MLB Superstar Power Rankings: Where Do 30 Teams' Top Stars Stack Up?

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVJuly 28, 2022

MLB Superstar Power Rankings: Where Do 30 Teams' Top Stars Stack Up?

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    Every MLB team has a brightest star on its roster, but how do the stars from each of the 30 teams compare to one another?

    Rankings these 30 stars required a two-step process, both of which are open to interpretation and rebuttal.

    The first step was actually determining each team's biggest star. Rather than simply looking at wins above replacement to see who has been the most valuable player this season, our approach was to speculate on who would be marketed as the current face of the franchise if that team were hosting the All-Star Game today. Because, in theory, that's the team's No. 1 superstar, right?

    However, in several cases, that doesn't quite work because the face of the franchise would be someone who has been there forever, even though he is producing at a replacement level (or worse) in 2022: Joey Votto in Cincinnati, Yadier Molina in St. Louis, Brandon Belt or Brandon Crawford in San Francisco and Miguel Cabrera in Detroit.

    There are also some teams for which there are multiple viable answers, most notably the Los Angeles Angels, Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, the latter of whom just hosted the ASG.

    But once each team's selection was made, the second step was ranking the 30 players in ascending order of how coveted they would be in a theoretical world in which all 30 are available as two-month rentals at Tuesday's trade deadline.

    One more note before we dive in: To qualify for consideration, a player need not currently be healthy, but a minimum of either 50 games played for a hitter or 10 games started for a pitcher is required. That means guys like Bryce Harper, Rafael Devers, Salvador Perez and Wander Franco are eligible, but Jacob deGrom, Fernando Tatis Jr., Stephen Strasburg and others are not.

Nos. 30-26: Skubal, Mullins, Walker, Cron and Montas

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    30. Tarik Skubal, LHP, Detroit Tigers

    Ten starts into the 2022 campaign, Skubal had a 2.15 ERA and looked like a legitimate candidate to be Detroit's ace for years to come. In nine starts since then, however, he's sitting at 6.00.

    At least the long ball hasn't been a massive problem for him this year. Nine homers allowed in 106.2 innings is way better than the 44 he gave up in his previous 181.1 innings of work. And his FIP of 2.92 this season suggests he's much better than he has shown recently.

    29. Cedric Mullins, CF, Baltimore Orioles

    Mullins was perhaps the biggest breakout star of the 2021 season. He entered the year with seven home runs and 10 stolen bases in 115 career games played, only to explode for a 30-30 year with an .878 OPS.

    He's going through something of a sophomore slump, though, with just eight home runs (three since May 11) and a .718 OPS. At least he's still swiping bags (21) and is one of the better defensive center fielders in the game today. However, that disappearing act in the slugging department hurt him in these rankings.

    28. Christian Walker, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

    Walker's batting average (.207) could certainly be better. However, it's hard to complain about a guy with 23 home runs, especially when his defense this season has been—at least as far as FanGraphs is concerned—emphatically better than that of any other first baseman.

    There have been reports in recent weeks that Arizona might be willing to trade Walker, even though he's under team control through 2024. If he actually is on the trade block, he's easily a top-10 player available.

    27. C.J. Cron, 1B, Colorado Rockies

    Cron has racked up 22 home runs with a .287 batting average and an .878 OPS. And that's nothing new. Excluding the coronavirus-shortened 2020, this is his fourth consecutive season with at least 21 doubles and 22 home runs, and he should certainly finish the year with more than 30 of each.

    Since the start of 2018, Cron has amassed 107 doubles and 109 home runs in 515 games played. Buddy, those are Juan Soto numbers (108 doubles, 118 home runs, 560 games), albeit with a drastically lower OBP (.338 compared to .426).

    26. Frankie Montas, RHP, Oakland Athletics

    Pretty much all talk about Montas since the start of the regular season has been of the "So, are the A's going to trade their best remaining asset or what?" variety. And if he does get dealt before the deadline, hopefully it's to a team that can actually score two or more runs in his starts at least 50 percent of the time, because he hasn't gotten that from the A's in 2022.

    Pitching for a team going absolutely nowhere hasn't seemed to bother Montas, though. He has a 3.18 ERA and surely would have been Oakland's representative at the All-Star Game if he hadn't been recuperating from a shoulder strain.

    He posted a 3.37 ERA last year and a 2.63 mark in 16 games started in 2019, but don't let the 4-9 record fool you into believing he has taken a step backward.

Nos. 25-21: Hayes, Witt, Contreras, Castillo and Rodon

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    25. Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates

    One of these years, Hayes is going to put an end to Nolan Arenado's career-long monopoly on the NL's Gold Gloves for third basemen. This 25-year-old Pirate is a wizard at the hot corner.

    Hitting is another story, though. Hayes is a career .267 hitter (not bad but not great) who averages one home run for every 58 trips to the plate.

    Hayes is the most valuable Pirate, hands down. But it'd be hard to justify putting such a light-hitting bat any higher than this.

    24. Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Kansas City Royals

    Somewhat lost in the shuffle of Seattle's Julio Rodriguez running away with AL ROY, the preseason favorite for that award, Bobby Witt Jr., is having one heck of a rookie campaign, too.

    Through Kansas City's first 30 games, he was merely hitting .211 with one home run and five stolen bases. But after that initial five-week adjustment period, he really turned a corner. Since May 14, he's batting .280 with 13 home runs and 15 stolen bases.

    Considering he hit .290 with 33 home runs and 29 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A in 2021, it's little surprise that he has a shot at joining the 25 HR-25 SB club.

    23. Willson Contreras, C, Chicago Cubs

    Contreras is one of the most valuable catchers in the majors right now. That's more so because of his bat than his pitch-framing skills, but the three-time All-Star is hardly a detriment or a liability behind the plate.

    He has cooled off considerably in recent weeks, though, batting just .227 with two home runs since June 15. We'll see if that has any impact on what the Cubs are able to get at the trade deadline for their impending free agent, but I would imagine not. A bunch of contenders could really use an upgrade at catcher, and even "Cooled Off Contreras" produces better than the average backstop.

    22. Luis Castillo, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

    Over the past half-decade, Castillo has quietly been a borderline top-10 pitcher in MLB. His 14.6 FanGraphs WAR since the start of 2018 is good for 11th-best during that time, trailing players like Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and a few other aces.

    But he has not gotten anywhere near the attention he deserves for two main reasons.

    No. 1 is playing for the Reds. Despite his individual success, Castillo has just a 40-46 record over the past five years for a team that is never particularly relevant. No. 2 is that he's kind of a "B+ performance in nearly every start" type of pitcher as opposed to an "occasionally gets hot and just mows down the competition for six straight weeks" type of pitcher. There's nothing wrong with being super reliable like that, but it doesn't help him win popularity contests.

    21. Carlos Rodon, LHP, San Francisco Giants

    For a guy who prior to the start of this season signed a two-year deal with a player option for the second season, Rodon is basically printing money every time he takes the mound.

    Well, almost every time. He did have an eight-run disaster against the Cardinals back in mid-May.

    But he has a 3.18 ERA in spite of that dud, and a 2.64 ERA in his other 19 starts. He also entered play Wednesday with an 11.5 K/9 rate, slightly ahead of Milwaukee's Corbin Burnes (11.3) for best in the NL. This back-to-back All-Star has made 10 quality starts this season, including two each against the Dodgers and Padres.

    And with that, we welcome you to "How is he not in the top 10?!" territory. This Nos. 21-11 range is riddled with multiple-time All-Stars and/or guys putting up jaw-dropping numbers this season, but top 10 is quite the exclusive club.

Nos. 20-16: Seager, Buxton, Cease, Rodriguez and Guerrero

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    20. Corey Seager, SS, Texas Rangers

    Here's a fun fact: Seager—whose career high in home runs is 26—is on pace for 39 dingers, but his OPS (.795) is the lowest of any season in which he didn't miss five months because of Tommy John surgery.

    How does that add up?

    Well, a two-month stretch (May 4 through July 3) in which he batted .208 didn't help.

    Texas ponied up $325 million for a career .297 hitter who averaged 15 home runs per season (aka George Brett), but it ended up with a .246 hitter who can send a baseball into orbit once every four or five games (aka Jay Buhner).

    But Seager is a version of Buhner who is a solid shortstop as opposed to a defensive liability in right field, so that's actually pretty cool.

    19. Byron Buxton, CF, Minnesota Twins

    Red-hot and healthy Buxton?

    Top five player in the bigs, no problem.

    Through his first 18 games (Minnesota's first 27), Buxton was homering at a 162-game pace of 81. And there was a three-game stretch in early June in which he had five home runs in nine at-bats.

    In 22 games in between, though, he triple-slashed .157/.253/.301 and sporadically missed eight games. And for the year, he's batting .219 and averaging 3.8 strikeouts per walk.

    But at least he has made it nearly four full months without a serious injury. He already has more plate appearances in 2022 than he had in any of the previous four seasons. And despite having missed 23 games, there's a chance he'll hit 40 home runs.

    18. Dylan Cease, RHP, Chicago White Sox

    If Carlos Rodon was the start of "How is he not in the top 10?!" territory, Cease likely signals the start of "Are you out of your bleeping mind to have him this low?" territory. Because since May 29, he has made 11 starts with a 0.42 ERA and 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

    He did allow 10 unearned runs during that time, though, and he had a 4.24 ERA in his first nine starts. Moreover, his walk rate—4.2 per nine innings even in that 11-game run—is concerning. And because of his propensity for both walks and strikeouts, he has pitched into the seventh inning just four times all season.

    Cease also entered 2022 with a 4.39 ERA in his three-year career and has never been named an All-Star. (How that was the case this year is equally confusing and infuriating.)

    Add it all up, and this historic run over the past two months gets him into the top 20 but not the top 15.

    17. Julio Rodriguez, CF, Seattle Mariners

    Rodriguez started slow. At the end of April, he was batting .205, had not yet homered and was striking out in 37.0 percent of his plate appearances. But over his subsequent 72 games, he triple-slashed .292/.352/.542, whiffed in a more respectable 24.3 percent of trips to the plate and had a 162-game pace of 38 home runs and 106 RBI.

    For the year, he's on pace for 28 homers and 35 stolen bases. Should he get there, he would join Mike Trout (twice), Ronald Acuna Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Cesar Cedeno as the only players in MLB history with 25 home runs and 30 stolen bases in an age-22 or younger season.

    It would be egregiously premature to put the 2022 Home Run Derby runner-up in the same conversation with Ken Griffey Jr., but this Mariners center fielder sure is fun to watch.

    16. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B, Toronto Blue Jays

    After finishing as the runner-up to Shohei Ohtani for the AL MVP Award while leading the majors with 48 home runs and 123 runs, Guerrero is having a modest campaign.

    He's still quite good. He wouldn't be ahead of Dylan Cease and Julio Rodriguez if he weren't. Vladito should finish with 35 home runs and 100 RBI.

    But instead of a slugging percentage just north of .600, he's just south of .500. The only category he's threatening to lead the majors in is GIDPs. And considering he had just a 0.1 FanGraphs WAR from 2019 to 2020, Guerrero gets a strong tip of the cap for last year's slugging prowess and a spot just outside the top 15.

15. Ronald Acuna Jr., RF, Atlanta Braves

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    Six Atlanta Braves were named All-Stars, and four make strong cases for representing the franchise on this list.

    Max Fried has been one of the most reliable pitchers in the majors since the start of 2020 with a 2.84 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. Austin Riley has been Atlanta's star hitter since the beginning of last season, batting .301 with a .920 OPS and a 162-game pace of 38 home runs. And after a career-best 27 home runs in 2021, Dansby Swanson is finally putting it all together in his age-28 season, batting .294 and pacing at 25 home runs and 23 stolen bases.

    But even with a slugging percentage (.398) drastically below the .550 mark he put up across his first four big league seasons, Ronald Acuna Jr. is still the face of this franchise.

    Early on in his return from a torn ACL, he looked no worse for wear. Through 31 games, Acuna was batting .316 and slugging .539, operating on a 162-game pace of 31 home runs and 57 stolen bases.

    Through the next 33 games, though, he had a .209 average with just five extra-base hits.

    The good news is he still stole bags at a 162-game pace of 49, so that surgically repaired knee doesn't appear to be ailing him. He's just sputtering through a slump at the dish—a slump which has significantly impacted the year-to-date numbers of a player who has missed 35 games. If he snaps out of it tomorrow and starts mashing homers and doubles again, no one would be surprised.

14. Jose Ramirez, 3B, Cleveland Guardians

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    At the end of May, Jose Ramirez would have been a lock for a spot in the top five on this list.

    After 20 games, the Guardians third baseman was hitting .360 with 162-game paces of 57 home runs and 227 RBI—the latter of which would have annihilated Hack Wilson's longstanding 1930 record of 191.

    Even a month later on Memorial Day, Ramirez was still on pace for 188 RBI. Considering the only player in the past eight decades to even eclipse 160 was Manny Ramirez with 165 in 1999, that would be one heck of a feat. At the time, Ramirez was also slugging .648, was trending toward 48 home runs and had walked 25 times against just 15 strikeouts.

    In the nearly two months since then, however, he has not been the same force. And at this point, not only is he no longer on pace for RBI history, but he's not even leading the AL anymore.

    He simply hasn't been as opportunistic as he was early on and is slugging a modest .495 in his last 48 games.

    Don't get me wrong, the Cleveland Guardians are still making out like bandits on the seven-year, $141 million deal Ramirez signed in April. The four-time All-Star and frequent AL MVP candidate (four top-six finishes) would probably fetch a seven-year deal in the $200 million range if he hit the open market today. But there are still at least a dozen other stars shining brighter than Ramirez.

13. Manny Machado, 3B, San Diego Padres

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    Just like Jose Ramirez, Manny Machado got out to an unbelievable start.

    Through 27 games—one-sixth of the regular season—Machado was hitting .382 and slugging .657 with a 162-game pace of 42 home runs and 36 stolen bases. Per Sports Betting Dime's MVP odds tracker, Machado was the favorite in the NL throughout May.

    But also like Ramirez, Machado has come back to earth in a big way since that sensational opening month, no doubt at least partially because of the lack of lineup support around him.

    Since May 7, he's hitting .265 and slugging .444, and he hasn't even attempted to steal a base since a week before Memorial Day.

    Machado's year-to-date metrics still look great. He's sixth in FanGraphs WAR and ranks just outside the top 10 on Baseball Reference. He's still batting above .300, and if he can maintain his .372 OBP, it would be the best mark of his career.

    Over the past two-and-a-half months, though, he hasn't been anything close to a top-10 player.

    Maybe things will swing back around once Fernando Tatis Jr. makes his season debut and after the Padres (presumably) add a bat or two at the trade deadline. But opposing pitchers have fared well of late against the only Padres bat they need to fear.

12. Bryce Harper, DH, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Rather than going with an injured superstar for the Philadelphia Phillies, we could have made the case for Zack Wheeler or Aaron Nola. They have been two of the most valuable pitchers in all of baseball since the start of 2020.

    But even with a broken thumb and no timetable for return, Harper is their biggest star—and there's little question.

    Not only did he win the NL MVP Award in 2015 and 2021, but he was in the conversation for a third trophy when he got hurt—this despite a UCL injury that has rendered him unable to play right field since mid-April.

    Harper is hitting .318 and slugging .599, both of which would rank in the top 10 in the majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. Through 73 team games, he was on pace for 33 home runs, 107 RBI and 20 stolen bases.

    That's with what was a mediocre start to the season, too. Through 25 games, he was hitting .232 at a 26-homer pace. In the subsequent 39 games, he hit .374 with a 1.138 OPS.

    Because he has been out for a month and could be out for at least one more, we couldn't justify putting Harper in the top 10. After all, the theoretical premise for this ranking is trading for a two-month rental, and he's going to be sidelined for probably half of that. But if he returns and resumes hitting like he was, he will jump into the top five in a hurry.

11. Shane McClanahan, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays

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    It would be mighty impressive for a starting pitcher to put up 2003 Eric Gagne numbers, right?

    Well, take a gander at what Shane McClanahan has done in his last 13 starts.

    2003 Eric Gagne: 82.1 IP, 1.20 ERA, 0.69 WHIP
    McClanahan Since May 11: 85.1 IP, 1.27 ERA, 0.69 WHIP

    Gagne, of course, went 55-for-55 in save chances and won the NL Cy Young Award.

    The strikeout totals (137 for Gagne, 107 for McClanahan) are nowhere near the same, but keep in mind that Gagne's job was to throw as hard as he could for one inning, maybe two on rare occasions. McClanahan, on the other hand, went at least six innings in each of those 13 starts, only twice allowing multiple earned runs. On both of those occasions, it was just two.

    Also, it'd be ludicrous to complain about McClanahan's strikeouts. He's tied for the major league lead.

    Perhaps most impressive about his recent dominance is that three of those 13 consecutive quality starts came at the expense of the mighty Yankees. In each of those three games, McClanahan went six innings, allowed one earned run and struck out either seven or eight batters.

    This season, there have only been nine instances of a starter throwing at least six frames, striking out at least seven and allowing zero or one earned runs against the Yankees, and this 25-year-old lefty is responsible for one-third of them. (The Blue Jays' Alek Manoah has two.)

    Our only hesitation in putting him in the top 10 is his track record, or lack thereof.

    McClanahan has never pitched more than 123.1 innings in a season, but he'll likely eclipse that mark before the end of July. He had a 3.43 ERA last season, didn't pitch in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and had an ERA north of 3.00 in college or the minors in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

    Can he keep this up for another two-plus months?

    Why not?

    All great careers have to start somewhere.

10. Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox

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    It's a bummer Rafael Devers recently landed on the injured list with a hamstring ailment. Let's hope it's a brief stay, because he was having a career-best season.

    And that's saying something for someone who led the majors in total bases in 2019 and ranked in the top 15 in doubles, home runs, RBI and runs in 2021.

    Devers is fourth in the bigs in OPS. His .981 mark trails only those of Yordan Alvarez, Paul Goldschmidt and Aaron Judge. And the incredible part is that Devers draws a walk only once every three or four games, which you'd think would hurt the "O" portion of his OPS. But he also entered Wednesday third in batting average (.324) and has racked up 52 extra-base hits (fifth).

    Devers is fourth in total bases (210), even without ranking in the top 10 in home runs.

    It's astounding that the Red Sox keep letting him go out there and play third base every day, though. I get that J.D. Martinez is strictly a designated hitter and that you have to put Devers somewhere because of that. But since the start of 2018, he has committed 94 errors at the hot corner. No other third baseman has more than 56.

    Still, his stick is good enough that he's a two-time All-Star who is well on his way to a third season in which he will receive votes for AL MVP.

9. Mookie Betts, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Picking a Dodger was one of the toughest parts of this exercise.

    Freddie Freeman has put up excellent numbers in his first season with Los Angeles and is in the running for the NL batting crown. Trea Turner is on his way to the 25 HR-25 SB club and is a strong candidate to lead the NL in RBI. Clayton Kershaw has tenure on his side as a 15-year vet, and he's having a great year featuring not one but two starts in which he went seven perfect innings.

    But by the slimmest of margins, we'll go with Mookie Betts.

    Because when he gets hot, it is a thing of beauty.

    In 32 games from April 27 through June 1—roughly one-fifth of the regular season—Betts hit .362, had an OPS of 1.186 and was homering at a 162-game pace of 71. In what felt like the blink of an eye, he went from a .190 hitter who was hurting the Dodgers in the leadoff spot to the front-runner for NL MVP.

    He cooled off before landing on the IL with a fractured rib, but he has been solid since his July 3 return. Not "1.186 OPS" solid, but still good.

    Despite that absence, he has eight more home runs than any other Dodger. The 2018 AL MVP is also still a darn good right fielder. He has yet to commit an error in 171 chances and could be headed for his sixth Gold Glove Award.

8. Juan Soto, RF, Washington Nationals

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    Though the Juan Soto trade rumors are relentlessly swirling with five days remaining until the deadline, it has actually been a down year for the Washington Nationals star.

    Of course, "down year" is an odd way to describe leading the majors in walks for a second consecutive season and a pace of 33 home runs and 62 extra-base hits. But Soto set such an incredible standard for himself over the previous two seasons—triple-slashing .322/.471/.572 and finishing in the top five for the NL MVP Award in both seasons—that even an All-Star campaign can feel like a disappointment.

    If he lands on a team that's interested in winning, maybe that will spark a big second half.

    After all, he was already hotter than the sun heading into his Home Run Derby title. In his final 15 games before the All-Star break, Soto hit .409 with six home runs with an OBP of .567. (The Nationals went 2-13, because of course they did.)

    Here's a fun but dispiriting question before we move on: Who will be the Nats' representative on this list if they do trade Soto and impending free agent Josh Bell? Keibert Ruiz? Josiah Gray? Either way, they'd go straight from No. 8 to No. 30.

7. Sandy Alcantara, RHP, Miami Marlins

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    The run that Sandy Alcantara has been on since mid-May is nothing short of ridiculous.

    Starting pitchers barely make it five innings nowadays, but Alcantara went at least seven innings in each of his 13 starts prior to the All-Star break. He did so with a minuscule 1.31 ERA, registering a quality start in 12 of those 13 appearances.

    During that stretch of more than two months, the Marlins ace had as many nine-inning outings as he had home runs allowed and starts with at least 10 strikeouts: three. And he went from a solid but relatively unknown pitcher on a mediocre team to the runaway favorite for the NL Cy Young Award...on what is still a mediocre team.

    There's only so much Alcantara can control, though. And while the Marlins went 31-34 in the 65 games before the All-Star break, they were 10-3 in Alcantara's starts. This despite scoring four runs or fewer in 10 of his last 11 appearances.

    Not only is Alcantara almost single-handedly keeping Miami on the fringe of the wild card picture, but he is on pace to join Pedro Martinez (1997) as the only pitchers in the past 36 years to log at least 240 innings with a sub-2.00 ERA.

    He's only 26 and isn't the household name he should be, but I fear we are underselling Alcantara at No. 7 on this list.

6. Corbin Burnes, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers

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    For all the time we've spent marveling at Sandy Alcantara, Shane McClanahan and Dylan Cease over the past two-plus months, let's be sure not to forget that the 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner is still dominating the competition.

    Corbin Burnes has made four starts in which he recorded at least 20 outs, allowed three or fewer hits, allowed zero runs and struck out at least 10 batters. There have been just 19 such performances thus far in 2022, and this one arm is responsible for one-fifth of them. No one else has more than one. (He also had a 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1, BB, 8 K outing just one week into the regular season.)

    Burnes led the majors with a 2.43 ERA last season. He was also tops in K/9, K/BB and HR/9. Yet despite a substantial uptick in home runs allowed (already six more than last season in 48.1 fewer innings), he has trimmed his ERA to 2.20. He is also leading the NL in strikeouts (149) and going back and forth with Carlos Rodon for first in the NL in K/9 (11.3) and has an impressive—though nowhere near Aaron Nola's MLB-best 8.5 mark—K/BB ratio of 4.8.

    And while Alcantara has surged comfortably into first place in the NL Cy Young race, Burnes is still a strong candidate to repeat, in part because of Milwaukee's volume of games remaining against the Reds, Pirates, Cubs and Diamondbacks.

    Fingers crossed for a head-to-head showdown near the end of the year, though. Milwaukee hosts Miami for a four-game series during which the calendar will flip from September to October. No sense in trying to extrapolate the rotations right now, but suffice it to say Burnes and Alcantara could make their final starts against one another. That would be fantastic theatre.

5. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Paul Goldschmidt has had an intriguing career—one that is sneakily trending toward a multiyear debate about whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

    Goldy is a seven-time All-Star who has won four Gold Glove Awards and four Silver Slugger Awards. He has received votes for NL MVP in eight of the past nine seasons, including two second-place finishes and five top-six finishes. But he has never won that award, and with the exception of intentional walks in 2015, he has never led the majors in any category.

    That might change, provided he can stay ahead of and pull away from Nolan Arenado as the MVP of the Cardinals.

    Because let's be clear: That's a toss-up right now. Both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference have Goldschmidt slightly ahead of Arenado in WAR, with each ranked in the top five in the majors. (Tommy Edman isn't far behind them, either, for what it's worth.)

    But with a great big honorable mention to Arenado and his Platinum Glove at the hot corner, give us the first baseman who entered Wednesday leading the National League in runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage—the one whom Vegas Insider lists at -155 odds to win the NL MVP Award.

    Goldschmidt is a career .296 hitter, and if he can keep up this 110 percent effort for another 10 weeks, he will finally win that elusive MVP.

4. Yordan Alvarez, DH/LF, Houston Astros

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    For what it's worth on the player decision front, had we gone with Justin Verlander for the Astros, he still would have landed at No. 4.

    Though JV's strikeout rate is nowhere near what it was in 2018-19, he's still one of the best in the business. Coupled with what has been a first-ballot Hall of Fame career, his career-best 1.86 ERA would incite a bidding war if he were on the trade block. (There's a less than zero percent chance he will be traded, but mentioning that since our ranking is based on that "everyone is theoretically available as a two-month rental" premise.)

    But for as great as Verlander has been, Yordan Alvarez is in the middle of one of the most impressive slugging campaigns in recent history.

    Aaron Judge ranks higher than Alvarez because he has 10 more home runs, because he has amassed a higher WAR and because the impending free agent has been a daily topic of conversation since before the regular season began.

    But while Judge is slugging an impressive .657, Alvarez has him beat at .664. Aside from Juan Soto's slugging .695 in 47 games during the truncated 2020 season, the only higher marks in the past 18 years were .671 by Albert Pujols in 2006 and Christian Yelich in 2019.

    Alvarez went on the IL with a hand injury one week before the All-Star break, but it clearly wasn't serious, as he missed just seven games and had two home runs and a double in his first five at-bats after the break.

    Since Memorial Day, Alvarez has triple-slashed .368/.469/.812 with 16 home runs and 40 RBI in 39 games. He's not out of the AL MVP race just yet.

3. Max Scherzer, RHP, New York Mets

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    First things first: a one day-belated happy 38th birthday to the man who has been the most reliably dominant pitcher in the majors over the past decade.

    Max Scherzer's campaign was temporarily derailed by an oblique injury that kept him out for much of the season.

    Not a hint of rust was to be found when he made his return, though.

    If anything, he came back stronger than ever. In his last four starts, Scherzer has pitched 25.1 innings with a 1.78 ERA, a 0.79 WHIP and 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

    Missing those seven or eight starts—during which time Miami's Sandy Alcantara also transformed into a juggernaut—may end up costing Scherzer the NL Cy Young Award. However, barring another injury, he'll finish in the top five for the ninth time in the past 10 seasons, and he's still the clear-cut choice for whom you want toeing the rubber in Game 7 of the World Series.

    (If Scherzer's teammate Jacob deGrom had made a single start in the past calendar year, maybe there would be a debate. But he hasn't. So there isn't.)

2. Aaron Judge, CF, New York Yankees

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    In early June, I put together predictions for who would lead the majors in 10 stat categories. And even though he was four homers ahead of the field at the time, I didn't pick Aaron Judge.

    As dumb as that looks right now, I stand by the analysis. Throughout his career, Judge has been a better slugger in April and May than he has been in the other four months.

    That he'd cool off was a reasonable expectation.

    It hasn't happened, though.

    Judge entered June with 18 home runs in 49 Yankees games, and then he hit 20 more in their next 49 contests. He is on pace for 63 home runs, which would break Roger Maris' franchise record of 61. It would also make Judge the first player with at least 60 dingers in a season since Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa did it in 2001.

    Given the way most baseball fans feel about Bonds, Sosa and Mark McGwire, if Judge does stay on pace for 63, it will be only a matter of time before it's branded as the chase for the legitimate single-season home run title.

    And, oh by the way, Judge entered Wednesday batting .296, leading the majors in runs by 13 over Mookie Betts and Paul Goldschmidt and home runs by seven over Kyle Schwarber. He's just one behind Pete Alonso for first place in RBI.

    If he wasn't going up against the hitting-pitching unicorn, Judge would be No. 1 on this list and running away with the AL MVP crown. But if he finishes the season on top in runs, home runs and RBI, Shohei Ohtani's pitching prowess might not be enough to hold off Judge.

1. Shohei Ohtani, DH/RHP, Los Angeles Angels

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    Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

    Among pitchers, Shohei Ohtani ranks 10th in FanGraphs WAR, and he was on the verge of vaulting into the top five prior to that six-run, seventh-inning implosion against Atlanta on Friday. The AL Cy Young race looks like it's between Shane McClanahan and Justin Verlander, but Ohtani is lurking.

    And though his WAR as a hitter is nowhere near the top 10, it's worth noting that Ohtani was the first player to reach 20 home runs and 10 stolen bases this season and is also striking out less often than in any previous season.

    If we had to consider Ohtani the pitcher and Ohtani the hitter as two separate entities, he wouldn't be No. 1 on this list. Actually, he wouldn't be on the list at all, because Mike Trout would be the clear choice for the Angels.

    But combine his filth on the mound, his power at the plate and his speed on the basepaths, and Ohtani wasn't a tough choice in the top spot.

    Now, if Aaron Judge keeps mashing and eclipses 60 home runs or if Ohtani falters down the stretch for a team going nowhere fast, this could change. But hold the voting today, and he'd win the AL MVP Award and probably finishing third for the AL Cy Young.

    Suffice it to say, that's good enough for us.


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