The 100 Best Players In Baseball Today (Part 3: #60-41)
80. Rickie Weeks
79. Matt Garza
78. Manny Ramirez
77. Dan Uggla
76. Mat Latos
75. Martin Prado
74. Joe Nathan
73. Jason Heyward
72. Corey Hart
71. Francisco Liriano
70. Justin Upton
69. Alex Rios
68. Tim Hudson
67. Michael Young
66. Victor Martinez
65. Kendry Morales
64. Clay Buchholz
63. Brian McCann
62. Roy Oswalt
61. Jose Reyes
Here's Part 3...
#60. Matt Kemp
Some people (including me) thought this guy could win NL MVP this year or at least join the 30-30 club. Instead, Matt Kemp was arguably the most disappointing player of the 2010 season, as his OBP plummeted and his strikeouts skyrocketed. On numerous occasions, he appeared lackadaisical in centerfield and on the basepaths.
It's really a shame because Kemp is one of the best pure athletes in the game. Even in what has been an undeniably disappointing season, he hit 28 home runs to set a new single season high. Kemp needs to look to mirror the rise of Robinson Cano, who a few years ago was slumping at the plate with some questioning his attitude as well. He has since become one of the game's premiere players. Kemp has the talent to do the same.
#59. Zack Greinke
Making his debut at the age of 20, Zack Greinke struggled to find his footing his first few seasons in the majors. In this time, he battled social anxiety disorder and depression, and his career appeared to be in jeopardy. The young right-hander persevered though, enjoying a solid 2008 season before his breakout season in 2009 that saw him lead MLB in ERA (2.16) en route to the AL Cy Young award.
His 2010 season has not gone so smooth, as his ERA is two runs higher and his strikeouts are down too. Pitching for Kansas City certainly doesn't help, and Greinke himself has admitted to lapses in his concentration due to playing in a losing environment. I think hes in the same situation Dan Haren was in a few months ago; a very talented pitcher who probably only needs a change of scenery to be re-energized.
#58. Derek Jeter
As he nears free agency for the first time in his career, Derek Jeter is having the worst season of his career. Fortunately for the Yankee legend, there's no uncertainty over which jersey he'll be wearing next season. The question is how much exactly he's going to get from the Yankees to remain in the pinstripes.
He is 36 but I don't think you can write Jeter off just yet. He had a similarly weak 2008 season in which his SLG and SB totals were down. He responded with one of the best seasons of his career in 2009 (30 SB, .334 AVG, .406 OBP). No matter what kind of season he has next season, he'll reach 3,000 hits barring injury, further cementing his Hall-of-fame legacy.
#57. Andrew McCutchen
Pirates fans were so outraged when management traded Nate McLouth, GM Neil Huntington felt compelled to write an open letter to the fanbase in hopes of settling them down. Andrew McCutchen has helped make McLouth an afterthought with the way he has played since June 2009.
McCutchen is a terror on the basepaths, stealing 22 bases in 2009 and 33 in 2010. In both seasons, he finished with identical AVG (.286) and OBP (.365) totals. He has not yet established himself as an exceptional center fielder but undoubtedly has the tools to develop into one. Alongside teammates Pedro Alvarez, Garrett Jones, and Neil Walker, McCutchen is part of a young, exciting core Pittsburgh hopes to build around as they try to put 18 years of futility behind them.
#56. Yovani Gallardo
The Milwaukee Brewers' pitching staff has been the subject of much scrutiny the past two years, as it has been their Achilles' heel. In that time however, Yovani Gallardo has blossomed. As CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets have come and gone, there is no doubt who sits atop the Crew's rotation these days.
Gallardo has topped 200 strikeouts each of the past two seasons, finishing in the top 10 in the National League in that statistic both years. His command has gotten better in that time and he has also gotten better at limiting the long ball. His '09 and '10 campaigns were quite similar in that he was lights out before the All-Star break before struggling in the second half. It won't be long before he's able to do it over the course of a whole season, and he'll be even less fun for National League hitters then.
#55. Shin Soo Choo
Certainly one of the most underrated players in the game today, Shin Soo Choo has been one of the lone bright spots for the Indians the past few seasons. Since being traded from Seattle to Cleveland for Ben Broussard (ouch), Choo quietly has excelled in almost all aspects of the game.
He was remarkably consistent in 2009 and 2010, hitting exactly .300 both seasons with an OPS in the mid .880s and just over 20 steals. Additionally, Choo is one of the best right fielders in the game, covering a ton of ground and possessing a cannon of a left arm. At age 28, he's likely still in the midst of his prime. Hopefully South Korea can win the Gold in the Asian games later this year so Choo can forgo mandatory army service, because it would be a shame for the Indians to lose a player of this caliber.
#54. Matt Cain
Tim Lincecum may be the star, multi-Cy Young award winner, but Matt Cain has impressed quite a bit himself in his first five seasons in the majors. He's proven to be quite durable, ranking in the top 10 in the National League in IP each of the past 3 seasons.
Cain doesn't post the gaudy strikeout totals Lincecum does, though he consistently posts a SO/9 above 7. What he does particularly well is limiting traffic on the basepaths, as his WHIP and H/9 have dropped every year since 2008. With Lincecum, Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner all in the fold for several more seasons, there's a good chance the Giants have a few more NL West titles in their future.
#53. Vladimir Guerrero
After falling off the baseball map to a degree with an injury-plagued 2009, the Rangers were able to snag bad Vlad away from the division rival Angels for merely $5.5M. It wound up being a total bargain and one of the best (if not the best) signings of last off season. With Elvis Andrus, Michael Young, and Josh Hamilton hitting in front of him, Guerrero lead the Rangers in RBI with 115.
Famous for swinging at anything from his head to his heels, Vlad still has never struck out 100 times in a season. Drawing walks has never really been a huge part of his game either, yet he still has a career OBP of .383. Relegated to DHing now, Vlad was a dynamite right-fielder in his youth with a fantastic arm. Considering his one time prowess in the field, a career OPS just south of .950, and 436 home runs to his credit, Vlad looks like a slam dunk hall of famer to me.
#52. Jimmy Rollins
The last two seasons have been pretty rough for J-Roll. He struggled mightily in the first half of 2009 before rediscovering his stroke in the 2nd half, and injuries sabotaged his 2010 season. Fortunately, that hasn't stopped the Phillies from winning; in fact, they've been the class of the National League in that time.
2007 remains the best season of his career, as he hit 30 home runs and stole 41 bases (he was caught only 6 times) on his way to the NL MVP award. While his bat has been inconsistent since then, his glove has not, as he remains one of the best shortstops in the game. It looks as though 2006-2007 was his peak and he turns 32 this November, but I think J-Roll still has a few very good seasons left in him.
#51. Clayton Kershaw
At the age of 22, Clayton Kershaw has already established himself not only as the ace of the Dodgers but as one of the most electric lefties in the game today, drawing comparisons to Sandy Koufax in the process. Since his rookie season in 2008, he has gotten better every season, his ERA, WHIP, and BB dropping considerably as he continues to rack up strikeouts.
His 212 SO were second only to Jon Lester among lefties, and he finished 4th among southpaws in K/9. Predictably, Kershaw at times has struggled with control and he finished 7th in the NL in BB in 2010. That said, his BB/9 dropped from 4.8 in 2009 to 3.6 this season, so signs point to him improving there. The Dodgers' future may be uncertain given their management situation, with Chad Billingsley and Kershaw in the fold, they're not short on talented young pitching.
#50. Torii Hunter
What Torii Hunter lacks in (offensively speaking) "the wow factor," he more than makes up in with consistency. Since 2001, Hunter has hit 20+ home runs, driven in 90+ runs, and stolen 18+ bases 7 times apiece. Hes not the kind of player you build an offense around, but he's a steady source of production any team in the majors would be happy to have.
I made it clear I was referencing his offensive game when discussing the wow factor because Hunter has been a show-stopper on defense since he came to the majors. He has won a gold glove every year since 2001, robbing many hitters of home runs (none more famously than Barry Bonds in the 2002 All-Star game) in the process. Possibly the most likable player in the game today, Hunter is always smiling and thoroughly enjoying his time on the ball field, and as such is a pure joy to watch.
#49. Cole Hamels
Long before aces like Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay suited up for the fightin Phils, it was the young left-hander Cole Hamels who led the team to a World Series victory in 2008. Hamels was nothing short of brilliant that October, going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 5 postseason starts.
Those additional 35 innings appeared to catch up with him in the first half of 2009, as he hit a bit of a speed bump. He turned things around in the second half and carried that into 2010, posting an ERA of 3.06 and striking out 211 in 208.2 innings. Hamels has finished in the top 10 in strikeouts by left-handed starters each of the last four seasons. While the Phillies have made plenty of news with the pitchers they've acquired the last few seasons, they developed Hamels themselves, and clearly he is a keeper.
#48. Adam Dunn
Adam Dunn does not bring a very broad skill set to the table. With the exception of one 19-steal season for the Reds back in 2002, speed has never been a part of his game. Be it in left field or first base, the best thing you can say about Dunn's defense is that he's an exceptional power hitter.
He doesn't have a wide variety of tools, but few in the game today have more raw power. He has hit at least 38 home runs each of the last seven seasons; such consistency has resulted in Dunn having more than 350 career long balls at the age of 30. Just as you can pencil him in for close to 40 bombs, nearly 200 strikeouts and (until this year) at least 100 walks are pretty certain as well. Even if he remains against DHing and insists on playing the field next year, you can bet Dunn will drive in more than he lets in.
#47. Dan Haren
After improving virtually every season since 2005, Dan Haren finally hit a wall in the first half of 2010. In 21 starts for the Diamondbacks, Haren went 7-8 with a 4.60 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP (highly uncharacteristic of him). As he was still striking out a batter an inning, the Angels saw enough in him to acquire him at the trade deadline. The Halos faded in the second half, but Haren rediscovered his old form.
In 94 innings for the Angels, Haren posted a 2.87 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. He simply does not beat himself, as his career 1.19 WHIP shows. Haren's nemesis has always been the long ball, and he coughed up 31 of them in 2010, though only 8 after the trade. 2010 was a rough year for the Angels, but with Haren, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, and Joel Pineiro all in the fold going forward, they could very well be back with a vengeance in 2011.
#46. Nick Markakis
Some will look at Markakis' 12 HR and 60 RBI and wonder what he's doing this high. Though you would like to see a right-fielder hit for more power, the low RBI total is more indicative of Baltimore's struggles to get on base (no Brian Roberts doesn't help) in front of Markakis than real struggles on his part. Even in a down year, 'Kak still finished in the top 10 in MLB in hits and doubles with a respectable .370 OBP.
He reminds me a little of Magglio Ordonez; a corner outfielder that may not have light tower power, but can hit with the best of them; he's topped 180 hits every year since 2007. Markakis excels on the other side of the ball as well, as he lead all right fielders in assists in 2008 and finished second in 2009. The Orioles haven't won in some time, but if there's one reason for them to hold out hope, its this toolsy young hitting machine.
#45. Jose Bautista
With 59 career home runs coming into 2010, Jose Bautista nearly doubled that total in one calendar year by leading the major leagues with 54 long balls. His .995 OPS (3rd best in the American League) was easily the highest mark of his career (two hundred points above his career average in fact). Bautista has emerged as the biggest power threat in a lineup that led the majors in long balls in 2010.
Such a sudden surge in power no doubt begs the question; "was it a flash in the pan?" I recently read a survey of several baseball analysts and not one of them picked Bautista to hit more than 36 home runs next season. Whether he ever hits 50 again or not, he has established himself as a slugger to be reckoned with. Not bad for a former utility man.
#44. Jered Weaver
When John Lackey left Anaheim for Boston last Winter, many claimed the pressure was on Jered Weaver to assume the role of staff ace. In truth, Weaver has been the Angels' best pitcher since 2009, when he set new career highs in innings, wins, ERA, and strikeouts. However, don't let the 13-12 record fool you; 2010 was clearly the best season of his career.
In his breakout campaign this past season, Weaver led the majors in strikeouts with 233, and finished in the top 5 in the American League in WHIP (1.07), innings (224.1), and ERA (3.01). He was quite hard to hit in 2010, as his SO/9 jumped by nearly two while his H/9 and and BB/9 plummeted. 2010 was a rough year for the Angels and still Weaver had a career year; imagine what he could do if the Angels get back to their winning ways next year.
#43. Andre Ethier
Long before Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, and Carlos Gonzalez all vied for the National League Triple Crown into September, Andre Ethier first inspired thought of a Triple Crown winner with a scorching first month and a half of the season. On May 14, he was hitting .392 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI when a broken pinky landed him on the disabled list and derailed his season to a degree (he batted just .260 the rest of the way).
While it was Manny Ramirez who rejuvenated L.A. in 2008 as the team won the NL West, Ethier made quite a name for himself in 2009 with numerous clutch walk-off hits (he leads the majors with 11 walk-off hits since 2008). An extra base machine with a penchant for the dramatic, there's no question who the most potent bat in the Dodger lineup is now.
#42. Nelson Cruz
Nelson Cruz is the classic case of a late-bloomer. You watch him play though, and you wonder how it took so long for him to put it all together. He came up for the proverbial cup of coffee near the end of the 2008 season and impressed greatly, all but solidifying a spot on the 2009 team. That season, he put his power and speed on display, hitting 33 home runs and stealing 20 bases.
Cruz got off to a scorching start in 2010 and his stats improved across the board, as his BA, OBP, and SLG all improved dramatically. Unfortunately, three separate stints on the disabled list cost him a third of the season; if he'd stayed healthy, he would've had a very realistic shot at a 30-30 season. A dynamic five-tool talent, its scary to think of the numbers he could put up with a full season's worth of at-bats.
#41. Johan Santana
When the Mets traded for Johan Santana in early 2008, they traded for the player almost unanimously considered the best pitcher in baseball. Since the trade, he hasn't been that while the Mets have arguably been the most disappointing franchise in MLB in that time. However, that is hardly Santana's fault and I think he's been better than most people realize.
His first season in New York was brilliant, winning 16 games (he probably would've won 20 had it not been for the Mets' porous bullpen) with a 2.53 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 234.1 innings. After an injury-marred 2009, he bounced back in 2010 with a 2.98 ERA in 199 innings. It looks as though 2004-2006 was the prime of Santana's career and at age 31, he may never get back to that level, but he remains a very effective, at-times unhittable number one starter.