MLB Hitter Rankings: A New No. 1 Emerges, Aaron Judge Falls, Rafael Devers Rises

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVJuly 14, 2022

MLB Hitter Rankings: A New No. 1 Emerges, Aaron Judge Falls, Rafael Devers Rises

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    Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

    Paul Goldschmidt has always been a good hitter, closing in on 300 home runs with a career batting average just shy of .300. But the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman has found a new gear this year and is almost unarguably the best hitter as things currently stand.

    While he's the clear No. 1, where do the likes of Yordan Alvarez, Aaron Judge and Mike Trout stack up behind Goldy?

    Based on a combination of contact, power, plate discipline and what we're calling "pitch immunity," we've cobbled together a ranking of the current 10 best hitters in baseball. A report card grade has been assigned for each of the four categories, and rankings are loosely based on each player's average grade.

    "Previous Rankings" are based on our last batch of hitter rankings from June 6.

    Honorable Mentions: Jose Altuve, Nolan Arenado, Luis Arraez, Byron Buxton, C.J. Cron, Ty France, Freddie Freeman, Alejandro Kirk, Julio Rodriguez, Juan Soto, Dansby Swanson, Taylor Ward

10. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies

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    G Fiume/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: Honorable Mention


    Contact: A+

    Bryce Harper is currently on the injured list with a broken thumb, but the two-time NL MVP was putting on a hitting clinic prior to that injury. He's batting .318 for the season and .353 over his last 15 games. He had multiple hits in 16 of his last 39 games, including seven games with at least three base knocks. It's almost unfathomable that his longest hitting streak of the season was only eight games.


    Power: A+

    Harper would need to double his 15 home runs just to tie the MLB leader at 30, but he's one of the top sluggers in the big leagues with a mark of .599. Harper also led the majors in slugging in both 2015 and 2021, with 6.49 and 6.15 respectively, as he typically goes for around 30 doubles and 30 home runs per year.


    Plate Discipline: B+

    Harper used to be one of the most patient hitters. From 2015-21, only Joey Votto (683) drew more walks than Harper (678). But after a decade of meticulously working the count, he's swinging at pitches (both strikes and balls) way more often and is now striking out twice as much as he walks (52 and 26 respectively). Hard to believe this is the same hitter who had 49 walks and 43 strikeouts in 2020.


    Pitch Immunity: A-

    In 2021, Harper hit changeups better than anyone in the majors. This year, he's below the league average against that pitch, but he's making up for it by hitting both sliders and curveballs better than ever before. Let's see how well he fares if and when he gets back from the broken thumb, though.

9. Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves

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    Brett Davis/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: Not Mentioned


    Contact: B+

    Forty games into this season, Austin Riley was batting .224. Last year's .303 batting average looked like a fluke as he reverted back to his 2019-20 norm of .232. But since May 22, Riley is hitting .330 with an OPS well north of 1.000. He has already had eight multi-hit games in July, and 17 such games dating back to June 1.


    Power: A

    Along with that .330 batting average, Riley has racked up 16 home runs over the past seven weeks—this in spite of not hitting a single homer in the second half of June. Riley was slugging .436 on May 22, but he has brought that all the way up to .560 with 123 total bases in his last 47 games.


    Plate Discipline: C-

    Here's where Riley loses any hope of cracking our top five. The Braves third baseman has averaged more than three strikeouts per walk drawn this season (99 and 28 respectively), and that is ever so slightly better than his career norm in that department. Riley is a lot like Minnesota's Byron Buxton, in that he rakes like Barry Bonds when he's hot and looks like he can't hit the broad side of a barn when he's not.


    Pitch Immunity: B+

    On a per 100-pitch basis, Riley has been worth at least 2.0 runs above average against five of the six main pitch types. Among qualified batters, he is the only member of that club, and he is hitting curveballs better than anyone. However, he is below the league average against four-seam fastballs, which is quite the unfortunate common pitch to struggle with. Of the 30 players that we looked at as candidates for this top 10, Riley was the only one rated below average against four-seamers.

8. Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: No. 1


    Contact: B+

    In the 40 games leading up to our previous hitter rankings, Mookie Betts batted .348, hit 16 home runs and was starting to run away with the NL MVP trophy. Since June 5, though, he's hitting .162 with four home runs and missed 15 games with a fractured rib. Overall, he's batting .271 after entering 2022 as a career .295 hitter.


    Power: A-

    Despite missing 17 games, Betts ranks just outside the top 10 in the majors with 20 home runs, well on pace to demolish his previous career high of 32. He's not quite the extra-bases artist that he used to be, though. He had at least 40 doubles and multiple triples every year from 2015-19. Since 2020, Betts has had just 53 doubles and four triples. As a result, he's "only" slugging .529 over the past three seasons.


    Plate Discipline: A-

    As of Tuesday morning, Betts' walk rate was lower and his strikeout rate was higher than in any of the previous five seasons. But he is still substantially better than the league average in both departments.


    Pitch Immunity: A-

    Against four-seam fastballs, Betts is currently sputtering through the worst season of his career. (He's still above-average, but barely.) But throw him anything else and you're asking for trouble. Against both cutters and curveballs, he ranks top five in the majors, and he's just outside the top 10 against changeups.

7. Manny Machado, San Diego Padres

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    Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: No. 5


    Contact: A

    For a while there, it looked like Manny Machado was going to be the NL batting champ. After 32 games, he was batting .383. But he has trickled back to earth since mid-May and is now batting .305. That's still remarkable, though, and would be the best single-season batting average of the six-time All-Star's career.


    Power: B+

    One month into the season, Machado was also threatening to lead the majors in slugging percentage. But since May 6—a little more than one-third of the season—he has hit just eight home runs and is slugging .476. Granted, five of those eight home runs have come in the past 17 games, so he might be heating back up.


    Plate Discipline: B+

    Machado really should draw more walks than he does. Much like Juan Soto in Washington, lineup protection is next to nil in San Diego, so there's little incentive for opposing pitchers to give Machado anything to hit. Only 37.6 percent of pitches thrown to him are in the strike zone. Despite his propensity for swinging, at least he strikes out in less than 20 percent of plate appearances.


    Pitch Immunity: A+

    At the start of play on Tuesday, Machado and Freddie Freeman were the only qualified hitters worth at least 0.8 total runs above average against each of the six major pitch types. Machado doesn't rank top seven in the majors against any of those pitch types, but he is rocking quite the "jack of all trades" vibe at the plate.

6. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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    G Fiume/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: No. 8


    Contact: A-

    Save for hitting .220 in 40 games played in 2011, Mike Trout has never finished a season with a batting average below .281. He entered 2022 as a career .299 hitter. But between a career-worst strikeout rate and a subpar-by-his-standards batting average on balls in play, he hasn't seen .300 since May 31 and is currently down to .270. That's an impressive mark for most mortals, but unusually poor for him.


    Power: A+

    Trout has never led the AL in home runs, and it's unlikely to happen this year, either, unless both Aaron Judge and Yordan Alvarez fall by the wayside. But he has clubbed 24 four-baggers thus far in 2022, and he is slugging at least .599 for what would be the sixth consecutive season if he can maintain it.


    Plate Discipline: B+

    In his "old age," 30-year-old Trout has become more of a "three true outcomes" hitter. If you count his five hit by pitches as walks, he has either walked, struck out or homered in 50.6 percent of trips to the plate this season. Unfortunately, the biggest chunk has been strikeouts, as he is whiffing at a career-worst rate of 29.8 percent and swinging at pitches outside the strike zone at his highest rate since 2012.


    Pitch Immunity: A+

    In what has been business as usual for more than a decade now, Trout is one of the best in the majors against both changeups and cutters, and the rarely seen splitters are the only pitches that give him any trouble. Even though he's striking out more often than usual, it's not because he's suddenly struggling to identify pitches that he used to demolish.

5. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

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    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: No. 3


    Contact: B+

    After spending much of May and June north of .300, Aaron Judge's batting average has come back to earth. Since June 13, he's batting just .200 with nearly as many strikeouts (30) as total bases (41). Still, he's sitting at .282 for the season, which is nothing to sneeze at.


    Power: A+

    Though Judge has fallen a bit off what was once a darn-near-70-homer pace, there's still a decent chance he could become the first player to reach 60 in a single season since Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa did so in 2001. He uses every inch of his 6'7" frame to mash the ball harder than anyone, leading the majors with a barrel percentage of 24.7.


    Plate Discipline: B+

    Judge used to be a flailer, routinely swinging and missing at pitches outside the strike zone earlier in his career. While he does still strike out more than 25 percent of the time, his plate discipline is vastly improved. He works counts (4.21 pitches per plate appearance) and he's making contact on 75 percent of swings. There's still room for improvement, though.


    Pitch Immunity: B-

    Why do opposing pitchers ever throw Judge a four-seam fastball? Not only does he destroy those, but he has been below average this season against each of cutters, splitters and changeups. If ESPN's pitch-by-pitch logs are accurate, it doesn't appear that Judge has homered against any of those three pitch types yet this season.

4. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Guardians

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: No. 2


    Contact: A

    For more than two months, Jose Ramirez has been steadily hovering in the .280-.320 range. His longest hitting streak of the season was just 13 games, but consecutive hitless performances have been just about nonexistent for the Guardians third baseman.


    Power: A

    One month ago, Ramirez was on pace for 48 home runs. But with just one home run in his last 29 games, even 35 dingers feels like a pipe dream at this point. Still, he's slugging .571 for the year, which is good for seventh-best in the majors. Leading the AL with 30 doubles doesn't hurt.


    Plate Discipline: A+

    By his standards, Ramirez has been whiffing a lot lately. He has more strikeouts in his last 105 plate appearances (19) than he had in his first 254 plate appearances (17). And yet, he still has one of the lowest year-to-date strikeout rates in the majors and still has more walks (39) than strikeouts (36).


    Pitch Immunity: B+

    Cutters have been a fairly significant problem for Ramirez this season. On a per 100-cutter basis, he ranks 138th out of 155 qualified batters. But he's one of the best in the business against both four-seamers and curveballs, and this is the first time since 2019 that he has rated below the league average against any of the six main pitch types.

3. Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox

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    Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: No. 9


    Contact: A+

    Were it not for Minnesota's Luis Arraez hitting .347, Boston's Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts would rank top three in the AL in batting average. And leading the way is Devers at .326. He had 201 hits and led the majors with 359 total bases in 2019, but he's on pace to eclipse both of those marks this year.


    Power: A+

    Devers is one of three Red Sox with a realistic shot at the AL batting crown, but he has more home runs (19) than Bogaerts and Martinez combined (16). Devers also has 27 doubles, flirting with both a .600 slugging percentage and a 1.000 OPS. He also clubbed 38 home runs last season.


    Plate Discipline: B+

    Hard to complain about it given his success at the dish, but Devers is one of the least patient hitters in the majors. Take out the five intentional walks that he has drawn this season and Devers averages over one walk for every four games played. In 13 percent of plate appearances, he puts the first pitch in play. And he still manages to strike out nearly 18 percent of the time.


    Pitch Immunity: A

    Perhaps the biggest reason Devers can go up there hacking at the first pitch is that he can hit anything and everything. Splitters have given him a bit of trouble, but that is by far the least common of the six main pitch types. And he has been well above average against each of four-seamers, sliders, changeups, curveballs and especially cutters.

2. Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: Honorable Mention


    Contact: A

    Though we tend to think of Yordan Alvarez as a home run masher, he also gets quite a few base knocks that stay in the yard. He's batting .306 for the season, and that's after getting out to a bit of a rough start. In 34 games played since May 29, he's hitting .377 with 14 home runs.


    Power: A+

    Though he trails Aaron Judge by a few home runs, Alvarez is slugging .653, which is ludicrous. In the past 15 years, the only players to finish a season higher than .650 were Juan Soto in 47 games in 2020 (.695), Christian Yelich in 2019 (.671) and Albert Pujols in both 2008 (.653) and 2009 (.658).


    Plate Discipline: A+

    This is where Alvarez has made the leap from "good" to "elite" in 2022. Last year, he averaged nearly three strikeouts per walk, whiffing in more than 24 percent of his plate appearances. This year, it's 1.3 K/BB and he only strikes out 18 percent of the time. His overall contact percentage and swing percentage hasn't much changed, but he's doing a much better job of identifying balls and strikes.


    Pitch Immunity: B+

    In 2021, Alvarez was marginally below average against changeups. In 2022, he has been worth more runs against changeups than any other hitter and by a sizable margin. He's also one of the best in the business against four-seam fastballs. Against both cutters and curveballs, however, he's doing just OK.

1. Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Brett Davis/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: No. 4


    Contact: A+

    If the season ended today, Paul Goldschmidt would be the NL batting champ, and it's not even close. He's sitting at .333 while his closest challenger (Bryce Harper) is back at .318. Goldschmidt is also edging out the likes of Trea Turner, Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson for the MLB lead in total hits, currently at 108.


    Power: A

    While Goldschmidt is nowhere near on pace with Aaron Judge or Kyle Schwarber in the home runs department, at the start of play on Monday, only Yordan Alvarez had a better slugging percentage or OPS than this St. Louis Cardinal. He has already racked up 47 extra base hits, well on his way to what will be his sixth season with at least 30 doubles and 30 home runs. He's one home run away from 300 in his career.


    Plate Discipline: A-

    Goldschmidt draws walks about as often as anyone in the majors not named Juan Soto. But that patience also gets him into trouble sometimes, as he strikes out roughly five times for every three walks. He even had a three-whiff game on Monday against the Phillies, although it was his first since late May and just his third such game of the season.


    Pitch Immunity: A+

    Though he does strike out in one out of every five trips to the plate, best of luck trying to sneak any particular pitch type past Goldy. Curveballs gave him some trouble earlier in the season, but he has been teeing off on those as of late. At this point, he rates well above the league average against all six pitch types, particularly cutters and changeups.

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