For the most part, we’ve used Felipe’s Ultimate Baseball Advanced Rankings (or FUBAR for short) to rank all 30 Major League Baseball teams this season by using advanced statistics to compile team rankings and not solely depend on wins and losses (for a more traditional rankings’ system, XN Sports has you covered as Tony Consiglio does a great job in covering all 30 teams on a weekly basis).
We even used FUBAR to help determine who should have made the 2014 National League and American League rosters at this year’s All-Star Game. While we use FUBAR to highlight a few individual performances here and there, it has mostly been used to gauge team performance. That is why we will devote a bit of time to acknowledge players that have shined brightest in this memorable 2014 MLB campaign.
Ahead, we will highlight the best offensive players at each position and gauge the MVP race. The goal is to not only celebrate the best players, but also shine more light on the more unheralded players as well. We will also be periodically updating these player rankings as well.
As promised when we first released our initial FUBAR rankings, we look for more than just raw output when evaluating teams and that calculus holds true when evaluating players. We reward players that best exemplify the following:
- Hitting Prowess
- Plate Discipline
- Base Running
We will devote more time on defense in another installment, though when handicapping the MVP race, defense will be accounted for. For now, we will focus mainly on offensive production and skill.
The advanced stat used for this criteria is Weighted On Base Average (or wOBA for short). In short, wOBA is a stat that takes into account the fact that not all hits are created equal (be sure to read our more detailed look of wOBA). Currently, Troy Tulowitzki leads the league in this category, with Mike Trout and Edwin Encarnacion not too far behind.
We use a simple stat to evaluate discipline in Walks:Strikeout Ratio (BB:K). Most observers do not value this skill in a ballplayer because it’s not a sexy part of the game: taking pitches, working the count, and drawing walks is just not as cool as the guy that strikes out once per game, but can hit the ball for a very long distance. At any rate, the players that best exemplify this skill are Victor Martinez with Jose Bautista and Coco Crisp fighting for second place in this category.
Per fangraphs.com, Base Running is measured by adding the Ultimate Base Running stat (UBR–a stat used to determine value of good and bad base running plays) with Weighted Stolen Base Runs (wSB–used to determine the number of runs contributed by a player stealing bases). Dee Gordon is considered the base runner by this stat, with Ben Revere in second.
Based on these figures (and a minimum of 350 plate appearances), we have determined who the Most Valuable Players should be at this point of the season. In the American League, Victor Martinez should get the hardware as his plate discipline and hitting prowess are enough to put him over the top. In the National League, Tulowitzki is running away with the award. Here’s what the top 10, overall players look like so far:
- V. Martinez
- Michael Brantley–One of the most underrated players this season, Brantley has put together a good, all-around season where his versatile game has helped him become a breakout star.
- Bautista–Like Martinez, Joey Bats is a good hitter with great plate discipline.
- Gordon–His speed alone places him in the top five for now.
- Heyward–Defense alone has the J-Hey-Kid in our top 10.
- Ian Kinsler–Even at age 32, Kinsler is still one of the best base runners in the game and brings with him a solid glove.
Tied for eight place are the following players:
- Revere–Just like Gordon, Revere has been killing opposing teams with his speed.
- Crisp–Oakland’s centerfielder gets recognized for a great approach at the plate.
- Trout–how ironic that the advanced stats that the SABR community were using to campaign for Trout in the MVP races of the last two years, now have Trout this low in the MVP race this season?
Of course, in the real world, Trout has all but won the hardware this season, but still interesting to point out that outside of wOBA, Trout has not dominated the rest of the statistical categories. However, he does lead all of baseball in Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
Notable players missing the top 10 cut were Alex Gordon (11th), Encarnacion (12th), Anthony Rendon (14th), Jose Abreu (17th), and Andrew McCutchen (19th). Overall, 75 players ranked in the top 20 in each category.
What could be the equivalent of the Silver Slugger Award, we now list the best offensive players at each position:
- Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy–Has been the best all-around catcher this season as he has seen very little competition from his contemporaries this season, especially with a bat in his hands.
- First Base: Encarnacion–It’s not even close as he has been crushing the ball all season long.
- Second Base: Robinson Cano–A close race at this position, but even with Cano moving west, he’s still the best at hitter at the position
- Shortstop: Tulowitzki–A no-brainer here.
- Third Base: Josh Harrison–An upset of sorts, the utility man has been getting a lot of playing time lately due to injuries in the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup. He’s been a boost of energy for the Bucs’ offense.
- Left Field: Seth Smith–Winner by default, Smith has the second best wOBA and plate discipline at the position.
- Center Field: Brantley–Qualifying at both left and center field, Brantley gets the nod at this position as he’s crushed the competition, even with MVP candidates Trout and McCutchen in the mix.
- Right Field: Bautista–He can still drive the ball with the bat, but it’s the plate discipline that puts him on this team.
From an offensive standpoint, this is what baseball has looked like in the 2014 season. There’s still plenty of baseball left to play and plenty of chances for other players to leave their mark on this season.
All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com and are good through August 11, 2014.