Ranking MLB's Top 25 Players After 2 Months
Now that the first third of the 2019 Major League Baseball season is officially history, we have a much better sense of the year's best players.
So, let's rank 'em.
Our list of the top 25 players of 2019 is based strictly on what's happened this season. What players have done before is nice and everything, but it has no bearing on what's going on right now.
Otherwise, this ranking was based not only on players' surface-level statistics but also on what's under the hood. Statcast metrics—expected weighted on base average, or xwOBA, in particular—were especially helpful in this regard.
Further, the bars for entry were 150 plate appearances for hitters and 50 innings pitched (sorry, Tyler Glasnow) for pitchers. And the more a player has played, the better.
We'll start with some honorable mentions and then carry on with the top 25.
Note: Stats are current through Monday, May 27.
- OF Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
- RF Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
- SS Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
- LF Michael Brantley, Houston Astros
- C Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
- SS Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
- 3B Hunter Dozier, Kansas City Royals
- 1B Daniel Vogelbach, Seattle Mariners
- SP Matthew Boyd, Detroit Tigers
- RHP Gerrit Cole, Houston Astros
- LHP Patrick Corbin, Washington Nationals
- RHP Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks
- RHP German Marquez, Colorado Rockies
- LHP Caleb Smith, Miami Marlins
- SP Mike Soroka, Atlanta Braves
25-21: Chris Paddack-Anthony Rendon
25. SP Chris Paddack, San Diego Padres
Key Stats: 9 GS, 51.1 IP, 56 K, 11 BB, 215 ERA+, 1.6 WAR
In a span of just a few months, Chris Paddack has gone from relative obscurity as a prospect to a spring training star to a potential All-Star. It definitely feels too good to be true, but the facts are the facts.
This is a hurler with more strikeouts than innings pitched and one of the lowest marks (85.5 mph) for average exit velocity. Hence a .251 xwOBA that ranks fourth among pitchers who've faced at least 150 batters.
24. SP Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays
Key Stats: 10 GS, 55.2 IP, 78 K, 15 BB, 141 ERA+, 1.1 WAR
Whatever. While it would be nice if Snell had more innings, his ERA regression is being undercut by the lowest contact rate in MLB and improvements to both his soft and hard contact rates. He's truly earned the league's third-lowest xwOBA, and his results should ultimately reflect that.
23. SP Mike Minor, Texas Rangers
Key Stats: 11 GS, 70.2 IP, 72 K, 22 BB, 195 ERA+, 3.6 WAR
"Best pitcher in baseball" is a phrase that doesn't immediately come to mind with Mike Minor, but that's exactly what Baseball Reference WAR says he's been in 2019.
Minor's peripherals fall short of supporting that conclusion, but it's to his credit that he's getting plenty of easy outs on strikeouts and infield pop-ups. And while we're only counting this season, the 2.74 ERA he has since last year's All-Star break is difficult to ignore.
22. C Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
Key Stats: 151 PA, .265/.338/.647, 16 HR, 154 OPS+, 1.6 WAR
Gary Sanchez and Willson Contreras were the only catchers considered for this list, and they have similar profiles. Both are poor defenders who are nonetheless far outpacing their fellow backstops offensively.
The difference with Sanchez is that his results actually underrate how dangerous he's been with a bat. He's averaging 94.1 mph exit velocity overall and a whopping 100 mph on fly balls and line drives. Hence his significant xwOBA advantage over Contreras.
21. 3B Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
Key Stats: 172 PA, .322/.419/.664, 10 HR, 176 OPS+, 1.9 WAR
Despite some issues with his elbow that landed him on the injured list in early May, Anthony Rendon has made the turn from star to superstar. And if anything, he's even better than his numbers make him look.
That's a bold statement, given that his OPS+ places him just ahead of Mike Trout for fourth among hitters with at least 150 plate appearances. His .467 xwOBA, however, places behind only Cody Bellinger's, who's teasing one of the great offensive seasons in MLB history.
20-16: Hyun-Jin Ryu-Josh Bell
20. SP Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers
Key Stats: 10 GS, 65.1 IP, 62 K, 4 BB, 251 ERA+, 2.3 WAR
A small sample size (15 starts) and subpar peripherals made it easy to downplay the 1.97 ERA that Hyun-Jin Ryu put up in 2018. But with his ERA under 2.00 once again, it's time to anoint him as the best left-hander on the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It's impressive enough that Ryu's walks-per-nine rate is half of the second-best mark on the MLB leaderboard. He also boasts an easy lead in strikeout-to-walk ratio, plus a .271 xwOBA that ranks ninth.
19. 3B Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
Key Stats: 227 PA, .283/.405/.567, 12 HR, 152 OPS+, 2.3 WAR
As recently as April 16, Kris Bryant was batting .217 with only one home run. In 35 games since then, he's caught fire to the tune of a .315/.439/.669 slash line and 11 homers.
The strikeout problem that Bryant entered the majors with in 2015 is now long gone, and he's back to getting the ball airborne after a shoulder injury compromised his ability to do so in 2018. The versatile defense he plays only makes him more valuable.
18. 1B Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
Key Stats: 219 PA, .291/.406/.604, 15 HR, 161 OPS+, 2.1 WAR
Anthony Rizzo's offensive output was slowly trending downward for a while, so the Chicago Cubs are certainly relieved that it's shot back up early in 2019.
Rizzo isn't doing a whole lot differently, save for making much more frequent hard contact. Throw in a well-below-average strikeout rate, and you get two solid explanations for his outstanding .418 xwOBA. Plus, he still plays a good first base.
17. 1B Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Key Stats: 239 PA, .317/.406/.577, 13 HR, 155 OPS+, 2.2 WAR
After finishing with "only" a 139 OPS+ and 23 homers in 2018, Freddie Freeman is back to hitting like he did in 2016 and 2017.
It's for real, as his .431 xwOBA ranks 10th among qualified hitters. Such is life with a lower strikeout rate and elevated hard-hit rate. Lest anyone forget, Freeman is also a reliable defensive first baseman. He's ultimately a tiny-bit-better version of Rizzo.
16. 1B Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates
Key Stats: 223 PA, .340/.408/.711, 17 HR, 194 OPS+, 2.5 WAR
Although Josh Bell is playable at first base, 2019 is shaping up to be further proof that he's no Gold Glover. He's likely to end up with below-average metrics once again.
But much more so than in his first three seasons, Bell now has a bat worthy of first base. Changes to his mechanics have helped both his approach and his power, the latter of which is producing an NL-best 95.5 mph average exit velocity. His .438 xwOBA ranks seventh among qualified hitters.
15-11: Luis Castillo-Alex Bregman
15. SP Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds
Key Stats: 12 GS, 69.2 IP, 82 K, 32 BB, 183 ERA+, 2.4 WAR
What Luis Castillo has done this season looks good enough on the surface. Yet what's under the hood looks even better, as only four pitchers have allowed a lower xwOBA than he has.
The secret to Castillo's success? Part of it is elite fastball velocity. Another part of it is a Pedro Martinez-esque changeup. It's really no wonder that he's serving up a lower contact rate than any other National League hurler. He's also limiting batted balls to an elite average of 85.0 mph in exit velocity.
14. SP Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
Key Stats: 11 GS, 72.0 IP, 87 K, 18 BB, 138 ERA+, 2.4 WAR
Stephen Strasburg is throwing his fastball at an average of 93.4 mph this year. Ordinarily, that would be a cause to wonder if his career has officially entered its twilight.
In actuality, he's made his four-seamer a smaller factor in his repertoire and flat-out pitched his way to a career-low contact rate and a rejuvenated ground-ball rate. So, it makes a bit of sense that his .240 xwOBA is actually the lowest of any NL pitcher.
13. SP Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
Key Stats: 12 GS, 77.1 IP, 102 K, 17 BB, 138 ERA+, 2.6 WAR
After Max Scherzer put up four straight seasons of a sub-3.00 ERA, it's a bit strange to see him with an ERA as downright pedestrian as 3.26. He deserves better, however.
Scherzer's strikeout and walk rates are steady, and his home run rate is down. There is a spike in his hard-hit rate, which is feeding a good-not-great .280 xwOBA. But practically speaking, the only real difference for him this year is a high BABIP (batting average on balls in play).
12. SS Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
Key Stats: 225 PA, .310/.351/.586, 13 HR, 140 OPS+, 2.6 WAR
To this point, however, Baez's results are too impressive to downplay completely. And whether he's hitting the ever-loving whatnot out of the ball, making a ridiculous play on defense or pulling a baserunning move straight out of The Matrix, he's always fun to watch.
11. 3B Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
Key Stats: 233 PA, .266/.391/.543, 15 HR, 148 OPS+, 2.6 WAR
The more Alex Bregman gets exposed to major league pitching, the better his contact becomes. You can see it this year in his decreased ground-ball rate and increased hard-hit rate. And just like in 2018, he's drawing more walks than strikeouts.
In previous seasons, one gripe with Bregman was that his defense tended to look better than it actually was. Not so this year, as the metrics are finally rating him as a decidedly above-average defender.
10-6: Paul DeJong-Justin Verlander
10. SS Paul DeJong, St. Louis Cardinals
Key Stats: 227 PA, .295/.396/.518, 8 HR, 144 OPS+, 3.0 WAR
Not to be overlooked, however, is what DeJong can do on defense. He played Gold Glove-caliber defense at shortstop in 2018, and he hasn't skipped a beat with the glove in 2019. Altogether, he's become one of the sport's best two-way players.
9. 3B Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
Key Stats: 230 PA, .336/.378/.635, 15 HR, 146 OPS+, 2.6 WAR
As always, the Coors Field effect must be taken into account when discussing Arenado's offensive output. Yet it's to his credit that he's actually hit more homers on the road this year. And even if it's not what it once was, his hot corner defense is still good.
8. 3B Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics
Key Stats: 233 PA, .271/.356/.552, 14 HR, 144 OPS+, 3.1 WAR
Matt Chapman became known for his stellar defense at the hot corner in 2017 and 2018, and so it goes in 2019. His seven defensive runs saved place ahead of all other third baseman.
But even more so than last season, which he finished with a 138 OPS+ and 24 home runs, Chapman's bat is keeping up with his glove in 2019. He's fine-tuned his approach without sacrificing any power, which gives him a chance at his first season with more homers than defensive runs saved.
7. OF George Springer, Houston Astros
Key Stats: 216 PA, .308/.389/.643, 17 HR, 172 OPS+, 2.7 WAR
George Springer will be out for a few weeks with a hamstring strain. For fellow American League hitters, this is a golden chance to catch up to his production.
Springer hasn't been doing anything too fancy. He's simply been keeping more balls off the ground and sending his hard-hit rate to new heights. If not for a dude named Mike Trout, he'd arguably be the AL's top hitter this year.
6. SP Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
Key Stats: 12 GS, 79.1 IP, 95 K, 17 BB, 181 ERA+, 2.8 WAR
Justin Verlander has a 2.34 ERA in 51 starts since he joined the Houston Astros in 2017. And that's just in the regular season.
"Ho hum," in other words, and his sixth-ranked .269 xwOBA is solid proof that he's not overachieving. From here, he has real shots at a 300-strikeout season and what should arguably be his fourth Cy Young Award (his second in actuality).
5-1: Jorge Polanco-Cody Bellinger
5. SS Jorge Polanco, Minnesota Twins
Key Stats: 228 PA, .332/.404/.584, 9 HR, 161 OPS+, 3.4 WAR
Jorge Polanco's transformation into one of the AL's best players (if not the best) might seem random, but it's happening for a reason. Several of them, in fact.
Polanco's improved approach is marked by better walk and strikeout rates, and he's upped his power by way of an ultra-low ground-ball rate and career-best exit velocity on fly balls and line drives. Throw in solid defense at shortstop, and what more can you want?
4. OF Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
Key Stats: 200 PA, .278/.425/.646, 15 HR, 171 OPS+, 2.9 WAR
The catch used to be that Gallo didn't have much else besides power. But he's now walking a ton, which has helped toss him in among the sport's xwOBA masters with a .441 mark. And for a guy listed at 6'5", 235 pounds, he plays a heck of a center field.
3. RF Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
Key Stats: 208 PA, .322/.433/.731, 21 HR, 198 OPS+, 2.9 WAR
Yelich is now walking almost as often as he strikes out, and only Gallo and Bell have him beat in exit velocity. And while we're not officially counting what he did down the stretch of 2018, it's hard not to gawk at the .349/.442/.754 slash line and 46 homers that Yelich boasts since the 2018 All-Star break.
2. CF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Key Stats: 222 PA, .281/.450/.575, 12 HR, 175 OPS+, 3.4 WAR
Beyond that, well, it's Mike Trout. After seven-plus seasons of consistent brilliance, the only surprise here is that he's somehow not No. 1.
1. RF/1B Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
Key Stats: 224 PA, .383/.469/.761, 19 HR, 222 OPS+, 5.2 WAR
Trout isn't No. 1, of course, because Cody Bellinger just won't stop being awesome at everything.
Bellinger leads MLB in all three triple-slash categories, and his MLB-best (by far) .504 xwOBA ought to have everyone convinced that it's the real deal. To boot, his 12 defensive runs saved as a right fielder put him one behind Lorenzo Cain for the lead among outfielders. And unlike Bellinger, Cain doesn't also play a good first base.
So, like we said, everything.