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Report Card Grades for MLB's Top 50 Players Entering 2013 Season

Benjamin KleinContributor IIIAugust 1, 2013

Report Card Grades for MLB's Top 50 Players Entering 2013 Season

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    There are just two months until Major League Baseball’s postseason commences.

    Now is a great time to evaluate how the best players in the game have performed through this point in the season. Have the stars been great for their franchises, or have they failed to live up to the hype in 2013? We’re about to take a look, as the top stars in baseball will be given a grade for how they have played.

    B/R’s Zach Rymer compiled a list of the top 100 players in baseball entering this season, and we’re going to be using that as a starting point—although we’re only looking at the top 50. There aren’t players like Chris Davis because he wasn’t a top-50 player when the season began. Be sure to keep that in mind.

    So, which players aced Professor Klein’s class through July 31 and which players failed? Here’s a look at how the top 50 players in the league have played entering August, with analysis and a grade for each of the stars.

     

    All statistics in this article were obtained via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted and are up to date through games on August 31, 2013. All contract information was obtained via Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted and all injury information was obtained via Baseball Prospectus.

The Method Behind My Madness

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    For this article, I took a deep look at how each player has performed through this point in the season. I mainly focused on how high or low a player’s WAR was. While WAR may not be the perfect statistic—and it certainly has its flaws—it’s the best statistic we have to judge a player’s overall game.

    I split all the players in baseball into three groups: batters, starting pitchers and relief pitchers. I made sub-groups within each of the groups, putting players together who had the same or similar WAR. Each group then received a grade, and that’s the grade you’ll see for each player on the following slides.

    It wasn’t all that easy, though. Many players failed to qualify, as they haven’t made enough appearances throughout the year—mainly due to injury. If a player just missed the cut, I gave them a more subjective grade. If they have rarely played at all in 2013, I was forced to give them an “incomplete.”

50. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

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    Joe Mauer continues to hit like a Hall of Fame candidate. While that conversation is still a long ways away, the catcher has boosted his resume with another strong season. Through 93 games, the Twins backstop is hitting .326/.408/.474 with eight home runs and 35 RBI. He’s also been fantastic behind the plate.

    Mauer won’t be winning the MVP this season and Minnesota is well out of playoff contention, but that doesn’t take away from how good he’s been on a personal level. He continues to be consistent year after year, and it’s not often that you can say that about a catcher. He’s still one of the best in baseball.

    Grade: A

49. Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds

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    Don’t let Brandon Phillips’ power numbers deceive you. While he has 12 home runs and 81 RBI through 99 games this season, he isn’t having the best year of his career. The second baseman is only hitting .256/.310/.396 on the year. If the season ended today, that would be the second-lowest batting average of his career.

    Sure, Phillips plays remarkable defense and has been driving in plenty of runs this season—already surpassing last year’s RBI total—but he needs to be more consistent at the plate. The Reds second baseman ranks ninth in the game at the position in terms of WAR in 2013, according to FanGraphs. He needs to pick it up.

    Grade: C+

48. James Shields, Kansas City Royals

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    The Royals had high hopes for James Shields entering the season, as they gave up their top prospect—Wil Myers—to land him from the Rays. Through 22 starts, the right-hander has been sharp, even though his win-loss record wouldn't suggest that. Shields is 5-7 on the season, but he currently has a 3.09 ERA.

    What is a bit concerning is Shields’ lack of strikeouts this season. He’s only striking out 7.51 batters per nine innings of work in 2013. He hasn’t averaged fewer than eight strikeouts per nine innings since 2009. Even if he isn’t striking out tons of batters each outing, the Royals have to be happy with how he’s pitched.

    Grade: B+

47. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Adam Wainwright has been the best pitcher in baseball in 2013. There may be some people from New York, Seattle, Los Angeles and Detroit who say otherwise, but the right-hander has been outstanding all season long. Through 22 starts, he’s 13-6 with a 2.51 ERA. He’s shown great command, as he’s walked just 18 batters all year.

    When you take into consideration he’s thrown 161.2 innings in 2013, that’s very few free passes being handed out—1.00 per nine innings. If Wainwright continues to pitch like he has to this point in the season, there’s no reason he shouldn't take home the NL Cy Young. He has the highest WAR of any pitcher in baseball entering August, per FanGraphs.

    Grade: A+

46. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

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    The Nationals haven’t gotten the best from Ryan Zimmerman this season, and that’s part of the reason why the club isn’t atop the NL East. Through 93 games this year, the third baseman is hitting .281/.352/.450. While that clip is right around his career average, his power is down a lot and his strikeout rate is very high.

    Zimmerman has only hit 12 home runs and 54 RBI this season. He hit 25 balls out of the park and had 95 RBI a year ago. It doesn’t appear he’ll be coming close to either of those marks this year. It could be because he’s striking out 21.2 percent of the time, which would be a career worst if the season ended today.

    Grade: C

45. Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals

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    Alex Gordon is having a horrible year if you compare to what he’s been able to do in the last two seasons. Through 99 games this season, he’s hitting .271/.343/.404 with 10 home runs and 53 RBI. He will likely surpass his home run and RBI totals from last season, but won’t come close to hitting .294 for the season like he did in 2012.

    That being said, it hasn't been a complete disaster for Gordon. He’s still one of the above-average players in the American League and was selected to his first All-Star Game this season. If he gets really hot down the stretch, the Royals could make a late-season playoff push. That may be a big if, though.

    Grade: B-

44. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

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    Craig Kimbrel has again been the anchor of the Atlanta bullpen for the entire season and has been a big reason why the team has been so successful. In 41 appearances for the Braves in 2013, he has 31 saves and a 1.34 ERA. While the right-hander has been good this year, he was even better a year ago.

    In 2013, Kimbrel’s strikeout rate has decreased (16.66 per nine to 13.83 per nine) and his walk rate has increased (2.01 per nine to 3.35 per nine) compared to 2012. His ERA was just above 1.00 at the end of last season as well. He could set a new career high in saves if he stays healthy for the remainder of the year.

    Grade: B+

43. Brett Gardner, New York Yankees

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    Brett Gardner is one of the most underrated players in the game. No one ever talks about how good this guy is, and he deserves more credit. Through 104 games for the ailing Yankees, he’s hitting .281/.348/.421 with seven home runs and 34 RBI. He’s one homer away from a new career high.

    Gardner has been doing it all for the Bronx Bombers this season while most of his teammates have been in Tampa rehabbing. He plays the outfield well, hits for average, has a little bit of power and has great speed. He isn’t going to steal 49 bases like he did in 2011, but 17 isn’t too shabby. The outfielder is a game-changer.

    Grade: B+

42. Michael Bourn, Cleveland Indians

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    Michael Bourn has been very valuable in years past because of his speed on the bases and his strong defensive play in the outfield. While his offensive game is alright, the other two factors are what really landed him that big contract with the Indians over the winter. Through 78 games Bourn has been decent, but not great.

    Bourn only has 13 steals this season, and if he doesn’t steal five more, he’ll set a career worst for a year where he played in at least 18 games. He also hasn’t made as much of an impact in the outfield as he usually does, which has kept his WAR low. He is hitting .284/.336/.375, though, which is a decent slash line.

    Grade: B-

41. Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers

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    Ian Kinsler may have strong numbers by the end of the season, but entering August, his resume for the year isn’t too impressive. Sure, he’s hitting .278/.353/.427 with nine homers and 45 RBI through 80 games, but he doesn’t even stack up well against the other second basemen in the game.

    Kinsler has the 11th-highest WAR of any second baseman in baseball, per FanGraphs. There’s still plenty of baseball left to be played this season, but he likely won’t hit 19 home runs, score 105 runs or drive in 72 runs like he did in 2012. It’s been a down year for the Rangers second baseman to say the least.

    Grade: C-

40. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox

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    Dustin Pedroia is having a fantastic year for the Boston Red Sox, a team that was absolutely horrible a year ago. Pedroia has helped bring the club back into contention. Through 108 games, he’s hitting .296/.374/.416 with eight home runs and 64 RBI. He also has 62 runs and 14 stolen bases.

    While Pedroia isn’t the most powerful No. 3 hitter in baseball, he’s still been very productive. He should be a candidate for a Gold Glove for his defensive prowess, and if he continues to hit like he has in 2013, Boston should be a playoff team. He’s been the fourth-best second baseman in baseball this season, per FanGraphs.

    Grade: A-

39. Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves

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    Justin Upton got off to a scorching start this season, as he hit .298/.402/.734 with 12 home runs and 19 RBI in the first month of the season. Unfortunately, he failed to keep up his hot pace, as he fell into a slump the following two months. He hit .211/.327/.326 in May and .226/.336/.280 in June.

    Upton picked up his play in July, hitting .292/.330/.427, but since the end of April, the outfielder has only hit four home runs. When he was hitting home run after home run earlier in the year, some thought he might break the single-season record. Now, he might not finish the year with more than 20 homers.

    Grade: C+

38. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

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    Most of the top starting pitchers have made around 21 or 22 starts this season. Jered Weaver has made only 14 because he missed a few weeks with a fractured elbow. In those starts, Weaver has pitched well, as he’s compiled a 5-5 record and a 2.84 ERA in 88.2 innings of work.

    Weaver has also shown great command, as he usually does. The right-hander is averaging 7.41 strikeouts and 2.23 walks per nine innings. His absence definitely hurt Los Angeles’ chances of contending this year, but it’s not his fault that he got injured. For now, he hasn’t started enough games for me to grade him.

    Grade: Incomplete

37. Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers

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    Austin Jackson has had an interesting season for the Tigers. He got off to a great start, as he entered May hitting .286/.355/.393 with six extra-base hits, 10 RBI and 25 runs. But he got injured in May and missed most of the month. That didn’t slow him down, though, as he hit .339/.471/.482 through 15 games in June.

    Things have gotten bad for Jackson quick, though. In July, he only hit .223/.273/.366 from the plate. Overall, he’s still having a strong year, but if his July woes carry over to August and September, he could be in trouble. The Tigers can’t afford to have him struggling offensively down the stretch.

    Grade: B

36. Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Jose Reyes suffered a gruesome ankle injury in just his 10th game of the season, his first year with the Blue Jays. While it was only 10 games, he was off to a great start. He was hitting .295/.465/.526 at the time of the injury. The ailment then kept him out of commission for the next few months.

    Reyes made his return to the Blue Jays on June 26 and has been solid ever since. He’s hitting .317/.382/.473 for the year to go along with six home runs, 29 RBI and 11 stolen bases. Reyes has done a good job at making the most of his opportunities. He’s only played in 41 games, though, so it wouldn’t be fair to give him a grade.

    Grade: Incomplete

35. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

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    Johnny Cueto has struggled to stay healthy the entire season, as he’s made several trips to the disabled list. The right-hander is 4-2 on the year through nine starts. He wasn’t bad in those starts, as he allowed 18 earned runs in 48.2 inning (3.33 ERA) and had 41 strikeouts.

    Cueto is currently on the 15-day disabled list, and Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reports that there still isn’t a throwing program in place for the righty. It’s unclear if Cueto is going to be able to pitch again for the Reds this season. Cincinnati could certainly use him to aid the team’s chances of making the playoffs.

    Grade: Incomplete

34. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

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    It’s been a rough year for Gio Gonzalez and the Nationals. While the team isn’t completely out of the playoff picture, it’s fading quickly. Gonzalez hasn’t been very effective this season on the mound, and poor performances have cost his team a few wins. He’s given up at least five earned runs in four starts and has had command issues.

    Gonzalez has never been a guy who limits his walks, but they have really hurt him in 2013. He’s issued 54 free passes in 133.2 innings of work. He’s walked at least four batters in six starts this season. He needs to work on his command going forward if the Nationals are going to sneak into the playoffs.

    Grade: C+

33. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Cole Hamels was horrendous through his first 12 starts of the season. Entering June, the lefty was 1-9 on the season and had a 4.86 ERA. He has improved lately, though, and his numbers are much more respectable. He allowed 24 earned runs in 67 innings of work in May and June (3.22 ERA).

    Hamels’ ERA for the year is still quite high (4.09), but he’ll have plenty of opportunities in the coming weeks to lower it even more. He just has to limit his walks going forward, as they were what plagued him earlier in the year. He walked at least three batters in four of his first eight starts. That didn’t help his cause.

    Grade: B-

32. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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    Even though Stephen Strasburg had a 3.13 ERA in April, he went 1-5 in six starts throughout the month. That’s been the story of the season for the righty. He doesn’t give up many runs but hasn’t gotten much run support. The Nationals only score an average of 2.8 runs per game when he’s on the mound, per Baseball-Reference.

    On the season, Strasburg is 5-9 with a 3.04 ERA. He hasn’t been nearly as dominant as he was last season, as he isn’t striking out as many batters. He’s only averaged 9.25 strikeouts per nine innings this season, which is low considering he averaged 11.13 strikeouts per nine innings a year ago. That’s still a lot of strikeouts, though.

    Grade: B-

31. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

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    Bryce Harper missed about a month’s time earlier in the year after running so hard to catch a fly ball that he crashed into the fence. The kid plays the game very hard, as many are aware of. He’s still played in 70 games for the Nationals this season and has arguably been the team's best offensive player.

    Entering August, the outfielder is hitting .276/.372/.528—all marks currently higher than they were in 2012 when he won the NL Rookie of the Year Award. He also has 15 home runs and 35 RBI on the year. He’s going to need to get very hot very fast if he’s going to carry Washington to a postseason berth, though.

    Grade: B-

30. R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays

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    R.A. Dickey hasn’t been effective since coming over from the Mets to the Blue Jays. Through 23 starts in his first season with Toronto, the righty is 8-11 with a 4.66 ERA. His ERA hasn’t been higher than 4.00 since he was with the Twins back in 2009. Locating his pitches has been a struggle for him throughout the season.

    Dickey is averaging 3.13 walks per nine innings of work in 2013, which would be his highest since that 2009 season. On seven occasions this season, he’s issued at least three free passes. He’s only completed seven or more innings in six of his 23 starts on the year. The 2012 NL Cy Young has not adjusted well to the AL.

    Grade: D

29. Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Zack Greinke wouldn’t have missed a month of the season if he didn’t drill Carlos Quentin and subsequently ram into him back in May. But the pitcher made a speedy recovery from a broken collarbone, as he only missed a month. He’s made 17 starts on the season and has been somewhat of an asset for the first-place Dodgers.

    The right-hander is 8-3 on the season and currently has a 3.43 ERA. That would be the best ERA he’s posted in a season since 2009, which is the year he won the AL Cy Young Award. He hasn’t struck out as many batters as he has in years past, though. He only has 82 strikeouts in 105 innings, which hasn’t helped his WAR at all.

    Grade: C-

28. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

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    Matt Cain has been horrible this season, as he’s part of the reason why the Giants likely won’t make the playoffs. Through 21 starts, the right-hander is 6-6 and has a 4.79 ERA. That will be the worst of his career if he doesn’t get it below 4.15 by the end of the season. One of the reasons for his struggles is his command.

    Cain is walking an average of 3.05 batters per nine innings this season, which is the most since 2008. He’s also located his pitches poorly, as he’s served up 16 home runs on the season. It seems likely that he’ll set a new career worst by the end of the season—seven more long balls will do the trick for the Giants' “ace.”

    Grade: D

27. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

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    After missing nearly 100 games last season to due injury, Evan Longoria is back and back with a vengeance. The Tampa Bay third baseman has been outstanding this season, as he’s hitting .273/.348/.500 through 105 games. He’s hit 21 home runs, driven in 58 runs and scored 63 runs.

    While Longoria has been good for most of the year, he wasn’t too sharp in July. In 25 games throughout the month, he hit below the Mendoza Line. The Rays were still incredible without him at his best, but they will need him to break out of his slump eventually. He’s currently the seventh-best position player in baseball this year, per FanGraphs.

    Grade: A+

26. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies

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    Troy Tulowitzki missed around a month’s time this season due to a broken rib, but he's still played in 77 games for the Rockies. Through those games, the shortstop is hitting .323/.385/.591 with 19 home runs and 59 RBI. He’s having one of the best seasons of his career despite not being able to play in around 25 games.

    Since Tulowitzki didn’t miss too much time, we’re going to give him a grade for how great he’s been. Colorado isn’t really in the mix for a playoff spot now, but the team was fantastic to start the season and Tulowitzki was a big reason why. He deserves a ton of credit for what he’s been able to do on both sides of the field in 2013.

    Grade: A

25. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies

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    This season has been a wash for Roy Halladay. He’s only made seven starts this season due to injury. In those starts, he’s 2-4 and has allowed 33 earned runs in 34.1 innings of work. He also has 35 strikeouts and 17 walks. The right-hander hasn’t thrown a pitch for the Phillies since May 5.

    Halladay had shoulder surgery in mid-May and is currently working his way back to the big leagues, according to Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly. The scribe reported around a week ago that the two-time Cy Young Award winner felt good during a recent bullpen session. Philadelphia has to hope he bounces back for next season.

    Grade: Incomplete

24. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels

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    Albert Pujols is supposed to be one of the best players in the game. This is a guy who has won three MVP Awards throughout his career. He won’t be winning his fourth in 2013, as the season has been a struggle for the slugger. In 99 games, Pujols hit .258/.330/.437 with 17 home runs and 64 RBI.

    Pujols hasn’t been close to one of the top first basemen in baseball this year, as he ranks 19th in WAR at the position, per FanGraphs. It’s not going to get much better for the first baseman, as a foot injury could keep him out for the remainder of the season, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN Los Angeles).

    Grade: C-

23. Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers

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    The Tigers may be in first place in the AL Central, but Prince Fielder hasn’t done a good job of securing the team’s spot at the top. He’s having a down year for Detroit this season, as he’s only hitting .262/.356/.439. He does have 17 home runs and 76 RBI, though. Part of the problem has been his approach at the plate.

    Fielder is walking less often than he has in recent years and is also striking out more frequently than he has since 2010. He still does a good job of protecting Miguel Cabrera, but he needs to be smarter at the plate to be successful the rest of the year. If he doesn’t hit better, he could set a new career worst in batting average.

    Grade: C-

22. Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves

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    While Jason Heyward did miss a few weeks after having his appendix removed, he’s still played enough where we can give him a grade. He’s played in 77 games this season, which is more than 70 percent of the Braves’ games for the year. But Atlanta has failed to get a lot out of him when he has been able to take the field.

    Throughout the year, the outfielder is hitting .231/.331/.378 with nine home runs and 27 RBI. While he’s only played in three seasons entering 2013, this could end up being the worst of his career. He did play poorly in his sophomore season, but this year could take the cake if he doesn’t improve in the final stretch of the year.

    Grade: C+

21. Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels

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    The Angels can’t like what they have seen from Josh Hamilton in his first season with the club. The slugger signed a massive deal over the winter, but he has failed to make a strong first impression. He’s arguably having the worst season of his career, as he’s hitting .226/.283/.418 with 16 home runs and 50 RBI.

    Hamilton has never hit lower than .268 in a season and is well on his way to setting a new personal worst. In years where he’s played at least 100 games, Hamilton has never hit fewer than 25 home runs. He still has some time to hit nine more, but even if it does, it’s been a failure of a season for the 2010 AL MVP.

    Grade: D+

20. David Wright, New York Mets

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    The Mets have to get David Wright some help because he can’t do everything by himself. The third baseman is having one of the best seasons of his impressive career with New York. Through 103 games, Wright is hitting .308/.390/.508 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI. He’s also scored 59 runs and stolen 17 bases.

    Even though New York is well out of the playoff race, Wright continues to bring attention to the team. He’s been the fourth-best position player in baseball this season in terms of WAR, according to FanGraphs. Despite his team's record, he'll be in the MVP race. 

    Grade: A+

19. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Tampa Bay continues to get a lot of production from Ben Zobrist, who has played a variety of positions throughout the season. In 103 games for the second-place Rays, Zobrist is hitting .275/.358/.404 with seven home runs and 51 RBI. He hasn’t hit more than .270 in a season since 2009.

    Zobrist’s WAR is usually very high because of how well he plays defensively. His defense hasn’t been as impressive this season, though, and that’s primarily why his grade isn’t higher. He’s hit at least 20 home runs in three of the last four seasons, but that mark seems like a pipe dream for 2013, as he’ll need to hit 13 more.

    Grade: B+

18. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

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    The Yankees haven’t gotten consistent pitching all season long, and CC Sabathia has been one of the reasons why. The big lefty is usually in the Cy Young Award conversation, but he's been hard to watch at times in 2013. In 22 starts, he’s 9-9 with a 4.65 ERA in 147 innings of work.

    If Sabathia continues to allow several runs each time he takes the mound, he’s sure to have a new career worst in ERA. He hasn’t finished a season with an ERA of 4.00 or higher since 2005. The Yankees need him to bounce back quickly to make a late-season push toward the playoffs. It may be too little too late for the Bronx Bombers, though.

    Grade: C+

17. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

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    The Phillies have struggled to stay competitive this season, but they decided to keep Cliff Lee past the trade deadline. That’s not a huge surprise, as he’s the best pitcher they have and the team could be contenders as early as next season. Lee has been solid all season long for the Phillies—as he usually is.

    The left-hander is 10-4 through 20 starts and has a 3.05 ERA in 144.2 innings of work. Lee has 131 strikeouts on the year and has only issued 22 free passes. His ability to limit his walks makes him one of the toughest pitchers to face in the game. 

    Grade: B+

16. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

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    Even if Giancarlo Stanton had stayed healthy throughout the first chunk of the year, the Marlins still wouldn’t be close to contenders. Stanton has only played in 64 games this year because of a hamstring injury. When he’s been healthy enough to take the field for Miami, he hasn’t been as productive as he usually is.

    Through 64 games, Stanton is hitting .256/.375/.491 with 13 home runs and 34 RBI. If the slugger’s average doesn’t increase by three points by the end of the year, he’ll have a new career worst. His power is down as well, and he might not continue his streak of consecutive seasons with at least 20 home runs—which he's done each season.

    Grade: Incomplete

15. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

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    The Blue Jays are well out of the playoff race this season, but it’s not because Jose Bautista has struggled at the plate. He’s hitting .254/.350/.503 through 100 games, which is right around his career average. The outfielder has recorded 25 home runs, 66 RBI and 70 runs for Toronto.

    There’s a strong likelihood that Bautista will finish with at least 30 home runs for the third time in his career and at least 100 RBI for the third time as well. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, not everyone has been as successful as Bautista this year. Toronto’s playoff draught will hit 20 years when this season concludes.

    Grade: A-

14. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

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    David Price missed nearly two months earlier in the year due to a triceps injury. Before going on the disabled list, the lefty was a disaster on the mound. Through nine starts, Price was 1-4 and allowed 32 earned runs in 55 innings of work (5.24 ERA). He’s been much better since his return.

    In July, Price made six starts and went 5-1. He allowed just nine earned runs in 48.1 innings of work (1.68 ERA). His 3.57 ERA for the season continues to drop and he’s only walked 15 batters in 103.1 innings. Price has been essential to Tampa Bay’s recent dominance and should be a big factor down the stretch as well.

    Grade: Incomplete

13. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Matt Kemp has been a walking disaster this season, and the Dodgers are almost better off without him. He’s been banged up for a large chunk of the season, as he’s only played in 62 games this season. In those games, he's hit .263/.319/.382 with five home runs and 27 RBI. That’s far from what he’s capable of doing at the plate.

    Los Angeles could use him down the stretch and in the postseason, but not if he’s going to hit like he has this season. He needs to step it up at the plate unless he could find himself coming off the bench when the playoffs start. 

    Grade: Incomplete

12. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

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    Unless Joey Votto suffers a large slump the rest of the season, he’ll finish 2013 with a batting average of .300 or higher for the fifth straight season. In 109 games for the Reds, the first baseman is hitting .317/.430/.504 with 16 home runs, 49 RBI and 73 runs. He could score 100 runs for the third time in his career as well.

    The Reds are going to need Votto’s best throughout the next couple of weeks, as the team battles for one of the spots in the postseason. Cincinnati is six games back of Pittsburgh in the NL Central, and the team could be looking at one of the two wild cards. The team won’t make the postseason if Votto gets injured or starts to slump.

    Grade: A

11. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

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    The Cardinals are lucky, as they have one of the top catchers in baseball. Yadier Molina is the heart and soul of St. Louis, and he’s doing everything in his power to help the team make the postseason. Through 98 games, he’s hitting .330/.374/.479 with eight homers and 54 RBI.

    Molina set a new career high for batting average a year ago and is on pace to break that personal best this year by 15 points. He needs to hit two more home runs to reach the double-digit-homer plateau for the third consecutive season. He’s easily the most important player on the team.

    Grade: A

10. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers

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    Adrian Beltre wants everyone to know that the Rangers don’t need Josh Hamilton to be competitive. He’s basically put Texas on his back this season, as the Rangers will be attempting to knock off the A’s in the division over the final two months. In 106 games, the third baseman is hitting .314/.356/.529.

    If Beltre stays healthy, he should hit at least 30 home runs for the third straight season. He’s going to need to start driving in more runs if he wants to complete his fourth straight season with 100 or more RBI, though, as he only has 61 to this point in the season. Texas needs Beltre to carry the team a bit further—to the playoffs.

    Grade: A-

9. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees

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    Robinson Cano is one of the most dangerous left-handed hitters in baseball, and he's been lethal in the heart of New York’s lineup this season. The Yankees have battled injury after injury, but their second baseman has managed to stay healthy all year long. Through 107 games, he’s hitting .293/.375/.501.

    Cano’s average is a bit lower than what he’s used to. He hasn’t hit below .300 in a season since 2008. His power numbers are still great, though. He’s hit 21 balls out of the park and has driven in 70 runs on the year. If only his teammates would’ve stayed healthy, Cano and the Yankees may have been leading the AL East right now. 

    Grade: A

8. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Andrew McCutchen is doing it all this season for the first-place Pirates. He’s helped Pittsburgh climb to the top of the division standings and will likely be taking his team to the playoffs for the first time since 1992. One of the few five-tool players in baseball, McCutchen continues to impress each time he takes the field.

    In 104 games for the Pirates this season, McCutchen is hitting .301/.371/.494 with 15 home runs, 59 RBI, 66 runs and 21 stolen bases. He also covers center field like no one else in the game. If the Pirates hang on to make the playoffs, expect the outfielder to finish toward the top of the NL MVP voting at the end of the season.

    Grade: A+

7. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

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    It’s interesting to think that someone could be hitting .309/.379/.510 with 14 home runs and 59 RBI through 101 games and you might consider it a down year. That’s mainly because Buster Posey was so incredible last season, it would be tough to replicate the numbers he put up throughout his NL MVP campaign a year ago.

    Posey and the Giants likely won’t be able to defend their World Series title in the postseason, but it’s far from the catcher’s fault. He’s been great all year long and is one of the top three catchers in all of baseball. He might not be an MVP candidate in 2013, but that doesn't mean that he's failed to be successful throughout the year.

    Grade: A

6. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    Felix Hernandez once won the Cy Young Award despite going 13-12. There’s a strong possibility that he takes home the same award this season, as he’s pitched lights out for the Mariners in 2013. He’s 11-4 on the season with a 2.34 ERA. That’s close to the ERA he posted when he won the Cy Young in 2010 (2.27).

    King Felix has also been more effective on the mound this season in terms of strikeouts and walks. In 2010, he averaged 8.36 strikeouts and 2.52 walks per nine. This season, he’s averaging 9.25 strikeouts and 1.58 walks per nine. Catch my drift? Don’t be surprised when he takes home his second Cy Young at the end of the year.

    Grade: A+

5. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Clayton Kershaw is easily the top left-handed pitcher in baseball. You could make the case he’s the top pitcher in baseball in general. In 23 starts for the red-hot Dodgers this season, Kershaw leads all of baseball with a 1.87 ERA, per FanGraphs.

    While Kershaw’s ERA is insanely low, his walk rate is just as impressive. Batters shouldn't expect to step into the box against him and draw a free pass. The lefty has only walked 35 batters in 168.1 innings of work this year. Kershaw is going to be an essential piece of Los Angeles’ playoff run for the remainder of the season.

    Grade: A+

4. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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    Last season was no fluke. Mike Trout is the real deal. A year after winning the AL Rookie of the Year and finishing second in the AL MVP race, Trout is having another great season. Through 105 games, he’s hitting .329/.410/.564 with 17 home runs and 66 RBI. He also has 73 runs and 23 stolen bases.

    Trout may not finish as high in the MVP voting as he did in 2012, but there’s no doubt that he’s one of the top players in the game. He leads MLB in WAR, according to FanGraphs.

    Grade: A+

3. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

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    Miguel Cabrera is just the best player in baseball, and there really isn’t much of an argument against that statement. He’s a force at the plate, as he’s hitting .359/.454/.668 with 32 home runs and 99 RBI through 100 games. He’s bound to crush his numbers from a year ago that won him the AL Triple Crown.

    In fact, Cabrera could end up winning back-to-back Triple Crowns. He leads the league in hitting, is tied for the lead in RBI and sits six home runs shy of Chris Davis for first place. There’s a very real possibility that we could witness history again this season, as Cabrera continues to do his thing with a bat in his hands. Incredible.

    Grade: A+

2. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    Even though Justin Verlander hasn’t looked exactly like his usual self this season, he’s still putting together another great year. Through 23 starts, he’s 11-8 with a 3.88 ERA in 143.2 innings. In comparison as to how he’s pitched in previous years, he hasn’t finished a season with that high of an ERA since 2008 (4.84).

    What’s also a bit concerning is how many batters Verlander has walked this season. He has already issued 56 free passes. Last year, he only walked 60 batters in 238.1 innings of work. He needs to find his command on the mound soon, or the Tigers could have trouble hanging on to that top spot in the AL Central.

    Grade: A-

1. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Technically, Ryan Braun doesn’t deserve a grade. He only played in 61 games this season due to injury. In those games, he hit .298/.372/.498 with nine home runs and 38 RBI—which isn't bad. His power numbers are considerably lower than what he’s done in the past, though. That, however, could be attributed to his ailments.

    But Braun is getting a big, fat F on his report card. That’s because he was suspended for the remainder of the season—65 games—for violations of the league’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, according to Adam McCalvy MLB.com. Braun cheated and lied. He deserves a failing grade. There’s no two ways about it.

    Grade: F

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