For baseball fans and Fantasy team owners, looking at the standings on June 1st 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. Jackie Bradley Jr. can field but he still can’t hit, Marcell Ozuna didn’t deserve that contract, Alec Bohm is not Mike Schmidt, Justin Upton is still overpaid, Francisco Lindor has caved into the pressure of playing in a big market, Patrick Corbin is not going to turn things around, Eugenio Suarez is making a run at 200 K’s and hamstrings aren’t what they used to be. On the other end of the spectrum, how about the best-of-the-best? Who are really the top MLB players so far for 2021? 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. Mookie Betts was the best in ’20 with a figure of 3.6 (estimated at 9.7 for a full season). So, with the help of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com, let’s see where we are for the first third of 2021.
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) Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays 1B 3.1 WAR – Many fans seemed to forget about the pedigree when he had a mediocre 2020 season. Let’s not forget that he’s only 22 years old…his OPS in ’21 is over 1.100!
T2) Nick Castellanos Reds OF 2.8 WAR – Leading the NL in BA & OPS.
T2) Max Muncy, Dodgers IF 2.8 WAR – Plate discipline matters, as he leads the NL in OBP at .433 thanks to 44 BB. As a reminder, he was released by the A’s prior to the 2017 season.
4) Kris Bryant, Cubs 3B 2.8 WAR – Injuries clouded the fact that he’s really a good player. For you finance majors, this is his walk year.
5) Marcus Semien, Blue Jays 2B 2.7 WAR – Gambled on himself by taking a one-year deal as a free agent and it will pay off handsomely.
6) Byron Buxton, Twins OF 2.6 WAR – A great talent but can’t stay in the line-up. One of the more frustrating Fantasy players each year.
7) Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox SS 2.5 WAR – Despite playing in a major market, it seems like he’s underrated. In his 8th productive season at age 28.
T8) Mike Trout, Angels OF 2.4 WAR – On the shelf for an extended period, he’s already accumulated over 76 WAR and he’s not yet in his 30’s.
T8) Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves OF 2.4 WAR – Another amazing young talent, he leads the NL in HR’s.
T8) Yoan Moncada, White Sox 3B 2.4 WAR – Even though the SB potential hasn’t materialized, the plate skills continue to get better. His OBP this season is .429.
1) Jacob deGrom, Mets 3.3 WAR – The cream of the crop, his ERA this season is 0.71!
2) Gerrit Cole, Yankees 3.0 WAR – The Bronx Bombers investment is paying off.
T3) Zack Wheeler, Phillies 2.7 WAR – Has become an “Ace” in his early 30’s.
T3) Corbin Burnes, Brewers 2.7 WAR – Try stepping in the box against a guy who has 81 K’s and only 7 BB in 52 IP’s.
5) Kevin Gausman, Giants 2.5 WAR – Looks like last year’s breakout campaign wasn’t a fluke.
6) Brandon Woodruff, Brewers 2.3 WAR – A 1.27 ERA, he and Burnes are both still in their 20’s.
And what about the incomparable Shohei Ohtani of the Angels? His offensive WAR number is 1.7 and his pitching WAR is 1.2. Not surprisingly, that makes him one of the five most valuable players in the game.
We’ll check back around the trade deadline to see if the names have changed.