Wednesday, December 30, 2015

MLB's Top 15 for 2015

We'll remember 2015 as the year Harper rose to the top of his profession (Washington Post)
Another year has come and gone, which means it's time to reflect on another great baseball season gone by. Here are the 15 best players who made the 2015 campaign one to remember.

We all knew this day was coming; we just weren't sure it would come so soon. Harper became the best player (and youngest unanimous MVP) in baseball at 22, having the best season for a player his age since Ted Williams' 1941. All Harper did was hit .330/.460/.659 (195 OPS+) with 42 home runs and 9.9 bWAR--the most by a National Leaguer since Barry Bonds circa 2004.

For the first time since 2011, Trout was not the best player in baseball. Still, there's no shame in second place, as the three-time MVP runner-up knows all too well. 2015 was another marvelous year for his generation's Mickey Mantle; all he did was lead the AL in WAR, slugging, OPS, OPS+, runs created, and times on base while playing an above average center field.

After back-to-back MVP-caliber years in Oakland, Donaldson finally took home the award in his first season with Toronto. The slick-fielding third baseman posted monster numbers, leading the majors in runs and AL in RBI as he helped the Blue Jays snap their 22-year playoff drought.

Kershaw was once again the best pitcher in baseball, topping both leagues with his 8.6 fWAR, 1.99 FIP, 232 and 2/3 innings, and 301 strikeouts--the most by a pitcher since Randy Johnson in 2002. He was denied another Cy Young, however, by the man behind him on this list.

It's been a swift rise to dominance for Arrieta, who had a 5.46 career ERA when the Orioles traded him midway through the 2013 season and had never completed 160 innings in a season before this one. 2015 saw him build on a stellar 2014 (2.53 ERA) with the best second half in major league history, resulting his first Cy Young award.

Greinke picked a great time to have a career year, compiling baseball's lowest ERA (1.66) in 20 years just before he was eligible to opt out of the six-year, $147 million deal he signed with the Dodgers after the 2012 season. He exercised that option to become the richest baseball player ever in terms of annual salary.

After a fractured hand cost him the final two months of 2014, Goldschmidt roared back to form in his age-27 season by raking at a .321/.435/.570 (170 OPS+) clip. More than just a masher, Goldy won his second Gold Glove and notched 21 steals in 26 tries.

At 31, Votto bounced back from an injury-marred 2014 to post his typically gaudy numbers, including 7.6 bWAR and a .314/.459/.541 (174 OPS+) slash line. In a normal year he would have been an easy choice for MVP, especially after his epic second half, but against Harper he never stood a chance.

Machado showed no ill-effects from the ugly knee injury that cost him half of 2014, coming back strong to play every game, steal 20 bases, and earn his second Gold Glove. The 22 year-old third-sacker also erupted at the plate, crushing 35 home runs and batting .286/.359/.502 (131 OPS+). With Chris Davis likely playing elsewhere next year and Adam Jones now in his 30s, Machado is poised to become Baltimore's franchise cornerstone for the foreseeable future.

'Cutch rallied from his injury-hampered slow start to finish with his usually excellent numbers, leading the Pirates to 98 wins on the strength of his 23 homers, 96 RBI, and .292/.401/.488 (145 OPS+) slash line.

The deserving AL Cy Young winner helped Houston make the playoffs by leading the loop in innings, WHIP, ERA+, and pitcher bWAR.

Like Greinke, Price leveraged his career year to score a massive payday. The AL ERA leader (2.45) came up big down the stretch for Toronto, going 9-1 in 11 starts after arriving via trade on July 30th.

The author of two no-nos and a one-hitter last year, Scherzer was a bloop single, a throwing error, and an oversized elbow pad away from spinning three perfect games. Now that would have been something. Scherzer was largely forgotten about after the Nats pooped the bed in the second half (he played a part in that as well), but his 2.79 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 276 strikeouts and major league-leading 8.12 K/BB ratio would have made him a popular Cy Young pick most years.

A popular MVP choice in the sabermetric community, Rizzo led all of baseball in Win Probability Added. He compiled impressive traditional stats too, slamming 31 home runs, amassing 300 total bases, and slashing .278/.387/.512 (144 OPS+). In addition to anchoring the Cubs lineup (no National Leaguer played more games or had more plate appearances), Rizzo provided unusual baserunning value for a first baseman with 17 steals.

Colorado's 24 year-old third baseman continued improving his power in his third season, busting out to lead the majors in RBI, total bases, and extra base hits. He also won his third straight Gold Glove for his defensive excellence at the hot corner, making him one of the best two-way players in the game.

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