We’ve finally reached the pinnacle. You’ve climbed the mountain and finally get to see who I think is the best player in baseball right now! Or if this is the first one you’ve read, in that case check out 20-16, 15-11, and 10-6 that got us here. If you’d like to see the entire MLB Network “Top 100 Right Now” list, click here. Time for the top five, with a player who I think is underrated by MLB Network’s list.
I ended the last blog with a Dodger and starting this blog with a Dodger. Matt Kemp has the potential to be the best player in the game. We saw it in 2011 when he put together a near 40-40, Triple Crown season, while leading the NL in runs and RBI. That wasn’t enough to get him an MVP award, which is why I have the next player ahead of him. Hopefully, Kemp’s hamstring woes are behind him and he becomes the dominant, durable player he was before 2012. Ridiculous random list that this player is on! Players since 1980 to lead their league in runs scored, runs batted in, and home runs in the same season: Mike Schmidt (1981), Ken Griffey Jr. (1997), Alex Rodriguez (2007), Albert Pujols (2010), and Matt Kemp (2011).
What more does Ryan Braun need to do to get respect? He wins the NL MVP in 2011. Braun then loses his protector in the lineup in Prince Fielder to free agency, but has his first 40-homer season. The Hebrew Hammer also adds in 30+ plus stolen bases for good measure. Five-straight all-star appearances, five-straight Silver Sluggers, and he’s led the National League in OPS each of the past two seasons. The defense might not be spectacular, but you can make the argument that the other tools make Braun the best hitter in baseball. Ridiculous random list that this player is on! Players in the history of Major League Baseball to have a 30 home run, 30 stolen base season, while leading the league in OPS: Hank Aaron (1963), Dale Murphy (1983), Barry Bonds (1990, 1992, and 1995), Larry Walker (1997), and Ryan Braun (2011-2012). Braun is the ONLY player to achieve the feat in back-to-back seasons.
I have no qualms with Verlander being MLB Network’s runner-up, but I’m lowering him down to #3 only because I devalue pitching. I almost even dropped him behind Braun. Enough negative stuff though, Verlander is the clear best pitcher in the game today. There is no pitcher (Kershaw could get there) where you’re watching every start, because there’s a real chance a no-hitter will be thrown. That’s what Verlander brings to the ballpark every fifth day. Verlander also does so much for the Tigers bullpen by leading the league in innings pitched the past two years. He even went 63 straight starts pitching at least six innings. Verlander in 2011 was the first starting pitcher since 1986 to win an MVP award and does more to help his team than any pitcher in the game today. Ridiculous random list this player is on! Pitchers since 1946 to lead their league in innings pitched AND earned run average: Sandy Koufax (1965-66), Greg Maddux (1993-95), Randy Johnson (1999 & 2002), Johan Santana (2008), Felix Hernandez (2010), & Justin Verlander (2011).
What batter would you want to have up with your World Series on the line? Too soon, Tigers fans? Cabrera is the best slugger in the game and proved his with his monstrous 2012 season in which he became the first player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown. He doesn’t run much and the defense is still so-so adjusting to third base, but man can he hit. He’s not just a slugger with eight 30-homer seasons in his first nine full years, but also hits for average! Cabrera has never hit below .292 in a full season and has back-to-back batting titles on his mantle. He’s still in his prime too! I can’t imagine if he actually IMPROVES on his Triple Crown season. No random list, but here’s a fun stat: Every MLB Triple Crown winner, also led their league in OPS, maybe it should actually be the Quadruple Crown?
#1, Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (MLB Network’s #1)
It’s pretty anticlimactic that I actually agree with MLB Network’s best player in the league right now. The term “five-tool player” gets thrown around a lot, but in one season Trout has proved he’s the best all-around player in the game. Whether it’s home run-robbing catches, speed on the base paths, hitting for average, or blasting 30 home runs despite not being called up in the first three weeks of the season, there is nothing Mike Trout can’t do. Even if he regresses in his sophomore season, his numbers will still be eye-popping. If I told you last year that a kid that wasn’t even going to start the season in the Majors would be #1 on this year’s list you’d have thought I was crazy, but that’s where we are. One last time! Ridiculous random list this player is on! Players in American League history with 30+ home runs and 47+ stolen bases in the same season: Mike Trout (2012), that is all.
The list is complete! Who would top your list of the best players in MLB right now? Let me know in the comments or tweet me using the link below with #MapesRightNow!
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
We’re halfway there! It’s time to see who cracks the top 10 on my best MLB players right now list! If you’d like to go back and see who else made the list so far here’s 20-16 and 15-11! Onward to the top ten!
No better place to start my top ten than with the defending AL Cy Young award winner. Price led the junior circuit in both wins and ERA last season while keeping the Rays in the playoff race. I personally had a different pitcher (who we’ll eventually get to on this list) as my Cy Young winner, but Price still deserves his due. Price has a great fastball and an impressive slider that keeps hitters off balance and is even more valuable as a southpaw. I can’t wait to see him improve as he enters his prime.
I have no qualms with the ranking that King Felix received from MLB Network, but I have him a smidgen lower because I prefer the upcoming hitters. Hernandez is the workhorse you want anchoring your pitching staff as he’s racked up 232+ innings in each of the past four seasons with great numbers. None of those seasons is more impressive than in 2010 where he led the American League in batters faced AND earned run average. The King has almost done it all, a perfect game, a Cy Young award, but we’d all love to see him take the bump in a playoff series and put himself against the best of the best.
Canada’s favorite baseball son has led the National League in on-base percentage each of the last three seasons. Here’s the list of players that have led their league in OBP three straight years since 1946: Ted Williams, Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt, Wade Boggs, and Barry Bonds. That’s a pretty nice list to be on. Votto has an MVP under his belt and also is a plus defender at first base. Votto missed 51 games last season and still led the NL in walks, that’s how good of an eye he has. The Reds were smart to lock him up into the next decade.
#7, Robinson Cano, New York Yankees (MLB Network’s #8)
Cano is the best second baseman in the game today. He’s durable (hasn’t missed more than three games since 2007), consistent (25+ HR, 40+ doubles, and .300 batting average each of the past four seasons), and a great defender (Gold Gloves in two of the past three seasons). If it wasn’t for his double play cohort Derek Jeter, Cano would be the face of most popular team in the Majors. If the Yankees are smart, they’d make sure they lock Cano up to an extension sooner, rather than later.
This is where we’re REALLY starting to split hairs. There’s a case to be made that Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game right now. I still can’t believe that at this moment he’s still only 24 years-old and already has a Cy Young award, a Cy Young runner-up, two ERA titles, a strikeout crown, and a Gold Glove under his belt. Let’s play a ridiculous list that a current player is on! Here’s the list of pitchers who led their league in ERA and WHIP in back-to-back seasons since 1941: Pedro Martinez (2002-03), Greg Maddux (1993-95) , Sandy Koufax (1962-65), and Clayton Kershaw (2011-2012). That’s just insane. Did I mention he’s only 24?
I’m going to need time to recuperate from that Kershaw statistic and I’m already regretting not having him higher. Who could I possibly have ahead of Kershaw? Check in tomorrow to find out! Have some predictions? Let me know in the comments or tweet me using the link below with #MapesRightNow!
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
Part one is in the books, if you’d like to check out who crack my list from 20-16 click here. There’s one Giant name on my list still that wasn’t on the MLB Network top 20. Who is it? Keep reading!
I really didn’t think I would have this much of a drop on one of the biggest sluggers in the game, but there are just other players I prefer slightly better. He’s durable (13 games missed since 2006 and only one since 2009) and is the perfect hitter to give protection to another superstar. Please note that he’s hit directly after an MVP in each of the past two seasons. Would Braun and Cabrera have been the best in league without Fielder looming in the next spot? I don’t think so. He may never be an MVP himself, but Prince knows how to help bestow the crown.
Another player with a four spot drop in my rankings, which is amazing considering Hamilton is coming off a career-high 43 homer season. I’m concerned with the drop that Hamilton had in the 2nd half last season where his OPS dropped from an other-worldly 1.016 to .833 in the second half. I think his numbers will take another dip going from Texas to Anaheim, where the park plays more in favor of the pitcher. He’s ahead of Fielder for me because unlike Fielder I think Hamilton CAN win an MVP award when he has it all together.
Hamilton had the great 1st half in 2012 and Pujols had the great 2nd half. If both put together full seasons in 2013, the Angels lineup will be lethal. I also think another year of adjustment to American League pitching will continue to help Pujols return to the MVP candidate he’s always been. Pujols had his worst home run output last season and it was still good for 30 blasts. Pujols has had at least 30 home runs AND 99 runs batted in in each of his twelve seasons. The man truly is a machine.
How can the reigning MVP not be in the top 20 in the game right now? He led the National League in batting average and OPS+ while playing in one of the best pitchers parks in the league. Posey handled one of the best pitching staffs in the league and brought them to a World Series title. He’s only going to get better as he’s another year removed from that devastating ankle injury. He was underrated by MLB Network, not by me.
I don’t think there’s a player that does more quietly than Adrian Beltre. I remember watching “MLB Player Poll” last season where they asked who the best third baseman in the game was and I was shocked that the players actually picked Beltre. That’s the kind of respect he has from his peers and should get more of it from fans. He’s blossomed into a complete player that can hit for average, hit for power, and can field his position better than anyone. It’s up to Beltre to continue to improve to make up for Josh Hamilton’s departure from the Lone Star State.
That’ll do it for numbers 16-11. Do I have Posey too high? Who do you think should crack the top 10? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter with the link below and use #MapesRightNow.
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
MLB Network concluded their yearly series “Top 100 Players Right Now” on Tuesday night. The full list of 100 players can be found here. I’m shocked, but respect that they actually put Josh Willingham at #43. The thing about baseball is that there is never an agreement on anything. I couldn’t resist making my own “Top 20 Right Now”, starting with 20-16 today and another group of five over the next three days.
On the MLB Network list, not on my list: #15 Giancarlo Stanton, #16 Evan Longoria, and #20 Cole Hamels
Call me a homer, especially to have Kimbrel leap over NL East rivals Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels, Giancarlo Stanton, and David Wright into my top 20. However, when you look at players at their position that are purely dominant Kimbrel is at the head of the class. Kimbrel struck out over half the batters he faced in 2012, a first for any pitcher. He also has finished 23rd and 8th for NL MVP the last two seasons, which is better than anyone in the NL East I jumped him over. I’m going to give the best closer in the game, the respect he deserves. I would’ve done the same with Mariano Rivera a decade ago.
#19, Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (MLB Network’s #24)
Well this will end my homerism quickly, I jump Molina up a full five spots and into the top 20 after his best season in the majors. You can make a case that he’s the best catcher in the game right now. I won’t go that far, but Molina’s awesomeness at throwing out potential base stealers is unparalleled and gives the Cardinals a dynamic that other teams don’t have. Molina’s won five straight Gold Glove’s and has improved at the plate, not just behind it, hitting over .300 each of the past two seasons. Molina finished a career-best 4th in NL MVP voting in 2012.
#18, CC Sabathia, New York Yankees (MLB Network’s #18)
Our first agreement! Sabathia has almost become underrated as the ace and work horse of the Yankees staff. Even with an injury last year, Sabathia logged his 7th straight 200 innings pitched season. He’s also not just eating innings, Sabathia is giving quality innings, as he hasn’t had an ERA over 3.38 since 2006. He’s been so good for so long, that he’s being overlooked by new pitching flames like Stephen Strasburg.
#17 Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies (MLB Network’s #19)
I’m such a sucker for Cliff Lee because he doesn’t walk anybody. I think growing up watching Greg Maddux not walk anybody made me have an affinity for pitchers with great control. Lee is the epitome of that now, he’s led the league in BB/9 three times and K/BB ratio twice, including leading the league in both in 2012. Lee also hasn’t had an ERA over 3.18 since his breakout Cy Young season in 2008. He’s the shining example that pitcher wins aren’t the correct barometer of pitching quality.
McCutchen moves up a spot on my list as I have him ahead of Evan Longoria and Giancarlo Stanton, but not ahead of a future player. The other two might have more talent, but right now I think McCutchen brings the goods better than both of them. McCutchen broke out in 2012 and finished third in the MVP voting, while taking home a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger. The Pirates star has developed into a true 30 HR, 25 SB, .300 BA threat that is hard to find in the game. He’s the foundation for the Pirates to end their sub-.500 streak and I believe they will this season.
That’s the first part of my “Top 20 Right Now”. Who would be on your list? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter using the link below with #MapesRightNow! Tomorrow is 15-11, featuring a player who makes a big leap from the MLB Network list!
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)