Clay Buchholz is one of a few obvious choices for these rankings
While it seems like we have barely played a few weeks of baseball, the first quarter of the 2013 MLB season is already in the history books.
Crazy right? So it is really the perfect time to take a look at the top performers in the American League East.
The AL East has maintained its standing as the most competitive division in baseball. The Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles have fought for the top spot all season.
Meanwhile, the talented, yet underachieving, rosters in Tampa Bay and Toronto are primed to explode.
Ignoring the teams' positional rankings for a moment, the AL East is comprised of some of the most talented players in baseball. Let’s examine the AL East All-Star team after the first quarter of the 2013 season.
2013 Stats: .240/.305/.416, 12 XBH (5 HR), 24/13 K/BB, 36 G
Our first choice should please fans in Baltimore.
Since his entrance into professional baseball, Matt Weiters has been a local Orioles hero. The young catcher has been a staple in the heart of the Orioles’ batting order for years.
While he hasn’t hit for much average, his power has been invaluable.
As well as maintaining his power, Weiters has also kept up his quality defense behind the dish. He is well known for his blocking abilities, strong arm and highly intelligent game calling.
Despite his fame as a player, Weiters actually has not played all that well. He makes this list, in part, because the crop of catchers in the AL East is so weak. While Boston's Jarrod Saltalamacchia has performed marginally better with the bat, his lackluster defensive work lags way behind that of Weiters.
Honorable Mention: Saltalamacchia, Red Sox
2013 Stats: .313/.405/.664, 23 XBH (11 HR), 38/20 K/BB, (37 G)
The Orioles are two-for-two so far.
Chris Davis has had a monster start in 2013. The powerful first baseman homered in each of the first four games of the season, becoming only the fourth player in MLB history to ever reach such an achievement.
He has since come back to earth a bit, but his season has still been extremely impressive thus far. It is early in the season, but Davis' offensive production makes him an early AL MVP front-runner.
Unfortunately, Davis’ strong early performance has overshadowed the work of several other first basemen in the AL East.
Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion has continued to show off his power despite a low batting average. Boston's Mike Napoli has acclimated well to Fenway Park, ranking third in the league in runs batted in and first in the league in doubles.
Even James Loney has enjoyed an offensive renaissance in Tampa Bay.
However, none of them can compete with Davis at the moment.
Honorable Mention: Loney, Tampa Bay Rays
2013 Stats: .299/.341/.554, 20 XBH (10 HR), 23/10 K/BB, (38 G)
Probably the best all-around hitter in the AL East today, Robinson Cano can bash baseballs with the best of them.
Since his breakout season in 2006, Cano has dominated opposing pitchers—and this season has been no different.
The 30-year-old second baseman has compiled solid all-around stats this year. He has continued to hit for power, as he is on track to shatter his best previous home run tally.
Cano’s historical dominance and his impressive early stats make him an early MVP favorite.
On a separate note, a very legitimate argument can be made for Boston's Dustin Pedroia in this spot.
The stud second baseman has managed an absurd .421 on base percentage and a good 0.9 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), two areas in which Cano is lacking. However, Pedroia’s unusual power outage, as evidenced by his weak .405 slugging percentage, holds him back from the top spot at the moment.
Honorable Mention: Pedroia, Red Sox
2013 Stats: .333/.403/.610, 19 XBH (9 HR), 31/16 K/BB, (37 G)
The hot corner has really been a two-man show in the AL East this season.
Alex Rodriguez has not played an inning this year for the Yankees, and his replacement, Kevin Youkilis, hasn’t been able to stay healthy either.
Boston's Will Middlebrooks and Toronto's Brett Lawrie are in the midst of very rocky sophomore seasons.
That leaves Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria and Baltimore's Manny Machado.
Of course, the former has proven himself to be an extremely talented individual in years past, and he has not disappointed this season.
Longoria has remained the key cog in the Rays’ offense. If he keeps up his current production, I could see Longoria locking down his first career MVP award. He is leading the league in WAR, after all, so that is a good start.
And I apologize, Orioles fans, but Machado has not quite produced at the same level. While he has certainly been among the best in baseball, his statistics are slightly lacking compared to those of Longoria, both on offense and defense.
Both players, however, are worthy of praise.
Honorable Mention: Machado, Orioles
2013 Stats: .228/.314/.359, 6 XBH (2 HR), 26/12 K/BB, (27 G)
Shortstop is the weakest position in the AL East this season. Stephen Drew, Boston’s number nine hitter, has managed a decent season that lands him the top spot. However, he earns that honor primarily because there is no one else in the division who has performed well.
The only other player who can compete with Drew for the spot is J.J. Hardy of the Orioles.
Both players have been impressive defenders, managing very strong UZRs. However, neither has been particularly exciting on offense.
Drew has been marginally better with a higher on-base percentage and a noticeably stronger weighted on-base average (wOBA). Drew and Hardy haven’t been great, but Drew earns the slight edge due to his offense.
Honorable Mention: Hardy, Orioles
2013 Stats: .299/.349/.526, 13 XBH (9 HR), 20/11 K/BB, (36 G)
Left field was a surprisingly tough decision.
Most anyone who casually follows baseball is aware of Vernon Wells’ resurgence in New York. After two disappointing season with the Angels, the former All-Star outfielder has rediscovered his power stroke.
With lineup staples like Mark Teixeira, Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, and Youkilis on the disabled list, Wells has stepped up as the Yankees’ top offensive performer.
He would have been an easy choice if not for the work of former Red Sox bench player, and surprise superstar, Daniel Nava.
The 30-year-old outfielder was signed as an undrafted free agent back in 2007. Most scouts and analysts assumed that he would serve as forgettable minor league depth, like most undrafted college players.
Turns out Nava had other plans.
After nailing down a spot on the Red Sox bench last year, he has posted an impressive .288/.391/.500 slash line that likely outperforms that of Wells. However, Wells has flashed superior defense so far this season, giving him a slight edge over Nava.
Honorable Mention: Nava, Red Sox
2013 Stats: .321/.353/.503, 19 XBH (5 HR), 34/7 K/BB, (38 G)
Not much of a surprise here. Adam Jones is enjoying another strong season.
While he continues to strike out far too much and still refuses to take any walks, he has flashed his usual home run power and blazing speed. Jones should continue his current level of production, earning his second All-Star appearance in as many years.
There is an argument for Jacoby Ellsbury here. Boston’s leadoff hitter has far outperformed Jones in the defense and speed departments, but his slugging and on-base percentages have been disappointing thus far.
Until those numbers change, Jones takes the top spot.
Honorable Mention: Ellsbury, Red Sox
2013 Stats: .308/.370/.393, 5 XBH (2 HR), 15/10 K/BB, (29 G)
A new addition to the AL East, Shane Victorino has lived up to the hype.
The speedy outfielder has showed off many of his copious tools in Boston. While he ha not flashed his usual power, he has been hitting for average, getting on base, stealing bases and dominating outfield defense.
Victorino has been so effective in the outfield, in fact, that he leads all of baseball (by a wide margin) with an impressive 8.8 UZR. Despite his controversial price tag, right now Victorino looks like he is worth every penny.
Oh, and Jays fans, please don’t be angry about Jose Bautista. Obviously he is extremely talented, but his 2013 season has left much to be desired.
Yes, he has more power than Victorino, but he is only hitting .246 on the year. Bautista's defensive value is nowhere near that of Victorino's, so for the moment, he is only an honorable mention.
Honorable Mention: Bautista, Jays
2013 Stats: .333/.370/.613, 13 XBH (4 HR), 12/5 K/BB, (29 G)
While he has only played 19 games for the Red Sox this season, Ortiz has just crushed the crap out of baseballs.
He has come back to earth a bit after an incredible first few games, but Ortiz’s statistics are still those of an elite hitter. His power is an extremely important part of Boston’s lineup.
It is odd that Ortiz is not walking as much as usual. However, after such a prolonged stint on the disabled list, he likely still has a few kinks to hammer out before he is completely locked in at the plate.
Opposing pitchers better watch out.
Travis Hafner has been a very useful performer in New York. If not for Ortiz’s resurgence, he would have easily claimed the top spot at DH. He still works counts for days, and flashes impressive power.
Honorable Mention: Hafner, Yankees
Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
2013 Stats: 6-0, 58.2 IP, 1.69 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 (8 GS)
Despite his dubious ball-doctoring accusations, Buchholz has still been the best pitcher in the American league thus far, bar none. In fact, he was recently voted AL Pitcher of the Month in April, and deservedly so.
Buchholz is on track for an All-star appearance and serious run at the Cy Young award.
Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees
2013 Stats: 5-2, 50.2 IP, 2.31 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 (8 GS)
Kuroda has surprisingly flown a bit under the radar this season, despite leading the Yankees’ rotation in most categories. The veteran righty is the primary reason why the Bronx Bombers have been able to stay in contention despite losing much of their offense to the disabled list.
Matt Moore, Rays
2013 Stats: 6-0, 42.0 IP, 2.14 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 4.9 BB/9 (7 GS)
Moore is finally starting to fulfill his massive potential.
In 2011, the young left-hander ranked third among the top 50 prospects in baseball, behind only Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. He has the talent to be the ace of virtually any staff.
Despite his alarmingly high walk rate, his early performance is a good sign of things to come.
Jon Lester, Red Sox
2013 Stats: 5-0, 52.2 IP, 2.73 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 (8 GS)
Lester has paired Buchholz, to lead the Red Sox rotation. The two aces have been the driving force behind Boston’s winning ways this season. Lester in particular has proven to be a dependable performer, despite his unusually low strikeout numbers.
Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles
2013 Stats: 3-3, 47.1 IP, 3.04 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 5.1 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 (8 GS)
Wei-Yin Chen is not quite on the same level as others on this list, but he is certainly worthy of the fifth spot. The soft-tossing lefty has been the unquestioned leader of the Orioles’ rotation. With any luck, he could reach his first All-Star appearance this summer.
Honorable mentions: C.C. Sabathia (Yankees), Alex Cobb (Rays), John Lackey (Red Sox), Andy Pettitte (Yankees)
Closer: Jim Johnson, Orioles
2013 Stats: 1-2, 19.0 IP, 0.95 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 14 SV
The Orioles’ stud closer hasn’t missed a beat after a superstar season last year. He’s simply been ridiculous.
It must be a comfort for Buck Showalter to know that he almost never has to worry about the ninth inning going badly. Such is the benefit of having a closer like Johnson.
Casey Janssen, Jays
2013 Stats: 0-0, 13.0 IP, 0.69 ERA, 0.31 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 0.0 BB/9, 10 SV
While his strong second half last year turned some heads, Janssen is still a relatively new face in the baseball world. And if he didn’t catch your eye last year, he certainly has your undivided attention now.
Janssen has been the definition of dominant in the ninth inning. I see a perennial All-Star in the making.
Mariano Rivera, Yankees
2013 Stats: 0-0, 16.1 IP, 1.65 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 6.6 K/9, 1.1 BB/9, 15 SV
At a certain point, you have to wonder whether Mo is even human. Every single year, regardless of age, he continues to demolish major league hitters like it is no big deal.
In his final season, Rivera is looking as good as ever. I guess some athletes deserve to live in eternal greatness.
Tommy Hunter, Orioles
2013 Stats: 3-1, 19.0 IP, 1.40 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 1 SV
A former starter, Hunter decided to try his hand at relief work in 2013. So far, it has paid off. The right-hander has been unstoppable in the back of the bullpen. If not for Johnson, he’d probably be closing games.
Koji Uehara, Red Sox
2013 Stats: 0-0, 14.2 IP, 2.45 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 12.27 K/9, 1.2 BB/9, 0 SV
Uehara is the definition of consistency.
Throughout his relief career, he has been among the best set-up men in baseball. His sneaky fastball and deceptive splitter make for a deadly combination late in games.
Adam Warren, Yankees
2013 Stats: 1-0, 18.2 IP, 1.45 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1 SV
Warren is a relatively unknown pitcher who is enjoying a brilliant rookie season in New York. He was a starter in the minor leagues, but he’s handled the transition to the bullpen seamlessly. He should continue to be an integral part of the Yankees’ relief corps.
Joel Peralta, Rays
2013 Stats: 0-2, 16.1 IP, 2.20 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 0 SV
Peralta’s walk rate may be concerning, but he has been able to use his quality stuff to become one of the game’s more useful set-up men. While he may not be as reliable as others on this list, Peralta has been dominant in 2013.
Honorable Mentions: Darren Oliver (Jays), Darren O’Day (Orioles), Brett Cecil (Jays), David Robertson (Yankees)