5 Best Hitters in Major League Baseball Now

Christopher Connors@twitter.com/Chris_Connors42Correspondent IAugust 10, 2012

5 Best Hitters in Major League Baseball Now

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    Major League Baseball pitching's earned run average (ERA) has been in a steady decline for the past seven seasons and correspondingly; so has hitters' on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). It's getting harder and harder to find great hitters who produce at elite levels with real consistency.

    Some hitters, like Justin Upton will have a great season here, then an average season there. David Wright of the New York Mets has fought injuries along the way to have some superb, then some above-average seasons. Mark Teixeira is an example of a hitter who notoriously struggles early, heats up in May, then puts up respectable numbers the rest of the way.

    Here, in the dog days of summer, I felt this was as good of a time as any to determine who the best five hitters are in Major League baseball right now. My evaluation criteria involves taking into account past performance but primarily relies upon the broad range of current statistical metrics.

    I place a particular emphasis on ability to hit with runners in scoring position and player value, represented by Wins Above Replacement (WAR). WAR is a statistic that calculates how many more wins one player represents for his team, over a replacement level player at the same position.

    I also heavily factor in OPS, stolen bases and durability—one's ability to stay healthy and on the field—to make my selections. Without further ado, here are the top five hitters in baseball right now:

1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    In a year where the baseball world was expecting to adjust to the "Bryce Harper era," another rookie has grabbed the headlines and elevated himself to the status of "Best hitter in baseball." In mid-April, it was unfathomable to think that a 20-year old-kid with only 123 big league at-bats to his name could be the best overall player in the game by season's end.

    Yet, that is exactly what is happening right before our eyes.

    The remarkable rise of Mike Trout this season has captivated the baseball landscape and left fans and fellow players alike, absolutely awed by this young player's speed, power and exceptional baseball instincts.

    Mike Trout leads Major League Baseball in WAR and stolen bases, and he is also tops in the American League in offensive WAR, batting average and second in OPS. As a rookie, Trout has over a 1.000 OPS, which is practically unheard of. 

    The Angels were 6-14 before Mike Trout made his 2012 debut on April 28. Since then, the team is 53-39, good enough for the best record in the American League over that stretch. Mike Trout's potential is outsized, both as a hitter and fielder. It's unimaginable to think how good he can be as he continues to mature.

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    What a joy it has been to watch 25-year-old Andrew McCutchen steadily climb to the top of the baseball summit these past four years. McCutchen was the 11th overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2005 MLB draft and made his major league debut in June of 2009.

    This season, McCutchen is leading the majors in offensive WAR, slugging percentage and batting average. He has led the amazing resurgence of the Pirates, helping to give the fans of Pittsburgh hope that this is the season the black and yellow return to the MLB playoffs.

    McCutchen's exceptional break out season has blown his previous seasons out of the water, which were still very respectable in their own right. His .369 average far exceeds his career best of .286. You got the feeling these last couple of years that McCutchen could be special. 

    Raw power, blazing speed and a great hitting eye. His progression from above-average youngster to elite masher has been a sight to behold. Andrew McCutchen is the real deal.

3. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers slugger has been in "beast mode" this season, particularly powered by a scorching hot month of April where he batted .417 and clubbed 12 home runs. Though a nagging hamstring injury has caused him to miss over 40 games, Kemp is still on the very short list of the best players in the game.  

    He's hitting .351 in 222 at-bats thus far and is one of the top home run threats in the game. Kemp stole 40 bases one season ago and his hamstring injury in 2012 has limited his speed on the base paths. Though it's hardly subtracted from his elite game.

    Kemp led the National League in 2011 in WAR and won his second Gold Glove award. The 27-year old is in his prime, giving Los Angeles Dodgers fans hope of a NL West division title this season. There's nothing this masher cannot do at the plate right now. Kemp is a five-tool player and plays with a passion and vigor that is an exemplary model for any young player.

4. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

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    Votto has not slowed down at all since winning the 2010 National League MVP. In fact, the Canadian-born Reds first baseman has flat out raked since arriving in "The Show" during the 2007 season. Votto finished third in the National League in WAR in 2011 and was tops for a large chunk of this season before getting injured in mid-July.

    He also leads the NL in OPS and holds a lifetime batting average of .316. Votto is 28 years old, in the prime of his career and should continue to wreak havoc on opposing pitchers for many more years to come.

5. Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers

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    Hamilton was the face of Major League Baseball for the first half of the season this year, though he's been a different player since the early July. "The Natural," as he's been dubbed, has an abundance of raw power, which he grafts upon as sweet of a swing as there is in the game.

    Hamilton presently is second in the major leagues in home runs and tied for the big-league lead in RBI. Even with his struggles over part of the summer, he's still hitting a respectable .288, helping to power the Rangers to the best record in the American League.

    His four home run performance earlier in May at Baltimore was a majestic hitting display for the ages. Hamilton enjoyed an MVP season in 2010 before falling off slightly last season due to pesky injuries. He will be a free agent following this season and is certainly putting on quite a show for prospective suitors.