good for the second best totals in the American League, and helped him net a Silver Slugger award as a result. While his home run total dipped by five from his rookie year, nearly everything else rose exponentially for Bogaerts, most noticeably an 80 point swing in batting average, a slugging % bump from .362 to .421 and 37 less strikeouts.

With the days of him seeing matinee time at third base behind him, Bogaerts rounded into form defensively as well. His .984 fielding % was second base in the AL, as he had one more error in 2015 than he had in 2014—while playing 480 more innings at shortstop than he had the year before.

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2. Brandon Crawford, Giants

2015: .256/.321/.462, 21 HR, 84 RBI, 33 doubles, 65 runs scored, 6 stolen bases, .782 OPS

Last 3 Years: .251/.319/.405, 13 HR, 65 RBI, 26 doubles, 57 runs scored, 4 stolen bases, .724 OPS

He was one of baseball’s most underrated presences for years; a defensive wizard in the truest sense of the term. Crawford’s glove was a pivotal part of the last two World Series championships in San Francisco, and his abilities even rivaled that of Andrelton Simmons, whom he finally overtook for his first Gold Glove a year ago.

And while his defensive standard remains superb (Crawford led the NL in total zone runs saved at 19 and totaled the second most assists in the league as well), he also added some legit punch to his presence at the plate as well. Crawford hit 21 home runs and drove in 84 runs a year ago, both finishing as tops among all MLB shortstops. His 33 doubles were the second most at the position, behind Bogaerts’ 35. All in all, he added both an All-Star debut and a Silver Slugger to his impressive 2015, and firmly moved himself into elite overall players at the position.

 

1. Carlos Correa, Astros

2015: .279/.345/.512, 22 HR, 68 RBI, 22 doubles, 52 runs scored, 14 stolen bases, .857

Disclaimer: this may seem like a rush to the crown, and I understand that.

I mean, being rational, there should be no way that a guy with 99 career games should be considered the best in the game at his position. However, Correa has made a habit of proving that the rules do not apply to him. And after a year where he won Rookie of the Year at 20 years old, became the second youngest player to ever have a multi-home run game and simutenously became the catalyst of the Astros’ resurgence, it is safe to say he has earned his keep here.

The top pick in the 2012 Amateur Draft, Correa is the most well-rounded shortstop talent to debut since Alex Rodriguez. And even A-Rod couldn’t match Correa’s output in his first full season (albeit he did it a year earlier as a 19 year old). Correa’s debut, when projected over a full season, would have yielded 36 home runs, 36 doubles 23 stolen bases, 111 RBI and would have seen him reach a grand total of 324 bases, which would have been good for 6th in the Majors and 66 more than any other shortstop.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Alcides Escobar, Royals; Erick Aybar, Braves; Jose Reyes, Rockies.

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Spring Training is coming around again, and thus means that all is preparing to be well in the world. The best of the best in the game are dusting off the tools of their trade and preparing to get back to business around the diamonds of Major League Baseball.

And in what has become an annual tradition here in the CHEAP SEATS, it is prime time to take stock of the best of the best in the game today at each of those roles around the field. Over the next month, the top 10 players at each position in the game will be pitted against each other and ranked to determine who the best is today.

Where else better than to start such a countdown than at the nucleus of any baseball team: with the catcher? In recent years, there has been an ebb and flow at the top of the catching mountain between the defensive mastery of Yadier Molina and the comprehensiveness of Buster Posey. While a few others have jockeyed for position, they have proven to be an air-tight duo.

 

10. Stephen Vogt, Athletics (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .261/.341/.443, 18 HR, 71 RBI, 21 doubles; 32% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .265/.327/.432, 10 HR, 41 RBI, 12 doubles

It was a tale of two halves for Vogt during his breakout 2015 year. After swinging his way into an All-Star birth during a first half that saw him post 14 home runs and a .287 average, Vogt plummeted in the second half. Perhaps it was the wear and tear of playing a full slate of games behind the plate for the first time, but his numbers dipped to a .217/.280/.349 split in 51 post-ASG games and he managed only four home runs and 15 RBI in that run.

Vogt’s first half showed what he is capable of at full capacity, but it remains to be seen if he is built for the life of a dual-threat catcher.

 

9. Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .234/.353/.403, 16 HR, 47 RBI, 12 doubles; 29% caught stealing, 3.34 CERA

Last Three Years: .228/.341/.395, 11 HR, 35 RBI, 13 doubles

Grandal splits some time with A.J. Ellis still behind the plate, but he is the vastly superior offensive option between the two and should see more and more time as he continues to mature as a backstop. Grandal at age 27 has battled some health issues in the past, including a shoulder injury that slowed his second half in 2015. But in being liberation of Petco Park, he predictably produced his strongest offensive year during his first full year away from it.

His eye at the plate improved last season (an increase in walks combined with a steep decline in strikeouts), which produced a career-best .353 on-base percentage. He profiles to produce plus power from behind the plate, although his switch hitting future is likely as a first baseman.

 

8.Francisco Cervelli, Pirates (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .295/.370/.401, 7 HR, 43 RBI, 17 doubles; 22% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .294/.370/.401, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 10 doubles

Cervelli followed in the footsteps of Russell Martin in becoming a former Yankee catcher who made the most of a full-time opportunity in Pittsburgh. In his first season as a frontline backstop, Cervelli proved that he could maintain his career trend of producing high on-base and extra base hit totals in a full-time role as well.

Of NL catchers that qualified for the batting title, Cervelli’s .370 on-base percentage was second behind only Buster Posey –and by a slim .009 margin. He also added in an eye-raising total of five triples, which shows a rare athleticism for the position as well. Cervelli profiles to continue to rise further and further up the power ranks of MLB catchers in the immediate sense.

 

7.Derek Norris, Padres (#10 in ’15)

2015: .250/.305/.404, 14 HR, 62 RBI, 33 doubles; 34% caught stealing

Last Three Years: .256/.333/.405, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 23 doubles

While he did not make a return to the All-Star Game again in 2015, Norris still produced a strong season amid his transition to the National League. He set career-highs in games played (147), hits (129), runs (65), home runs (14) and RBI (62). Albeit, these counting stat totals are dampened by an extreme fall off in his on-base percentage and a huge jump in strikeouts.

Yet this is all balanced out by the fact that he has become a much more mature backstop in the process. He threw out 17% more would be base stealers last year and guided the talented Padres staff well. Further NL familiarity could provide for his most balanced season to date this upcoming year.

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6. Brian McCann, Yankees (#7 in ’15)

2015: .232/.320/.437, 26 HR, 94 RBI, 15 doubles; 36% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .239/.312/.432, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 14 doubles

McCann remains the most reliable and consistent power conduit at the position in the game. 2015 marked the eighth consecutive year that he hit at least 20 home runs. This should be given due deference, especially considering that the only other catchers to do this in the history of the game are Hall of Famers Mike Piazza and Yogi Berra.

Furthering the point, it was the ninth season overall that McCann reached 20 long balls, which joins him with Johnny Bench and Gary Carter as well as the only catchers to reach that level.

His consistency is shown in the fact that he also played in 275 of the Yankees’ 324 games since he joined the club before the 2014 season, with 234 of them coming behind the plate. He’s a silently, consistent soldier amid baseball’s most spotlighted team.

 

5. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers (#3 in ’15)

2015: .264/.326/.391, 7 HR, 43 RBI, 20 doubles; 28% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .284/.349/.443, 13 HR, 65 RBI, 33 doubles

Injuries kept Lucroy out of the lineup for a little over a month last season and also slowed his production at the plate from hitting full mass until late in the year….just in time for a concussion to end his year prematurely. However that should not erase the memory what he was capable of doing at full speed just two years ago. The master pitch framing technician finished in the top 5 in NL MVP voting, after producing a .301 average to go along with 66 extra base hits.

With his health abiding, as well as a stated desire to play for a contender (something that he will not be a part of in Milwaukee) this year should an audition year of sorts for the 29-year-old backstop, as he either vies for a trade or simply proves that he still is who we (or perhaps “I”, based on this ranking) think he is.

 

4. Salvador Perez, Royals (#4 in ’15)

2015: .260/.280/.426, 21 HR, 70 RBI, 25 doubles; 31% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .270/.297/.420, 17 HR, 73 RBI, 26 doubles

The most constant presence amid the Royals’ rise to the top of the baseball world, Perez is by and far the game’s top young backstop and has continued to affirm that position. He will enter the season at only 25 years old, but has taken home the past three AL Gold Gloves at his spot and has been an All-Star thrice in as many seasons as well. During this run, he has topped 70 RBI and 25 doubles in each year, and has reached a new career-best in home runs in each season thus far, with 21 representing his new peak.

Considering the high volume of innings he logs (he has logged 2,440 innings behind the plate in the past two years) he could stand to do much better with his patience at the plate (he walked 13 times in 553 appearances last year –Buster Posey walked that many times in the month of September last year). However, he is a big, tough, formidable two-way threat, who’s best days are still ahead of him.

 

3. Russell Martin, Blue Jays (#5 in ’15)

2015: .240/.329/.351, 23 HR, 77 RBI, 23 doubles; 44% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .250/.351/.421, 16 HR, 66 RBI, 21 doubles

Martin took well to his new surroundings in Toronto last season, and was a major catalyst in breaking the Blue Jays’ 20+ year drought. He turned a career-year offensively, with new personal bests in home runs (23) and RBI (77), well as a six year best in slugging percentage. It was the fifth straight year he topped 60 RBI, and also marked the 4th time in five years that he hit 15 or more homers while posting an OPS of greater than .700.

But where Martin makes his biggest impact is between the lines via intangibles. He makes a pitching staff better when it is throwing to him, as well as limits the ability to take the extra base. The soon to be 33-year-old cut down an AL-best 44% of would-be base thieves, while working the Jays staff to a 3.88 ERA as well.

Jul 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Edward Mujica (44) is congratulated by catcher Yadier Molina (4) for a victory against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals beat the Cubs 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Edward Mujica (44) is congratulated by catcher Yadier Molina (4) for a victory against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals beat the Cubs 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

2. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (#2 in ’15)

2015: .270/.310/.350, 4 HR, 61 RBI, 23 doubles; 41% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .291/.334/.407, 8 HR, 60 RBI, 29 doubles

2015 was probably the most difficult season that Molina has had to endure in his career. A ligament injury in his thumb shortened both his regular season, as well as his postseason (and one that has carried into his 2016 start as well). This was after struggling through the season with lingering issues from a knee injury suffered the year before. The result was a five year low in offensive output across the board nearly, albeit still producing a respectable 61 runs batted in, 23 doubles and working his way to seventh consecutive All-Star Game.

However, what did not diminish was his perennially unparalleled defensive impact. Molina won his eight consecutive Gold Globe by catching 41% of would be base stealers (only 37 runners attempted to steal on him all year), converting 9 double plays and allowing only four passed balls. Add in the fact that Cardinal pitching worked a MLB-best 2.80 ERA when he was behind the plate in route to a 100-win season, and it goes to prove that impact comes from far more than just the clearest parts of a box score.

 

1. Buster Posey, Giants (#1 in ’15)

2015: .318/.379/.470, 19 HR, 95 RBI, 28 doubles; 36% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .308/.371/.470, 19 HR, 85 RBI, 30 doubles

The class of the position by far, few players combine more raw talent with inherent leadership and intangible presence than Gerald Posey does. His perennial standard has reached such a clip that they are better compared to those already in Cooperstown than most of his peers, and he still yet to reach his 30th birthday. Buster led all MLB catchers in hits (177), batting average (.319, 4th in the National League), RBI (95) and OPS (.849). All of this combined saw him produce just over six Wins Above Replacement –three more than any other catcher.

Already the owner of three World Championships, an MVP, a batting title, three All-Star appearances, three Silver Sluggers and a .310 career average (the 4th highest of all-time for a player that has been primarily a catcher), it would seem that Posey has it all. And that’s because he does, but he is only halfway through the race and is just now approaching his prime.

 

Just a bit outside: Travis d’Arnaud, Mets; Yan Gomes, Indians; Matt Wieters, Orioles; Miguel Montero, Cubs

To catch up on last year’s picks for top catcher, click here.

 

By James Martin, guest post

 

For the past few years, Cheap.Seats.Please and the good folks over at Fanduel, the home of one-day fantasy leagues covering the entire sporting spectrum, have teamed up to bring analysis to get you ready to put your money where your mouth. With baseball season upon us, we are once again coming together to breakdown a particularly important portion of the game: starting pitching.

Wild Card Game - San Francisco Giants v Pittsburgh Pirates

 

Last week, I broke down my top 10 starting pitchers today, but now another take on the game’s top arms is ready to weight in on that debate as well, but from a fantasy baseball perspective. And as you will see, regardless of purpose for ranking, it remains a position where the riches are truly plentiful.

Having good starting pitching is one of the most important keys to success in baseball. That is why teams are willing to spend top dollar in free agency to sign great arms, and they will hold onto young and promising guys as tightly as possible. They might be a bit too unpredictable to be drafted really early on in fantasy baseball, but World Series champions know how much they mean. Here is a look at the 5 best pitchers in the game right now going into the 2015 MLB regular season.

 

Clayton Kershaw

When you win a Cy Young Award and a MVP trophy in the same season, it is supposed to be celebrated as one of the best seasons in baseball history. However, the ending of the 2014 season for Kershaw was a little bit bittersweet. He was hit around in the postseason, and that led to an early exit for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is healthy, in the middle of his prime and hungry to show that he is as dependable as they come. Do not be surprised if he is once again the best regular season pitcher in the game.

 

Felix Hernandez

He didn’t end up winning the Cy Young last year for the Seattle Mariners, but he was still the main reason why they were able to stay in the playoff race until the very end. With some extra support added to the roster in 2015, he will be looking for an even better year statistically. Not only has he been dominant since the beginning, but he has been pretty consistent as well. Pitching in spacious Safeco Field does help him out a little.

 

Madison Bumgarner

By fantasy baseball standards, many look at Bumgarner as a guy who will be extremely overrated going into the regular season. You see, he did not put up monster numbers last year, and he probably will not in the regular season in 2015 either. However, he is still a top 10 pitcher by fantasy baseball standards, and he is arguably the best big-game pitcher in the game right now. He is the ace of the pitching staff for the reigning World Series champions. That has to count for something.

 

Chris Sale

Casual baseball fans might be a bit surprised to see him ranked this highly, but the Chicago White Sox expect big things out of Sale in 2015. He probably would have been the Cy Young Award winner in the American League last year if it was not for some missed playing time. He is still very young, and the White Sox have better talent around him now. He racks up strikeouts with ease, and that always helps all the other numbers as well.

 

Max Scherzer

It can always be tough for a pitcher to change not only teams, but leagues as well. That is what Scherzer is going through this offseason as he joins the Washington Nationals. He will also have the weight of a huge contract on his shoulders that could take a toll on him in general. With all that being said, he is been consistent for a few years now, so it really should not be that much of an issue for him to stay strong.

 

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With today’s designated hitter breakdown, it brings to a close the second annual installment of my rankings of the Top 10 players at each position entering the spring. Coming to such conclusions is an imperfect science to say the least, based on both what is proven, predicated and set by precedence in some areas. But at the end, the goal is to get a snapshot of the players who have the biggest current impact at each position, pitted against each other. And that is a goal I do believe I achieved yet again.

Not to say that there were not a few close calls along the way, as well as players that I believe could easily turn in better 2015 returns than their ranking dictates. When putting 115 players into tiers, this is bound to happen.

One of the most hotly debated rankings was the placement of Pirates outfielder Starling Marte at #3 in left field, a spot that put him over such players as Matt Holliday, Justin Upton and Hanley Ramirez. The ranking of Marte so high is admittedly a gamble; he is clearly talented player that has turned in some impressive extra base hit, stolen base and defensive performances over the past few years. However he also is coming in off the benefit of a scorching hot second half of 2015 and is still yet to turn in a full year of the type of excellent play that many others below him have on that list. There are even some that make argument that he should not be considered even among the top 10 players at the position currently, let alone upper third.

But he is a perfect example of what a portion of the goal of the ranking is: to get it right going ahead. If he performs at a 15% decreased clip of his second half average, he still pulls in at just south of a .300 average at .297 and when combined with his proven ability to run up steals, runs scored and triples, Marte is an elite level contributor at the spot. And by taking him so high on the list, I am betting his development continues and he does.

Going in the opposite direction, there is the fact that I left the American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber outside of the top 10 starting pitchers this year. This could be seen as a ridiculous notion and I understand that. How can the guy that was just recognized as the best pitcher in his league not be considered among the top 10 players at his spot, especially on a list that includes four other pitchers (included then ALer Max Scherzer) that he beat out for the honors?

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians

It is a valid argument, however one that is being made at the wrong position to jockey for position. The upper class of starting pitching hierarchy is one that is reached by reaching (and staying at) the elite level of pitching in my mind. And while Kluber had a solid 2013 (11-5, 3.86 ERA, 147 innings), followed by his massive 2014, it still does not surpass the regular standard set by the 10th man on the list in Jordan Zimmermann, or even other runners up in Cole Hamels or Jon Lester, among others. If Kluber comes back and anchors another tremendous year for the Indians, a full expectation of him making a Johnny Cueto-like jump into the top 10 will be realized.

Sometimes making a big debut into the rankings is simply a matter of the being aligned at the right position at the right time as well. While Kluber could not make it into pitcher’s top 10, there were several notable players that did make either high initial impacts or substantial jumps up the list.

Jose Abreu of the White Sox is easily the most notable of the group, because he did it at such a difficult position to make a dent within. The AL Rookie of the Year debuted at #4 on the first base charts after his huge breakout year. Part of this was a function of his undeniable impact on the field, but another portion was due to the fact that first base is undergoing a bit of an overhaul as well. While Miguel Cabrera and Paul Goldschmidt set a clear cap atop the position, it is open season some underneath that level with younger impacts such as Abreu and Anthony Rizzo fighting for position among a group of veterans such as Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto and Edwin Encarnacion who all make comparable impacts.

Another such major debut belong to Anthony Rendon, who checked in at #5 among third basemen. Third base is it usual mixture of impact depth, but is also seeing some of its long-time stalwarts such as David Wright, Evan Longoria and Aramis Ramirez beginning to slide some. That shake up allowed for Rendon’s big 2014 to push him to strong debut among his positional contemporaries in the same fashion that Matt Carpenter did just a year ago, who checked in just a spot above Rendon this year.

All in all, there a plenty of debates that can be made among these type of ranks, because for the most part there are only a few positions where there is a clear cut top guy. Giancarlo Stanton, Robinson Cano, Troy Tulowitzki, Adrian Beltre and Clayton Kershaw have it on lock. There are some very interesting to watch wages for positional supremacy between Cabrera and Goldschmidt, Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey and Yadier Molina, and Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Greg Holland.

Debates such as these are part of what makes the game the game, and the fun in how to determine it. Coming up soon at The Sports Fan Journal, I will begin to release my Top 100 players in the game today, which is built on slightly different set of parameters. Recent impact is offset by a look into the three year window of player more than just their immediate impact in the game. Developmental trends (both upward and downward) come into play more and award winners see a greater precedence set as well. There is no cap on players per position either, so more first basemen, starting pitchers and outfielders work their way into the scene as well.

There is a lot to sort out and a lot of work to put into the inexact science that its final result is, but for now here is a recap of the rankings by position. For the full article on each, click the header above each ranking column. (Top 3 at each position noted below)

Top 10 Catchers—January 28th (Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, Jonathan Lucroy)

Top 10 First Basemen—January 29th (Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt, Adrian Gonzalez)

Top 10 Second Basemen—January 30th (Robinson Cano, Jose Altuve, Ian Kinsler)

Top 10 Third Basemen—February 3rd (Adrian Beltre, Josh Donaldson, Evan Longoria)

Top 10 Shortstops—February 4th (Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Desmond, Jhonny Peralta)

Top 10 Left Fielders—February 5th (Alex Gordon, Michael Brantley, Starling Marte)

Top 10 Center Fielders—February 6th (Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Jones)

Top 10 Right Fielders—February 9th (Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Bautista, Bryce Harper)

Top 10 Starting Pitchers—February 10th (Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale)

Top 10 Relief Pitchers—February 11th (Craig Kimbrel, Greg Holland, Aroldis Chapman)

Top 5 Designated Hitters—February 12th (Victor Martinez, David Ortiz, Nelson Cruz)

For kicks, what would a lineup look like made out of the top ranked player at each position? Here’s my take at the ultimate All-Star Team:

  1. Mike Trout-CF
  2. Robinson Cano-2B
  3. Miguel Cabrera-1B
  4. Giancarlo Stanton-RF
  5. Troy Tulowitzki-SS
  6. Victor Martinez-DH
  7. Buster Posey-C
  8. Adrian Beltre-3B
  9. Alex Gordon-LF

 

Clayton Kershaw-Pitcher

Craig Kimbrel-Closer

 

Now that’s downright ugly right there.

 

 

To keep up with me on Twitter, follow at @CheapSeatFan. Stay current on the columns at The Sports Fan Journal and I-70 Baseball as well.

The relief pitcher game is a varied and tough world. From overpowering closers, to strategically placed match up artists, to the jacks of all trades that get the tough outs whenever they come up, there are all sorts of impacts that are requested out of the modern day bullpen.

Craig-Kimbrel

With all of those elements considered, 2014 was a year where it seemed that the redefinition of a true impact arm out of the pen took a further step in a new direction. Gone are the days when a big save total and a flashy one-inning arm alone makes for the cream of the relief crop. Now the seventh and eighth innings are arguably just as important and are also manned by some of the most dominant relievers in the game as well. In order to make an elite bullpen today, it takes at the minimum of what could be considered two closer caliber arms. The old adage of an elite reliever making it an “eight inning game” is getting earlier and earlier.

And with that, here are the best in the world at bringing a game to screeching halt today—regardless of when the cease fire may be needed.

 

1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves (#1 in 2014): He is the easy answer to a comprehensive question. No closer has been more efficiently dominant than Kimbrel has been since he debuted four years ago. In 2014 he kept to his usual ways, which included taking at least a share of the National League saves lead for the fourth straight year with 47, and posting a sub-2.00 ERA while holding batters to an average against beneath .200 (1.61 and .142, respectively) yet again.

2-year average: 1.40 ERA, 0.894 WHIP, 48 Saves, 57 Games Finished, 13.5 K’s per nine, .142 avg. against

2. Greg Holland, Royals (#5 in ’14): The final nail among KC’s deadly bullpen toolbox is Holland, who affirmed the fact that he is among the game’s most dominant mound presences a year ago. He nearly replicated his outstanding 2013 performance, finishing in the top 3 in the American League in saves and games finished, while limiting opponents to a .170 average against him.

2-year average: 1.32 ERA, 0.889 WHIP, 46 saves, 60 games finished, 13.4 K’s per nine, .170 avg. against

3. Aroldis Chapman, Reds (#2 in ’14): The game’s most overpowering presence issued over 400 pitches that were at least 100 miles per hour a year ago. He rode this regular abuse of power to a stunning 106 strikeouts in just 54 innings, a rate that would play out to 17.7 per nine innings. Over the course, he set a MLB-record for consecutive appearance with a K, at 49 and struck out 52% of his total batters faced.

2-year average: 2.29 ERA, 0.943 WHIP, 37 saves, 50 games finished, 16.7 K’s per nine, .121 avg. against

4. Wade Davis, Royals (Not Ranked): Dominance was not in short supply out of the Royals pen a year ago. Davis was the second stage of hell in the Royals pen, between Kelvin Herrera and Holland, and was arguably the toughest part of the equation. He allowed just eight earned runs over 72 innings in 2014, while striking out 109 and allowing only 64 base runners.

2-year (in relief) average: 0.98 ERA, 0.829 WHIP, 3 saves, 13 games finished, 9 K’s per nine, .151 avg. against

5. Dellin Betances, Yankees (Not Ranked): During his rookie year, he simmered behind closer David Robertson despite being the clear best arm in the Yankee pen, but now the slow burn is nearly done. Betances is still not the sole owner of the Yank’s ninth inning duties –the newly signed Andrew Miller is in the mix as well – but his 2014 effort (135 strikeouts in 90 innings, a 1.40 ERA) proved that he has the type of stuff that makes an easy translation into the role with Joe Girardi is ready.

2-year average: 1.89 ERA, 0.853 WHIP, 1 save, 6 games finished, 13.7 K’s per nine, .149 avg. against

kenley_jansen_21

6. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers (#6 in ’14): He got off to a slow start with the rest of the Dodgers’ pen, but he turned back into the standard shutdown machine he is beginning to regularly be in the second half. Jansen ran up 101 strikeouts against only 19 walks on the year, in route to a career-best 44 saves and solidifying himself as one of the preeminent power arms in the game.

2-year average: 2.28 ERA, 0.976 WHIP, 36 saves, 51 games finished, 13.4 K’s per nine, .224 avg. against

7. Sean Doolittle, Athletics (Not Ranked): It is tough to beat what you simply cannot reach base against, and regardless of whether he was a situational arm, setup man or closer –all roles he worked in last year— Doolittle was epically stingy. He held batters to a .169 average against him, while walking only eight batters over 62 innings and striking out 89. He followed a 30 game run without issuing a walk by seamlessly sliding into the closer role, converting 22-of-26 situations.

2-year average: 2.94 ERA, 0.851 WHIP, 12 saves, 26 games finished, 10.2 K’s per nine, .169 avg. against

8. Koji Uehara, Red Sox (#3 in ’14): He was bound to come back to Earth some after his once-in-a-lifetime 2013, but Uehara was still his usual very efficient self a year later. He used his pinpoint control and confounding change-up to convert 26 saves and keep a 10-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio (80-to-8). Uehara reaffirmed the fact that he is one of the most efficient final inning options in the game, albeit in a far more finesse way than any of his contemporaries.

2-year average: 1.75 ERA, 0.728 WHIP, 24 saves, 45 games finished, 11.7 K’s per nine, .216 avg. against

9. Mark Melancon, Pirates (Not Ranked): He was one of the NL’s best setup men before becoming one of its best closers, all in the same year. Melancon notched 14 holds before taking over for an injured Jason Grilli in the ninth, when he then ran up 33 saves as well. Armed with a hard turning slider, impressive control and an ability to take the ball as often as asked, he is one of the most versatile relievers in the game.

2-year average: 1.65 ERA, 0.915 WHIP, 24 saves, 36 games finished, 8.9 K’s per nine, .195 avg. against

10. Huston Street, Angels (Not Ranked): He put forth his usual uber-proficient effort between San Diego and Anaheim, posting a sub-2.00 ERA in over 25 innings in both leagues. His overall 1.37 ERA was a personal low and the second time in three years he posted an ERA figure sub 1.90, and he converted a career-high 41 saves overall in the process.

2-year average: 2.02 ERA, 0.983 WHIP, 37 saves, 52 games finished, 8.0 K’s per nine, .196 avg. against

 

Runners Up: Jonathan Papelbon, Jake McGee, Zack Britton, Drew Storen

 

Pulling apart the ten best starting pitchers in baseball is almost certain to create a stir at any point in history. But attempting to do so right now is an even more confounding process, because this is quickly becoming an epic era for arms. The offensive era of Major League Baseball has come to a screeching halt in recent years due to the quality of pitching that has confronted it.

Kershaw_22

Despite the fact that there is a clear cut top guy on the mound today, the distinction between number two and even number 10 can be subject to debate….and even much further than that. Take for example that this offseason, the race to acquire one of the three big name arms on the market between Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields was the talk of the winter— but only one of those legitimate frontline cornerstones could even make this list. Needless to say, it’s a tough crowd.

But as there is with everything else, the cream has to rise to the top. And in past years while I have made this list separately as a right-handed and left-handed countdown, I am upping the ante and throwing both together. So, here is the best crack I could take a taking at least 20 deserving pitchers and trimming them to ten.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (#1 LHP in 2014): Every year it becomes more and more difficult to imagine Kershaw taking his game to another level, but he did yet again last year. He added both the National League Most Valuable Player and a third Cy Young Award to his resume, as he finished with a 21-3 record, 239 strikeouts and a career-low 1.77 ERA. Overall he led his league in over 10 separate categories despite missing the first month of the season and became the first pitcher ever to lead the league in ERA four consecutive years.

2-year average: 18-6, 1.80 ERA, 236 strikeouts, 217 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts

2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (#1 RHP in ’14): The King is coming off the second best year of his career and one where he finished as runner up in the American League Cy Young balloting. He won 15 games for the M’s and led the AL with a 2.14 ERA and held batters to a .200 average against. His 248 strikeout were a new career-best as well. In addition, for the third time in his career Hernandez allowed the least hits per nine innings in the game.

2-year average: 14-8, 2.55 ERA, 232 strikeouts, 220 innings pitched, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts

3. Chris Sale, White Sox (#4 LHP in ’14): Far and away the AL’s top lefty, Sale had yet another brilliant campaign in 2014. While injuries interrupted a portion of his season, the 25-year-old was oft-dominant every other time out. He lowered his era nearly a full run, to microscopic 2.17 figure over 174 innings, while leading the AL in strikeouts-per-nine innings at 10.8. He made his third straight All-Star appearance and climbed the Cy Young charts for a third straight year as well, a sign of things that could be come.

2-year average: 12-9, 2.67 ERA, 217 strikeouts, 194 innings pitched, 3 complete games, 0 shutouts

4. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (#3 RHP in ’14): The Redbird’s warhorse ace put up another magnificent season, despite battling through some tough arm troubles for most of the year. He reached 20 wins for the second time in his career, while posting a career-low 2.38 ERA. It was the fourth time in his past five years he won at least 19 games while making it to the mound for at least 220 innings.

2-year average: 20-9, 2.67 ERA, 199 strikeouts, 234 innings pitched, 5 complete games, 2 shutouts

5. Max Scherzer, Nationals (#4 RHP in ’14): The newest Nat’s free agent voyage was the most notable thing attached his name this year, but earned it with another dominant year on the mound. In his final season in Detroit, the 2013 AL Cy Young winner led the AL in wins for the second straight year and topped 250 strikeouts. Over the past two years, he has posted a remarkable 39-8 record, good for 83% win percentage.

2-year average: 20-4, 3.02 ERA, 246 strikeouts, 217 innings pitched, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts

madison-bumgarner-40-of-the-san-francisco-giants

6. Madison Bumgarner, Giants (#5 LHP in ’14): No player in the game’s stock rose more than Bumgarner’s did last year, and it was well deserved. Even before his unbelievably awesome postseason (a 1.03 ERA over 52.2 innings and four wins), he had taken a step forward in asserting himself as one of the game’s best arms. He posted career-bests in wins (18), strikeouts (219), innings pitched (217.1) and complete games (4), amongst other categories.

2-year average: 16-10, 2.88 ERA, 209 strikeouts, 209 innings pitched, 2 complete games, 1 shutout

7. Johnny Cueto , Reds (Not Ranked): Cueto jumped from the ranks of underappreciated to unavoidably superb last year. He was more dominant, more often than any other pitcher not named Kershaw. Cueto pitched the most innings in the National League, but still held batters to the lowest average against in NL (.197). Along the way he also won 20 games for the first time, led his circuit in strikeouts and finished with the league’s lowest hits against per nine figure as well.

2-year average: 12-6, 2.82 ERA, 146 strikeouts, 152 innings pitched, 2 complete games, 1 shutout

8. Zack Greinke, Dodgers (#7 RHP in ’14): The ever-efficient, best #2 (by default) in the game had a quietly record-breaking output in 2014. Greinke ran up a streak of 22 straight starts of allow two or fewer earned runs, which dated back into 2013. All-in-all, he won 17 games, with top 10 figures in both ERA and strikeouts, while tacking a Gold Glove on as well.

2-year average: 16-6, 2.68 ERA, 178 strikeouts, 190 innings pitched, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts

9. David Price, Tigers (#3 LHP in ’14): It was an odd year for Price between Tampa and Detroit, and one where he got off to a rugged start. But once he settled in, he was arguably as dominant as he has ever been. Price went on a strikeout spree in June where he ran up 54 strikeouts against only five walks in 39.2 innings. From there he led the Majors in missing bats with 271 strikeouts and innings pitched with 248.1.

2-year average: 12-10, 3.29 ERA, 211 strikeouts, 218 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 0 shutouts

10. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals (Not Ranked): I will admit to being slow to the appreciation train for Zimmermann, but his results have become too regularly impactful to deny at this point. He has been in the top 10 in NL ERA for the past two years, and led the senior circuit in wins two years ago. The consummate control specialist has struck a balance between accuracy on the plate and power as well, has he struck out over 180 batters for the third straight year.

2-year average: 16-7, 2.96 ERA, 172 strikeouts, 206 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts

Runners Up: Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Corey Kluber

 

To catch up on the countdown, scroll back a few days. To keep up with it in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.