Selecting a March Madness Bracket of MLB's 64 Best Players

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterMarch 17, 2014

Selecting a March Madness Bracket of MLB's 64 Best Players

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    @BarrettSelf

    Selection Sunday was this weekend, and it had absolutely nothing to do with Major League Baseball. It's really more of a college basketball thing. 

    But the way I see it, that doesn't mean we baseball fans can't have some fun in honor of Selection Sunday by taking the idea of a great, big bracket and pondering: "Hey, what if baseball!"

    If MLB had 64 teams, one thing we could do is imagine what they would all look like in a bracket. Alas, MLB has only 30 teams, so that's not going to work.

    MLB does, however, have 64 players. Quite a lot more than that, in fact. And if we imagine what a bracket of 64 of MLB's best would like like, we'd surely get something like...

    Well, basically something along the lines of what follows in the coming slides.

On the Bracket 'Regions'

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    In theory, the NCAA tournament is a perfectly balanced collection of the country's 64 best teams.

    In reality, it's not really.

    Some regions are deeper than others. Some are more top-heavy than others. And because there's only so much room left over after conference champions receive their automatic bids, some really good teams are left on the outside looking in. Rather than a perfectly balanced field, the Big Dance is more a collection of multi-flavored regions with varying degrees of depth.

    So it is with our bracket, as we decided to spice things up by arranging players into the following regions:

    • Athletic Region: The top all-around position players in the game. Though not quite exclusively, this group consists mostly of players who can hit, run and play defense.
    • Slugger Region: The best hitters in the game. Some that made the cut for this region have other talents as well, but are mostly known for their bats.
    • Righty Region: These are elite pitchers, specifically ones who throw with their right hands.
    • Southpaw Region: Like the Righty Region, except for guys who throw with southern paws.

    As for how players were selected and seeded, I considered track records, 2013 performances and projected performances for 2014 and tried to strike a fair balance between the three. There are individual slides for seed Nos. 16-2, but then individual slides for the No. 1s. Which, naturally, are ranked.

    Lastly, all stats within are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs. The two you'll be seeing the most are wRC+ and FIP. The first is essentially the same thing as OPS+, except it's based off the more accurate wOBA. The second is like ERA, except it focuses only on things pitchers can control.

Last 4 In

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The NCAA tournament bracket has a place for four additional teams, and so does ours.

     

    Athletic Region: Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays

    Zobrist isn't brilliant at any one thing. But since he can hit, hit for power, steal bases and play defense, it's no wonder he's third in MLB in fWAR since 2009. I chose to keep him out of the top 16 because a) his 2013 season wasn't great by his standards and b) the Athletic Region really is that loaded.

     

    Slugger Region: Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals

    Carpenter only has 278 games and just over 1,000 plate appearances under his belt, but one thing is already apparent: Holy carpentry, Batman, can this guy hit. He followed up a 126 wRC+ in limited action in 2012 with a 147 wRC+ in full-time action in 2013, and he led all hitters in hits and doubles.

     

    Righty Region: Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds

    Bailey has thrown no-hitters in each of the last two years. Give him $50 million for each, and you get a $100 million contract. However, the Reds probably paid more for his upside, as the last two years have been the best of Bailey's career and he's only getting better. By fWAR, he was a top-25 pitcher in 2013.

     

    Southpaw Region: Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins

    Last season was Perkins' first as a full-time closer, but don't let that fool you. It certainly wasn't his first year as an elite reliever. He ranks 10th among relievers in fWAR over the last three seasons, as well as 13th in FIP. Which, by the way, is his personal favorite. A good man, that Glen Perkins.

No. 16 Seeds

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    Athletic Region: Josh Donaldson, Oakland A's

    Donaldson had a Ben Zobrist-y sort of season last year in that he didn't really excel at any one thing. He was, however, the only player to place in the top five in OBP, ISO and defensive value among qualified third basemen. It's a hard act for the Son of Donald to follow, but it's hard to doubt his talent now.

     

    Slugger Region: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

    Freeman isn't your typical slugging first baseman. But after hitting .319/.396/.501 and placing fourth among qualified first basemen with a 150 wRC+ in 2013, it's clear that he can hit. That's worth some respect. Also a $135 million contract, apparently. And should we mention he's still only 24?

     

    Righty Region: Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals

    Zimmermann should probably be a better strikeout artist with the kind of stuff he has. But he can spot his pitches with the best of 'em, and his excellent control has helped him rack up a 3.12 ERA and 3.35 FIP over the last three seasons. I like to think the extra "N" in Zimmermann stands for "nifty."

     

    Southpaw Region: CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

    Sabathia is coming off the worst season of his career, and he may have a hard time bouncing back with diminished velocity. But considering his long track record of awesomness and the fact that FIP, xFIP and SIERA all say he wasn't as bad as his 4.78 ERA last year, I'd say he's earned a legacy pick.

No. 15 Seeds

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Athletic Region: Shin-Soo Choo, Texas Rangers

    How Choo is going to fare in the field is anybody's guess, as he's rated as a below-average outfielder two straight years. But since he had a .423 OBP last year and has notched 20-20 seasons in three years out of five, he's certainly well-rounded offensively. He even gets hit by pitches better than most

     

    Slugger Region: Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals

    It felt like nobody noticed that Werth hit .300 with a .387 OBP in 2012. Maybe because he did so with little power. Or maybe because he disappointed in 2011. Whatever the case, after hitting .318/.398/.532 with an NL-best (for qualified hitters) 160 wRC+ in 2013, he belongs on everyone's radar now.

     

    Righty Region: Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees

    Kuroda hasn't been one of the league's most dominant pitchers since he arrived in 2008, but he's definitely been one of the steadiest. Since his '08 debut, he has five seasons in which he's posted an ERA under 3.80 while also pitching over 180 innings. Only seven other pitchers have done that.

     

    Southpaw Region: Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox

    Chris Sale gets all the attention, but he's not the only talented lefty in the White Sox's rotation. With the help of some solid velocity and a deceptive delivery, Quintana posted a 3.51 ERA and 3.82 FIP across an even 200 innings last year. Very quietly, he was one of baseball's 25 best pitchers by fWAR's reckoning.

No. 14 Seeds

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    Athletic Region: Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Imagine the Incredible Hulk playing baseball, and you basically have Puig. But hey, it works. His first season saw him post a 160 wRC+ with 19 homers and 11 steals while also racking up 10 defensive runs saved. And if Puig could do all that as a raw player, refined Puig will probably destroy us all or something.

     

    Slugger Region: Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals

    The last time Holliday did worse than a 140 wRC+ was back in 2006. He's one of the game's most consistent (and underappreciated) hitters. My one gripe is that 2013 was a career-worst year for his power with a modest .190 ISO. But since I fear Holliday's muscles, that's all I'm going to say.

     

    Righty Region: Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Greinke ricocheting off Carlos Quentin was one of the defining images of 2013, but let's not forget the 1.57 ERA and 4.36 K/BB he had in his final 16 starts. Since he's tied for fourth in FIP among starters with at least 600 innings since 2008, that was just Greinke being who he is: one of MLB's best.

     

    Southpaw Region: Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates

    Liriano went from being one of the most frustrating pitchers in the league to one of the most dominant seemingly overnight, posting a 3.02 ERA and 2.92 FIP in his first season in Pittsburgh. What's not so cool is that he's currently wanted for crimes against leftmanity after holding lefty batters to a .321 OPS in 2013.

No. 13 Seeds

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    Athletic Region: Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals

    Only six qualified shortstops have as many as 40 steals since 2012, and only two have hit 40 homers. Desmond is the only one who fits in both camps, and his 122 wRC+ lands on top of other qualified shortstops. He's also solid defensively. With so many functions, he's basically the R2-D2 of shortstops. 

     

    Slugger Region: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies

    Tulowitzki is still plenty athletic enough to play shortstop, but his legs' best days have passed him by. He's more about his bat now, which is fortunately still very good. His 143 wRC+ was the highest among shortstops in 2013 by a mile, not to mention 16th out of all hitters

     

    Righty Region: Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners

    Iwakuma wasn't so great as a reliever in 2012, posting a 4.75 ERA and 1.53 K/BB in 14 outings. But since he moved into the Mariners' rotation midway through 2012? How about a 2.66 ERA, a 3.76 K/BB and a third-place finish in the American League Cy Young voting? All thanks (or mostly thanks) to his splitter

     

    Southpaw Region: Mike Minor, Atlanta Braves

    Not unlike Iwakuma, Minor quietly put it all together in the latter half of the 2012 season. He went from a 5.97 ERA in the first half to a 2.16 ERA in the second half and then followed it up with a 3.21 ERA and 3.37 FIP in 2013. I guess he also deserves bonus points for being a Braves pitcher with an intact elbow.

No. 12 Seeds

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    Athletic Region: Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves

    Injuries have kept Heyward from being consistent thus far in his career. But when he was last healthy in 2012, he was a top-10 player by way of a 121 wRC+, 27 homers, 21 steals and excellent defense in right field. Good health in 2014 should lead to more of the same. That it's another even year can't hurt.

     

    Slugger Region: Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers

    The advanced metrics labeled Beltre as a below-average defender in 2013, but his bat is still going strong. Last year was his fourth straight season with at least 28 homers and a 130 wRC+. That his hitting is occasionally done with one knee on the ground makes it that much more impressive.

     

    Righty Region: Mat Latos, Cincinnati Reds

    Latos is up there among the more quietly outstanding pitchers in baseball. He's done no worse than a 3.48 ERA or 3.85 FIP in any of the last four seasons, and is coming off a year in which he was a top-15 pitcher with a 3.16 ERA and 3.10 FIP. He's also good at naming cats. Or bad. It's hard to tell.

     

    Southpaw Region: Patrick Corbin, Arizona Diamondbacks

    Acquired as a throw-in in the Dan Haren trade, Corbin put it all together in 2013 to post a 3.41 ERA and 3.43 FIP in 208.1 innings. According to Brooks Baseball, enemy hitters managed just a .137 average and .104 ISO against his splendiferous slider. Here's hoping we get to see it again in 2014, though that notion is in jeopardy with the news coming out this weekend that Corbin's left elbow might need surgery, according to John Schlegel of MLB.com.

No. 11 Seeds

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    Athletic Region: Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies

    In 2013, CarGo topped 20 homers and 20 stolen bases once again while playing excellent defense in left field. But something else happened that was really cool: He hit away from Coors Field. In fact, he had a whopping 174 wRC+ away from home. Captain Obvious called and said Gonzalez had a good year.

     

    Slugger Region: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

    Here's a guy who could have landed in the Athletic Region, as Longo's still one of the league's best defenders at the hot corner. But his power bat is just as big a calling card, and rightfully so. Longoria's coming off his second 30-homer season in three years and fifth straight year with a wRC+ over 130.

     

    Righty Region: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

    There's still that sense with Strasburg that his results just don't match up with his stuff. But that says more about the hype he came into the league with than his results. Those are excellent, as he's 14th in ERA and eighth in FIP among qualified starters since 2012. And no, he hasn't peaked yet...which is scary.

     

    Southpaw Region: Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

    Chapman took a step back in 2013, as his both his ERA and his FIP ballooned by about a run and his BB% rose from 8.3 to 11.2. But with a fastball that averages 98 and often gets as high as triple digits, there's little that stands in the way of Chapman's dominance. Except for maybe pastries.

No. 10 Seeds

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    Athletic Region: Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers

    Gomez is most famous for getting Gandalf'd by Brian McCann last September. Which is a shame, because he had a stupendous year outside of that. After putting together a strong season in 2012, Gomez built on it in 2013 with a 130 wRC+, 24 homers, 40 steals and some truly stellar defense in center field.

     

    Slugger Region: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

    Stanton regressed somewhat after hitting 37 homers in only 123 games (!) in 2012. But if 24 homers and a 135 wRC+ in 116 games is a "down" year, well, that kinda tells you how dangerous he is. So do videos like this one. And this one. And this one. And this one...

     

    Righty Region: Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins

    Because he had never pitched higher than A-ball, the Marlins promoting Fernandez to the bigs as early as they did last year should have backfired. Instead, it resulted in a 2.19 ERA, a 2.73 FIP and the third-greatest season by a rookie pitcher in history by the reckoning of ERA+. So yeah. Shows what we know.

     

    Southpaw Region: C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels

    Wilson doesn't always make it look good, as his control can come and go. But he just had one of his finest seasons in 2013 with a 3.39 ERA and 3.51 FIP, and there are few lefties as accomplished as he is since 2010. Maybe he also deserves bonus points for being a big Angels investment that isn't a disaster.

No. 9 Seeds

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    Athletic Region: Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees

    Ellsbury compiled a 150 wRC+ with 32 homers, 39 steals and some superb glovework in center field in 2011. Next to that, his 2013 season was a joke. But since it saw him steal 52 bags, post a 113 wRC+, play more excellent defense and finish 13th among all qualified players in fWAR, it was some joke.

     

    Slugger Region: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

    Pop quiz, hot shot. Who's the active career leader in batting average? That would be Mauer at .323, of course. He's also fourth in average (.321) and OBP (.410) among qualified hitters over the last two seasons. Seriously, Twins fans should try liking Mauer for a change.

     

    Righty Region: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

    Kimbrel has compiled a 1.48 ERA and 1.43 FIP over the last three seasons. Also 138 saves. And a 42.9 strikeout percentage. And...well, look, we can go on, but the short version is this: It's hard to look at Kimbrel without fearing you might be next.

     

    Southpaw Region: Derek Holland, Texas Rangers

    Holland didn't get the credit he deserved when he posted a 3.95 ERA and 3.94 FIP in 198 innings in 2011. He certainly didn't get the credit he deserved last year, which saw him do even better with a 3.42 ERA and 3.44 FIP in 213 innings. So really, the only thing to say now is this: "Bad dog!"

No. 8 Seeds

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Athletic Region: Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox

    Pedroia checks out as the best defensive second baseman in the business since 2011. He's also done no worse than a 112 wRC+ since he became a full-time player in 2007 and is sitting on 99 career homers and 119 career steals. Not bad for a guy who can be stowed safely in an overhead storage bin.

     

    Slugger Region: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

    Posey went into a deep slump in the second half last year, posting just an 85 wRC+ in 58 games. But the half before that, he had a 163 wRC+. The year before that, he was darn near on Miguel Cabrera's level with a 163 wRC+. Basically, when Posey is clicking, baseballs are dying.

     

    Righty Region: Doug Fister, Washington Nationals

    Fister has more fWAR than all but eight other pitchers over the last three seasons, and he's somehow only getting better at picking up ground balls. How Mike Rizzo got away with acquiring Fister for That Guy, This Guy and Schemp is an unsolved mystery...Unless this thing with Fister's elbow turns into something.

     

    Southpaw Region: Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox

    Lester was right there with CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee among the top southpaws in baseball between 2008 and 2011. Then 2012 happened, and for a while, that bled into 2013. But then Lester finished with a 2.89 ERA in his final 16 regular season starts before posting a 1.56 ERA in October. He's back.

No. 7 Seeds

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Athletic Region: Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Ramirez only logged 336 plate appearances in 2013. But in those, he was the National League's best hitter with a 191 wRC+ and 20 homers. He quietly played a solid shortstop and stole 10 bases even despite the leg troubles he dealt with. Good health in 2014 could well result in an MVP season.

     

    Slugger Region: Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays

    There are two players who have hit at least 75 homers and racked up at least a 148 wRC+ since the start of 2012. One is Miguel Cabrera. The other is this guy. And given the day and age baseball is in, that Encarnacion has done it while racking up more walks than strikeouts is all sorts of ridiculous.

     

    Righty Region: James Shields, Kansas City Royals

    Shields had a 5.18 ERA and was tagged for 34 home runs in 2010. In baseball letters, that spells "SUCK." But ever since then, it's scary not only how good he's been, but how consistent. He's pitched no fewer than 227 innings in any of the last three years, and his FIPs have gone like so: 3.42, 3.47, 3.47.

     

    Southpaw Region: Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

    Gonzalez couldn't quite recapture his 2012 magic in 2013. But one thing he kept was his improved control, and that helped him put together a solid 3.36 ERA and 3.41 FIP over 195.2 innings. He also committed more crimes with his beautiful curveball. According to Brooks Baseball, there were 16 hits off it all year.

No. 6 Seeds

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Athletic Region: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

    It might be easy to say Harper hasn't lived up to the hype yet. But hey, fWAR has him as the fourth-best player ever through the age of 20. So does rWAR. He's also the only player ever with at least 40 homers and 25 steals through age 20. So just you wait, Skepty McSkepticalson. 

     

    Slugger Region: Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles

    Power in MLB last year was the worst it's been in 20 years. Yet there was Davis slugging 53 home runs and blowing away the field in isolated power. It will be an extremely hard performance to top, but it's also hard to doubt a guy who swings a baseball bat like the rest of us swing dry pieces of spaghetti.

     

    Righty Region: Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers

    The move to the American League was supposed to disagree with Sanchez. Instead, his AL ERA is almost a run lower than his NL ERA, and he just led the league in ERA, FIP and ERA+. Solid stuff for a guy who's had both Tommy John surgery and labrum surgery. Maybe he was Wolverine in a past life. Or...this life???

     

    Southpaw Region: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

    Bumgarner was pretty much the only member of the Giants rotation who wasn't a huge disappointment in 2013, as he posted a career-best 2.77 ERA and rock-solid 3.05 FIP. He ranks 14th in fWAR since the beginning of the 2011 season and second behind only Clayton Kershaw among 25-and-under pitchers

No. 5 Seeds

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    Athletic Region: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

    I'm not happy about Braun's ties to PEDs either. The nerve of some people, am I right? But since this is a guy with a 148 career wRC+ and two very recent 30-30 seasons who, PEDs or no, should have a few more prime years left in him, I have a hard time believing we've seen the last of Braun's excellence.

     

    Slugger Region: Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners

    Cano is one of only 12 hitters with a wRC+ of at least 140 over the last four seasons. He's the only second baseman with a wRC+ that high in that span. He also happens to be the homer-hittingest second baseman ever through the age of 30. So who gives a damn if he doesn't hustle all the time?

     

    Righty Region: Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

    Wainwright walked only 3.7 percent of the hitters he faced in 2013, along the way compiling a 2.94 ERA and 2.55 FIP in 241.2 innings. He then pitched another 35 more in October for a total of 276.2. The back end of a double-header for Old Hoss Radbourn, maybe, but astonishing for a pitcher in this day and age.

     

    Southpaw Region: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

    Hamels got the Cliff Lee treatment in 2013, posting a losing record despite a 3.60 ERA and 3.26 FIP in 220 innings. That's the stuff that counts, of course, and here's also approving of how Hamels' 3.19 FIP since the start of 2011 places him 11th among qualified starters. Now, if only his shoulder would behave.

No. 4 Seeds

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    Athletic Region: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

    It's not too often you hear a Molina referred to as "athletic." I'll admit that it is an odd fit. But if not athleticism, it certainly takes something of the sort to be as good as Jose Molina is behind the plate. The guy can hit, too, as the only catcher with a better wRC+ than Molina since 2011 is Mr. Posey.

     

    Slugger Region: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox

    Since 2010, Ortiz has a 151 wRC+ that ranks sixth among qualified hitters and a .260 ISO that ranks fourth. He's also coming off a year in which he had a 152 wRC+, hit 30 homers, won the World Series and was celebrated for dropping an F-bomb on national TV. Because Big Papi is the (bleeping) greatest.

     

    Righty Region: Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers

    Darvish began dominating late in 2012 and proceeded to pick up precisely where he left off in 2013. After missing a perfect game by inches in his '13 debut, Darvish went on to finish with a 2.83 ERA, a 3.28 FIP and an MLB-best 32.9 K%. In addition, the wondrousness of his pitches gave us the coolest GIF ever.

     

    Southpaw Region: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

    He may look oddly like Jack Skellington when he's on the mound, but Sale is far scarier. He dropped his FIP from 3.27 in 2012 to 3.17 in 2013 while upping his K/BB ratio from 3.76 to 4.91. He also had four games in which he struck out at least a dozen hitters—twice as many as any other lefty.

No. 3 Seeds

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    Athletic Region: David Wright, New York Mets

    Wright is the do-it-all third baseman in baseball. Over the last two seasons, he ranks second among qualified third basemen in wRC+, fifth in ISO, first in stolen bases and second in defensive value. About the only thing he can't do is beat Eric Sogard in a fair fight for the Face of MLB (emphasis on "fair").

     

    Slugger Region: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

    Speaking of do-it-all corner infielders, Goldschmidt's not too shabby in his own right. He led qualified first basemen with 15 steals last year and was among the top 10 in defensive value. But it's his bat that teams fear, as he followed up a solid 124 wRC+ in 2012 with a 2013 season that saw him lead the National League in home runs and ISO while finishing third in wRC+.

     

    Righty Region: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

    You have to be pretty good to finish seventh in fWAR among qualified pitchers in a "down" year. Guess that mean's Verlander's pretty good. And in five starts between the end of the regular season and the postseason, he struck out 53, walked seven and allowed one run. Beware an epic "comeback" in 2014.

     

    Southpaw Region: David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

    One thing Price never did last year was shake off the drastic loss of velocity from his average of 95.5 miles per hour in 2012. He did, however, finish with a 2.53 ERA in his last 18 starts. That came with a 7.85 K/BB ratio and a strike rate of an even 70 percent. Translation: Holy smokes.

No. 2 Seeds

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Athletic Region: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

    Here's a list of things McCutchen didn't do in 2013: ...Alright, I've got nothing. He finished in the top 10 in the National League in average, OBP and wRC+ while hitting 21 homers, stealing 27 bases and playing excellent defense in center field. His National League MVP could be the first of many.

     

    Slugger Region: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

    Votto only hit .305 and with 73 RBI, thereby having just an OK year by traditional standards. His .435 OBP and 156 wRC+, however, say he had yet another excellent year. It's now four straight years that he's led the Senior Circuit in OBP, making it hard to argue against him as the NL's top hitter. In fact, don't even try it.

     

    Righty Region: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

    With his velocity declining the way it is, King Felix should also be declining. Instead, he finished 2013 with the highest strikeout rate of his career and followed up a 3.06 ERA and 2.84 FIP with a 3.04 ERA and 2.61 FIP. Among American League hurlers with 500 innings pitched over the last five seasons, he ranks first in ERA and FIP. Long live the king.

     

    Southpaw Region: Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies 

    Lee is a fine example of how you don't need great velocity to have great success in MLB...So long as you do everything else he does. Lee has finished with a walk rate under five percent in each of the last six seasons, in which he's maintained an MLB-best 70 percent strike rate over more than 1,300 innings. When he's gone, his circuits and gears will go to a good cause.

No. 1 Seed No. 4: Max Scherzer (Righty Region)

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    If you were thinking it anywhere along the way, yeah, it's basically impossible to pick out one right-hander as the king of the righty hill. The field is incredibly deep, and that's without even counting the sadly lost-for-2014 Matt Harvey.

    Max Scherzer's American League Cy Young Award, however, says he's a good choice. So do assorted statistics. 

    One is fWAR, as Scherzer led all qualified righties in that in 2013 by way of a 2.74 FIP across 214.1 innings. He was also the closest qualified starter to Yu Darvish in K%, and Scherzer did it with a BB% about three points lower than Darvish's.

    And lest you think Scherzer is a one-year wonder, well, don't.

    Much like Darvish, Scherzer figured things out late in 2012, posting a 1.65 ERA and 5.07 K/BB in his last 10 starts. That makes it 42 regular-season starts that he's been outstanding, and that's not even counting his excellent performance in the 2013 postseason (2.82 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 22.1 innings). 

    Conclusion: This guy owns.

     

No. 1 Seed No. 3: Clayton Kershaw (Southpaw Region)

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    No need to justify this one, right?

    (Hears one person in audience shout, "Yeah, there is, stupidhead!")

    Oh, very well. Let's see here...

    There's the fact that Kershaw has won three straight National League ERA titles, with the most recent of the bunch being a 1.83 ERA.

    Then there's the fact that he is the only southpaw in MLB to finish with an ERA under 3.00 in each of the last five years. In fact, no other lefty has even done that more than twice in the last five years.

    I guess there's also the fact that Kershaw leads not just all lefties, but all starters of any kind in FIP since 2009.

    Yeah. That'll do.

No. 1 Seed No. 2: Miguel Cabrera (Slugger Region)

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    There's probably no need to justify Miguel Cabrera topping the Slugger Region either, but I do feel there is one thing that needs to be said: Man, screw the triple crown. Last year was the best year of Miggy's career, not 2012.

    Miggy approached previous career highs with his .442 OBP and .288 ISO. He matched his career high with 44 home runs and set new career highs with a .348 average and 192 wRC+.

    That last figure, by the way, led all qualified hitters. By a lot.

    This is all pretty good stuff, but it looks even better when you remember that Miggy put up those numbers despite operating at far less than 100 percent for the last month of the season. Had the year ended in August before his injuries dampened his numbers, he would have been a .358/.449/.681 hitter.

    So it goes. Miggy's 176 wRC+ over the last four seasons leads all qualified hitters, with the closest pursuer being Joey Votto at 164. When it comes to hitting, it's Miguel Cabrera and then everyone else.

No. 1 Seed No. 1: Mike Trout (Athletic Region)

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    When it comes to playing the game of baseball, though, there is Mike Trout and then everyone else.

    Back in 2012, Trout broke out by slashing .326/.399/.564 with 30 home runs, 49 stolen bases and an MLB-high 10.0 fWAR. He also led MLB in HAtF: "Hard Act to Follow." The notion that he could somehow outdo himself in 2013 seemed absurd.

    And yet, Trout managed to do it. 

    Though he didn't quite match his 2012 production in terms of average, power, homers, stolen bases or defense, Trout did up his OBP from .399 to .432 while hitting 27 homers, stealing 33 bases and still rating as a quality defensive player. He also led the league in WAR again, because of course he did.

    There are fielders who are better than Trout. There are even baserunners who are better than him. We know there's at least one hitter better than he is.

    There's just nobody who does all three as well as Trout does.