While baseball is America's Pastime, the game has extensive roots and deep tradition in the country to its north as well. The first documented evidence of baseball in Canada dates back to 1838 shortly after it became popular in the United States. As has been stereotyped, we Canadians are certainly very proud of our fellow compatriots in the game.
Today, the tradition lives on as in the past five years, two Canadians have won an MVP Award: Justin Morneau in 2006 (AL) and Joey Votto (NL) just recently. Larry Walker won the NL in 1997 and is perhaps the best Canadian batter in major league history, while Ferguson Jenkins is without question the greatest canuck pitcher ever.
Here is my compilation of the Ten Best Canadian Players in Baseball Today.
2010 Stats: .232/.306/.475, 6 HR, 16 RBI (in only 99 AB)
Matt Stairs has been around forever, making his major league debut back in 1992. While I didn't name him as the tenth best active Canadian as a lifetime achievement accolade or anything; he can still produce at the major league level.
I have no doubts that if Stairs was given a job in 2011 as a full-time DH, he'd be able to put up a respectable .780+ OPS while slamming 25+ homers. Unlike other former stars, Stairs has been content as a full-time pinch-hitter and should keep up his high-level of production in 2011 if given 200+ at-bats needed for him to settle into a groove.
2009 Stats: 5-3, 2.82 ERA, 90 SO (in 83.0 IP)
If he could only stay healthy.
This one statement has plagued Bedard throughout his entire career as he's never thrown 200 innings in a season in his career. He never pitched in 2010, facing setback upon setback.
Yet, when he HAS been healthy, he's produced big time. In 2009, he put up a 2.82 ERA in 83.0 IP and over his career is 51-41 with a 3.71 ERA and an even better 3.66 FIP. Perhaps a bullpen role would suit him well in 2011 as he's had enough second chances as a starter.
2010 Stats: .248/.347/.332, 5 HR, 26 RBI, 2.1 WAR
The pride of East York, Ontario, (an area of Toronto) Russell Martin is certainly a very strange case, as his slugging percentage has decreased in every season since his breakout 2007 season, to a minuscule .332 in 2010. Nobody really knows how to explain his sharp decline since almost going 20/20 (as a catcher!) in 2007, but it hasn't been pretty. Perhaps it has been due to playing such a grueling position.
With all this true, Martin has still been serviceable, as most teams would take a .347 OBP from their catcher any day. This combined with his solid defensive skills warranted a 2.1 WAR in 2010. While not his world-beating 5.8 WAR in 2007, it's good to see he's still better than his replacement.
2010 Stats: 3.04 ERA, 1.18 WHIP 62/27 K/BB, 21 HLD
One of a surprising amount of Torontonians, Jesse Crain had a great year for a middle reliever in 2010, posting 21 holds and a 3.04 ERA in 68.0 innings pitched. Crain is currently a free agent and has made it clear he wants an opportunity to close; expect him to sign after the top-tier of relievers get off the board.
Although his best season statistically was actually in 2005 (79.2 IP, 2.71 ERA, 1.13 WHIP), Crain had terrible peripherals that season and FIP showed that his ERA should have come in at 4.65.
Since then, he's been improving his strikeout rate and has set himself up for a true breakout season in 2011 if he gets the opportunity to close.
2010 Stats: 4-6, 5.00 ERA, 67 K (in only 104.1 IP)
Once the de facto ace of the Rockies, Francis has struggled immensely with injuries since leading Colorado to the World Series after the 2007 season and pitched to only a 5.00 ERA in 2010.
However, his FIP shows that his ERA should have been around 3.88 and that he was quite unlucky in 2010. While many are looking at Brandon Webb as a injury-prone rebound candidate for 2011, Francis could provide even more value, especially if he leaves Coors Field.
2010 Stats: 2.48 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 24/27 SV/SVO
In his rookie season this year, John Axford did not disappoint. Constantly fighting to keep his job as closer as he held off Trevor Hoffman, Axford saved a solid 89% of his opportunities.
Although a late bloomer, he certainly has a future in baseball and should enter the 2011 season as the Brewers' closer.
2010 Stats: .259/.347/.402, 6 HR, 47 RBI, 1.4 WAR (in only 348 AB)
While moving to the weaker league, Jason Bay had a terrible year by all accounts in 2010. However, his peripherals were almost identical to his fantastic 2009... the big problem was the power as his isolated power took a nose-dive, rounding out to .144 in 2010.
This said, I do expect his power to improve in 2011. Similar to how David Wright took a year to adjust to Citi Field, Bay could very well take the same jump forward. And it's not as if he's in danger of losing a lot of playing time if he doesn't improve much as his OBP was usable. If he does in fact improve, Bay certainly will justify me ranking him as the #4 Canadian baseball player.
2010 Stats: 15-12, 3.85 ERA, 208 K, 3.5 WAR
Ryan Dempster has very quietly established himself as a top-25 pitcher in all of Major League Baseball in the past three years. Since his huge, break-out year as a starter in 2008, the former closer has put up two decent, middle-of-the-rotation campaigns since.
He may never have a season like 2008 again, but he's one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball, and the best in Canada.
2010 Stats: .345/.437/.618, 18 HR, 56 RBI, 3.6 WAR (In only 296 AB)
While Justin Morneau struggled with post-concussion syndrome this past year after getting injured in early July, in previous years, he has been pretty much the gold standard of consistency.
After winning the 2006 AL MVP, Morneau posted three seasons solidly in the 800s of OPS and if he wouldn't have gotten injured in 2010, had a decent shot at the AL MVP.
2010 Stats: .324/.424/.600, 37 HR, 113 RBI, 7.4 WAR
The inspiration for this article, Joey Votto has raked when healthy since entering the league as a late call-up in 2007. Hailing from Toronto, Ontario, Votto led the NL in OPS this year and also contributed with good counting stats and solid peripherals as he walked almost 100 times.
Not to mention that he also stole 16 bases, a stat often overlooked as people underrate his mobility.
It's really not a surprise that Votto won the 2010 NL MVP in a landslide, producing in every offensive category and providing an essential leadership component to such a young club like the Reds. Here's to 2011!