For baseball fans and Fantasy team owners, looking at the standings at the beginning of June reveals a telling statistic – the major league season is 1/3 over. Just about 54 games are in the books and it’s time for an honest evaluation of your team. No more excuses of slumps, shifts, off-season injuries, smoke & mirror performances and the like. As with most real-life situations, it’s all about what you’ve done for me lately and what you project to do moving forward.
Some very predictable things have already happened. Billy Hamilton is stealing lots of bases, Yoan Moncada is still in the minors, Neftali Feliz is no longer closing and A.J. Pollock is injured. On the other end of the spectrum, how about the best-of-the-best? Who are really the top MLB players so far for 2017? Not just the obvious stars, but also the underrated contributors that help teams win, but may not get the headlines. Where do we find an objective, unbiased determination to create this list? The answer is…we go to WAR.
WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a new-age metric developed by SABRmetricians to gauge the value of an individual player to his team. It creates a number that represents how many wins the player adds to his team’s record above what a replacement player (AAA or AAAA) would add. A one-season figure of 8 or better is MVP caliber, while 5 or better is All-Star level. Some “old-school” fans don’t always buy into the stat, but the results tell you that it is very much on-target. The major league leader in three of the last five years is Mike Trout and the lifetime leader is Babe Ruth. The all-time top five also includes Willie Mays, Ty Cobb & Hank Aaron. So, with the help of baseball-reference.com, let’s see where we are for the first third of 2017.
As your humble essayist is from the school of thought that hitters should win the MVP and pitchers should win the Cy Young, we’ll list the offensive players first and then the hurlers. Stats are as of June 6th…
> Position Players
1) Zack Cozart, Reds SS 3.5 WAR – An amazing performance by a veteran player who has been rumored to be on the trading block… a .353 BA and 1.065 OPS tells the story. Of course, he can’t be this good but he did have his best season in 2016 at age 30.
2) Mike Trout, Angels OF 3.4 WAR – This extraordinary player may have been having his best season ever (.337, 16 HR, 36 RBI, 10 SB) but now he’s injured and could miss as much as two months. The real question is, can he be the best player in the game in only 2/3 of a season?
3) Aaron Judge, Yankees OF 3.4 WAR – 18 HR’s in 53 games and he’s also batting .328.
4T) Paul Goldschmidt, D’Backs 1B 3.0 WAR – No surprise here, he’s one of the most consistent players in the game. In his four full seasons, his average WAR is 6.0.
4T) Nolan Arenado, Rockies 3B 3.0 WAR – Only 26, he’s averaged 6.2 WAR the last two seasons and also won Gold Gloves in both years.
6) Anthony Rendon, Nationals 3B 2.8 WAR – Finally fulfilling that promise from five years ago…and avoiding injuries.
1) Dallas Keuchel, Astros SP 3.1 WAR – Back from 2016’s injury-plagued season, he’s unbeaten at 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA.
2) Mike Leake, Cardinals SP 2.9 WAR – In this age of velocity, he’s a hurler with guile. Did you know that he’s the only player on this list who has never spent a day in the minor leagues?
3) Max Scherzer, Nationals SP 2.8 WAR – Can you think of any other Pitcher you’d rather have on the mound for a big game? He’s got 120 K’s and only 20 BB in 84+ IP
4) Jason Vargas, Royals SP 2.8 WAR – What kind of odds could you have gotten at a Vegas sportsbook that this veteran would be in the top ten? He only pitched in the three games last season.
Just outside the top ten are position players Carlos Correa & Corey Dickerson as well as Pitchers Ervin Santana & Zack Greinke.
How many will still be on the list when another 1/3 of the season is gone in early August?