MLB's All-April Team, Position by Position
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The Major League Baseball season is already one month old. While there are still a lot of games to go, it is never too early to start looking at some of the numbers and performances that we are seeing.
Baseball awards players with various honors throughout the course of the year, like Rookie of the Month, Player of the Month and Pitcher of the Month. What we wanted to do was put together a best-of-the-best group for the first month of the 2013 season.
While there are no official rules, the guidelines that we followed are simple. We picked one player at each position. Position players needed the standard 3.1 plate appearances per team game and starting pitchers needed at least one inning pitched for every game their team had played to qualify.
Since the sample size that we are judging is so small right now, this is not a reflection of any MVP or Cy Young awards picks. It is just meant to highlight the best and brightest stars in MLB for a terrific start this season.
Note: All stats courtesy of Fangraphs.com unless otherwise noted.
Catcher: Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
It's still early, but it appears as if Carlos Santana is making more solid contact this year and could become the big-time offensive force he was projected to be as a prospect.
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The choice of catcher came down to an offensive monster with fringy defense (Santana) or a solid offensive player with above-average defensive prowess (Pittsburgh's Russell Martin).
Ultimately, what separated Santana from the bunch was just how far ahead of the curve he is on offense. He leads the league in batting average, on-base percentage, OPS and OPS+. No other catcher is within 30 points of OBP and 70 points of slugging.
Santana's hot start is good news for Cleveland, as he was touted as an offensive juggernaut behind the plate when he was a prospect. He has struggled to keep his batting average up despite showing a keen eye at the plate—he has drawn 188 walks combined the last two seasons.
Finding catchers who can hit is a rare commodity in baseball, but to have one playing at the level Santana is right now puts him squarely in the conversation for American League MVP. (Yes, I know we are talking about just one month and he won't hit .389 all year.)
Apologies to: Russell Martin (Pittsburgh), Buster Posey (San Francisco), Yadier Molina (St. Louis)
First Base: Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
A torrid start for Chris Davis has the Orioles looking strong, so far.
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Chris Davis set the world on fire with 16 RBI in the first four games of the year. He has cooled off a little bit since then, but for a single month, he did pretty well for himself with nine home runs, 17 extra-base hits and a .728 slugging percentage, good for second in the league.
The biggest problem for Davis throughout his career has been making enough contact to keep his average up. So far, that has not been a problem, as his strikeout rate is nearly seven percent lower than his career mark and his walk rate is up seven percent.
We will see if Davis can keep that up; if he does, he could turn into an impact middle-of-the-order hitter. He finally got a chance to play every day last year and hit 33 home runs, even when he did strike out in 30 percent of his plate appearances.
Apologies to: Joey Votto (Cincinnati), James Loney (Tampa Bay), Mark Trumbo (Los Angeles)
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
Even though his power hasn't been there, Dustin Pedroia has been nothing short of spectacular for Boston this season.
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When discussing why Carlos Santana was the best catcher, I talked about how much his offensive performance outweighed his moderate defensive value behind the plate.
In the case of Dustin Pedroia over, say, Robinson Cano, it is because of three key categories that the Red Sox second baseman gets the nod: OBP, baserunning and defense.
Cano has displayed far more power than Pedroia this season, hitting seven home runs to Pedroia's zero. But in other areas of the game, Pedroia trumps the Yankees second baseman, and it isn't particularly close.
Pedroia has 65 points of on-base percentage on Cano. He has been a better baserunner, adding 1.6 runs on the bases to 0.2 for Cano. Pedroia has already saved four runs on defense, while Cano has cost the Yankees one run in the field.
So while at first glance Cano would appear to have the edge in value, Pedroia's all-around performance gives him the nod here.
Apologies to: Robinson Cano (New York), Ian Kinsler (Texas), Jose Altuve (Houston)
Shortstop: Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers
In a deep year for shortstops, Jean Segura was at the head of the class in April.
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There is a logjam at the top of the defensive spectrum for shortstops right now. Elvis Andrus is the cream of the crop, but Troy Tulowitzki, Brandon Crawford, Andrelton Simmons and Jean Segura are all right behind the Texas star.
So when you have that many players adding value on defense, it comes down to what is happening when you put a bat in their hands.
In that regard, Segura wins, though it is very close. He ranks first in average and second in on-base percentage and slugging percentage among shortstops. That kind of offensive production, combined with solid defense, gives him the edge.
Only Tulowitzki really stacks up on the offensive side of the ball, but Segura trumps him in wOBA (.422 to .418) and wRC+ (174 to 158). Even if Segura doesn't keep up this pace—and his .400 BABIP suggests he probably won't—he could easily be the prize of the Zack Greinke trade from last July.
Apologies to: Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado), Brandon Crawford (San Francisco), Alcides Escobar (Kansas City)
Third Base: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
The 2012 AL MVP is up to his old tricks again this season.
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It is a testament to how spoiled we are by Miguel Cabrera's ability with the bat that he can be hitting .363/.436/.559 and very few people seem to be talking about it. He is also 30 years old, and there are a lot of shiny new toys coming into the game that deserve attention.
But make no mistake, Cabrera is doing exactly what you would expect from him. He is tearing the cover off the ball right now and playing well-below-average defense at third base.
While Cabrera does get taken down a bit because of his poor defensive prowess—he has already cost the Tigers four runs—he is so far ahead of everyone else at the position on offense to make up for it.
Cabrera's wOBA of .426 is 29 points higher than Atlanta's Chris Johnson and nearly 40 points better than New York's David Wright. Third base has been very good across the big leagues so far, but Cabrera is still the class of the group.
Apologies to: Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay), Josh Donaldson (Oakland), David Wright (New York)
Right Field: Gerardo Parra, Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona's Gerardo Parra has been incredible on defense and very good on offense this season.
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When Arizona was busy making a new outfield this offseason, one player who seemed to get lost in the shuffle was Gerardo Parra. Widely regarded as one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, the only question was if he would hit enough to play every day.
Even though it is just one month, Parra has proven those doubters wrong. He ranks in the top 20 in the NL in batting average and top 25 in on-base percentage, and he also has a .825 OPS.
Factoring in Parra's contributions on defense, which include three defensive runs saved, a present UZR of 3.6 and UZR/150 of 51.7, in addition to his strong offensive performance, there hasn't been a better or more valuable right fielder than him so far.
Apologies to: Michael Cuddyer (Colorado), Carlos Beltran (St. Louis), Chris Denorfia (San Diego)
Center Field: Dexter Fowler, Colorado Rockies
After a few years of teases, Dexter Fowler appears to be putting everything together.
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For years, we have been waiting to see Dexter Fowler put all of his tools together and become a star player. He did have a successful 2012 by setting new career highs with 13 home runs, a .300 average, .389 on-base percentage and .474 slugging percentage.
It appears that was just the beginning of what Fowler can do, as he is just five home runs shy of tying his career high after one month. He is also walking a little more and striking out nearly three percent less than his career mark.
When you put Fowler's offensive performance at a premium position like center field, you are talking about a superstar. Thus far, his defense has been significantly better than it was at any point in 2012.
One thing that you will always be concerned about when talking about a Colorado player's offensive numbers are home/road splits. Traditionally that has been an issue for Fowler, who has a career .886 OPS at Coors Field and .719 everywhere else.
But this year has been vastly different. Fowler is hitting .300/.364/.625 with three home runs at home and .309/.441/.618 with five home runs on the road. At just 27 years old, the Rockies center fielder could turn out to have a huge year.
Apologies to: Shin-Soo Choo (Cincinnati), Carlos Gomez (Milwaukee), Coco Crisp (Oakland)
Left Field: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Not even Justin Upton's hot start puts him over Bryce Harper right now.
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One of the great things about digging through numbers when putting together a list like this is the element of surprise. There were a few names I expected to include here that wound up just missing the cut, none more prominent than Atlanta's Justin Upton.
Upton had a brilliant April in his new home, hitting 12 home runs with an OPS of 1.136, wOBA of .466 and wRC+ of 205. There are not a lot of hitters, let alone left fielders, who can touch those numbers.
Except for Bryce Harper.
This is not another love-fest for Harper, whose greatness I am sure some fans get tired of reading about on a daily basis. Instead it is just going to point out how incredible his April performance was, while acknowledging that Upton was really great, too.
Even though he hit three fewer home runs than Upton, Harper finished just 14 points behind in slugging percentage. He also got on base at a .430 clip, compared to .402 for Upton. He had a higher wOBA at .481.
Defensively, the two are very close. Upton's UZR is better (0.8 to -1.8), but Harper has saved one more run (two to one) and two runs with his arm. If you were to put Upton in this spot, I wouldn't argue against it.
All I am doing is arguing for Harper. You know, because he doesn't get talked about enough.
Apologies to: Justin Upton (Atlanta), Carlos Gonzalez (Colorado), Starling Marte (Pittsburgh)
Designated Hitter: Travis Hafner, New York Yankees
One of the few remaining DH-only players in baseball, Travis Hafner has been a pleasant surprise for the New York Yankees.
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This is a difficult category to judge anymore because there are so few true DHs left. Teams are using the spot in the lineup to give an aging position player a day off from the field, so they can keep their bat in there.
Travis Hafner, Lance Berkman and David Ortiz are the last of a dying breed—though Albert Pujols could be joining that company if his plantar fasciitis continues to be a problem. Ortiz doesn't qualify for the list because he didn't play enough in April. Otherwise, he would have gotten the nod.
Hafner was signed as a life preserver for the Yankees in the offseason, just a way to keep them afloat until Alex Rodriguez and the 312 other players they have on the DL returned. Instead, outside of Robinson Cano, he has been their best hitter.
One word of warning that I will give Yankee fans is that Hafner has come out of the gate strong in April each of the last two seasons (.959 OPS in 2011, .909 in 2012) before breaking down later in the year.
But right now, considering the Yankees are only paying him $2 million, they have to feel like they have gotten their money's worth already.
Apologies to: Lance Berkman (Texas)
Starting Pitcher: Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
In a month filled with fantastic pitching performances, Adam Wainwright's was the best of the bunch.
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This year's pitching crop is stacked at the top. There is a real debate for at least five other pitchers (Yu Darvish, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, Matt Harvey) to be in this spot, but ultimately, no one has been better at doing what a starter is supposed to do than Adam Wainwright.
St. Louis' ace is now completely recovered from Tommy John surgery two years ago. He had a remarkable streak of 34.2 innings without a walk to start the year, but that is just a small part of the story.
Wainwright leads all of baseball with 44.1 innings pitched. His strikeout rate is actually lower than that of the five pitchers mentioned before, yet he is still averaging nearly one per inning. The key to his success has been an increased emphasis on keeping the ball down in the zone and not letting hitters elevate it.
He is one of only three starting pitchers who hasn't allowed a home run this season. St. Louis teammate Jake Westbrook and Detroit's Anibal Sanchez are the others, but he has thrown at least 10 more innings than either of them.
Wainwright's ground-ball rate of 56.6 percent is the highest of his career. He has also stranded 75 percent of runners who have reached base against him.
The three things that a pitcher has direct control over are strikeouts, walks and home runs. Wainwright is tied for first in homers allowed (zero), third in walks (three) and ninth in strikeouts (43). No other pitcher in baseball can match those stats; add in the fact he has thrown more innings than anyone else, and that is why he gets the nod.
Apologies to: Yu Darvish (Texas), Justin Verlander (Detroit), Matt Harvey (New York)
Relief Pitcher: Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
After flirting with the starting rotation in spring training, Aroldis Chapman is dominating out of the bullpen once again.
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Considering how successful Aroldis Chapman has been out of the bullpen, you can't really say his decision to stay there is bad. It would just be fun to see what he could have done as a starter, but that ship has likely sailed.
That little rant aside, Chapman is up to his old tricks again. His strikeout rate is slightly lower than what it was in 2012 (15.32 to 14.18), but his control has been better, and it was already hard enough to make contact with his stuff.
The only other reliever in Chapman's realm right now is, shockingly, Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel. Toronto's Casey Janssen has been fantastic as well, and deserves some recognition with 11 strikeouts, no walks and just three hits allowed in nine innings.
Chapman is slightly ahead of Kimbrel after the first month of the season thanks to a higher strikeout rate, lower walk rate and perfect strand rate thus far. Given the volatile nature of relief pitching, these things can turn on a dime.
But for now, Chapman is the best of the bunch.
Apologies to: Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta), Casey Janssen (Toronto), James Russell (Chicago)
If you want to talk about the All-April list, or anything else baseball related, feel free to let me know on Twitter.