Three down and one to go.
That’s a phrase you almost never hear in Major League Baseball, primarily because there are only three outs in an inning. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Two down and one to go,” about a billion times. But this time, we’re talking about the quarters of the season. There is only one quarter left before the playoffs commence.
Playoff teams are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the pack and some of the major award races are starting to take shape. Now is a perfect time to reflect how the first three quarters of the year have gone, and which players have really stood out from the others. In other words, who has been baseball’s best player?
For the last few days, I’ve been busy looking at numbers, numbers and more numbers trying to answer that question. I’ve come up with a list of the top 50 players at the three-quarter mark. In order to do so, I gave each player a ranking and used their WAR for the year to give them a number of points.
For those wondering, a player’s WAR accounted for 50 percent of their point total and my rankings accounted for the remaining 50 percent. I sorted the players by total number of points and the top 50 made the list, and are in order on the following slides. There will be disagreements, of course, as this isn’t a perfect list.
Everyone is titled to their own opinion on the matter. This article is just my two cents—or 50 cents—on which players have performed at the highest level throughout the year. So, without wasting any more of your time, here are the 50 best players in baseball this season.
All statistics in this article were obtained via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. All injury information was obtained via Baseball Prospectus unless otherwise noted and all contract information was obtained via Cot’s Contracts.
50. Cliff Lee, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies
Aside from wins and losses, Cliff Lee is having a very similar year to that of 2012. Last season, the lefty went 6-9 with a 3.16 ERA and an average of 8.83 strikeouts and 1.19 walks per nine innings. This year, Lee is 10-5 with a 3.18 ERA and an average of 8.38 strikeouts and 1.50 walks per nine.
49. Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP, Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners have found their No. 2 guy for the long haul in Hisashi Iwakuma. He was effective in the rotation and the bullpen last season and has broken out into one of the top starters in the American League this year. Through 25 starts, the right-hander is 10-6 with a 2.96 ERA. He’s also only walked 28 batters in 164 innings.
48. Carlos Beltran, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
While Carlos Beltran’s batting line may stand out (.303/.341/.512), he hasn’t had the best year considering what he’s been able to do in the past. It doesn’t seem likely that he’ll hit 30 home runs or drive in more than 90 runs in 2013—both of which he did in 2012—but he’s still been a big part of St. Louis’ success this season.
47. Mike Minor, LHP, Atlanta Braves
Who needs Tim Hudson when you have Mike Minor? Minor has been excellent in Atlanta’s rotation this year, as he’s 12-5 with a 2.87 ERA through 24 starts. He’s three strikeouts away from a career high, and he has only walked 32 batters in 157 innings of work on the year. He’s only 25 years old and could soon become the club’s ace.
46. Adam Jones, OF, Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles are still in contention for a playoff spot, and if Baltimore makes it, it’ll likely be because Adam Jones steps his game up down the stretch. He’s having another good season, as he’s hitting .296/.323/.504 with 24 homers and a career-high 85 RBI through 120 games. He’s quickly become one of the best outfielders in the American League, if not all of baseball.
45. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
Freddie Freeman is easily having his best season in the big leagues. He’s hit 20 home runs in each of the last two seasons, and has 14 through 107 games this year. He has plenty of time to hit six more. He can also set a new career high in RBI if he drives in 15 more runs throughout the rest of the year. Oh, and he’s hitting .310/.389/.474 to boot.
44. Ian Desmond, SS, Washington Nationals
Ian Desmond has now put together back-to-back strong seasons. Through 117 games this year, Washington’s shortstop is hitting .281/.336/.481 with 17 home runs and 55 RBI. He’s also scored 58 times, stolen 16 bases and played outstanding defense. He’s been great, even though the Nationals haven’t been impressive.
43. Justin Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves
Justin Upton was on fire to start the year, hitting .298/.402/.734 with 12 home runs entering May. Since then, he’s only hit 10 home runs. Can you imagine if he managed to stay hot throughout the entire year? He’s still having a good year, hitting .271/.363/.486 with 22 bombs and 61 RBI, but he is no longer an MVP candidate.
42. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves
This is only the first full season for Andrelton Simmons, and he’s already making the case to be one of the best shortstops in baseball. While he’s only hitting .240/.284/.360, he has a remarkable glove and good power (11 HR, 40 RBI). He’s scored 61 runs for the first-place Braves, and there is no way they would be there without him.
41. Bartolo Colon, RHP, Oakland Athletics
Bartolo Colon has won more than 10 games for the first time since 2005, as he’s 14-5 through 24 starts in 2013. If he continues to pitch like he has all year throughout the remainder of the season, he’ll have a new career best in ERA, as he’s only allowed 51 earned runs in 154.1 innings of work (2.97 ERA). He’s also only walked 25 batters.
40. Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
What a season it’s been for the Cuban sensation. Yasiel Puig erupted onto the scene in Los Angeles and helped turn the Dodgers from "duds" to "studs." Through 63 games this year, the outfielder is hitting .368/.430/.583 with 11 homers, 27 RBI and 47 runs scored. He also has a cannon for an arm, for the runners who haven’t found out yet.
39. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey won’t be winning another World Series ring this season, but that’s not because he hasn’t played well. It’s his teammates who haven’t been that impressive in 2013. In 114 games, the MVP catcher is hitting .303/.374/.485 with 14 home runs and 61 RBI. He’s lowered his strikeout rate to a fantastic 11.3 percent as well.
38. Jean Segura, SS, Milwaukee Brewers
You cannot talk enough about how scared the Brewers must have been last season when Jean Segura wasn’t all he was hyped up to be. But now, Segura has shown that he could be an MVP contender. He’s been great in 2013, despite Milwaukee’s woes, as he’s hitting .309/.344/.456 with 12 homers, 43 RBI, 63 runs and 35 steals.
37. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays
Edwin Encarnacion has now hit 30 home runs in a season for the second time in his career and needs to hit 13 more to set a new career high. It seems likely that he will break his current personal best in RBI, as he has 89 of them so far this season, and the most he’s totaled in a season is 110 (2012). He’s one of the biggest sluggers in baseball today.
36. Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Justin Verlander just hasn’t been himself this season—but that doesn’t mean he’s had a bad year compared to everyone else. In 25 starts, the MVP and Cy Young Award winner is 12-8 with a 3.57 ERA in 158.2 innings of work. What’s surprising is that he’s walking an average of 3.23 batters per nine (career average: 2.77).
35. Jose Fernandez, RHP, Miami Marlins
Jose Fernandez is living proof that the Marlins are going to be good eventually. The rookie hurler has been everything Jeffrey Loria could’ve hoped for and more. He’s made 23 starts for Miami this season and is 8-5 with a 2.45 ERA. He’s striking out more than a batter per inning, and he could end up winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
34. Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, New York Yankees
While the Yankees have been all over the place this season, Hiroki Kuroda continues to pitch consistently. He’s easily been New York’s ace this season and is certainly one of the best pitchers in the Junior Circuit. Through 24 starts in 2013, Kuroda is 11-7 with a 2.33 ERA and has only walked 29 batters in 154.2 innings of work.
33. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Boston Red Sox
Dustin Pedroia has been forced to be the No. 3 hitter for the Red Sox this season, but that hasn’t been a problem at all. Pedroia is hitting .293/.374/.405 with eight homers, 69 RBI, 66 runs and 16 steals. He’s been one of the more valuable players for Boston in 2013 and is a big reason why his team currently sits in first place.
32. Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
The future is looking mighty bright for the Pirates right now, as Starling Marte has quickly become a star—pun intended. The young outfielder is hitting .280/.342/.440 with 10 home runs, 32 RBI, 76 runs and 34 steals in 115 games this season. He has the potential to compete for the NL MVP in future years, for sure.
31. Chris Sale, LHP, Chicago White Sox
Chicago has been an embarrassment this season, but Chris Sale has continued to pitch well, despite his team’s struggles. His 8-11 record doesn’t show how good he’s actually been in 2013, either. You should judge him based off the 48 runs he’s allowed in 158.1 innings (2.73 ERA) and the lowly 35 free passes he’s issued on the year.
30. Derek Holland, LHP, Texas Rangers
Derek Holland has been one of the more underrated pitchers this season, as he’s actually having a brilliant year. He’s 9-6 through 24 starts and is well on his way to crushing his previous personal best in ERA. He’s also averaging fewer walks and home runs per nine innings than he has in the past. Texas needs him to keep it up.
29. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers
Speaking of guys on the Rangers having a great year, how about Adrian Beltre? There isn’t a more consistent player in the game than the Texas third baseman. He’s hitting .322/.370/.533 with 25 home runs and 73 RBI, and is on pace to hit 30 bombs for the third consecutive season. It does look like he’ll reach 100 RBI, too.
28. Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins
Joe Mauer keeps on doing what he does best: being one of the top backstops in the game. The Twins catcher is hitting .320/.401/.467 on the season and has already matched his home run total from a year ago (10). It seems like a stretch that he’ll match his 2012 RBI total, though, as he’ll need 41 more to reach 85 for the season.
27. Anibal Sanchez, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Anibal Sanchez is quietly putting together his best season in the big leagues. He may only be 11-7, but the righty is bound to set a new career best in ERA (2.50 in 2013; 2.83 in 2006) and could potentially set a new career high in strikeouts as well. He’s one of several Detroit starting pitchers having a strong campaign this year.
26. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies
I miss the days where Troy Tulowitzki could stay healthy all season long. He’s only played in 90 games this year, and if he hadn’t spent time on the disabled list, he could be one of the NL MVP candidates. In 2013, Colorado’s shortstop is batting .305/.378/.553 with 20 home runs, 65 RBI and 53 runs. Stay healthy in 2014, Troy.
25. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees
Through 120 games, Robinson Cano is sitting right on .300 for the season. If his batting average doesn’t drop a point, he’ll have hit .300 for five straight seasons. He’s been the leader for the Yankees this year, considering all of the injuries the team has suffered, and he has done a good job offensively. He’s hit 22 home runs and driven in 75 runs in 2013.
24. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Imagine if Hanley Ramirez had been healthy throughout the entire year? The Dodgers might be 20 games ahead of the rest of the NL West. He’s made the most of his time this year, despite playing in just 56 games. Ramirez is hitting .360/.409/.640 with 11 homers and 37 RBI. He’ll be important in the postseason.
23. Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
There isn’t a better power hitter in the AL East than Jose Bautista. He’s hit at least 25 home runs for the fourth year in a row, already matching his total from 2012 (27). The slugger will likely also score 100 runs this season (he is at 80 right now) and still drive in 100 runs as well (he has 72 at the moment). It’s too bad Toronto hasn’t been better.
22. Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals
There’s a good chance that Yadier Molina sets a new career best in hitting for the second straight season. In 2012, the catcher hit .315. In 2013, he’s hitting .325. He also has eight homers and 54 RBI through 99 games and has been an integral piece of the puzzle for the Cardinals. They need him to stay healthy to make a late-season push for first place in the NL Central.
21. Matt Carpenter, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
Who thought at the beginning of the season that Matt Carpenter would be one of the top offensive weapons in the Senior Circuit? I certainly didn’t. But the infielder has hit .315/.385/.480 through 115 games and is setting new career highs all over the place. He’ll easily score 100 runs this season (he is at 90 right now), which is impressive as well.
20. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston Red Sox
Jacoby Ellsbury will likely never come close to hitting 32 home runs in a season like he did in 2011, but he’s still one of the top outfielders in baseball. He’s had a great audition for clubs, as he’ll enter the winter as a free agent. In 113 games, Ellsbury is hitting .296/.357/.426 with 73 runs and a league-leading 44 stolen bases.
19. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
It’s been another year of being great for Joey Votto. This guy just never lets you down. The Cincinnati slugger is hitting .320/.434/.511 with 18 home runs and 57 RBI this year. It will likely be the fifth straight year he hits at least .300 and the fifth time in six seasons that he hits at least 20 home runs. He’s the best player the Reds have.
18. Carlos Gomez, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Carlos Gomez was phenomenal for the Brewers a year ago. This year, he’s been even better. The speedy outfielder is hitting .288/.339/.519 with 18 home runs, 55 RBI, 65 runs and 30 stolen bases. It seems likely he’ll have new personal bests in batting, home runs, runs scored, RBI and steals by the end of the year. That’s quite the year.
17. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Oakland Athletics
It’s a shame that Josh Donaldson didn’t get selected to the All-Star Game this season because he really deserved it. The Oakland third baseman really came out of nowhere in 2013 and is having one of the best seasons of anyone in the game right now. He’s hitting .296/.376/.483 with 17 homers and 64 RBI. He’s one of the best up-and-coming guys in baseball.
16. David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox wouldn’t be in first place without David Ortiz; it’s that simple. The designated hitter has been a machine at the plate all year long, as he’s hitting .324/.405/.580 with 23 home runs and 75 RBI in 102 games. He’s now hit at least 20 homers in every season since 2001. That’s quite the streak he has on his hands.
15. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Colorado Rockies
Carlos Gonzalez is having another great season with Colorado, and he hasn’t even been healthy for all of it. The outfielder has only played in 103 games this year, but has still produced when in the lineup. He’s hit 26 balls out of the park, scored 72 times, driven in 70 runs and stolen 21 bases. That’s pretty good, I hear.
14. Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
If you don’t think Manny Machado is going to win an MVP some day, then you’re just wrong. The third baseman for Baltimore continues to do it all, offensively and defensively. No one has a better glove at the hot corner, and his bat is improving, too. He’s hitting .295/.323/.452 with 72 runs and a league-leading 42 doubles.
13. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Paul Goldschmidt will definitely be in the conversation for NL MVP this season, as the first baseman has had another strong year in Arizona. He’s already set new career highs in home runs (29) and RBI (93) this season. He’s bound to set new marks in average, on-base percentage and slugging, too, as he is currently hitting .295/.391/.549.
12. Adam Wainwright, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Adam Wainwright is right up in there for NL Cy Young candidates in 2013, as he’s been nearly flawless on the mound for the Cardinals. In 25 starts, the righty is 13-7 with a 2.71 ERA. He’s struck out 162 batters in 182.2 innings of work and has only walked 24. If St. Louis makes the postseason, it’ll be because he was dominant down the stretch.
11. Max Scherzer, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Max Scherzer has only lost one game in 24 starts this season, which is astonishing, needless to say. He just missed out on cracking the top 10 here, too, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t win the AL Cy Young. He leads the league in wins (17) and is tied for second in baseball in strikeouts (181). He has a 2.85 ERA as well.
The Pirates definitely wouldn’t be in first place in the NL Central and be close to making the playoffs for the first time in 20 years without Andrew McCutchen.
The five-tool outfielder has continually gotten the job done for Pittsburgh throughout the season. Through 117 games, McCutchen is hitting .312/.386/.507 with 17 home runs, 68 RBI, 73 runs and 24 stolen bases. He’s improved his eye at the plate, too, as he’s only striking out 15.6 percent of the time (19.6 percent in 2012).
It will be interesting to see where Pittsburgh finishes the year and how McCutchen does in the NL MVP voting. Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated recently put the outfielder atop his list for the coveted award. McCutchen will certainly have some strong competition, but he’ll be in the mix if he continues to play like he has been.
The Rays have been a strong team all season long, and a lot of the team’s success has been because of its MVP-caliber third baseman, Evan Longoria.
Longoria is sporting a .268/.345/.498 slash line through 116 games on the season to go along with 23 home runs and 64 RBI. He’s also scored 69 times and played remarkable defense. The race for the AL Gold Glove at third base between Longoria and Manny Machado may actually be more intriguing than the AL MVP race.
The third baseman has now hit at least 20 home runs in all but one of his seasons in the big leagues (2012: 17). One negative aspect of Longoria’s game has been that he’s striking out 24.4 percent of the time, which would be a new personal worst. If he can lower that down the stretch, it’ll only aid Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes.
Yu Darvish might not be very close to the league lead in wins this season, as he only has 12, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t win the AL Cy Young Award.
Darvish has a 2.64 ERA this season and a commanding lead in the strikeouts category. The right-hander has sat down 207 batters by way of the K this year in 153.2 innings of work. That’s 26 more than anyone else in baseball. He also needed the fewest starts (23) to hit the 200-strikeout-mark since 2002, according to Elias Sports Bureau (h/t ESPN).
There’s no question that Darvish will be receiving many Cy Young votes at the end of the season, but I’m sure he cares about Texas making the postseason more than any personal achievements. The Rangers have battled back to make things interesting in the AL West, and they could win the division if Darvish continues to pitch well.
David Wright is having a fantastic season for the Mets, but unfortunately, for the guy who plays the hot corner so well, it may be over already.
Wright is hitting .309/.391/.512 in 105 games for New York this season to go along with 16 home runs, 54 RBI, 60 runs and 17 stolen bases. He was the captain for the NL in the Home Run Derby and started at third base for the Senior Circuit at the All-Star Game.
But he might not take the field again this season for the Mets.
A strained hamstring has kept Wright out of the lineup since August 2. It’s unclear as to whether he’s going to return this season at all, and manager Terry Collins told Anthony DiComo of MLB.com that missing the remainder of 2013 is a possibility. Wright likely won’t win the NL MVP, but he should still receive some votes.
Felix Hernandez won the AL Cy Young Award back in 2010, despite going 13-12. Now, he could win the award for the second time with similar numbers.
King Felix is 12-5 on the season through 25 starts with a 2.28 ERA in 173.2 innings of work. He’s averaging 9.22 strikeouts and just 1.71 walks per nine innings as well. There’s a chance he wins the Cy Young for the second time in his career, but, as ESPN’s Buster Olney puts it, it could be a debate of old school vs. new school.
What Olney means is that it depends on the numbers you’re looking at. Max Scherzer has the lead in wins, but Hernandez is the better pitcher in terms of sabermetrics. In terms of WAR, King Felix has been the best pitcher in the Junior Circuit this season, per FanGraphs.
Does that mean he’ll definitely win the award? No. But he could.
Matt Harvey entered the 2013 season with just 10 games of big league experience under his belt, but he’s looked like a veteran ace all throughout the year.
Harvey is 9-4 on the season through 24 starts. He’s allowed just 41 earned runs in 165.2 innings of work, which turns out to be a 2.23 ERA. He’s also issued just 31 free passes, which is an average of 1.68 walks per nine. With 181 strikeouts on the season as well, he's easily one of the top pitchers in baseball right now.
If writers base their NL Cy Young Award votes on sabermetrics, Harvey is the winner without a doubt. He has quite the lead in the Senior Circuit in WAR, per FanGraphs. Harvey could lose the race, but it still wouldn’t take away from the season he’s had. He’s been brilliant in 2013, and hopefully, his success continues into next season.
It’s been quite the year for Chris Davis, as Baltimore’s first baseman has been crushing baseball after baseball like nobody’s business all season.
Davis has been one of the most feared bats in all of baseball in 2013, and for good reason. He leads the league in home runs by six with 44. There’s a strong chance he becomes the first player to hit 50 or more homers in a single season since Jose Bautista hit 54 balls out of the park during the 2010 season.
It isn’t all about the home-run ball, though. Davis is having a good year all around. In 119 games, the slugger is hitting .300/.376/.679 with 85 runs and 112 RBI.
It should be an intriguing race for the AL MVP, especially if Davis’ power continues throughout the remainder of the regular season. He’ll definitely be in the top three of the voting.
If the season ended today and I had a vote for the NL Cy Young Award and/or the NL MVP, there’s no question Clayton Kershaw would be atop my ballot.
Kershaw has been spectacular on the mound for the Dodgers this season, as he continues to cement his status as one of the best lefties to ever play the game. He may only be 11-7 on the season, but still leads the majors in ERA (1.88), WHIP (0.87) and opponents batting average (.184). He’s nearly impossible to hit.
Justin Verlander won the AL Cy Young and AL MVP in 2011, and it seems very likely that Kershaw does it this season, except in the NL this time. Jim Bowden of ESPN recently had Kershaw as his MVP for the year. It’s really not that crazy considering how effective he’s been and how important he’s been to the Dodgers’ postseason hopes this season.
It may seem hard to believe, but Mike Trout might actually finish the season with more impressive numbers than he did a year ago when he took the league by storm as a rookie.
In 119 games this season, Trout is hitting .330/.427/.574, which are all higher marks than what he posted in 2012. He’s hit 21 balls out of the park, driven in 78 runs, scored 85 times and stolen 27 bases. He’s still one of the youngest players in the majors, but has quickly become one of the top five stars in the game.
But just because Trout has good numbers doesn’t mean he’ll win anything in the offseason. Trout led the Junior Circuit in WAR last year, per FanGraphs, and came in second in the AL MVP race.
Is this déjà vu? Trout currently has a big lead in WAR again, per FanGraphs, but will Trout actually win his first of what could be many MVPs this year?
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has watched even the slightest portion of the season: Miguel Cabrera is the best player in Major League Baseball.
The things that Cabrera is capable of doing with a baseball bat shouldn’t even be legal in some states. Last season, we were in awe of Cabrera when he won the AL Triple Crown. Now, it appears as though he’s going to try to lead the league in batting average, home runs and RBI each year. His numbers are just absolutely unreal.
Cabrera is hitting .359/.451/.681 with 38 home runs, 115 RBI and 87 runs this season. He doesn’t lead the majors in WAR, but he won the AL MVP a year ago without doing so. Don’t be surprised if he wins his second MVP in 2013. There isn’t a thing he can’t do with a bat in his hands. He’s a special, special talent.