40 Incredible MLB Seasons Being Overshadowed by Teams' Failures
It's not Matt Harvey's fault that the Mets have lost more games than they've won this season, nor are any of these 40 players to blame for their respective teams' struggles.
Baseball might have more team camaraderie than any other sport, but at its core, it is an incredibly individualistic game. One person throws the ball. One person tries to hit the ball. And if they're doing it right, only one person tries to catch the ball.
That happens hundreds of times per game, and then a winner is declared.
Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Other times you have situations where Jose Fernandez is literally the only member of the team worth watching.
When the season wraps up and MVPs, Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers start getting handed out, you'll notice a trend that most of them go to the teams that won more games than they lost.
But let's take a moment to recognize the players who have had great seasons in losing efforts.
In honor of the 40-man rosters you'll be hearing about in earnest over the next 10 days or so, here are 40 players putting up great numbers for teams that are currently below .500.
*All statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs and are accurate through the start of play on Wednesday, August 21.
It's kind of difficult to argue that former MVPs Mauer and Posey will ever be overlooked, but the fact remains that they are among the best catchers this season while playing for sub-.500 ball clubs.
I won't dwell on either of them, as we're all already well aware of how good they are. It's just unfortunate that their teams haven't reciprocated that greatness in 2013.
Instead, let's focus on Castro and Lucroy, because those are the names that are never mentioned in the "best catchers" discussion even though they're both in the top six of all catchers in WAR.
Castro mercifully emerged for the Astros. Coming into the season, it was anyone's guess whether he or Carlos Corporan would become Houston's top dog behind the plate. In fact, in spring training they were each given 18 games and 43 at-bats to prove themselves. Castro responded by belting six home runs, even though his previous career high for an entire season was 10 in 2009 over the course of 501 plate appearances in the minors.
The rest, as they say, is history. Castro struggled a little bit out of the gate, but he batted .292 with six home runs in the month of May and became the Astros' lone representative in the All-Star Game.
Lucroy, on the other hand, has quietly joined the ranks of the elite catchers over the past two seasons. His 7.0 WAR since the start of 2012 ranks fourth among all catchers. But ask someone outside the state of Wisconsin to name the four best catchers over that time span and count how many incorrect guesses they make before getting to Lucroy on their list—if they get to him at all.
Lucroy's .824 OPS on the season is better than that of Matt Holliday (.819) or Jay Bruce (.810) and ranks 20th among all National League batters.
|Edwin Encarnacion||Blue Jays||31||7||.278||.370||.534||3.7|
Wright plays for the Mets and would be in the running for NL MVP if he hadn't hurt his hamstring three weeks ago. No sense in acting like he's a player that isn't getting enough attention, so let's move on.
Trumbo is little more than a glorified Adam Dunn. On the season, Trumbo is batting .243, striking out in 25.8 percent of his plate appearances and averaging a home run for every 18.4 trips to the plate. For his career, Dunn is batting .240 with a 28.2 percent whiff rate and a home run in every 17.7 plate appearances. He's a much better fielder than Dunn, but it'll be interesting to see how long their careers continue to mirror each other.
Seager has been criminally underappreciated all season. If he played in the National League, he would have been Wright's backup in the All-Star Game. Instead, his great season merely ranks him as the sixth-best third baseman in the American League. For what it's worth, he's seven home runs away from tying Adrian Beltre for the most home runs by a Mariners third baseman in the past 25 years.
Encarnacion is in a similar boat. His 31 home runs would put him in a tie for first place in the National League, but it's borderline impossible to get the proper amount of respect for being a slugger when you share a position and division with Chris Davis. Encarnacion could hit a home run in every at-bat for the next three days and still trail Davis in home runs.
Last, but not least, Belt has been one of the few bright spots for the Giants this season. He's tied with Hunter Pence for the team lead in home runs, even though he has had 97 fewer plate appearances. (It helps that Pence has all of one home run since the All-Star break.) Since the break, the career .266 hitter is batting .323 and leading the team in WAR and runs scored.
The Giants are the second-lowest scoring team since the All-Star break, but they would be lucky to even compete in the Little League World Series without Belt.
It's becoming a trend at this point in the article, but let's start out by simply acknowledging that Tulowitzki is amazing, as is always the case when he's healthy. He lost at least 140 plate appearances to an injury this season and still trails Robinson Cano by just one for the home run lead among middle infielders. That's pretty good.
Utley also continues to be extremely valuable when healthy. Despite his age, he has been the second-most valuable second baseman in the National League this season. He's never going to catch 2002 Jeff Kent, but there's a good chance he'll post the second-highest single-season WAR over the last 25 years by a second baseman over the age of 33. With just over five weeks left to play, he's already seventh on that list.
Desmond—perhaps the biggest snub from the All-Star Game—has the second-highest WAR among all shortstops and will likely reach 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases for a second consecutive season. Just about everyone on the Nationals has either been injured or has under-performed, but Desmond has been one of the very few who is in no way responsible for their failures this season.
Segura is the second of three Brewers batters on this list who deserve much more respect for their work at the plate this season.
It's bizarre that we let team success dictate our voting decisions for individual awards, but if the Brewers were 16 games over .500 instead of 16 games below that mark, both Segura and Carlos Gomez would probably be in contention for the National League MVP.
Instead, one can't even bring up how good they have been without having the conversation devolve into a diatribe about either Ryan Braun or how terrible Milwaukee's pitching staff has been.
|Colby Rasmus||Blue Jays||18||0||.273||.335||.478||4.0|
Prior to last season, the last 10 players to post a single-season WAR of at least 10.0 each won the MVP award in that year.
Unless this hamstring injury sidelines him for a while, Trout is going to finish back-to-back seasons with a WAR of 10.0 or better and fail to win the MVP both times. Not only is his greatness at his age unprecedented, but it's completely unfair that he's being penalized for the inability of the rest of the team to perform.
Much like Trout, Gomez is near the top of his league in WAR but nowhere near the conversation for MVP due to the fact that most of the rest of the roster is barely above replacement level. Everyone thought 2012 was his breakout year when he hit 19 home runs and stole 37 bases, but Gomez is going to eclipse both of those numbers this season while batting nearly 30 points better.
Believe it or not, Rasmus has a higher WAR than Adam Jones—and has reached that point in over 100 fewer plate appearances than Jones. Thanks to a near-league-leading BABIP, Rasmus finally has a respectable batting average after two consecutive years hovering in the .220s. At the rate at which he both homers and whiffs, he'll be at the mercy of that volatile BABIP throughout the course of his career.
Truth be told, Venable was the last person to make it onto this list. I was at 39 players and needed another center fielder to get to 40 while also having at least four players on each slide. And I actually had Alejandro De Aza on the list before inserting Venable instead.
The fact that he almost missed out on this article is a real testament to how under-appreciated he has been. His 377 plate appearances on the season are exactly 200 fewer than MLB leader Dustin Pedroia, but that hasn't kept him from sneaking into a tie for 19th place in the National League in home runs.
His lack of consistent playing time keeps him from having a higher WAR, but the inconsistent playing time also makes no sense. As a left-handed batter, he typically gets deployed against right-handed pitchers. However, he's batting .288 with five home runs in 68 plate appearances against southpaws.
|Jose Bautista||Blue Jays||28||7||.259||.358||.498||4.2|
It certainly hasn't been Bautista's best season—and he just added a trip to the disabled list to the reasons that 2013 has been a disappointment—but Bautista is still among the best and best-known players in the game. His idea of a "down year" is still good enough for 11th place in the AL in wins above replacement.
Both Brown and Byrd were pleasant surprises after a few consecutive disappointing seasons that led us to write them off for good. They combined to hit 20 home runs in 1,059 plate appearances between 2011 and 2012, but they've each eclipsed that total in just over 400 plate appearances in 2013.
Despite his power outage thus far in the second half of the season, Pence is headed towards his sixth consecutive season with at least 150 games played and at least 20 home runs. I can't imagine there are many lists with only these three names on them, but Pence would join Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder as the only players to reach those plateaus in each season since 2008.
(If you're interested in a history lesson, Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. never had a stretch of six such seasons during their careers, so I implore you to be impressed by that display of consistency from Pence. However, assuming Cabrera reaches the minimum number of games played, it would be his 10th consecutive season reaching those numbers—tying Cal Ripken Jr. and Andrew Jones for third place all-time. Billy Williams did it for 12 straight years and Willie Mays did it for 13 years.)
And while we're in the business of handing out history lessons, we were robbed of an all-time great season when CarGo landed on the disabled list earlier this month. At the time of his injury, he was batting .304 and on pace for 39 home runs and 31.5 stolen bases. Had he reached those numbers, it would have been just the 10th time in MLB history.
Right-Handed Starting Pitchers
Four of these pitchers require absolutely no introduction. Hernandez and Harvey are, at worst, contenders for each league's Cy Young and may very well be the favorites, depending on who you ask. Ditto for Fernandez with the NL Rookie of the Year award. And Strasburg has quietly had a very good season in the wake of last year's incredibly loud, early shutdown.
It's the other three names who might require further explanation.
If you look solely at his WAR, Gee stands out like a sore thumb, but he made the cut because of how great he has been over the past few months. April and May were not very kind to him. He had a 5.96 ERA in the former and a 5.46 ERA in the latter.
However, since May 30, he has allowed two or fewer runs in 12 of his last 15 starts. Also, he has gone at least 6.2 innings in 12 of those starts after failing to last more than 6.1 innings in any of his first 10 outings. If there was a comeback player of the year type of award for people who turn their season around out of nowhere, he'd be the runaway winner.
Unlike Gee, both Iwakuma and Chacin have been consistently solid all year long. Sure, there's the occasional eight-run beating at the hands of the Giants, or a six-run shellacking courtesy of the Red Sox, but find me a pitcher who hasn't taken at least one bad loss this season and you're more than likely looking at a Cy Young candidate.
I wouldn't go that far in my assessment of either Iwakuma or Chacin, but they have been reliable workhorses all season for teams that haven't been able to rely on much else.
Left-Handed Starting Pitchers
|Jorge De La Rosa||Rockies||148.2||13-6||6.11||3.21||3.21||3.51||3.0|
|Chris Sale||White Sox||165.1||9-11||9.53||1.96||2.78||2.86||4.6|
As with the last slide, several of these names require no explanation. Sale still has at least an outside shot at the AL Cy Young Award, and if Matt Harvey and Clayton Kershaw weren't so hopelessly ahead of the rest of these mere mortals, Lee would be in the same boat in the NL.
And though the Giants and Angels can blame a lot of their 2013 woes on starting pitching, Bumgarner and Wilson were the consistent saving grace in an otherwise completely hopeless cause.
Hamels probably shouldn't necessitate a defense on my part, but I recognize his 5-13 record might be off-putting for some people. Surely this hasn't been his best season. But he has also been much better than his record might otherwise indicate. No one with a K/BB ratio of nearly 4.0 should have an ERA that is also nearly 4.00.
Then you have De La Rosa, who doesn't even have a K/BB ratio of 2.0 yet somehow has a lower ERA than Hamels and nearly 75 percent of the rest of the league. Both he and Stults have been lucky to avoid the long ball most of this season and are living dangerously with xFIPs in the vicinity of 4.10.
Both southpaws have done well to this point in the season and deserve our recognition and satisfaction. I won't be drafting either of them next year in my fantasy leagues, though.
|Jesse Crain||White Sox||36.2||11.29||2.70||0.74||1.51||1.9|
Both Crain and Perkins were heavily involved in trade rumors prior to the non-waiver July 31 deadline, and Crain actually got dealt to the Rays—though he hasn't appeared in a game yet. Each has been an extremely valuable late-inning reliever for AL Central teams that haven't won many games.
I'll be honest; I can't recall ever seeing Vincent's name before, but he fit into the criteria that I used in looking for relief pitchers—which was at least 30 innings pitched, a K/BB ratio of at least 4.0 and a FIP of 2.50 or less. Take out the ones pitching for winning teams, and voila, here are your four under-appreciated relievers.
Vincent has given up a grand total of seven runs this season, but four of them came in one brutal outing. For the most part, he's been a reliable source of scoreless innings.
Farquhar hasn't posted nearly as many goose eggs as Vincent, but his FIP and K/9 suggest that he might be the best relief pitcher of the bunch. He has bounced around between roles in Seattle's bullpen. He is currently being called upon in save situations, even though Oliver Perez has been a pretty solid late-inning option in his own right.
It will be interesting to see how each of these relievers pans out next season. The sample sizes are just so darn small. An entire season for a reliever amounts to roughly 10 games for a starting pitcher, and remember from two slides ago just how much different Dillon Gee is from his first 10 starts of the year.