MLB's Best Offensive Player at Every Position in 2020 Season

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 17, 2020

MLB's Best Offensive Player at Every Position in 2020 Season

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Though the 2020 Major League Baseball season will be the first in a long time without so much as a 30-home run hitter, there are nonetheless some great offensive performances going on.

    Let's look at the best of the best at each position.

    For this, we went looking for players whose offensive numbers offer a nice balance of quality (i.e., good results) and quantity (i.e., lots of plate appearances). In cases where two players had similar bodies of work, we looked to advanced metrics such as xwOBA as a sort of tiebreaker.

    We'll begin with this season's top catcher and make our way to the top designated hitter.

    Note: All stats accurate through play Tuesday.

Catcher: J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 171 PA, 40 H, 15 BB, 11 HR, 4 SB, .267 AVG, .357 OBP, .527 SLG, 133 OPS+

    True everyday catchers are rare, so it's noteworthy that only Willson Contreras has racked up more plate appearances than J.T. Realmuto.

    Otherwise, Realmuto doesn't have much competition for the honor of being baseball's top offensive catcher. Among other things, he leads his fellow backstops in home runs, extra-base hits and total bases. Out of the few catchers who have made over 150 plate appearances, only Austin Nola has a higher OPS+.

    Realmuto's offensive game has changed over the years. He was more or less a contact hitter in his early seasons with the Miami Marlins. Hitting for power is now a big part of his game, as his escalating slugging percentage mirrors the trend of his hard-hit rate.

    For now, Realmuto's talents are keeping the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League playoff picture. Come this offseason, that will make him the most desirable player on the free-agent market.

    Honorable Mention: Austin Nola, San Diego Padres

First Base: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 213 PA, 62 H, 35 BB, 11 HR, 1 SB, .352 AVG, .465 OBP, .653 SLG, 188 OPS+

    There are some spectacular offensive campaigns being put together by first basemen, but it says a lot about Freddie Freeman that this pick wasn't especially difficult to make.

    Out of hitters who have made at least 150 plate appearances, Freeman leads the National League in batting average and MLB in on-base percentage and OPS+. Such marks give him a strong claim as not just this season's best offensive first baseman but also its best overall hitter, period.

    This obviously isn't Freeman's first rodeo as an elite hitter, but this year is easily a pinnacle for the 31-year-old. He has more walks (35) than strikeouts (28), and he's also working on career highs for average exit velocity and hard-hit rate.

    In other words, he's doing everything Atlanta or any other team could possibly ask of a hitter.

    Honorable Mention: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox

Second Base: DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 38 G, 159 PA, 53 H, 11 BB, 7 HR, 2 SB, .363 AVG, .409 OBP, .575 SLG, 167 OPS+

    The topic of baseball's best offensive second baseman would have made for a heated discussion earlier this week. But then DJ LeMahieu had himself a huge day Tuesday.

    The 32-year-old collected four hits in six trips to the plate during the New York Yankees' 20-6 rout of the Toronto Blue Jays, including two doubles and (albeit on a comically slow pitch) a home run.

    As a result, LeMahieu claimed leads over his fellow second basemen in hits, average, OBP, slugging and OPS+. This, surely, is enough to overwhelm his deficit to Jake Cronenworth and Brandon Lowe in xwOBA.

    What's LeMahieu's secret? It's simply, really: Make lots of contact (16 strikeouts) and hit the ball hard (90.9 mph exit velocity). Do that, and the numbers will be there.

    Honorable Mention: Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays

Third Base: Manny Machado, San Diego Padres

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 216 PA, 59 H, 22 BB, 13 HR, 5 SB, .311 AVG, .375 OBP, .579 SLG, 158 OPS+

    In case anyone's thinking we're not seeing what Anthony Rendon is up to in his first season with the Los Angeles Angels, rest assured that we are. Specifically, we see his American League-best .427 OBP.

    And yet we've sided with Manny Machado as baseball's best offensive third baseman. And it frankly wasn't that difficult a choice given that he leads his fellow third sackers in plate appearances, total bases, OPS and OPS+.

    All this must have the San Diego Padres breathing a huge sigh of relief. After all, Machado was merely an above-average hitter in 2019, the first season of his 10-year, $300 million contract. Not exactly the best first impression.

    The 28-year-old has been more locked in this year, which is readily apparent in how he's improved his walk and strikeout rates while maintaining excellent batted ball metrics.

    Honorable Mention: Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels

Shortstop: Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 221 PA, 55 H, 23 BB, 15 HR, 9 SB, .286 AVG, .376 OBP, .594 SLG, 162 OPS+

    According to Baseball Reference, Fernando Tatis Jr., Tim Anderson and Trea Turner have all provided the exact same value on offense. So, you can't go wrong with any of the three as baseball's top offensive shortstop.

    Anderson's case is buoyed by his .377 average and .414 OBP. Turner has a nice, balanced .340/.399/.596 slash line. Though Tatis doesn't measure up in any of the three triple-slash categories, he's obviously hit well while easily outpacing Anderson (eight) and Turner (nine) in home runs.

    Tatis' trump card is that he's blowing both players away in xwOBA. His mark is a staggering .442, while Turner's is .401 and Anderson's is .388.

    The implication there is that the Padres' 21-year-old star has been incredibly good while also being unlucky. Considering that he leads qualified hitters in hard-hit rate, that may just be true.

    Honorable Mentions: Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox; Trea Turner, Washington Nationals

Left Field: Juan Soto, Washington Nationals

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 145 PA, 41 H, 27 BB, 11 HR, 3 SB, .350 AVG, .476 OBP, .726 SLG, 213 OPS+

    Most teams are 48 or 49 games into their 60-game schedules, and it takes 3.1 plate appearances per team game to qualify for the batting title. Because of his late start, Juan Soto isn't quite at that roughly 150-plate appearance threshold.

    Otherwise, it would be easy to definitively call him the best hitter in Major League Baseball right now.

    Soto's arrival at this position was practically foretold during his first two seasons with the Washington Nationals, in which he posted a 142 OPS+ and 56 homers despite not turning 21 until October. Now his numbers are...well, just look at them.

    Soto hasn't needed much luck to make them happen. He boasts six more walks (27) than strikeouts (21), and he's setting career bests for exit velocity, barrel rate and hard-hit rate. He's basically a perfect hitter.

    Honorable Mention: Dominic Smith, New York Mets

Center Field: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 201 PA, 49 H, 29 BB, 16 HR, 1 SB, .295 AVG, .403 OBP, .639 SLG, 178 OPS+

    Different year. Much different circumstances. The same Mike Trout.

    By his standards, the Angels' three-time MVP was actually scuffling for a minute there. His OPS was below .900 as recently as August 25, at which point a few pundits may or may not have been readying "What's Wrong with Mike Trout?" think pieces.

    Well, it turns out nothing is wrong with him. His 16 home runs have him in the race for the MLB lead, and, as per usual, he's leading his fellow center fielders in slugging, OPS and OPS+.

    Though Trout, 29, is operating with a lesser walk-to-strikeout ratio, he's more than making up for that with the sheer force with which he's hitting the ball. His average exit velocity (94.3 mph) and hard-hit rate (58.2 percent) are easily career bests.

    Honorable Mention: Mike Yastrzemski, San Francisco Giants

Right Field: Michael Conforto, New York Mets

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 206 PA, 61 H, 20 BB, 9 HR, 3 SB, .341 AVG, .427 OBP, .559 SLG, 170 OPS+

    With respect to Mookie Betts and his .304/.380/.602 slash line and 15 home runs, Michael Conforto is having the best season that seemingly nobody is talking about.

    He's been a reliably above-average hitter for the New York Mets since his debut in 2015, but this year he has morphed into something else entirely. He leads all right fielders in plate appearances, hits, average, OBP and OPS+.

    At first glance, Conforto might seem to be benefiting from good luck. His walk rate is down, and neither his exit velocity nor his hard-hit rate is anything special relative to his standards.

    But more so than in past seasons, the 27-year-old is racking up line drives and spreading his hits around the field. As such, it's notable he has Betts beat in xwOBA, too.

    Honorable Mention: Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers

Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 189 PA, 53 H, 21 BB, 16 HR, 0 SB, .323 AVG, .413 OBP, .646 SLG, 184 OPS+

    Because there aren't many true designated hitters in the game today, it would be hard to pick the best one if Nelson Cruz wasn't an option.

    Of course, he is an option. And unambiguously the best one, at that.

    Even after turning 40 years old July 1, Cruz is hitting the ever-loving you-know-what out of the baseball. His exit velocity and hard-hit rate are "only" in the 89th percentile, but he's barreling the ball—i.e., hitting it with an ideal combination of launch angle and exit velocity—at a rate that places him in the 94th percentile.

    By way of this talent and his measured plate discipline, the Minnesota Twins slugger leads the American League in slugging, OPS and OPS+. So as DHs go, he's pretty good.

    Honorable Mention: Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta

       

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.