Monday, January 9, 2017

MLB's 16 Best of 2016

Betts would have been the best of 2016, were it not for Trout (Suffolk Voice)
Counting down the 16 best baseball players of 2016 while the season's still (relatively) fresh in our minds:

1. Mike Trout
After becoming more of a strikeout-prone slugger in 2014 and '15, Trout returned to his five-tool roots by replicating his marvelous 2012 campaign. His 123 runs, 116 walks, .441 OBP, 174 OPS+ and 10.6 bWAR were all tops in the Majors, leaving the BBWAA no choice but to vote him MVP despite his team's 74-88 record. Trout also totaled 29 home runs, 100 RBI, and 30 steals in 37 attempts while slashing his strikeout rate to 20.1 percent -- the second lowest mark of his career.The 25-year-old generational talent has never been better.

2. Mookie Betts
In a universe where Mike Trout doesn't exist, Betts runs away with the 2016 AL MVP award. Instead, he finishes second despite amassing 9.6 bWAR and leading the Majors with 359 total bases. Betts was the complete package last year, batting .318/.363/.534 with 31 homers and 26 steals while winning a Gold Glove for his work in right field. He also knocked in 113 runs despite leading off 109 games for Boston. Like Bryce Harper, he's only 24.

3. Kris Bryant
Bryant followed up his unanimous Rookie of the Year campaign with a near-unanimous MVP run, scoring all but one first place vote after pacing the Senior Circuit with 121 runs and 7.7 bWAR for the World Champion Cubbies. Bryant improved significantly as a hitter in his sophomore campaign, slashing his strikeout rate from 30.6 percent to 22.6 percent while adding even more power. With above average defense and baserunning to go with his elite bat, he's already a superstar entering his age-25 season.

4. Jose Altuve
Houston had a disappointing season in 2016, but Altuve's was the best of his career. In addition to winning his second batting title (.338) and leading the Majors in hits with 216, he achieved personal bests in home runs (24), RBI (96), OBP (.396) and slugging (.531). The diminutive second baseman has steadily improved his power stroke over the past three seasons, emerging as a perennial MVP candidate.

5. Josh Donaldson
Donaldson continued to produce at an MVP level, notching his fourth straight season with at least 7.0 WAR after clubbing 37 home runs and slashing .284/.404/.549 (155 wRC+). He also became more selective or pitchers started being more afraid of him, as his 109 walks were easily a career high.

6. Robinson Cano
Cano carried his torrid second half of 2015 all the way through last season, belting a career-high 39 home runs (more than the previous two years combined) while batting .298/.350/.533. His defense also returned to his previous Gold Glove level after slipping below average last year, helping him amass 7.3 bWAR. He now has more than 60 for his career and would be a Hall of Famer if he retired tomorrow.

7. Daniel Murphy
Murphy transformed from a solid, two-win second baseman into MVP runner-up overnight, starting with his Babe Ruth impersonation during last year's playoffs. He nearly won the batting title last year at .347 while launching 25 home runs -- more than he had in the previous two seasons combined (23). His power surge was no fluke, either, as his 47 doubles and .595 slugging led the NL. It's hard to believe this is the same guy who hit nine home runs and barely slugged .400 in 2014.

8. Manny Machado
Machado essentially replicated his 2015 breakout campaign at the plate, creating the same number of runs (113) while adding a bit more power to finish with career highs in runs (105), homers (37), RBIs (96), total bases (341) and slugging (.533). He also transferred his excellent defense from third base to shortstop for a good chunk of time while JJ Hardy was on the mend, even if the switch likely cost him a second straight Gold Glove at the hot corner.

9. Brian Dozier
After several seasons as one of baseball's most underrated stars, Dozier etched his name in history by becoming the first American Leaguer to sock 40 home runs while manning the keystone. He belted 42 in all, 23 of which came during the season's final two months. His career year went largely unnoticed during Minnesota's ghastly season, and led to his finishing 13th in the MVP race despite totaling 6.5 bWAR. More than a slugger, he's also an above average defender and baserunner (18 steals in 20 attempts).
Kershaw was superhuman despite missing 1/3 of the season (Pixels Talk)
10. Clayton Kershaw
Kershaw was having his best season ever when a back injury sidelined him in late June. He returned in September without skipping a beat, then finally exorcised his postseason demons by nailing down the last two outs of NLDS Game 5 with the winning run on base. His regular season was so otherworldly, however, that he finished fifth in the Cy Young vote despite missing two and a half months. He went 12-4 with a 1.69 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and a 1.80 FIP. He also paced the Majors with three shutouts despite making only 21 starts. Most impressively, he walked just 11 batters in 149 innings and his 15.64 K/BB ratio was the best in history.

11. Nolan Arenado
Arenado proved 2015's power spike was legit, leading the league in homers (41), RBI (133), and total bases (352) for the second straight year. He also showed the ability to reach base at an above-average clip for the first time in his career, doubling his walk rate to boost his OBP from .323 in '15 to .362. Throw in a near-.300 batting average (.294) and a fourth consecutive Gold Glove, and he's a bona fide star (6.5 bWAR). His numbers are much better at Coors, but his 16 road homers and .832 OPS away from home indicate he can hit anywhere.

12. Adrian Beltre
Beltre continues to age like fine wine, turning in one of the best seasons ever by a 37-year-old third sacker last year. His power returned after two straight seasons with less than 20 homers, as he totaled is most home runs (32) and RBIs (104) since 2012. In addition to batting .300/.358/.521 (130 wRC+), he netted his fifth Gold Glove for still being a human vacuum cleaner at the hot corner. Just 58 hits shy of 3,000 for his career, Beltre figures to reach several milestones this year, including 1,500 runs (72 away), 1,600 RBIs (29) away), 600 doubles (nine away), and 450 homers (five away). He's quickly turning into a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.

13. Max Scherzer
Scherzer's numbers were nearly identical to 2015's, when he finished fifth in the Cy Young voting, but he won the award after his record improved from 14-12 to 20-7. He topped the circuit in wins, innings (228 1/3), and K/BB ratio (5.07) while leading the Majors with 284 strikeouts and a 0.97 WHIP. Scherzer wasn't the best pitcher in the National League last year (that was Kershaw), but his combination of excellence and durability made him the top choice. His signature performance came against his former team -- the Tigers -- on May 11, when he became just the third pitcher ever to whiff 20 batters in a nine-inning game. That was his first double-digit strikeout performance of the year, but he would notch a dozen more (over 26 starts) before the season was through.

14. Joey Votto
Votto batted .207/.330/.367 through the season's first 50 games, causing many to question whether the 32-year-old was toast. He proceeded to hit .377/.479/.630 the rest of the way, proving he's still as lethal as ever. His .434 OBP and 160 OPS+ led the National League, while his .326 average was the second-highest mark of his career.

15. Justin Verlander
For the second time in the past five seasons, Verlander finished second in a Cy Young race he deserved to win (Kate Upton apparently thinks so). David Price robbed him of consecutive Cy's in 2012, and Price's current teammate Rick Porcello stole another election from him four years later. He was basically the AL equivalent of Madison Bumgarner, who was just a hair worse than Scherzer. His 254 strikeouts, 1.00 WHIP and 6.6 pitching bWAR all led the American League, and he finished just 2 1/3 frames shy of Price for the league-lead. If he can lower his home run rate (1.2 HR/9) next year, he may win the second Cy that has eluded him since 2011.

16. David Ortiz
All Ortiz did was have the greatest season ever by a quadragenarian hitter. The 40-year-old's 48 doubles, .620 slugging and 1.021 OPS all led the Majors, while his 127 RBI topped the American League. It wasn't a picture-perfect ending for the Sox slugger, as he managed just one hit while his team was swept out of the ALDS, but Ted Williams ain't got sh*t on him.

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