For baseball fans and Fantasy team owners, looking at the standings on Memorial Day reveals a telling statistic – the major league season is almost 1/3 over. 50+ 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. Jason Vargas & Andrew Cashner aren’t worth $8 Million each, you would rather have Kris Davis than Chris Davis, Joey Gallo is trading Home Runs for Strikeouts, Scott Kingery isn’t quite ready for the Hall-of-Fame, A.J. Pollock is injured and the Rockies gave Carlos Gonzalez $5 Million so they could hinder the development of Ryan McMahon & David Dahl. On the other end of the spectrum, how about the best-of-the-best? Who are really the top MLB players so far for 2018? 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 different seasons (2012, 2013 & 2016) was Mike Trout and the lifetime leader is Babe Ruth. The all-time top five also includes Willie Mays, Ty Cobb & Hank Aaron. AL MVP Jose Altuve was the best in ’17 with a figure of 8.3. So, with the help of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com, let’s see where we are for the first third of 2018.
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.
> Position Players
1) Mike Trout, Angels OF 4.4 WAR – It’s always interesting to see the reaction when a great player has a short-term slump like he did a few weeks ago. The media made it out to be a big deal and then last weekend, he had 14 Total Bases in one game against the Yankees.
2) Mookie Betts, Red Sox OF 4.1 WAR – Better get used to this, he’s a year younger than Trout.
3) Jose Ramirez, Indians 3B 3.4 WAR – After a breakout season in 2016, the Indians locked him up with an extension. Of course, Harold Reynolds opined on the MLB Network that he wasn’t sure the Tribe made a good decision. Now he’s a top-ten player after posting a 6.9 WAR in ’17. Harold may have an Emmy but I’ve got Jose on my Fantasy team.
4) Francisco Lindor, Indians SS 2.8 WAR – At age 24, he’s coming off a 5.5 WAR season in ’17. Just think about all the young players in the game who are All-Star caliber…it is amazing.
5) Manny Machado, Orioles SS 2.6 WAR – He’ll be 26 in July and a free-agent next off-season…how do you spell Ka-Ching?
T6) Brandon Belt, Giants 1B 2.5 WAR – With a succession of injury plagued seasons, people have forgotten how good a player was hiding under the surface. He just turned 30 and has a lifetime OPS of .830.
T6) Andrelton Simmons, Angels SS 2.5 WAR – His appearance on this list is usually because of his Gold Glove defense, but in 2018 his OPS is .851.
T6) Aaron Judge, Yankees OF 2.5 WAR – No sophomore slump for this young slugger.
9) Kris Bryant, Cubs 3B 2.3 WAR – Casual observers thought 2017 was an off-year but the underlying numbers (including a 6.2 WAR) told a different story…this 26 year-old is a great player.
T9) Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B 2.3 WAR – The 2018 Braves are a surprise, but this player shouldn’t be…he had a 4.5 WAR last year in only 117 games.
1T) Max Scherzer, Nationals 3.1 WAR – Could be on his way to a 4th Cy Young Award.
1T) Justin Verlander, Astros 3.1 WAR – Houston doesn’t have a 2017 championship without him…a marvel at age 35.
3) Gerrit Cole, Astros 2.7 WAR – Growing from a good to great Pitcher before our eyes.
4) Luis Severino, Yankees 2.5 WAR – Never underestimate a young Pitcher with great “stuff”…had a 5.83 ERA in 2016, a 2.98 last year and 2.28 in ’18.
T4) Jacob deGrom, Mets 2.5 WAR – A 1.54 ERA with 77 K’s in 58 IP.
6) Chris Sale, Red Sox 2.0 WAR – Had a 6.0 WAR last year and led the AL in Innings, but seemed to wear down in September…watch to see if the workload is monitored more closely in 2018.
We’ll check back around the trade deadline to see if the 120-day WAR is significantly different.