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Bleacher Report's 2014 MLB Writer's Choice Poll

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2014

Bleacher Report's 2014 MLB Writer's Choice Poll

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    Paul Sancya

    Each year, a number of different media outlets publish an MLB player survey in which they ask current players for their predictions on topics ranging from who will win it all that season to who the most overrated player in the game is.

    With that in mind, we decided to do the same thing here at Bleacher Report, but with a pool of 40 of our MLB writers instead. I crafted a 25-question poll with a mixture of team- and player-specific questions.

    What follows is a look at how the voting shook out on everything from Favorite Player to Watch to Best Facial Hair, as well as some analysis on the top vote-getters.

    I opted not to vote in the poll, because I did not want to influence the results and 40 was a nice, round number. However, included on each slide is an explanation of what my choice would've been.

    So sit back and enjoy!

     

    *Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

NL Pennant Winner

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    Matt York

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total (%)
    Los Angeles Dodgers13 (32.5%)
    St. Louis Cardinals12 (30%)
    Washington Nationals11 (27.5%)
    Atlanta Braves3 (7.5%)
    San Francisco Giants1 (2.5%)

     

    Voting Analysis

    No big surprise to see the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals atop the voting here, as the two teams met in the NLCS last season and look very strong once again.

    It is somewhat surprising to see the Washington Nationals so close behind in the voting, though, after the disappointing season they turned in last year. That said, they still look as good as any team in baseball on paper and have no doubt improved over last year with the addition of Doug Fister.

    The Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants are certainly in the mix to contend as well, though it would be something of an upset if they were to come away with the NL pennant.

     

    My Choice: St. Louis Cardinals

    The Cardinals bested the Dodgers in the NLCS last year, and with the addition of Jhonny Peralta and another year of experience for their young players, they look like the better team once again.

    The biggest chip in their favor is their incredible depth, as there may be no team better positioned to deal with the inevitable injuries that pop up over the course of a season than the Cardinals.

AL Pennant Winner

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    Carlos Osorio

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total (%)
    Detroit Tigers17 (42.5%)
    Tampa Bay Rays12 (30%)
    Boston Red Sox4 (10%)
    Baltimore Orioles2 (5%)
    New York Yankees2 (5%)
    Los Angeles Angels1 (2.5%)
    Oakland Athletics1 (2.5%)
    Texas Rangers1 (2.5%)

     

    Voting Analysis

    The Detroit Tigers are the favorites here by a decent margin, even after trading away a pair of key contributors in Prince Fielder and Doug Fister this offseason. Despite those losses, they still boast one of the best starting rotations in baseball and a lineup led by all-world slugger Miguel Cabrera, so it's not all that surprising to see them as the favorites.

    The small-market Tampa Bay Rays came in second in the voting, garnering more votes than the rest of the AL East combined. That was something of a surprise given the Boston Red Sox's run to the title last year and the New York Yankees' offseason overhaul, though I can certainly see the case for the Rays.

     

    My Choice: Tampa Bay Rays

    The Rays opted not to move ace David Price this offseason as many expected them to, and with that they will once again have one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball.

    The difference-maker is outfielder Wil Myers, who could make an average offense a legitimate plus if he can take a big step forward in his first full season hitting in the cleanup spot behind Evan Longoria. Manager Joe Maddon does as good a job as anyone of getting the most out of his roster, and this team does not look to have any clear weakness.

World Series Winner

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    Alex Brandon

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total (%)
    Washington Nationals10 (25%)
    Los Angeles Dodgers8 (20%)
    St. Louis Cardinals8 (20%)
    Boston Red Sox(7.5%)
    Detroit Tigers(7.5%)
    Tampa Bay Rays3 (7.5%)
    Atlanta Braves2 (5%)
    New York Yankees(2.5%)
    San Francisco Giants(2.5%)
    Texas Rangers1 (2.5%)

     

    Voting Analysis

    Interesting. While they ranked third in voting for the NL pennant, the Nationals take the top spot here, with 10 of the 11 people who picked them to win the pennant also picking them to win it all.

    The National League as a whole was the overwhelming favorite here, with 29 of the 40 voters selecting an NL team to win it all in 2014. Only four people selected the Red Sox to win the AL pennant, and three of those four have the defending champs repeating.

     

    My Choice: St. Louis Cardinals

    As I said in the NL Pennant Winner slide, the Cardinals look like the most complete team in baseball, and they have the depth to overcome any issues that may crop up over the course of the season.

    The continued progress of Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha will be key to them making a run at a championship this year, but I think all the pieces are in place for them to take home title No. 12.

Best Offense

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total (%)
    Texas Rangers7 (17.5%)
    Los Angeles Dodgers6 (15%)
    Baltimore Orioles5 (12.5%)
    St. Louis Cardinals5 (12.5%)
    Boston Red Sox4 (10%)
    Detroit Tigers3 (7.5%)
    Los Angeles Angels3 (7.5%)
    Washington Nationals2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays

     

    Voting Analysis

    With the additions of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo this offseason and a full season of August addition Alex Rios, the Rangers offense looked loaded once again entering this season, so it's not surprising to see them take the top spot here.

    The Red Sox and Tigers ranked first and second in runs scored last season, but both teams had some notable offseason losses. Meanwhile, the Dodgers came in at No. 17 in the MLB in runs scored last year, but a full season of Yasiel Puig and a healthy Hanley Ramirez were enough for them to come in second in the voting.

     

    My Choice: Texas Rangers

    The Rangers lost Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young last offseason and still managed to rank eighth in the MLB in runs scored last year. Offense will always be a staple in Texas, and the Rangers are looking awfully strong once again.

    The Fielder-Beltre-Rios trio is as good as any in baseball, and once Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto get healthy, there is no reason they can't reclaim the title of No. 1 offense in baseball.

Best Starting Rotation

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total (%)
    Washington Nationals15 (37.5%)
    Los Angeles Dodgers8 (20%)
    Detroit Tigers7 (17.5%)
    St. Louis Cardinals3 (7.5%)
    Cincinnati Reds2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Tampa Bay Rays

     

    Voting Analysis

    The Nationals already had one of the best trios around in Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann before they pulled off perhaps the biggest steal of the offseason when they acquired Doug Fister from the Tigers. Throw in the trio of Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark and Ross Detwiler for depth, and it's clear why the Nationals claimed the top spot here.

    A pair of strong trios in their own right are behind them: the Dodgers, with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu; and the Tigers, with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez.

    The Cardinals (3.42 ERA) and Reds (3.43 ERA) actually ranked second and third in the MLB last season in starting pitching ERA behind the Dodgers (3.13 ERA), so they were deserving of some recognition here as well.

     

    My Choice: Detroit Tigers

    It's hard to argue against any of the top five rotations that received votes in this poll, but if I have to pick one to win me a postseason series right now, I'd pick the Tigers.

    Justin Verlander has looked like the ace of old since last year's postseason, Max Scherzer has emerged as a bona fide second ace and Anibal Sanchez is probably the best No. 3 starter in baseball. Drew Smyly will be the key here as he looks to replace Fister, but I don't think the staff will miss a beat.

Best Bullpen

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    John Bazemore

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total (%)
    Atlanta Braves13 (32.5%)
    Kansas City Royals9 (22.5%)
    St. Louis Cardinals6 (15%)
    Boston Red Sox 4 (10%)
    Los Angeles Dodgers3 (7.5%)
    Oakland Athletics3 (7.5%)
    Detroit Tigers2 (5%)

     

    Voting Analysis

    The Atlanta Braves led the majors with a 2.46 bullpen ERA last season, despite the early loss of a pair of key setup men in Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty for the season. With essentially the same group back from last year, it's no surprise to see them atop the voting here.

    The Kansas City Royals were right behind the Braves with a 2.55 ERA, and they, too, returned essentially the same group, so seeing them in the No. 2 spot here is no surprise either.

    The biggest shock is the Pittsburgh Pirates receiving no votes, as they came in third last year with a 2.89 ERA. The success of their pen was a big reason they were able to break their playoff drought.

     

    My Choice: Atlanta Braves

    Craig Kimbrel is the most dominant closer in the game, and the unheralded trio of Jordan Walden, Luis Avilan and David Carpenter got the job done time and again last year.

    They should get Venters back at some point this season, and there is no reason to think that they won't again be the dominant group they were last year.

Best Rivalry

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    WINSLOW TOWNSON

    Voting Results (Note: one writer did not answer)

    TeamVote Total (%)
    BOS vs. NYY19 (47.5%)
    SF vs. LAD6 (15%)
    ARI vs. LAD5 (12.5%)
    CIN vs. STL4 (10%)
    ATL vs. WAS2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Baltimore vs. Boston, Tampa Bay vs. Boston, Oakland vs. Texas

     

    Voting Analysis

    As far as history is concerned, no rivalry trumps the Red Sox and Yankees, so it's no surprise to see them as the overwhelming favorites here. There is also a good deal of history between the Dodgers and Giants, dating back to when both teams were in New York, and they remain the top NL rivalry.

    It's somewhat surprising not to see the Red Sox and Rays get more support, as there has been no shortage of bad blood between those two teams the past two seasons. 

     

    My Choice: BOS vs. NYY

    Can't argue with the history behind the Red Sox and Yankees, so they get my vote. That said, I'm excited to see if anything further goes on between the Diamondbacks and Dodgers this season.

Most Surprising Team

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    Lynne Sladky

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total (%)
    Miami Marlins11 (27.5%)
    Kansas City Royals10 (25%)
    Seattle Mariners7 (17.5%)
    Milwaukee Brewers4 (10%)
    Baltimore Orioles3 (7.5%)
    San Diego Padres2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Angels

     

    Voting Analysis

    There has been no shortage of surprise teams in the MLB recently, with the Orioles and Oakland Athletics making the playoffs in 2012 and the Cleveland Indians earning a wild-card spot last year.

    The Royals took a big step forward last year and made things interesting with a late-season push, and they look to have the best chance to be the surprise playoff team of 2014.

    Meanwhile, the Miami Marlins may not be able to earn themselves a playoff spot in the NL just yet, but after losing 100 games last year, they may improve their record more than any other team. With a good young rotation fronted by Jose Fernandez and an improved lineup, the potential is there for a winning season.

     

    My Choice: Milwaukee Brewers

    Only four people in the poll agreed with me on this one. After winning 83 games and leading the NL in runs scored in 2012, the Brewers took a big step back last season and lost 88 games.

    The rotation has a chance to be a plus following the addition of Matt Garza, the bullpen was quietly one of the best in the NL last year, and the offense should rebound nicely with the return of Ryan Braun and a healthy Aramis Ramirez. They have an outside shot to contend for an NL Wild Card spot, even in a tough NL Central.

Most Disappointing Team

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    TeamVote Total (%)
    New York Yankees10 (25%)
    Boston Red Sox5 (12.5%)
    Cincinnati Reds4 (10%)
    Texas Rangers4 (10%)
    Arizona Diamondbacks3 (7.5%)
    Los Angeles Angels3 (7.5%)
    Atlanta Braves2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners

     

    Voting Analysis

    The Yankees spent nearly $500 million this offseason to retool a roster that missed the playoffs for just the second time since 1994 last season. With that kind of spending comes some lofty expectations. and while they do look like an improved team, there are still a number of question marks and a loaded AL East to contend with.

    The Red Sox have lofty expectations as well coming off of a World Series title last year, and they, too, will have to contend with playing in a loaded division and what should be a crowded playoff picture. 

     

    My Choice: New York Yankees

    The fact that the Yankees were able to win 85 games last season with a decimated roster is impressive, and there is no denying that they are just a franchise that knows how to win.

    That said, I've predicted the Yanks to miss the playoffs, and if that winds up being the case, they'll be the most disappointing team of the season.

2014 Breakout Hitter

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    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    PlayerVote Total (%)
    1B Brandon Belt, SF8 (20%)
    1B Eric Hosmer, KC5 (12.5%)
    1B Jose Abreu, CWS4 (10%)
    3B Mike Moustakas, KC3 (7.5%)
    SS Xander Bogaerts, BOS2 (5%)
    LF Bryce Harper, WAS(5%)
    RF Wil Myers, TB(5%)
    1B Anthony Rizzo, CHI(5%)
    2B Kolten Wong, STL(5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Matt Adams, Kole Calhoun, Khris Davis, David Freese, Billy Hamilton, Jason Heyward, Leonys Martin, Wilson Ramos, Justin Smoak, Christian Yelich

     

    Voting Analysis

    After a relatively disappointing first full season in 2012, Brandon Belt finally turned a corner in the second half last season, posting a .915 OPS after the All-Star break on his way to a 4.3 WAR for the season. He's carried that over to this season as well, as he currently leads the league with five home runs and looks poised for a huge season.

    Kansas City Royals teammates Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas both received multiple votes. Hosmer rebounded nicely from a sophomore slump last season but has still not reached his full potential, and Moustakas is still looking for his breakout campaign.

    Cuban slugger Jose Abreu was the other player to receive more than two votes, and he was my pick to win AL Rookie of the Year. He has legitimate 30-homer power from the onset and should be a staple in the middle of the White Sox lineup for years.

     

    My Choice: RF Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays

    While I think Abreu is going to have a big year, I like my breakout candidates to be guys who already have some big league time under their belt and are poised to take the next step.

    In that sense, Belt is a terrific choice here, but I'll go with the reigning AL Rookie of the Year in Wil Myers. He moves to the cleanup spot behind Evan Longoria this season and has legitimate 30-home run, 100-RBI potential in his first full season. If the Rays wind up taking the AL pennant like I think they will, he'll likely have a lot to do with it.

2014 Breakout Pitcher

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    PlayerVote Total (%)
    SP Danny Salazar, CLE5 (12.5%)
    SP Sonny Gray, OAK3 (7.5%)
    SP Chris Archer, TB2 (5%)
    SP Gerrit Cole, PIT(5%)
    SP James Paxton, SEA(5%)
    SP Masahiro Tanaka, NYY(5%)
    SP Julio Teheran, ATL(5%)
    SP Yordano Ventura, KC(5%)
    SP Michael Wacha, STL(5%)
    SP Zack Wheeler, NYM(5%)
    SP Alex Wood, ATL(5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Archie Bradley, Tony Cingrani, Alex Cobb, Roenis Elias, Nathan Eovaldi, Jose Fernandez, Taylor Jordan, Justin Masterson, Jenrry Mejia, Ivan Nova, Rick Porcello, Tyler Skaggs, Noah Syndergaard, Chris Tillman

     

    Voting Analysis

    Opinions were pretty well spread out on this one, and that's no big surprise given the current level of young pitching talent in the big leagues. Everyone to receive multiple votes was either a rookie or entering their second season, and it's an impressive list of arms, to say the least.

    Cleveland Indians right-hander Danny Salazar was the leading vote-getter—and understandably so, after he posted a 3.12 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 52 innings (10 starts) last season.

    Sonny Gray, the A's Opening Day starter, was the only other pitcher to receive more than two votes. He was great down the stretch last season and into the playoffs, and his curveball is one of the best in the business.

     

    My Choice: SP Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays

    As a Chicago Cubs fan, I have a tough time knowing how badly they need young starting pitching and seeing how good Chris Archer has become in such a short time in the majors.

    He finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting last year and earned himself a six-year, $25.5 million extension in the process. That should wind up being an absolute steal for the Tampa Bay Rays, as I think he has the potential to be a superstar and should be in for a big sophomore campaign.

Biggest Free-Agent Bust

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    Kathy Willens

    Voting Results

    PlayerVote Total (%)
    SP Ubaldo Jimenez, BAL 11 (27.5%)
    CF Jacoby Ellsbury, NYY7 (17.5%)
    RF Curtis Granderson, NYM 6 (15%)
    RF Carlos Beltran, NYY 3 (7.5%)
    2B Robinson Cano, SEA2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): A.J. Burnett, Shin-Soo Choo, Bartolo Colon, Stephen Drew, Brian McCann, Kendrys Morales, Ricky Nolasco, Jhonny Peralta, Ervin Santana, Chris Young, Brian Wilson

     

    Voting Analysis

    After a rough first year-and-a-half with the Cleveland Indians, Ubaldo Jimenez returned to ace form in a contract year last season. He finished the season 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA and 9.6 K/9, and he was particularly good in the second half, when he posted a 1.82 ERA and 10.7 K/9 over 13 starts.

    That earned him a four-year, $50 million contract from the pitching-starved Baltimore Orioles, who also had to cough up draft pick compensation in the deal. He's in his age-30 season and was no doubt one of the top arms on the market, but there is certainly a good chance he regresses to his 2012 form.

    Behind him are a handful of big-money deals, as Jacoby Ellsbury and Robinson Cano signed the two biggest contracts of the offseason and veterans Curtis Granderson and Carlos Beltran both have high annual salaries they could have trouble living up to as well.

     

    My Choice: Ricky Nolasco, Minnesota Twins

    I've said it several times before, and I'll say it again here: Ricky Nolasco is a solid pitcher who would have been a great addition to a number of contending teams' rotations as a back-of-the-rotation arm.

    Instead, he signed a four-year, $49 million contract with the Minnesota Twins, a record free-agent deal for the franchise, to be the ace of their staff. That contract and that role are going to make it awfully hard for him to live up to expectations.

Biggest Free-Agent Bargain

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    Patrick Semansky

    Voting Results (Note: one writer did not vote)

    PlayerVote Total (%)
    DH Nelson Cruz, BAL13 (32.5%)
    CF Grady Sizemore, BOS5 (12.5%)
    SP Ervin Santana, ATL4 (10%)
    DH Corey Hart, SEA2 (5%)
    1B Justin Morneau, COL2 (5%)
    C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, MIA2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Jose Abreu, John Axford, Marlon Byrd, Shin-Soo Choo, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson, Omar Infante, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jhonny Peralta, Brian Roberts, Jose Valverde

     

    Voting Analysis

    The Orioles may have the favorite for free-agent bust in Ubaldo Jimenez, but they also ran away with the choice for free-agent bargain in slugger Nelson Cruz.

    After turning down a $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Rangers at the beginning of the offseason, the market was incredibly slow to develop for Cruz this winter. He wound up signing a one-year, $8 million deal to join the Orioles.

    If Grady Sizemore can stay healthy and hold onto the Red Sox center field job, he'll run away with Comeback Player of the Year and be an absolute steal after signing a minor league deal this offseason.

     

    My Choice: DH Nelson Cruz, Baltimore Orioles

    The New York Mets signed Chris Young to a one-year, $7.25 million deal after he posted a minus-0.2 WAR last season with a career .235/.315/.431 line to his credit.

    Cruz got $750,000 more and he ranks 17th in all of baseball since the start of 2009 with 135 home runs. Sure, there were concerns with him coming off of a PED suspension, but the potential is still there for 30-plus home runs. He would be an absolute steal at $8 million if he puts up his pre-suspension numbers.

Player Most Likely to Be Traded at the Deadline

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    Gene Puskar

    Voting Results

    PlayerVote Total (%)
    SP Jeff Samardzija, CHI9 (22.5%)
    3B Chase Headley, SD7 (17.5%)
    SP David Price, TB5 (12.5%)
    SP Bartolo Colon, NYM2 (5%)
    1B Edwin Encarnacion, TOR2 (5%)
    SP Cliff Lee, PHI2 (5%)
    RP Jonathan Papelbon, PHI2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Mike Adams, Starlin Castro, Andre Ethier, Jose Fernandez, Justin Morneau, Brandon Phillips, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, James Shields, Ichiro Suzuki, Chase Utley

     

    Voting Analysis

    As the Cubs continue to rebuild, they have a big decision to make come July regarding ace right-hander Jeff Samardzija. He looked like a core piece of the rebuilding efforts with a breakout season in 2012, but he took a step back last year and is set to hit free agency at the end of 2014.

    Chase Headley made a name for himself with a monster second half in 2012, but he regressed last season, and the San Diego Padres may have missed their chance to get a king's ransom for him. He's still a productive third baseman in a contract year, though, and should net a solid return.

    This survey was anonymous, but I'd be curious to know who thinks Jose Fernandez has a real chance of being traded come July and what type of return that person thinks the Marlins would get for him. I don't think there are enough prospects in the world for the Marlins to pull the trigger on dealing him right now.

     

    My Choice: 3B Chase Headley, San Diego Padres

    The Padres held extension talks with Headley briefly this offseason, but nothing ever came of it, and it seems fairly certain that he'll be playing elsewhere in 2015. It's just a matter of whether they will be able to get a good enough return come July or if they'll opt to hold onto him and make a qualifying offer.

    With Jedd Gyorko capable of sliding back to his natural position of third base and second-base prospect Cory Spangenberg knocking on the door in Double-A, the team still looks solid in a post-Headley world.

Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera?

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    Paul Sancya

    Voting Results

    PlayerVote Total (%)
    CF Mike Trout33 (82.5%)
    1B Miguel Cabrera7 (17.5%)

     

    Voting Analysis

    The debate rages on between the best hitter in the game and the best all-around player in the game. Miguel Cabrera has come out on top in AL MVP voting each of the past two seasons, but Trout has led all of baseball in WAR over that span.

    It's a clash of old-school counting numbers and new-school sabermetrics, and it has made for a great talking point. I made no stipulations here and gave no further details in the question; it simply said "Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera?" and Trout ran away with the voting.

     

    My Choice: Mike Trout

    Regardless of whether we are talking about who the best player in baseball is, who I'd rather build a team around, who deserved MVP honors or who signed the better contract, my choice is Trout across the board. He has a chance to be a once-in-a-generation player.

Most Underrated Player

17 of 27

    Chris O'Meara

    Voting Results

    PlayerVote Total (%)
    2B Ben Zobrist, TB5 (12.5%)
    RF Allen Craig, STL4 (10%)
    SP Madison Bumgarner, SF3 (7.5%)
    1B Freddie Freeman, ATL3 (7.5%)
    RF Jay Bruce, CIN2 (5%)
    RF Alex Rios, TEX2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Nolan Arenado, Adrian Beltre, Michael Brantley, Matt Carpenter, Shin-Soo Choo, Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson, Adam Eaton, Dexter Fowler, Paul Goldschmidt, Carlos Gomez, Jason Heyward, Adam Jones, Mat Latos, Jonathan Lucroy, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Seager, Julio Teheran, Chris Tillman, Jordan Zimmermann

     

    Voting Analysis

    This vote was pretty well split up, but it was not surprising to see Rays super-utility man Ben Zobrist come away with the top spot.

    He's settled in at second base over the past couple years but remains one of the most versatile players in all of baseball. He provides some pop and some speed and hits for a decent average, and his 32.3 WAR since the start of 2009 is good for third in all of baseball.

    Allen Craig finished one vote behind Zobrist and does go somewhat overlooked due to his lack of eye-opening home run power. There's no ignoring his .454 average with runners in scoring position last season, though.

     

    My Choice: SP Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

    At this point, I think Zobrist has been called underrated for so long that he's properly rated at this point, but maybe that's just my view on the writing side of things.

    My choice is Madison Bumgarner, who has emerged as the ace of the Giants staff and is coming off of a phenomenal season last year in which he went 13-9 with a 2.77 ERA. He's still only 24 years old and has room to get better, and he's already one of the 10 best arms in the league right now.

Most Overrated Player

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    Kathy Willens

    Voting Results (Note: one writer did not vote)

    PlayerVote Total (%)
    SS Derek Jeter, NYY7 (17.5%)
    LF Mark Trumbo, ARI5 (12.5%)
    RF Yasiel Puig, LAD4 (10%)
    2B Robinson Cano, SEA2 (5%)
    LF Josh Hamilton, LAA(5%)
    LF Bryce Harper, WAS(5%)
    SP Tim Lincecum, SF(5%)
    2B Brandon Phillips, CIN(5%)
    LF Justin Upton, ATL(5%)
    SP Justin Verlander(5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Shin-Soo Choo, R.A. Dickey, Prince Fielder, David Freese, Carlos Gomez, Billy Hamilton, Andrew McCutchen, Dustin Pedroia, David Wright

     

    Voting Analysis

    In a recent vote of 143 MLB players done by ESPN, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper led the way with 24 percent of the vote, followed by Yasiel Puig (21 percent) and Alex Rodriguez (14 percent).

    However, the choice here among the writers was Yankees captain Derek Jeter as he enters the final season of his storied career. Close behind was slugger Mark Trumbo, who is coming off of a 34-homer, 100-RBI season but hit .234/.294/.453 in the process.

    There were a few head-scratchers here by my fellow writers, most notably the inclusion of Andrew McCutchen, but everyone is entitled to his or her opinion and views players being over/underrated differently.

     

    My Choice: SS Derek Jeter, New York Yankees

    It's just the nature of the beast when a living legend like Jeter is winding down his career. All of those fans who have been watching him be great for so many years still associate him with greatness, but at this point, he's not one of the 10 best shortstops in the game.

    He's one of the best to ever play the position and will be a deserving first-ballot Hall of Famer, but at this point, there's no way he's not overrated.

Baseball's Nastiest Pitch

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    Voting Results: (Note: one writer did not vote)

    PlayerPitchVote Total (%)
    SP Jose Fernandez, MIACurveball6 (15%)
    SP Clayton Kershaw, LADCurveball6 (15%)
    RP Aroldis Chapman, CINFastball4 (10%)
    RP Aroldis Chapman, CINSlider4 (10%)
    RP Koji Uehara, BOSSplitter3 (7.5%)
    SP Yu Darvish, TEXSlider(5%)
    SP Jose Fernandez, MIASlider(5%)
    RP Craig Kimbrel, ATLFastball(5%)
    SP Chris Sale, CWSSlider2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Yu Darvish (curveball), Yu Darvish (splitter), Gio Gonzalez (curveball), Sonny Gray (curveball), Matt Harvey (fastball), Masahiro Tanaka (splitter), Yordano Ventura (curveball), Adam Wainwright (curveball)

     

    Voting Analysis

    It would be interesting to see how many of the 40 writers who participated in this poll would have voted for Mariano Rivera's cutter if it were last season, as that has long been considered the game's most dominant pitch.

    With Rivera retired, a pair of impressive curveballs by two of the game's best in Clayton Kershaw and Jose Fernandez take the top spot. Close behind is the fastball/slider combination of Reds closer Aroldis Chapman, with the devastating splitter of Red Sox closer Koji Uehara also topping two votes.

    The most impressive player in this voting, though, was Yu Darvish, who managed to have three different pitches receive a vote for being the nastiest pitch in baseball. That vast repertoire of filth is a big reason why he ran away with the strikeout title last season.

     

    My Choice: Clayton Kershaw (Curveball)

    Kershaw has thrown his curveball less frequently over the years, as his slider has become his primary breaking ball, but he still threw the hook 12.5 percent of the time last season, according to FanGraphs.

    My guess is, had Gregor Blanco participated in this poll, he would have voted for the Kershaw hook as well, as the above video is still one of my favorites.

Favorite Player to Watch

20 of 27

    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    PlayerVote Total (%)
    CF Mike Trout, LAA12 (30%)
    LF Bryce Harper, WAS3 (7.5%)
    SS Andrelton Simmons, ATL3 (7.5%)
    SP Jose Fernandez, MIA(5%)
    3B Manny Machado, BAL(5%)
    2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Adrian Beltre, Madison Bumgarner, Robinson Cano, Bartolo Colon, Yu Darvish, Jason Heyward, Adam Jones, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew McCutchen, David Ortiz, Buster Posey, Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, David Wright

     

    Voting Analysis

    There is not much Mike Trout can't do on a baseball field, as he brings a dynamic mix of power and speed at the plate and turns in highlight-reel catches in the outfield with regularity. He's must-see TV every time the Los Angeles Angels play, so it's no surprise to see him run away with the voting.

    Nice to see the slick-fielding Andrelton Simmons get some love here, as he is an absolute stud at shortstop and makes plays that no one else at the position can with his incredible range and arm strength.

    Love the vote for Bartolo Colon, who somehow keeps finding a way to get it done despite being 40 years old and out of shape, at least in comparison to his fellow pitchers.

     

    My Choice: RP Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

    I'm a sucker for a closer who can come in with the game on the line and not only slam the door but also make hitters look silly while he does it.

    I loved watching Brad Lidge when he was at his best and was a big Robb Nen fan back in his glory days. Now it's Kimbrel whom I go out of my way to watch every time he takes the mound.

    His fastball/slider combination is borderline unfair, and those 389 career strikeouts in 231 innings speak to just how overpowering he can be.

Most Hated Player

21 of 27

    Kathy Willens

    Voting Results (Note: two writers did not vote)

    PlayerVote Total (%)
    3B Alex Rodriguez, NYY11 (27.5%)
    C Yadier Molina, STL3 (7.5%)
    C A.J. Pierzynski, BOS3 (7.5%)
    RF Yasiel Puig, LAD(5%)
    LF Bryce Harper, WAS(5%)
    DH David Ortiz, BOS2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Carlos Gomez, Ian Kinsler, John Lackey, Dustin Pedroia, Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, Jimmy Rollins, Dan Uggla, Chase Utley, Joey Votto, Jayson Werth, Delmon Young

     

    Voting Analysis

    Maybe it is because he is not currently playing, but I expected Alex Rodriguez to run away with this voting by a far bigger margin than he did.

    It was also surprising that Ryan Braun only received one vote, as the fans in Philadelphia certainly let him hear it Tuesday, and that will likely be the case all season long while the Brewers are on the road. The same goes for the polarizing Yasiel Puig, who only showed up on two ballots, as I expected him to be second to A-Rod.

    Finally, I simply don't understand that hate for Yadier Molina, unless it's coming from guys who root for teams in direct contention with the St. Louis Cardinals and it's a respect/hate type situation. 

     

    My Choice: 3B Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees

    A-Rod has been an attention whore throughout his career, even before the Biogenesis scandal, and it's been incredibly easy to hate him as a result.

    His inability to simply admit to his mistake and take his suspension this past season made for an unnecessary media circus he no doubt loved every second of, and suing his own labor union was absolutely ridiculous.

Prospect You Can't Wait to See

22 of 27

    Chris Carlson

    Voting Results

    PlayerVote Total (%)
    SS Javier Baez, CHI6 (15%)
    CF Byron Buxton, MIN6 (15%)
    SP Noah Syndergaard, NYM5 (12.5%)
    RF Oscar Taveras, STL4 (10%)
    SS Addison Russell, OAK3 (7.5%)
    CF George Springer, HOU3 (7.5%)
    SP Julio Urias, LAD2 (5%)
    SP Taijuan Walker, SEA2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Jorge Alfaro, Kris Bryant, Dylan Bundy, Aledmys Diaz, Clint Frazier, Kevin Gausman, Taylor Jordan, Tommy La Stella, Yordano Ventura

     

    Voting Analysis

    Byron Buxton enters the 2014 season at the top prospect in all of baseball, according to Baseball America, and he is the face of talented farm system in Minnesota that could make the Twins a dangerous team a few years from now. He's a legitimate five-tool talent and should be an All-Star for years to come once he arrives.

    Alongside him in the voting was the Cubs' top prospect, Javier Baez, who has serious power potential and perhaps the best bat speed in all of minor league baseball. He should make his debut at some point in 2014, and after he hit five home runs in spring training, an immediate impact is not out of the question.

    Understandable to see a number of votes for Noah Syndergaard too, as he has some terrific stuff and should join Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler atop the Mets rotation for the next decade once he arrives.

     

    My Choice: Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs

    I try to remain unbiased in my writing, but I am a Cubs fan through and through, and I could not be more excited to see Baez arrive in Chicago.

    StubHub can name its price once his major league debut is announced, because as long as it takes place in Chicago, I will be at Wrigley Field that day.

Best Stadium

23 of 27

    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Voting Results

    ParkTeamVote Total (%)
    AT&T ParkSF7 (17.5%)
    Orioles Park at Camden YardsBAL6 (15%)
    Fenway ParkBOS6 (15%)
    Citi FieldNYM4 (10%)
    Wrigley FieldCHI3 (7.5%)
    Great American BallparkCIN(5%)
    Yankee StadiumNYY(5%)
    PNC ParkPIT2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): U.S. Cellular, Dodger Stadium, Miller Park, O.co Coliseum, Citizens Bank Park, Busch Stadium, Globe Life Park in Arlington, Nationals Park

     

    Voting Analysis

    I expected this one to come down to a close race between AT&T Park and PNC Park, the two stadiums widely considered to be the best around, but it wound up being Camden Yards and Fenway Park that made a run at AT&T for the top spot.

    Somewhat funny to see the O.co Coliseum on here, as it often ranks among the worst in the league, but you can't beat the price to see a competitive team play, so it does win some points there. Really, this one is a matter of personal preference and where you've been.

     

    My Choice: Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs

    Again, I'm a Cubs fan, and for as old and run-down as it is, there is nothing like spending the day at Wrigley Field and the night out in Wrigleyville. I'm lucky enough to live about a 10-minute walk from the stadium and tend to spend as much of my summer there as possible. 

    That said, I have never been to AT&T Park or PNC Park, but I have heard great things and would love to see those stadiums in the near future.

Best Nickname

24 of 27

    Patrick Semansky

    Voting Results (Note: three writers did not vote)

    NicknamePlayerVote Total (%)
    Big PapiDavid Ortiz, BOS9 (22.5%)
    Kung Fu PandaPablo Sandoval, SF4 (10%)
    El Oso BlancoEvan Gattis, ATL3 (7.5%)
    Hebrew HammerRyan Braun, MIL3 (7.5%)
    Country BreakfastBilly Butler, KC(5%)
    Joey BatsJose Bautista, TOR(5%)
    King FelixFelix Hernandez, SEA2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Applesauce (Jason Motte), Baby Giraffe (Brandon Belt), Captain America (David Wright), Create-A-Player (Giancarlo Stanton), El Presidente (Dennis Martinez), Laser Show (Dustin Pedroia), Real Deal (Matt Harvey), Shark (Jeff Samardzija), T-Plush (Nyjer Morgan), The Captain (Derek Jeter), The Condor (Chris Sale), Thor (Noah Syndergaard)

     

    Voting Analysis

    You can't beat a classic, as "Big Papi" David Ortiz wins the voting here by a decent margin, but there are certainly some more creative ones out there.

    "El Oso Blanco" (The White Bear) is a great nickname and fits Evan Gattis perfectly, while "Kung Fu Panda" Pablo Sandoval understandably received a good deal of support as well.

    I think "Captain America" is perfect for David Wright, and "The Condor" is one of the more clever nicknames out there given the funky mechanics that Chris Sale has.

     

    My Choice: "Create-A-Player" (Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins)

    I'm not sure how widespread this nickname is, and I admittedly had not heard it until it popped up as someone's answer here, but it immediately became my favorite, so props to whoever gave that answer.

    It was Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price who first dubbed Giancarlo Stanton as "Create-A-Player" with a tweet prior to the 2013 season.

    It's fitting given the physical specimen that Stanton is, as I too have created a player very similar to Stanton a number of times in my MVP Baseball- and MLB: The Show-playing days.

Favorite Batting Stance

25 of 27

    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Voting Results (Note: three writers did not vote)

    PlayerVote Total (%)
    RF Hunter Pence, SF4 (10%)
    OF Ichiro Suzuki, NYY4 (10%)
    CF Coco Crisp, OAK3 (7.5%)
    1B Albert Pujols, LAA3 (7.5%)
    3B David Wright, NYM2 (5%)
    1B Kevin Youkilis, JAPAN2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Jeff Bagwell, Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre, Ryan Braun, Robinson Cano, Prince Fielder, Freddie Freeman, Derek Jeter, Adam Jones, Chipper Jones, Jason Kipnis, Adam LaRoche, Evan Longoria, David Ortiz, Carlos Santana, Alfonso Soriano, Bobby Tolan, Mike Trout, Joey Votto

     

    Voting Analysis

    It's not pretty when Hunter Pence steps into the batter's box, as he has no shortage of moving parts in both his stance and his swing, but it gets results and earned him a tie atop the voting here.

    Ichiro still has one of the more unique stances and swings in all of baseball, but it fits his slap-hitting approach perfectly and has made him one of the best hitters of his generations.

    As far as the smoothest swing goes, seeing Albert Pujols and David Wright on here makes sense, while Robinson Cano also fits in that category of having a very fluid swing.

     

    My Choice: C Evan Gattis, Atlanta Braves

    Something about the no batting gloves, squatted down, swing-as-hard-as-you-can approach that Evan Gattis brings to the plate just fits him and his game perfectly.

    He's my choice here, but this really is a relatively weak field these days. Gone are the days of easily imitated stances like Craig Counsell, Tony Batista, Moises Alou and Jeff Bagwell—at least for the time being.

Favorite Pitching Mechanics

26 of 27

    Lenny Ignelzi

    Voting Results (Note: three writers did not vote)

    PlayerVote Total (%)
    RP Aroldis Chapman, CIN5 (12.5%)
    SP Clayton Kershaw, LAD4 (10%)
    SP Justin Verlander, DET3 (7.5%)
    SP Daisuke Matsuzaka, NYM2 (5%)
    SP David Price, TB2 (5%)
    SP Stephen Strasburg, WAS2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Burke Badenhop, Matt Cain, Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, Carlos Martinez, Justin Masterson, Kris Medlen, Ross Ohlendorf, David Robertson, Paco Rodriguez, Chris Sale, Tom Seaver, John Smoltz, Jose Valverde, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright, Zack Wheeler

     

    Voting Analysis

    There is no Hideo Nomo these days, but Aroldis Chapman is a solid choice atop the voting here. His whip-like delivery makes his devastating fastball/slider combination that much more effective, and he has some Randy Johnson in him, despite being significantly shorter.

    Clayton Kershaw has somewhat unorthodox mechanics, but it's hard to argue with the results, and it's easy to see why he got some votes as well. For the most part, though, there really aren't that many crazy mechanics to choose from these days. 

     

    My Choice: SP Ross Ohlendorf, Washington Nationals

    For the record, if we're taking into account how a pitcher takes the sign from the catcher as well, Craig Kimbrel gets some serious consideration from me, as he has some Rod Beck in him.

    My choice here, though, is Nationals right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, who brings some old-school flavor to his delivery with the forward lean and the arm swing. For those of you not familiar with his mechanics, you can take a look here.

Best Facial Hair

27 of 27

    Paul Sancya

    Voting Results (Note: four writers did not vote)

    PlayerVote Total (%)
    1B Mike Napoli, BOS7 (17.5%)
    RP Brian Wilson, LAD7 (17.5%)
    RF Jayson Werth, WAS5 (12.5%)
    RP John Axford, CLE2 (5%)
    C Derek Norris, OAK2 (5%)
    RP Dale Thayer, SD2 (5%)

    Others Receiving One Vote (2.5%): Elvis Andrus, Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, Jonny Gomes, Bryce Harper, Tim Lincecum, Adam Lind, Jason Motte, Josh Reddick, Carlos Villanueva, The Boston Red Sox

     

    Voting Analysis

    For the past several years, Brian Wilson has been associated as much with his glorious beard as he has been with his ability to get hitters out in the late innings, and his facial hair has turned him into something of a celebrity off the field.

    He has to settle for a tie atop the voting here, though, alongside Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli, who had the most impressive beard among a crop of great facial hair in the Boston locker room during its run to the title last season.

    The Abraham Lincoln beard Elvis Andrus is rocking, caveman look of Jayson Werth and ever-changing facial hair of John Axford all deservedly received votes as well. Padres reliever Dale Thayer also has some terrific facial hair, if you haven't seen it.

     

    My Choice: Derek Norris, Oakland Athletics

    I will admit that my voting here was not based solely on facial hair, but also on the sweet mullet that he is rocking along with it these days, but it's the complete look that earns Derek Norris my vote.

    This picture captures it perfectly in all of its glory if you have not seen it, and as Norris becomes more of a household name, he has a chance to challenge for the top spot here.

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