Posts Tagged ‘Ryan Braun’

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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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Coming into 2015, “rebound field” may be the better way to view the group that inherits this list, as much of its population is in flux in one way or another. Whether it be an injury rehab, a positional relocation or simply reestablishing some stock that had taken a shift over the past few years, the position is far from solid in terms of determining its hierarchy.

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But with so many different factors weighing in, how does a true ranking really get determined? There are some clear impact players that register on any board, such as the NL’s MVP runner up, a pair that finished 1-2 in a prior MVP race that are now retooling their respective games, the game’s most brimming potential talent, and finally, the biggest defensive difference maker in the game. But each has a caution flag and point to prove entering the year as well, making it as difficult to decipher group as there is in the game.

But all things considered, it is an enticingly talented group that IF most of its inhabitants can perform up to their billing; it will be a complexity of a much different type to readdress around this time next year.

 

1. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins (#8 in 2014): He unleashed nearly his full potential a year ago, in route to establishing himself as the game’s top power threat. His 37 home runs led the National League, as did his .555 slugging percentage and 299 total bases. Stanton’s unfortunate run in with a Mike Fiers’ fastball to his face stopped him short of running his output even higher, but that did not stop the Marlins from rewarding their 25-year-old cornerstone with the largest contract in sports history.

2-year average: .271 average/.904 OPS/30 home runs/84 RBI/28 doubles/7 stolen bases/.975 Fld%

2. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (#5 in ’14): For the first time in three years, Bautista was truly back to full strength in 2014, and he returned to stand among the top of the American League hitter’s food chain. His 35 home runs were the fifth most in the league and he took home his third career Silver Slugger as a result. One of the underrated parts of his game is the impact his arm makes as well, as his 12 outfield assists were tops among all MLB right fielders.

2-year average: .274 average/.896 OPS/32 home runs/88 RBI/26 doubles/6 stolen bases/.981 Fld%

3. Bryce Harper, Nationals (#4 in left field in ’14): Again plagued by injuries throughout the regular season, Harper played a career-low 100 games a year ago. As a result his numbers dipped across the board and even made a few people question his still sky high potential. But the then 21-year-old was one of the few live wires in the Nats Division Series versus the Giants, clubbing three huge home runs and instantly reminding everyone of why he carries the rep he does. And he’s only 22 and settling into a new position—while finding his way.

2-year average: .273 average/.815 OPS/16 home runs/45 RBI/17 doubles/6 stolen bases/.987 Fld%

4. Hunter Pence, Giants (#9 in ’14): As well, due to his quirky mannerisms and awkward style, Pence’s play is one of the most underrated parts of what sets the Giants apart. His 106 runs scored were the second most in the NL, while his 180 hits were the third most in the league. Pence turned in a .444 World Series average to top it all off as well. He has also been stunningly consistent—and therefore regularly agitating for opponents and rival fans alike—playing in all 162 games each of the past two seasons.

2-year average: .280 average/.799 OPS/24 home runs/86 RBI/32 doubles/18 stolen bases/.983 Fld%

5. Jason Heyward, Cardinals (Not Ranked): The multi-talented corner outfielder has spun between heart of the lineup presence and back up to patient table setter over the past few years while looking to develop an offensive identity. But one thing that has remained intact is that he arguably makes the biggest defensive outfield impact in the game. In route to winning his second Gold Glove, he counted for 30 runs saved in the field and cut down nine base runners from right as well.

2-year average: .264 average/.752 OPS/12 home runs/48 RBI/24 doubles/11 stolen bases/.998 Fld%

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6. Matt Kemp, Padres (#6 in center field in ’14): There was so much discussion about how long he would stay in LA last year, as well as how long he could stay healthy, that it was lost in the mix that he put up his best season in years along the way. Kemp made the transition to the corner outfield and hit 25 home runs, drove in 89 runs and tied a career-high with 38 doubles. Now his encore season will be cast as the the center attraction in the Padres aggressive facelift effort.

2-year average: .281 average/.810 OPS/16 home runs/61 RBI/26 doubles/8 stolen bases/.971 Fld%

7. Ryan Braun, Brewers (#1 in ’14): Braun slipped to career-low levels for a majority season’s work during his return to the field from the despicable season-ending suspension. But considering what he was before his two injury and suspension filled 2013-14 campaigns, along with some solid, yet unspectacular numbers a year ago (19 home runs, 81 RBI, 30 doubles) he still deserves some benefit of the doubt for a revival.

2-year average: .275 average/.805 OPS/14 home runs/60 RBI/22 doubles/8 stolen bases/.993 Fld%

8. J.D. Martinez, Tigers (Not Ranked): He figured it all out in a major way after making it to Detroit last year, hitting 23 home runs, turning in a .315 average and filling a much needed void in offense in the evolving Tiger lineup. His rapid ascension could cause some skepticism, but Martinez only hit south of .340 during one of the year’s final four months, when he turned in a .265 August mark….only to return with a season-high .354 in September. So he passes the smell test for now.

2-year average: .289 average/.808 OPS/15 home runs/56 RBI/24 doubles/4 stolen bases/.985 Fld%

9. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (#5 in center field in ’14): 2014 was a total loss for Cargo, hitting .238 and missing over half of the season’s games after finally succumbing to a bad knee that required August surgery. But he stays relevant simply because of what he is capable of when right, which has included Gold Gloves in two of the last three years and four consecutive years of 20 homer/20 stolen base seasons.

2-year average: .276 average/.864 OPS/18 home runs/54 RBI/19 doubles/12 stolen bases/.986 Fld%

10. Torii Hunter, Twins (Not Ranked): Consistency pays out big after a while, and the recent late career groove that Hunter has been in is a remarkable one to watch. The now 39-year-old has refused to decline, and his offensive production is at nearly the same level it was a decade ago. And now as he returns back to his original home with the Twins, it should not be a surprise that does far more than just be a veteran influence on his young teammates.

2-year average: .295 average/.783 OPS/17 home runs/84 RBI/35 doubles/4 stolen bases/.982 Fld%

 

Runners Up: Michael Cuddyer, Jay Bruce, Carlos Beltran, Kole Calhoun

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The position that Babe Ruth first defined, and Hank Aaron later rewrote the record book from is always a home of some of the most potent bats in any era of the game. Today’s offering features that traditional grouping of power conduits, but has also been influenced by a defensive presence that has also been more aligned with center field traditionally, as well as more overall skilled contributors that left fielders have been.

Yet when looking at what is at the position now, there is a mixture of everything at the spot—and that is all before accounting for a new addition to role that has been one of the game’s most all-around talented (and recently controversial) players in the game. All things considered, it’s one of the toughest positions to pull one factor apart from the others, due to offering of skills across the board.

But that’s what I’m here to do, so that’s what we’ll do. Here is the final of this winter’s positional ranks (as well move into pitchers next). As well as one of the toughest to pull apart, between the new additions, the one-year sensations and the standard bearers—both young and established.

 

10. Jayson Werth, Nationals: Year three in DC was much better for The Beard as he delivered what was paid for finally. He delivered a .318 average, along with a .398 on-base percentage via 147 hits, 25 home runs and 82 RBI in 129 games.

9. Hunter Pence, Giants: He put his awkward looking, yet very complete game on full display last season. He topped 90 RBI for the fourth straight year, stole 22 bases and covered more ground in right by the numbers than any other player in baseball.

8. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins: The potential is brimming to break over the top, but he just needs to stay on the field to fully deliver on it. Still, he has hit 107 home runs before his 24th birthday, many of the “no doubt” variety—his 2013 average was 413 feet.

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7. Allen Craig, Cardinals: He is moving back to the outfield on a more full-time basis this summer, but he’ll be taking the game’s best everyday clutch bat along with him. In addition to his overall .315 average and 97 RBI in 2013, he hit a staggering 59-for-130 (.454 average) and 83 of those RBI with runners in scoring position.

6. Shane Victorino, Red Sox: He found his way again in the Red Sox ensemble and was a memorable part of the push that took the club to a third World Series in 10 years. In the process he also became the best defensive right fielder in the American League by a fair margin, being responsible for a 2.2 wins with his glove alone.

5. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Injuries have clipped his production some over the past two years, but he remains among the elite power threats in the game. He hit 97 home runs between 2010-11, and despite his injury-related decline, he has stayed in the top 10 in the MLB home runs per at-bat the past two years.

4. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers: The enigmatic Puig’s approach can be questioned, but the results are beyond reproach. A testament to the value that WAR showcases, in 104 games (hitting .319), he turned around the entire direction of the Dodger season, and consequently, the direction of the franchise as well. He’s a natural—even if it gets clouded in perception.

3. Carlos Beltran, Yankees: His late career resurgence has kept him moved him to the elite class of corner outfielders, as well as becoming the centerpiece of which the Yankee offensive rebuilding effort is based. In his two years in St. Louis, his average season was a .282/.343/.493 with 28 home runs and 90 RBI.

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2. Jay Bruce, Reds: He’s 26 years old has never had a season under 20 home runs in his first six seasons. Over the past three, he’s turned it up to 30+. In 2013, he produced a 30 homer, 43 double, 109 RBI effort, but arguably his greater impact continues to be in the field. He had the second best fielding percentage, range rating and outfield assist totals a year ago as well.

1. Ryan Braun, Brewers: The move across the outfield doesn’t change anything about his standing amongst his new peers, and until further notice, neither does the post PED edition either. Braun is simply one of the best hitters of his era; three times in the last five years his season total has seen a .300 average, 30 home runs, 30 doubles, 100 RBI, 20 stolen bases and over 330 total bases.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Jason Heyward, Wil Myers, Torii Hunter

For more on the upcoming season and the ranks here, follow me in real-time on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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Tonight, the best baseball players of the year thus far will be celebrated. However, there is also a group of players that have had just as much impact on the year, albeit in adverse way. They are the group of players that you would usually look to revere this time of the year, however they haven’t had the time of season that helps the cause. Rather, they are the reason why the summer hasn’t panned out the way it may have seemed in game 1. Yes, they are the Un-Stars; the players who have to do more, if it is not too late already.

So with no further delay, here is the squad that has left a lot to be imagined thus far on the year…

Catcher

Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks— He’s quietly been one of the most productive catchers in baseball over the past few years, and finished fifth in the NL in on-base percentage a year ago, and has driven in 87 runs on average over the past two years.

At the break, Montero’s average sits at a career-low .224. The rise of Paul Goldschmidt, along with the acquisition of Martin Prado has eased the blow of it, but D’Backs will not be able to hold off the Dodgers and Rockies without a much bigger second half from him.

First Base

Nick Swisher, Indians— The big money signing that was “most likely to not play up to contract level” has lived up to his billing. While he has shuffled between first and right field, his production has not picked up regardless of where his glove is filled out in the lineup. His average his pit stopped in the middle of the .240’s, and he’s on pace to hit only 15 home runs and drive in just over 50 runs. Not much bang for the $11 million bucks he’s bringing in.

Second Base

Dan Uggla, Braves— The great paradox continues. Uggla is leading all NL second basemen, well as the Braves, in home runs with 18, but is once again scraping by hitting .200 and reaching base only 31% of the time. Not to mention he’s still playing his tradition lead glove defense, and the reasons for the Braves offensive struggles become clear: they have many captains of industry in the All Feast or Famine squad, and Uggla’s the Admiral of it.

Third Base

Chase Headley, Padres— The Padres may have sat on him for too long, as one of the off season’s hottest commodity’s has come back to Earth, meteor style. A year after leading the NL in RBI with 115, hitting 31 home runs and snagging a Gold Glove, Headley sits with a .230 average and just 31 runs driven in at the break.

The bright side is that he only had 8 long balls at this point last season, before taking off with his huge second half, but there is also the stark truth that before 2012, he’d hit 36 homers, total. Whatever the numbers are, a quick trade of him would help the Padres save some of the top tier market value he built up last fall.

Shortstop

Starlin Castro, Cubs— The tendency in recent years has been to pay young guys early to lock up their pre-prime years at good price without any interruption from arbitration or agents. The Cubs gave Castro $60 million over eight years at the ripe young age of 22 so they could lock in what was supposed to be the cornerstone they would rebuild around.

Smart logic at the time, but so far in 2013 it has seemed like they may have fed the Baby Bear too soon. He’s struggled with his effort all year, which has also not so ironically impacted his results as well. He’s hitting a bleak .243 on the year and was even benched in mid-June for both lacking hustle on the bases and focus in the field. It’s too early to write him off, but some signs of life would be nice to see.

Hamilton has not delivered on the promise that he brought to the Angels line and the hopes for a turnaround season via the former MVP and division rival.

Hamilton has not delivered on the promise that he brought to the Angels line and the hopes for a turnaround season via the former MVP and division rival.

Outfield

Ryan Braun, Brewers— For the first time in his career, he has looked mortal, and the Brewers have suffered because of it. Braun hits the break coming off a first half where he took his first trip to the disabled list, then was brought back up on a second round of PED controversy with the Biogenesis investigation and ended the half on the bereavement list just a few games after returning from injury. Along the way, he’s still managed to hit .304 with nine home runs, but for a team that is without much of its offensive core already; it was the worst possible time for Braun’s fall to begin.

Matt Kemp, Dodgers— He was once baseball’s iron man, but in the last two years Kemp hasn’t been able to hold himself together. 2013 has been pinnacle of his ongoing struggle to rise back up, as even when he has been healthy, he’s been a shell of his true self. He hits the break with a .254 average, only 4 home runs and over a month of time missed already between two stints on the disabled list. Probably his greatest highlight of the season was his vendetta trip to track down Carlos Quentin after he broke Zack Greinke’s collarbone.

Even when he has been active, he’s been limited and the Dodgers struggled to get mobile until Yaisel Puig arrived and provided the spark that had previously been Kemp’s to light up. It remains to be seen if LA can reach its summit while its greatest asset is still down.

Josh Hamilton, Angels— Two years, two big offseason adds in Anaheim, and two questionable (at best) returns. Hamilton has been stuck in a summer-long slump since landing with the Halos, and is carrying a .224 average into the break. By the month on the season, he has hit .204 in April, then .237 in May, back down to .231 in June and thus far .233 in July. Perhaps for the Rangers less (as in player, contract and roster boulder) is more with Hamilton plugging up a spot in LA instead of Arlington.

Pitchers

Matt Cain, Giants— It is hard to say why the Giants’ ace is down in the dumps, but one thing is for certain, he’s been the biggest enigma in one of the least impressive championship defenses in many years. His ERA is just north of 5.00 across his first 19 starts. April was particularly brutal, seeing him post an 0-2 record, with a 6.49 ERA and the Giants lose his first five starts.

R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays— The biggest name addition to the Jays run for the pennant this season has failed to find the form that made him the story of last summer. At the halfway point, he has already taken 10 losses, which is four more than his total all year with the Mets and has an ERA at 4.69. He has had seven starts where he has surrendered at least six earned runs, and has been responsible for the decision in all but two of his 20 starts thus far.

For more on these potential turnaround stories, or the fallout that will continue to be, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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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.