MLB: Ranking The 10 Best Hitters Entering The 2011 Season
Spring training is almost here and as we get closer to the 2011 baseball season kicking off, let's take a look at who the best hitters are.
For the last decade, Albert Pujols has arguably been the league's best and most complete hitter. Although not old by any means and coming off a terrific 2010 season, he is now 31 years old and perhaps he might not be the absolute best anymore.
Is that even possible? Who else would even match up to him? You'd have to take into account producing in all three major categories, such as batting average, home runs, and runs batted in.
So, without further ado, here's a look at the top 10 hitters in baseball as we near the start of a new season.
10. David Wright (Mets)
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The New York Mets have stumbled as everyone knows over the last couple of seasons, and therefore, David Wright doesn't get recognized as much anymore. One thing he brings to the table is consistency.
Outside of a horrific 2009 season by his standards getting used to a brand new Citi Field, Wright has been fantastic through all of his team's struggles. He's never been placed on the disabled list for a physical injury in his career other than a concussion.
A lot of people didn't see Wright ever regaining his power after the down 2009 season, but he did so last year.
He hit 29 home runs—a bunch of them coming in September with the team out of it—and drove in 103 runs. He started his fifth consecutive All-Star Game, and rounded back into form.
Perhaps a couple of years ago like in 2007, he would've been considered a top-five hitter, but even with the lack of team success, he's still a feared threat every time he steps to the plate.
9. Ryan Howard (Phillies)
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His numbers were certainly down last season, thus coming in so low on this list. But, Ryan Howard is still a very productive hitter and you must consider he was injured for a big portion of last season.
His 31 home runs were the lowest of his career since 2005 when he only hit 22. That was his first full season in the big leagues, and he's been one of the game's best home runs hitters ever since.
Even with his down numbers in 2010, he finished 10th the National League MVP balloting, and his team made the NLCS.
Playing at a park like Citizens Bank, missing 19 games as he did last season is huge. It's such a small ballpark that with his normal amount of at-bats, he probably would've had his normal numbers.
He also signed a contract extension in the middle of last season, which will keep him with the Phillies and their bandbox of a ballpark for the foreseeable future.
Unless his body starts breaking down, he'll always be a top-10 big league hitter.
8. Evan Longoria (Rays)
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For a team that won 96 games and a division title in the toughest division in baseball last season, Evan Longoria sure had some strange numbers.
He did hit for a career-high .294 average, but his home run total dipped from 33 in 2009 to 22 last season.
Nonetheless, Longoria is one of the game's best young hitters and with the Rays losing out on some key players, he'll be the man who will have to step up to have a monster 2011 season.
He's entering only his fourth season in the Majors and he's already put up huge numbers every season and has been a three-time All-Star.
After seeing his batting average rise over the last two seasons, you'd think that he has the potential to be a batting champion in the future.
He's only 25 years old, and is just getting better by the year.
7. Robinson Cano (Yankees)
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Robinson Cano should almost be higher on this list, but the next six guys are pretty darn good.
This guy has developed into the best all-around second baseman the game has seen in years. The scary thing is: he's just now entering his prime having turned 28 in the offseason.
You must start off by looking at the fact he's missed a total of eight games over the past four seasons combined. While playing virtually every day, his production has gotten enormous.
Playing for the big, bad New York Yankees, Cano is expected to be their best hitter this season. He's taking over for Alex Rodriguez, who although still good, may not be as good as this guy anymore.
Cano reached 200 hits for the second straight season last year and had career highs in home runs (29) and RBI (109).
He batted .319 to add to his power-hitting prowess and erased the the one bad mark on him—hitting in the clutch. He never did so prior to last season as that's all that separated him from being elite, and he came through all summer in 2010.
Although this isn't a ranking on defense, you can make the case he's the best defensive second baseman in the game.
He was an All-Star last season along with winning a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove award.
Should he be higher on this list? Leave your opinion in the comments section.
6. Joe Mauer (Twins)
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Alright, so he didn't bat .350 last season. What a shame for him. Joe Mauer is still one of the best hitters in baseball and is by far the best hitting catcher in the game.
Now, to be fair, his numbers decreased dramatically in 2010, but let's give him one more season before we call him a "flash in the pan." Let's call it the "David Wright syndrome."
Just like Wright struggled at a new ballpark in 2009, Mauer struggled with the Twins new ballpark in 2010. Wright bounced back nicely last season and the same should be expected of Mauer this season.
His power and overall production was down, but he did hit .327. Hitting for that high an average is nothing to sneeze at in this league, as that's almost recording a hit in a third of your at-bats.
Now, when you look at 2009 and him hitting .365, you scratch your head a little bit. Perhaps it was trying to live up to the huge contract he signed before last season—who knows?
He did record 13 more doubles than the previous season to help save his stats as the 43 two-baggers were a career-high.
Mauer is a natural hitter and there's no way one down season after a career of brilliance makes him a fluke. He's still tremendous.
5. Joey Votto (Reds)
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Man, this must be a tough list to crack. The reigning National League MVP only comes in at fifth? Well, anyway, Joey Votto had a breakout season last year for baseball's breakout team.
The Cincinnati Reds have one of the best young cores in the game and Votto is the leader. Carrying the Reds to their first playoff appearance in 15 years, Votto led the NL in both on-base and slugging percentage.
He put up career highs in every category imaginable such as batting average, home runs, RBI, walks, hits, and runs scored.
For a while during the hot summer, he and Albert Pujols were in a race for who would win the NL triple crown award, one that hasn't been won since 1937.
That's the kind of year it was for Votto, who went from solid player with potential to top-five and an MVP winner in one season.
In each of the previous two seasons, he hit 24 and 25 home runs, respectively, and drove in exactly 84 runs.
The Reds won the NL Central last season and with Votto leading the way, Cincinnati should stick around for a while.
4. Josh Hamilton (Rangers)
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Josh Hamilton missed some games due to injury but he continued his great comeback story by winning a batting title and AL MVP in 2010.
The Texas Rangers star outfielder hit a whopping .359 last season to lead all of baseball and just like Joey Votto, led his team to a rare playoff appearance. The Rangers hadn't been to the playoffs in 11 years and they made the World Series of all things, stunning everyone by knocking of the Yankees in the ALCS.
Hamilton didn't do too well in the postseason but played his best against the Yankees. In the ALCS, he hit .350 with four home runs in only six games and this was his first ever playoff appearance.
Hamilton actually arrived onto the scene back in 2008 when he led the AL in RBI with 130 and had a home run derby for the ages at Yankee Stadium—albeit he didn't win it.
It looked like he may have been a fluke, as his 2009 season was taken down by injury and disappointment, but he solidified himself as a star for a pennant winner in 2010.
As long as he stays healthy and keeps on the right track off the field, look for Hamilton to light it up in Texas for years to come.
3. Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies)
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Let the debate begin on which of these next three hitters is the best in the game today. Starting it off at third on the list is Rockies outfielder Carlos "Cargo" Gonzalez.
Talk about coming out of nowhere to develop as an all-around star. This guy wasn't even on the radar entering last season. Well, maybe he somewhat was.
He actually broke out in the 2009 postseason for the Rockies, going 10-for-17 (.588) in the NLDS against the Phillies. How is it even possible to bat .588 in a postseason when you've never produced in the regular season?
Gonzalez had a strange statistical season in 2009, hitting 13 home runs while only driving in 29 runs in 89 games.
He came over to the Rockies after the 2008 season in a trade that sent Matt Holliday to the Athletics. Gonzalez didn't really show much of anything in his short time in Oakland in 2008, but two seasons later, he earned a batting title.
He hit .336 last season along with 34 home runs and 117 RBI, finished third in the MVP balloting, and also made a run at a Triple Crown.
He frequently came through in the clutch and played a great outfield, only committing one error all season. That earned him a Gold Glove award along with winning a Silver Slugger award.
The Rockies made a run at the postseason in September and fell just short but with Gonzalez along with Troy Tulowitzki, this team should be in the running again.
Gonzalez should be in the running for another batting crown and perhaps an MVP this season.
2. Miguel Cabrera (Tigers)
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Now, it's time to announce the best hitter in the American League. That player is...Miguel Cabrera. Forget about one of the best players in baseball today, but this guy is putting up Hall of Fame numbers and should get there if he keeps this up.
Cabrera will only turn 28 in April and his yearly stats are almost just as good as Albert Pujols recently. Last season, he led the AL in RBI with 126, along with hitting 38 home runs.
He's driven in 100 runs or more in each of his seven full seasons in the big league, he already has 1,400 career hits and should he record 121 RBI this season, he'll reach 1,000 in that category.
The only thing this guy can't do is field. He committed 13 errors at first base last season, but at the plate, he's unstoppable. No matter where the pitch is or how you pitch him, he'll burn you. Back in 2006, he singled on an intentional walk. Now, that's just unfair.
Even more impressive, his strikeouts have decreased in each of the past three seasons. In fact they've decreased so far, he doesn't even strikeout 100 times anymore, only recording 95 last season.
So, he hits for average, power, and doesn't strike out. It's very hard to argue with the fact that he's the first or second best hitter in the game. What he does at the plate is so good that no one even compares to him in the AL right now.
Now, take a guess who the best hitter in baseball is...
1. Albert Pujols (Cardinals)
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If you guessed Albert Pujols, you guessed right. But, that was easy considering he had to be somewhere on this list.
Pujols has been so good for so long—10 years now—that there really isn't any reason to discuss the reasons behind this. For the sake of making a slide out of it, here are some facts to convince you if you aren't already.
First, put away the shock that this will be Pujols' 11th season in the big leagues and then realize what he's done and still does.
What you can call a down year for Pujols would be in 2007. That season, he only hit 32 home runs and only drove in 103 runs. He was only 27 years old that season, but there were people wondering if some injuries were catching up to him.
That is a fact, though. He has been battling through some injuries over the past couple of seasons, but he's still perfectly fine.
He had a wonderful 2010 season, looking like a lock at the Triple Crown at one point in the summer. He ended up leading the NL in two major categories—home runs with 42 and RBI with 118.
Stunningly, that wasn't enough to lead his team to the playoffs. A clear-cut favorite by virtually everyone in spring training last season, the Cardinals lost the NL Central to the Reds and Wild Card to the Braves.
Pujols has still only won one ring (2006), but became a surefire Hall of Famer when he played his 10th big league season last year.
Even if he doesn't play another game, he's going to Cooperstown, but he is still playing and still is the best hitter in baseball.