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The 50 Best Players in Major League Baseball

Zak SchmollAnalyst IMarch 6, 2012

The 50 Best Players in Major League Baseball

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    Who truly is the best player in baseball?

    Could it be someone like Albert Pujols, who has arguably the best bat in baseball? Could it be Matt Kemp, who might have the best combination of offensive tools right now? Could it be Justin Verlander, who simply overwhelmed opponents from the mound last season? Could it be Roy Halladay, who might not be as flashy as others but is incredibly durable and highly effective?

    What truly determines how much value a baseball player provides? That is what we're here to figure out. Therefore, without further ado, here is my list of the top 50 players in Major League Baseball right now.

Disclaimer!

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    By the end of this article, you will probably have some very strong feelings about my rankings. I anticipate that, and I'm not going to pretend that I don't have bias. Just to let you know up front, I tend to be biased towards consistent players who have a lot of athleticism and tools.

    We all have our favorite players, but I tried to give statistical justification for each of my selections. Regardless, this is still a highly subjective topic that we could argue about all day and night.

    Please feel free to share your opinions, and I really don't mind if you criticize mine, but please keep it clean and try to give me justification for your opinions as much as I tried to for mine.

50. Ryan Howard

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    2011 Stats:

    .253, 33 HR, 116 RBI, 1 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Ryan Howard is going to miss substantial time in 2012 after he injured himself on the final play of the game that knocked the Phillies out of the playoffs. If he would be ready to play on Opening Day, he probably would have been ranked a little bit higher, but injuries are always difficult to evaluate. Who knows how well he will bounce back?

    Howard has become a pure power hitter. He hits the ball very hard, but he has been haunted by the defensive shift that opponents have placed on him. He lost many base hits because he has not been able to beat that defense.

    Even though his average did drop in 2011, he can still produce runs. In fact, he was still third in the National League in terms of RBI. Because of that, he will always have value. His injury might be problematic, though, so I had to drop him down a little bit farther than he has traditionally appeared on these types of lists.

49. Jay Bruce

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    2011 Stats:

    .256, 32 HR, 97 RBI, 8 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Jay Bruce has been gaining power every year. In his rookie season, he hit 21 home runs, and every year, he has increased his output. His average is definitely not his strong point, and he does strike out a lot, but the fact that his statistics have improved nearly every year tells me that he is on the rise.

    Bruce is not necessarily regarded as a great fielder, but he still is adequate. His powerful bat will help him overcome a lot of the shortcomings, however. Hopefully, he will be able to continue improving and maybe even develop some better plate discipline. As he gains maturity, his plate discipline should develop. That typically happens to some degree as players age.

    Jay Bruce might benefit from playing in Cincinnati. However, he is still a run producer. In fact, if the Cincinnati Reds are able to produce at their typically high level, Bruce will be in a great position to drive these runs across the plate.

48. Paul Konerko

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    2011 Stats:

    .300, 31 HR, 105 RBI, 1 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Paul Konerko has averaged 32 home runs per 162 games over his entire career. When you look at it that way, last year was pretty average for him. However, if last year was average, then if he happens to produce above average, 2012 could be very special.

    The main problem with Konerko is one that he can't necessarily control. He is getting older, and that will definitely not work in his favor. It is not that old players must go downhill, but that does tend to be the trend.

    Paul Konerko has had a very good career, and he has been very consistent. However, at some point, age will almost definitely catch up with him. On the positive side, he hasn't missed very much time during his career due to injury, so maybe he will be able to avoid that problem for years to come.

47. Yovani Gallardo

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    2011 Stats:

    17-10, 3.52 ERA, 207 K, 1.215 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    Yovani Gallardo has never posted an ERA over 3.84 in his career. That in of itself is impressive. He never hit some type of wall in his development.

    In fact, he still might be developing. He is only going to be 26 this season. He should be in a position to continue improving.

    Additionally, Gallardo is a strikeout machine. Over his career, he has averaged more than a strikeout per inning. He has also demonstrated improved control, as he walked fewer hitters last season than he had in any other full season.

    Yovani Gallardo is rising steadily through the ranks of Major League Baseball. He is still a tiny bit susceptible to the home run, but that is not quite as important in the grand scheme of things. He is getting outs and not allowing runs across the plate. That's what's important.

46. Mike Napoli

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    2011 Stats:

    .320, 30 HR, 75 RBI, 4 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Mike Napoli has exploded onto the scene over the past few seasons.

    In 2010, he hit 26 home runs, but he had a .238 average. Essentially, his batting average rose 82 points between 2010 and 2011. While that is impressive, it might be hard to sustain such a high average.

    On top of that, nobody really knows what position Mike Napoli should play. He played in 61 games at catcher, 35 games at first base and 19 games at DH last season. In total, he only played in 113 games last year.

    While it is impressive that he put up numbers like that in a relatively small amount of games, I would like to see him replicate that high average for one more season. His power numbers have been relatively consistent, but last year was the first season he had shown that high average.

45. Matt Holliday

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    2011 Stats:

    .299, 26 HR, 93 RBI, 6 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Matt Holliday missed 38 games last season, but he still posted very solid numbers. The St. Louis Cardinals will need similar production from him in 2012 if they are going to fill the gap left by the departure of Albert Pujols.

    Holliday has driven in over 100 runs four times during his career. He has also scored over 100 runs on three separate occasions. What this indicates about Holliday is simply that he is a run machine. He has a solid approach at the plate and hits for a higher average than many power hitters.

    Matt Holliday is definitely a highly productive outfielder. He is 32 years old, so he has established a track record of success. On the other hand, he is definitely not beyond his prime. That combination is very valuable and should help the Cardinals survive life after Pujols.

44. Mark Teixeira

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    2011 Stats:

    .248, 39 HR, 111 RBI, 4 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Mark Teixeira worries me. He is an excellent fielder, so there is no problem there. He hits for power, so there's no problem there. However, his average fell off the table last season. If that trend is going to continue, 2012 could be a very difficult year.

    The main reason that his batting average dropped was because he had problems adapting to the defensive positioning of other teams. That isn't going to change, and teams are still going to play him to pull the ball.

    Players like Ryan Howard have had to deal with the shift their entire career, so their batting averages are relatively representative. Teixeira, on the other hand, has not experienced this to such a great degree before, and I wonder how it will affect him in 2012.

43. Jose Valverde

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    2011 Stats:

    2-4, 2.24 ERA, 49 SV, 69 K, 1.189 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    Jose Valverde is the only relief pitcher that is going to appear on this list. However, his placement is very well deserved. It is rare for a relief pitcher to appear in the top 10 for Cy Young voting, but Valverde has done it twice.

    Last season, he led the American League in saves, and he was a large reason for the success of the Detroit Tigers. Every team appreciates a solid presence in the ninth inning to shut the door and finish off the game.

    Valverde has been a fabulous closer throughout his entire career. While last season was arguably his best, he has posted similar numbers before. Given that, 2012 should not be that much different. If he has already repeated his own performance, then it is not hard to believe that he will repeat it again.

42. Giancarlo Stanton

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    2011 Stats:

    .262, 34 HR, 87 RBI, 5 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Giancarlo Stanton is one of the fastest rising stars in Major League Baseball. He has tremendous raw power, and, despite the fact that 2012 will only be his third season, he has already shown the potential to easily hit 40 home runs.

    In his second professional season, he definitely showed more discipline, as his on-base percentage went up by 30 points. This is especially important for a power hitter because he will need to lay off the bad pitches that people will try to deceive him with.

    Stanton is still maturing. I would like place him higher on this list. However, his track record has not shown greatness yet. He is very good, and he is definitely improving.

    Nevertheless, as you will find out as the list progresses, I think consistency is one of the most valuable traits in a player. I want them to display excellence over a period of time to make sure that it isn't a flash in the pan.

41. Evan Longoria

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    2011 Stats:

    .244, 31 HR, 99 RBI, 3 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Evan Longoria experienced a drastic drop in his average last season. However, he is a .274 career hitter, so I am not necessarily worried about his rebound. He should be able to recover and post a much better batting average in 2012.

    Other than that, he put together a very nice 2011. He did not lose his power even though his batting average went down. He almost hit his career-high in home runs (he hit 33 in 2009). That signals good things to come.

    Longoria should be able to rebound in 2012 and at least hit for a better average. He is still young, so last season might result in some growth and maturity. At third base, there are very few better options than Evan Longoria. He plays an all-around solid game, assuming that his batting average returns to his career norms.

40. Adam Wainwright

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    2011 Stats:

    Injured

     

    Rationale:

    Adam Wainwright was one of the best pitchers in baseball in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. In 2009, he went 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA. In 2010, he went 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA.

    Unfortunately, he lost 2011 because of an injury.

    Nevertheless, he deserves recognition on this list because of his immense potential. If he is able to return from injury and post numbers similar to what he posted in either 2009 or 2010, he obviously deserves to be much higher on this list.

    However, it impossible to tell how well anyone will return from injury. Wainwright is no different. Hopefully, he will be able to return and have a superlative 2012 season. If his past history is any indication, there is no reason to doubt his success.

39. Josh Hamilton

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    2011 Stats:

    .298, 25 HR, 94 RBI, 8 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Josh Hamilton is an inspiration. He went from a can't-miss prospect who almost ended up out of baseball to a Major League Baseball All-Star. However, beyond the great story, he has developed into a very well-rounded hitter who can hit for both power and average.

    Hamilton had his career year in 2010, when he won the MVP after hitting .359 with 32 home runs and 100 RBI. He doesn't draw very many walks, which is not typical for a power hitter, but it seems to be working for him.

    Hamilton doesn't steal very many bases, but he still has decent speed and is a decent outfielder. His offense is definitely the highlight of his game, however. He is not your normal power hitter, but he is very talented and is fulfilling some of the potential he has shown throughout his life.

38. Gio Gonzalez

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    2011 Stats:

    16-12, 3.12 ERA, 197 K, 1.317 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    Gio Gonzalez is one of those players that I wanted to rank higher on this list. He has developed into a very talented young left-handed pitcher. However, he definitely has control issues, and that caused me to place him in this spot.

    That said, some of these statistics are probably going to improve this season. Because he was traded from the Oakland Athletics to the Washington Nationals, he will benefit from the difference between the American League and the National League. This typically results in a nice drop in ERA.

    Gonzalez does issues far too many walks, but his talent is undeniable. If he is able to rein in his arm, there is no doubt that he will be even more effective. Also, with an offense like the Washington Nationals already possess, he will get the run support to make that record look even better.

37. Adrian Beltre

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    2011 Stats:

    .296, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 1 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Adrian Beltre only played 112 games at third base last season. However, when he was out there, he was obviously highly effective. He has had a few speed bumps in his career, but overall he has been a highly effective third baseman.

    In terms of tools, he virtually has everything except for foot speed. He has won three Gold Gloves in his career and had a very strong arm from the hot corner. As already demonstrated by the above stats, he can hit for both power and average.

    Again, I would be a little bit hesitant with Adrian Beltre simply because he is an injury risk. However, if he is able to stay healthy, he is one of the best third baseman in baseball. Third base is a relatively weak position, so Beltre should stand out in that crowd.

36. Chris Carpenter

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    2011 Stats:

    11-9, 3.45 ERA, 191 K, 1.256 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    Chris Carpenter has battled injuries throughout his career, but he has been excellent the past three seasons. He came up especially big during the 2011 playoffs, where he went undefeated for the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Carpenter might be getting older, but he should be able to remain effective for a long time. Part of the reason for that is because he is a very smart pitcher. Even if his velocity drops a little bit, he is still smart enough to pitch effectively and get opponents out.

    Chris Carpenter is a former Cy Young Award winner, and even though I don't necessarily see him returning to that form again next season, he is a winner. Expect him to put up another very good season for the St. Louis Cardinals.

35. Andrew McCutchen

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    2011 Stats:

    .259, 23 HR, 89 RBI, 23 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Andrew McCutchen is still young. 2012 will only be his fourth season in Major League Baseball. However, he turned in a very nice performance in 2011 and showed that he can hit for power as well as run.

    Still, the problem with McCutchen is that his average dropped off last season and his strikeouts rose drastically. On the positive side, his home runs and RBI rose, but that type of trend makes me nervous. I worry about him becoming too concerned about power and sacrificing the rest of his game.

    Despite my concerns, he still possesses a lot of tools. He is capable of doing everything on the baseball diamond, so the most important thing for him will be to maintain balance. He should not sacrifice his average for the sake of power. However, if he is able to continue to improve, his ceiling is very high.

34. Felix Hernandez

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    2011 Stats:

    14-14, 3.47 ERA, 222 K, 1.220 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    Felix Hernandez is only one year removed from his Cy Young. However, 2011 was substantially more problematic than 2010. He allowed quite a few more hits, which consequently led to more than a run increase in his ERA.

    Even with all of that being said, Felix Hernandez is a very talented pitcher. He has been in Major League Baseball since he was a 19-year-old in 2005. He has demonstrated an ability to strike out batters in bunches and a tendency to overwhelm opposing lineups.

    He is ranked lower on the list because, frankly, 2011 was not necessarily up to the level of his normal stuff. However, he hadn't even hit his stereotypical prime yet, so he obviously could rebound and perform very well next season.

33. Hunter Pence

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    2011 Stats:

    .314, 22 HR, 97 RBI, 8 SB

     

    Rationale:

    I will admit that I was not the biggest proponent of the Philadelphia Phillies trading for Hunter Pence. However, he turned his game up a notch for the 54 games he played with the Phillies, and he was a vital part of keeping that team on track towards the playoffs.

    The one statistic that might be lacking for Pence would be his stolen bases. However, he is still a decent runner and is an above average fielder in right field. He has a great arm and adjusted very well to playing in the high pressure of Philadelphia.

    All in all, Hunter Pence is still in his prime. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that he gets even better with a full season in Philadelphia. But even without that hypothetical improvement, he is still a very talented player.

32. Dan Haren

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    2011 Stats:

    16-10, 3.17 ERA, 192 K, 1.024 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    Dan Haren was the second-best pitcher on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last season. That is a rather scary thought considering how well he did. He would be the top starter on most teams, and 2012 should not change that.

    Haren really came into his own in 2007, but he hasn't looked back since. His record has never dropped under .500, and he had never posted an ERA over 3.91 since then. He is consistent, and he is good. Also, he is going to be 31 years old this season, so he is in his prime.

    Dan Haren is definitely a solid option. He will be part of an incredibly powerful rotation for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and he might even have a better record this year given the additional run support that he will receive with Albert Pujols in the lineup.

31. Lance Berkman

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    2011 Stats:

    .301, 31 HR, 94 RBI, 2 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Lance Berkman has been one of the more consistent power hitters over the past decade. Even though he will be 36 years old entering this season, he still will be a solid option for the St. Louis Cardinals as they try to fill in the offensive void left by Albert Pujols.

    Berkman is not only a power hitter, but he is a complete hitter. He hits for power and average, and he does it all without sacrificing discipline. His career on-base percentage is .409. It is pretty impressive that he has gotten on base two out of every five times he has stepped to the plate over his entire career.

    Berkman is definitely all about the offense. However, he is very consistent and will surely continue to produce in 2012. He is getting older, so he might have a little bit more risk than some of these other players on this list, but he has been solid throughout his career and shouldn't stop now.

30. Jose Reyes

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    2011 Stats:

    .337, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 39 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Jose Reyes will be joining a very dynamic lineup with the Miami Marlins. If he is able to get on base as often as he was able to last season, he will score a lot of runs and create opportunities for the baseball team.

    Reyes was injured last year and is not necessarily known an incredibly durable player. However, he does exactly what a leadoff man is supposed to do: He gets on base, he steals bases and he scores runs (he scored 101 last season).

    He is not necessarily a five-tool player, but he does his job. Not only that, but he does his job very well. He is one of the better shortstops in baseball right now, and he should add a new dimension to a very talented Miami offense.

29. Brian McCann

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    2011 Stats:

    .270, 24 HR, 71 RBI, 3 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Brian McCann has consistently been one of the best full-time catchers in baseball for the past six seasons. He has been named to the last six All-Star teams, and he has won five out of the last six Silver Slugger awards in the National League.

    McCann has been surprisingly durable. Catcher is arguably the most physically demanding position on the diamond, and he has never missed substantial time because of injury. It is rare for a catcher to hit over 20 home runs in a season, but McCann has done that five out of the last six seasons.

    He is a very talented catcher, and he is still relatively young. Catchers do tend to experience shorter careers, but McCann has not even hit 30 years old yet. He still has a long career ahead of him, and he is very valuable to the success of the Atlanta Braves.

28. James Shields

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    2011 Stats:

    16-12, 2.82 ERA, 225 K, 1.043 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    James Shields had an excellent 2011. In fact, 2011 was even more remarkable because in 2010, Shields led the American League in hits allowed, earned runs and home runs allowed. He went from arguably the most hittable pitcher to third place in the American League Cy Young voting.

    That is why Shields is not ranked quite so high on this list. I want to believe that he has put that past behind him, but both 2009 and 2010 were relatively shaky. Before I set him too high on this list, I want to make sure that he is able to replicate last season.

    The Tampa Bay Rays have a very strong pitching rotation, and Shields will lead the way. He is definitely capable of repeating his 2011 performance, and the Tampa Bay Rays will need that performance as they try to compete for the incredibly competitive American League East crown.

27. Matt Cain

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    2011 Stats:

    12-11, 2.88 ERA, 179 K, 1.083 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    Matt Cain pitched a lot better than his record would indicate in 2011. Unfortunately, the San Francisco Giants had virtually no offensive output. That resulted in a much less attractive record, but we are going to look at his individual stats here.

    Cain did a very good job keeping opposing runners off base, and if they did reach base, he didn't allow very many of them to cross home plate. This is evidenced by his very nice ERA and WHIP. If he had had more offensive support behind him, his record would have better reflected his great individual performance.

    It is amazing that Matt Cain has a career losing record. However, he is a very talented pitcher who will hopefully get some run support this season and have a great record.

26. Ian Kinsler

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    2011 Stats:

    .255, 32 HR, 77 RBI, 30 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Ian Kinsler has become a very rare second baseman. His batting average is not too pretty, but he is able to hit for power and steal bases as well as any of them. He is part of a very powerful lineup, so that very well could be to his benefit, but protection in the lineup can only help so much.

    Kinsler does the hitting all by himself. In fact, what I found particularly interesting about him is that he really doesn't strike out very much. In 2011, he drew more walks than strikeouts. Most hitters with a low average strike out a lot (Ryan Howard, Jay Bruce etc.), but Kinsler isn't like that.

    He makes contact with the ball quite a bit, and because of that, hits might start dropping. If hits start dropping, his average will rise. If his average rises, he will be among the best second baseman in baseball. However, that is a bit of speculation, so I could not rank him quite as high as the best second baseman in baseball would deserve.

25. Carlos Gonzalez

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    2011 Stats:

    .295, 26 HR, 92 RBI, 20 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Carlos Gonzalez broke out in 2010 as a potential 30-30 threat. He followed that up with a very strong 2011 that produce comparable results, even though he only played in 127 games as opposed to 145 in 2010.

    Gonzalez probably benefits from playing in Denver, but he still is a very well-rounded talent. He is still young, though, and I would like to see him have a few more years this type of production before I move him higher on this list.

    All of that being said, Gonzalez very well could have even more potential than he has already shown. He has all of the tools to become one of the best players in baseball, and when he does, he will definitely be a force to be reckoned with.

24. Hanley Ramirez

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    2011 Stats:

    .243, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 20 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Part of the reason that Hanley Ramirez didn't look good in 2011 was because he missed substantial time due to injury. However, for the years before his injury, he has been one of the best shortstops in baseball. Of course, this year, he will be playing third base, but he won't all of a sudden lose the tools that made him great.

    In 2010, he hit .300 with 21 home runs, 76 RBI and 32 stolen bases. He can hit for average, hit for power, run, throw and field well. He might face a bit of a learning curve as he adapts to third base, but he should be fine defensively given a little bit of time.

    This is a risky pick. The Miami Marlins are essentially a powder keg with a torch a few inches away. Also, Ramirez will be returning from his injury last season, and there is always the question about whether or not he will be able to rebound. However, he was among the most talented shortstops in baseball, and he should be among the most talented third basemen in 2012.

23. CC Sabathia

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    2011 Stats:

    19-8, 3.00 ERA, 230 K, 1.226 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    CC Sabathia is a winner. There is no way around that. He is approaching his 200th career victory, and he is only 31 years old. Last season, he continued that trend and completed his third consecutive season with at least 19 wins.

    Why is he so low then? Well, Sabathia was pitching for the New York Yankees last season. He benefited from substantial run support. His individual stats were not as impressive as the pitchers who are ahead of him on this list.

    All of that said, however, he still had a very good individual 2011, and he is one of the most durable pitchers in baseball. His ERA or WHIP might not be as pretty as some of these other guys, but he wins ball games. That still makes him very valuable.

22. Joey Votto

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    2011 Stats:

    .309, 29 HR, 103 RBI, 8 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Joey Votto has constantly lived in the shadow of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder in the National League Central. With both of them out of the picture and in the other league, Votto will finally have an opportunity to demonstrate that he is the best first baseman in the National League.

    Votto won the MVP in 2010, so even though last season was a bit of a step back for him, he is obviously capable of big things. He is able to get on base with the best of them, as demonstrated by his .416 on-base percentage last season. He also has pretty good speed for a big man and won his first Gold Glove last season.

    Joey Votto will be looking to step right back up to his 2010 MVP performance, and I would not be surprised if he does. However, since he has only hit over 30 home runs that one time in his career, he was ranked a little bit lower because of the expected power that elite first basemen need to provide.

21. Curtis Granderson

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    2011 Stats:

    .262, 41 HR, 116 RBI, 25 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Curtis Granderson has four out of five very strong tools. Hitting for average has always been the one that has held him back a little bit. He is a free swinger who is a pretty nice definition for the concept that high risk accompanies high reward.

    Granderson is a very interesting case study. Early in his career, he hit plenty of doubles and triples with fewer home runs. That power has shifted however, and now he hits many more home runs with fewer doubles and triples. Of course, doubles and triples are nice, but home runs drive in even more runs, as evidenced by his increasing RBI totals.

    If Granderson was able to raise his average by something as simple as 20 points, he would definitely skyrocket up this list. However, until that happens, he is still a very talented player, and I would argue that he is the 20th-best in baseball.

20. Ian Kennedy

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    2011 Stats:

    21-4, 2.88 ERA, 198 K, 1.086 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    2011 was a breakout season for Ian Kennedy. He burst onto the scene with a fabulous winning percentage and top-of-the-rotation talent for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He also improved his control substantially last season, as evidenced by fewer walks in more innings, and obviously benefited from it.

    However, 2011 was only one season. Perhaps it will be indicative of even greater things to come. Perhaps he will be a one-hit wonder. While I don't see him fading, his lack of a track record is the reason why he is not ranked higher.

    Ian Kennedy very well could move up this list. If he is able to replicate 2011 and show that he can sustain his fabulous performance, I would have no problem moving him up. Right now, however, I want to see a little bit more before I placed him even higher.

19. Cole Hamels

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    2011 Stats:

    14-9, 2.79 ERA, 194 K, 0.986 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    Cole Hamels has consistently put up solid career numbers even though his wins and losses have never reflected his high level of performance. However, wins and losses are so dependent on team performance that other stats need to be taken into consideration.

    This is where Hamels really shines. Last season, and throughout his career for that matter, he was fabulous at keeping runners off base paths. He allowed under one walk or hit on average per inning last year.

    Keeping runners off the bases minimizes the damage from the occasional home run or extra-base hit that will inevitably occur. Because of that, Hamels is an incredibly valuable pitcher and is much better than his career record indicates.

18. Adrian Gonzalez

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    2011 Stats:

    .338, 27 HR, 117 RBI, 1 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Many people expected Adrian Gonzalez to have a power explosion in 2011 since he finally was able to escape San Diego. However, the opposite happened. His home runs actually decreased while he was playing in a better ballpark for hitters.

    However, I don't think the Boston Red Sox will complain about his performance. He led the American League in hits with 213. He also increased his doubles production in 2011. What this indicates is that he was hitting for power, but the balls weren't flying over the fence. As well as he produces runs, he is doing his job.

    Adrian Gonzalez still might be able to improve his home run numbers. Like I said, he put up more home runs in pitcher-friendly Petco Park than he did last season at Fenway Park. Perhaps those home runs will be set for an uphill turn.

17. Justin Upton

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    2011 Stats:

    .289, 31 HR, 88 RBI, 21 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Justin Upton has been developing into one of the most well-rounded players in baseball. He is only 24 years old right now, and he definitely has all of the physical talents to develop into a superstar. Eventually, I could see him going 40-40, but that is a little bit down the road.

    Right now, he is still incredibly talented. He had a career high in both doubles and home runs last season. What that means to me is that he has been hitting the ball harder. Even if it doesn't go over the fence, he had still been developing his extra-base power, which might develop farther into home run power.

    He is still relatively young, but he has already demonstrated that he had easily could have a 25-25 season in 2012, with a definite possibility of 30-30. Players of his physical ability are few and far between. The Arizona Diamondbacks will hope for his continued development.

16. Jacoby Ellsbury

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    2011 Stats:

    .321, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 39 SB

     

    Rationale:

    With numbers like that, some of you will probably wonder why Jacoby Ellsbury is not ranked higher than 16th. Essentially, I value consistency. Ellsbury has not hit more than nine home runs in any of his other professional seasons.

    Because of that fact, I wonder if he will be able to demonstrate that type of power again. Obviously, he did at one time, so he is obviously capable of it. Nevertheless, I could not necessarily put him higher than that position even though he had a fabulous year last year.

    Ellsbury is only in a position to move up this list. I love players that are able to produce power and speed. However, I want to see him do it again. Jose Bautista proved my caution wrong last season, and I hope that Ellsbury proves me wrong this season. 2011 was a great year for him.

15. Dustin Pedroia

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    2011 Stats:

    .307, 21 HR, 91 RBI, 26 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Dustin Pedroia is one of the few second baseman who has displayed all five tools. There are not very many performers who can turn in a 20-20 season, but there are even fewer at second base. Because of the relative position scarcity at second base, Pedroia is even more valuable than his stats would indicate.

    He is not necessarily the best at anything, but he is very good at virtually everything. As shown by his stats above, he can hit for average, hits for power and run pretty well, but he can also field and throw well on top of that.

    Pedroia demonstrated more power than he ever had last season. If he is able to maintain that level of power and differentiate himself from many other second baseman, he will remain near the top of the list. He really brings a well-rounded package of talent to the Boston Red Sox.

14. Cliff Lee

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    2011 Stats:

    17-8, 2.40 ERA, 238 K, 1.027 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    Cliff Lee has become one of the best left-handed starters in baseball. He has displayed excellent control while also developing into more of a strikeout pitcher than he has ever been. He has definitely become a highly mature picture and is intelligent on the mound.

    Lee had the lowest ERA of his career while pitching in Citizens Bank Park last season with the Philadelphia Phillies. That in and of itself is an accomplishment. However, part of the reason for that success lies in the fact that he barely ever let batters on base. It is hard to score runs without runners on base.

    Cliff Lee has been gaining momentum every season. Even though he is getting older, it would not be surprising to see him continue posting some more numbers. He doesn't rely on power that much, so even if his arm does deteriorate a little bit as he continues to age, that should not be a problem.

13. Jose Bautista

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    2011 Stats:

    .302, 43 HR, 103 RBI, 9 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Jose Bautista has emerged as one of the preeminent power hitters in Major League Baseball. Before 2010, he never hit more than 16 home runs in a season. In 2010, he hit 54, and he obviously hit 43 last season.

    His plate discipline has also been phenomenal. He drew so many walks that has on-base percentage skyrocketed to .447. Having a hitter in the middle of the lineup who is able to get on base almost half the time is an excellent asset.

    The pessimist in me says that the old Bautista will eventually return and his power production will go out the window. While I guess that any player has the potential to regress, I don't see that happening with Bautista. He seems to have developed into a solid all-around hitter.

12. Prince Fielder

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    2011 Stats:

    .299, 38 HR, 120 RBI, 1 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Prince Fielder may have the best raw power in baseball. He simply unleashes on the ball and sends it far into the night. He has hit at least 32 home runs for the past five seasons and peaked at 50 in 2007 when he was only 23 years old.

    Fielder is also very disciplined at the plate. He has drawn over 100 walks for the past three seasons and consequently has very high on-base percentages. He is also one of the best run producers in Major League Baseball right now and should receive plenty of opportunities to do that with the Detroit Tigers.

    Fielder might not be the most well-rounded player in baseball, but he can hit the ball very hard and get on base. At the end of the day, you need to get on base to score runs, and you need to bring home runs to win baseball games. Therefore, Fielder is very valuable even though he has some gaps.

11. Robinson Cano

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    2011 Stats:

    .302, 28 HR, 118 RBI, 8 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Robinson Cano obviously received the benefit of batting in the middle of the New York Yankees lineup. That definitely helped his RBI total. However, he still needed to hit the ball to bring on those runs. Therefore, that number is not as inflated as you might think. He is a talented run producer.

    On top of that, he is a talented fielder who won the 2010 Gold Glove and is a bit faster than his stolen base total would indicate. Stealing bases is simply not part of his game. He might be the closest thing there is to a five-tool second baseman right now.

    Cano is a well-rounded athlete who plays at a scarce position. That makes him even more valuable to the New York Yankees and as a baseball player in general. At 29 years old, he is still in his prime and should not decrease in productivity anytime soon.

10. Jered Weaver

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    2011 Stats:

    18-8, 2.41 ERA, 198 K, 1.010 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    Jered Weaver had a phenomenal 2011. He has been getting better virtually every year throughout his career, and he finally put it all together as one of the best performances of the 2011 season. If Justin Verlander had not blown the world away, Weaver would have won the Cy Young.

    Weaver will be 29 years old when the 2012 season begins. Therefore, he should be right in his prime and perform just as well as, if not better than, he did last year. He will be the top of a very talented pitching rotation for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and it will be fun to see what he can do with a high-powered offense providing him a lot of run support.

    While the argument can be made that he deserves a higher spot on this list, 2011 was the first phenomenal year. If he is able to replicate that performance and continue to deliver at that level, he is only going to move up in the future.

9. Tim Lincecum

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    2011 Stats:

    13-14, 2.74 ERA, 220 K, 1.207 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    Tim "The Freak" Lincecum had a fabulous season last year. Unfortunately, he barely received any run support, and his win-loss record suffered as a result. However, the fact that he did not receive any run support does not diminish his quality as a pitcher whatsoever.

    Lincecum has pitched in Major League Baseball for five seasons. He has won two Cy Young awards. He has led Major League Baseball in strikeouts three out of those five years. "The Freak" has earned a reputation as one of the best young pitchers in baseball right now.

    Again, I want you to look beyond Lincecum's record last season. The San Francisco Giants had very limited offense, and even though he only allowed less than three runs per nine innings, they were not able to produce enough runs to make his record look better. Nevertheless, he is a pitcher of great quality, and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for him.

8. Miguel Cabrera

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    2011 Stats:

    .344, 30 HR, 105 RBI, 2 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Many of these elite players will have a wide selection of tools. Miguel Cabrera might not have as many tools as many of these other top players, but he uses the tools he does have at an incredibly effective level to produce All-Star results.

    Namely, Cabrera is probably the best pure hitter in baseball right now. He boasts a career .317 average. However, he has also become more disciplined as he has matured. Last season, he drew 108 walks and only struck out 89 times. This gave him an on-base percentage of .448, which led Major League Baseball.

    Cabrera might not be the best fielder, and he is not especially fleet of foot. However, when he stands at the plate, you know that you will get a quality at-bat and probably end up with a runner on base. In terms of team value, that obviously ranks him pretty high.

7. Ryan Braun

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    2011 Stats:

    .332, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 33 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Ryan Braun has had a very difficult offseason. I don't want to get into any debate here about whether or not he did anything unethical last season. He won his appeal, and he is not going to be suspended. Therefore, I am going to operate under the assumption that everything he did was legitimate.

    Given that statement, he had one of the best all-around years in 2011. He won his fourth straight Silver Slugger and was named to his fourth consecutive All-Star Game. He is not just a one-dimensional player. He has all five tools, and he uses them very well.

    Ryan Braun is just barely entering his prime. As a 28-year-old, he should still making gains and improving. Whether he will or not is obviously impossible to know, but when you have all of the talent that he has, it is hard to believe that he will slow down.

6. Clayton Kershaw

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    2011 Stats:

    21-5, 2.28 ERA, 248 K, 0.977 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    Many of you will probably wonder why Clayton Kershaw isn't higher on this list. After all, he won the Cy Young Award last year and was dominant all year. However, last year was only one season. In order to move up this list, Kershaw needs to replicate that success a few more times.

    Of course, being ranked as the sixth-best player is nothing to be upset about. He has overpowering stuff, and he will only be 24 years old when the season starts. In terms of potential, the sky is virtually the limit, and if he continues on the track he is going on, he will probably be the best pitcher in baseball.

    However, right now, he has had two very good seasons and one outstanding season. At this level, consistency is highly valuable. One good season rarely makes you a legend. However, based on his potential and outstanding success last year, he still merited very high placement a very high spot on this list.

5. Troy Tulowitzki

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    2011 Stats:

    .302, 30 HR, 105 RBI, 9 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Troy Tulowitzki has a lot going for him. He is a power hitter at a position where power hitters are rare. He is one of the best fielding shortstops in baseball, as evidenced by his back-to-back Gold Gloves. He is only 27 years old right now, so his best years are arguably in front of him.

    Very few shortstops in recent history have been a talented as Troy Tulowitzki. 2011 was his best year so far, but he posted those numbers in only 143 games. If he had played the entire season, he might have hit a few more home runs and drove in a few more runs.

    Even without the argument of position scarcity, Tulowitzki belongs near the top of the list. When you factor in that he is substantially better than any other shortstop in baseball, he becomes that much more valuable and belongs near the top of this list.

4. Roy Halladay

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    2011 Stats:

    19-6, 2.35 ERA, 220 K, 1.040 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    Many of you will not like the fact that Roy Halladay is so high on this list. However, even though he is getting older (34 years old), he is still among the elite pitchers in baseball. As a matter of fact, last season represented the second-highest winning percentage of his career, his lowest career ERA, his highest career strikeout total and his second lowest WHIP.

    Like I noted earlier, even though he is getting older, he is definitely smart enough to handle it. What I mean by that is that even if his velocity drops next season or the season after, he is a thinking man's pitcher. He knows how to hit a spot in the right place at the right time.

    Pitchers can survive a long time on intelligence. However, Halladay has the stuff to go along with that intelligence and is still one of the best pitchers in baseball.

3. Justin Verlander

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    2011 Stats:

    24-5, 2.40 ERA, 250 K, 0.920 WHIP

     

    Rationale:

    Justin Verlander put up a 2011 that would be virtually impossible to replicate. Over the past three seasons, he has won a combined 61 games. He is maturing into a very consistent pitcher with an incredibly powerful arm.

    There is always a risk of a power pitcher hurting his arm. However, Verlander had started 30 or more games every season of his career. He is right in his prime at 29 years old, and his arm should definitely not be wearing out yet.

    Pitchers in general are risky investments. However, Verlander has demonstrated an ability to perform ay an incredibly high level over the past three seasons, and even though his win total might drop a little bit, his other performance metrics might even get better.

2. Matt Kemp

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    2011 Stats:

    .324, 39 HR, 126 RBI, 40 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Matt Kemp had the best numbers in the 2011 season. It takes a very special talent to be able to approach a 40-40 season. He possesses, and has obviously demonstrated, all five tools throughout his career, even though he is still only 27 years old.

    The only reason that I held him back from the top spot is simply because of his consistency. Yes, 2011 was amazing. However, in 2010, he only hit .249 with 28 home runs, 89 RBI and 19 stolen bases. These are still good numbers, but they are definitely not as special as 2011.

    I don't anticipate him dropping. However, because of that variability, I do not believe he deserves the top spot. If he starts to replicate 2011, he could very well move up this list.

1. Albert Pujols

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    2011 Stats:

    .299, 37 HR, 99 RBI, 9 SB

     

    Rationale:

    Albert Pujols arguably had his worst season as a professional in 2011. However, if you take a look at those numbers, you will realize that most other players would consider that a career year. Beyond those stats, he hits for power without striking out much (58 strikeouts in 579 at-bats last season), scores runs as well as he drives them in (105) and he could very well challenge for the title of home run king before his career is over (455 career home runs).

    Sure, 2011 was not his best year. However, if I could have any player in baseball to build my team around, I would take Pujols. His consistency is unmatched, and that makes him the most valuable player in baseball right now.

     

    Whether you think I know everything or nothing about Major League Baseball, you should follow me on Twitter and keep in touch. I love hearing what you all have to say!

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