Two words: Triple Crown
This season has been a very exciting one that will go down in history as one of the best in recent years.
In the first year of double wild-card berths in baseball, this season featured an unheard of three perfect games and seven no-hit performances (one combined); a Triple Crown winner; a rookie that hit 30 HRs and nearly stole 50 bases while competing for a batting title; and a formerly washed-up 37-year-old pitcher who won 20 games.
This season was incredible to watch, but unfortunately, many sports fans are not as tuned into baseball as they used to be. Many ideas have been considered to recapture the attention of the new age sports fan that must be entertained consistently. Few ideas seem to make sense, but if there is anything MLB could do more of, it is promoting the fabulous talent that the league has on display.
Baseball is not quite the star-dominated sport that basketball can be, but it should be. Some of the league’s current legends such as Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols are on the way down, but despite that fact, they both had solid years and are relevant. Focusing on what was accomplished this year with a minor consideration for reputation, who are the top 25 players in baseball right now?
Darvish is nasty
Much was made about Yu’s arrival on American soil this year as several teams bid for his services. In the end, the Rangers came out on top and were able to land the young Japanese superstar. Blessed with an impressive array of pitches, including a slow breaking ball, the hype was significant before he even threw a pitch in the major leagues.
He was not dominant this year, but he was likely the ace of the Rangers staff, despite Matt Harrison’s slightly better numbers.
Darvish posted very impressive numbers for a first year starter in the major leagues especially given that he was in a new country. Despite the language barrier, he did manage to register 16 wins to go along with nine losses, and had a pretty good 3.90 ERA.
He distinguished himself as a power pitcher, striking out 221 batters good for fifth in the AL. His WHIP was also pretty good at 1.28 and opposing hitters only hit .220 against him. It would be hard for Darvish to live up to the Daisuke Matsuzaka-like hype that he received coming in, but he had an all-star caliber season good enough to land him on this list.
Yadier may be the best all-around catcher in baseball
It is difficult to put a possible MVP candidate so low on the list, but due to the level of talent and production at other positions, this is where Molina shows up. Molina has always been a very good hitting catcher with a great arm and outstanding command of his pitchers, but this year he really put on a show to help pick up the slack in Pujols' absence.
For a catcher, Molina’s numbers were phenomenal. He batted .315 (fourth in the NL) and banged out 22 HRs and 76 RBI. This year is by far the best year of his eight-year career. If you throw in his first year over .500 slugging and a career-high 12 stolen bases, you have an elite year for the Cardinals catcher.
He is without a doubt one of the premier catchers in baseball.
King Felix is still an elite pitcher in this league
“King Felix” was not quite in the form he was in his 2010 Cy Young-winning year, but he certainly was a bright spot on another subpar Mariner ball club this year. Hernandez’s stats were not spectacular, but they still are all-star caliber at 13-9 with a 3.06 ERA (fifth in AL) with 223 strikeouts, which was third in the majors.
Hernandez has been strapped playing for losing teams for the majority of his time in Seattle, but he has still managed to do his job of trotting out to the mound every five days and being borderline dominant on most occasions. No occasion demonstrated that better than his August 15 no-hitter against the Rays.
Felix is on a short list of pitchers that teams would least want to run into during a short series. As long as he remains on a losing ball club, teams will be spared of that daunting challenge.
Beltre is an underrated star who has been a beast for years.
Adrian Beltre was a huge part of the Rangers World Series run last year. He did not disappoint this year. He was scorching hot at times, helping the Rangers sustain their almost wire-to-wire first place lead in the AL West.
Beltre hit .321 (third in AL) with 36 HRs (sixth) and 102 RBI (ninth). Beltre fell just short of both 200 hits and 100 runs to complement his run production. In a lineup loaded with bangers, including Josh Hamilton, it is arguable that Beltre’s contributions were the most important.
He smashed the ball all over the diamond this year, and was clutch at various points. There has not been a lot of talk about Beltre specifically, but he is having an MVP-caliber year.
The Rangers had as good a chance as any to win it all this fall, and Beltre was a big part of it. The Rangers ended up falling short, but if they had advanced into the playoffs, I believe Beltre would have asserted himself in a memorable way as he did last year on multiple occasions.
The "shutdown" cost him a few spots
Despite the fact that the Nationals are obviously serious about shutting him down for the year, well before what could be a special playoff run, Stephen Strasburg still managed to have a very solid pitching campaign. His numbers were hurt some by some of the stress and drama of his pending shutdown.
Strasburg, for better or worse, was babied in his second year, but for the majority of this year, he gave his team six or seven strong innings and few hitters got good whacks at his pitches. Strasburg was a 15-game winner, despite not being permitted to pitch a full season and often not to pitch deep into games.
His ERA was a very respectable 3.16 after spending most of the season being solidly in the twos. He still is seventh in the NL in strikeouts with 197 strikeouts after leading the league when he was shut down.
Strasburg’s stats do not do justice to the excellence he pitched with for the majority of the year. If he had been permitted to finish out this season, there is a chance his ranking could have been cut in half at least. Despite it all, Strasburg had an elite season. When he was on, few were better. We shall see if the Nationals can win it all without him, though they seem to be confident they can.
Headley has arrived
Early in the season, most did not know who Chase was. Now, if you have been following closely, you likely know that Headley not only was as hot a hitter as there was in the league this summer, but he also has found himself atop the RBI standings in the NL.
The Padres are still not back to relevancy, but Headley was scorching hot all summer and was a big part of their return to respectability. He hit .286 with 31 HRs and 115 RBI. He also is second in the NL in walks with 86, and fell just short of 100 runs.
His place on this list was secured by back-to-back 30 RBI months in August and September. He was near or at 10 HRs in both months as well. What an impressive breakout year for Headley.
Sale's first season as a starter was a great success
Last year, Chris Sale was a young and highly effective part of Ozzie Guillen’s overused, but elite, bullpen. He lived up to his top-prospect billing by consistently getting out left-handers in the late innings amidst a pennant race.
This year, the Sox took the gamble and put their prime talent into the rotation where they needed the most help. Some expected him to be good, but few predicted him to have this good of a year.
Overnight, Chris Sale became a Cy Young contender in the AL. He registered a 17-8 record with a 3.05 ERA, which is good for fourth in the AL. His 17 wins is fourth in the AL and he is just short of 200 strikeouts. A true sign of how tough he was to hit was his 1.14 WHIP, which is very impressive for a starter.
The Sox could not have bargained for better production out of their young ace. Combined with Jake Peavy’s bounce-back year, the starting pitching was a big part of the Sox's success this year.
Cueto is settling in as a top of the rotation pitcher
After a few subpar years early in his career, Cueto has now settled in as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. He has finally made use of his boundless talent and given the Reds the type of ace they can ride deep into the playoffs that they have not had in the past. Cueto has a quirky windup followed by nasty stuff, and seems to have been able to stay healthy and consistent the last three years.
The Reds ended up with one of the best records in baseball, due in large part to the great starting pitching they have gotten this year. Cueto was 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA with 170 strikeouts. His ERA and win total were both good for third in the NL, and he is fifth in the league in innings pitched.
That is a key stat for any starting pitcher that pitches for a Dusty Baker-led team because he generally tends to ride his bullpen into the ground. The luxury of having Cueto able to go the distance at any point was vital.
Cain was perfect on occassion this year
Matt Cain threw a perfect game this year. He has always been a great pitcher, but the combination of his stellar performance this year and the (hopefully temporary) fall of Tim Lincecum has called for him to be the ace of the Giants' elite starting pitching staff.
Just two years after winning a title, they cannot be counted out to make a run this year with the pitching they have. Cain posted a 16-5 record with a 2.76 ERA. His WHIP was an incredibly stingy 1.04, which was second in the NL. He turned in 219 innings and struck out 193 batters.
Cain should play a big part in what transpires in the playoffs. The Giants are depending on him to carry them against the potent offenses that they may face in order to get to the World Series.
Believe it or not, old reliable Derek Jeter has bounced back to have another Hall of Fame year.
Many wrote his eulogy as the face of the New York Yankees, but Jeter bounced back to have a very good season this year. He may not have been as clutch or had quite the impact that Robinson Cano had, but his overall performance and consistency at the plate has been impressive.
Jeter, in his 17th year, turned in a .316 avg (fifth in AL) with 15 HRs and 58 RBI. He fell just short of 100 runs this year and led the majors in hits with 216, well ahead of MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera. No matter what you want to say about how unsexy or overrated his game is, he is a great hitter that has been so consistent and timely it’s almost boring. He is a winner and a consummate professional. I think that we all should enjoy him while he lasts.
Robbie Cano is one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball
This year was not quite as strong as last year, but there is no doubt that despite all the talent the Yankees have, where Robinson Cano goes, so go the Yankees. Sure, the Yankees have been near or at the top of the division all season, and they have pushed the 100-win mark, but the Yankee lineup is always at its best when Cano is hitting the ball well.
After a slow start highlighted by just one HR and four RBI in April, Cano finished the season strong, batting .313 with 33 HRs and 94 RBI. He is third in the AL with 105 runs scored and sixth in the league with a .550 slugging percentage.
Cano has finished the season strong when the Yankees needed him most in this dogfight with the Orioles for the division crown. He has batted .618 in his last seven games. Cano is an elite player in this league, and this season was not far off the mark. His stats are good, but his impact is larger.
The new ace of the Nationals has an outside shot at the Cy Young.
Gio Gonzalez has some of the nastiest stuff in the major leagues. He has an impressive repertoire of pitches and has often made hitters look silly this year. He showed signs of this in Oakland, but this year, while somewhat overshadowed by the Nationals true ace Stephen Strasburg, he really has stepped up to take the reins of the Nationals pitching staff.
Combined with Strasburg, the Nationals would have had a championship quality one-two punch, but instead, he will be counted on to lead the way to what the Nationals hope is a deep run in the playoffs.
He led the major leagues with a 21-8 record. He was one of four-20 game winners in the major leagues this year, and complemented it with an impressive 2.89 ERA and 207 strikeouts (fourth in NL).
Gonzalez is not quite as dominant or well known as Strasburg, but he certainly is capable on any given night of putting the Nationals on his back during the playoffs and setting them up for victory. He yielded an impressive WHIP of 1.13 and an anemic opposing batting average of .206. That is a much needed weapon to have in the playoffs. Gio is certainly Cy Young-quality.
Kershaw may be the best pitcher in the NL
Kershaw is one of the true elite young pitchers in this game. He has become a mainstay in NL Cy Young conversations year in and year out, and definitely did his part to try and propel the Dodgers to another playoff berth.
He did not get the run support and wins that you would like to see from a Cy Young candidate, but he still managed a 14-9 record with a major league-low ERA of 2.53. He struck out 229 batters (second in NL), is second in the league in innings pitched (227.2), and has an almost ungodly WHIP of 1.02 which was tied for the major league lead. That is sick for a non-reliever.
He has settled in as a consistent big-time starting pitcher in the city of Angels. He just needs help if he wants to make another run at a World Series title. In the meantime, he is a clear Cy Young candidate this year that could have benefited from some run support to up his win totals. He won 20 last year in his Cy Young campaign.
David Price is the truth.
David Price is the NL version of Clayton Kershaw. He is another highly touted prospect that started out slow at first, but has been a Cy Young-caliber pitcher ever since. Price had the unique experience of filling in as a closer/setup man in his first season in the bigs, and has made the conversion to starting pitcher very easy.
This season might have been his best year. He is one of two 20-game winners in the AL (20-5) and he leads the AL in ERA (2.56).
He is a steady pitcher with great stuff, and he competes every time out. He registered 211 innings this year, which is eighth in the AL, and struck out just over 200 batters. His WHIP is also dangerously close to 1 (1.10). There really are no chinks in this young man’s armor, and that’s why he is considered an elite pitcher by all accounts.
50 saves is no joke
Out of nowhere, Johnson and the Orioles rose to high levels this year. Johnson was almost infallible entering the elite 50-save club with a major league-leading 51 saves. Not only was he reliable to come through for the Orioles in the many close games they played this year, but he did it cleanly.
He yielded a WHIP of 1.02 and only gave up 55 hits and 19 earned runs in six-plus innings. Those totals explain why he only blew three saves this year for the upstart Orioles.
If the Orioles make any type of run this year in the playoffs, Johnson will play a big part in that success given the cardiac nature that Baltimore tends to rely on to win.
Weaver is right in the middle of Cy Young debates
For the second year in a row, Weaver finds himself a Cy Young front-runner in the AL. He has seemed to find his form and consistently pitches dominant baseball throughout the year. Despite the disappointing Angels season this year, Weaver did not disappoint with his performance.
Weaver turned in a stellar 20-5 record with a 2.81 ERA (third in AL). He threw three complete games and he had a league leading 1.02 WHIP, which is flat-out nasty for a starting pitcher. Weaver was consistent throughout the year until the Angels fell out of contention. He would have been a handful to deal with in the playoffs had the Angels been in.
The Angels' demise may hurt his Cy Young chances, but then again, outside of Justin Verlander who was not quite as outstanding as he was last year, the other main candidates did not make the playoffs either. Weaver is definitely in the mix as one of baseball’s top starting pitchers.
When he is on no one is better
Last year, Verlander was so dominant that he became the first pitcher to double as the league MVP and Cy Young award-winner since Dennis Eckersley in 1992. He was the first starting pitcher to do so since Roger Clemens did it in 1986. Basically, the year he put together last year was just short of how impressive and unique Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown is.
This year,however, he was not quite as dominant, but by no means did he slack. Verlander makes the top 10 as a starting pitcher because he led the league with six complete games, which simply is not common anymore these days with the growing reliance on bullpens.
He also boasts a league-leading 239 strikeouts. He helped lead the Tigers back to the playoffs with a 17-8 record and a 2.64 ERA, which is second in the league. His WHIP was a sparkling 1.06.
Verlander may not have stood out as much as last year, but he definitely stakes as much of a claim as any other pitcher in the American League for the Cy Young award. It is clear that this year, the Tigers were Miguel Cabrera’s team, but that certainly should not overshadow Verlander’s greatness in 2012.
Rodney shot down pretty much everyone that faced him this year
This may surprise some of you. If you were like me and did not pay close attention to the Rays, it’s possible that you did not hear a great deal about what Rodney was doing for Tampa this year. Rodney was virtually unhittable whenever handed the ball with a lead, especially when Tampa got hot and made a serious run at the playoffs the last two months of the season,
Rodney closed the season with 48 saves, which was second in the AL, but what was more impressive was his crooked 0.60 ERA and 0.78 WHIP. These numbers are almost incomprehensible. After having to let go of their closer Raphael Soriano two years ago and making a closer out of inconsistent career setup man Kyle Farnsworth last year, the Rays found gold in Rodney this season.
His 0.60 ERA is the lowest ERA ever by a reliever that has pitched more than 60 innings in MLB history. It does not get any better than that. It is too bad the Rays did not make the playoffs because Rodney would have been quite a weapon to have in the pressure cooker the playoffs can be. Nevertheless, what a phenomenal season by a guy who was a setup man last year, and has never had numbers anywhere close to what he produced this season.
Hamilton's stats are huge enough to keep him in the top 10
At the beginning of the season, it looked as if Hamilton might be topping this list. He got off to a torrid start and looked like he would have a historic season. Instead, the closest he came to history was coming within one HR of preventing Miguel Cabrera’s historic Triple Crown bid. He cooled off significantly as the season went on, and may have been one of the many reasons for the Rangers moderate collapse down the stretch.
Looking at his stats cumulatively with no attention paid to how his stats were distributed, there is no denying that Hamilton had an outstanding season worthy of elite status. He hit .285 with 43 HRs and 128 RBI. He also had a slugging percentage of .577 (second in the AL) and a OPS that almost reached the 1.000 mark (.930). Throw in 103 runs (fifth in AL), and he certainly has nothing to be ashamed about.
The problem is that the Rangers, seemingly poised to make another World Series run, just surrendered a solid grip on the AL West title and ended up playing in a wild-card game that resulted in their quick elimination from the playoffs.
Some of the blame has to go to Hamilton given he started off in April at .395 and followed it with a .344 May. Since then, outside of a solid August that solidified his fine overall numbers, he failed to get above .260 in a month the rest of the way. I am nitpicking, but it’s significant and definitely a good reason for him not reaching the top five.
The knuckleball is back
Dickey was arguably the feel-good story of the year in baseball this year. Formerly a pitcher that barely stayed in the majors and did nothing of note, Dickey managed to post a dramatically impressive effort at this late stage in his career.
Thanks largely in part to his newly developed knuckleball pitch that is more dynamic and varied than most, Dickey was one of two 20-game winners in the NL with a 20-5 record. He recorded a 2.73 ERA, which was second in the NL, and he led the league with 230 strikeouts.
His reliability was probably his best attribute. He led the NL with five complete games and innings pitched (233.2). He had the best WHIP in the NL with a very intimidating 1.05 number. His story is very special given he reinvented himself so late in his career to become a dominant pitcher at age 37.
If you throw in that it’s speculated he pitched all season with an abdominal tear, you just have a miraculous story that should go down as one of the all-time improbable comeback stories in baseball.
Buster is one of the best hitting catchers of all time
One year after having his season ended by a dirty play at the plate, Buster Posey bounced back with a vengeance. Posey looked to be a fabulous rising star last year, but now he has established himself as an elite ballplayer that may have an outside shot at the MVP award this year.
Given he is a catcher, his stats are unbelievable. In just his second full season, he won the batting title with a .336 average with 24 HRs and 103 RBI. He has an on-base percentage over .400 and slugging around .550. Combined, he had a OPS of .957, which is second in the NL. Throw in the fact that he almost had 200 hits and you have a profile that is rivaled by an elite bunch from the catcher position over the years.
Posey is an elite talent that has done nothing but live up to it thus far when healthy. He is one of the key components to a division winner, and potential NL pennant winner, and he certainly has cemented himself as arguably the best hitting catcher in baseball.
McCutchen has become an impressive power hitter in the big leagues
If only Andrew had gotten any help this year in the second half. Once again, the Pirates went into the tank late in the season, despite another strong and encouraging start in the first half. While many of his teammates ran out of gas down the stretch, McCutchen maintained for the most part.
Like Hamilton, he started off putting up legendary numbers and was playing superhuman baseball. He cooled off, but he did not cool off to the extent that Hamilton did. Like Hamilton, he could not save his team from a free-for-all.
Despite the struggles with his team, McCutchen registered impressive totals for the season. He batted .327 (second in NL) with 31 HRs and 96 RBI. Once a hitter that did his most damage on the base pads and playing small(er) ball, he has become a bona fide power hitter.
His slugging percentage was second in the NL (.553) and his OPS was third at .953. He just hit the .400 on-base percentage mark, and led the NL with almost 200 hits (194). Throw in his 20 stolen bases, six triples and 107 runs (second in NL) and you have an impressive and diversified profile.
He likely will not get the MVP award due to the fact that a couple others have even more impressive stats and that his team failed him a bit, but there is no doubt that McCutchen is now approaching the elite category as a baseball player just three years into his promising career.
Another baseball hitting clinic provided by Ryan Braun
Last year, Ryan Braun was arguably the best hitter in baseball. He put up an impressive hitting display that helped drive the Brewers into a storybook playoff run. It ended in a dogfight against the eventual champions. Braun was named MVP in controversial fashion over Matt Kemp, who probably had more impressive numbers.
Just when people started to accept that Braun deserved the award, out came the news of a failed drug test. This was the last thing that Braun or Major League baseball wanted to hear after the way drugs have tainted the sport in the last decade or two.
Braun vehemently denied any wrongdoing, but it did not seem that many people believed him. Unfortunately for him, he was guilty until proven innocent. It looked like this would be a rough situation for Braun until our forgiving nation quickly put behind us any thoughts of judgment once he started producing on a high level again this year.
Whether or not he cheated, we will never know, but one thing we do know is that clean or unclean, Ryan Braun can hit the baseball. This season, he made a repeat case for the MVP, hitting .319 with 41 HRs and 112 RBI. Those type of stats are hard to ignore.
If it had not been for Cabrera’s Triple Crown campaign, we would be seriously lauding this performance without Prince Fielder to back him up this year. He was not too far off the Triple Crown himself, having finished third in batting average, first in home runs and second in RBI. That is pretty impressive.
What’s impressive about Braun is that he does not just do it with power numbers. He also stole 30 bases, which was fifth in the NL, and he led the NL in runs with 108. He also led the league in slugging percentage (just under .600) and OPS, just a tad under the 1.000 mark. Braun is a superhero at the plate and deserves all the props he gets for his incredible talent and his entertaining playing style.
Trout did it all this year
Trout burst onto the scene as an instant hit in the major leagues. In just his rookie season, he went from the surprise rookie who was a front-runner to be Rookie of the Year to being a serious MVP candidate. If not for the No. 1 player on this list, Trout’s performance would be nothing short of MVP-worthy. Instead, the 21-year-old will have to wait his turn.
Instead of Albert Pujols, it was Trout who served as the catalyst for the Angels' playoff run this year. They fell short, but if it were not for Trout, they may have been far out of the picture. Trout hit .326 (second in the AL) with 30 HRs and 83 RBI. Very impressive power stats for a spark plug-type player who does it all.
Because of his league-leading 49 steals, he was the youngest player to ever go 30/30. It is very rare to find players that can do both successfully, and he mastered it. He led the majors in runs by a landslide with 129 and he registered eight triples. He finished top three in slugging and OPS, and fell just a tick short of the .400 mark for on-base percentage.
Trout is a beast. His play in the field was phenomenal as he made game-saving play after game-saving play and stole several home runs from over the fence. He is an exciting player that really has developed a following of all ages around the country. I am thinking his time will come to top this list, just not quite yet.
Cabrera had a lot to smile about this year
I could make this short and sweet by saying two words: Triple Crown. It has not been done since 1967. The Triple Crown is a glorified accomplishment, maybe even more so than the old home run records by Ruth and Maris that seemed like they would never come down. It seemed like nothing more than a fun topic to toy with for a few weeks during several seasons until the best candidate flames out.
Now thanks to Cabrera, this is a reality. It is extremely hard to be so proficient as a hitter that you can top the standings in home runs, batting average and RBI. Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols, both superhuman in their own right in their prime, could never do it, mainly because their stature as hitters reached a point that they would never get enough opportunities to do enough damage to win all three categories.
It takes a very good player to pull this off, and Miguel Cabrera did it with flying colors while leading his team to a return trip to the playoffs. Cabrera finished the season with .330 batting average, 44 HRs and 139 RBI. He had a slugging percentage over .600 to lead the league, and fell just short of 1.000 (.999) to lead the majors in OPS. His on-base percentage fell just short of .400 and 205 hits and scored 109 runs to finish second in the major leagues in both categories.
He cracked 40 doubles, and was simply magnificent throughout the year for the Tigers. It is likely he benefited from having Prince Fielder on his team to protect him, but much love must be given to Cabrera for this amazing accomplishment. The best thing about it is that his team won in the process. They are not a favorite to make a lot of noise this fall, but you cannot count them out.
I thought the day would never come; now we just have to see if anyone can bat .400.
If Votto did not get hurt, he'd be squarely on this list
Carlos Beltran, Cardinals
Cole Hamels, Phillies,
Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
Allen Craig, Cardinals
Matt Kemp, Dodgers
Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
Joey Votto, Reds
Albert Pujols, Angels
Prince Fielder, Tigers
Adam Dunn, White Sox