Stock Up, Stock Down for MLB's Top 25 Stars at the First-Quarter Mark
Major League Baseball stars are some of the most scrutinized athletes in the world. Some of that has to do with the fact that they play 162 games a year, and some of it has to do with the amount of money they earn.
Take Robinson Cano, for example.
Expectations for him are high enough based strictly upon his past performance. If he isn’t producing at an All-Star level, then he isn’t producing at all. Throw in an enormous contract, however, and his expectations suddenly become that much greater.
So, how are he and the rest of the top stars in MLB doing this year as the season reaches the first-quarter mark? Is their stock going up or down relative to the expectations they entered the season with?
Well, let’s take a look.
All statistics and projections courtesy of FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted, and accurate as of game time on Tuesday, May 13. All game, injury and transaction information courtesy of MLB.com. Contract information courtesy of Cot's Contracts.
List Composition and Statistics Used
In order to keep things as uniform as possible here, I went ahead and used the player rankings developed by B/R’s Karl Busheck before the season started. To be sure, there are players that could have made the cut but didn’t as well as those who made the list and probably shouldn’t have, but Busheck’s list is quite good overall.
And in deciding if a player’s stock has gone up or down, ZIPS (U) projections were used in conjunction with some advanced metrics for two reasons: First, ZIPS (U) is a projection for where a player will end the season statistically, which helps put current production levels into perspective. Second, ZIPS (U) projections tend to be conservative in nature, which levels the field a bit.
It's also wise to take a moment and explain three statistics that figured heavily into the decision-making process:
- FIP (fielding independent pitching): “A walk is not as harmful as a home run and a strikeout has less impact than both. FIP accounts for these kinds of differences, presenting the results on the same scale as ERA. It has been shown to be more effective than ERA in terms of predicting future performance and has become a mainstay in sabermetric analysis.”
- wRC+ (weighted runs created plus): “League average is 100, and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average. For example, a 125 wRC+ means a player created 25% more runs than league average.”
- WAR (wins above replacement): “…an attempt by the sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic.”
With that out of the way, here is the stock up, stock down report for MLB's top stars at the first-quarter mark.
25. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins
2014 Season Stats: .307/.395/.600, 11 HR, 42 RBI, 27 R, 166 wRC+, 2.2 WAR
ZIPS (U): .278/.373/.561, 37 HR, 111 RBI, 89 R, 152 wRC+, 5.9 WAR
Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is one of the most electric players in baseball. Coming into this season, however, a legitimate question existed as to what type of production he was going to provide. After all, 2013 was a struggle at times.
Well, he has not disappointed.
Not only is he the fifth MLB player over the past 10 years to have a minimum of 40 RBI in the first 35 games of a season, but his 11 home runs ranks fifth in Marlins history over that same span, per MLB.com's Roger Schlueter. He is the driving force behind a lineup that has consistently been near the top of the National League in runs scored this season.
24. Cliff Lee, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Season Stats: 3-3, 3.64 ERA, 2.81 FIP, 8.45 K/9, 1.16 BB/9, 1.2 WAR
ZIPS (U): 12-9, 3.24 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 8.66 K/9, 1.31 BB/9, 4.3 WAR
Cliff Lee is a gift that keeps on giving; it is remarkable, actually.
From 2010-2013, for instance, he didn’t register a WHIP over 1.114 or a FIP over 3.13. Better yet, he did that while pitching at least 211.0 innings in each of those seasons. So far this season, things are no different.
His dominance then—and now—can largely be attributed to his ability to throw strikes, as evidenced by his 1.16 BB/9 this year.
If Lee continues to pound the strike zone the way he has to this point, he could garner consideration for some Cy Young votes and will earn his third All-Star nod with the Philadelphia Phillies and fifth overall for his career.
23. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies
2014 Season Stats: .395/.497/.766, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 36 R, 227 wRC+, 3.5 WAR
ZIPS (U): .334/.421/.614, 32 HR, 102 RBI, 97 R, 169 wRC+, 8.4 WAR
FanGraphs noted (subscription required) that Tulo “is just one of six shortstops in the Integration Era (1947-present) to post multiple .400 wOBA seasons” before also noting that his one downfall is a propensity to get hurt.
And there’s the rub.
If he stays healthy, there’s no reason to think that Tulowitzki will slow down. He hits in front of Carlos Gonzalez, meaning he’ll continue to see good pitches, and that means he will continue to pound the baseball.
That is, of course, if he can stay off the disabled list. Unfortunately, Tulowitzki has spent quite a bit of time on the DL throughout his career, so a return trip could be a moment away.
Regardless, his club is the surprise contender in the NL West. All eyes will be fixed upon Coors Field for as long as No. 2 is on the field
22. Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox
2014 Season Stats: 3-0, 2.30 ERA, 2.33 FIP, 9.55 K/0, 2.30 BB/9, 0.9 WAR
ZIPS (U): 13-7, 3.03 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 9.87 K/9, 2.21 BB/9, 4.2 WAR
Chicago White Sox left-hander Chris Sale will be a perennial Cy Young candidate if his elbow proves able to withstand the violent nature of his delivery. That is a big if, however, considering that he had starts pushed back last season and recently ended up on the disabled list this year with a strained flexor muscle.
Ignoring the DL stint, though, Sale has been as impressive as ever, averaging just under seven innings in each of his starts. He has been throwing more pitches this season than in years past, though, so that is something to keep an eye on.
Sale is set to begin a rehab assignment on Thursday, according to the Chicago Sun Times’ Daryl Von Schouwen, meaning more will be revealed. As of right now, though, the updates have been largely positive.
White Sox fans can’t wait to see Sale back on the hill.
21. Adam Wainwright, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Season Stats: 6-2, 2.02 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 8.07 K/9, 2.17 BB/9, 1.4 WAR
ZIPS (U): 19-9, 2.89 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 8.05 K/9, 1.89 BB/9, 4.4 WAR
What Wainwright began to do with regularity last season and continued through the first month of this one is quite incredible. He has essentially erased the validity of scouting reports by making himself a different pitcher from one start to the next, or changing mechanics and sequencing mid-game, even pitch to pitch. Wainwright has made pitching an ongoing experiment, setting out to discover new ways to toy with hitters each time out.
That about sums it up. And as the Cardinals chase the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central, Wainwright's effort will become that much more valuable.
20. Yu Darvish, SP, Texas Rangers
2014 Season Stats: 3-1, 2.33 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 10.49 K/9, 2.53 BB/9, 1.6 WAR
ZIPS (U): 14-6, 2.85 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 11.33 K/9, 3.19 BB/9, 5.5 WAR
Texas Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. He simply keeps rolling along, recently taking a perfect game into the seventh inning and a no-hitter into the ninth against the Boston Red Sox.
The heat was just turned up on Darvish, though, as Martin Perez was placed on the disabled list, which Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram opined may be a prelude to Tommy John surgery. That’s certainly bad news for the entire team.
Either way, Darvish has given the Rangers the luxury of knowing that every fifth day, they are likely going to receive a quality start. He has been fantastic this season.
19. Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
2014 Season Stats: .250/.363/.381, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 14 R, 107 wRC+, 0.2 WAR
ZIPS (U): .262/.347/.504, 30 HR, 91 RBI, 76 R, 130 wRC+, 2.6 WAR
Given the type of season Chris Davis had in 2013 for the Baltimore Orioles, it was always going to be difficult for him to come close to being as productive this year. And to this point, at least, he has regressed considerably in almost every category.
To be sure, Davis has struggled with injuries this season, so that plays a factor into his poor showing. And it must be noted that there were stretches this year where he took control. From April 3 through April 13, for example, he hit .324 with a home run, three doubles, seven RBI and an .873 OPS, per Baseball-Reference.
Overall, however, 2014 has been a disappointment for Davis.
18. David Price, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
2014 Season Stats: 3-3, 4.53 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 9.73 K/9, 1.01 BB/9, 0.9 WAR
ZIPS (U): 14-9, 3.57 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 8.99 K/9, 1.67 BB/9, 3.9 WAR
As a matter of fact, with the exception of his strikeout and walk ratios, he has underperformed in almost every area. Most alarming is the fact that Price isn't keeping the ball on the ground, and as a result he is giving up quite a few home runs.
None of this is to say that Price is past his prime. Sure, he may not throw as hard as he used to, but he’s still a fantastic pitcher—just not as fantastic as he was in previous seasons. With the Rays rotation being decimated by injury so far, manager Joe Maddon needs Price to step up in a still-winnable AL East.
17. Max Scherzer, SP, Detroit Tigers
2014 Season Stats: 5-1, 2.04 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 11.21 K/9, 2.72 BB/9, 1.5 WAR
ZIPS (U): 17-8, 3.04 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 10.80 K/9, 2.63 BB/9, 5.3 WAR
He has been that good in his eight starts, averaging almost 6.2 innings per outing. He has also maintained the fearlessness on the mound that defined his effort in 2013.
If there is one area to nitpick, it is his walk rate. But considering Scherzer’s ability to get a big strikeout seemingly at will, that is an area of little concern. Along with Justin Verlander, Scherzer gives the Tigers the American League’s best one-two punch.
16. Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers
2014 Season Stats: 4-2, 2.67 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 7.17 K/9, 3.50 BB/9, 1.6 WAR
ZIPS (U): 17-8, 3.02 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 8.60 K/9, 2.85 BB/9, 6.1 WAR
Justin Verlander seems to be getting better with age. That is to say that he has made the transition from thrower to pitcher, and there are two reasons to believe this.
First, it wasn’t too long ago when Verlander would end up throwing harder at the end of games than he did at the beginning. Nowadays, he remains consistent throughout, and while his velocity is down, he still keeps hitters off-balance with a nasty slider and equally effective chageup.
Second, he is issuing more walks this season than at any time in the past—with the exception of the 2008 season—yet still has an FIP below 3.00. That is a testament to his ability to keep the ball on the ground and make the batter swing at his pitch.
Yeah, Verlander is still at the top of his game.
15. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
2014 Season Stats: .303/.379/.521, 7 HR, 21 RBI, 20 R, 151 wRC+, 0.9 WAR
ZIPS (U): .292/.371/.493, 27 HR, 99 RBI, 68 R, 140 wRC+, 3.7 WAR
Consider that Freeman is the only batter hitting anywhere near .300 in the Braves lineup. Simply put, the rest of the offense—excluding Evan Gattis and Justin Upton, of course—has been missing most of the year. Even Andrelton Simmons has been mercurial to the point that he can’t be counted on.
Without Freeman, the Braves would be lost on offense.
14. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers
2014 Season Stats: .242/.314/.400, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 17 R, 94 wRC+, -0.1
ZIPS (U): .281/.334/.471, 22 HR, 74 RBI, 72 R, 116 wRC+, 2.9 WAR
Third baseman Adrian Beltre has had a rather nondescript season so far for the Texas Rangers.
Yes, he was on the disabled list, and he has been hitting for a bit more power recently, but his numbers to this point aren’t ones typically associated with his ability. By the end of the season, Beltre could very well end up with 25 home runs and 80 RBI, exceeding the ZIPS projections, but as of right now he is not living up to expectations.
And it’s going to take quite a run for him to get back to a level the fanbase is accustomed to.
13. Jose Fernandez, SP, Miami Marlins
2014 Season Stats: 4-2, 2.44 ERA, 2.15 FIP, 12.19 K/0, 2.26 BB/9, 1.6 WAR
ZIPS (U): Out for season due to Tommy John surgery
Jose Fernandez was on a tear for the Miami Marlins.
Unfortunately for everyone, Fernandez recently suffered an elbow strain and ended up on the disabled list. Even worse is the fact that he will need to undergo Tommy John surgery, effectively ending any hope the Marlins had of being a playoff team in 2014.
It is true that anything can happen, but the NL East is so deep that any chance manager Mike Redmond’s team had of reaching the postseason has now passed. Fernandez will be back, though, and there is no limit to how good he can be.
12. Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays
2014 Season Stats: .278/.335/.417, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 21 R, 110 wRC+, 1.3 WAR
ZIPS (U): .267/.342/.453, 23 HR, 86 RBI, 81 R, 123 wRC+, 5.4 WAR
Is Evan Longoria backsliding?
It’s a fair question to ask since his production this season hasn't necessarily matched his reputation. To be sure, he is a fantastic third baseman, but is he a top-25 player?
The answer to that question has to be no. To be sure, he is still the leader of the Tampa Bay Rays and has the ability to change a game with one swing, but the days of him being feared seem to have passed.
On a positive note, Longoria did set the franchise record for home runs earlier this season.
11. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
2014 Season Stats: .306/.403/.492, 7 HR, 19 RBI, 17 R, 151 wRC+, 1.5 WAR
ZIPS (U): .298/.381/.476, 22 HR, 82 RBI, 71 R, 142 wRC+, 5.8 WAR
If Posey had more runners on base in front of him on a regular basis, his RBI total would surely be higher. He is making the most of his opportunities with runners on base, though, hitting .333 with 10 RBI in such situations, per Baseball-Reference.
It’s hard to believe given the type of success that Posey has already found throughout his career, but he is still improving as a player. Expect to see him get even more playing time at first base the rest of the season as the Giants try to forestall any leg issues.
10. Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners
2014 Season Stats: .302/.354/.383, HR, 21 RBI, 17 R, 97 wRC+, 0.5 WAR
ZIPS (U): .290/.351/.433, 16 HR, 87 RBI, 79 R, 114 wRC+, 3.8 WAR
Sure, his batting average and power numbers are down compared to past seasons, but he has almost no protection around him in the batting order. And without protection, Cano isn’t seeing as many pitches to drive.
Is he living up to the 10-year, $240 million contract he signed this offseason? No, he’s not.
That doesn’t mean, however, that his season is without merit. All things being equal, Cano is doing about as well as anyone should have expected. His numbers will improve as the season goes on.
9. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Season Stats: .257/.339/.447, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 18 R, 124 wRC+, 0.7 WAR
ZIPS (U): .267/.341/.469, 21 HR, 72 RBI, 74 R, 128 wRC+, 3.2 WAR
Since getting traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, Hanley Ramirez has been fantastic, “returning to the elite player he was before things soured in Miami,” according to Tyler Drenon of MLB Daily Dish.
This season, however, has been a struggle at the plate for the shortstop. His troubles could be a result of being hit in the hand by Ryan Vogelsong in the middle of April. Then again, maybe not. Whatever the cause, Ramirez has looked as uncomfortable at the plate, as indicated by his production numbers.
With that said, the Dodgers can’t win the World Series without a significant contribution from him; it is that simple.
8. Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle Mariners
2014 Season Stats: 4-1, 3.03 ERA, 2.50 FIP, 9.10 K/9, 1.82 BB/9, 1.8 WAR
ZIPS (U): 14-7, 3.07 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 9.29 K/9, 2.01 BB/9, 6.2 WAR
Right-hander Felix Hernandez is the unquestioned ace of the Seattle Mariners. Sure, he has lost some velocity on his fastball, but he is making up for it by being smarter on the mound. To that effect, CBS Sports' Dayn Perry recently noted that the he is relying “more on movement” and focusing on “staying away” while also adding that he is still pitching to contact.
And it is that combination—movement, location and staying in the zone—that has helped Hernandez keep both his FIP and his walk rate in check even though he is no longer throwing gas past opposing batters.
He should see his numbers improve, too. With Taijuan Walker and James Paxton set to join the rotation in three weeks or so, per Bob Dutton of the News Tribune, Hernandez will only get better as the other team’s lineup will simply get worn down by the Mariners pitching staff.
7. Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Season Stats: .312/.338/.457, 4 HR, 19 RBI, 15 R, 121 wRC+, 1.2 WAR
ZIPS (U): .300/.341/.442, 14 HR, 75 RBI, 57 R, 119 wRC+, 5.0 WAR
Like Buster Posey in San Francisco, St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is on a tear.
He is hitting the ball with authority, and while he isn’t getting on base as much this season as he has in the past, he is still creating runs at a high level. How long Molina can keep up the torrid production is another question entirely since he is already exceeding expectations.
Given how consistent he has been over past four seasons, however, there is little reason to worry. Right now, there’s only one catcher in the game better than the one in St. Louis.
6. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 Season Stats: .319/.368/.530, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 29 R, 141 wRC+, 1.2 WAR
ZIPS (U): .291/.366/.515, 30 HR, 106 RBI, 99 R, 137 wRC+, 4.2 WAR
First baseman Paul Goldschmidt just won’t stop.
After finishing the 2013 season with 36 home runs, 125 RBI and a .302/.401/.551 slash line, a regression may have been expected from him. So far, though, he has done anything but go backward.
He may not be on pace for 36 home runs, but his overall production has been exceptional. And while he may not be leaving the yard as often as he did last season, he is still driving the gaps and making the most of each at-bat.
It would be nice if he drew a few more walks, but seeing as how the Arizona Diamondbacks offense starts and stops with him, fans don’t want to see the bat resting on his shoulder.
5. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Season Stats: .258/.404/.461, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 19 R, 143 wRC+, 0.9 WAR
ZIPS (U): .278/.412/.490, 26 HR, 72 RBI, 84 R, 149 wRC+, 4.8 WAR
Once known for being a power hitter, he has become something much greater. MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince used the adjectives “walk drawing” and “pitcher-exhausting” to describe how important Votto is to the Reds’ lineup.
And he’s right.
To be sure, Votto still has power and can take a ball down the line or find the alley, but he is best served making things happen by being patient. And as Castrovince noted, his recent move to the two-hole has paid dividends for the rest of the team's lineup.
4. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates
2014 Season Stats: .321/.438/.511, 4 HR, 19 RBI, 19 R, 161 wRC+, 1.9 WAR
ZIPS (U): .299/.398/.494, 2 HR, 85 RBI, 94 R, 150 wRC+, 6.8 WAR
Not that it matters, but Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen isn’t getting very much help from the rest of the batting order. Outside of the rather audacious numbers he is putting up, no other Pirates hitter has cracked .280, with the exception of Gaby Sanchez, who has less than half as many at-bats as McCutchen.
It is an ugly situation.
That hasn’t stopped McCutchen from putting together another monster season, though. He is a little banged up at the moment, but he will still be the guy the Pirates lean on for leadership and results.
3. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Season Stats: 2-0, 1.74 ERA, 1.46 FIP, 10.89 K/9, 0.44 BB/9, 0.8 WAR
ZIPS (U): 14-4, 2.20 ERA, 2.52 FIP, 9.50 K/9, 1.84 BB/9, 4.1 WAR
Clayton Kershaw is back in Dodgers’ blue after starting the season on the disabled list, and my, oh my, was he missed by pretty much every fan of MLB.
There isn’t a left-hander in the game who is as filthy and as competitive as Kershaw is. A lot can be said for the likes of Chris Sale and David Price, but until Kershaw gives up the title, he is the best one of the bunch.
Sure, he’s only started three games since coming back, but it has been enough to tell that he’s suffering no ill effects from his layoff. It’ll be some time before Kershaw’s stock goes down.
2. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
2014 Season Stats: .272/.359/.524, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 25 R, 146 wRC+, 2.4 WAR
ZIPS (U): .290/.390/.531, 30 HR, 98 RBI, 116 R, 158 wRC+, 9.5 WAR
Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout has all the tools and uses them to be one of the best players in the game. His batting average isn’t where it usually is, but that isn’t how players are judged anymore.
His wRC+ is fantastic, his slugging percentage is outstanding, and he already has a 2.4 WAR. Those are numbers indicative of a player whose stock is right where it needs to be.
Rob Neyer of Fox Sports pointed out that Trout strikes out way too much, and he’s right. The young outfielder is one of the few, however, that can get away with being such a free-swinger.
1. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers
2014 Season Stats: .290/.331/.478, 5 HR, 30 RBI, 13 R, 120 wRC+, 1.0 WAR
ZIPS (U): .307/.380/.545, 34 HR, 127 RBI, 92 R, 151 wRC+, 5.5 WAR
After a slower start than usual, Miguel Cabrera has turned it on recently. The early-season problems weren’t necessarily ones caused by declining talent, but rather comfort.
Sure it’s possible Cabrera won’t regain the form that earned him our attention and all that money. But I doubt it.
Cabrera has said repeatedly he feels fine after an off-season surgical procedure to his core muscle. There is no reason not to believe him. The issue is more about timing.
Even though he is back to his normal physical state, he is still in the process of regaining his preinjury form.
The Detroit Tigers have one of the best lineups in MLB, and Cabrera is the linchpin. The scary thing? He’s just rounding into form.
It would be a mistake to think that there is anything wrong with Cabrera. He is too good.