Century

Best MLB Franchises of the 21st century

Methodology

In order to figure out who truly deserves to be one of the best MLB teams of the century, I factored in several aspects to evaluate each team. I am including every game during the regular and postseason from the beginning of the 2000 season up until the 2017 All-Star break. I created a point system that is calculated as follows:

Win-Loss Differential- 1 point per game

Playoff Appearances- 10 points

Division Title- 10 points

League Champions- 30 points

World Series Champions- 50 points

Consistency- 20 points for every three consecutive playoff appearances + 10 bonus points for each consecutive year after that

Teams should get credit for being able to sustain success for an extended period of time, rather than having one year where they played exceptional followed by several bad years. It’s also important to distinguish playoff appearances from division titles.

For example, the Phillies should get more credit for winning their division with 102 wins in 2011 than the Cardinals winning the wild card with 90 wins. It’s also important to reward playoff success, therefore teams received a lot of credit for being able to win their league and/or winning the World Series.

It’s also pivotal to give teams credit for being successful during the regular season even if they have struggled in postseason play.

With the point system out of the way, here are the 10 best MLB teams of the 21st century thus far.

10. Texas Rangers

best mlb teams 21st century

Beltre, Hamilton and Young were at the heart of the Rangers lineup when they made their runs to the World Series (Zimbio)

Win-Loss: 1,439-1,404 (.506) = 35 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 5= 50 points

Division Titles: 4= 40 points

League Champions: 2= 60 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2010-2012 = 20 points

Total= 205 points

The Rangers did not start to show up until about a decade into the century. They might have had a World Series championship under their belt if they did not run into hot playoff teams like the Giants and Cardinals. If Nelson Cruz would have been a few steps back and didn’t let a ball go over his head then they would definitely have a championship.

It is somewhat surprising to find the Rangers this high on the list. They did not crack 90 wins or make the playoffs in the 21st century until 2010. They did have playoff success starting that year and that is what gets them to No. 10.

9. Philadelphia Phillies

Win-Loss: 1,439-1,401 (.506) = 38 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 5= 50 points

Division Titles: 5= 50 points

League Champions: 2= 60 points

World Series Champions: 1= 50 points

Consistency: 2007-2011= 40 points

Total= 288 points

best mlb teams 21st century

The Phillies rotation was advertised to be unstoppable in 2011 (USA Today)

The Phillies seemed to be a juggernaut around the same time the Rangers were taking off. They have had some of the most talented players in the past 20 years like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. On top of that, they had what was thought to be the best pitching rotation in a generation.

When Philadelphia signed Cliff Lee in 2011, they were described as the best rotation in baseball hands down. This was after they had been to two consecutive World Series in 2008 and 2009.

The Lee signing made the top four in their rotation Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Especially with their core hitters still intact, it was hard to imagine anyone stopping them given they had an ace pitching almost every game.

Even with 102 wins in 2011, the Phillies were expecting to win more games in that season.

They ended up getting knocked out by St. Louis in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2011. They have yet to reach the playoffs again since that year largely because of their aging core. Philadelphia appeared to be close to having an uptick with some of their young prospects recently, but they have backslid as they are the worst team in baseball in 2017.

8. Oakland Athletics

Win-Loss: 1,499-1,342 (.542) = 157 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 8= 80 points

Division Titles: 6= 60 points

League Champions= 0= 0 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2000-2003, 2012-2014= 50 points

Total= 347 points

Thanks to Billy Beane, the Athletics were dominating baseball for the first few years of the 21st century. He found a way to revolutionize the game using “moneyball”. Through his sabermetrics and smaller salary cap, he built a rotation that rivals the Phillies one I mentioned earlier.

Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito made up a powerful rotation that led the team to 392 wins in the four-year stretch that they made the playoffs from 2000-03. They have been a great regular season team most seasons since 2000, but they have yet to translate that to playoff success. They have not made it to the World Series since 1990.

While they showed promise of possibly making a run a few years ago, they have regressed once again. It looks like it may be a while before the Athletics return to the postseason especially considering the juggernaut that is rising in Houston.

7. Atlanta Braves

Win-Loss: 1,518-1,320 (.534) = 198 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 9= 90 points

Division Titles: 7= 70 points

League Champions: 0= 0 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2000-2005= 50 points

Total= 408 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Freeman has taken the reigns from Jones in Atlanta (MLB)

If we included the 1990s, the Braves would shoot up this list in a hurry. Atlanta went to the playoffs 10 consecutive years that included three National League championships and one World Series championship. However, half of those seasons are not going to count towards this list. Despite that, many of their successful players carried over into the 21st century and still dominated.

While the Braves have yet to make a World Series since 2000, they still have had a good run of making the postseason and doing well in the East. Their nine playoff appearances are second most in the National League behind the Cardinals.

Bobby Cox led the club until 2010 with the likes of Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Andruw Jones and John Smoltz. These players made up a Braves core that rivaled the best.

Their lack of postseason success is what keeps them from moving up the rankings. However, they are showing signs of improving as they have proven to be a team that will fight with the best of them.

6. Los Angeles Dodgers

Win-Loss: 1,540-1,303 (.541)= 237 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 8= 80 points

Division Titles: 8= 80 points

League Champions: 0= 0 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2013-2016= 30 points

Total= 427 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Kershaw is making a case to be one of the greatest pitchers of all-time (Baseball Essential)

The Dodgers have had a similar story to the Braves. They have managed to have regular season success and have been reaching the playoffs, however they have trouble getting past the league championship. It is still surprising to see them this high on the list, but that goes to show just how good they have been in the regular season as opposed to the postseason.

Clayton Kershaw already seems to be able to get into the Hall-of-Fame before reaching the age of 30. However, he has been part of the problem in the postseason. Kershaw is 4-7 with a 4.55 ERA in 14 starts in postseason play.

Especially with how much the Dodgers rely on him to be the ace that he is known to be, it is difficult for them to be able to make it very far in the playoffs.

This year may rewrite the script in terms of the Dodgers postseason woes. Their young lineup mixed with a spectacular pitching staff makes the Dodgers a force to be feared. If the article was to be written a year or two from now, the Dodgers may be moved up a couple spots on this list.

5. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Win-Loss: 1,535-1,311 (.539)= 224 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 7= 70 points

Division Titles: 6= 60 points

League Champions: 1= 30 points

World Series Champions: 1= 50 points

Consistency: 2007-2009= 20 points

Total= 454 points

Since 2009 the Angels have only made the playoffs once. They were successful in the regular season leading up to that, but have not been able to reach the World Series since winning it in 2002.

Anaheim currently may have the best baseball player since Willie Mays in Mike Trout. However, they have not been able to do much with him on the team despite also signing Albert Pujols. The Pujols contract may be what is keeping them back though. The amount of money they have invested in him may prevent them from being able to resign Mike Trout when that time comes. These big contracts are showing why they don’t work since it is difficult to build a good team around these mega deals.

Even with some of the legendary players on the Angels it seems that their future is at an interesting juncture. I expect them to move down this list in a few years while others rise.

4. San Francisco Giants

Win-Loss: 1,496-1,345 (.526)= 151 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 7= 70 points

Division Titles: 4= 40 points

League Champions: 4= 120 points

World Series Champions: 3= 150 points

Consistency: No consecutive playoff appearances three years in a row= 0 points

Total= 531 points

The Giants managed to gain the reputation of winning the World Series only in even years, as they won in 2010, 2012 and 2014. They have not been as good of regualr season teams as others on this list. San Francisco has only one four division titles since 2000 which is low compared to others on this list. However, there may not be much debate in saying they have had the most playoff success out of all these teams.

One of the biggest names for San Francisco since the turn of the century is Barry Bonds, who even though is tainted by the steroid era could still be one of the best hitters of all time. Much of their success has come from their pitching staff though. Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, and at one time Tim Lincecum have all been big contributes to the Giants success in the playoffs. Overall though, during their stretch of winning championships they were able to work well as a team. There were not a whole lot of big names outside of Bumgarner or Posey, but they had a supporting cast that did what they had to do and took them all the way.

Things are different this year. The Giants are currently in the midst of one of their worst years in the history of their franchise. Which is really saying a lot seeing as they are one of the oldest organizations in baseball. It is hard to see what is in store in the future for the Giants, but knowing them they will find away to make it back to the playoffs soon.

3. Boston Red Sox

Win-Loss: 1,557-1,285 (.547)= 272 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 8= 80 points

Division Titles: 3= 30 points

League Champions: 3= 90 points

World Series Champions: 3= 150 points

Consistency: 2003-2005, 2007-2009= 40 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Boston broke their World Series drought by sweeping St. Louis in 2004 (Boston Globe)

Total: 662 points

In 2004 the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. Since then, they have won another two championships. They also had perhaps the greatest comeback in playoff history, coming back from 3-0 against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.

The Red Sox have also been playing in the toughest division in baseball since 2000. If you look at their division titles they only have three, which is as many World Series wins they have. This is largely because of who they have been competing with, rather than their lack of ability to perform in the regular season. It is odd to see the third place team on this list only with three AL East titles but it is the way the game goes.

Boston has had some stellar hitters including David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. They also have had some of the greatest pitchers of all-time in Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling. Their success can also be largely attributed to the supporting cast of their team. Players like Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury are the less well known players on these teams that are able to have a significant impact.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

Win-Loss: 1,593-1,248 (.560)= 345 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 12= 120 points

Division Titles: 9= 90 points

League Champions: 4= 40 points

World Series Champions: 2= 100 points

Consistency: 2000-2002, 2004-2006, 2011-2015= 80 points

Total= 775 points

The Cardinals have been called the Yankees of the National League. Since 2000, they have been one of the most consistently great organizations in baseball. This is because they have had a great mix of star performers and supporting players.

best mlb teams 21st century

Known as “MV3”, this legendary trio led the Cardinals to be one of the best teams of the 21st century (InsideSTL)

Albert Pujols came from the Cardinals system and had the best 10 year start to career in the history of the game. After he left the Cardinals in 2011, they have yet to figure out a way to fill the void that Pujols left in 2013. Despite the fact that they made it to the World Series in 2013, they have still been missing that spark in the lineup. Yadier Molina has been the best catcher since Ivan Rodriguez and is also a product of the Cardinals’ farm system, however he was never entrenched at the three spot in the lineup quite like Pujols was. Pujols provided the intimidation factor that has been missing and may contribute to why the Cardinals are struggling in 2017.

The 2004 Cardinals won a monstrous 105 games. This is largely thanks to the stellar middle of their lineup in Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen. There hasn’t quite been a trio as good as them for a long time. Each one of them was the full package with offense as well as defense. They are a big reason why the Cardinals were so successful from 2004-2006.

With the combination of Hall of Fame managing in Tony La Russa as well as great upper management, the Cardinals have some of the best sustained success since the turn of the century.

1. New York Yankees

Win-Loss: 1,637-1,199 (.577)= 438 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 13= 130 points

Division Titles: 10= 100 points

League Champions: 4= 120 points

World Series Champions: 2= 100 points

Consistency: 2000-2007, 2009-2012 = 100 points

Total= 988 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Not many would debate Derek Jeter being the face of the Yankees success (MLB)

The Yankees had a reputation for a long time for spending big money to get the best players in baseball. They did this with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Texiera, and C.C Sabathia. However, that culture has been starting to get phased out and New York has been growing their own players in their farm system. The best example of this is Aaron Judge who is busting onto the scene and may be one of the greatest rookies ever. Other homegrown players such as Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Bernie Williams made a big impact this century as well. I haven’t even mentioned that the best closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera, racked up more saves than anyone during this time and came from the Yankees system.

Just by naming all of these players who have played in New York tells the story of how successful they have been. They have won 2 World Series titles since the turn of the century, which is low for them considering they have won 27 all together. Their heated rivals, the Red Sox, have won more championships since 2000. However, the Yankees continued success coupled with their excellent ability to get top-notch players in a variety of ways, makes them the best franchise of the 21st century…so far.

 

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One hit wonder MLB seasons

One-hit wonder MLB seasons since 2000

In Major League Baseball, players often breakout seemingly out of nowhere. The question then follows: Will their production continue, or will they simply fade away back to obscurity?

Methodology

In music, the term “one-hit wonder” refers to an artist who creates a song that ranks on the Billboard’s national top 40 list, while failing to recreate another with the same level of success. In baseball, we can label a player as a “one-hit wonder” if they experience a breakout season and are unable to recreate anywhere near the same level of success. In this case, success can be measured in accolades and wins above replacement player, or WAR.

For hitters, we will look at statistics like offensive WAR and accolades like MVP candidacy, Silver Slugger awards and All-Star appearances. For pitchers, we will assess the same group of statistics and awards, while also looking at Cy Young candidacies.

The main criteria used to compile the following list includes a blatant discrepancy between a player’s total career WAR and their WAR over a specific breakout season. Yearly awards are also taken into consideration, as a player can be considered a one-hit wonder if they finish within the top-25 voting for most valuable player, or MVP, while failing to ever do so again.

The following players combined make up the all “one-hit wonder” MLB team of the 2000’s. Note that being on this list does not mean the player had a bad career, but means they had a season that was a blatant anomaly.

Honorable mentions include: Angel Berroa (2003), Morgan Ensberg (2005) and Dontrelle Willis (2005)

Paul Lo Duca, Catcher, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2001

2001 Stats 125 G 25 HR 90 RBI 71 R .320/.374/.548
162 Game Avg. 162 G 12 HR 72 RBI 72 R .286/.337/.409
One hit wonder MLB seasons

Paul Lo Duca may be a three time All-Star from 2003-2006, but his most productive season came in 2001. (Photo by Getty Images)

Lo Duca was a 25th round draft pick by the Dodgers in 1993. He grinded through the minors, playing a total of 718 games at three different minor league levels.

He expected to get a shot at the everyday catcher’s job in 1998 after the Dodgers traded away arguably the greatest hitting catcher of all time, Mike Piazza, to the Florida Marlins.

Although this was not the case, as the Dodgers received catcher Charles Johnson in return. This delayed Lo Duca’s first full MLB season until 2001.

In 2001, Lo Duca showed out, batting .320 while hitting a career-high 25 home runs with 90 RBIs in only 125 games. His offensive WAR measured 4.2, which was considerably higher than any other season, as his second-highest offensive WAR came the following season at 2.9.

Although Lo Duca made four consecutive All-Star appearances from 2003-2006, 2001 was the only season where he ranked within the top-25 in National League MVP voting at 19.

 

Darin Erstad, First Baseman, Anaheim Angels, 2000

2000 Stats 157 G 25 HR 100 RBI 121 R 28 SB .355/.409/.541
162 Game Avg. 162 G 12 HR 68 RBI 89 R 18 SB .282/.336/.407

Erstad may be one of the most obvious MLB players to have a one-hit wonder season. After being selected as the first overall pick in the 1995 draft by the California Angels, Erstad made a quick jump to the majors in 1996 after playing in only 143 games at four different minor league levels.

Erstad’s breakout came in 2000, as he managed to bat a miraculous .355 while hitting 25 home runs, scoring 121 runs and setting an MLB-record for most RBIs by a leadoff hitter with 100. It looks as if this record will be shattered by either the Houston Astros George Springer or the Colorado Rockies Charlie Blackmon this season, although it remains incredible feat either way.

In his 26-year-old season, Erstad ranked eighth in American League MVP voting while also being named an AL All-Star, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner. His offensive WAR during this season totaled 5.6, which accounted for over 30 percent of his total offensive WAR over his 14-year career.

Junior Spivey, Second Baseman, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2002 

2002 Stats 143 G 16 HR 78 RBI 103 R 11 SB .301/.389/.476
162 Game Avg. 162 G 17 HR 71 RBI 91 R 11 SB .270/.354/.436
One hit wonder MLB seasons

Junior Spivey’s career was short but was in MVP conversation in 2002. (Photo by Getty Images)

Spivey’s 2002 season matches up fairly evenly with his 162-game average, although he only managed to play in over 100 games in a season twice, as he only tallied 457 career games played in the major leagues.

 

In 2002, Spivey set career-highs across the board in home runs, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, stolen bases, walks and runs scored.

He managed to make his first and only All-Star team while also finishing the year 14th in National League MVP voting. His offensive WAR totaled 4.3, which is over 50 percent of his total career offensive WAR, which totals 7.3.

 

Chase Headley, Third Baseman, San Diego Padres, 2012

2012 Stats 161 G 31 HR 115 RBI 95 R 17 SB .286/.376/.498
162 Game Avg. 162 G 15 HR 69 RBI 72 R 4 SB .263/.343/.399

The current New York Yankee has been an above-average player for his entire career, as in each of his ten seasons, he has tallied an offensive WAR above one. It was Headley’s 2012 season that makes him one of MLB’s one-hit wonders of the 2000’s.

In his fourth season as a full-time starter, the former second-round pick flourished, batting .286 with 31 home runs, 115 RBI, 95 runs and 17 stolen bases. Headley managed to win a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger, while also finishing fifth in the National League MVP vote. His offensive WAR of 6.5 in 2012 makes up for over 25 percent of his total career offensive WAR of 24.2.

Rich Aurilia, Shortstop, San Francisco Giants, 2001 

2001 Stats 156 G 37 HR 97 RBI 114 R .324/.369/.572
162 Game Avg. 162 G 18 HR 74 RBI 73 R .275/.328/.433
One hit wonder MLB seasons

Rich Aurilia’s 2001 season remains a massive anomaly compared to the rest of his career. (Photo by Getty Images)

Aurilia mustered up some productive years, but nothing like his 2001 campaign. In his lone All-Star season, Aurilia led the league in hits with 206, 37 of which went for home runs. In 2001, he batted .324 with 114 runs scores and 97 RBIs.

At 29 years old, Aurilia managed to earn a Silver Slugger while also being voted 12th in the National League MVP race. His offensive WAR in 2001 totaled 6.3, which is 33 percent of his 15-year career total offensive WAR of 18.9. His second most productive offensive season came the year before in 2000, where he totaled an offensive WAR of 2.2.

 

Lew Ford, Left Fielder, Minnesota Twins, 2004

2004 Stats 154 G 15 HR 72 RBI 89 R 20 SB .299/.381/.446
162 Game Avg. 162 G 11 HR 55 RBI 73 R 15 SB .268/.345/.399

Former 12th round pick by the Boston Red Sox, Ford was traded to the Twins in 2000 for a veteran reliever. Ford played 230 games in the minors for Minnesota, batting .297 with 24 home runs and 124 RBI before being called up in 2003.

It was Ford’s 2004 campaign that puts him on the map of one-hit wonder seasons. Ford batted .299 with 15 home runs, 72 RBIs, 89 runs and 20 stolen bases in 154 games.

In his first full major league season, the 27-year-old finished 24th in the American League MVP vote. His offensive WAR in 2004 was 3.3, which is about 64 percent of his career offensive production, as his total career offensive WAR is 4.9.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Center Fielder, Boston Red Sox, 2011

2011 Stats 158 G 32 HR 105 RBI 119 R 39 SB .321/.376/.552
162 Game Avg. 162 G 14 HR 68 RBI 98 R 46 SB .285/.341/.418
One hit wonder MLB seasons

Jacoby Ellsbury’s 2011 campaign resulted in a second place finish in the AL MVP race. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Before joining the “Evil Empire”, Ellsbury enjoyed plenty of success as a part of the Boston Red Sox, winning two championships in 2007 and 2013. However, many tend to forget how outlandish his lone All-Star season was in 2011.

At 27 years old, Ellsbury batted .321 with 32 home runs, 105 RBIs, 119 runs scored and 39 stolen bases. He won a Silver Slugger, Gold Glove and finished second in the American League MVP vote behind the Detroit Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander.

There was one occasion in 2013 in which Ellsbury finished within the top-25 in MVP voting, although the numbers he was putting up were nowhere close to his 2011 campaign. His offensive WAR in 2011 registered at 7.4, which accounts for 28 percent of his total offensive production over his 11-year career, whereas his offensive WAR in 2013 measured in at only 4.1.

Carlos Quentin, Right Fielder, Chicago White Sox, 2008 

2008 Stats 130 G 36 HR 100 RBI 96 R 7 SB .288/.394/.571
162 Game Avg. 162 G 30 HR 95 RBI 81 R 2 SB .252/.347/.484

Quentin’s 162 game average is very respectable, although due to the fact that he only played in at least 130 games in a season twice, he finds himself as the starting right fielder of the one-hit wonder team of the 2000’s. The former first-round pick managed to hit 154 home runs and 491 RBIs over his nine-year career, although the majority of his offensive production came in 2008.

Quentin finished his 25-year-old season with a career-best .288 batting average, 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 96 runs scored. His offensive WAR of 5.3 accounts for exactly one third of his total career offensive production. If Quentin could stay healthy, he doesn’t end up on this list.

Mark Prior, Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs, 2003

2003 Stats 30 GS 18-6 W-L 2.43 ERA 1.10 WHIP 245 K 211.1 IP
162 Game Avg. 34 GS 13-9 W-L 3.51 ERA 1.23 WHIP 243 K 211 IP
One hit wonder MLB seasons

Mark Prior’s career was cut tragically short due to a slew of injuries. (Photo by ESPN.com)

Prior was drafted 43rd overall by the Yankees in 1998, but decided to forgo and attend the University of Southern California instead. Three years later, he was selected second overall by the Cubs in the 2001 draft.

He made his major league debut in May of 2002, and finished the season with a 6-6 record, 3.32 ERA and 147 Ks in 116.2 innings pitched. In 2003, Prior officially broke out, recording an 18-6 record with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts.

He was voted an All-Star for the first and only time, while finishing third in the National League Cy Young and ninth in the NL MVP vote.

Prior’s career was derailed by multiple injuries including a broken ankle, broken elbow, torn labrum and torn rotator cuff, which caused him to retire at just 25 years of age in 2006.

His career WAR over five seasons is 15.7, although a good bit of his production occurred in 2003, where his WAR totaled 7.4.

John Axford, Closer, Milwaukee Brewers, 2011 

2011 Stats 74 G 46 SV 1.95 ERA 1.14 WHIP 86 K 73 IP
162 Game Avg. 68 G 20 SV 3.68 ERA 1.41 WHIP 74 K 65 IP

After being drafted in the seventh round in 2001, Axford decided to forgo the draft and attend the University of Notre Dame. He was then selected in the 42nd round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2005, although he did not sign. After spending a season with the Yankees, Axford made a move to Milwaukee where he would be until 2013.

Axford spent three full seasons as the Brewers’ primary closer, although his 2011 campaign was unparalleled to any other. He recorded 46 saves, a 1.95 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 73 innings pitched. His WAR in 2011 totaled 2.3, which accounts for over 50 percent of his nine-year career WAR of 4.2.

 

Featured image by Ed Betz of MLB.com

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Transcending eras: Clayton Kershaw

When you think of the great pitchers of the game, there is generally a consensus on most of the names. Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Greg Maddux, Nolan Ryan, Pedro Martinez. The list could go on and on with dominant pitchers who have played the game. Even so, how about we add one more name to that list; Clayton Kershaw.

The burly lefty may only be 29 years old, but when you review his career so far, it’s hard not to see how truly dominant he has been. But does he truly match up to the likes of Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan? Let’s delve into the numbers and see how the Dallas native compares to the past greats.

Best pitcher of all-time

Clayton Kershaw is arguably one of the best pitchers of all-time (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images).

Mature beyond his years

That could be one of the more accurate statements made in regards to Kershaw. When the southpaw made his major league debut at the ripe old age of 20, no one could have predicted what he was to become. After being drafted seventh overall in the 2006 MLB Draft, he was pegged to be a future top of the rotation arm, a potential ace. Kershaw quickly proved that to be true after he posted a 2.79 ERA in his 21 year old season. He also punched 185 tickets in 171 innings pitched that season, proving to have electric stuff.

That season was just a glimmer of what Kershaw would become. Throughout his twenties he pitched like a grizzled veteran, compiling Hall of Fame type numbers. In his first 10 seasons in Los Angeles, he has a career 2.38 ERA with 2,033 strikeouts in 1,863.1 innings pitched. Kershaw became the second fastest to reach 2000 career strikeouts this season, bested by only Randy Johnson. The pitchers behind Kershaw on that list read like a who’s who of great MLB pitchers; Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, to name a few.

Even so, it’s much to early to mention Kershaw in the same breath as the likes of Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, isn’t it?

Lefty on lefty

When Kershaw became the second fastest player to reach 2,000 career strikeouts, many people both in and out of the game of baseball took notice. But if that was their first exposure to the Dodgers’ ace, then they have been missing one of the most masterful pitchers in baseball history. That may sound blasphemous to some die-hard baseball fans, but when put up against the game’s greats, Kershaw does more than hold his own. Let’s take Randy Johnson for example.

The Big Unit didn’t make his major league debut until he was 24 years old. Even so, we will compare his first 10 seasons to Kershaw’s, given that is the breadth of Kershaw’s career so far. In Johnson’s first 10 years in the league, he posted a 3.37 ERA, over one full run more than Kershaw’s 2.38 ERA.

Johnson also struck out an even 2000 batters over 1734 innings in those 10 years, 33 less than Kershaw. Even though Johnson was 33 strikeouts off of matching Kershaw, Johnson pitched 129 fewer innings than Kershaw, so that statistic can be misleading. That explains Johnson’s edge in SO/9, with 10.4 compared to Kershaw’s 9.8 SO/9. With the small difference in SO/9, Kershaw still easily bests Johnson in run prevention, the main responsibility of a pitcher. It can be reasoned that Kershaw has pitched better than Johnson in his first 10 seasons, but what about another great?

Righty on lefty

Best pitcher of all-time

Nolan Ryan’s greatness was on display for decades, but Kershaw might be catching up with him (baseballhall.org).

Nolan Ryan has largely been lauded as one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. The 12th round MLB Draft pick out of Refugio, Texas defied expectations, making his MLB debut at 19 years old. He put up a 3.09 ERA in 21 games in 1968, and struck out 133 batters in 134 innings pitched. In his first 10 seasons, Ryan was a force for both the Mets and Angels. With a 3.11 ERA and 2085 strikeouts in 1935 innings pitched over his first 10 seasons, Kershaw matches up well with his fellow Texan.

Kershaw again has the lead in ERA, with a 2.38 ERA compared to Ryan’s 3.11 ERA. Ryan has more strikeouts than Kershaw (2085 compared to 2033), but their SO/9 is eerily similar. Ryan possesses a 9.7 SO/9 compared to Kershaw’s 9.8 SO/9. The similarity in SO/9 is remarkable, and means Kershaw and Ryan have been about the same in regards to their strikeout ability. Even so, Kershaw again has an edge over his counterpart, with a lower ERA and similar SO/9 in their first 10 seasons.

Kershaw’s dominance can not be overlooked. And when you compare his career to some of the game’s greats, his dominance becomes even more evident. If Kershaw retired today, he would garner considerable Hall of Fame consideration. But with no signs of slowing down on the horizon, and at only 29 years old, Kershaw could continue dealing at a high level for years to come.

Feature image by USATSI.

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Pujols

Albert Pujols Appreciation Piece

Last Saturday night, Los Angeles Angels first basemen, Albert Pujols, hit his 600th career home run in style, a no doubt Grand Slam. Pujols is no stranger to Grand Slams, as this one, off Twins ace Ervin Santana, was his 14th of his career. Behind in the count 1-2, Pujols became the ninth member of the 600 club, and fourth youngest of those nine. Now, a week later, it is weird that Pujols did not nearly receive the amount of love from the media like he should have. All in all, it is time to acknowledge one thing, Albert Pujols is one of the best MLB players of all time.

THE FACTS

Let’s just start out with the facts. After being drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB June Amateur Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols quickly found success and never looked back. In 2001, as a 21-year-old kid, Albert won the NL Rookie of the Year award. His ridiculous .329/37/130 stat line put him in the conversation for MVP. From 2001-2010, Albert Pujols had one of the greatest ten year stretches in the history of the sport. In each of the first ten years of his career, Pujols was able to maintain above a .300 average, hit 30 or more homers, and drive in over 100 RBI.

The only other player to put up those numbers for more than 10 seasons was Babe Ruth, who played in a time where one pitcher threw the whole game and there were only 8 teams in the league, but that is a story for a different day. Only three players in the history of the game maintained a career .300 average or better, hit 600 + home runs, and drove in over 1850 runs: Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and assuming he keeps his .308 career average up, Jose Alberto Pujols will become the fourth.

Pujols celebrating after Game 7 of the 2011 World Series (NewsOK)

The three time MVP is also an extremely clutch player. In 77 career playoff games, “The Machine” has posted a batting average of .323, launched 19 home runs (4th all time), and driven in 54 runs (6th all time), including an unforgettable three home run game in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series. Because of his elite play, Albert helped his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, win two World Series Championships (2006, 2011). On top of the clutch factor, Pujols is also a two-time Gold Glove award winner.

The GOAT at 1B?

I could even go as far to say that Albert Pujols is the best first basemen this league has ever seen. The only other players in contention would be Lou Gehrig, who played in Ruth’s era, and Stan Musial, who some would consider primarily an outfielder. Gehrig, as great as he was, only finished in the top 3 MVP voting four times. Pujols, who played in the heart of the steroid era, has eight top 3 finishes. Musial, who is one of the greatest Cardinals to ever play, had six seasons in which he hit 30 or more home runs. “The Machine” has 14 and counting.

 Off the Diamond

Off the field, Pujols has been nothing short of spectacular.  Before meeting Albert, Deidre, now Mrs. Pujols, had  given birth to a daughter named Isabella. At a young age, Isabella was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. In 2005, with the help of Deidre, Albert created the Pujols Family Foundation. While the main focus of the foundation is to raise money in implementing awareness and hope for those families affected by Down Syndrome, the Pujols family has also shifted their focus in assisting in the education, living, and medical fields for the less fortunate citizens of the Dominican Republic. Every year tons of families get their children dressed up and head off to the Pujols Family Foundation’s annual prom for Down Syndrome kids. Surprisingly, Albert is also a great dancer, and someone who will always show off his moves at the prom.

Pujols during the annual Pujols Family Foundation prom. (Stltoday.com)

Where is the Love?

So why do we, as a society, not acknowledge Albert Pujols’ greatness? A class act on and off the field, who has consistently dominated arguably the most difficult professional sport. What is there not to love? Recently, ESPN came out with the “World Fame 100”, which is a list of the world’s 100 most famous athletes. The order was based off endorsements with social media following and amount of searches on the internet. Shockingly, not one professional baseball player made the list. Why?

There is a list of reasons as to why baseball players are not as popular as they should be. The obvious one being the fact that the game is not intense enough, compared to other major sports. The game is too boring for kids, and can often be expensive for parents. It is not a sport where it is acceptable to show some flash, like you see with Odell Beckham Jr, or Stephen Curry. The season is so long that people often lose interest in April and will start watching again in October. Not only are there less viewers, but of the people who do watch, half of them are over the age of 50.

Whether you like baseball or not, one thing to realize is this, what Albert Pujols has done over his career is absolutely astonishing. A sure first ballot Hall of Famer, Pujols has defined what it means to be consistent, while acting like a true professional, on and off the diamond. When asked about chasing Barry Bonds’ home run record, Pujols said “I hope I get the opportunity. It would be so special.” (USA TODAY Sports) As a fan of the game, I would love to see him play for a couple more years and chase 762. No one would deserve it more than Albert Pujols.

Featured image by SI.com

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MLB Rookies

The Rookie’s Rise to Stardom

In a game with one of the biggest learning curves in sports, rookies have surprisingly been doing well. Baseball has had a number of young players develop into stars in recent seasons.

To fully comprehend this shift in the game, we must first examine how players make it from being a prospect in the minor leagues to making it to the show.

From Prospect to Pro

MLB Rookies

Even top picks like Colorado’s Brendan Rodgers must pay their dues in the minors (GJ Sentinel).

Major League Baseball is vastly different from the NFL and NBA when it comes to rookies. While there is no limit to how long a player must wait to be signed professionally, baseball still averages the oldest rookies of all three of the major sports.

That is due to the way the game is played. To be successful in the majors, most players need to be at their peak of maturation, normally around 24 to 25 years old. Being fully developed allows baseball players to utilize their bodies to the fullest.

Unlike the NFL or NBA where players can rely on physical talent alone, baseball requires a honed set of skills. It doesn’t matter if you can hit a fastball 450 feet. If you can’t handle a breaking ball, you will fail in the majors.

That is why baseball has such an advanced minor league system. The combination of developing a player’s physical and mental capabilities to be successful in the majors takes time. The average rookie last year was 24 years old, giving credence to the time it takes to develop. However, what happens when players start breaking the mold, and advance beyond our wildest dreams?

2012: just the beginning

MLB Rookies

Mike Trout and Bryce Harper transformed the way rookies played in 2012 (nbcsports.com).

The Rookie of the Year award has always been the bar that rookies strive for. However, not all ROY winners are made the same.

From 2007-2011, ROY winners averaged 3.1 wins above replacement (WAR). Baseball Reference rates that as better than an average starter in the majors, proving that the ROY winners were truly something special.

Many have noted the increase of rookie production in the past few years, and the numbers certainly support that. From 2012-2016, ROY winners have averaged 5.4 WAR. That is a staggering jump in production, and evidence of a new age dawning in baseball.

This trend really began in 2012 with a pair of ROY winners: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Both players had been premium draft picks for their respective teams, but it was Harper that was seen as the next big thing in baseball.

Some players fold under such lofty expectations, but Harper flourished. He put up 5.2 WAR in his rookie year, topping all NL ROY winners since 2007 by at least 1.3 WAR. If Harper signaled a shift in the way rookies played, Trout was the zenith of their potential.

No one saw what Trout had in store. At 20 years old in his rookie season, he blew away the competition with a staggering 10.8 WAR. That is MVP type production, and earned him a second place finish in the 2012 AL MVP voting. While it may be unfair to compare Trout to other rookies due to his Hall of Fame trajectory, his fast start should not be diminished. Even so, Trout and Harper were only the beginning, setting the stage for other acts to follow.

continued success

MLB Rookies

Even Nolan Arenado, one of the games best young players, couldn’t take home the ROY award. (The Denver Post).

Since that fateful 2012 season, the way we view rookies has never been the same. That’s not just Trout and Harper’s doing either.

The rookies that have followed have helped carry their success into new seasons. Seemingly gone are the days when players like Dustin Pedroia could put up 3.9 WAR in 2007 and bring home the ROY award. Pedroia’s 2007 season would have been good enough for the third most WAR by a rookie in 2016. A new type of player is taking over the majors, and they are raising the bar of rookie performance.

Never before have we seen such young players perform so well so quickly. The NL has had two ROY winners in a row post seasons of 6.0 WAR or higher: Kris Bryant in 2015 (6.1 WAR) and Corey Seager in 2016 (6.0 WAR).

From 2007-2011, five of the 10 ROY winners posted WAR over 3.5 in their rookie years. From 2012-2016, eight of the 10 ROY winners have posted WAR over 3.5 in their rookie years. ROY of course is not the be all end all of the story of growing rookie dominance.

We saw 11 rookies post seasons of 2.5 WAR or higher last year, compared to the 2007 season in which only six rookies reached the 2.5 WAR milestone. Players like Nolan Arenado, Trea Turner, Francisco Lindor and Gary Sanchez all had rookie seasons of at least 3.0 WAR, and still weren’t able to bring home the ROY award. It will only become more difficult to bring home the ROY award with the rise in production of rookies.

The way the game is being played is changing. Younger, less-experienced players are taking over the game. Don’t let their lack of experience fool you. These young studs will dominate the game for years to come. The youth movement in baseball is upon us, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down soon.

 

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Houston Texans

How The Houston Texans Can Win The Super Bowl

The AFC South has been one of the worst divisions in football for two years now. The Houston Texans have won the AFC South both seasons with back-to-back 9-7 records.

The biggest problem for the Texans is the lack of consistent quarterback play. The Texans started four different quarterbacks in 2015: Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallet, T.J. Yates, and Brandon Weeden. They started two more quarterbacks last season: Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage.

Starting six quarterbacks in two years is not the formula to winning the Super Bowl, but they are really close.

Super Bowl Defense

Houston Texans

(Photo Credit: Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle )

Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. The Seahawks’ defense was so dominant four years ago that it led them to a 43-8 Super Bowl victory. The Patriots came up with a goal-line interception three years ago to the win the Super Bowl. The Denver Broncos had one of the best defenses in the NFL two seasons ago and shut down the top scoring offense to beat the Panthers in the Super Bowl. The Patriots came back down from 28-3 this past February to win the Super Bowl. That could not have happened if their defense didn’t shut down the high-flying Falcons offense.

The Texans have a defense capable of playing to the level of all these other defenses. Houston allowed the fewest yards in the NFL last season at 301 per game. They also allowed the second-fewest passing yards.

Houston also has the best defensive player in the NFL in J.J. Watt. He only played in three games last season, which makes what Houston’s defense did more impressive.

Watt is a four-time Pro Bowler and a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, which is tied for most all-time with Lawerence Taylor. Adding him back to the mix makes them an elite defense.

The Texans also finally saw the emergence of former number one overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who had six sacks last season. Clowney’s amazing play doesn’t show up in the stats. He constantly received double teams without Watt in the lineup, but still made plays. In the Wild Card game against the Raiders, he made an incredible interception that took over the game.

These two great defenders will make one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. The Texans also have one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL, headlined by Brian Cushing and Whitney Mercilus. If the secondary can make up for the loss of A.J. Bouye, they could contend for the best defense in the NFL.

What Is Missing?

It is no secret that the Texans need to improve offensively. Houston’s offensive line ranked 18th in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. They must improve both guard positions if they want to improve the overall line play.

Running back is not an issue of concern. Lamar Miller finished 10th in the NFL with 1,073 yards in just 14 games. Alfred Blue is also a solid backup to Miller.

The receiving corp is solid with Jaelen Strong, Will Fuller, and Braxton Miller, but headlined by DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has 189 receptions, 2,475 yards and 15 touchdowns in the last two seasons. Those stats are impressive with six different quarterbacks over two years.

It all comes back to quarterback play. The Texans are a quarterback away from being the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC. There is one quarterback perfect for the Texans that they need to get.

The Missing Piece

Houston Texans

(Photo Credit: http://boltbeat.com)

Houston threw millions at an unproven Brock Osweiler and it failed miserably. Osweiler has since been traded to the Browns and the only quarterbacks on the Texans’ roster are Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden. These quarterbacks won’t even win the division, let alone a Super Bowl. So what should the Texans do?

The Texans could find a quarterback in the draft, but most analysts feel there are no NFL-ready quarterbacks in this draft. Free agency is always an option and Houston was hoping to get Tony Romo, but he retired. Jay Cutler is available, but that option could be just as bad or worse than what they already have.

That leaves only one option, a trade. The Houston Texans should go all in for a trade with the Los Angeles Chargers for Philip Rivers. The Chargers are nowhere close to contending for a championship and Rivers is 35 years old.

Rivers has accomplished a lot in his time in the NFL. His career record is 97-79. Rivers has 314 touchdowns, 156 interceptions and 45,833 yards.

By most comparisons, he is the AFC’s Tony Romo. Everything he has done of significance has come in the regular season. His playoff record is 4-5 and couldn’t get to the Super Bowl with Hall-of-Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson and future Hall-of-Fame tight end Antonio Gates.

This narrative could change with a trade to Houston. His career would be revitalized and he would have a three to four years to win the Super Bowl. He would have the necessary weapons to succeed; such as a running game and a top 10 receiver in the NFL. The Texans would have a top five defense and an offense capable of keeping pace on the scoreboard with any team in the NFL.

Houston, if you want to win the Lombardi Trophy, trade for Phillip Rivers.

 

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Milestones Records 2017

Milestones and Records to Watch for in 2017

Opening Day is just around the corner, which means fans will be flocking to ballparks all over the country. Fans will be in store for more than what they bargained for in a season sure to be full of fun and feats.

Records and milestones are reached around the league every year, and this year will be no different. Here’s what you should be on the look out for in the 2017 MLB season.

Albert Pujols Reaches 600 Homers

Milestones Records 2017

Albert Pujols has done this plenty of times, 591 to be exact (Jae C. Hong/ Associated Press).

There is a reason Albert Pujols earned the nickname “The Machine” in St. Louis. The slugger smashed 445 homers while averaging 155 games played per season over 11 years. That massive amount of production earned him a huge free agent contract from the Los Angeles Angels. Many correctly predicted his decline while in an Angels uniform. However, the 36-year-old can still mash.

Pujols enters the 2017 season sitting at 591 home runs, just nine short of entering the illustrious 600 home run club. This isn’t just a milestone, but a historic moment for the game of baseball. Only eight players have reached 600 or more home runs in MLB history. It’s one of the most exclusive clubs in all of sports.

Pujols will certainly have earned it when he makes it. He has averaged 29 homers per season in five years with the Angels. That is a far cry from his 40-homer average in St. Louis, but respectable nonetheless.

When Pujols launches homer number 600 over the outfield fence, he will enter the pantheon of baseball legends. All we have to do is sit back and watch.

Jose Reyes Reaches 500 Stolen Bases

The skill of stealing bases is becoming a lost art in an age of power. Stolen bases have been on the decline for years. Only two players in the past five seasons,(Dee Gordon and Jonathan Villar) have stolen 60 or more bases in a season. Jose Reyes has been on the decline in recent seasons, but has been a speedster throughout his career. Reyes is sitting at 488 career stolen bases and on the verge of a historic milestone.

Reyes burned his way through the league after coming in at 20 years old. The speedy Mets shortstop amassed 290 stolen bases by age 25. He had seasons of 56, 60, 64 and 78 stolen bases.

Reyes did experience some legal troubles last season after playing for Toronto and Colorado in 2015, but was able to return home to Flushing in 2016. What better place to reach 500 stolen bases than in a Mets uniform?

Clayton Kershaw Reaches 2000 Strikeouts

Milestones Records 2017

Clayton Kershaw is on the cusp of 2000 strikeouts (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images).

This one may not be as big of a career milestone as the previous two, but it’ll be historic in its own right. Clayton Kershaw has been almost immaculate since he entered the league in 2008. After putting up a 4.26 ERA in his rookie season at 20 years old, Kershaw hasn’t had a single season ERA higher than 2.91. He’s been able to limit runs and rack up huge strikeout numbers.

He put up his best statistical season in 2015 with 301 strikeouts in 232.2 innings pitched to support his sparkling 2.13 ERA. He was on his way to an even better year in 2016 before injuries knocked him out for the season. Even with an injury-shortened 2016 season, Kershaw enters 2017 at 29 years old with 1918 career punch outs.

When he records his 2000th strikeout this season, he will be among the fastest pitchers to reach the milestone. He will join some of the games greats like Walter Johnson and Nolan Ryan as some of the fastest to reach 2000 strikeouts in MLB History.

Mike Trout Reaches 200 Home Runs

Mike Trout is widely considered the best player in baseball. He is set to solidify that reputation at the seasoned age of 25.

Trout entered the league at 19 years old in 2011 and struggled mightily. After posting a .220 batting average in 40 games, many doubted Trout entering the 2012 season. However, he quickly put those doubts to rest by smashing 30 homers in 139 games played that season. Trout has been on a Hall of Fame trajectory ever since.

Trout will need 32 homers to break the 200 mark for his career, but it isn’t far-fetched to expect that type of production from the slugging center fielder. He has one 40-homer season already under his belt (2015) and has the ability to go far beyond the 32 homer mark this season.

What’s most impressive is just how fast he could accomplish the feat. Trout will be among some of the youngest players in the history of the game to reach 200 career homers, joining the likes of Mel Ott, youngest to 200 career homers at 25 years, 266 days old. Just when it seems we are becoming used to Trout’s greatness, we can’t overlook how historic his career is becoming.

 

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Tools of the Trade: Top 5 Power Hitters

This is the second installment of our Tools of the Trade series. In our first installment, we reviewed the Top 5 Hitters in MLB.

Now we will overview the top five power hitters in MLB by using five statistical categories to evaluate their overall power. Home run total, home runs per season, slugging, isolated power and games per season will be analyzed.

Let’s look at the top five power hitters in the game using the past five seasons. Honorable mentions include Jose Bautista (TOR), Josh Donaldson (TOR), Nolan Arenado (COL), Giancarlo Stanton (MIA), Bryce Harper (WAS) and Miguel Cabrera (DET). All honorable mentions were excluded from the list due to too few games played, dip in performance or short power surges (two years or less).

5. Chris Carter – New York Yankees

Top Power Hitters

Chris Carter has one of the best power bats in the game (Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports).

Chris Carter has played for three teams over his seven-year career and has done nothing but mash year in and year out. Carter has always been known for his power, but he may be known more for his strikeouts.

After striking out over 200 times twice in the past five seasons, Carter had to sit and wait for a contract this past offseason. The Yankees scooped him up for what could be a steal of a deal.

Carter had the second highest isolated power of all the players analyzed for this article. His .254 ISO over the past five seasons is higher than Miguel Cabrera’s (.242 ISO). He has also put up a respectable .474 slugging percentage while smashing 147 homers over that span.

His low .221 batting average has limited his playing time to 130 games per season in the past five years, but his power is elite. He has easy power to all fields. When he does make contact, it usually goes a long ways.

4. Nelson Cruz – Seattle Mariners

After putting up solid power numbers from 2009-2013, Nelson Cruz exploded with 40 homers in his first season in Baltimore. He moved to Seattle in the 2015 season and has continued his power surge. Cruz has absolutely smashed the baseball despite playing at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. He has increased his power numbers in each of the previous three seasons.

Cruz has hit 178 total home runs in his previous five campaigns to average 36 bombs per season. He also boasts an impressive .524 slugging percentage over that time and has averaged 147 games played per season.

Cruz has turned into a slugger since his move from Texas with a .247 ISO. His previous three seasons have vaulted Cruz into the upper echelon of power hitters, all while moving away from hitter-friendly parks in Baltimore and Texas. He has brought the thunder to the rainy northwest and doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

3. Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels

Top Power Hitters

Mike Trout will launch plenty of balls over the fence this season (Huffington Post)

Again, Mike Trout makes his presence known in this series. The talented center fielder has made his presence known since his first full season in the majors in 2012.

He has averaged 33 homers per season in the past five years. His high point was in 2015 when he launched 41 bombs into orbit. He has hit 163 total home runs since 2012. While that is impressive by itself, a deeper look at his numbers show a pure slugger.

Trout’s slugging percentage has been one of the highest in the game since 2012 at a staggering .564. Even more impressive is his ISO. He is averaging 154 games played per season and has put up a .254 ISO. That is an astronomical number that proves Trout’s power is one of the strongest tools he has.

Trout has been both available and productive, given his number of games played and the numbers he has put up. He could vault up this list in no time at all at his current pace.

2. Chris Davis – Baltimore Orioles

Chris Davis is one of the best pure power hitters in the game today. The 6-foot-3 Texas native has been known to go off at any given moment with his ability to launch balls all over the yard seemingly at will.

He has the second most homers in the past five seasons of the players evaluated with 197. That is an average of 39 homers per season and a massive amount of production. Let’s look at his numbers a little closer.

His .518 slugging percentage may not be overwhelming, but his .265 ISO certainly is. He is driving the ball out of the park at an impressive rate while averaging 149 games played every season. Davis has been the power source in Baltimore for years with seasons of 53 and 47 homers. He has also been dependable and given skipper Buck Showalter a reliable source of prodigious power.

At only 30 years old, look for Davis to keep putting up the massive numbers.

1. Edwin Encarnacion – Cleveland Indians

Top Power Hitters

Edwin Encarnacion’s power will play on either side of the border (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America).

Edwin Encarnacion is the top slugger in the game and will provide the Indians with one of the biggest bats in all of baseball. His 193 total homers since 2012 prove him to be a legitimate power threat. He has also averaged 145 games played per season in that five year time span.

Encarnacion provides power and dependability to an already deep Indians lineup. Just how much power does EE have?

Encarnacion has averaged 39 homers per season since 2012. That insane production is only made even more outrageous by his .544 slugging percentage. With the ability to hit the ball out of the park, it’s no wonder he boasts the best ISO on this list by a fair margin. His .272 ISO bests Chris Davis’ by .07 points. That is a noticeable difference in production.

Encarnacion will look to continue his power surge on the other side of the border in 2017 with one of the strongest swings in the game today.

 

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Tools of the Trade: Top Five in Hitting

Major League Baseball is one of the most heavily scouted games in sports. Whether it be at the high school, college or the major league level, players are always under a microscope. But what do scouts use to grade these players? They are evaluated based on the five basic tools of baseball; hitting, power, speed and base running, fielding and arm strength. In this first installment of our Tools of the Trade series, we will be analyzing the top five players at each tool.

Using the last five seasons for analysis, players will be evaluated and ranked. Sticking with the traditional 20-80 scales, players have been assigned a grade and then ranked accordingly. When a tie grade is encountered, number of games played, total hits within the five year span, and batting average will be used as a tie breaker.

Hitting Tool

Joey Votto has done nothing but rake since his first day in Cincinnati (David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports).

5. 1B Joey Votto- Cincinnati Reds

Hit Tool: 75

Joey Votto has been a mainstay in Cincinnati since his call up in 2007. He wasn’t considered the top player in his draft, going in the second round to Cincinnati, but he hasn’t let that slow him down. Votto has long been known for his ability to get on base, evident by his astounding career .425 OBP. But it’s his ability to put the ball on the bat that earns him the fifth spot in these rankings.

From 2012-2016, Votto put up a .312 batting average. He also amassed 711 hits across those five seasons. Votto’s ability to put the ball in play is bolstered by is impeccable batting eye. By being able to pick and choose the perfect pitch to hit, Votto has become a premium hitter for Cincinnati. But his recent injury history hurts him in these rankings, as he has been limited to 130 games per season in the last five years. Even so, Votto is one of the top hitters in all of baseball.

4. 3B Adrian Beltre- Texas Rangers

Hit Tool: 75

Entering his age 38 season, many believed Adrian Beltre would have been on the decline long ago. But he seems to just get better with age. He was signed as an international free agent by the Dodgers and made his MLB debut way back in 1998. And ever since he has done nothing but hit. But even with a solid career .286 batting average, Beltre has somehow stepped up his game in the past five seasons.

With a .310 batting average from 2012-2016, Beltre has bested his career average by almost 30 points. And to make it even more impressive, Beltre has done all of that at 33 years old and over. He has also been a mainstay in the Rangers lineup, playing an average of 152 games per season over the previous five campaigns. In that time he has accumulated 909 hits, averaging almost 200 hits per season. Even at age 38, Beltre still possesses an elite hit tool, good enough to place him among the games best.

3. CF Mike Trout- Los Angeles Angels

Hitting Tool

Mike Trout has been locked in for years (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Hit Tool: 75

Mike Trout is one of the few true “five tool” players in the game, so don’t be surprised to see his name in our other installments of the Tools of the Trade series. Even as a first round pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, Trout is considered one of the greatest steals in draft history. After being selected 25th overall, Trout tore through the Angels minor league system to make his MLB debut at 19 years old. And ever since, all Trout has done is rake.

When looking at Trout’s stats from the past five seasons, they put him among some of the best pure hitters in the game. He boasts a .310 batting average from 2012-2016. Trout also has 890 hits to his credit, far surpassing Votto in that regard. And while Votto does boast a better batting average, Trout has been more reliable. Trout has averaged 154 games per season in the past five years. While Votto does have Trout beat in average, it’s not enough to make up for his lack of playing time. Trout is a mainstay in the Angels lineup that will be a top hitter in the game for years to come.

2. 2B Jose Altuve- Houston Astros

Hit Tool: 75

Jose Altuve is one of the most diminutive players in the majors. Listed at a generous five feet six inches tall, one would believe that Altuve would have no place in major league baseball. But just like some scouts, Altuve has proven them wrong as well. After debuting for the Astros in 2011, he quickly became the team’s building block. And Altuve has done some building of his own, elevating himself to elite status.

With a .314 batting average from 2012-2016 and two AL Batting Titles thrown in for good measure, Altuve has been an elite hitter for an up and coming Astros organization. During that time he has clubbed 985 hits, by far the most for players in contention for this list. He has also played in about 154 games a season since 2012, providing a reliable spark to the Astros lineup. And at only 26 years old, look for Altuve to add to his already impressive trophy case.

Hit Tool

Expect to see a ton of this from Miguel Cabrera this season (Duane Burleson/Getty Images North America).

1. 1B Miguel Cabrera- Detroit Tigers

Hit Tool: 80

Miguel Cabrera is one of the best pure hitters of his generation. After being acquired by the Tigers in a steal of a trade from the Florida Marlins, Cabrera has been terrorizing opposing pitchers. The two time AL MVP has won seven Silver Slugger awards in his career, and put up a .321 career batting average. His career average would be good enough for tops on this list, but of course, Cabrera has done even better than that in his past five seasons.

From 2012-2016, Cabrera has punished pitchers to a .328 batting average. That is insane production, and easily paces the majors in average over the past five seasons. He has also amassed 922 hits, driving the ball to all fields. While he has average 149 games per season over the past five years, that’s the second lowest amount of games on this list. Even so, that type of insane production can not go unrewarded, making Miguel Cabrera the best pure hitter in all of baseball.

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2017 American League West Preview

Each American League division presents its own unique narrative. The East is highly competitive with several contenders and prospective Wild Card candidates. The Central appears to be a one horse race with two others fighting to take advantage of a limited window. Finally, we have the 2017 American League West Preview which may present the most compelling storylines of all.

The AL West runs the gambit of teams at varying stages of competition readiness.

The A’s are a small market team and its famous organization president continues to seek out ways to compete. The Angels will try to put the right supporting cast around the best player in baseball. The middle of the division sports the Mariners who’s active offseason has made them many analysts’ dark horse pick. Finally, the Rangers and Astros sit at the top of the division.

If you’re looking for a late season dogfight for the number one spot this September, look no further than the AL West.

 

#5 Oakland Athletics

2017 American League West Preview

2017 Projected Record: 72-90

The team that made “Moneyball” famous continues to search for ways to build its roster. Unfortunately for Oakland, it appears that approach is going to take some time. With a current lack of depth, limited free agent budget and a below average farm system, the A’s have little to work with in 2017.

Sonny Gray has been a bright spot on this A’s roster but struggled mightily in 2016 with a 5.69 ERA. At only 26, Gray has plenty of time for a recovery performance and will look to bounce back this season. Assuming all goes well and Gray’s WAR trends closer to 2015 numbers than last season, Oakland will receive minor boost in the win column.

#4 Los Angeles Angels

2017 American League West Preview

2017 Projected Record: 74-88

2017 American League West PreviewIt’s hard to project much of a difference for the Angels in 2017. The pickups of Danny Espinosa and Cameron Maybin provide a lineup boost but that’s not the Angels’ main gap. Some mix of pitching talent and consistent health will have to improve this season to give the Angels a shot.

Garrett Richards is a relatively underrated ace and as solid a starter as you can ask for in the MLB. Outside of Richards, there are a number of question marks surrounding this staff. Unfortunately, other than Tyler Skaggs, most members of the rotation are a known quantity at this point in their careers.

While it’s impossible to completely discount any team with Mike Trout on it, it’s clear the Angels aren’t well-positioned to compete with the rest of the division.

#3 Seattle Mariners

2017 American League West Preview

2017 Projected Record: 88-74

The best prediction one can make for the Seattle Mariners is that your prediction will be miserably wrong. On paper there is a ton to like about this team and this fact was bolstered by an active offseason. Seattle acquired lineup help in the form of Jean Segura and rotation assistance with addition of Drew Smyly. Both players are solid starters and add an additional element of depth to an already well rounded team.

With all of that said there is just something difficult about projecting the Mariners at the top of the division. Just look at the last 5 years:

Year W L Finish Top Player (WAR)
2016 86 76 2nd of 5 R.Cano (7.3)
2015 76 86 4th of 5 N.Cruz (5.2)
2014 87 75 3rd of 5 F.Hernandez (6.7)
2013 71 91 4th of 5 H.Iwakuma (6.9)
2012 75 87 4th of 4 F.Hernandez (4.8)

Their top players are still around, the roster’s makeup is similar and the divisional composition is largely the same with the exception of the improved Astros. The pieces are in place for Seattle to at least make a run at the Wild Card, if not more. However, getting there ahead of the next two teams is no small task.

#2 Texas Rangers

2017 American League West Preview

2017 Projected Record: 91-71

2017 American League West Preview

The Ranges and Astros present options 1 and 1A at the top of the AL West. Both have an unbelievably talented mix of pitching and hitting, power and speed and veterans and youth. The x-factor for the Rangers’ squad will be the top of the rotation combo of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish.

The lineup more than provided the run support needed to win games but the staff lived and died with Hamels. If Darvish can reestablish himself as a top starter, Texas is looking at one of the nastier 1-2 punches in the MLB. The rest of the rotation could still use a boost, but the quiet addition of Tyson Ross may just be the boost it needs.

 

#1 Houston Astros

2017 American League West Preview

2017 Projected Record: 92-70

The Astros undoubtedly have one of the most exciting groupings of young players in baseball. George Springer and Jose Altuve have already established their excellence with Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman not far behind. Free agent acquisition of veterans like Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick further cement the completeness of this Astros team.

Pitching remains the question of the season for the top of this division. After a Cy Young performance in 2015, Dallas Keuchel struggled in 2016, posting a 4.55 ERA. If Keuchel can reclaim some of that domination, Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers provide strong second and third options. With little doubt surrounding the Astros and Rangers lineups, the true test for these clubs will be which rotation can reclaim past dominance.

 

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