MLB Position-by-Position Player Power Rankings, Preseason Edition
Last season, I wrote a series of articles breaking down my position-by-position power rankings as the season progressed.
With spring training games set to kick off this week and the regular season fast approaching, now is as good a time as any to put together my preseason rankings for 2015.
What follows will be a look at the 10 best players at each position, based simply on how I expect them to perform in the year ahead.
I've taken into account their all-around offensive abilities, their defensive contributions and then what they have meant to the success of their respective teams.
To put it another way, think of it as though you were building a team to compete for just the 2015 season. This is the order in which I would select players at each position to build said team.
Note: Also included among the statistics for each player is a column labeled "100" with either a number or NR. This is a look at where each player ranked in a recent article running down the top 100 MLB players at the start of spring training.
Top 10 Catchers
|1. Yadier Molina, STL||.282||.719||21||7||38||40||2.4||10|
|2. Buster Posey, SF||.311||.854||28||22||89||72||5.2||12|
|3. Jonathan Lucroy, MIL||.301||.837||53||13||69||73||6.7||40|
|4. Russell Martin, TOR||.290||.832||20||11||67||45||5.5||60|
|5. Devin Mesoraco, CIN||.273||.893||25||25||80||54||4.8||64|
|6. Yan Gomes, CLE||.278||.785||25||21||74||61||4.4||70|
|7. Salvador Perez, KC||.260||.692||28||17||70||57||3.3||NR|
|8. Matt Wieters, BAL||.308||.839||5||5||18||13||0.7||NR|
|9. Brian McCann, NYY||.232||.692||15||23||75||57||1.8||NR|
|10. Chris Iannetta, LAA||.252||.765||22||7||43||41||2.1||NR|
Yadier Molina is coming off of a down season, due in part to missing 40 games with a thumb injury, but he remains the best all-around catcher in the game.
He's still capable of hitting .300 with decent power, he completely shuts down the running game and the team had an ERA almost a full run lower (3.19 to 4.07) when he was behind the plate, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
Close behind is Buster Posey, who added another World Series title to a trophy case that includes two more rings, NL Rookie of the Year in 2010, NL MVP in 2012, an NL batting title and two Silver Slugger awards.
Jonathan Lucroy was the best catcher in baseball in 2014, and even if he regresses a bit from his breakout numbers he'd still be among the best in the business. Devin Mesoraco and Yan Gomes joined Lucroy in putting together breakout seasons, and they now find themselves comfortably inside the top 10.
Russell Martin cashed in on his terrific two seasons in Pittsburgh with a five-year, $82 million deal to join the Toronto Blue Jays. His back-loaded deal could hurt down the line, but he undoubtedly makes them better in 2015.
Salvador Perez and Brian McCann were both somewhat disappointing offensively last year, while Matt Wieters played just 26 games before Tommy John ended his season. All three are capable of bounce-back seasons, and Perez earns a spot on his defense alone.
Chris Iannetta earns the final spot on the strength of his .373 on-base percentage, edging out Wilson Ramos, Miguel Montero and up-and-comers Mike Zunino and Travis d'Arnaud.
Top 10 First Basemen
|1. Miguel Cabrera, DET||.313||.895||52||25||109||101||4.9||6|
|2. Paul Goldschmidt, ARI||.300||.938||39||19||69||75||4.5||13|
|3. Anthony Rizzo, CHC||.286||.913||28||32||78||89||5.1||20|
|4. Jose Abreu, CWS||.317||.964||35||36||107||80||5.5||26|
|5. Adrian Gonzalez, LAD||.276||.817||41||27||116||83||3.9||31|
|6. Freddie Freeman, ATL||.288||.847||43||18||78||93||3.1||33|
|7. Edwin Encarnacion, TOR||.268||.901||27||34||98||75||3.6||45|
|8. Joey Votto, CIN||.255||.799||16||6||23||32||1.9||57|
|9. Albert Pujols, LAA||.272||.790||37||28||105||89||3.9||83|
|10. Lucas Duda, NYM||.253||.830||27||30||92||74||3.7||85|
Miguel Cabrera is coming off of a down season by his standards, but he is still one of the game's elite hitters. Offseason ankle surgery could sideline him to start the season, but a clean bill of health moving forward could mean big numbers once again.
Paul Goldschmidt is also coming back from an injury after a fractured hand ended his season in August. He was well on his way to another MVP-caliber season before the injury, and he may be the best long-term bet at the position.
There will be plenty of debates as to which Chicago team has the best first baseman. Anthony Rizzo gets the nod here, as Abreu appears likely to regress a bit (.356 BABIP, 26.9% HR/FB), though he should still be an elite run producer.
Edwin Encarnacion was well on his way to a monster season when a quad injury sidelined him just before the All-Star break, but he still managed 34 home runs in 477 at-bats.
Adrian Gonzalez is as consistent as they come with at least 99 RBI in each of the past eight seasons, while Albert Pujols bounced back nicely to help make the Angels the highest-scoring offense in baseball.
Joey Votto will be looking for a similar bounce-back performance after the worst season of his career, and he's more than capable of doing it. Freddie Freeman might not see many pitches to hit in a weak Braves lineup, but he remains one of the best young players in the game.
A breakout season from Lucas Duda earns him the final spot on this list, ahead of guys like Justin Morneau, Eric Hosmer, Joe Mauer and Matt Adams.
Top 10 Second Basemen
|1. Robinson Cano, SEA||.314||.836||37||14||82||77||6.4||16|
|2. Jose Altuve, HOU||.341||.830||47||7||59||85||6.0||35|
|3. Ian Kinsler, DET||.275||.727||40||17||92||100||5.5||55|
|4. Dustin Pedroia, BOS||.278||.712||33||7||53||72||4.8||75|
|5. Ben Zobrist, OAK||.272||.749||34||10||52||83||5.0||79|
|6. Brian Dozier, MIN||.242||.762||33||23||71||112||5.2||87|
|7. Neil Walker, PIT||.271||.809||25||23||76||74||3.6||98|
|8. Howie Kendrick, LAD||.293||.744||33||7||75||85||5.4||NR|
|9. Daniel Murphy, NYM||.289||.734||37||9||57||79||2.0||NR|
|10. Dee Gordon, MIA||.289||.704||24||2||34||92||2.4||NR|
Expectations were sky-high for Robinson Cano last season after he joined the Mariners on a massive 10-year, $240 million deal, and he did not disappoint.
His power numbers were down, but he was still one of the game's elite offensive players, and his presence in the middle of the Mariners lineup was undeniable.
Statistically, a strong case can be made for Jose Altuve being the best second baseman in the league last season. He won the AL batting title and also led the league in hits (225) and stolen bases (56).
However, he's a well-below-average defender (-7 DRS, -14.7 UZR/150) and his batting average is likely to drop some once his luck evens out after posting a .360 BABIP last year.
Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia and Ben Zobrist have ranked among the game's best second basemen for some time now. Pedroia is looking to bounce back from a nagging wrist injury that slowed him in 2014, while Zobrist joins the Athletics in a contract year.
Brian Dozier was a rare 20/20 second baseman last year with 23 home runs and 21 steals, Neil Walker did a great job protecting Andrew McCutchen out of the cleanup spot for the Pirates and Howie Kendrick had a career-best 5.4 WAR last year.
Steady contributor Daniel Murphy and speedster Dee Gordon (64 SB) claim the final two spots in these rankings, edging out up-and-comers Kolten Wong and Joe Panik. Keep an eye out for Jason Kipnis as well, as he looks to return to All-Star form.
Top 10 Third Basemen
|1. Anthony Rendon, WAS||.287||.824||39||21||83||111||6.5||22|
|2. Adrian Beltre, TEX||.324||.879||33||19||77||79||7.0||25|
|3. Josh Donaldson, TOR||.255||.798||31||29||98||93||7.4||29|
|4. Kyle Seager, SEA||.268||.788||27||25||96||71||5.8||48|
|5. Evan Longoria, TB||.253||.724||26||22||91||83||3.4||54|
|6. Matt Carpenter, STL||.272||.750||33||8||59||99||3.0||61|
|7. Nolan Arenado, COL||.287||.828||34||18||61||58||4.1||66|
|8. David Wright, NYM||.269||.698||30||8||63||54||2.8||74|
|9. Manny Machado, BAL||.278||.755||14||12||32||38||2.4||NR|
|10. Todd Frazier, CIN||.273||.795||22||29||80||88||5.3||NR|
Anthony Rendon followed up a strong rookie season in 2013 with a fantastic first full season, as he led the NL in runs scored (111), won Silver Slugger honors and finished fifth in NL MVP voting.
The best is yet to come from the 24-year-old, and without having to shuffle between second base and third base this season he could be in for an even better all-around season.
Adrian Beltre is entering his age-36 season, but he is still a bona fide star. With a few more seasons at his current level of production, he'll have an awfully convincing Hall of Fame case when the time comes.
Josh Donaldson takes his terrific mix of defensive skills (20 DRS, 13.3 UZR/150) and run production ability to Toronto after two great seasons in Oakland, where he joins Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in a stacked lineup.
Kyle Seager remains one of the more underrated players in the league, but the Mariners have at least taken notice, locking him up with a seven-year, $100 million extension.
Nolan Arenado has the all-around game to be a legitimate superstar in Colorado, and he was well on his way to a breakout season before missing 37 games with a fractured finger. Don't be surprised if he's in the top five here when the 2015 season comes to an end.
Evan Longoria and Matt Carpenter should once again be big pieces of the offensive puzzle for their respective teams, while David Wright and Manny Machado are looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued seasons.
Todd Frazier takes the final spot on the strength of a strong first half last season, beating out Pablo Sandoval, Chase Headley, Josh Harrison and Trevor Plouffe. There's also a guy by the name of Kris Bryant on his way to the majors who's supposedly going to be pretty good.
Top 10 Shortstops
|1. Troy Tulowitzki, COL||.340||1.035||18||21||52||71||5.5||27|
|2. Ian Desmond, WAS||.255||.743||26||24||91||73||3.8||43|
|3. Andrelton Simmons, ATL||.244||.617||18||7||46||44||3.5||68|
|4. Starlin Castro, CHC||.292||.777||33||14||65||58||2.0||93|
|5. J.J. Hardy, BAL||.268||.682||28||9||52||56||3.4||NR|
|6. Jose Reyes, TOR||.287||.726||33||9||51||94||3.1||NR|
|7. Jhonny Peralta, STL||.263||.779||38||21||75||61||5.8||NR|
|8. Erick Aybar, LAA||.278||.700||30||7||68||77||3.9||NR|
|9. Alcides Escobar, KC||.285||.694||34||3||50||74||2.4||NR|
|10. Alexei Ramirez, CWS||.273||.713||35||15||74||82||3.0||NR|
Troy Tulowitzki remains the best all-around shortstop in the game by a wide margin when healthy, but staying on the field has not been his strong suit. He was probably the NL MVP front-runner when a hip injury ended his season on July 20.
The only person who can rival Tulowitzki offensively at this point is Ian Desmond, who has put together three straight 20/20 seasons and is set to cash in with a big payday next offseason.
Andrelton Simmons actually took a step backward offensively last year, hitting just .244/.286/.331, but his defense alone (28 DRS, 18.4 UZR/150) earns him the No. 3 spot here. Those metrics really don't paint the full picture of just how good he is with the glove.
Starlin Castro rebounded nicely for the Cubs after a rough 2013 season, while J.J. Hardy, Jose Reyes, Jhonny Peralta and Erick Aybar are all steady veteran producers for their respective teams.
Hardy is the best defender of that group so he rounds out the top five, while Reyes brings table-setting speed, Peralta has plus pop and Aybar does a little bit of everything.
The Royals' offense came to life when Alcides Escobar moved into the leadoff spot last year, as he hit .395 over the final 10 games of the season. He followed that up with a strong postseason (19-for-65, 8 R) and a breakout season could be coming.
Alexei Ramirez dropped off after the All-Star break, but he still brings enough to the table offensively and defensively to edge out Jimmy Rollins, Danny Santana, Elvis Andrus, Brandon Crawford and defensive whiz Zack Cozart for the final spot.
Top 10 Left Fielders
|1. Alex Gordon, KC||.266||.783||34||19||74||87||6.6||34|
|2. Michael Brantley, CLE||.327||.890||45||20||97||94||7.0||37|
|3. Justin Upton, SD||.270||.833||34||29||102||77||3.3||58|
|4. Matt Holliday, STL||.272||.811||37||20||90||83||3.4||76|
|5. Hanley Ramirez, BOS||.283||.817||35||13||71||64||3.5||82|
|6. Starling Marte, PIT||.291||.808||29||13||56||73||5.1||86|
|7. Jayson Werth, WAS||.292||.849||37||16||82||85||4.0||92|
|8. Christian Yelich, MIA||.284||.764||30||9||54||94||3.6||95|
|9. Yoenis Cespedes, DET||.260||.751||36||22||100||89||4.1||NR|
|10. Melky Cabrera, CWS||.301||.808||35||16||73||81||3.1||NR|
All due respect to Michael Brantley and the terrific offensive numbers he put up in a breakout season, but the elite defense of Alex Gordon keeps him in the No. 1 spot among left fielders.
Gordon won his fourth consecutive Gold Glove last season with terrific defensive metrics (27 DRS, 22.6 UZR/150), and he also led the Royals in home runs and RBI.
Brantley is a close second, and there's no indication in his peripheral numbers that his breakout season is not repeatable. The Indians' decision to lock him up with a four-year, $25 million deal last offseason looks like a stroke of genius a year later.
Justin Upton, Matt Holliday and Jayson Werth are all steady veteran producers, with Werth swapping outfield positions with Bryce Harper this season.
Hanley Ramirez is also on the move, as he shifts from shortstop to left field after joining the Boston Red Sox this offseason. The next game he plays in the outfield will be his first, so his defense will be interesting to watch.
Starling Marte and Christian Yelich represent the next wave of star left fielders, and both players are capable of taking another big step forward this coming season.
Two offseason movers in Melky Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes round out the top 10, just ahead of Brett Gardner, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.
Top 10 Center Fielders
|1. Mike Trout, LAA||.287||.939||39||36||111||115||7.9||2|
|2. Andrew McCutchen, PIT||.314||.952||38||25||83||89||6.4||3|
|3. Carlos Gomez, MIL||.284||.833||34||23||73||95||4.8||24|
|4. Adam Jones, BAL||.281||.780||30||29||96||88||4.9||44|
|5. Juan Lagares, NYM||.281||.703||24||4||47||46||5.5||96|
|6. Jacoby Ellsbury, NYY||.271||.747||27||16||70||71||3.3||NR|
|7. Lorenzo Cain, KC||.301||.751||29||5||53||55||5.0||NR|
|8. Marcell Ozuna, MIA||.269||.772||26||23||85||72||4.4||NR|
|9. Adam Eaton, CWS||.300||.763||26||1||35||76||5.2||NR|
|10. Billy Hamilton, CIN||.250||.648||25||6||48||72||2.5||NR|
Two of the best players in the game battle it out for the top spot here, with Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen coming in second and third in my top 100 players rankings, respectively.
To be honest, you can't really go wrong with either guy, but Trout gets the nod after he successfully made the transition into more of a run production role last season and won his first MVP award in the process.
Carlos Gomez and Adam Jones make up the second tier at the position, as both players are plus defenders with impressive all-around offensive games. Gomez gets the No. 3 spot thanks to his 50-point advantage in on-base percentage and slightly superior defense.
From there, the drop-off is fairly steep, as Juan Lagares was the only other center fielder to earn a spot in the top 100. That was on the strength of his elite-level defense (28 DRS, 25.3 UZR/150), as his offensive game is still a work in progress.
Jacoby Ellsbury had a decent first season in New York, but hardly justified his $153 million price tag. He flashed more power, but his triple-slash numbers dropped across the board from his final year in Boston.
The remainder of the list is made up of emerging players, with Lorenzo Cain leading the way after his postseason coming-out party. His batting average could take a step back after he posted a .380 BABIP last year, but his defense and speed on the bases aren't going anywhere.
Marcell Ozuna, Adam Eaton and speedster Billy Hamilton close out the top 10, with all three players capable of bigger and better things this coming year.
Center field as a whole is incredibly deep this year. A.J. Pollock, Dexter Fowler, Angel Pagan, Charlie Blackmon, Denard Span, Leonys Martin and top prospect Joc Pederson are all capable of cracking the top 10 before the season is over.
Top 10 Right Fielders
|1. Giancarlo Stanton, MIA||.288||.950||31||37||105||89||6.5||4|
|2. Jose Bautista, TOR||.286||.928||27||35||103||101||6.0||8|
|3. Yasiel Puig, LAD||.296||.863||37||16||69||92||5.4||39|
|4. Hunter Pence, SF||.277||.777||29||20||74||106||3.6||50|
|5. Jason Heyward, STL||.271||.735||26||11||58||74||6.3||51|
|6. Matt Kemp, SD||.287||.852||38||25||89||77||1.1||72|
|7. Bryce Harper, WAS||.273||.768||10||13||32||41||1.0||88|
|8. George Springer, HOU||.231||.804||8||20||51||45||2.0||NR|
|9. J.D. Martinez, DET||.315||.912||30||23||76||57||4.2||NR|
|10. Kole Calhoun, LAA||.272||.776||31||17||58||90||4.1||NR|
Another position with a pair of superstars in the running for the No. 1 spot, Giancarlo Stanton edges out Jose Bautista by the slimmest of margins.
Obviously the 25-year-old Stanton has more upside long term than the 34-year-old Bautista, but as far as just 2015 is concerned, both players are capable of making a run at their respective MVP honors.
Yasiel Puig has shown superstar potential during his brief time in the majors, but he's also been wildly inconsistent. The Dodgers are counting on him to step up with Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp gone, and he'll need to avoid the prolonged slumps that have plagued him to this point.
Hunter Pence does a little bit of everything for the Giants, as he spent significant time batting leadoff, second and fifth last year. He hit 20 home runs, stole 13 bases and scored a career-high 106 runs, and it's fair to say he means more to the team than his stats may indicate.
Jason Heyward is the game's premier defensive right fielder (32 DRS, 20.5 UZR/150), and he still has tremendous offensive upside. The 25-year-old is still capable of taking his performance to another level.
Matt Kemp proved he can still carry an offense when healthy with a huge second half. Young stars Bryce Harper and George Springer are both capable of breaking out in a big way after injuries cut into their production last year.
J.D. Martinez may seem low in the No. 9 spot, but he looks like a significant regression candidate (.389 BABIP, 19.5% HR/FB) after his surprise 2014 performance.
Kole Calhoun takes the final spot, ahead of Torii Hunter, Ryan Braun, Corey Dickerson and Josh Reddick. Keep an eye on Jorge Soler and Gregory Polanco, as they could make their way onto this list before too long.
Top 5 Designated Hitters
|1. Victor Martinez, DET||.335||.974||33||32||103||87||5.3||38|
|2. David Ortiz, BOS||.263||.873||27||35||104||59||2.9||91|
|3. Nelson Cruz, SEA||.271||.859||32||40||108||87||4.7||NR|
|4. Adam LaRoche, CWS||.259||.817||19||26||92||73||2.2||NR|
|5. Billy Butler, OAK||.271||.702||32||9||66||57||-0.3||NR|
Despite the fact that he's entering his age-36 season and recently underwent knee surgery that could sideline him to start the season, Victor Martinez is still an easy choice as the game's top designated hitter.
He may not duplicate the career-high 32 home runs he hit last season, but he's one of the best pure hitters in the game, and another .300 average and 100-plus RBI in the middle of a good Tigers lineup seems well within reach.
David Ortiz saw his triple-slash numbers drop in a bad Red Sox offense last year, but he still managed to put together the eighth 30 HR-100 RBI season of his impressive career.
The Mariners scooped up Nelson Cruz in free agency to give them the right-handed power bat they've been searching for. He probably won't hit 40 home runs again with the move to Safeco Field, but he's still a plus run producer for what should be a very good team.
Adam LaRoche and Billy Butler also joined new teams this offseason. LaRoche will provide some much-needed protection for Jose Abreu in the White Sox lineup, while the A's are counting on a bounce-back year from Butler in their retooled offense.
Whoever winds up penciled in at DH for the Astros, between Evan Gattis and Chris Carter, looks like the best bet to challenge for a spot here.
Right-Handed Starting Pitchers
Top 10 Right-Handed Starting Pitchers
|1. Felix Hernandez, SEA||15-6||2.14||0.915||.200||248||6.8||5|
|2. Corey Kluber, CLE||18-9||2.44||1.095||.233||269||7.4||11|
|3. Max Scherzer, WAS||18-5||3.15||1.175||.238||252||6.0||15|
|4. Adam Wainwright, STL||20-9||2.38||1.031||.222||179||6.1||17|
|5. Jordan Zimmermann, WAS||14-5||2.66||1.072||.244||182||4.9||19|
|6. Johnny Cueto, CIN||20-9||2.25||0.960||.194||242||6.4||21|
|7. Yu Darvish, TEX||10-7||3.06||1.261||.241||182||3.2||23|
|8. Zack Greinke, LAD||17-8||2.71||1.152||.247||207||4.3||30|
|9. Stephen Strasburg, WAS||14-11||3.14||1.121||.245||242||3.5||32|
|10. Masahiro Tanaka, NYY||13-5||2.77||1.056||.240||141||3.3||36|
Choosing just 10 right-handed starters is no easy task, but there is little question Felix Hernandez still belongs in the No. 1 spot.
Corey Kluber may have edged him out for AL Cy Young honors last year, but King Felix has been doing it far longer, and a case can actually be made that he should have won what would have been the second Cy Young of his impressive career.
That being said, there's no reason to think Kluber can't put up similarly dominant numbers given his peripherals, and the Indians will be counting on that if they're going to make a playoff push.
Three Nationals get spots here, with newcomer Max Scherzer giving them a starting rotation that could be a potential juggernaut during the upcoming season. Jordan Zimmermann joins him in the top five, while Stephen Strasburg could wind up being the best of the bunch with a true breakout year.
Adam Wainwright started to see his heavy workload catch up to him down the stretch and into the postseason last year, but until he proves otherwise he has to be considered an elite starter.
Johnny Cueto could have a hard time matching his brilliant 2014 numbers, given his MLB-low .238 BABIP and 3.30 FIP, but he should still be an ace-caliber arm atop the rotation for the Reds.
Yu Darvish, Zack Greinke and a healthy Masahiro Tanaka claim the other three spots, but there were no shortage of other candidates in the running.
Julio Teheran, Sonny Gray, Alex Cobb and Jeff Samardzija also broke the top 50 in my player rankings, while Jake Arrieta, James Shields, Anibal Sanchez, Phil Hughes, Lance Lynn, Yordano Ventura, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy and Jered Weaver all cracked 100.
Left-Handed Starting Pitchers
Top 10 Left-Handed Starting Pitchers
|1. Clayton Kershaw, LAD||21-3||1.77||0.857||.196||239||7.5||1|
|2. Madison Bumgarner, SF||18-10||2.98||1.090||.240||219||4.0||7|
|3. Chris Sale, CWS||12-4||2.17||0.966||.205||208||6.6||9|
|4. David Price, DET||15-12||3.26||1.079||.240||271||4.6||14|
|5. Cole Hamels, PHI||9-9||2.46||1.148||.235||198||6.6||18|
|6. Jon Lester, CHC||16-11||2.46||1.102||.236||220||4.5||28|
|7. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LAD||14-7||3.38||1.191||.257||139||1.9||65|
|8. Francisco Liriano, PIT||7-10||3.38||1.300||.218||175||1.5||71|
|9. Drew Smyly, TB||9-10||3.24||1.163||.238||133||3.8||80|
|10. Jose Quintana, CWS||9-11||3.32||1.243||.257||178||3.5||89|
Despite his postseason struggles, Clayton Kershaw is still an easy choice for the top left-handed starter in baseball, though Madison Bumgarner did some work bridging the gap with his historic playoff performance.
Both pitchers have plenty of prime seasons ahead of them, and figure to be joined by White Sox ace Chris Sale at the top of these rankings for the foreseeable future.
Sale has only gotten better since becoming a starter three seasons ago, and while he's currently sidelined for three weeks with a fractured foot, he's a legitimate AL Cy Young candidate for 2015.
Just behind them is a trio of veteran aces in David Price, Cole Hamels and Jon Lester, who all are coming off of big seasons. Lester cashed in this offseason, Price will be a free agent next winter and Hamels figures to be moved at some point by the rebuilding Phillies.
Hyun-Jin Ryu is sometimes a forgotten man as the No. 3 starter on the Dodgers behind Kershaw and Zack Greinke, but his 2.62 FIP ranked seventh among pitchers with at least 150 innings last season.
Francisco Liriano has gone 23-18 with a 3.20 ERA and 9.4 K/9 in his two seasons with the Pirates, Drew Smyly was 3-1 with a 1.70 ERA in seven starts after being traded to the Rays last year and Jose Quintana might be one of the most underrated pitchers in the game.
Derek Holland also found his way into the top 100 in my player rankings, while Mark Buehrle, Danny Duffy, Dallas Keuchel, Cliff Lee, Jon Niese, James Paxton and Alex Wood received consideration.
Top 10 Non-Closer Relievers
|1. Wade Davis, KC||71||9-2||33||1.00||0.847||13.6||3.7||90|
|2. Andrew Miller, NYY||73||5-5||22||2.02||0.802||14.9||1.8||99|
|3. Ken Giles, PHI||44||3-1||13||1.18||0.788||12.6||2.0||NR|
|4. Tyler Clippard, OAK||75||7-4||40||2.18||0.995||10.5||1.5||NR|
|5. Tony Watson, PIT||78||10-2||34||1.63||1.022||9.4||2.5||NR|
|6. Kelvin Herrera, KC||70||4-3||20||1.41||1.143||7.6||2.8||NR|
|7. Pat Neshek, HOU||71||7-2||25||1.87||0.787||9.1||2.3||NR|
|8. Darren O'Day, BAL||68||5-2||25||1.70||0.888||9.6||2.3||NR|
|9. Brad Boxberger, TB||62||5-2||19||2.37||0.835||14.5||1.8||NR|
|10. Pedro Strop, CHC||65||2-4||21||2.21||1.066||10.5||1.6||NR|
Picking non-closer relievers is tough, because their performance is so unpredictable. Someone steady can suddenly fall off the map, while someone like Pat Neshek comes out of nowhere to earn a spot in the All-Star Game.
That being said, Wade Davis is an easy choice for the top spot here, especially now that Dellin Betances is moving to the ninth inning role this season for the Yankees. Davis allowed just five extra-base hits last year, none of which were home runs.
Andrew Miller signed the biggest contract ever for a non-closer reliever, agreeing to a four-year, $36 million deal with the Yankees, and he'll be worth every penny if he can match his 2014 performance.
Ken Giles looks like the heir to Jonathan Papelbon in Philadelphia after a surprise fourth-place finish in NL Rookie of the Year voting last year, while Tyler Clippard and Tony Watson were both All-Stars in 2014.
Kelvin Herrera joins the aforementioned Davis and closer Greg Holland to form the best late-inning trio in baseball in Kansas City, and sidewinder Darren O'Day teamed up with Miller in Baltimore last season.
Brad Boxberger was a nice under-the-radar contributor for the Rays last season, while Pedro Strop teamed with Neil Ramirez and Hector Rondon to anchor a surprisingly good bullpen for the Cubs.
There are literally dozens of other guys you could make an argument for including here, but special mentions to Jonathan Broxton, Ryan Cook, Jeurys Familia, Luke Gregerson, Kevin Quackenbush, Joe Smith and really the entire Seattle Mariners bullpen.
Top 10 Closers
|1. Craig Kimbrel, ATL||63||0-3||47/51||1.61||0.908||13.9||2.5||46|
|2. Greg Holland, KC||65||1-3||46/48||1.44||0.914||13.0||2.5||52|
|3. A. Chapman, CIN||54||0-3||36/38||2.00||0.833||17.7||1.9||63|
|4. Kenley Jansen, LAD||68||2-3||44/49||2.76||1.133||13.9||1.2||69|
|5. Dellin Betances, NYY||70||5-0||1/5||1.40||0.778||13.5||3.7||77|
|6. Huston Street, LAA||61||2-2||41/44||1.37||0.944||8.7||2.7||81|
|7. Santiago Casilla, SF||54||3-3||19/23||1.70||0.857||6.9||2.0||97|
|8. Mark Melancon, PIT||72||3-5||33/37||1.90||0.873||9.0||2.4||NR|
|9. F. Rodney, SEA||69||1-6||48/51||2.85||1.342||10.3||0.8||NR|
|10. Steve Cishek, MIA||67||4-5||39/43||3.17||1.209||11.6||0.9||NR|
In his four full seasons in the league, Craig Kimbrel has now gone 185-of-204 on save chances with a 1.51 ERA, 0.880 WHIP and 436 strikeouts in 268.1 innings (14.6 K/9). He's endured a rough patch here and there, but he remains the most dominant reliever in the game today.
Close behind is Greg Holland and Aroldis Chapman, who also put up video game-esque strikeout totals and rarely blow saves. Chapman did not have as many chances last year for a bad Reds team, but his 17.7 K/9 were a career high.
Kenley Jansen manages to dominate hitters with just one pitch, the same cut fastball that Mariano Rivera featured for years. He'll start the season on the DL after undergoing foot surgery, but he should still pile up the saves in 2015.
Dellin Betances was lights-out as a rookie last season after making the move from starter to reliever, and the Yankees saw enough to let incumbent closer David Robertson walk in free agency.
Huston Street may not post flashy strikeout totals, but he's as good as anyone at nailing down saves. The 31-year-old is an impressive 97-of-103 (94.2 percent) on save opportunities over the past three years.
Santiago Casilla and Mark Melancon both opened the 2014 season in a setup role, before replacing Sergio Romo and Jason Grilli, respectively. By the time the season ended they ranked among the most efficient closers in the league, and they'll now get to spend a full season as the bullpen ace.
Fernando Rodney led the majors with 48 saves a year ago, anchoring the best bullpen in baseball, as his two-year, $14 million deal wound up being a steal.
Steve Cishek gets the final spot after going 19-of-20 on save chances with a 2.33 ERA in the second half last season. Jonathan Papelbon, Cody Allen, Joaquin Benoit, Zach Britton, Jenrry Mejia, Glen Perkins, David Robertson and Hector Rondon were also in the mix.