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2014 MLB Capsule: Top Position Players No. 5-9

Felipe Melecio uses advanced metrics to rank the top 2014 MLB position players.

Andrew McCutchen

We continue our countdown of the top 20 Major League Baseball position players of 2014. Here’s a recap on this series:

Before we disclose the next group of players, here’s a quick look at the criteria used to evaluate the players that compiled our list.

METHODOLOGY

For more details on the stats used to determine our MVP, please be sure to check out our All-Offensive Team feature. But here’s a quick rundown:

  • Hitting Prowess–Weighted On Base Average (or wOBA for short).
  • Plate Discipline–Walks per Strikeout ratio (BB:K). Does the hitter know how to take a walk or is he out there hacking?
  • Base Running–Per fangraphs.com, Base Running (BsR) is a stat used to gauge the value of a player’s base running.

For defense, we use both Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) to evaluate defensive ability. For a more detailed look at both stats, be sure to check out our All-Defensive Team recap.

Six more players will be unveiled starting with player number nine:

T-9th–Dee Gordon
Offensive FUBAR Traditional Stats
wOBA BsR BB:K HR RBI SB AVG
0.312 9.4 0.29 2 34 64 0.289

A lot has been made about the Kansas City Royals relying on speed on their march to the World Series. Many traditionalist fans were excited to see the game return to an older form of baseball that is most familiar with them. If the game is indeed coming back to an older version of itself, best exemplified by 1980s baseball, then we need to applaud the players that best exemplify the speed game that a lot of people clamor for.

Enter Dee Gordon and his league-leading 64 stolen bases. Not the most skilled player and he definitely lacks pop in his bat, but in terms of athleticism and speed, Gordon is a prime example of those physical tools. Gordon would use both attributes to finish with the second highest BsR in baseball and reach a more than acceptable Stolen Base Rate of 77.1 percent. He would use that speed to score 92 runs, good enough to finish in the top 20 and tied his teammate Yasiel Puig in that stat.

So if speed is important to you, Dee Gordon is the personification of it in 2014. But based on BsR, there is actually a better ball player that proved to be more effective around the base paths this season. Stay tuned…

T-9th–Jose Abreu
Offensive FUBAR Traditional Stats
wOBA BsR BB:K HR RBI SB AVG
0.411 -2.0 0.39 36 107 3 0.317

The Cuban “rookie” looked more like a five-year veteran in 2014, quickly becoming one of the best run producers and most feared hitters in the game today. Along with the 36 home runs, Abreu would also hit 35 doubles and earn two triples. Abreu is so dangerous, even though this was his first year in the Majors, he would finish tied for 11th in terms of seeing the fewest pitches in the strike zone.

We know that Abreu can hit, but if there is a flaw to his game it’s his plate discipline. It may have to do with pitchers not throwing him many strikes but based on his overall Swing Percentage (55.2 percent), Abreu is a very aggressive hitter. He also was among the league leaders in Swinging Strike Percentage.

Abreu will be 27 entering the 2015 season. It is expected that he will continue to display his power, but the more interesting thing to see is how he adjusts at the plate as he will more than likely see even fewer pitches in the strike zone next year.

8th–Jason Heyward
Offensive FUBAR Traditional Stats
wOBA BsR BB:K HR RBI SB AVG
0.329 3.0 0.68 11 58 20 0.271

Heyward had a nice 2014 season in terms of his advanced stats. Not great, but good enough to be a solid offensive player. Unfortunately for him, Heyward’s counting stats, aside from the 20 stolen bases he swiped, did not impress the Atlanta Braves’ management, as they traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals for Shelby Miller.

But Heyward is not here for his offensive production (or lack therof). He’s here because of his defensive work in the outfield, ranking so high in the defensive metrics, that he is the clear, best overall defender in terms of defensive FUBAR.

Regarding his offense, to Heyward’s credit, he’s cut down on the strikeouts in the last couple of seasons. His plate discipline shows a player that has been more patient at the plate while increasing his Contact Rate since his breakout season in 2012. So perhaps the newfound passivity is to blame for his lack of power in the last couple of seasons.

Heyward is still young enough to find that balance between a maturing approach at the plate and showing off that power potential that many believe he has. Going to the Cardinals, where he will replace another guy who was heralded for his patient approach at the plate in Oscar Taveras, might prove to be the change in scenery that Heyward needs in his young career.

7th–Alex Gordon
Offensive FUBAR Traditional Stats
wOBA BsR BB:K HR RBI SB AVG
0.346 5.9 0.52 19 74 12 0.266

Arguably the best player on the Kansas City Royals, Alex Gordon put together a nice season at the plate and on the field. Long regarded as one of the best young baseball players in the league since his rookie year in 2007, Gordon now sees himself receiving plenty of praise after coming close to being a bust after the 2010 season.

Gordon won’t wow anybody in any single offensive category, but has proven to be a good, jack-of-all trades, all-around ball player. But if there is a major reason as to why Gordon is ranked so high in our rankings it’s because of his glove work. Gordon finished as the second best defender behind Heyward.

Hard to believe that Gordon will be entering his age 31 season in Kansas City, but despite being on the wrong side of 30, Gordon should continue to show off his versatile game in 2015.

T-5th–Ben Revere
Offensive FUBAR Traditional Stats
wOBA BsR BB:K HR RBI SB AVG
0.304 10.0 0.27 2 28 49 0.306

Revere finished the 2014 campaign as the best base runner in baseball (per BsR). Sure he didn’t steal as many bases as Dee Gordon, but he was slightly more effective on the bases. Just like Gordon, Revere does not possess the skills at the plate and he won’t ever scare anybody with his “pop,” but the one attribute that Revere has he uses well.

To his credit, Revere does a great job displaying his speed and not just when he’s ready to swipe another base (although having an 86 percent Stolen Base Rate does not hurt). He has a really high Contact Rate (92.4 percent, tops in 2014) and hits for lots of ground balls, which complements his speed very well.

T-5th–Andrew McCutchen
Offensive FUBAR Traditional Stats
wOBA BsR BB:K HR RBI SB AVG
0.412 1.5 0.73 25 83 18 0.314

Think about this one: FUBAR has McCutchen ranked higher than the following players:

  • Giancarlo Stanton
  • Mike Trout

Not only did McCutchen finish with a higher wOBA than both of those players mentioned, he led the entire league in that category. It’s remarkable to think, in the face of a perceived “changing of the guard” in baseball, McCutchen is still proving to be the more effective player. Yes, Stanton and Trout’s counting stats put McCutchen to shame, but Cutch’s game is more advanced than his younger counterparts. It is the difference between a player in his late-20s being compared to a couple of players in their early-20s.

Beginning with his BB:K, McCutchen uses an advanced approach to help produce his league leading wOBA. Despite Trout profiling as the more patient hitter, McCutchen still strikes out a lot less than the AL MVP. Despite Stanton and Trout being the more feared hitters, McCutchen still finished with a higher batting average, On-Base Percentage, and OPS than the two younger players.

Perhaps this is a case of McCutchen plateauing and Trout and Stanton continuing to rise and improve their games. But McCutchen reminded us that he should still be in discussions as one of the elite, all-around, five-tool players in the game today.

All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com.

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