Major League Baseball teams are allowed to carry 25 players, meaning there are 750 active players at any given time during the regular season. There are hundreds more playing down in the minor leagues.
Given how many ballplayers there are out there, it's quite an honor to be considered a top-100 player. It's a wonder those who make the cut aren't tapped on both shoulders with a sword and told to rise.
Simple lists will have to do for now. MLB Network recently came out with its list of the top 100 players in baseball heading into the 2013 season. That's a game that two can play at, and I came up with my own top-100 list that looks decidedly different.
Come right this way and we'll go and pay homage to the 100 best players in MLB today.
You should recognize most of the stats referenced in the pages ahead, but you're going to come across some lesser-known stats as well. In particular, keep an eye out for the following.
wOBA: This is Weighted On-Base Average, and the best way to think of it is as a superior version of OPS. You can read all about it on FanGraphs and in a recent article of mine, but you can get by knowing that a .320 wOBA is about average and a .400 wOBA is elite.
ISO: This is Isolated Power, and it's pretty much just what it sounds like. It's a stat that measures how good a hitter is at hitting for extra bases. FanGraphs has the full rundown.
UBR: This is Ultimate Base Running. Imagine a stat that scores runners based on the decisions they make on the basepaths, and you have UBR. FanGraphs has the rundown.
UZR: This is Ultimate Zone Rating, and it's a stat that uses play-by-play data to assign fielders run values above or below average (which is zero). FanGraphs has the rundown.
DRS: This is Defensive Runs Saved. It's similar to UZR in that it's a defensive stat that assigns fielders a run value above or below zero. Having both stats to turn to helps one get a clear picture of how good or poor a player's defense is. FanGraphs has the rundown.
FIP, xFIP and SIERA: These are ERA estimators. You don't need to know the specifics, but just know that these stats are designed to judge pitchers in light of things they can actually control (strikeouts, walks, home runs, etc.).
As for how the list is ordered, I considered how players performed in 2012 and their track records in recent seasons. Track records were tricky when it came to relief pitchers, as relatively few have track records as elite players.
I was forced to make a compromise with relievers: No one-year wonders. That means no Fernando Rodney and no Aroldis Chapman. Chapman was the easier of the two to bar from the list because we don't know if he can be as good as a starter as he was as a reliever.
The other major thing I took into consideration was health. Generally speaking, players coming off injuries are not ranked as high as they would be if they were otherwise healthy.
Now then, let's get to it.
It was hard not to include Billy Butler on this list in light of his .300 career average and .359 career wOBA, and even harder considering his career-best 29 homers in 2012.
Butler didn't make the cut because full-time DHs like him are extremely restricted in their capacity to generate value, and Butler has not been the league's best DH over the last three years (that guy's on the list). In addition, the 19.9 HR/FB rate Butler posted last season is suspect compared to his career HR/FB rate of 11.4 percent.
The talent is definitely there with Starlin Castro, and there's no question he still has plenty of untapped potential. He can do a lot better than the .297 average and .330 wOBA he already owns.
I omitted Castro from this list because his development didn't take a step forward in 2012. He set new career highs in homers and steals, but he continued to display bad habits at the plate and in the field that hurt his overall value. There's a case to be made for him to be on this list anyway, but I feel I need to see more from him.
However, there's still a lot of uncertainty about Ellsbury due to how his 2010 and 2012 seasons were lost years as a result of injuries. Plus, his 2011 season looks like a huge outlier compared to what he did as an everyday player in 2008 and 2009.
But I just can't buy it. Rios was horrid in 2011, and his turnaround in 2012 was largely aided by juiced numbers at U.S. Cellular Field. His HR/FB rate there was almost twice as high as it was on the road, and he also had a home wOBA nearly 50 points higher than his road wOBA.
C.J. Wilson has a 3.36 ERA and has logged about 630 innings over the last three seasons. His 2.94 ERA in 2011 helped make him a Cy Young contender.
My issue with Wilson is that his 2011 season looks out of place next to his 2010 and 2012 seasons. He had control issues both years, as well as smaller strikeout rates. The 5.85 ERA and 4.3 BB/9 he posted in his final 12 starts didn't help his cause here, as that stretch looks like a correction of sorts.
Aaron Hill has been one of Arizona's best players ever since he arrived late in 2011.
Hill was one of Arizona's hottest hitters down the stretch in '11 with a .368 wOBA in September. He proceeded to post a .375 wOBA and hit 26 home runs with 14 stolen bases in 2012. A loss of power probably isn't in the cards, knowing that Hill hit a total of 62 homers in 2009 and 2010.
Hill's fielding, however, is a question mark. UZR had him as an above-average fielder in 2012, but DRS had him as a below-average fielder.
The jury may be out on Hill's glove, but it's good enough for the Diamondbacks that his bat has been reborn in the desert.
Jim Johnson was automatic in 2012. He saved 51 games in 54 tries and compiled a 2.49 ERA.
Johnson was dominant in 2011, too, finishing with a 2.67 ERA in 69 appearances that spanned 91 innings. He's pitched 159.2 innings over the last two seasons, third-most among relievers. That makes him much more valuable than your garden-variety reliever.
It's nearly impossible to make hard contact against Johnson. He's held opponents to a .317 slugging percentage over the last two seasons, and he has his 61.8 ground-ball percentage to thank for that.
Another 50-save season is a lot to ask of Johnson, but the Baltimore Orioles will be safe when the ball is in his hands in 2013.
Only two relievers have saved more games than Jonathan Papelbon over the last three years, and they both happen to be broken (see Valverde, Jose and Bell, Heath).
Papelbon is not. He had a typical Papelbon-ish season in his first year with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012, finishing with a 2.44 ERA and a 5.1 K/BB ratio. His home-run problems from 2010 resurfaced, but he still saved 38 games in 42 tries.
If there's anything to be worried about heading into 2013, it's that PITCHf/x data shows that Papelbon's average fastball velocity dipped below 94 miles per hour in 2012. He can still get by with the velocity he has, but another drop in 2013 could lead to issues.
For now, Papelbon has earned the benefit of the doubt.
In his heyday between 2005 and 2009, Chase Utley was one of the very best players in baseball.
Those days have passed, and Utley has his health to thank for that. He's played in only 301 games over the last three seasons, and he has no guarantees he'll be able to stay healthy in 2013 at his age.
Utley is still pretty good, though. He compiled a .342 wOBA, hit 11 homers and stole 11 bases in only 83 games in 2012, and he was as solid as ever on defense. He finished with a 5.3 UZR and eight Defensive Runs Saved, good numbers for such a small sample size.
If Utley can play in over 100 games in 2013, a 20/15 season is in the cards. Combine that with an above-average wOBA and solid defense at second base, and he'll be a quality all-around player.
We really have no clue how Mariano Rivera is going to bounce back from a torn ACL in 2013.
Mo has never had to come back from a major injury before, and his age won't make it any easier. He turned 43 in late November, which is tricky enough in and of itself because no 43-year-old reliever has ever logged as many as 60 appearances and 30 saves.
But would this list be complete without him? Heck no.
Rivera is the greatest reliever in history, and he was doing just fine in his old age before he blew up his knee early last May. Between 2008 (his age-38 season) and 2011, he compiled a 1.71 ERA and saved more games than anybody except Brian Wilson.
I have my doubts about Rivera in 2013—just not enough of them to leave him off this list.
Wade Miley was a consistent bright spot in what was otherwise a very inconsistent season for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012. He emerged to pitch just about 195 innings and compiled a 3.33 ERA.
By FanGraphs' reckoning, Miley was one of the most valuable pitchers in baseball last year, as he finished tied for 10th among starters with a 4.8 WAR.
However, it's unlikely that Miley will be able to sustain his 6.9 HR/FB rate from 2012 given his low strikeout rate and the fact that he has to pitch at Chase Field. Per ESPN's Park Factors, it's a good place to hit homers.
Still, to go from being a nobody to being a top-100 player in one year is pretty good.
Yoenis Cespedes' rookie season was marred by inconsistency early on and injuries throughout, but he made it clear with his .368 wOBA, 23 homers and 16 steals that he has plenty of star potential.
Of Cespedes' 23 homers, 14 came after the first of July. He also maintained a respectable strikeout rate down the stretch after getting eaten alive by big-league pitching in the early going.
Cespedes was a liability in center field, but not so much in left field. Based on his minus-four UZR and plus-one DRS in 2012, he should at least be able to provide adequate defense in left.
Even if he plays below-average defense in left, Cespedes still has the potential to be a great source of value because of his bat and athleticism. A 30/30 season is not out of the question.
Josh Johnson doesn't have the same electric stuff that he used to. PITCHf/x data shows that his average fastball velocity has dipped from about 95 miles per hour down to about 93 miles per hour.
But Johnson pitched better in 2012 than his 3.81 ERA indicates. His FIP and his xFIP were lower than his ERA, and his ERA was inflated by early-season struggles. He had a 6.61 ERA through his first six starts and a 3.26 ERA in 25 starts after that.
The move over to the American League isn't too big of a concern. Johnson made 17 starts against AL clubs in interleague play with the Miami Marlins and compiled a 2.95 ERA. The Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees didn't give Johnson much trouble in his starts against them.
This is good, because Toronto clearly has it in mind to stop being pushed around by those clubs.
Whether you prefer to call Martin Prado underrated or underappreciated, either shoe fits him pretty well.
Prado is a .295 career hitter with a .341 career wOBA and decent pop. He's going to hit between 10 and 15 homers for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and in 2012, he showed with a career-high 17 steals that he has some sneaky speed as well.
Prado will also provide value on defense at third base. It's a position he hasn't played on a full-time basis in his career, but he owns a career 4.0 UZR and 23 Defensive Runs Saved at the hot corner.
Prado is not a superstar, but that doesn't concern the Diamondbacks. Guys like Prado seem to be precisely what they're looking for these days.
Sergio Romo became a star closing games for the Giants down the stretch and in the postseason last year, but he was a brilliant reliever well before Bruce Bochy started using him in the ninth inning.
It was business as usual for Romo in 2012. He finished sixth among relievers in ERA and fourth in K/BB ratio. He was particularly nasty once he started closing games out, issuing zero walks and compiling a 1.04 ERA in his final 20 appearances.
Regardless of which innings he's pitching in, Romo's a good one.
Hiroki Kuroda's transition in 2012 was a tough one. He was going from pitching at a very pitcher-friendly ballpark in the National League to pitching in one of the toughest divisions in the American League.
It didn't get off to a great start, as Kuroda had a 4.56 ERA with 10 home runs allowed in his first nine starts. But in 24 starts the rest of the way, he had a 2.92 ERA and gave up only 15 home runs.
Kuroda had his usual control, but the key for him in 2012 was a career-best 52.3 ground-ball percentage. He kept the ball down, got ground-ball outs and walked away with a career-high 219.2 innings.
The only right-handers to pitch more innings than Kuroda in 2012 were Justin Verlander, R.A. Dickey, Felix Hernandez and James Shields—not a bad list of company right there.
Mark Teixeira is not the player he once was. His wOBA has been declining bit by bit ever since the 2008 season, and he's coming off a season in which even his durability failed him.
But Teixeira still has pop in his bat, as he hit 24 home runs last year and compiled a .224 ISO that qualified him as a well-above-average power hitter. Had he stayed healthy for his usual 150 games, he would have topped 30 home runs once again.
The one area where Teixeira isn't declining in the slightest is on defense. He finished 2012 with a 10.5 UZR and 17 Defensive Runs Saved, tops among all first basemen.
His days of .300 batting averages and .400 OBPs are gone, but Teixeira still hits for power and plays defense better than the bulk of the league's first basemen.
I wouldn't say Paul Goldschmidt is as underrated or as underappreciated as Martin Prado, but he's in that general neighborhood.
The 2012 season was Goldschmidt's first full year in the bigs, and he made very good use of it. In 145 games, he compiled a .363 wOBA with 20 home runs and 18 stolen bases.
Goldschmidt also got it done on defense. He wasn't a Mark Teixeira-level defender at first base, but his 3.5 UZR and plus-one DRS qualified him as a slightly above-average defender.
Goldschmidt posted a 3.7 fWAR that ranked behind only three other everyday first basemen. The Arizona Diamondbacks have every reason to expect him to get better in what will be his age-25 season in 2013.
For a period of about eight weeks toward the end of the 2012 season, Kris Medlen was the most unhittable pitcher in baseball.
Medlen made the transition from reliever to starter in late July and proceeded to go 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts the rest of the way. He held opposing hitters to a mere .483 OPS. PITCHf/x data shows that his changeup was a filthy weapon, as hitters could muster just a .087 average against it.
Medlen's hot streak was not unprecedented. He showed he could be an effective starter in 2010 when he went undefeated in 14 starts with a 3.86 ERA before he had to pack it in to undergo Tommy John surgery.
Braves fans shouldn't expect Medlen to run away with the Cy Young Award in 2013, but expecting him to be the ace of Atlanta's staff is fair enough given the ability he's shown.
Chris Sale looks like a stick figure out on the mound, and his delivery is a messy affair that looks like it should belong to a reliever—which, of course, is what Sale used to be.
But Sale looks like he can handle the whole starting thing. His first season as a starter saw him post a 3.05 ERA with a 9.0 K/9. He showed impressive control for a first-time starter as well, with a 2.4 BB/9.
The question marks begin to appear when you look at how Sale finished the year. He had a 2.19 ERA at the break, but a pedestrian 4.03 ERA after the break with an elevated HR/FB rate. You wonder how much of that was fatigue and how much of it was the scouting report on him getting around.
Sale will have adjustments to make in 2013, but he made one thing clear enough in 2012: The talent is definitely there.
When you share a starting rotation with Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, it can be hard to get noticed—even when you have an ERA under 3.00.
Jordan Zimmermann would know. He barely got any attention last year, despite the fact he compiled a 2.94 ERA over 195.2 innings. He had a good season in 2011, too, posting a 3.18 ERA over 161.1 innings.
Zimmermann isn't a big strikeout guy, but he does have pinpoint control. His 1.87 BB/9 over the last two seasons is good for seventh among qualified pitchers, and in 2012, he benefited from a ground-ball spike.
Zimmermann may be the third-best pitcher in Washington's rotation, but he's a No. 1 or No. 2 in plenty of other rotations.
The perception is that Angel Pagan had a career year with the Giants in 2012. He had a .334 wOBA, stole 29 bases and led the league with 15 triples.
The reality is that Pagan had a season in 2010 that was just as good as his 2012 campaign. He had a .334 wOBA that year, too, with 37 steals and 11 home runs. He also rated as a well-above-average fielder.
Pagan wasn't as good in the field in 2012, but he provided above-average value with his bat and tons of value on the basepaths. In addition to his 29 steals, he had a UBR score of 5.9 that ranked behind only Jason Heyward.
The Giants can expect Pagan to get it done at the plate, on the bases and in the field in 2013, resulting in solid all-around value.
Doug Fister had a 1.79 ERA down the stretch after joining the Tigers in 2011, and he had a solid 3.45 ERA in his first full season with the club in 2012.
Fister's ERA last year probably would have been better had he been healthy the whole year. When he finally got on a roll in July, the result was a 2.86 ERA in his final 16 starts.
Fister succeeds largely because of his control. Only four pitchers have him beat in BB/9 since the start of the 2010 season, and in 2012, he balanced a respectable 7.6 K/9 with a 51.0 ground-ball percentage.
It's easy to overlook Fister next to Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez in Detroit's starting rotation, but he's a quality pitcher.
When it comes to Curtis Granderson, it often feels like the good outweighs the bad.
For one, Granderson strikes out too much. He owns a strikeout rate over 25 percent dating back to 2010.
For two, Granderson's speed has been a non-factor on the bases in two of the last three seasons. He stole 25 bases in 2011, but a total of 22 in 2010 and 2012.
For three, Granderson's defense is a liability. He was a below-average fielder in the eyes of UZR and DRS in 2011 and a way-below-average fielder in 2012.
But then there's the good, which is very, very good. Granderson has hit more home runs than anybody over the last two seasons with a total of 84. The next guy on the list is Ryan Braun, and he's only hit 74.
Granderson will have a hard time hitting over 40 homers again given the fact he's due to miss the early portion of the season with a broken arm, but he could easily top 30 in five months of action.
The Philadelphia Phillies are going to be without Carlos Ruiz for the first 25 games of the season as he serves a suspension for using Adderall. When he returns, they'll be welcoming back one of their most vital players.
Ruiz is one of the game's better defensive catchers. He threw out 34 percent of would-be base-stealers in 2012 and finished with three Defensive Runs Saved. His 3.79 career catcher's ERA shows that he also calls a good game.
Offensively, I'm not expecting Ruiz to post a .398 wOBA again. He should maintain a BABIP over .300, but the .215 ISO he posted in 2012 is too good to be true. The same goes for his 15.1 HR/FB rate.
Even so, Ruiz will be a well-above-average catcher even if his bat does cool down in 2013.
It felt like he turned back the clock, but what Derek Jeter really did in 2012 was pick up where he left off.
In the second half of the 2011 season, Jeter hit .327 with a .360 wOBA. He kept going in 2012, hitting .316 with a .347 wOBA and collecting a league-high 216 hits.
Jeter's going to have a hard time doing it again. He's coming off a fractured ankle, and history says it's not likely he'll repeat his .347 BABIP from 2012. Few 39-year-old players have managed BABIPs that high.
Elsewhere, Jeter's not the weapon he used to be on the basepaths, and his defense is an issue. He finished 2012 with a minus-15.2 UZR and a minus-18 DRS, and his surgically repaired ankle won't help him get any better.
Nonetheless, Jeter will provide enough value with his bat to remain better than most shortstops.
After showing flashes in 2010 and 2011, Ian Desmond came into his own in 2012. He led all everyday shortstops with 25 home runs and a .362 wOBA, and he stole just as many bases (21) as Elvis Andrus.
It will be hard for Desmond to repeat the power outburst. His ISO shot from the low .100s all the way up to .218, and his HR/FB rate climbed over 18 percent after being below eight percent in 2010 and 2011.
In addition, the jury's still out on Desmond's defense. The UZR metric saw him as an above-average fielder in 2012, but the DRS metric disagreed.
Still, Washington Nationals fans should feel free to expect more solid play from Desmond going forward. The signs say he got a little lucky in 2012, but he's smack-dab in the middle of his prime years at the age of 27.
I had Jake Peavy pegged as a lost cause before the 2012 season. But healthy for the first time in forever, Peavy proved he can still pitch.
Peavy compiled a 3.37 ERA and logged over 200 innings for the first time since 2007. It helped that his 4.0 K/BB ratio was one of the best in baseball, and he managed to post a lower HR/FB rate at home than he did on the road.
That won't be easy to repeat. It's not like Peavy was racking up ground balls last year, as his 44.6 fly-ball percentage was one of the highest in baseball. Also, U.S. Cellular Field is a dangerous home-run park.
However, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper is a lot craftier than he gets credit for, and he's clearly worked wonders with Peavy. Nothing should be put past him.
By his usual standards, Brian McCann had a horrible year in 2012. He hit 20 home runs for a fifth straight season, but he hit just .230 with a .300 wOBA.
McCann's poor season can be chalked up to injuries. His right shoulder was dinged up for much of the year, and he also had some knee trouble. He played through the pain, and his numbers paid the price.
McCann had surgery on his shoulder during the offseason. If he recovers from it, he should be able to put up his usual numbers: a wOBA in excess of .350 and over 20 home runs. He'll do so while playing characteristically solid defense and taking good care of Braves pitchers.
McCann would be much higher on this list if he wasn't coming off surgery. When he's healthy, he's one of the game's most well-rounded catchers.
There aren't many DHs on this list, but David Ortiz absolutely had to be here. Among full-time DHs, he's still king.
That's made clear enough by the fact that Big Papi has the best wOBA over the last three years among DHs by a long shot. He managed a .425 wOBA and 23 homers in only 90 games in 2012, in which he was felled by a bad Achilles. The word from The Boston Globe is that the injury hasn't cleared yet.
Ortiz should keep on chugging in 2013 if he stays healthy. The strikeout problems he had a couple of years ago are gone, and he's proved himself capable of sustaining a BABIP over .300 and an ISO well over .200.
He can't provide value on the bases or in the field, but Ortiz can still hit.
Jay Bruce has been one of the league's more dependable home run hitters in recent years. He's topped 30 home runs in each of the last two seasons and has hit a total of 134 in only five career seasons.
Bruce isn't higher on this list because of how much his career numbers have been inflated by Great American Ballpark. It's where Bruce has hit 82 of his 134 career homers, and he owns a .274 ISO for his career at home (compared to .182 on the road).
Bruce's defense is another question mark. He rated as an elite defender in 2010, but not so much over the last two years. Both his UZR and his DRS have been on the wrong side of zero.
But one of the top right fielders in baseball all the same? Absolutely.
Torii Hunter outdid himself in 2012 by achieving a new career-high .313 batting average.
He won't be doing that again. Hunter's BABIP in 2012 was .389, second only to Dexter Fowler in MLB. His career BABIP is .307, and that's right around where Hunter will likely be in 2013.
Even still, Hunter has it in him to hit close to .300 with a wOBA in the .350 range, and the move from Angel Stadium of Anaheim to Comerica Park should only help his power production.
Hunter will also give the Tigers value on defense. He was very comfortable in right field in 2012, ultimately posting a 10.4 UZR and finishing with 15 Defensive Runs Saved.
Hunter and Austin Jackson are going to be a very good duo, both in the outfield and at the top of Detroit's lineup.
Adam LaRoche had a career year in 2012, hitting a personal-best 33 home runs with his best wOBA since 2006.
It wasn't a breakout as much as it was a return to form. LaRoche hit at least 20 home runs in six straight seasons before the streak came to an end in 2011, thanks to major shoulder injury.
LaRoche also provides value on defense. He and Joey Votto finished with comparable performances in the eyes of UZR and DRS, but LaRoche logged a few hundred more innings in the field, thanks to Votto's knee injury. That helped him win his first Gold Glove, which felt overdue.
LaRoche isn't a superstar like Votto is, but he's certainly one of the game's better first basemen.
Matt Harrison has quietly become one of the game's better left-handed pitchers over the last two seasons, compiling a 3.34 ERA and pitching 399 innings.
Harrison's not a big strikeout guy, but he's getting better at inducing ground balls. That's something he did to the tune of a 49.0 ground-ball percentage in 2012. It's not a bad strategy, given the talent the Texas Rangers have on their infield.
Harrison's overall numbers would be even better if he didn't have to pitch at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, where he has a career 4.37 ERA.
For what it's worth, Harrison's 134 ERA+ over the last two seasons says Harrison is already on Cole Hamels' and CC Sabathia's level.
Mat Latos didn't get off to such a great start in his first season with the Reds. Through his first 14 outings, he had a 5.20 ERA and had given up 16 home runs.
Latos settled down after that. His final 19 starts saw him compile a 2.43 ERA and give up only nine home runs. He gets additional points for posting a lower ERA at home in 2012 than he did on the road, not an easy thing to do when one pitches at Great American Ballpark.
The one complaint I have about Latos is how his K/9 has declined from 9.2 to 2010 down to 8.0 in 2012. The trade-off, however, has been an increase in innings pitched each year, which is more than a fair deal. He broke the 200-innings mark for the first time in his career last season.
And since Latos is still only 25, odds are we haven't seen his best yet.
As much as I hate the "roller-coaster season" cliche, that's the perfect way to describe the kind of year Jimmy Rollins had in 2012.
Take, for example, his wOBAs by month: .249, .281, .397, .281, .303, .392. He went from being bad to awesome, to bad again, to better to awesome once again.
The end result was a solid enough .322 wOBA. His 23 homers marked his highest home run total since he hit 30 in 2007, and he stole 30 bases and compiled a very good UBR score of 5.0.
UZR and DRS disagreed on Rollins' defensive prowess, but both scores indicate that he could have done a lot worse on his defense at his age.
The short version: Rollins is not the player he once was, but he's not done producing just yet.
Carlos Beltran belongs in the same boat as Jimmy Rollins. He's clearly past his prime, but he's not done producing just yet.
Beltran followed up a solid 2011 season by hitting 32 home runs and compiling a .355 wOBA in 2012. He also took well to full-time action in right field, as both UZR and DRS rated him as an above-average fielder.
The concern with Beltran is how much he tailed off at the plate in the second half of the season. After posting a .388 wOBA before the break, he managed just a .313 wOBA after the break.
But Beltran has bounced back from worse. If he stays healthy in 2013, it's fair to expect 25-ish home runs and solid defense from him in right, resulting in a fair amount of value.
Madison Bumgarner is off to a tremendous start in his career, having compiled a 3.23 ERA since 2010 with two World Series victories.
Bumgarner was about as solid in 2012 as he was in 2011. He struck out over eight batters per nine innings and walked barely over two batters per nine. He finished with a 3.37 ERA and 208.1 innings.
The one thing I take issue with are Bumgarner's home/road splits. He was an elite pitcher at home with a 2.38 ERA in 15 starts. But on the road, he had a mere 4.40 ERA. Not surprisingly, the primary culprit was a much higher HR/FB ratio on the road than at home.
I'd still take Bumgarner over most left-handers, but those splits will have to level out in 2013.
Getting Denard Span was a big win for the Washington Nationals. They needed a leadoff hitter, preferably one who could also play center field, so Bryce Harper could move to left. Span's perfect.
Span qualifies as an above-average hitter, thanks to a career .332 wOBA. He'll steal over 20 bases if he stays healthy, and he'll compile a positive UBR score by doing the little things on the bases as well.
Both UZR and DRS see Span as a very good defensive outfielder. The DRS metric had him pegged as elite in 2012, as his 20 Defensive Runs Saved were good enough to put him in Michael Bourn's company among center fielders.
That's a very good place to be, for the record, and Span is almost as good of a leadoff man as Bourn is. They might as well be cousins.
Adam Jones built on a quietly successful 2011 season by setting career-highs with 32 home runs and 16 stolen bases and posting a career-best .361 wOBA in 2012.
Half of Jones' home runs came in the first two months of the season thanks to an absurd HR/FB rate. He's going to have a hard time finding that power again, especially if he doesn't show more patience at the plate. Jones owns just a 4.8 career walk percentage.
Jones' defense is also not as good as his two Gold Gloves suggest. He has athleticism to spare, but both UZR and DRS see him as a clearly below-average fielder.
Regardless, Jones is going to be able to generate more value than most center fielders due to his power and speed, and he's not yet at an age where he has to worry about losing either one.
Edwin Encarnacion had never hit more than 26 home runs in a season before hitting 42 in 2012.
His outburst wasn't necessarily a fluke. Encarnacion made a swing change that allowed him to be quicker to the ball, and his 18.7 HR/FB rate wasn't absurdly higher than any HR/FB rate he had posted before.
Encarnacion also learned to be more patient and take more walks, and his increase in power did not come with an increase in strikeouts. He was waiting for his pitches and getting them when they came.
So asking Encarnacion to hit 40 home runs again in 2013 may not be asking a lot. He came out of nowhere in 2012, but he looks like he's now on the same career path that Jose Bautista began walking a couple years ago.
Aramis Ramirez was one of the league's best-kept secrets in 2012.
So why isn't Ramirez higher on this list?
One reason is because Ramirez can't be counted on to repeat his defensive performance, given his track record of spotty glove work. The other is that his numbers were inflated by Miller Park. He had a .419 wOBA at home and a .349 wOBA on the road.
Ramirez is good, but his 2012 season was a bit of a tease.
Matt Wieters has the talent to be a superstar player, but he hasn't quite put it all together just yet.
There's nothing wrong with Wieters' defense. His caught-stealing percentage has risen every year he's been in the league, and he's been good for a few Defensive Runs Saved each year.
It's Wieters' hitting that's not as good as it could be. He's topped 20 homers in each of the last two seasons, but his wOBA has been only slightly above-average in the .330-.340 range. He walks enough, but he still strikes out too much, and he has yet to show an ability to maintain a high BABIP.
The bright side is that Wieters is still young enough, at 26 years old, to discover some untapped potential, and it's a good bet that he will.
Miguel Montero gets my vote as one of the league's more underrated players.
Montero's offensive performance reached a new peak in 2012 with a career-high .364 wOBA. What was particularly encouraging was how Montero stayed patient at the plate and drew more walks than ever before. He didn't hit for as much power as usual, but his .391 OBP was a perfectly fair tradeoff.
Defensively, Montero gunned down 42 percent of would-be base stealers a year after gunning down 40 percent. He's not far from being in Yadier Molina's class there, which is very high praise.
Montero probably doesn't have much upside left to discover heading into his age-29 season, but the Arizona Diamondbacks should be perfectly happy with the player he is.
Carlos Gonzalez has been one of the most dangerous offensive players in baseball over the last three seasons, compiling a .390 wOBA and hitting 82 homers with 66 stolen bases.
With numbers like these on his track record, you'd think CarGo would be higher. He's not rising because his fielding took a turn for the worse in 2012 and because his offensive numbers are not what they seem.
Basically, CarGo is your typical Colorado Rockies slugger. He's dangerous at Coors Field, but "meh" everywhere else.
In terms of pure stuff, there aren't many pitchers out there who are Max Scherzer's equal.
Scherzer's stuff helped him achieve a 12.2 swinging-strike percentage in 2012 that ranked him behind only Cole Hamels. All those whiffs helped him lead the league in K/9.
It's scary to think how good Scherzer could be in 2013, given how well he pitched down the stretch in 2012 and in the postseason. He had a 1.65 ERA and walked only 14 in 60 innings in his final 10 starts, and he struck out 26 in 17.1 innings in October.
Scherzer has been frustrating to watch at times in his career, but something clicked for him in 2012. He's a pitcher to watch in 2013.
B.J. Upton didn't hit with his usual patience in 2012, resulting in a 7.1 walk percentage and one of the highest swinging-strike percentages in the league. He also rated as slightly below-average on defense.
But Upton's 2012 campaign was not without bright spots. He hit a career-high 28 home runs with 31 stolen bases to boot, and he finished hot with 23 of his 28 homers coming after the first of July.
The Braves will be looking for Upton to provide his usual power and speed in 2013 and hoping that he'll find his old patience again.
If he does, they won't have to deal with the all-or-nothing Upton who showed up in 2012. Even if that Upton does reappear, the Braves will still have one of the league's better center fielders.
Chase Headley wasn't anything special in the first half of the 2012 season. He had a .345 wOBA and eight home runs.
The spectacular stuff came after the break. Headley compiled a .414 wOBA and hit 23 home runs. The only guy who hit more homers than that in the second half was Miguel Cabrera.
An inflated 30.3 HR/FB rate in the second half was responsible for Headley's surge, but his success in 2012 wasn't that fluky. He upped his walk rate and kept his BABIP right around his career mark of .339, and he even hit for a decent amount of power at home at Petco Park (.183 ISO and 13 homers).
It's unfair to expect Headley to pick up right where he left off, but something clearly clicked for him last year.
Elvis Andrus plays the shortstop position like a real throwback.
Andrus is not much of a threat on offense, but his wOBA has been in the .320 range each of the last two seasons and that's good enough to qualify him as about a league-average hitter.
His real sources of value are his legs and his glove. Andrus didn't steal as many bases as usual in 2012, but he still managed to swipe 21 bags while keeping his UBR score in above-average territory. His defense was as solid as usual, as he finished the season with an 8.8 UZR and plus-eight DRS.
Andrus is not a superstar-caliber player, but he's a steady presence in a day and age when there really aren't that many steady presences at the shortstop position.
Like clockwork, Nick Swisher had a wOBA over .360 in each of his four seasons as a New York Yankee, and he's hit at least 20 home runs eight years in a row.
Swisher really isn't too shabby in the field either. He rated as about an average right fielder in the eyes of both UZR and DRS in 2012, and he more than held his own when he had to fill in for Mark Teixeira at first base.
This is good, because first base is probably where Swisher is going to end up on a full-time basis with the Cleveland Indians in good time. If he handles himself there and provides his usual production at the plate, he'll continue to be a productive player going forward.
Josh Willingham was one of the league's more overlooked power hitters in 2011, hitting 29 home runs in only 136 games.
Willingham showed his power outburst was for real in 2012 by launching 35 home runs. His .380 wOBA ranked 12th among qualified hitters, ahead of guys like Matt Holliday and David Wright.
Most impressive was how much of Willingham's power came at Target Field, which isn't the most power-friendly park. He had a .429 wOBA and a .317 ISO in home games, with 21 of his 35 home runs.
Willingham's not much of a fielder or baserunner, so his value is tied up entirely in his bat. Fortunately for the Minnesota Twins, 'tis a mighty source of value.
Thanks to back and hip issues, Dan Haren was not himself last year.
Haren's health is a question mark heading into 2013, especially given how he failed to prove that he can get by without his usual velocity.
Washington Nationals fans can be optimistic, however, because of the improved velocity he's shown during spring training (see the Washington Post).
If Haren stays healthy this year, the Nationals will have landed one of the top steals of the offseason. He was one of baseball's best pitchers between 2007 and 2011, compiling a 3.33 ERA and a 4.7 K/BB ratio over 1,141.1 innings. That version of Haren may come back in 2013.
As expected, Yu Darvish went through some growing pains in his rookie season. Most notably, his 4.2 BB/9 was among the highest in baseball.
The bright side is that Darvish struck out 10.4 batters per nine innings, and his FIP, xFIP and SIERA all suggest that he pitched better than his 3.90 ERA would indicate. Luck wasn't really on his side in 2012.
By the end of the season, Darvish was making his own luck. His final seven starts were things of beauty, as they saw him rack up a 2.13 ERA and strike out 59 batters in 50.2 innings. He walked only 10.
If Darvish can maintain the control of his filthy stuff that he established late last season, he'll be a Cy Young contender in 2013.
In the last couple of years, Adrian Gonzalez's patience and his power have taken alarming nosedives.
Don't write Gonzalez off just yet. His declining walk rates and power numbers are a concern, but he can still hit. He proved as much by shrugging off a poor first half in 2012 with a .373 wOBA after the break. That's encouraging because his career wOBA is .372.
To boot, Gonzalez is still an exceptional defender at first base. He had a 17.7 UZR and 16 Defensive Runs Saved in 2012, good numbers even for him.
Gonzalez shouldn't be expected to flirt with 40 homers ever again. But if he hits .300 with 25-ish homers while playing excellent D at first, he'll continue to be a very valuable player.
Matt Holliday could have gone to Oklahoma State to play quarterback. Instead, he decided to make a living with a bat in his hands.
That decision has panned out pretty well. Holliday has tended to flirt with wOBAs in the .400 range in his career, making him one of the league's most consistently dangerous hitters.
Holliday's bat slowed a little bit in 2012, but he still managed a .378 wOBA that only 12 hitters in the league topped. So long as he keeps his walk rate over 10 percent and his strikeout rate under 20 percent, he can be counted on to deliver another wOBA in the high .300s and 25-ish home runs.
Holliday is not a great source of value on defense or on the basepaths anymore, but offensive production like that is the kind only a few players can achieve.
Joe Mauer's brilliant 2009 season feels like a distant memory, and that's thanks to the disappearance of the power he showed that year. Odds are it's not coming back either.
Mauer's .222 ISO in '09 was too good to be true, given the fact that his career mark is just .145. He's also hit just five career homers at Target Field, and the fences aren't getting any closer.
However, Mauer's pure hitting skills are still intact. He proved that in 2012 with a .319 average and a .364 BABIP that he should be able to maintain. He also had .416 OBP and a rock-solid .376 wOBA in 2012.
Mauer's going to need to keep hitting like that, because his power isn't the only value source that's dried up. His defense behind the plate was just OK in 2012, and he's merely adequate at first base. He's still a very good hitter, but his days as an elite all-around player are over.
Brandon Phillips was a lock to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases for a while there, but no longer.
Phillips has failed to top either 20 homers or 20 steals in each of the last three seasons, and he's coming off a year in which he posted a mere .325 wOBA with discouraging home/road splits. He had a .358 wOBA at Great American Ballpark and a .293 wOBA on the road.
But Phillips is still a solid source of value on all the key fronts. He should be capable of at least a league-average wOBA, and he can still get it done on the bases by stealing a few bags and taking extra bases here and there. On defense, he's still among the best in the business.
Phillips is on the back end of his prime, but don't expect him to enter his twilight just yet.
James Shields' 2011 season was one for the books. He posted a 2.82 ERA and pitched a staggering 11 complete games (one-third of his 33 starts).
Shields managed a mere 3.52 ERA in 2012, but his FIP, xFIP and SIERA didn't budge much from where they were in 2011. Besides which, he still gave the Rays 227.2 innings.
The Royals should be looking forward to getting a similar workload out of Shields, and that would be a welcome sight, given the reality that they haven't had a rotation horse since Zack Greinke left town.
The only thing they should beware of is the fact that Shields had a 3.33 ERA at Tropicana Field and a 4.54 ERA everywhere else as a Ray. He'll eat innings, but he could find himself missing his old post.
After missing the entire 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, it was fair to expect Adam Wainwright to have a down season in 2012.
His 3.94 ERA says that he did. Everything else says that he didn't. Wainwright had about the same strikeout and walk rates as he did in 2010, and his FIP, xFIP and SIERA were all significantly lower than his ERA.
Wainwright certainly looked more like himself as the season went along. He started with a 4.75 ERA through his first 16 starts, and then had a 3.18 ERA in his next 16 starts.
If Wainwright picks up in 2013 right where he left off, the Cardinals will have a Cy Young contender in their rotation.
For a while there, it looked like Ryan Zimmerman was broken. He suffered through an injury-plagued season in 2011 and looked lost for the first couple months of 2012.
But he snapped out of it. Zimmerman hit 20 of his 25 homers after July 1, and he also maintained roughly a .400 wOBA in the season's final three months.
The bigger question nowadays has to do with Zimmerman's fielding. The skills are there, but his bad right shoulder limited him to merely decent defensive numbers in 2012. Throwing was a problem for him.
The good news from the Washington Post is that Zimmerman is supposedly rounding back into form after offseason surgery. If he gets his throwing squared away, he'll go back to being an excellent defensive third baseman and a very good all-around player.
It may not seem like Alex Gordon has lived up to his No. 2 spot in Baseball America's Top 100 prospect rankings from back in 2007, but he's better than he gets credit for.
Gordon wasn't as dangerous at the plate in 2012 as he was in 2011, but his .357 wOBA looked pretty good next to his 14 homers and 10 stolen bases.
Where Gordon really excels, however, is in the field. He's totaled 37 outfield assists over the last two years, and he's coming off a season that saw him post a 14.1 UZR and 24 Defensive Runs Saved.
Superstar status will probably never find Gordon, but he can rest comfortably knowing that he's one of the league's more notable under-the-radar stars.
Next to the league's top starters and position players, relievers just aren't very valuable players.
Craig Kimbrel is different. FanGraphs has his WAR over the last two seasons at 6.8, and that's better than most starting pitchers. He's earned the right to be in their company by being flat-out unhittable.
Kimbrel struck out a little over half the batters he faced last season, and he only walked 14. He therefore made hitters actually hit him in order to beat him, and they couldn't do that (.126 opponents' batting average). The end result was 42 saves in 45 chances.
Kimbrel probably can't get any better. But given the filthiness of his stuff and the control he has of it, he surely won't be getting any worse. He's the league's best closer by a long shot.
You may be surprised to find Brett Gardner so high. What's so special about him, right?
As far as his bat goes, not much. Gardner owns a solid .355 career OBP and .326 wOBA, but his lack of power keeps his bat from being an above-average source of value. It's about an average source of value.
And that's good enough, for Gardner is a treasure chest of value on the basepaths and in the field. He stole 96 bases in 2010 and 2011 and compiled a UBR score of 9.5 that was sixth-best in MLB in that span. In the field, his UZR and DRS were over 20 both years.
Gardner missed the bulk of the 2012 season, thanks to an elbow injury that was slow to heal. His legs, however, are fine. The Yankees should look forward to plenty of speed value in 2013.
The Indians should feel very happy about getting Michael Bourn for $48 million guaranteed. For one of the league's top leadoff men and defensive center fielders, that's a sweet deal.
Having topped .320 two years in a row, Bourn can be counted on for about a league-average wOBA. He showed off a little more home run power than usual in 2012, and the Indians will need more of that if his days of stealing 60-plus bases are over.
Bourn's best asset is his glove. He topped all qualified center fielders in UZR and DRS in 2012, making his defense one of the league's most significant sources of value.
The concerns about Bourn's value plummeting once his legs start to go are very real, but an immediate nosedive isn't likely. At the age of 30, Bourn should have at least one good year left in him.
It was maddening to watch Ian Kinsler in 2012. His power and patience were missing for the majority of the year, and his defense at second base rated as being merely average.
When Kinsler is right, he's one of the league's most dangerous players. That was the case in 2011 when he posted a .364 wOBA with 32 homers and 30 stolen bases while playing excellent defense at second.
Kinsler can return to that level of production. He'll just have to get his walk rate back over 10 percent and drive the ball with the kind of authority he used in 2009 and 2011. He'll also need his back to stay healthy.
If he can do that and provide his usual value on the bases and on defense, he'll go back to being one of the game's top all-around players.
Good health eluded Dustin Pedroia in 2012, as he started dealing with thumb issues in May and eventually battled finger issues as well.
If Pedroia is able to stay healthy in 2013, the Red Sox will be able to count on a batting average around .300, a wOBA over .360, roughly 20 homers and 20 steals and excellent defense at second base.
All of this would combine to put Pedroia in Robinson Cano's company as one of the game's elite second basemen. The only reason he's not higher on this list is because it's not certain that his all-out style will allow him to stay healthy.
Justin Upton had a poor follow-up to his near-MVP 2011 season last year, but it wasn't a total disaster.
Upton took more walks than usual and didn't up his strikeouts to an alarming degree, and he actually had a higher BABIP than he did in 2011. He stole only three fewer bases than he did in '11.
Upton's problem was a lack of power, which ESPN's Keith Law wrote in an Insider piece was likely due to bad timing and an early-season thumb injury. The immense pressure on him to perform didn't help.
If Upton's power returns in 2013, he'll be a 30/20 guy again. He should also handle left field just fine, as it's an easier field to play than his customary right field.
Upton's inconsistency to this point in his career has been frustrating to behold. But he still has youth working for him, and there's no denying that he has superstar-level talent.
Jered Weaver's traditional numbers over the last two seasons are terrific. He's compiled a 38-13 record, a 2.59 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP over 424.1 innings.
It's Weaver's other numbers that are responsible for his relatively low ranking in this list. His showing in the FIP, xFIP and SIERA departments in the last two seasons leaves much to be desired due to his increased reliance on pitching to contact.
Weaver can't be faulted for doing that, mind you, as he's had good defenses behind him, and he's been taking advantage of Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Other pitchers could probably succeed in his shoes, but maybe not to the degree that he has. He's found a formula, and he executes it perfectly.
Austin Jackson is surrounded by star players in Detroit, but he's the most talented all-around player the Tigers have.
Jackson made big strides at the plate in 2012 by cutting down on his strikeouts and drawing more walks. This allowed him to up his OBP to .377 and his wOBA to .371, both career-bests.
Jackson provides plenty of value on defense as well. He didn't rate quite as well on defense in 2012 as he did in 2011, when he had a plus-29 DRS, but he still had the numbers of an above-average center fielder.
If Jackson plays his usual defense and makes further strides offensively, he could find himself getting the MVP support that he deserved to get last year.
The 2012 season was something of a rarity for Jose Reyes in that he managed to stay healthy enough to play in 160 games.
Reyes managed a respectable .335 wOBA, 11 homers and 40 stolen bases in 2012. He probably should have done even better, as his .298 BABIP from last season is a curiously low mark for a hitter with a .312 career BABIP.
But the bigger question has to do with Reyes' defense at shortstop, which both UZR and DRS will testify is not as good as his reputation suggests.
Regardless, a healthy Reyes is more valuable than most shortstops. And at the age of 29, he should still have a couple prime years left in him.
Johnny Cueto had a tough act to follow in 2012 after posting a 2.31 ERA in 2011, especially seeing as how the key ERA estimators all suggested he got extremely lucky.
Mission accomplished. Cueto posted a 2.78 ERA in 2012, and the ERA estimators don't scream fluke. Cueto also gets points for following up his 1.38 home ERA in 2011 with a 2.79 home ERA in 2012.
Cueto has the right idea about pitching at Great American Ballpark. His ground-ball rate at home was higher than it was on the road, making it hard for opposing hitters to exploit the park's hitter-friendliness.
So long as he keeps that up and he avoids any injuries, Cueto should be a Cy Young contender again in 2013.
Gio Gonzalez was better than he got credit for while he was with Oakland. He had control issues, but he managed to post ERAs in the low 3.00s anyway.
Gonzalez's first year in Washington came with a not insignificant improvement in control, as he went from walking more than four batters per nine innings to walking about 3.4 batters per nine. Couple that with a 9.3 K/9, and you have the explanation for Gonzalez's career-low 2.89 ERA.
The thing to watch out for in 2013 is a potential increase in Gonzalez's HR/FB rate, as the 5.8 HR/FB he posted in 2012 is probably too good to be true.
Even still, we're talking about likely a very small increase even if it happens. Gonzalez should be fine.
Cole Hamels has been as steady as they come over the last three seasons, pitching over 200 innings each year (199.1 last year) and compiling a 2.97 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 4.0.
It's all about the changeup for Hamels. PITCHf/x data shows a swinging-strike percentage over 27 percent on Hamels' changeup in each of the last three seasons, and it's largely responsible for him leading the league in overall swinging-strike percentage in 2012.
The Philadelphia Phillies will have to live with some home runs due to Hamels' lack of overpowering velocity. But so long as his changeup is alive and well, they can count on over 200 innings and 15 wins out of him.
Hence the reason they shelled out $144 million to keep him from hitting free agency.
Never mind the drama that took place. Focus on what the numbers have to say about Stephen Strasburg's 2012 season, and it's clear that he established himself as one of the league's elite pitchers.
Strasburg compiled a 3.16 ERA and actually would have beaten Max Scherzer by a slim margin in K/9 had he finished with enough innings to qualify. To boot, his 4.1 K/BB ratio topped those of Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez.
All of this is good, but the ERA estimators say Strasburg was even better. His FIP, xFIP and SIERA were all in the low 2.80 range, a range typically reserved for the absolute best of the best.
Strasburg has the talent to be an ace. Now all he needs is the workload.
I'm very high on Bryce Harper after his big rookie season—and deservedly so.
Harper compiled a .352 wOBA with 22 home runs and 18 stolen bases, excellent totals for a 19-year-old. He also played very strong defense in center field, so the move to left field in 2013 shouldn't be an issue.
Harper will top 30 homers in 2013 if he can get his HR/FB rate from a modest 16.2 percent to over 20 percent, and his offseason weight gain should help him get there. He'll be helped even further if he sees more fastballs in 2013, as only Alfonso Soriano and Josh Hamilton saw fewer heaters than he did in 2012.
The general message before 2012 was that Harper was going to be a superstar in the major leagues. After seeing him in action, I can't disagree.
Don't call R.A. Dickey's Cy Young season in 2012 a fluke, folks. He was a quietly effective pitcher in 2010 and 2011, and his knuckleball really is that nasty.
Dickey's knuckler helped him tie Max Scherzer and Edwin Jackson for second in the league in swinging-strike percentage. In terms of PITCHf/x values, his knuckleball was the most effective pitch in the league.
Dickey's knuckleball definitely passes the eye test. NotGraphs has a slow-mo GIF of it if you feel like having your mind blown.
The move to the American League isn't going to make Dickey's knuckler any less filthy, and it's worth noting that his back-to-back one-hitters last year came against the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles, two AL East clubs.
Zack Greinke will probably never repeat his brilliant 2009 Cy Young season, but underestimate him at your own peril.
Greinke has been one of the league's top pitchers in the last two seasons, and he's coming off a very strong 2012 campaign. He had a 3.48 ERA, but his FIP, xFIP and SIERA all say he deserved better.
Greinke's move to the Dodgers should work in his favor. His career ERA in the National League is a smidge lower than his ERA in the American League, and he'll be pitching at one of MLB's best pitcher's parks in Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers should count on getting over 200 innings and an ERA in the low 3.00s from Greinke—maybe better if some of the luck that eluded him in 2012 finds him in 2013.
After winning two World Series titles, pitching a perfect game and starting the All-Star Game, Matt Cain is no longer the best-kept secret in baseball.
Cain had a sub-3.00 ERA for a second straight season in 2012, and he also pitched 219.1 innings. He hit a rough patch following his perfecto, but he finished strong with a 2.28 ERA in his final 10 starts.
Cain certainly benefits from pitching regularly at AT&T Park. His career ERA on the road is a 3.61 ERA, compared to a 2.98 ERA at home. His splits were even more skewed in 2012, as he had a 2.03 ERA at home and a 3.56 ERA on the road.
The bright side is that Cain set a new bar in terms of his control and strikeout ability. His K/9 rose from 7.3 in 2011 to 7.9, and his BB/9 fell from 2.6 to 2.1. If he stays on this path, he can only get better.
Evan Longoria was an early-season MVP candidate last year with a .420 wOBA and four home runs in the first month of the season. That bubble burst when he was smitten with a bad left hamstring.
Longorio took a while to find his groove again after he returned, but he found it in time to post a wOBA over .400 and hit eight home runs in the season's final month. Though he may have hit like he was healthy then, Longo had surgery in November to "clean up" his hamstring.
If Longo stays healthy this year, the Tampa Bay Rays can expect to get a wOBA in the high .300s and around 30 home runs. They'll also get excellent defense at the hot corner. Between 2008 and 2011, Longo compiled the best UZR among third basemen and the second-most Defensive Runs Saved.
If there were no concerns about Longoria's health going into 2013, he'd be a top-15 or maybe even a top-10 player. Fingers crossed, Rays fans.
When he's healthy, there's no better shortstop in the game than Troy Tulowitzki.
Before you ask, Tulo hasn't gotten as much of a boost from Coors Field as Carlos Gonzalez. He owns a .395 career wOBA at Coors and a solid .351 wOBA away from Coors.
Like Evan Longoria, Tulo would be a top-15 or top-10 player if he was heading into 2013 without any medical question marks. Alas, he missed most of 2012 thanks to a groin injury that required surgery.
The good news is that Tulo told The Denver Post recently that his troublesome left leg feels "10 times better" than it did at the end of 2012, so the Colorado Rockies can feel free to hope for the best.
In regards to Roy Halladay's 2012 season, that one line from Fight Club comes to mind: "Hey, even the Mona Lisa's falling apart."
Halladay failed to make his usual 30 starts and pitch his usual 220-plus innings, and he posted a pedestrian 4.49 ERA. FanGraphs shows that he didn't have his usual velocity.
But Halladay's not done. His FIP, xFIP and SIERA all say he didn't deserve a 4.49 ERA last season, and he's the kind of guy who's smart enough to get by with diminished velocity.
Greg Maddux did it for years, and Halladay is cut from the same mold as him. So long as the shoulder issues that plagued him in 2012 stay away, Halladay should be an elite pitcher in 2013, no matter what kind of velocity he has.
Albert Pujols' 2012 season was the worst of his career, and it's clear enough that his glory days are behind him.
But let's not bury Pujols just yet. He proved he still has gas left in the tank by finishing very strong after a rough start last year. He had his wOBA over .400 in June, July and August and ultimately salvaged the season with a .360 wOBA and 30 home runs.
Pujols' defense was still solid as well. He finished the year with a 5.9 UZR and eight Defensive Runs Saved, just as many as NL Gold Glove winner Adam LaRoche.
Pujols should post a wOBA up near .400 and hit 35-ish home runs in 2013. If he does that while continuing to play solid defense at first, he'll enjoy a fine bounce-back season.
Prince Fielder hit only 30 home runs in 2012—his lowest total since his first full year in the majors in 2006.
However, Fielder's .412 OBP was one of the highest in the league, and his .398 wOBA was sixth best in baseball behind Andrew McCutchen. Fielder's career-high (for a full season) .321 BABIP is a pretty good testament to how he took what he was given rather than try to force anything.
Defensively, Fielder's never going to be elite. He's at a point now, though, where his defense is good enough. He had a minus-2.1 UZR and minus-four Defensive Runs Saved in 2012. The stats are not great, but better than the defensive numbers he used to put up.
The Tigers will gladly take another year like the one they got from Fielder in 2012. But if Victor Martinez proves to be a better protector than Young, don't be surprised if Fielder busts out his old power.
The Braves have three tremendous outfielders, but Jason Heyward looks like the best of the bunch.
Heyward enjoyed a return-to-form season in 2012, hitting 27 home runs, stealing 21 bags and compiling a .351 wOBA. It helped that he was healthy after a right shoulder injury did him no favors in 2011.
But it's not just about the surface stats with Heyward. He provided loads of value in the overlooked departments: defense and baserunning. His UBR score of 7.4 was the best in baseball, and he posted a 22.9 UZR and plus-20 DRS in right field.
What's scary is that Heyward's bat still has untapped potential. He'll do a lot better than a .351 wOBA if he ups his walks and cuts down on his strikeouts, in which case he'll end up being a strong MVP candidate in 2013.
The Angels paid $125 million to sign Josh Hamilton over the winter, and they shouldn't find themselves regretting that in the immediate future.
Hamilton needs to clean up his approach at the plate after leading baseball in swinging-strike percentage and O-Swing percentage, but the raw power is there. He hit a career-high 43 homers in 2012 and led all qualified batters in ISO.
Something more like 35 homers is in the cards for Hamilton in 2013, thanks to the switch from Arlington to Anaheim. That should be good enough for the Angels, and they should also get some quality defense out of Hamilton since his legs will be saved by regular action in right field.
Provided he stays healthy, Hamilton should invite more MVP talk in 2013.
After the season David Wright had in 2012, it's no wonder the Mets felt like giving him a new contract.
Wright posted a .376 wOBA along the lines of his career mark of .380, and he hit 21 homers and stole 15 bases. He even managed some decent home/road splits, posting a .366 wOBA at Citi Field and a .385 wOBA on the road.
Wright's defensive performances have tended to be inconsistent, but he was truly excellent last year with a 15.4 UZR and a plus-16 DRS. He was right there with Adrian Beltre and Mike Moustakas among the game's top defensive third basemen.
That Wright has had a hard time staying healthy and consistent in recent years is the reason he's not higher on this list. Even with that noted, he's certainly one of the league's elite third basemen.
Ben Zobrist is the poster boy for underrated ballplayers in MLB today.
By FanGraphs' reckoning, the only two players in baseball with better WARs than Zobrist since 2009 are Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols. Baseball-Reference.com's version of the stat has Zobrist as the best player in baseball since 2009.
It actually makes perfect sense. Zobrist owns a solid .361 wOBA over the last four seasons, and he's hit 77 homers and stole 74 bases. It was business as usual for him in 2012, as he finished with a .365 wOBA, 20 homers and 14 steals.
Zobrist is also capable of providing defensive value at several different positions. Due to that and his ability to hit and run the bases, Zobrist is a perfect utility man and an extremely valuable all-around player.
It feels like CC Sabathia had a down year in 2012. He made two trips to the disabled list, and he was touched up for the highest HR/FB rate of his career.
However, Sabathia still managed to pitch 200 innings, despite his two DL trips, and he also compiled a 3.38 ERA that his FIP, xFIP and SIERA all say was a little too high.
Those weren't the only positives. Sabathia's 4.5 K/BB was the best in the American League and his best mark since his Cy Young season in 2007. It's encouraging that he was still striking hitters out, despite a slight drop in velocity.
Sabathia did have surgery over the offseason, but it wasn't major. He should be expected to be his usual self: a 200-inning machine who racks up a ton of strikeouts and a ton of wins.
Cliff Lee only won six games in 2012, but it wasn't his fault.
Lee did just fine with a 3.16 ERA and a league-best 7.4 K/BB ratio. His only real issue was a spike in home runs allowed (26) that came about, thanks to an elevated fly-ball rate. Because his stuff isn't overpowering, it's not a shock that his high fly-ball rate came with an increase in HR/FB.
The bright side is that Lee was his typical self once he put a slow start behind him. In his final 17 starts, he compiled a 2.44 ERA and lasted better than seven innings per start.
There's a fraction of a question mark whether Roy Halladay will be his usual self in 2013. No such fraction exists in regards to Lee.
As if he wasn't scary to begin with, Giancarlo Stanton became downright petrifying in 2012.
Stanton was limited to 123 games by injuries, but he still hit 37 home runs and compiled a .405 wOBA. His HR/FB rate was 28.9 percent, second only to Adam Dunn (min. 500 plate appearances). All he has to do is make contact—which, granted, isn't easy for him—and the ball takes off like a missile.
Let it be known that Stanton's not just a slugger. He's also rated well on defense to this point in his career, with a career 21.3 UZR and 26 Defensive Runs Saved in three seasons.
There's probably an MVP in Stanton's future. It's with a team other than the Miami Marlins, mind you, but it's out there.
Since the start of the 2010 season, nobody has hit as many homers as Jose Bautista. Were it not for a wounded wrist that derailed his 2012 season, his lead in that department would be huge.
Somewhere around 45 home runs is a fair projection for Bautista in 2013. In addition, his discerning eye will help him compile an OBP over .350.
The Jays should also expect decent defense from Bautista. His arm is a weapon, and his UZR and DRS totals were looking good last year before his season came to an early end.
If he hits as he should and the Jays win as much as they should, Bautista will be an AL MVP favorite.
After just missing out in 2010, David Price didn't let the AL Cy Young elude his clutches in 2012.
Price had the old-school stats cornered with 20 wins and a league-best 2.56 ERA. He did very well in the new-age stats as well, finishing in the Top Five in the league in FIP, xFIP and SIERA.
Price was successful in large part because it was next to impossible to make hard contact against him. He struck out 8.7 batters per nine and compiled a 53.1 ground-ball percentage that helped him limit opposing hitters to a .318 slugging percentage. Per ESPN, only Gio Gonzalez did better.
Price made strides as a pitcher last year, and that's a frightening thought seeing as how and he's not even close to the edge of his prime. The 27-year-old's not done contending for Cy Youngs.
Matt Kemp just missed out on a 40/40 season in 2011 with 39 homers and 40 steals, and his .413 wOBA was good for fourth in baseball. He picked up right where he left off last year, posting a .566 wOBA and hitting 12 home runs in April.
Alas, Kemp was undone by a series of injuries, starting with thigh problems and ending with a left shoulder injury.
The shoulder injury is a concern heading into 2013, as Kemp needed offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff damage. It was no minor procedure.
It should also be noted that Kemp's defense is not as good as people give him credit for. He's been in the red in terms of both UZR and DRS the last three years.
All the same, Kemp is a strong contender for the No. 1 spot on this list without the medical red flags. When he's right, he's one of baseball's premier players.
It's not all Great American Ballpark's doing. Votto actually has a higher career wOBA in road games than he does in home games. He's just a freakishly good hitter.
Votto's also a very good defensive first baseman. He had a 6.5 UZR and nine Defensive Runs Saved in 2012 and probably would have won a Gold Glove and a Fielding Bible Award had he not hurt his knee.
With no medical red flags, Votto would be right there with Matt Kemp as a contender for the top spot on this list. But the health of his knee is a legit concern, as Votto showed zero power at the plate after he had surgery on it last year, and he said as recently as mid-February that the knee was "not perfect."
There are an awful lot of pitchers out there who are hoping Votto's knee stays imperfect.
The best pure catcher in baseball is Yadier Molina, and that's not a statement that's up for debate.
Molina's defensive prowess is unmatched. He's thrown out over 40 percent of would-be base stealers in three of the last four seasons, and he's coming off a season in which he compiled a plus-16 DRS.
It borders on being unfair that Molina can hit too. He established new career bests in 2012 with a .375 wOBA and 22 home runs, and he even pitched in 12 stolen bases.
Based on the progress he's made at the plate over the last couple of seasons, it's perfectly fair to expect further improvements from Molina in 2013. A wOBA even closer to .400 and 25-ish home runs are within reach, and numbers such as those will make him even more of a legit MVP candidate.
David Wright and Chase Headley both had excellent all-around seasons at third base in 2012. But with all due respect to those guys, Adrian Beltre has been doing what they did for several years now.
Over the last three seasons, an average year for Beltre has consisted of 32 home runs and a wOBA in the high .300s. He hit 36 home runs in 2012, his most since his epic 2004 season when he crushed 48.
Beltre isn't the best hitting third baseman in the majors (you know who that is). But when you draw up a list of the best all-around players at the position, the list has to start with him.
Robinson Cano is going to be the richest second baseman in history pretty soon, and it's hard to argue that he doesn't deserve to be.
Cano has posted wOBAs over .390 in two of the last three seasons and his ISO has been increasing little by little each year since 2009. He hit a career-high 33 homers in 2012, and could set a new career high in 2013 at the rate his power is increasing.
Cano's fielding has tended to be erratic, but it was truly excellent in 2012. Both UZR and DRS had him marked as a well above-average fielder, making him a deserving recipient of both a Gold Glove and a strong contender for a Fielding Bible Award.
Brandon Phillips, Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia are all really good, but none of them have had Cano's consistent impact at second base. He's the best the league has to offer at the position.
Andrew McCutchen's status as a superstar became official in 2012.
In 2013, McCutchen's BABIP will probably come down from the .375 mark he posted in 2012. But that won't matter if the tradeoff is more homers, which is possible given that his HR/FB is trending upwards.
The only area where the jury is still out is McCutchen's defense. He won a Gold Glove last year, but he won that on reputation. His UZR and DRS both had him as a slightly below-average fielder last year, a less-than-encouraging development after both metrics rated him as above-average in 2011.
Not that it really matters. Even if McCutchen's defense is suspect, he's still an elite player.
Yadier Molina is the best all-around catcher in baseball, but the catcher you'd want most on your team is Buster Posey.
Posey had a .371 wOBA as a rookie in 2010, and in 2012 he had the highest batting average in baseball and the fourth-highest wOBA. He was particularly lethal down the stretch with a .460 wOBA and 14 home runs after the break.
Posey is not Molina's equal behind the plate, but he more than holds his own. He threw out 30 percent of would-be base stealers in 2012 and broke even in Defensive Runs Saved. His defense at first base wasn't elite, but it was adequate. That's one of many testaments to his overall talent.
The other big ones are his batting title, his Rookie of the Year award, his Comeback Player of the Year award, his MVP and, of course, his two rings.
The Mariners made Felix Hernandez the richest pitcher ever with a $175 million contract this offseason, and his track record confirms that he is worthy of such an honor.
Hernandez has thrown at least 230 innings four years in a row, compiling a 2.81 ERA along the way. He made further strides in 2012, finishing with new career bests in the K/9, BB/9 and K/BB categories. He threw five shutouts in a span of 12 starts at one point, one of which was his perfect game in August.
Hernandez ran out of gas in his final six starts, finishing with an ERA over 6.00 that pushed his ERA for the season over 3.00. That may have been due to the elbow issue the Mariners discovered while they were hammering out Hernandez's extension.
While that's something to keep an eye on, it's not a big enough reason to exclude Hernandez from the discussion of baseball's elite pitchers.
Hands down, Clayton Kershaw is baseball's best left-hander.
Kershaw has finished with an ERA under 3.00 every year since 2009, and his 2.40 ERA over the last two seasons is the lowest among all starting pitchers. No lefty has logged more innings or struck out more batters in that span than he has.
Kershaw wasn't as overpowering in 2012 as he was in 2011, yet he still captured a second straight National League ERA title, and he fell just a couple strikeouts shy of a second straight strikeout title.
Perhaps most impressive of all was how Kershaw pitched through a late-season hip injury. He was dealing with a right hip impingement in September, but he still posted a 0.77 ERA in five starts.
By the way, Kershaw hasn't even turned 25 yet. If the prime of his prime is still yet to come, we're looking at a potential all-time great.
Mike Trout put together a near-perfect season in 2012.
As a hitter, Trout slugged 30 homers and posted a .409 wOBA that ranked third in the league. As a base runner, he stole an AL-best 49 bases and had a 5.0 UBR score that tied for third in the league. As a fielder, he had an 11.4 UZR and 21 Defensive Runs Saved.
It's not fair to ask Trout to do it all over again. It's not likely that he will either.
As a hitter, it's very unlikely that Trout will be able to post a BABIP over .400 again like the one he had through the end of July in 2012, and he also has to cut down on his strikeouts. His extra weight could keep him from lighting up the basepaths. He won't be able to provide the same kind of defensive value in left field as he did in center.
But even if Trout does regress in 2013, keep in mind that we're talking about a regression from one of the greatest performances in MLB history. If he does take a step back, it will be from epic to awesome.
He didn't win the 2012 AL MVP race, but there's no doubt that Mike Trout is a more dynamic player than Miguel Cabrera.
But Cabrera is ahead of Trout in these rankings because he has one thing that Trout doesn't: a track record of greatness.
Cabrera needs to be as good as he can be at the plate because he's not going to provide value on the bases or in the field. He's a classic base clogger, and he rated as a below-average defensive third baseman in the eyes of both UZR and DRS in 2012.
Not that the Tigers are complaining. They have the best right-handed hitter in the game on their side, and the value he provides with his bat is more than enough to compensate for his shortcomings.
Felix Hernandez is the richest and Clayton Kershaw is the best lefty, but Justin Verlander is easily the best pitcher the sport has to offer.
All Verlander has done over the last two seasons is compile a 2.52 ERA over a league-high 489.1 innings with a league-high 489 strikeouts. His 2012 season was about as good as his epic 2011 season, as he posted a 2.64 ERA with a 4.0 K/BB and a league-high 238.1 innings pitched.
Verlander didn't win his second straight AL Cy Young award, but he should have. He and David Price were very close to each other in ERA—as well as FIP, xFIP and SIERA—but Verlander struck out 34 more batters and pitched almost 30 more innings than Price.
Verlander has gotten on such a roll over the last two years that it's a given that he'll be in contention for the Cy Young again in 2013. The man also has a $200 million contract to earn, so in his way is not a good place to be.
A player with all-around talent, good health and a proven track record deserved the No. 1 spot on this list. No player fits that description better than Ryan Braun.
The 2012 season saw Braun hit a career-high 41 home runs with 30 stolen bases and a .413 wOBA that only Miguel Cabrera managed to top. Braun also rated well in the field, achieving positive UZR and DRS scores in left field.
Braun has been in the league for six seasons, and an average year for him now consists of a .400-plus wOBA and over 30 homers and 20 stolen bases. He has been helped by Miller Park, but not as much as you'd think. He owns a .409 career wOBA at home, and a .395 career wOBA on the road.
It's fair to question how clean Braun is after he escaped punishment for a positive testosterone test in 2011 and has since been linked to the Biogenesis clinic. His guilt, however, has yet to be proved, and that means we have to take what's happened on the field to be legit.
As long as that's the case, the word "wow" is liable to be uttered whenever Braun is between the lines.
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