XN Sports

Sports News, Stats, Opinion, Daily Fantasy advice and more.

Final 2014 Review: Top Four Position Players Revealed

Felipe Melecio

Felipe Melecio was the managing editor for the blog Pathological Hate. He believes that math is your friend and numbers can be fun, especially when it comes to baseball. Keep tabs on all his knee-jerk reactions on Twitter:

With the temperatures dropping to remind us of winter’s presence (we don’t want to hear it, Sun Belt States!), it’s always a good time to think back to warmer forecasts with a little baseball talk. All offseason we’ve been looking back at the 2014 season to see what we’ve learned in Major League Baseball by utilizing Felipe’s Ultimate Baseball Advanced Rankings (or FUBAR for short) to evaluate this past season.

For an explanation of the criteria used to come up with our player rankings, feel free to read our previous installment of our countdown. We last left off with Andrew McCutchen being ranked as our fifth best position player of 2014. Be sure to read our other reviews as we close the door on 2014:

And now, our final four players are revealed:

4th–Ian Kinsler
Offensive FUBAR Traditional Stats
w-OBA BsR BB:K HR RBI SB AVG
0.319 9.1 0.37 17 92 15 0.275

The Texas Rangers traded Kinsler before the start of the 2014 season in a move that also sent Prince Fielder to Texas. Entering his age 31 season, Kinsler looked like he was entering the twilight of his career and the Rangers needed to make room for uber-prospect, Jurickson Profar. The Rangers would end up seeing very little of Fielder and nothing out of Profar in 2014.

In the meantime, Kinsler would proceed to have a great year on the base paths (despite talk of his declining skills and value), scored 100 runs, and improved his home run output from 13 (2013) to 17 (2014) and doubles (31 to 40). Though he failed to post a Weighted On Base Average (or wOBA for short, a stat that takes into account the fact that not all hits are created equal) above .340 for the third consecutive season, a sign of possible declining skills, his defense is the other reason why he’s ranked so high, finishing among the very best overall fielders in baseball.

Though his Walks:Strikeout (BB:K) won’t impress anybody, a closer look at his approach showed an aggressive hitter who rarely swings at bad pitches and provided a very high Contact Rate. Kinsler proved in 2014 that he can still produce and play at an elite level at second base. Basically, Kinsler justified staying put at second base instead of making the switch to first base like the Rangers have been wanting from him for the last couple of seasons.

3rd–Jose Bautista
Offensive FUBAR Traditional Stats
w-OBA BsR BB:K HR RBI SB AVG
0.402 -2.0 1.08 35 103 6 0.286

Older than Kinsler, Bautista also proved to not only be one of the most productive hitters, but one of the most exciting players in baseball. Don’t believe it? For 2015, watch runners attempt to run on Bautista. What he lacks in range, he makes up for it with his outfield arm. People were quick to marvel about Yoenis Cespedes and his arm, but people forget about Bautista. People were also quick to fall in love with Cespedes’ power, but it was Bautista who ended up being the more productive and efficient hitting outfielder in 2014.

It’s almost a given that Bautista will show off the lumber, but the high skill level can be seen as he methodically works a count at the plate. Bautista is one of the most patient hitters in the league and just like Kinsler, rarely swings at bad pitches. All of this while seeing very few pitches in the strike zone. To sum it up, he is a sweet combination of brawn and technique.

2nd–Michael Brantley
Offensive FUBAR Traditional Stats
w-OBA BsR BB:K HR RBI SB AVG
0.389 7.8 0.93 20 97 23 0.327

Brantley was the only player to rank in all three offensive stats used to compute FUBAR as he broke out in his age 27 season in a big way, making a case to be among the best, all-around players in baseball. He can run, he can hit for power and average, has a good hitting approach at the plate, and even has a decent arm in the outfield. The one flaw was his fielding. A better showing with the glove probably would have helped him get the top spot in 2014 (then again, the Cleveland Indians, as a whole, could’ve done wonders with a better defensive effort).

There is a common theme brewing here: just like Bautista, Brantley is a patient hitter who rarely swings at bad pitches. Just like Kinsler, his Contact Rate was elite-level. Whether Brantley can sustain this sort of success for 2015 is up in the air, but as long as he continues to display the skills at the plate, it is easy to see him at least duplicating his production for next season.

1st–Victor Martinez
Offensive FUBAR Traditional Stats
w-OBA BsR BB:K HR RBI SB AVG
0.411 -6.2 1.67 32 103 3 0.335

V-Mart is the third player over the age of 30 to make it to our “final four” players. Entering his age 36 season for the 2015 campaign, the Detroit Tigers decided to reward Martinez with a four-year contract. The extension is a bit questionable, but there’s no denying his 2014 season success.

Martinez set career highs in home runs, on-base and slugging percentage, as well as in wOBA. But most impressive, in a brave new baseball world where strikeouts are rising every season, Martinez was one of only three players (Bautista and Coco Crisp were the others) to finish with more walks than strikeouts this past season (in 2009, 13 qualified hitters achieved this mark. Since then, that number has been hovering around four hitters).

Where the power, which was absent the last two seasons, came from is anybody’s guess. Perhaps hitting slightly more fly balls is the reason, but it does seem kind of fluky that a player in his mid-30s would hit this many home runs. Nevertheless, one thing is for certain: V-Mart continues to be a true, professional hitter at the plate, swinging at only the pitches that he wants to swing at. As long as his batting eye remains intact, he is very likely to continue to contribute for the Detroit Tigers.

BONUS REVIEW

It was our intent to give relief pitchers their due in these player evaluations as well. Here is a quick snapshot of the year that was out of the ‘pen:

STARTING PITCHING

Player K% BB% WHIP FIP SIERA

vFA

Aroldis Chapman

52.5 11.9 0.83 0.89 1.09 100.2
Andrew Miller 42.6 7.0 0.80 1.51 1.21

93.8

Wade Davis

39.1 8.2 0.85 1.19 1.61 95.6
Dellin Betances 39.6 7.0 0.78 1.64 1.45

96.7

Brad Boxberger

42.1 8.1 0.84 2.84 1.37 93.1
Sean Doolittle 37.7 3.4 0.73 1.71 1.53

94.0

There were 142 qualifying relief pitchers. In terms of fastball velocity (vFA–measured in miles per hour), all six of these pitchers finished among the top 60 relievers. All pitchers on this list finished in the top 10 in Strikeout Percentage (K%).  The other common trait for these pitchers is that once they got in the game, they gave up very little. Anchored by Aroldis Chapman, the best relief pitcher in baseball, this is what our Ulimate Bullpen looked like in 2014.

All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com.