Every Winter, MLB network releases their top ten players at each position. The Shredder and its objective, unbiased methodology spits out a list of ten guys who are currently at the top of their respective positions. My mind pictures some 23rd-century printer churning out a list of players in the Brian Kenny’s secret saber hideout. The Shredder itself, also of another generation, eats up every pertinent statistic in the world and right before it combusts into flames from an flooding of numbers, it calmly prints out the list. It’s difficult to argue with a sequestered machine with a name as rad as The Shredder, but luckily MLB Network brings on some of the great sabermetricians of our time such as Vince “SABR” Gennaro, Ben “Effectively Wild” Lindbergh, Mike “Statcast” Petriello (my personal favorite), and the Godfather himself, Bill James to dispute the robot. If they can argue with it, why can’t I? This is the first of a series of top ten lists I’ll be sharing. My #1 is not the guy that will have the highest WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in 2018, but rather the guy I think is the best player. WAR is a subjective stat, evidenced by the many different versions of WAR. This is my version.
I weighed 2nd half stats more heavily than first, because as some random Texas High School football coach probably once said, “it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish.” After finding all the numbers, I found the mean and standard deviation of each number. With this information, I standardized each player’s number relative to their position (Z-Score).
In order of importance:
- wRC+ from 2016 & 2017
- Start with a baseline, right? Made sure to add in 2016 production because..track record.
- Quality of Contact
- xwOBA, a statcast staple, determines the expected wOBA of a player based on the launch angle and exit velocity of the ball. I took walks and strikeouts out of the equation, just focusing on Balls in Play. For example, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge have obscene scores because when they hit the ball at an outfielder, that poor fielder wishes he was DH’ing. I’m an expected outcomes dork.
- For infielders, I used DRS and UZR/180. To give credit to guys who didn’t get as many chances to make plays, I gave more weight to UZR/180 scores. Both stats attempt to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up.
- Contact Skills
- We all love Dee Gordon. He is a former batting champion, and definitely not one of the worst hitters in baseball. But xwOBA would say he is because he doesn’t have much pop. Using Zone-Contact %, I determined the best guys at hitting the ball when the pitch is in the strike zone, since making contact at a pitch out of the zone usually doesn’t end well for the free swinger.
- Games Played the last 2 years
- I love Paul DeJong and Matt Chapman probably more than I should. However, they are still somewhat unproven. Not fair to other guys who have shown consistent excellence if I rank the 84 mid-season call up games of Matt Chapman’s rookie season over the full season of stellar play from others. This will also penalize some of the more injury prone guys who are fighting father time. There is value in health.
- Plate Discipline
- If you have ever played little league, or even just watched baseball, you have definitely heard some someone used the banal phrase “Good eye, kid.” Although feverishly overused, a good eye is important. To determine the best eyes, I subtracted Out of Zone-Swing % from Zone-Swing %.
- Base Running
- I used Sprint Speed to determine the fastest guys in baseball. Simple. Albert Pujols: my dog is faster. Byron Buxton: dude can fly.
- Josh Donaldson
- Slightly worried about his injuries, but the MVP track record is too strong. Despite some average defense and contact skills, he hammers baseballs.
- Kris Bryant
- His MVP resume and superior baserunning landed him in the top 2.
- Anthony Rendon
- Surprised? Me too. Consider this, though. Highest contact score. 2nd highest defense score. Bill James ranked him #1. I guess you can call me the Godfather Part II. (Sorry, had to.) He is the anti-Donaldson, in a sense
- Nolan Arenado
- Baseball intelligence immediately use what I call “Coors Criticism”, against Arenado. His aptitude for defense is exemplary (Z-Score of 1.4) and he shows up every day to play.
- Jose Ramirez
- He projects better at 2nd base, IMO. His lack of hard contact would play better there, but with great speed and contact skills, Ramirez still thrives as the lifeline of the Cleveland offense.
- Justin Turner
- He fell off in the second half but is consistent enough to make the top 10.
- Adrian Beltre
- Age is a concern, for sure. He will be 39 in April and played less than 100 games last year. But he still puts up elite defense and makes contact with the best of ’em. Oh, and don’t touch his head.
- Eduardo Suarez
- Matt Chapman
- My new favorite player. Look up his highlights on YouTube. In 84 games, it seems he had a web gem and/or home run in…84 of those games. He’s fast, has an elite eye, and is maybe the best defensive 3rd baseman. I was tempted to put him higher but resisted with a guy who has only played a half season. Looking to avoid a 2017 Aledmys Diaz disaster.
- Alex Bregman
- Bregman isn’t really a slugger in the traditional sense. The relatively short former top prospect had a wRC+ of 141 in the second half last year, only behind Donaldson, Arenado, and Bryant at the position. He makes enough contact where he can afford to strikeout in exchange for power.
- Miguel Sano
- Kyle Seager
- Travis Shaw
Data courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball Reference