Here we are roughly one fourth of the way through the MLB season and a few things are apparent. First, the Cubs wont win the world series (we kind of saw that coming though didn’t we), Mariano Rivera at age 43 and one year removed from a torn ACL is still the best closer in the game, and Bartolo Colon is still fat.
40 games is still a small sample size to draw conclusions from but by mid-May the hot starters have generally cooled down (see Chris Davis) and the slow-starters have begun to find their stroke at the plate (see Mike Trout). For the sake of keeping the peace I won’t bring up Josh Hamilton and his struggles at the plate. Nevertheless stats such as batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, which is a measure of power, heavily influenced this list and a little more opinion than I care to admit. Because this is 2013 and not 1999 you will NOT find Ken Griffey Jr. on this list even though he would rightfully be placed atop any all-time pure hitters list. I mean have you ever watched Griffey hit a straight pull homerun? To steal a line from the movie ‘Superbad’; “It was like the first time I heard the Beatles.”
Just watch perfection: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3NF23Cs1m4
Enough about my love of Ken Griffey Jr. Here is the list and reasoning for each player.
10. Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kemp is only 28 years young coming into his prime in the league is a 2x all-star and was damn near the most recent member of the 40 homer 40 steals club in 2011. Currently only hitting .277 with a meager slugging percentage of .348 he did not get off to the start most people would like to see. This brought him down on the list as his split stats indicate that the month of April is generally his strongest month. Over the past 3 years he has posted a .350/.415/.617 slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) in the opening month which is miles above his career slash line of .294/.351/.495. Because of this slow start for Kemp we may expect to see some regression from his usual numbers in 2013 but he still remains a Top 10 hitter in the MLB. Of course he could always go through a mid-June tear to boost his numbers as Trevor Plouffe did last year.
9. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Colorado Rockies
CarGo, as they call him in the thin air of Coors Field, consistently puts up fantastic numbers every year. As much as I would’ve loved to put his teammate Troy Tulowitzki on this list ‘Tulo’ remains too large of an injury risk to put up consistent numbers. Gonzalez has had his bouts with injury in 2011 but still managed to post a .295/.363/.526 slash line while clubbing 26 homers in only 481 at-bats. This year CarGo has been his consistent self, hitting .288 with 7 homeruns good for a .883 on-base plus slugging. (For reference a good OPS is generally considered about .750-.800) He reminds me a lot of Todd Helton (aka: The Toddfather) in that he puts up all-star numbers every year but is rarely recognized by anyone outside of the Rockies fan base.
8. Adam Jones, CF, Baltimore Orioles
Man oh man did the Mariners make one of the dumbest trades in recent memory when they traded Jones, George Sherrill, and a few other minor leaguers including Chris Tillman for the studly ace known as Erik Bedard. Bedard has since fizzled out of the league while Sherrill has made a few All-Star Game appearances, Tillman is a rock in the middle of the O’s rotation, and Adam Jones appears poised for superstardom. In 2010 Jones posted a respectable .284/.325/.442 slash line with 19 dingers. He damn near replicated those states in 2011 but this time hitting 25 long balls. In 2012 he hit 32 homeruns and posted an OPS of .839. Through mid-May of 2013 Jones has shown just how good he will be putting up a great .321/.353/.503 line while only hitting 5 homeruns. Expect to see Jones making All-Star appearances for years to come.
7. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, San Francisco Giants
You could make the argument that he doesn’t belong on this list, perhaps in favor of Evan Longoria, but there is no denying ‘Kung Fu Panda’ can flat out play ball. He is perhaps the best junk-ball hitter in the MLB today in the fact that he has the potential to put any pitch not over the plate into McCovey Cove. At 5-11 265lbs Sandoval is able to generate so much power with his swing its an anomaly how he hasn’t hit 30 home runs in a season yet. He looks poised to change that this year however, as he already has 6 gopher balls to go with a very respectable .320/.363/.483 line. He is on this list not only for his stats, but also for the energy and fun he brings to the game. Plus, any guy who cranks 3 homeruns in one game off of Justin Verlander is all right by me.
6. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates
The National League reigning MVP winner comes in at number 6 on this list only because of his recent April slow start. Not necessarily a notoriously slow starter McCutchen seems to turn it on in May (.318/.401/.552 career monthly stat line), June (.333/.414/.542), and July (.324/.397/.553). Indeed it appears the trend may continue as in the month of May McCutchen has posted .317/.391/.415 line but only hitting one dinger so far this month. This is a far cry from his totals in 2012 when he hit 8 homeruns and his slow April start may put a hamper on his final statistics but if he can bring his power numbers up he could easily find himself at the top of the list come October.
5. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees
Robbie Cano, dontchya know? Without a doubt the best hitting second baseman in the MLB today Cano is off to a torrid start to 2013 obliterating 10 homeruns and putting up a .299/.341/.554 line through mid-May. This is right on par with what we’ve come to expect from Cano as he owns a career line of .308/.351/.505. Cano also owns the past three silver slugger awards for second baseman and also is a four time All-Star. He played in the World Baseball Classic this year where he led the Dominican Republic to the title and claimed tournament MVP honors. Cano hits free agency this year and the Yankees better be ready to fork up some serious cash to keep Cano around.
4. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels
Before this pick is too highly criticized let me reiterate that this is a list of the best hitters not the best players. If it were a list of the best players Trout would surely be at the top due his unparalleled defense and base running ability. Alas he lands at number four on this list. Trout got off to a slow start in April, along with the rest of the Angels lineup, hitting only .261 in the month of April with only 2 homers and striking out at a much higher rate that usual. So far in May Trout has hit .333 with 4 homers but is maintaining a 2:1 K/BB ratio. He is striking out more than he did during his stellar 2012 campaign and thus could result in a regression in his stats. Still Trout is far to talented to have a 2013 we would consider a slump season.
3. Bryce Harper, LF, Washington Nationals
Harper suffered some injuries after crashing into the outfield fence on Monday night but appears to be ready to go again. After destroying the month of April where he hit 10 homeruns with a .344/.430/.720 stat line. Yes, you read that right. In the month of April Harper posted an OPS of 1.150. So far through May Harper has dealt with some minor injuries beginning with an oblique strain in the early part of the month. This has lead to him posting a rather disappointing .154/.303/.269 slash line in May. However, Harper continues to be patient at the plate with a K/BB ratio of about 1. When Harper recovers from his injuries don’t expect his numbers to be quite Aprilesque….at least in 2013.
2. Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins
It may feel weird to put Mauer on a list that is dominated by power hitters but you can’t undervalue the numbers that Mauer puts up. In April Mauer had a batting average a tick below .300 and a meager slugging percentage of .404. During the month of May though Mauer has an OBP of .574. I.e. Mauer gets on base 57% of the time he is at the plate. 57%!!!! His May average is .465 and he holds a respectable slugging percentage of .698, despite hitting exactly zero homeruns this month. Mauer possesses the most mechanically sound swing in the league today and after his rebound year last year, expect Mauer to live up to his contract value even without hitting 20 homeruns. I would love to go on and on about my man crush on Joe Mauer but that is for another day.
1. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers
As much as I would have loved to leave the Detroit Tigers off this list, I have to show respect to the 2012 AL MVP and Triple Crown winner. Cabrera may in fact be the best hitter we’ve seen in our lifetime who doesn’t have the last name Pujols. After a phenomenal 2012 where he posted a .330/.393/.606 line he picked up right where he left off in 2013. Through May 14 he has put up numbers that are even better than last year .369/.441/.584. He draws walks almost as often as he strikes out and he his without a shadow of a doubt the most dangerous in the game today. At age 30 the numbers this guy could put up are unimaginable and as if my pants couldn’t get any tighter he hasn’t hit less than 30 homeruns since 2006 when he still mashed 26 of ‘em. As a die-hard Twins fan I hate to see this guy at the plate, but as a die-hard baseball fan I love to watch the ball fly off his bat.
Honorable mentions for this list include: (Joey Votto, Evan Longoria, Jose Bautista, Dustin Pedroia, Paul Konerko, Troy Tulowitzki, and Jeff Francoeur) Just kidding about putting Frenchy on that list, he posted the lowest Wins Above Replacement in the league last year.