Ranking the 10 Best Hitters Entering the 2020 MLB Season
Who's the best hitter in baseball entering the 2020 season?
That's a different question than any centered around the best player (though the final answer happens to be the same). Obviously, it eliminates pitchers. This is all about the lumber.
We'll rely on FanGraphs' overall offense metric, calculated from 2017 to 2019. As with any stat, it's imperfect. But you'll be hard-pressed to argue this one, which "combines a position player's total context-neutral value at the plate and on the bases," doesn't help produce an accurate list of the game's top hitters.
Let's begin with some honorable mentions and then delve into the top 10.
Here's a peek at the just-missed contingent, any of whom could plausibly sneak into the top 10 next season (stats via FanGraphs):
- 1B Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals: 97.6
- 3B Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians: 96.9
- 3B Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs: 91.1
- DH Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins: 89.3
- 3B Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers: 88.0
- OF Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies: 85.6
- OF George Springer, Houston Astros: 82.0
- 3B Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies: 79.9
- OF Tommy Pham, San Diego Padres: 79.6
- OF Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees: 76.7
And here are a few up-and-comers who deserve mention for what they've done in their brief careers and might well crack the top 10 in 2020:
- OF Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves: 61.6 (2018-19)
- OF Juan Soto, Washington Nationals: 65.2 (2018-19)
- 1B Pete Alonso, New York Mets: 37.0 (2019)
No. 10: 1B Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
FanGraphs' 2017-19 Offense Rating: 102.1
Freddie Freeman swatted 38 home runs with a .938 OPS last season for the Atlanta Braves and is entering his age-30 season.
The four-time All-Star first baseman was a top-10 National League MVP voting finisher for the third time in four seasons.
The Braves are trying to push past the division series, and Freeman is a key piece of the puzzle at the heart of their lineup.
No. 9: 2B Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
FanGraphs' 2017-19 Offense Rating: 103.8
It's been a tough offseason for the Houston Astros and second baseman Jose Altuve.
The 'Stros lost the 2019 World Series to the Washington Nationals and were embroiled in a sign-stealing scandal that led to the firing of general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch and implicated star players, including Altuve, though no proof of allegations he wore a buzzer to alert him to certain pitches has been found.
Here's what's undeniable: Altuve has been a force with the bat, winning three of four batting titles between 2014 and 2017 and an American League MVP trophy in 2017.
No. 8: OF Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
FanGraphs' 2017-19 Offensive Rating: 103.8
Cody Bellinger will turn 25 in July. The Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder won National League MVP honors in 2019 after hitting 47 home runs with a 1.035 OPS.
Needless to say, his future is sparkling.
Bellinger is on track to become one of the game's top sluggers—if he isn't one already. He's also the youngest player on this list.
Stay tuned for bigger and better things from the swatting SoCal phenom.
No. 7: 3B Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels
FanGraphs' 2017-19 Offensive Rating: 113.5
After winning a World Series title with the Washington Nationals in 2019, Anthony Rendon signed with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent.
The three-time top-10 NL MVP finisher turns 30 in June, hit 34 home runs and led the Senior Circuit with 44 doubles. He also paced all of baseball with 126 RBI last season.
Add his 1.010 OPS, and you're looking at one of the sport's most potent hitters who's going to join a fellow by the name of Mike Trout in the heart of the Halos lineup.
No. 6: OF/DH J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
FanGraphs' 2017-19 Offensive Rating: 113.7
J.D. Martinez cracked 36 home runs and 33 doubles for the Boston Red Sox in 2019 alongside a .939 OPS. He'll turn 33 in August, yet he remains one of the top mashers in the game.
The Red Sox have limped through a tough offseason that saw them fire manager Alex Cora over his involvement in the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal. But Martinez, who's under contract at least through 2020—after which he has a pair of player options—is a franchise cornerstone.
More than that, he's one of the deadliest hitters in either league.
No. 5: OF Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
FanGraphs' 2017-19 Offensive Rating: 116.7
Injuries limited Aaron Judge to 102 games last season and 112 games in 2018. Yet when healthy, he's arguably the most fearsome hitter on the planet.
In 2017, Judge bashed 52 home runs with 127 RBI while winning American League Rookie of the Year honors. He'll turn 28 in April, meaning he's on the precipice of his prime.
If the New York Yankees can keep him off the disabled list, he'll be a fence-clearing force and MVP contender.
No. 4: OF Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
FanGraphs' 2017-19 Offensive Rating: 121.2
Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts has churned through the rumor mill this winter and may don a new uniform by Opening Day.
Whatever team he plays for will benefit from the services of a hitter who won a batting title and an AL MVP Award in 2018 with a .346 average and paced MLB with 135 runs scored in 2019.
Betts is entering his age-27 season and is one of the best hitters in either league by any measure. The Sox could flip him for a bushel of prospects before he hits free agency next winter and, unless they're prepared to break the bank to keep him, would be wise to do so.
No. 3: Alex Bregman, 3B Houston Astros
FanGraphs' 2017-19 Offensive Rating: 126.7
Alex Bregman established himself among baseball's best hitters in 2019 with a 1.015 OPS, 41 homers and 112 RBI for the Astros.
He'll turn 26 in March and looks like a perennial MVP contender. He finished No. 2 behind Mike Trout in voting for the prize last season.
As stated earlier, the 'Stros are wrestling with PR issues in the aftermath of their sign-stealing scandal. But that shouldn't impact Bregman's rise to the upper echelon of major league hitters.
No. 2: OF Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
FanGraphs' 2017-19 Offensive Rating: 145.8
Christian Yelich won back-to-back NL batting titles in 2018 and 2019 with averages of .326 and .329, respectively. He paced the National League with a 1.000 OPS in 2018 and led all of baseball with a 1.100 OPS in 2019.
He was named the NL MVP in 2018 and would likely have won the award again in 2019 if a fractured knee hadn't prematurely ended his season in September.
Entering his age-28 campaign, Yelich is a star in every sense of the word for the Milwaukee Brewers and would be the best hitter in baseball if not for the man who finished in the top spot with room to spare.
No. 1: OF Mike Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
FanGraphs' 2017-19 Offensive Rating: 193.1
Who were you expecting?
Mike Trout won his third AL MVP Award in 2019 (and honestly, he should have at least two more). He led the AL with a 1.083 OPS and paced the game with a .438 on-base percentage.
He set a career high with 45 home runs, drove in 104 runs and generally did Mike Trout things. He'll turn 29 in August. We're witnessing one of the most incredible MLB careers in history, and the only reason we don't appreciate it more is that Trout doesn't have the world's most alluring personality.
That doesn't change the stats, though, nor does it affect his place in the pantheon of baseball greats.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.