Opening Day … What A Day!

And so it begins.

The 2018 season began with a BLAST as Ian Happ launched the first pitch he saw from Jose Urena into the right field seats. And Marlins Park erupted … thanks to the overwhelming presence of Cubs fans in Miami. So, the first pitch of the Major League season included the first strike, first hit, first extra-base hit, first run scored, first home run, and the first (of what looks to be many) Marlins deficits.

Giancarlo Stanton hit his first HR as a Yankee – and, wouldn’t you know it, he did so with a little flair. In his first AB in the new uni, he hit the hardest opposite field home run in baseball, since 2015. Oh, and just for kicks, he also was the first Yankee to have 3 XBH and 4 RBI on Opening Day since Roger Maris.

The Orioles’ pitching dominated the Twins all day long. And, with a 2-0 lead going into the 9th, the Orioles sent in their closer. But, a lack of control by Brad Brach, led to some very patient at-bats by the Twins hitters. And, after giving up 2 walks and 2 hits, the game was all tied up. But, two innings later, it was Adam Jones who stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th. And, on the first pitch he saw from Fernando Rodney … swing, drive, home run, game over. 3-2 Orioles.

The Red Sox looked like they were going to cruise to an easy victory over the Rays, as they were up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the 8th. But, the Rays scored six runs in the inning. It culminated in an impressive at-bat by the veteran, Denard Span. With the bases loaded, a full count, and two outs in the inning, Span turned on a pitch, and drove a triple into right field, giving the Rays a 5-4 lead. They would go on to win 6-4.

The A’s came from behind twice to tie up the Angels. Once, when they were trailing by 4 in the 5th inning, and again in the 7th when they were down a run. Then, it was a wild 11th inning. With one out, Boog Powell hit a drive that just barely went off the top of left-fielder Justin Upton’s glove. Powell hustled out a triple, on a close play at 3rd. Then, Scioscia decided to walk the next batter, and go with a 5-man infield, with a slider-pitcher on the mound – hoping the batter would roll over a pitch and into a double play. Marcus Semien didn’t oblige – hitting a line drive into center-field (where no one was located) for a walk-off single.

The Phillies were up by five going into the bottom of the 6th. But, after 2 runs by the Braves in the 6th, and 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th, it was a whole new ballgame. Then, in the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs, and a runner on 2nd, the Phillies decided to intentionally walk Freddie Freeman. So, what does Nick Markakis do? He drives a 3-run walk-off HR into right-center.

Extra innings, walk-off home runs, 21 runs scored in a single game . . . this is why Opening Day is one of the best days of the year.

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Greatest Single Season in History at First Base

There are some amazing offensive seasons by first basemen. And, it’s all over the board, regarding what made that particular season so impressive. George Sisler had 257 hits in 1920, batting .407 (the second highest average ever at first base – second only to Sisler’s .420 in 1922!). Stan Musial led the league in runs, hits, doubles, and triples in 1946. How great might Jeff Bagwell’s ’94 season have ended up being, had it not been for the strike? He already had 39 HR, 116 RBI, and a 1.201 OPS in just 110 games.

But, as great as those seasons are, there were a couple names that showed up time after time after time. In fact, before I reveal who they are, let me put this in perspective. Albert Pujols is easily the best first baseman of his era. He will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and will go down as one of the greatest sluggers of all-time. In his best seasons, he had an OPS over 1.100, hit 45+ HR, drove in 130+, etc. He has some great seasons under his belt. But, when you sort the best seasons at first base by OPS, or OPS+, there are a couple guys whose names appear multiple times before you even get to Pujols’ best season.

Honorable mention, here, goes to Jimmie Foxx. A guy that I’ve always felt was under-appreciated, because he just happened to play in the shadow of the Yankees during their dynasty of the ’20’s and ’30’s. Foxx has two seasons with an OPS+ over 200 (201 in ’33, and 207 in ’32). He won the MVP in ’32 with a 1.218 OPS, 58 HR, 169 RBI, and 438 total bases – all of which led the league. But, as amazing as that was, the best overall season at first base has to belong to . . .

Lou Gehrig – 1927

Gehrig has so many incredible seasons, it was difficult to choose. He has six seasons in which his OPS is higher than Pujols’ best year. SIX! He has three seasons in which he bat over .370. Seven in which he drove in 150+ runs. Five seasons with 40+ HR. Eight seasons with 200+ hits. And, not once did he strike out as many as 85 times in a season. In fact, his average full season was a .343/.452/.640 slash line with 36 HR, 147 RBI, and just 56 K’s.

So, for his best season, I went with the one in which he posted the highest OPS ever by a first baseman – 1.240 in ’27. He also bat .373 (7th best at first – behind 2 of his other seasons), hit 47 HR, drove in a league best 173 (4th most in history at 1B), and led the league with 52 doubles, while collecting 218 hits. All of which led to 447 total bases – the most ever by a first baseman.

Imagine facing a team in which Gehrig puts up those kind of crazy numbers . . . and he’s the second best player on the team. Yikes.

Next up: Greatest Single Season at Second Base.

Greatest Single Season in History (Catcher)

Giancarlo Stanton is approaching 60 HR’s.  For much of the year, Justin Turner was batting .380 or better.  Chris Sale was just the 4th pitcher in history to reach 200 K’s in his first 20 starts of the season.  There’s no question we are seeing some amazing things in 2017.  I only hope that the postseason is every bit as exciting.  All of these individual accomplishments got me to thinking about some of the great individual seasons I’ve seen in my lifetime – Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown in 2012; Alex Rodriguez’s 40/40 season in 1998; Pedro Martinez’s incredible season in 1999.  But, to put those seasons in context, I decided to do a little research into the greatest single seasons in baseball history.  Not surprisingly, there were some names that appeared multiple times (Ruth, Williams, etc.). So, I decided to dig a little deeper – who has had the greatest single season at each position?

Naturally, this may stir some debate, as the definition of the “greatest” season will vary, depending on which statistics you emphasize.  But, based on the research I have done, there will be 10 posts in the coming days covering the most impressive seasons by any player at each position (splitting pitchers into starters and relievers).  And, today’s is…

Catcher

While this isn’t always one of the best hitting positions in the game, there is no shortage of great offensive seasons at catcher.  Joe Mauer won a batting title, and the MVP, while also leading the league in OPS (1.031 – including the highest OBP by a catcher since 1935) in 2009.  Mike Piazza had two 40-HR seasons, and drove in 100+ six different times.  Buster Posey won a batting title in 2012, and had the highest single-season OPS+ by any catcher not named Piazza.

But, offense isn’t the only metric needed to measure a catcher’s success.  Certainly, to be considered here, offense matters.  But, a catcher’s defensive capabilities are every bit as important.  And, when you have a catcher with a great bat and glove, you have something really special. Which is why honorable mention here goes to Gary Carter.  In terms of dWAR, he owns the best season by a catcher in history, and it really isn’t even close (4.0 in ’83).  He also has some great offensive seasons in his career, driving in 100+ five times, hitting 25+ HR’s five times.  But, the greatest single season in history belongs to:

Johnny Bench – 1972Johnny Bench

From an offensive perspective, it was the best season of his career.  He led the league in HR (40), RBI (125), and even in IBB’s (23 – the 2nd most ever by a catcher!).  He had a .920 OPS, and a 166 OPS+ (tied for the 6th highest in history by a catcher with at least 100 games behind the plate).

But, in addition to all of this – Bench was incredible behind the plate.  He led all catchers in caught-stealing percentage (53%), and in defensive WAR (2.4), which played a part in him winning his 5th of 10 consecutive Gold Gloves.  His overall WAR was 8.6, which among catchers is second only to Piazza’s 8.7 in ’97.  It’s no wonder he won his second MVP in ’72, as he led the Reds to their 2nd of 4 World Series appearances during his career.

Up next:  Greatest Single Season at First Base.  Pujols?  Gehrig?  Foxx?  We’ll see.

All Streaks Come to an End

Last night, in the 4th inning of a game in Toronto, Francisco Liriano did something that no one had been able to do in the last 7+ months … he struck out Mookie Betts.  It has been an amazing run for Betts.  129 plate appearances in the regular season since his last strikeout (September 12th of last year).  It was the longest streak by a Boston player since 1975, and the longest in baseball since 2004.


Even with his incredible streak over, however, Betts still has an opportunity to make history.  Since 1947, only 5 players have struck out so rarely that they averaged at least 48 AB’s per strikeout.  The incredible thing about that list is that Nellie Fox accomplished the feat 6 times from ’51-’62!  In fact, every season in which Fox was a full-time player (’50-’64), he never struck out more than 18 times in a season.  

Currently, Betts is averaging one strikeout per 49 AB’s.  To put that into the context of a season – that’s about 11 K’s spread out over an entire year.  The last player to come close to that kind of number was Dave Cash, in 1976.  That year, Cash led the league in AB’s (666), and only struck out 13 times.  

But, the difference between Betts and the rest of the guys on the low strikeout list is Betts’ ability to hit for power.  Cash never hit as many as 5 HR in a single season, and had a career SLG of .358.  Fox had 35 career HR, and a .363 career SLG.  The only man to make the list with legitimate power in his bat was Yogi Berra.  Berra struck out just 12 times in 1950, when he also hit 28 HR and drove in 124.  

If Betts can continue to be as diligent as he has been at avoiding strikeouts, he has an opportunity to join some extremely elite company.

Why the White Sox Will Continue to Flounder in Mediocrity

13550859955_d990a0a3dd_zI was pretty surprised yesterday when I heard the news that the Red Sox had landed Chris Sale from the White Sox.  I honestly didn’t think they were going to even attempt such a move, because they just came off of a 93-win season in which they won their division and lost to eventual AL champion Cleveland.  And, their biggest loss was clearly on the offensive side (Ortiz), so I assumed they would make that priority #1-9.

But, none of that is why I was eventually flabbergasted by this trade.  What I simply find unbelievable is that the White Sox were willing to trade arguably the 2nd or 3rd best pitcher in baseball for nothing more than what they received from Boston.  Let’s start with this:  since the beginning of the 2013 season, only Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have a higher WAR (according to Fangraphs), or more strikeouts than Sale.  Only Jake Arrieta, Kershaw & Scherzer can lay claim to a lower WHIP.  And, only Kershaw and Josh Tomlin have a better K/BB ratio.  This is no middle reliever.  This is no mid-rotation starter.  And, this is no average ace of a staff.  He is clearly one of the absolute best in the game.

On top of those numbers, there is the financial side to consider.  Sale is going into his age-28 season.  The Red Sox are guaranteed to have him for 3 years.  And, those will be prime years.  What will it cost the Red Sox? – $38 million.  To put that into perspective, Rich Hill (who is a full 10 years older than Sale and has put together a really solid season just once in 12 years) just signed a contract that will cover those same 3 years . . . for $48 million.  There are 34 starting pitchers that will make more than Sale in 2017 – 3 of whom are going to be pitching behind him in the same rotation (Price, Porcello & Buchholz).  So, the Red Sox are getting 3 prime seasons out of one of the best pitchers in the game, at an extreme discount.  This, in the midst of an off-season in which everyone knew the starting pitching market was going to be particularly thin.  Hill may very well have been the best starter available among free agents this winter.

With all of this in mind, wouldn’t you expect the White Sox to walk away with a treasure trove of players?  Shouldn’t you expect them to bring in a haul that includes both major league ready players and prospects?  After all, didn’t we see something like this just a year ago?  Do you remember what the Diamondbacks sent to Atlanta in order to get Shelby Miller?  A Gold Glove caliber major league outfielder (Inciarte) who could hit leadoff, and was just 25 at the time; the #1 overall draft pick from the 2015 draft (Swanson), who was already ranked as the #10 prospect in all of baseball (and Arizona’s #1 prospect), and plays a premium position (SS); and, the D’backs’ #3 prospect (#61 overall), a near major league ready pitcher who is likely a mid-rotation starter (Blair).  Granted, I believe pretty much everyone considered that trade heavily lopsided in the Braves’ favor.  But, considering the fact that it was for a mid-rotation starter in Miller, I would have expected that package to be a jumping off point for anything the White Sox would consider in return for Sale.

But, it obviously wasn’t.

I had heard rumors that the Nationals – who seemed to be the frontrunners to land Sale – were willing to part with both of their top 2 prospects in a package for Sale.  That would have been Lucas Giolito (#3 prospect in baseball), who looks ready to start at the major league level next year, and has the potential to develop into an ace; and Victor Robles (#10 prospect in baseball), who is a crazy fast outfielder and may be a legit 5-tool player in a couple years.  I thought that was a pretty good place to start, if you’re going to be giving up 3 years of one of the best pitchers in the game, and trying to rebuild via trades.  Especially in a year when there are so few pitching options for competitive teams to go after.

But, alas, the White Sox have proven once again that they don’t seem to understand market value.  Or the fact that they were the ones holding all the cards.  It appears as though they have rushed into the first offer that appeared to be a little better than others they were hearing.  Take a look at what they’re getting:

  1. Yoan Moncada – yes, he’s the #1 prospect in baseball, and will likely be major league ready next year, playing 2B and drawing potential comparisons to Robinson Cano.  He’s an excellent prospect.
  2. Michael Kopech – he’s now the White Sox’s #2 prospect.  Sounds good, right?  Well . . . he was only the Red Sox’s #5 prospect, and is only #30 in baseball.  He has the potential to be a frontline starter, but since he was drafted in 2014, he has struggled with command of not only his pitching, but also his off-field life.  Suspended for 50 games for a stimulant, and broke his hand in a fight with a teammate.  Not exactly what I would call a top-tier prospect.
  3. Luis Alexander Basabe – he’s now the White Sox’s #7 prospect, and was Boston’s #8 prospect.  He’s not in the top-100 prospects in baseball, which is a significant drop-off from the first two names here.  If he pans out (which would be at least a couple more years), he could be a nice switch-hitter with power in the outfield.
  4. Victor Diaz – he barely cracks the White Sox’s top-30 prospect list at #29.  He’s a long way from the majors, and even his best path is as a late-inning reliever, if he makes it.

Do you see what I’m seeing?  The Red Sox were able to land one of the best pitchers in the game, and the only real significant piece they gave up was Moncada.  They didn’t have to give up Henry Owens or Eduardo Rodriguez, a pair of very young and talented LHP’s who have just begun their major league careers.  They didn’t have to give up Andrew Benintendi, their #2 prospect, and my early pick to win ROY in the AL next year.  They didn’t have to give up Rafael Devers, their #3 prospect, and the #1 3B prospect in baseball.  They didn’t have to give up Jason Groome, their #1 pick in this year’s draft, and the #1 LHP prospect in baseball.  The Red Sox should feel great about this move.

It’s as if they went shopping for a pitcher, and found themselves a Black Friday steal!

White Sox fans, on the other hand, should be shaking their heads.  Yes, you have a middle-infielder in Moncada that has the potential to be a perennial All-Star.  But, tell me this:  what about this package is any better than what the Braves received for Shelby Miller?  Maybe if Kopech, Basabe, and Diaz all reached their potential, you could say the White Sox received one more productive player than the Braves did.  But, is that really the difference between the value of Shelby Miller and Chris Sale??  I hardly think so.  Even the Nationals’ willingness to part ways with their top 2 prospects seems like a better deal than what the Red Sox gave up.  Even if all the Nationals added to the package were B-list prospects that were a long way from making it to the majors.

Just further evidence that White Sox management doesn’t seem to understand how to put together a team that will consistently compete.  Not that we should be surprised, since they had one of the best pitchers in the game for 5 years, and never did anything with him.

Why the Angels Should Do the Unthinkable

I remember reading something (or maybe hearing some analyst) last winter talking about Mike Trout.  Of course there was a great deal of praise to be given, considering he has yet to finish lower than 2nd in MVP voting in any full season of his career.  But, then something was said that I thought was absolutely insane – should the Angels trade him?  My initial reaction was, “You don’t trade arguably the best player of this generation while he’s in his prime!”  It was an absurd suggestion.  Unheard of.  Unthinkable.  But, then . . .

15133579244_7652b07359_oThe same Angels team that finished just 1 game out of the playoffs last season, has turned in one of the more disappointing first halves this year.  At the time of my writing, they are 14 games below .500 (36-50), 16.5 games behind division-leading Texas, and 11 games behind in the Wild Card standings.  They possess the 3rd worst record in the American League – in spite of having the 6th highest Opening Day payroll in all of baseball.  If this could all be explained away by injuries to key players, then there would be no need for this article.  You would expect a bounce-back year in 2017, if not sooner.  But, that simply isn’t the case.  Yes, they’ve had a reasonably high number of pitchers with injuries.  But, it isn’t like they were lighting it up before going on the DL.

So, the injury bug isn’t to blame for this team’s lackluster performance.  They simply don’t have much talent surrounding Trout.  The greatest evidence to that point is the fact that Trout is the only All-Star representing the Angels on Tuesday.  How does that happen?  You have one of the best players in the game (at 24 years old).  You’re operating in the 2nd largest TV market in the country (giving you a significant revenue advantage over most of the teams in the game).  And, yet you have only been able to put it all together once in this player’s 5-year career – a brief playoff appearance in 2014, when you were swept in the ALDS.  I feel bad for Mike Trout.  I feel bad for a guy who goes out there and plays as hard as he does, and who performs at such an incredibly high level – and has nothing but individual awards to show for it.

And, do you know what makes it even worse?  It isn’t getting better any time soon.  The Angels have the consensus WORST farm system in baseball.  If you look at any ranking of current minor league systems, you’ll see the Angels at the bottom every time.  I read one analyst who said that not only were the Angels the worst farm system right now, but they might be the worst system in baseball history.  The absolute best prospect they have right now is a catcher currently playing in A-ball, who isn’t even ranked in the top 100 prospects in all of baseball.  One analyst went so far as to say that he didn’t think the Angels’ best prospect would even crack the top 10 of any other team!  So, not only is there little-to-no help coming up from the minors any time soon, but they have no trade chips to offer teams willing to trade high-quality players.

So, maybe the Angels could just spend more money to get better, right?  Not this offseason.  Strasburg signed a new contract with the Nationals, so the one legit ace that was going to be on the market is no longer available.  And, if you’re looking for significant offensive help, there’s only one real option this year:  Yoenis Cespedes (assuming he opts out of his Mets contract).  And, considering how thin the free agent market is, someone is going to significantly overpay for his services.  Not that the Angels are unfamiliar with doing that very thing (Pujols, Wilson, Hamilton, etc.), but one bat is not turning this team around.  And, once you get past Cespedes, this free agent class really looks more like a list of quality pieces that will help a team on the cusp of the playoffs.  And, the Angels need a lot more impact than that.

What’s the answer?  What should they do?  In case you didn’t see it coming:

The Angels should trade Mike Trout.

The longer they hold on to him, the longer it is going to take for this team to become relevant again.  Trout is the kind of franchise player that would help the Angels restock their farm system.  His talent level is so high, that I wouldn’t be shocked to see a team willing to offer 4-6 A-list prospects, and perhaps a couple B-listers, too.  That kind of return on a trade could potentially make the Angels competitive as early as 2018.  Because they’re already going to have a top-5 pick in the 2017 draft, which would likely add to their haul for Trout.

The tricky part of a trade like this is deciding who has the talent in their farm system to offer what the Angels need, and who would be willing to take on Trout’s salary (which isn’t going down anytime soon – $20 mil. in 2017, and $34 mil. in ’18-’20).  Considering how much the Angels should be looking for ways to win sooner rather than later, I would think they should be willing to pay a portion of Trout’s salary, if the right prospects are coming back in return.  After all, when have the Angels shied away from spending money?

So, after looking through several farm systems, considering what the team has on its payroll in the next few years, I believe there’s one team that stands out as a potential trade partner:

The Atlanta Braves.

Think about that for a minute.  The Braves are opening a new stadium next season.  Isn’t a trade like this something that can get fans excited again?  Especially a trade for a guy that would immediately become the face of your franchise for the next 4 years (at least).  The Braves also have one of the deepest farm systems in the game right now.  They are consistently ranked in the top 2-3.  And, it’s a system that is absolutely loaded with pitching talent – something for which the Angels have a desperate need (starting rotation with an ERA well over 4.00, closer with an ERA approaching 5.00, etc.).

The Braves are in the #9 television market in the U.S. – right behind Boston, and just ahead of Houston.  What this means is that they don’t have to be stingy with their payroll.  They may not want to climb into the $175 million echelon (where the Angels actually are), but a payroll in the $140-150 million range sits comfortably in the middle of the league, right around where other competitive teams sit (Royals, Blue Jays, Orioles, etc.).  And, to offset some of the cost, initially, the Braves could send Nick Markakis to the Angels, which eliminates $11 million over each of the next two seasons.  If the Angels are willing to cover some of Trout’s salary, in exchange for the right prospects, even better.

A move like this, for the Braves, would give a much needed spark to a fan base that has grown weary of seeing their favorite stars traded away.  It’s also reasonable for a team like Atlanta to take on a contract the size of Trout’s, because the vast majority of their core players are young, and will be making league minimums for the next 3-5 years.  Not to mention the young players that are coming up to the majors in the next year or so – like Dansby Swanson, Rio Ruiz, etc.  Just think of it, Braves fans . . . an outfield of Ender Inciarte, Mallex Smith, and Mike Trout.  That could be one of the best defensive outfields in the game.

Of course, the Angels wouldn’t let go of Trout for nothing.  On the Braves’ side, I would say the only player in their system that should be “untouchable” is Swanson.  He’s a top-of-the-order talent that you just don’t trade away (ahem – are you listening, Arizona?).  Outside of that, though, the Braves should be willing to offer almost anything the Angels want.  They have another top-tier shortstop (Albies) in the system that could be blocked by Swanson, unless he switches to 2B.  They have a 3B prospect (Riley) that has great potential, but will take a year or two longer to develop than the previously mentioned Ruiz.  Either or both of these guys could be on the table.  Depending on what position players the Angels might expect in return, seven of the Braves’ top 10 prospects are pitchers.  I would see no problem in sending a couple of those on in a trade for Trout.  Especially since the Braves just drafted a top-tier prospect with the #2 pick in this year’s draft, and look to be set up with a top-5 pick in next year’s draft as well.

So, why not send Nick Markakis, Austin Riley (3B), Kolby Allard (LHP), Tyrell Jenkins (RHP), and Braxton Davidson (OF)?  The Braves farm system is one of just a handful that could absorb a blow like that.  And, it would make the Braves relevant their first year in their new stadium.  Particularly if they went after a quality free agent piece like a Neil Walker, for example.  Consider a lineup with Swanson, Trout, Freeman, Walker, Inciarte, and Smith.  Plus, the Angels would immediately begin building toward the 2018 season, instead of languishing through another 3-4 years (or more) before they finally start seeing results from having high draft picks.

It’s time.  It simply is time for the Angels to pull the trigger, and do what’s right.  Not only what’s right for Mike Trout (who deserves better than what he has around him in LA), but also what’s right for the fans who have little desire to watch Mike Trout and a bunch of also-rans lose for the next 4 years.

2016 All-Star Ballot (part 1)

Every team in baseball has played more than 40 games, at this point.  And, you know what that means . . . we’re half way to the All-Star break!  So, I thought it was about time to discuss who is looking like an All-Star this year.  Emphasis on this year.  Unlike some voters, I don’t really care what a guy did last season, and whether or not he was “snubbed” from the Mid-Summer Classic a year ago.  How are you performing right now?  Are you putting up All-Star numbers?  If not . . . better luck next year.  Well, that, or you have about another month or so to get your act together if you want my vote(s).

Since it’s still early in the season, we won’t spend a ton of time discussing each position.  But, I do think it’s worth taking a look to see who is actually performing like an All-Star.  Because, there may very well be some surprises.  Keep in mind, the stats listed are all prior to last night’s games.

Catcher

AL – This is always one of the more difficult positions for me.  Trying to find the appropriate balance between offensive production, and defensive prowess is debated more behind the plate than anywhere else on the diamond.  At this point, though, in the American League, the decision is fairly easy:  Matt Wieters (BAL) – .283/.330/.455, 4 HR, 16 RBI.  There’s only one catcher in the AL with more than 100 PA’s that is legitimately out-performing Wieters offensively (McCann), and Wieters is lightyears ahead defensively.  On the flip side of that coin, there’s really only one catcher in the AL that is significantly better than Wieters behind the plate (Perez), and Wieters is head and shoulders ahead of him offensively, at this point.  So, for now, I believe Weiters is the best balanced candidate in the AL.

Others to watch:  Brian McCann (NYY), Jason Castro (HOU), Salvador Perez (KC)

NL – The catcher position in the National League is perhaps a little easier to decide:  Wilson Ramos (WSH).  Ramos is far and away the best offensive catcher in baseball, at this point.  His .347/.389/.525 slash line is especially impressive at a position that doesn’t really emphasize offense as much.  And, Ramos is middle of the pack defensively.  Depending on the metrics, there are about half a dozen catchers in the NL performing better than Ramos behind the plate.  But, only 2 of those are even having slightly above-average seasons offensively (Posey & Castillo).  For now, Ramos’ offense is so much better, that I think he deserves the vote.  But, if Posey heats up offensively, or if Molina or Lucroy make strides on defense to surpass Ramos, there could be a lot of fluctuation here.

Others to watch:  Buster Posey (SF), Yadier Molina (STL), Jonathan Lucroy (MIL)

 

First Base

AL – The choice here is easy:  Miguel Cabrera (DET).  Now, while I said it was an easy choice – that doesn’t mean it isn’t close.  Hosmer is just a notch behind Cabrera in pretty much every offensive category.  And, Cabrera even has him beat defensively at the moment.  Cabrera is quietly having another impressive season – .315/.388/.537, 9 HR, 26 RBI.

Others to watch:  Eric Hosmer (KC), Carlos Santana (CLE), Chris Davis (BAL)

NL – Another choice that was pretty easy, but still very close:  Anthony Rizzo (CHC) – .240/.379/.526, 11 HR, 34 RBI.  The bizarre thing about Rizzo’s stat line is that his OBP, and ultimately his OPS (which leads all NL first basemen), are both very high, in spite of the fact that his batting average is as low as it is.  But, that just further proves how obsolete of a stat batting average is becoming.  Rizzo is also one of the top fielding first basemen in the league.

Others to watch:  Brandon Belt (SF), Paul Goldschmidt (ARI), Chris Carter (MIL)

 

Second Base

AL – Wow.  There are some second basemen in both leagues that are having really impressive seasons, but likely won’t get close to starting in the All-Star game.  Mainly because there are two guys having unbelievable seasons.  In the AL, it’s Jose Altuve (HOU) – .328/.413/.582, 9 HR, 27 RBI, 15 SB.  If he keeps this up, he could be in the MVP discussion.  Well, if Houston doesn’t continue to tank, that is.

Others to watch:  Robinson Cano (SEA), Ian Kinsler (DET)

NL – Potential MVP candidate in the NL:  Daniel Murphy (WSH) – .387/.420/.607, 6 HR, 28 RBI.  He’s playing so well, I don’t think there’s more than one second basemen in the NL that has a shot at catching him before the break.

Other to watch:  Ben Zobrist (CHC)

 

Shortstop

AL – What a loaded position this is in the American League!  And, loaded with youth, which means we get to enjoy this for several years to come.  Right now, my vote goes to:  Xander Bogaerts (BOS) – .346/.397/.495, 4 HR, 25 RBI, 6 SB.  Bogaerts is also an excellent fielding shortstop.  His overall numbers are leading, but not necessarily overshadowing, others at this position.  So, there could be a decent amount of fluctuation between now and July.

Others to watch:  Francisco Lindor (CLE), Carlos Correa (HOU)

NL – While this is another position that often places an emphasis on defense, the two best offensive shortstops in the NL are so far ahead of everyone else, I’m going to ignore the fact that they are both a little below average with the glove.  Right now, my vote goes to a guy you’re going to have to write in:  Aledmys Diaz (STL) – .352/.386/.599, 6 HR, 23 RBI.  Taking the place of the injured Peralta, Diaz has played his way into the starting job, regardless of what happens to Peralta in my mind.  And, while Story had the hot start to the season, Diaz is batting almost 70 points higher, and his OPS is 40 points higher.  Plus, Story is striking out at an alarming 31.9%, while Diaz only 9.2%

Others to watch:  Trevor Story (COL), Zack Cozart (CIN), Corey Seager (LAD)

 

Third Base

AL – Two more no-brainers here.  In the American League, we’re looking at another potential MVP candidate:  Manny Machado (BAL) – .308/.367/.610, 12 HR, 26 RBI.  And, Machado is arguably one of the best gloves in the game – regardless of position.

Others to watch:  Nick Castellanos (DET), Travis Shaw (BOS), Josh Donaldson (TOR)

NL Nolan Arenado (COL) – .307/.383/.620, 14 HR, 34 RBI, and another excellent fielding third baseman.  Arenado isn’t as far ahead of the rest of the pack as Machado is, but it’s enough to say he’s the clear choice.  But, don’t be surprised if one or more of these others catch up with him.

Others to watch:  Kris Bryant (CHC), Matt Carpenter (STL)

 

Outfield

AL – It kinda makes me chuckle that no one is even talking about Trout, in spite of the season he’s having (.321/.411/.564, 10 HR, 31 RBI).  It’s almost like we just expect that from him now.  But, probably even more surprising was my third choice in the outfield: 1) Jackie Bradley, Jr. (BOS) – .342/.413/.618, 8 HR, 33 RBI; 2) Mike Trout (LAA), and . . . 3) Michael Saunders (TOR) – .322/.388/.570, 8 HR, 15 RBI.  Be honest – who saw that coming?  And yet, he is the clear choice, as everyone else is well behind him in overall offensive production.

Others to watch:  Mark Trumbo (BAL), Nelson Cruz (SEA), Jose Bautista (TOR)

NL – I don’t think there are any surprises here, other than perhaps the order: 1) Yoenis Cespedes (NYM) – .298/.381/.660, 14 HR, 35 RBI; 2) Dexter Fowler (CHC) – .316/.435/.533, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 6 SB; 3) Bryce Harper (WSH) – .260/.451/.565, 11 HR, 30 RBI, 7 SB.  Braun is neck-and-neck with Harper in overall offensive production, but lags way behind in defense, which is why Harper definitely gets the nod here.

Others to watch:  Ryan Braun (MIL), Christian Yelich (MIA), Stephen Piscotty (STL)

 

And, if you don’t know who to vote for at DH . . . you probably need to start reading a different blog.  Hahaha.  Let’s just say it’s your last chance to see him in the Mid-Summer Classic.  Happy voting!