Report Cards for MLB's Preseason Top 25 Superstars Entering September

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystAugust 28, 2013

Report Cards for MLB's Preseason Top 25 Superstars Entering September

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    We give in-season grades and preseason rankings to anything and everything, but now we're going to cross those streams and apply in-season grades to MLB preseason rankings.

    Among the hundreds of "top 100 MLB players" lists posted between the end of last season and the start of this one, we chose three* to compile a consensus list of the preseason top 25 players.

    Just to be clear, we're not grading the graders, but rather grading each player based on what was expected of them from preseason ranks.

    For example, Buster Posey tied with Felix Hernandez for ninth place in the consensus rankings following his NL MVP Award in 2012. Though he has played admirably this season and certainly still belongs as a fringe member of the top 25, he's nowhere near his top-10 expectations nor his level of play from last season, thus receiving a grade of B-.

    Hernandez, on the other hand, is having the best season of his career and is in the running for the AL Cy Young Award, so he receives an A+ for being even better than we thought.

    Make sense? Clear as mud? Don't worry. You'll get the hang of it. Players are listed in ascending order of consensus preseason rank, starting with David Wright at No. 25 and somehow ending with someone other than Miguel Cabrera at No. 1.


    *MLB Network's Top 100 as chronicled by a Brewers blog, B/R's Doug Mead from the end of December and B/R's Zachary D. Rymer from early March.

    **All statistics are courtesy of and and are accurate through the start of play on Tuesday, August 27.

David Wright

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    Player: David Wright

    Average preseason rank: 27.7

    2013 Stats: .309/.391/.512, 16 HR, 17 SB, 5.7 WAR

    Grade for season: Was an A+, now a C-


    Imagine you're taking a written exam made up of three pages.

    On the first two pages, you post the highest score in the class. But for whatever reason, you forgot to fill out the third page and submitted the test anyway. Disappointed to do so after the brilliance you displayed on the first two-thirds of the exam, the professor has no choice but to give you a zero on the third page, right?

    That's about where we're at with Wright's season.

    He was seen testing his injured hamstring a few days ago and still might make it back before the end of the season (though, why risk it?), but the fact remains that his evaluation is a bit incomplete due to the three weeks of action that he has already missed.

    Prior to that injury, he was putting on quite the show. At the All-Star break, Wright had the highest WAR in the National League and might have been headed for an NL MVP if not for his injury and the fact that Andrew McCutchen is on a rampage against everyone who steps onto a pitching mound.

Craig Kimbrel

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    Player: Craig Kimbrel

    Average preseason rank: 27.3

    2013 Stats: 41 saves, 1.03 ERA, 1.95 FIP, 13.33 K/9, 1.8 WAR

    Grade for season: A


    Yes, I will be giving out grades of A+ in this article.

    No, Kimbrel has not earned one in my opinion.

    As good as he has been, he was even better over the past two seasons, especially in 2012. His 13.25 K/9 is sixth best among relief pitchers, but it's actually the lowest rate of his four-year career. And while a 4.59 K/BB is relatively respectable, it's only good enough for 15th place just one year after posting a league-leading 8.29 ratio.

    Not only was he better in 2012 than he is in 2013, but there are several other closers who have arguably been better than Kimbrel this year. Greg Holland and Jason Grilli each have at least 30 saves and a much lower FIP than Kimbrel. Kenley Jansen and Koji Uehara have each pitched more innings and have a significantly higher K/BB ratio and slightly lower FIP.

    It's nitpicking for sure. If I had to pick one closer to save Game 7 of a World Series, I'm more than likely taking Kimbrel. At the very least, it's up for debate, though. Coming into the seasonat least as far as fantasy baseball is concernedthere was no debate that Kimbrel was expected to be the very best closer.

    Because he isn't head, shoulders and dangling arms ahead of the crowd, I don't feel he has earned a "plus" on his grade.

Evan Longoria

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    Player: Evan Longoria

    Average preseason rank: 26.3

    2013 Stats: .273/.348/.522, 28 HR, 1 SB, 6.2 WAR

    Grade for season: A+


    After suffering an oblique strain in 2011 and a hamstring injury in 2012, Longoria was saddled with an "injury-prone" label.

    At 126 games played, he has missed a grand total of three games this season and appears to be having the best season of his career. With 33 games remaining in the season, he's just five home runs away from matching his career high from 2009.

    He almost never steals bases anymore after three years of establishing himself as at least a moderate threat to run once in a while, and his strikeout rate is a bit higher than usual. Other than that, it's all coming up roses for Longoria.

    Even with Manny Machado now in the picture, Longoria is still one of the best fielding third basemen. His OPS in ninth best in the American League.

    Though he incredulously didn't make the All-Star team this summer, Longoria has re-established himself as one of the best players in the game.

Cole Hamels

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    Player: Cole Hamels

    Average preseason rank: 25.7

    2013 Stats: 5-13, 3.62 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 7.94 K/9, 3.2 WAR

    Grade for season: D-


    The unsightly win-loss record is neither the reason for his poor grade nor an accurate representation of how he has pitched this season. (If Chris Tillman has 14 wins, Hamels deserves at least 20.)

    However, this is not the Cole Hamels that we have grown to know and love. His strikeout rate is nearly 1.0 K/9 lower than it was over the past three seasons. And though he's giving up fewer home runs than usual, his ground-ball rate is alarmingly low.

    Looking a little deeper into his batted-ball statistics, he would need to record 92 consecutive ground-ball outs before allowing another fly ball in order for his ground ball-to-fly ball ratio to exceed that which was established in 2011the only other time in the past four seasons that his K/9 was lower than 9.0. And in case that wasn't impossible enough, he would also need negative-22 line drives to match the type of contact he was inducing in 2011.

    Making matters even worse, his once second-highest-in-the-majors LOB percentage is now a much more pedestrian 72.9 percent that barely ranks in the top 30 among qualified NL starters.

    I don't need to see his 3.2 WAR to know that he's still a considerably above-average pitcher. Unfortunately, he's a considerably below-average Cole Hamels.

Cliff Lee

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    Player: Cliff Lee

    Average preseason rank: 23.3

    2013 Stats: 11-6, 3.07 ERA, 3.02 FIP, 8.26 K/9, 3.7 WAR

    Grade for season: B+


    Here's a fun fact: Lee's ERA and FIP are almost identical to those which brought him a 6-9 record in 2012; but he has managed to post a win-loss record five games above .500 while receiving even less run support—run support so terrible that it's currently the least run support of any qualified starting pitcher.

    Just one more reason why wins are the most overrated statistic.

    You would think that having nearly the exact same stats as last season would be grounds for a grade of  C, but Lee turns 35 this week, and it's no small feat to have zero drop off in production at his age.

    By my count, there are eight former Cy Young Award winners who are at least 33 years old and are still on major league rosters.

    R.A. Dickey and C.C. Sabathia each have an ERA in the mid-to-high 4s. Barry Zito's ERA is north of 5.00. Roy Halladay has missed more than half the season and has an ERA just shy of 8.00. Chris Carpenter and Johan Santana might never pitch in the big leagues again. And if we're being perfectly honest, no one actually believes that Bartolo Colon is clean.

    That leaves Lee as the only aging, former Cy Young winner legitimately putting up great numbers in 2013. That's good enough for a B+ in my book.


Yadier Molina

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    Player: Yadier Molina

    Average preseason rank: 21.0

    2013 Stats: .335/.375/.503, 10 HR, 3 SB, 5.1 WAR

    Grade for season: A


    Molina is probably the MVP of the Cardinals and could arguably win the National League MVP if the Cardinals win the NL Central. He's currently in great position to win the NL batting title. And for what it's worth, the Cardinals are 11-12 in games in which Molina hasn't played and 66-42 when he's in the lineup.

    However, I had to dock him oh so slightly because of the number of games that he has missed and because he currently has significantly fewer home runs and stolen bases than he did in 2012. The differences in the those totals aren't due to the missed games, either. Molina has had 76 percent as many plate appearances as he finished 2012 with, but he has 45 percent of last year's home run total and 25 percent of his stolen base count from last year.

    Those may seem inconsequential, but they're absolutely what would keep him from finishing higher than fifth place if the NL MVP voting was held today. And since he finished fourth in the vote last year, I can't quite rationalize giving an A+ to someone who didn't go above and beyond what he did in 2012.

    As was the case earlier with Craig Kimbrel, we're merely splitting hairs at this point. If I need someone catching Game 7 of the World Series, I would say it's a toss-up between Molina and Buster Posey. (Sorry, Joe Mauer fans.)

CC Sabathia

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    Player: CC Sabathia

    Average preseason rank: 20.3

    2013 Stats: 11-11, 4.81 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 7.70 K/9, 1.9 WAR

    Grade for season: F


    Instead of dwelling on what has been an awful season for Sabathia, let's put his season in a little bit of context.

    Since the start of the 2000 season, only Mark Buehrle has logged more innings pitched than Sabathia.

    Even the greats wear down eventually, and I fear we might already be getting there with Sabathia. He's only 33 years old, but as long as he makes one more start this season, he will have made at least 28 starts in 13 consecutive seasons.

    (And let's not forget the end of the 2008 season in which he made seven starts in a span of 29 days, which were book-ended by a pair of complete games. It's one thing to put natural wear and tear on a car over the course of its lifetime. It's another thing to red line it for 50 straight miles and just expect everything to be fine.)

    The velocity on his fastball is down 2.7 MPH from where it was two years ago. The horizontal movement on his slider is the least drastic that it has been since 2007 (and perhaps ever) and is inducing ground balls at only a 35.9 percent rate compared to 48 percent or better in five of the past six seasons.

    I'm no doctor, but that ain't good.

    By no means am I sounding the death knell on Sabathia's career. For sake of a possible comparison, in 1999, Greg Maddux entered his 33rd year on this earth at roughly 2,850 career innings pitched and struggled to the tune of a 3.57 ERA before churning out three straight successful (albeit, nowhere near peak-Maddux) seasons.

    I know full well that Sabathia and Maddux have virtually nothing in common, but it's worth noting that the best pitchers figure out how to continue to contribute at a high level even after they've lost the ability to be one of the best throwers.

Jose Bautista

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    Player: Jose Bautista

    Average preseason rank: 19.3

    2013 Stats: .259/.358/.498, 28 HR, 7 SB, 4.1 WAR

    Grade for season: D+


    Joey Bats is something of a one-trick pony.

    Including a couple of brief appearances in 2004 and 2005, this was his 10th season in the big leagues. Only once in those 10 seasons has he posted a batting average better than .260. He isn't quite on the level of three true outcomes as Adam Dunn, but he certainly established himself from 2010-2012 as little more than a world-class slugger.

    Over those three years, no one hit more home runs, and his .593 slugging percentage was second only to the immortal Miguel Cabrera. He averaged one home run for every 14.0 plate appearances. Giancarlo Stanton had the next best ratio at one home run per 16.1 trips to the plate.

    Though he did hit 28 home runs before landing on the disabled list, that version of Bautista never showed up this season. His PA/HR ratio has dropped to 18.9, which my offline calculation shows is only the 11th best in the majors this season. And his slugging percentage has dipped all the way down to 24th place.

    Sure, he's still having a slightly better season than Chase Utley or Justin Upton, but he deserves a below-average grade for being expected to compete for the home run crown and coming nowhere close.

Giancarlo Stanton

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    Player: Giancarlo Stanton

    Average preseason rank: 17.0

    2013 Stats: .251/.363/.470, 16 HR, 1 SB, 1.9 WAR

    Grade for season: F


    From one under-performing slugger to one who is doing so even more egregiously.

    If you'll recall from the previous slide, Stanton averaged a home for every 16.1 plate appearances from 2010-2012. This season, that number has dropped to 23.25. That's the difference between a home run every four games and a home run every six games. That's also the difference between 41 home runs and 27 home runs over the course of a full season.

    On the bright side, his 26.3 percent strikeout rate is the lowest of his career. On the not-so-bright side, his .251 batting average is also the lowest of his career.

    His .608 slugging percentage was the best among all batters with at least 500 plate appearances in 2012. This season, his .470 slugging percentage is worse than Matt Carpenter's and just barely ranks in the top 50 among players with at least 350 plate appearances on the year.

    It would be one thing if he had just missed six weeks of the season back in May and June and played relatively well aside from that absence. But he was playing terribly before the injury and hasn't gotten much better since. He batted .227 in the month of April and enters play on Tuesday batting just .235 in the month of August.

    Truth be told, he could hit 13 home runs in September, completely turn around the narrative of his season and not surprise me in the least. Entering September, though, he has been nothing short of a disappointment on what we were expecting.

Albert Pujols

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    Player: Albert Pujols

    Average preseason rank: 15.7

    2013 Stats: .258/.330/.437, 17 HR, 1 SB, 0.7 WAR

    Grade for season: D-


    I can't say I've ever had plantar fasciitis. I have no way of knowing how painful it must be to put the weight of a home run swing on a foot that it hurts to even stand on. So maybe Pujols actually deserves an A for effort for hitting as many home runs as he did before getting shut down.

    What I do know about plantar fasciitis, though, is that Pujols has admittedly been dealing with it for over a decade. As such, it's at least strange that he went from 12 straight years of slugging .516 or better with at least 30 home runs while primarily playing first base to suddenly being unable to even serve as the DH.

    Whatever is going on, he's not the machine that he used to be. Injury or not, posting a career-worst batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage is no small feat (pun intended).

    Here's hoping he comes back stronger than ever (and clean as a whistle) to challenge Barry Bonds' all-time home run record over the remaining eight years of his contract with the Angels.

Prince Fielder

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    Player: Prince Fielder

    Average preseason rank: 15.3

    2013 Stats: .262/.348/.433, 20 HR, 1 SB, 1.1 WAR

    Grade for season: D+


    Normally, I look for photos that only contain the player I'm writing about, but it seemed appropriate to include Miguel Cabrera in Fielder's photo since Cabrera is single-handedly responsible for the fact that no one is freaking out over the drop-off in Fielder's production.

    Fielder's slugging percentage is the worst of his eight full seasons in the majors. Unless he catches fire and hits at least eight home runs over the final 30 games of the season, this will be the lowest home run total of his career.

    Ironic that they're appearing in back-to-back slides, but as recently as 2009, Fielder trailed only Albert Pujols in slugging percentage. He's still right behind Pujols this season, but they're also both just barely doing better than 70th place.

    His batting average and on-base percentage are each precisely one point better than his previous career low. His walk rate has dropped for a third consecutive season and is now at its lowest point since 2007.

    Beyond the declining batting statistics, he's also posting sub-zero fielding and base-running numbers, per usual.

    But prior to the recent news about his ongoing divorce situation, was anyone questioning why Fielder wasn't playing up to par? Put him on a team where he doesn't get to play a muted second fiddle to the best hitter of this generation, and I suspect more people would be wondering why the 29-year-old is suddenly on the decline.

Andrew McCutchen

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    Player: Andrew McCutchen

    Average preseason rank: 14.0

    2013 Stats: .321/.399/.507, 17 HR, 26 SB, 6.3 WAR

    Grade for season: A+


    We went through a bit of an ugly stretch over those last five slides, but we're finally back to someone who is actually exceeding expectations.

    McCutchen's home run total (and subsequently his slugging percentage) is down from last season, but everything else is on the upswing.

    He has stolen at least 20 bases for a fifth consecutive season and could yet match or beat his previous career high of 33. After two straight years with a strikeout percentage of nearly 20 percent, he has dropped that number back down to a more respectable 14.8 percent.

    His UZR/150 is at a career high, and his WAR will almost certainly be at a career high within the next week or two.

    All in all, he has the highest WAR among NL batters and is currently in a heated battle with Clayton Kershaw for the honor of NL MVP.

David Price

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    Player: David Price

    Average preseason rank: 13.0

    2013 Stats: 8-5, 3.28 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 7.27 K/9, 2.9 WAR

    Grade for season: D-


    Price has been on fire for the past two months.

    Since his return from the disabled list on July 2 against the Astros, he has averaged better than 7.1 innings pitched per start while compiling a 1.97 ERAboth of which were even more impressive prior to his most recent three starts, dragging those numbers back to earth.

    However, if we're going to dock David Wright for possibly missing the final two months of the season, we have to at least pay tribute to the more-than-disappointing first three months of Price's season.

    He leads the team in ERA now, but when he landed on the DL on May 15, his ERA was a dreadful 5.24. He didn't have a ton of run support in those starts, but the team was 2-7 in the first nine games that Price started. And then he disappeared for six weeks with a triceps injury thatgiven his poor velocity at the time of the brief shutdownwas looking like it could be a case of "dead arm" or something even more sinister.

    Sure, he's turned things around nicely as of late, but we spent three of this season's five months at least partly wondering if the Cy Young version of Price would ever be seen again.

Josh Hamilton

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    Player: Josh Hamilton

    Average preseason rank: 13.0

    2013 Stats: .235/.292/.424, 19 HR, 3 SB, 1.1 WAR

    Grade for season: F


    From 2010-2012, Hamilton's .952 OPS was the fourth highest in the majorsbehind the king of on-base percentage (Joey Votto), the king of slugging percentage (Jose Bautista) and the king of the baseball world (Miguel Cabrera).

    This season, his .715 OPS puts him in a three-way tie for 108th place with Chris Denorfia and Lyle Overbay. His OPS is only 27 points higher than Cabrera's slugging percentage.

    The disturbing part is that Hamilton has actually been healthy for once. There's still just over a month left in the season and he has already played in more games than he did in 2009 or 2011. He could pretty easily wind up with his highest games-played total since 2008.

    But he hasn't done anything with all of those opportunities. He's nowhere near his best home run total, and his batting average is by far the worst of his career.

    Hamilton seems to have turned something of a corner as of late. He has 23 hits in his past 16 games and has a batting average of better than .239 in a month for the first time this season.

    Unless the power suddenly comes back in abundance, though, this will have been a $17.4 million bust of a season.

Adrian Beltre

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    Player: Adrian Beltre

    Average preseason rank: 13.0

    2013 Stats: .327/.383/.539, 27 HR, 1 SB, 5.1 WAR

    Grade for season: The quietest A+ in grading history


    Start a conversation about players on the Texas Rangers and you'll likely hit on Nelson Cruz's suspension, Yu Darvish's strikeouts and Ian Kinsler's struggles before you even mention Beltre's continued prowess.

    Start a conversation about American League third basemen and you'll have to get through Miguel Cabrera, Manny Machado, Evan Longoria and perhaps even Josh Donaldson before touching on the 34-year-old who might finish second in the AL in batting average with one of the lowest strikeout rates in the AL.

    Rodney Dangerfield Beltre has simply been doing his thing in relative obscurity, posting a .358 batting average and 1.7 WAR since the All-Star break to help propel the Rangers to the top of the AL West despite the absence of Cruz.

    Barring an injury down the stretch, he'll likely join Cabrera, Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday as the only players in the past nine years to bat at least .320 and hit at least 31 home runs in consecutive seasons.

    Here's one final factoid: Beltre and Cabrera are currently the only two players in the majors with at least 25 home runs and a batting average of .310 or better.

    He'll never replicate his 2004 season (.334/.388/.629, 48 HR, 9.7 WAR), but this might be the best version of Beltre that we've seen since that year.

Buster Posey

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    Player: Buster Posey

    Average preseason rank: 11.3

    2013 Stats: .307/.377/.479, 14 HR, 1 SB, 4.3 WAR

    Grade for season: B-


    A B- for Posey might seem a little harsh, but this is shaping up to be the least successful season of his short careerexcluding his injury-shortened 2011 season, of course.

    In 2010, Posey clubbed 18 home runs while playing in just 108 games. This season, he's sitting at four fewer home runs despite 53 additional plate appearances. And none of his 2013 numbers (save for a significantly reduced strikeout rate) even remotely compare to what he did during his MVP campaign of 2012, so how could we possibly give him anything higher than a B-?

    Posey had a .957 OPS in 2012 but enters play on Tuesday with just an .856 mark on the season. That's still a respectable number and good for 20th place in the majors, but both Joe Mauer and Yadier Molina have him beat in both OPS and WAR.

    Surely the Giants' overnight transformation from World Series champs to NL West bottom-feeders is more disturbing, but the fact remains that Posey went from best overall player in the National League to merely the third-most valuable catcher in the majors.

Felix Hernandez

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    Player: Felix Hernandez

    Average preseason rank: 11.3

    2013 Stats: 12-7, 2.49 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 9.36 K/9, 5.5 WAR

    Grade for season: A+


    Whether you're personally backing Hernandez, Max Scherzer or Yu Darvish for this year's AL Cy Young award, there's no questioning that Hernandez is having one of the best seasons in the league.

    Better than that, this has been all but unarguably the best season of his entire career. He had a better ERA in 2010, but his FIP, xFIP, K/9 and K/BB are each easily better than any previous season.

    He was ranked as the third-best pitcher and in a tie for the ninth-best overall player before this season began. There's no way he'll leapfrog Clayton Kershaw, but he should be the second-best pitcher and in the top five overall when those rankings come out again after this season.

Joey Votto

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    Player: Joey Votto

    Average preseason rank: 10.3

    2013 Stats: .313/.432/.504, 20 HR, 5 SB, 5.5 WAR

    Grade for season: B+


    He's a legitimate contender for NL MVP, but where in the world has Votto's power gone?

    His home runs are down from their peak of 37 in 2010, but it's more than just that. Votto is only on pace for 60 extra-base hits. He had 58 of them last season while only playing in 111 games.

    As a result, his still-seventh-best-in-the-majors OPS is lower than any he has submitted in the past four seasons and a full 10 percent lower than it was in 2012. No offense to Nate Schierholtz, but Votto enters play on Tuesday with a lower slugging percentage than him.

    Votto has still been heaven's gift to on-base percentage for a fifth straight season, but he'll need to show a little more power in September to get his final grade up to an A.

Robinson Cano

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    Player: Robinson Cano

    Average preseason rank: 8.0

    2013 Stats: .305/.384/.506, 24 HR, 7 SB, 4.9 WAR

    Grade for season: A-


    WAR would have you believe that Cano has only been worth five wins this season, but you would have a hard time convincing me that the Yankees wouldn't be at least 15 games worse than they are if you replaced Cano with Emilio Bonifacio or Elliott Johnson.

    His value to the team is perhaps higher than it has ever been, which should be fun for Brian Cashman and company to deal with as they look to re-sign their free agent. However, we've seen arguably better individual statistics from Cano in recent years.

    Let's not penalize Cano for a reduced amount of runs scored since he spent the bulk of the season with Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells failing to drive him in. But he's "only" on pace for 29 home runs and has a slugging percentage that is lower than any of his previous four seasons.

    Still an elite second baseman by all means, but it's marginally less than we've come to expect from Cano. It would be one thing if he was Chase Utley's age, but 30 years old isn't the point where we start to accept some diminishing returns.

Matt Kemp

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    Player: Matt Kemp

    Average preseason rank: 7.0

    2013 Stats: .263/.319/.382, 5 HR, 9 SB, -0.8 WAR

    Grade for season: F


    I know all too well that Kemp is having a horribly unproductive and unhealthy season, but I somehow missed the memo that his WAR is on par with that of Steve Lombardozzi and Josh Rutledge and is among the worst in the majors.

    This marks the third time in the last four years that we've been quite underwhelmed by Kemp's on-field performance. This has been by far the worst of those seasons, though, and might finally shatter our faith in him for good.

    As a hopeless eternal believer in Kemp, I will at least give him this much: He was showing significant signs of improvement over his last 10 games.

    Whether it was the lingering effects of offseason shoulder surgery or just a slow start, Kemp batted .260 and .242 in the months of April and May, respectively, with a grand total of one home run in each of those months.

    Surrounded by DL stints for the shoulder, his hamstring and his ankle, he batted .324 with three home runs and two stolen bases over the span of 41 plate appearances in June and July.

    It's been a tough-luck season, but injury excuses can't keep him from receiving a failing grade for the year.

Mike Trout

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    Player: Mike Trout

    Average preseason rank: 5.3

    2013 Stats: .330/.427/.571, 22 HR, 28 SB, 8.6 WAR

    Grade for season: A+


    Shame on the Angels for being terrible this season, because Trout belongs in the MVP discussion once again.

    If he gets hot and reaches the home run plateau, Trout would become just the eighth player in MLB history to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in consecutive seasons. If he does so while maintaining a batting average of at least .320, he would be the only person to have such a stat line twice in a careerlet alone in back-to-back seasons before turning 23 years old.

    Yet because the Angels are, incredibly, 13 games below .500, it seems Trout is destined to finish a distant third behind Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis in the AL MVP voting.

    Though, I suppose there's always next year, when he could be seeking to join Barry Bonds (1995-1997) as the only person to submit three consecutive seasons to the 30/30 club.

Clayton Kershaw

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    Player: Clayton Kershaw

    Average preseason rank: 5.0

    2013 Stats: 13-7, 1.72 ERA, 2.39 FIP, 8.53 K/9, 5.5 WAR

    Grade for season: A+


    Remember in third grade when your teacher would return your graded quizzes with something like "100% A+++ Great Job!" written on the top?

    Let's just say it crossed my mind to go that route with Kershaw's grade for the season.

    Foolishly assuming that Tuesday night's game against the Cubs doesn't cause it to balloon, his 1.72 ERA is currently the fifth lowest of any qualified starting pitcher in the past 44 years.

    Even if he doesn't set some sort of modern-day ERA record, he has a good chance of winning the pitching Triple Crown in the National League this season. He could give up 12 earned runs tonight without recording an out and still have the lowest ERA, and the news of Matt Harvey's partially torn UCL certainly gives Kershaw the inside track on taking over the league lead in strikeouts.

Ryan Braun

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    Player: Ryan Braun

    Average preseason rank: 3.3

    2013 Stats: .298/.372/.498, 9 HR, 4 SB, 1.7 WAR

    Grade for season: F-


    I don't hand out F-minuses lightly.

    Braun had the sixth-highest WAR over the past six years. His average season from 2007-2012 consisted of 33.7 home runs, 21 stolen bases and a triple slash of .313/.374/.568.

    Between the injuries and the Biogenesis suspension, he didn't even reach double digits in either of those counting categories this season.

    If you'll recall, Braun was unanimously a top-three pick in fantasy leagues this past March. There were a lot of people who had either the first or second pick of the draft and took Braun ahead of Mike Trout and/or Miguel Cabrera. (My condolences if you were one of those people. If it makes you feel any better, I took Matt Kemp with the seventh pick in my draft.)

    As far as ESPN's player rater is concerned, Braun has been the 274th-most valuable player on the season, narrowly edging out A.J. Pollock and Tanner Scheppers. Nothing will get you a made-up failing grade quicker than going from top-three pick to "wasn't even worth drafting."

Miguel Cabrera

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    Player: Miguel Cabrera

    Average preseason rank: 2.3

    2013 Stats: .359/.450/.688, 43 HR, 3 SB, 7.7 WAR

    Grade for season: A+


    Do I even need to justify this grade?

    Cabrera won the AL Triple Crown in 2012, and he's going to finish the 2013 season with significantly better numbers in all three of those categories.

    His batting average is 27 points better than anyone's. He has 12 more RBI than the closest challenger. Only Chris Davis has more home runs than Cabrera, and his lead seems to be shrinking by the day.

    As far as power hitting is concerned (in other words, ignoring the fielding and baserunning aspects of baseball), Cabrera's season will go down in history as one of the best ever.

Justin Verlander

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    Player: Justin Verlander

    Average preseason rank: 2.0

    2013 Stats: 12-9, 3.68 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 8.60 K/9, 3.7 WAR

    Grade for season: D


    Based on the three rankings surveyed, Verlander entered the season unanimously as the second-best player in baseball, which was oddly enough for him to be the consensus top-rated player.

    As we enter September, I'm not so sure he's even a unanimous top-three pitcher in the Tigers rotation.

    I certainly can't give him a failing grade, because he's still a top-10 pitcher in the American League. However, he's taken a pretty significant step backward from four straight seasons with a sub-3.00 FIP and a WAR of 6.3 or better.

    His K/BB ratio ranks 24th among American League starting pitchers. That's quite a far cry from his third-place finish in 2011though, he's had a better 2013 season than four of the other five pitchers who finished in the top six on that list.

    Verlander is still a choice cut of sirloin steak, but wouldn't you be disappointed if you ordered a filet mignon and were given a sirloin steak?