25 Most Exciting MLB Players You Need to Watch This Season
Major League Baseball is a passionate experience.
Who doesn’t love a walk-off home run or a 10-strikeout performance from a starting pitcher? Who isn't enamored by a double driven to the gap, or a curveball thrown on a 3-2 count that buckles the knees of the opposing hitter?
MLB is simply exciting.
Sure, games can drag on, but that one moment can make it all worth it. Players make it worth it.
So who are the 25 most exciting players in MLB you need to watch this season? Who are the 25 guys capable of capturing the imagination of the fans at this very moment?
You're about to find out.
Now determining who the most exciting player in the game is goes past WAR (wins above replacement). There are other metrics that must be accounted for. Therefore, I have added a bit of structure.
Let’s take a look at the formulas for position players and starting pitchers, before getting into the actual list.
*Note: All information gathered for rankings was collected prior to action on Monday. All other statistics that are cited are accurate as of game time on Tuesday, May 6 and are courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.
Formula for Hitters
For hitters, the rankings started with overall WAR as a launching point. From there, three metrics were added with point values allotted using an inverse formula to arrive at a composite score.
As an example, Troy Tulowitzki led all batters with a 2.6 WAR and was awarded 25 points. At the other end of the spectrum, Adrian Gonzalez’s 1.1 WAR was good for 25th and thus, he was only given one point. Using this method, I arrived at an overall ranking, as seen above.
The four metric used are:
- WAR: Because, what else?
- ISO: What’s more exciting than the difference between batting average and slugging percentage?
- wRC+: This metric measure the runs per plate appearance where 100 is average, per FanGraphs. It is an adjusted number, meaning it is an accurate representation of how effective a player is at generating offense by getting on base and driving men in, not just this season, but in the context of baseball history.
- Off: This number takes baserunning into consideration along with batting. It provides a way for speed to be factored into the equation.
Numerical ties were broken based upon the default sorting on FanGraphs “Leaders” page.
*Note: Due to technical difficulties, Michael Morse and Nelson Cruz were manually calculated and do not appear in the table above.
Formula for Pitchers
For pitchers, the exact same method was used, only the categories for inclusion changed.
The metrics pitchers were judged on include:
- WAR: Ditto.
- FIP: Fielding independent pitcher measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average, per FanGraphs. In other words, FIP is a truer measure of performance than ERA.
- K/9: This stands for the number of strikeouts a pitcher averages every nine innings. Who doesn’t get excited by a lot of strikeouts?
- BB/9: This stands for the number of walks a pitcher issues every nine innings. Who doesn’t get bored by too many balls outside the zone?
Apply the inverse formula to each pitcher’s performance, and voila. As with the hitters, numerical ties were broken based upon the default sorting on FanGraphs “Leaders” page.
Jose Abreu (.254/.317/.608, 12 HR, 35 RBI, 7.0 Off, 144 wRC+, 1.1 WAR) was the American League Player of the Month in April, but misses the list with a 27 composite score because of low WAR and wRC+ numbers. That doesn’t mean he shouldn't be watched this season. The man is a beast and appears on the cusp of greatness for the Chicago White Sox.
Yasiel Puig (.309/.397/.500, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 14 R, 7.7 Off, 155 wRC+, 1.1 WAR) misses the list because of a paltry .191 ISO and surprisingly low numbers elsewhere. While he’s certainly an exciting player, his cumulative score of 29 wasn’t good enough.
Justin Verlander (4-1, 2.68 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 7.28 K/9, 3.64 BB/9, 1.3 WAR) failed to make the list for two reasons. First, his strikeouts are down by quite a bit and his walks rate is up by just as much.
Everything else is in line for the right-hander, but the most he could do was accrue 22 points. He is still one of the top pitchers in the game, though.
He didn’t disappoint in his debut, tossing 7.0 innings and recording nine strikeouts. He would have undoubtedly been included on the list had he been healthy all season and will once again be in the running for the Cy Young.
To be sure, there are more, but these four top the list.
25. Zach Greinke, SP
5-1, 2.35 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 11.03 K/9, 1.64 BB/9, 0.4 WAR
Carlos Quentin can only slow Zach Greinke down. He can’t stop him forever.
Commanding four pitches, the right-hander has more than held his own for the Los Angeles Dodgers during Clayton Kershaw’s extended absence. Matter of fact, ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield thinks he has pitched well enough to be regarded in the same light as Kershaw.
"Greinke doesn't use his fastball just to set up his other pitches. And considering he has that great slider, a plus curveball and a good changeup with command of all four pitches and you can see why Kershaw may be fighting for best-pitcher-on-his-own-team honors when he returns from the DL."
I’m not willing to go that far, but Schoenfield's larger point remains. Greinke is having a fantastic season and is a pitcher that must be watched.
24. Jesse Chavez, SP
2-0, 1.89 ERA, 2.62 FIP, 9.71 K/9, 1.89 BB/9, 1.1 WAR
Yes, that Jesse Chavez.
Still drawing a blank? Let Scott Pianowski from Yahoo! Sports’ Roto Arcade elaborate:
"Jesse Chavez is the full name, and he's seen more of the world than Robin Leach. He was drafted by the Rangers in 2006 and he's been traded four times. He's made major-league appearances for five different clubs, covering both leagues. He pitched 57.1 relief innings with the A's last year, and I doubt we talked about any of them."
Yep. Well after starting two games over the course of his first six seasons, Chavez has exploded onto the national stage with the Oakland A's thanks to incredible control and filthy stuff.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of catching one of his starts, please do.
23. Chase Utley, 2B
.333/.392/.519, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 16 R, 8.8 Off, 148 wRC+, 1.3 WAR
What makes Chase Utley so exciting is that he is the offensive catalyst for the Philadelphia Phillies. Say what you want about Ryan Howard, Marlon Byrd or Jimmy Rollins, but the 35-year-old second baseman is the guy who turns the screws.
Consider that in the Phillies’ 14 victories, he has hit .421 with eight doubles, 14 RBI and has a 1.196 OPS, according to Baseball-Reference. That’s money.
Now whether or not Utley can sustain this recent run is entirely unknown. He has been trending downward statistically over the past couple of weeks, after all. For the time being, though, he is back to his old ways.
22. Nelson Cruz, OF/DH
.294/.369/.596, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 21 R, 8.6 Off, 162 wRC+, 0.7 WAR
Nelson Cruz is on this list largely because of a three-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre during which he hit three home runs, drove in 10 runs and had a staggering 1.764 OPS, per Baseball-Reference. Not trying to disparage the rest of his season, but it’s true.
"That ballpark [at Camden Yards] can't hold Nelson. Nelson hits a pop-up there, it's gone. I'm not surprised by what Nelson is doing. He did it awhile for us. He had his struggles, but he always put up good numbers. They may have lost Chris Davis, but that ballpark can't hold him."
Washington is probably right, because Cruz has the type of raw power that can stack up to any of MLB's preeminent sluggers. And when he is on, he is as exciting as anyone in the game.
21. Michael Morse, OF
.307/.355/.624, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 17 R, 7.0 Off, 174 wRC+, 0.6 WAR
Morse is pulverizing baseballs. That’s better.
Yes, Morse doesn’t do much of anything else, but what he does, he does exceedingly well. Chris Quick from McCovey Chronicles puts it like this:
"Michael Morse is still a flawed player, but one that's incredibly entertaining when he's going right, blasting tape measure home runs into the stands. With his terrible defense and poor baserunning, he's unlikely to much more than an average player at best, even in his good years, but that doesn't mean he doesn't do one thing really, really well that's really, really exciting."
Morse’s ISO and wRC+ really put him over the top here. Like other sluggers on this list (and ones that missed the cut) his at-bats aren’t to be missed.
20. Shin-Soo Choo, OF
.360/.491/.551, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 15 R, 10.3 Off, 185 wRC+, 1.3 WAR
Shin-Soo Choo is doing it all for the Texas Rangers. Bleacher Report’s Karl Buscheck called him “an on-base machine,” and based on his gaudy .491 on-base percentage heading into action on Tuesday, that is an appropriate moniker.
He does more than just get on base, though. He has a 1.136 OPS with runners in scoring position in general and a 1.167 OPS with RISP and two outs, per splits over at Baseball-Reference. Talk about coming through in the clutch.
If there is an at-bat to be won, Choo is the guy to win it. He is more than earning his seven-year, $130 million contract. And that’s not an easy thing to do.
19. Charlie Blackmon, OF
.359/.398/.590, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 27 R, 9.2 Off, 159 wRC+, 1.7 WAR
A blend of speed, power, agility and defense, Blackmon is at the top of his game. Now part of what makes him so exciting as a baseball player is that he just has fun.
According to Paul Klee from the Colorado Springs Gazette:
"What you see — the mountain-man beard, the commoner's approach to life, the dry humor — is what you get. You get a guy who'd rather chunk Power Bait to the bottom of Elevenmile than wear a suit. You get a potential All-Star who plays with remote-controlled airplanes. You get a 27-year-old whose favorite movie is ‘Top Gun.’"
That is about what you’d expect from a guy who plays baseball the way Blackmon does. It will be fun to see how his season plays out, but it’s a safe bet to say that he will be donning an All-Star uniform this season.
18. Max Scherzer, SP
4-1, 1.72 ERA, 2.50 FIP, 11.49 K/9, 2.30 BB/9, 1.5 WAR
If you thought Max Scherzer couldn’t repeat his Cy Young performance from a year ago this season, you've been mistaken. He has been a beast this season and has been the driving force behind the Detroit Tigers’ run to the best winning percentage in baseball
Bleacher Report’s Zach Rymer noted some of the reasons Scherzer has been so dominant:
"He's experienced a lesser downturn in swings outside the zone, but has picked up more whiffs on pitches outside the zone. And while hitters have become more aggressive against him in the zone, they've also swung through more of his pitches in the zone."
To put that another way, Scherzer sets the hitter up and sits him down. He has made an art out of taking advantage of the ability to throw his off-speed repertoire and moving his fastball inside the strike zone.
17. Stephen Strasburg, SP
2-2, 3.60 ERA, 2.57 FIP, 13.05 K/9, 2.93 BB/9, 1.0 WAR
Stephen Strasburg is putting together one heck of a season for the Washington Nationals. His strikeout rate is through the roof, and he has been dominating more often than not. He has had a couple of rough outings, but all told, he has controlled the pace of each at-bat very well.
James Wagner, from the Washington Post, wrote following a start against the San Diego Padres towards the end of April that “his fastball command was sharp and his off-speed pitches, kept low in the strike zone, were cartoonish."
Cartoonish is a great word to describe what it’s like to watch Strasburg pitch this season.
16. Scott Kazmir, SP
4-1, 2.64 ERA, 2.87 FIP, 7.71 K/9, 1.83 BB/9, 1.1 WAR
This is not meant to be a shot at Cleveland Indians general manager Chris Antonetti, but letting Scott Kazmir walk looks like it was a mistake. To be sure, a lot of factors went into the decision to not re-sign the left-hander, but man is he exciting to watch.
Tim Brown from Yahoo! Sports went so far as to recently say that “there isn’t a better left-handed pitcher in baseball than Kazmir.” Now some of that has to do with the fact that Clayton Kershaw hadn’t pitched yet and Chris Sale is on the disabled list, but Brown’s point rings true.
Kazmir is lighting it up for the Oakland A’s.
15. Albert Pujols, 1B
.296/.364/.600, 10 HR, 25 RBI, 23 R, 9.1 Off, 165 wRC+, 1.4 WAR
Albert Pujols is in the midst of a career resurgence following a dismal season in 2013.
Recounting his fall from baseball’s stratosphere, Neil Paine from fivethirtyeight.com wrote:
"However, this season already seems promising. There’s the 500th home run, of course, but also an April that was reminiscent of Cardinals Albert. Pujols is hitting the ball with terrific power again — over 14 percent of his hits have gone for extra bases — and he’s mashing fly balls for home runs, instead of harmless flyouts."
Maybe it’s his health, which has improved. Maybe the burden of the monster contract he signed with the Los Angeles Angels prior to the 2012 season has finally lifted.
Whatever the reason, Pujols is back. Make it a point to check him out.
14. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
.282/.364/.573, 9 HR, 25 RBI, 22 R, 9.2 Off, 157 wRC+, 1.0 WAR
Like Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez is relevant again. True, he is hitless in his last four games, but he had a seven-game hitting streak just prior when he hit four home runs and drove in eight.
He is not the fastest guy in baseball, but still wields a fine glove at first base and has an ISO that is just outstanding. He is the player the Los Angeles Dodgers hoped they were getting when they traded for him back in 2012.
If the left-handed hitter can remain as productive as he has been to this point, the Dodgers will be in great shape.
13. Andrew McCutchen, CF
.317/.434/.528, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 18 R, 11.1 Off, 170 wRC+, 1.8 WAR
Andrew McCutchen does not stop. In the field, he is relentless. At the dish, he is even more so.
He is the tie that binds the batting order together and isn’t afraid to work a count until he gets a pitch to drive. And is anything more exciting than a 10-pitch at-bat that ends in a home run? Well, that is exactly what McCutchen did against the Cincinnati Reds earlier this season.
12. Felix Hernandez, SP
3-1, 2.53 ERA, 2.51 FIP, 10.30 K/9, 1.94 BB/9, 1.4 WAR
In one paragraph, SI.com’s Jon Taylor brought Hernandez’s season into focus:
"…Wednesday’s start was another brilliant outing by Hernandez, who has now allowed just six earned runs through his first 28 1/3 innings. King Felix has been downright unhittable, with 39 strikeouts to three walks and only eight extra-base hits allowed…That fastball-changeup combo has worked well for Hernandez so far this season; going into Wednesday’s game, opposing batters were hitting .182 on his four-seamer and .061 on his changeup. That latter pitch has been particularly devastating, getting a swing and a miss a staggering 40 percent of the time.
Without a doubt, the right-hander brings a level of excitement to Mariners’ fanbase that is unmatched.
11. Nathan Eovaldi, SP
2-1, 2.78 ERA, 2.52 FIP, 8.93 K/9, 1.19 BB/9, 1.2 WAR
Nathan Eovaldi throws gas. Lots of gas.
In a recent article for SB Nation’s Fish Stripes, Michael Jong explains how the right-hander has become almost as dominating as Jose Fernandez. “We already know,” Jong opines, “that the reason behind Eovaldi’s early strikeout binge (35 in 38 1/3 innings, 23 percent rate) is due to consistent pounding of the strike zone.”
And that is what makes Eovaldi exciting. He just throws strikes and uses a 95-mph fastball to keep hitters at bay.
To be sure, the Miami Marlins coaching staff has quite a bit to do with the no-nonsense approach to pitching, per David Laurila over at FanGraphs. Preaching command and having the pitcher deliver are two separate things, though.
Eovaldi is as refreshing as they come in the National League.
10. Cliff Lee, SP
3-2, 3.00 ERA, 2.43 FIP, 8.44 K/9, 1.13 BB/9, 1.3 WAR
Cliff Lee doesn’t seem to know when to call it a day. Year after year, he brings with him not only the stuff on the mound, but the guile and determination to make him one of the best pitchers in the game.
True, he has given up more hits this season than in past years, but that only makes his ability to induce ground balls, which The Good Phight’s David S. Cohen broke down not too long ago, more impressive.
All things considered, it is truly remarkable what the left-hander has been able to accomplish thus far. A constant presence in trade rumblings, Lee doesn’t let anything get to him.
He is quietly one of the most exciting players in the game.
9. Masahiro Tanaka, SP
4-0, 2.53 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 10.76 K/9, 1.27 BB/9, 0.9 WAR
Expectations were sky-high for Masahiro Tanaka after the bidding war to secure his services over the offseason. And when the New York Yankees finally signed him to a $175 million contract, nobody knew how he would perform.
Well, he has delivered.
From B/R’s Zach Rymer:
"He has metrics that say his talent is for real. He’s adjusted his fastball usage to help keep the ball on the ground. Best of all, he has a pile of strikeouts and a significantly smaller pile of walks that he’s arranged by way of very good command and secondary offerings that nobody can hit."
Yep. That about sums it up.
Even Tanaka’s bad nights are better than most other pitcher's good ones. Like the other hurlers on this list, the right-hander has the goods and brings it almost every time out.
8. Giancarlo Stanton, OF
.283/.364/.591, 10 HR, 37 RBI, 23 R, 8.6 Off, 151 wRC+, 1.7 WAR
Giancarlo Stanton is absurdly powerful.
But don’t listen to me. Deadspin’s Samer Kalaf summed it up quite nicely:
"There are few events in the MLB currently more enjoyable than Giancarlo Stanton hitting a home run. (No disrespect to Jose Abreu.) "Crushed" is an understatement when describing the balls Stanton hits."
Now it’s not just home-run power that makes the 24-year-old so exciting. He has five tools and can use them all, driving balls into the gap, chasing down fly balls and cutting runners down trying to advance.
After a down year in 2013, Stanton has certainly reasserted himself at the top of the excitement rankings. He can simply do it all.
7. Justin Upton, OF
.288/.370/.559, 8 HR, 18 RBI, 18 R, 9.1 Off, 158 WRC+, 1.3 WAR
Justin Upton is back to doing what he does best, and that is hit the ball as hard as anybody in the game.
Alex Skillin from Beyond the Box Score had this to say when discussing his high strikeout percentage (34.6 percent) when compared to his brother, B.J.:
"Justin, on the other hand, has thrived despite striking out so frequently by cutting down on infield flied, hitting more line drives, and putting more balls in the air into the outfield or over the fence."
At 26, though, Justin Upton is hitting the ball better than he has throughout his career, or at least since his strong 2011 campaign.
And it’s not just hitting home runs that makes Upton as exciting as he is. He has speed (lots of it), can play defense at a high level and can change the course of a game in one plate appearance.
6. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
.301/.405/.570, 6 H, 12 RBI, 18 R, 9.3 Off, 169 wRC+, 1.6 WAR
Who would have thought that when Jarrod Saltalamacchia signed a three-year, $21 million contract this past offseason; he would be one of the most prolific hitters in the game?
Well, he is. And his value to the Miami Marlins cannot be understated. He has been the lynchpin behind Giancarlo Stanton in what is turning into one of the best offenses in baseball on what has to be the surprise team of the year in the National League.
And while the pitching staff is good enough in its own right, Saltalamacchia has provided a veteran presence behind the plate that has allowed the rotation and bullpen to reach new heights.
Will his production last into July and August? Who knows? Right now, though, he is one of the most exciting players in MLB.
5. Mike Trout, OF
.293/.380/.537, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 22 R, 10.4 Off, 158 wRC+, 2.5 WAR
Fresh off signing a six-year, $144.5 million extension, Mike Trout hasn’t missed a beat. He still charges hard into every base, makes up ground in the outfield better than almost anybody and commands each at-bat.
Following a recent visit to Angel Stadium by the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Times pondered whether or not baseball fans might look back and say it was then when the “torch was passed from [Derek] Jeter to Mike Trout” as MLB’s most-recognizable player.
To be sure, some people may think the hype is over-the-top. Some could argue that Miguel Cabrera is worth more to his team than Trout is. That conversation is exhausting.
There is no denying that Trout is worth every cut-away MLB Network does to catch one of his plate appearances. He is that dynamic.
4. Jose Fernandez, SP
4-1, 1.74 ERA, 1.66 FIP, 12.54 K/9, 2.31 BB/9, 1.9 WAR
Jose Fernandez is the gift that keeps on giving for the fans of the Miami Marlins. He was named the National League Rookie of the Year last season after taking home top rookie honors in July and August. As if that wasn’t enough, he just took home the NL Pitcher of the Month award.
And then there’s the fake to first base on a tapper by Ramiro Pena that fooled Tyler Pastornicky into breaking for home from third base that SI.com’s Jay Jaffe brokedown with video. Just fantastic stuff to watch.
One last thing that makes Fernandez so exciting is the fact that he steps up against elite teams. The fact that he has a 0.93 ERA against the Atlanta Braves is but one example. The kid can bring it.
3. Jon Lester, SP
3-4, 2.59 ERA, 2.15 FIP, 10.73 K/9, 1.85 BB/9, 1.9 WAR
What can you say about Jon Lester?
Sure, he has a losing record, but he is about as exciting as they come in almost every other facet.
He strikes out 10.73 batters every nine innings while only walking 1.85, and has the highest pitcher’s WAR in the game. And coming off a career-high, 15-strikeout performance Saturday against the Oakland A’s, he is at his peak right now.
Featuring a cutter that is approaching unhittable, the left-hander has absolutely baffled opposing hitters all season. And then there’s this GIF courtesy of PitcherGifs.com that illustrates how much fun it has been to watch Lester pitch this season (h/t Nick Pollack in a piece for the Washington Post).
And considering that Lester is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, he couldn’t have picked a better time to become the best pitcher in baseball.
2. Jose Bautista, OF
.286/.452/.580, 9 HR, 20 RBI, 27 R, 14.6 Off, 187 wRC+, 1.4 WAR
Jose Bautista may not be the fastest player in baseball. He is not a defensive wizard in right field. But man, he is a maverick at the dish, and his at-bats almost demand making an appointment to watch.
Michael Wray over at Jays Journal succinctly put his dominance into perspective following Sunday’s victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates:
"Bautista reached base for the 31st consecutive game yesterday, which is the longest streak to start a season since Joey Votto reached in his first 33 back in 2011. His wOBA of .455 and wRC+ of 190 both lead the American League and only the white-hot Troy Tulowitzki for the Colorado Rockies has done more damage at the dish than Bautista."
Putting Bautista’s start into some historical context only adds to the résumé. Without question, he has earned his spot as the second-most exciting player in the game.
1. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
.408/.512/.786, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 31 R, Off 16.2, 236 wRC+, 3.1 WAR
Not only is reigning National League Player of the Month Troy Tulowitzki the best player in his league, he is also the most exciting in baseball, edging Jose Bautista by 19 points.
In a piece for FanGraphs, Paul Swydan had this to say about the shortstop:
"In the early going, much of the coverage on the [Colorado] Rockies has centered around Charlie Blackmon‘s leap from irrelevance. Overshadowed during that time has been the even better start by Troy Tulowitzki. While generally regarded as one of the best players in the game, Tulowitzki frequently goes overlooked. But his hot start has put him in position to squarely insert himself in the Most Valuable Player Award discussion."
The key for Tulowitzki has been staying healthy. True, it is quite early in the season, and he could hit the disabled list at any time, but there is no doubting that he has taken the next step. Right now, there is nobody in the game who gets the adrenaline pumping quite like he does.
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