In less than two weeks, Bryce Harper will take meaningful swings and Chris Sale will throw meaningful pitches and Andrelton Simmons will make meaningful dives to his right and throw out determined, incredulous baserunners. As the Royals begin their first title defense in 30 years, Bryce Harper begins his first defense of the Most Valuable MLB Player title. Does that mean he’s the best in the game in 2016?
To answer that question, as I’ve done in past years, I put some numbers in a spreadsheet. The basic formula is much like last year’s: (2015 fWAR * 7 + 2014 fWAR * 4 + 2013 fWAR * 2 + 2012 fWAR)/14, times an adjustment placing each player on a typical aging curve and plus or minus a subjective adjustment of up to one point, based on trends/observations the formula might have missed. Basically, if you were good recently and you’re under 28, the system thinks you’ll probably get better. If your best days are behind you and/or you’re over 29, I don’t think you’ll be as good as you were in recent years. If you missed much of 2015 with an injury, the formula hates you, but I probably gave you some bonus points.
Enough math. Let’s get to baseball. First, the honorable mentions, in six categories:
Young players coming into their primes
Kole Calhoun, Angels
Anthony DeSclafani, Reds
Matt Duffy, Giants
Rasiel Iglesias, Reds
Ender Inciarte, Braves
Brad Miller, Rays
Rougned Odor, Rangers
Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
Nathan Eovaldi, Yankees
Francisco Liriano, Pirates
Michael Wacha, Cardinals
Shelby Miller, Diamondbacks
Francisco Cervelli, Pirates
Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers
Brian McCann, Yankees
Dellin Betances, Yankees
Aroldis Chapman, Yankees
Wade Davis, Royals
Ken Giles, Astros
Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox
Corey Seager, Dodgers
And now, the top 100:
100. Troy Tulowitzki, Blue Jays – in the pre-Trout era, Tulo would have battled Evan Longoria for the top spot if I’d made these lists every year. Slick-fielding shortstops with power and patience don’t grow on trees. Then again, even if you did own a Tulo tree, there was no guarantee it would bear fruit. He’s played as many as 130 games three times in his career, has topped 101 games just three other times, and now he’s on the wrong side of 30 and playing in the tougher league. Still, the Blue Jays have an asset in Tulo, whose career slash line of .297/.369/.508 looks like that of a quality corner outfielder.
99. Miguel Sano, Twins – Outfield could be an adventure for Sano, but if nothing is expectd of him but a big bat, he’s likely to impress, as evidenced by the 18 homers he launched in just 335 PA in his rookie campaign last year.
98. David Peralta, Diamondbacks – Dave Cameron called him the most underappreciated player in the game last year. Peralta quietly batted .312 with 17 home runs and good baserunning numbers. If Arizona contends for the division this year, it will take contributions from Peralta and the other guest stars playing in Greinke’s and Goldschmidt’s shadows.
97. Danny Salazar, Indians
96. Yordano Ventura, Royals – Salazar’s two years older than Ventura’s 24 years, and hasn’t seen the October spotlight yet, but he’s even more of a strikeout artist, and Cleveland’s third starter stacks up well against Kansas City’s best.
95. Salvador Perez, Royals – It’s rare that a player’s reputation exceeds his statistics by as much as Perez’s seems to, and a few years ago, it would have been hard to imagine that Salvy’s October spotlight would create such a disconnect. Perez has yet to walk 25 times in a season. He’s never slugged .450 in a qualified season. His baserunning numbers are atrocious, and his heavy workload suggests that he may break down soon. On the other hand, he’s a career .279 hitter who cranked 21 homers last year and gets endless praise for his ability to manage a pitching staff. Most amazingly, he’s still just 25.
94. Michael Conforto, Mets – I’d be even higher on Conforto if I were sure the Mets are doing the right thing by putting him in left every night. An outfield of Juan Lagares, Curtis Granderson, and Yoenis Cespedes would be spectacular defensively. Even if Conforto is adequate in left, his arrival pushes Cespedes, whose only fielding tool is his rifle arm, to the middle of the diamond, and takes Lagares’s glove out of the picture. On his own merits, though, Conforto is a future star, ready to hit for average and power in the big leagues.
93. Carlos Martinez, Cardinals – Like all of the Cardinals’ pitchers in 2015, Martinez’s ERA was boosted by some combination of solid fielding and devil magic, as his 3.21 FIP didn’t suggest a 3.01 ERA pitcher. Oddly, the results from Martinez’s first 100+ innings in the big leagues looked just the opposite. Even if he is more of a 3.2 pitcher than a 3.0 guy, that’s top 100 material- higher if he can pitch 200 innings for the first time in 2016.
92. Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays
91. Yu Darvish, Rangers – Had they not missed almost all of 2015, these two guys would likely both be in my top 50, if not higher. Alas, it took some serious subjective adjustments to overcome that missed time and put them this high. Darvish is a strikeout machine who’s never been anything less than a Cy Young contender in MLB when healthy. Stroman is a 24-year-old ready to head the rotation of the AL East favorites in his first full MLB season.
90. Brandon Belt, Giants – Somehow, Belt has emerged as a star silently, despite having been on three times as many championship teams as Perez. He’s one of six Giants in the top 100, and Duffy was number 101.
89. Christian Yelich, Marlins
88. Dee Gordon, Marlins – One Marlin who broke out in a big way in 2014 and another who had his best year in 2015. It’s been hard to know what to expect out of the Marlins for much of the last decade, if not for their entire existence. I could see either of these guys making me feel embarrassed for putting them this low or for putting them on the list at all.
87. Ben Zobrist, Cubs – It’s unclear whether the human utility knife will slot in as the Cubs’ everyday second baseman or whether he’ll fill in all over the diamond while Javier Baez mans the keystone. Either way, he should provide immense value to the Cubs, but if he plays 150 games at second, he’s more likely to add 4 WAR.
86. Justin Turner, Dodgers – It isn’t easy to project a 31-year-old with two solid MLB seasons on his resume, but those seasons came in the last two years, and 2015 was Turner’s best yet.
85. Collin McHugh, Astros
84. Lance McCullers, Astros – These two young McAstros (though McCullers, at 22, is six years younger) get the job done very differently (McCullers looks like he’ll be a strikeout machine; McHugh is a control artist), but both are solid bets behind Dallas Keuchel in Houston’s rotation.
83. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox – Is Pedroia an unlikely success story or a case of What Could’ve Been? By 25, he had a Rookie of the Year, a World Series Ring, and an MVP trophy. He’s batted over .325, topped 20 homers and 25 steals, and consistently plays maybe the best second-base defense in the game. But his all-out play seems to be haunting him in his thirties, as he’s played just 228 games in the last two seasons and most of his numbers are trending in the wrong direction.
82. Andrelton Simmons, Angels – The game’s best defensive player gets a fresh start in Orange County. He hasn’t hit much yet, but he’s still just 26 and brings a lot of value even if he leaves his bat in the dugout.
81. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals – Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister are gone, but with Gonzalez slotting into the third spot, Washington’s rotation is still among the game’s best.
80. Brandon Crawford, Giants – Crawford broke out in a big way in 2015, with career highs in homers (21), batting average (.256), and Defensive Runs Above Average (17.1). With Tulowitzki in the American League, Crawford might now be the NL’s best shortstop.
79. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees – One Yankee in the top 100. These are marvelous times. Only the Phillies got shut out, as I couldn’t quite justify the inclusion of Odubel Herrera or Jerad (sic) Eickhoff.
78. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox – I’m not sure he’ll hit .320 again, but at 23, if he can maintain last year’s fielding and baserunning numbers and add a little power, he’s one of the game’s best shortstops.
77. Justin Upton, Tigers – Quick- how old is Upton? 30? 32? I you guessed 29… you’re still on the high side. He’s 28. He hit .300 seven years ago. He hit 31 homers five years ago. He’s now on his fourth team, and apparently on the decline, at an age when he should be peaking. The Tigers hope they’re getting the 2009 or 2011 Upton.
76. Robinson Cano, Mariners – Speaking of aging quickly, Cano has 35 homers in his two years with the Mariners. His prior numbers, two years at a time, were 60, 57, and 54. Sure, turning 30 is hard, but 31 and 32 were brutal to Cano. My formula thinks he’s got some greatness left.
75. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals – It’s hard to know what to do with a 34-year-old who looked ageless before missing almost an entire season last year. The Cardinals didn’t miss him in 2015, but with Jason Heyward and John Lackey now on the rival Cubs, they’re counting on him being the 75th-best player in the game.
74. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays – I’m not sure there’s a more likeable player in the American League than Edwing- or a better fit for the middle of the Blue Jays’ thumping lineup.
73. Russell Martin, Blue Jays – Once the best catcher in the National League, Martin seemed to fade into obscurity before reappearing as the best catcher in the American League. Even without credit for framing and pitch calling and leadership, Martin projects for 3.6 WAR this year. Throw in the intangibles and quasi-tangibles and he might be a top 50 talent.
72. Brian Dozier, Twins
71. Joe Panik, Giants – Dozier’s 2015 proved that his 2014, when he hit 23 homers and stole 21 bases, was no fluke. Panik will try to make a similar claim in 2016, following up on a magical 2015 in which he slashed .312/.378/.455 in 100 games.
70. Jordan Zimmermann, Tigers – Zimmerman’s fall from ace to mid-rotation filler in 2015 was emblematic of the Nationals’ season. Their roster looked like one of the best in a generation, but they couldn’t put the pieces together. Zimmermann hopes to return to the form that launched those unreasonable expectations in his American League debut.
69. Johnny Cueto, Giants – Cueto hopes the National League is as nice to him as it was before he left for Kansas City last summer. Here’s guessing it will be.
68. Anthony Rendon, Nationals
67. Michael Brantley, Indians – Two of 2014’s best players, Rendon and Brantley appeared in my top 20 last year before disappointing in 2015. Rendon’s injury history is of some concern, and Brantley’s 2015 success might prove to be a fluke, but both are capable of playing at a near-MVP level.
66. JD Martinez, Tigers – Martinez came out of nowhere to post big numbers in 2014, then doubled down in 2015 with 3 homers and 5 WAR. At 28, he’s a prime candidate for a monster year, but his meager numbers with the Astros suggest that’s no guarantee.
65. Carlos Gomez, Astros
64. George Springer, Astros – We saw two Astros starters back-to-back earlier. Here, we’ve got two Houston outfielders, and a study in contrasts. Gomez fell from a loft perch last year, struggling with the Brewers and failing the Mets’ physical before joining the Astros in time to cede the division title to their in-state rivals and blow a big lead in the NLDS. Springer is more emblematic of the Astros’ youth movement, ready to break out in a big way in 2016.
63. Ian Kinsler, Tigers – The quadrumvirate of great AL second basemen is aging, but all four- Zobrist, Pedroia, Cano, and Kinsler- are still on this list, and at 33, Kinsler seems to have aged the best of the bunch.
62. Addison Russell, Cubs – He’s 22, and the Cubs just shipped Starlin Castro out of town to make room for his at shortstop. The Cubs are good.
61. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers – I thought Lucroy should have been the NL MVP in 2014. I thought the Brewers would trade Lucroy this offseason. What do I know about Jonathan Lucroy?
60. Cole Hamels, Rangers – It felt strange to write that. Some players just feel like a fit for their team, and Hamels was just that in Philadelphia. Set free in Texas, he could do some damage 2016.
59. Tyson Ross, Padres
58. Sonny Gray, A’s – Two young pitchers in west coast pitchers’ parks serving as the token representative for their uninspiring teams. Gray’s two years younger and has achieved more notoriety, but Ross’s strikeouts make his upside equally exciting.
57. Starling Marte, Pirates – If Andrew McCutchen didn’t exist, Marte would be a center fielder and he might just be the toast of Pittsburgh, thanks to lots of speed, some power, good on-base skills, and above-average defense. Then again, if McCutchen didn’t exist, baseball might not be as popular in Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh baseball might not get the kind of attention they’ve been getting nationally this decade.
56. Jung-ho Kang, Pirates – I might be overrating Kang based on his BABIP-inflated batting average last season, and he might not recover from injury fast enough to be Pittsburgh’s primary shortstop, but my system loves the promise of his near-RoY inaugural campaign.
55. Jose Fernandez, Marlins – Baseball has to be the only sport where a profile like Fernandez’s is not all that uncommon, right? When he pitches, he’s as dominant as anyone in the game. But he hasn’t been able to pitch as many as 70 innings since his 2013 breakout, so he finds himself outside the top 50.
54. Adam Jones, Orioles – At 29, Jones just finished his first season worse than the one before it. At 30, he should still be a star.
53. Adrian Beltre, Rangers – Is there anyone left who doesn’t think Beltre is a Hall of Famer. I fear that the few who don’t still have BBWAA credentials.
52. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays – Here’s hoping things come together in such away that a reprise of Bautista’s batflip heard round the world in 2016 would be equally justified.
51. Freddie Freeman, Braves – The only Brave on the list, and far from a sure thing after an injury-riddled 2015, I’m betting that Freeman still has the stick to justify this ranking- and that he won’t be a Brave come September.
50. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals – It takes quite the hype machine for a guy with a career 3.09 ERA and 10.44 strikeouts per nine innings pitched to be considered a bust, but here we are.
49. Evan Longoria, Rays – At 30, it seems Longo’s decline phase has begun, but he’s still one of the better all-around players in the American League.
48. Todd Frazier, White Sox – We’ve seen beast-mode Todd Frazier and disappointing Todd Frazier with surprising frequency these last few years. A fresh start in Chicago could help him avoid the bumps and play like a star all year.
47. Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
46. Alex Gordon, Royals – Setting aside part-timers like Juan Lagares and Jackie Bradley, Jr., these are the two best defensive outfielders in the game. Gordon’s got more bat, but Kiermaier plays center and is coming off one of the best defensive seasons any outfielder has ever had. I’ll take one of each, please.
45. Jose Abreu, White Sox
44. Chris Davis, Orioles – It’s tempting to combine these guys as sluggers with one skill, and it’s not completely inaccurate, but they apply that skill in very different ways. Davis swings for the fences, striking out in over 30 percent of his plate appearance, but homering in almost 7 percent of them, at least over the past three seasons. Abreu is an even worse defender and hasn’t shown quite the same pop (homers in 5.1% of PAs so far), but he gets himself on base a little more and doubles as often as he homers, resulting in very similar value.
43. Jason Kipnis, Indians – Those four great AL shortstops I wrote about earlier: they’ve been eclipsed. If Kipnis plays anything like he did in 2015 this year, the Indians should play in October.
42. Kyle Seager, Mariners – Kyle Seager should be a household name. For all the hype about the acquisitions of Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz and the peak of Felix Hernandez, Seager may be the best player on the team right now. Yet it’s very possible that by this October, little brother Corey is hitting homers in the playoffs and older brother Kyle is preparing for another year of toiling anonymously in the shadow of lesser players.
41. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers – A friend bought my son a stuffed pig at the zoo last summer. Yasiel Pig still lives with us, sharing space with Kyle Schwarbear and Mel Otter. After the 2014 season, it looked like piggies across the Western Hemisphere might be named Yasiel. Perhaps with a clean bill of health in 2016, we’ll all live that dream.
40. Matt Harvey, Mets – This guy was the best pitcher in baseball in 2013 until his injury, and he looked like the best pitcher in baseball in the last game of the 2015 postseason. Yet there are two Mets pitchers ahead of him on this list. Mercy.
39. Jose Altuve, Astros – The Astros’ calling card is sluggers who swing for the fences and take the strikeouts with the homers. Their best position player the last few seasons is 5’6″ and has 36 career dingers. Baseball is poetry.
38. Carlos Carrasco, Indians – Remember when Max Scherzer came out of nowhere to win the Cy Young in 2013? Do those looking at FIP and strikeout rates, his surge wasn’t all that surprising. Carrasco, who struck out 215 and walked 43 in 183 2/3 innings 2015, could be 2016’s Scherzer.
37. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals – Carpenter was a surprising success in 2013, hitting .318 and earning 6.9 WAR for a series-bound team. He hasn’t replicated those numbers, but he’s come to be a solid hitter, fielder, and baserunner and one of the reasons for the Cardinals’ continued success.
36. Jon Lester, Cubs – Given the jitters Lester has developed in throwing to first , it’s amazing that major league teams haven’t found ways to exploit him right out of the league. I suppose that speaks to his ability to keep runners off base.
35. Nolan Arenado, Rockies – Arenado is a beast with the glove and the bat, and his home/road splits suggest that the latter is not just a function of Coors Field, but if he’s to become a cornerstone player on a good team, he’ll need to learn to take a walk.
34. Noah Syndergaard, Mets – Thooooor!
33. Jose Quintana, White Sox – He’s not a household name. He has more career losses than wins. He’s never struck out more than eight batters per nine innings or had an ERA under 3.30. So why is Jose Quintana always in the top 50 in this list? He works in a hitters’ park, keeps the walks and the homers in check, and throws 200 quality innings every year. 29 other teams would love to have him in the rotation.
32. Francisco Lindor, Indians – Though he doesn’t come with quite the same hype, Lindor hit just as well as Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa last season, and he’s a better fielder. His ceiling isn’t as high as Correa’s, but he’s part of the best middle infield in baseball and should play in October this year.
31. Yoenis Cespedes, Mets – The power has always made scouts and fans drool, as has the rocket arm, but it wasn’t until 2015 that Cespedes put it all together and became a star. Coming back to Queens after playing for four teams in the last two seasons could give him the stability he needs to thrive.
30. Felix Hernandez, Mariners – As surprised as I was to see that Justin Upton is only 28, King Felix has been in the big leagues two years longer and he’s just a year older. He’s pitched 200 or more innings eight seasons in a row, but 2015 was Hernandez’s worst over that stretch in terms of ERA (3.53) and WAR (2.8, per fangraphs). He’s young enough to buck that trend, but there are a lot of pitches on that long right arm.
29. AJ Pollock, Diamondbacks – .315/.367/.498. 20 homers and 39 stolen bases. 7 baserunning runs above average and 8.7 fielding runs above average. Pollock did all of that in 2015, after providing glimpses of such greatness in ’13 and ’14.
28. Gerrit Cole, Pirates – Cole’s dealing with a rib injury this spring, but if he comes back healthy, the sky’s the limit. Still just 25, he emerged as the ace of a 98-win team last year and will be key to Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes in a crowded division.
27. Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks – If this were based on Baseball Reference WAR, which is built around RA9 rather than FIP, Greinke’s insane 2015 would place him higher on this list. While I’m a firm believer that he’ll keep being great, moving to a hitters’ park at 32 could pose a challenge.
26. Mookie Betts, Red Sox – I had the pleasure of watching Mookie in Portland in 2013, and while it may not have been evident then, he was on his way to eclipsing Bogaerts as Boston’s best prospect. He keeps getting better every year, hitting 18 homers, stealing 21 bases, and playing stellar defense in both center and Fenway’s spacious right field. His WAR might take a hit from playing right all year in 2016, but the Red Sox will be thrilled to have him there.
25. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers – Players of Cabrera’s size and skill set aren’t supposed to be superstars of this caliber at age 32, but Miggy keep on slugging, seemingly building a career out emulating Hank Aaron.
24. Carlos Correa, Astros – He’s got on-base skills, good speed, tons of power, and an adequate glove at shortstop. And he was born the year Forrest Gump came out.
23. Chris Archer, Rays – He’s 27 and he struck out 252 batters last year. He might be better than David Price right now. The Rays never stop developing great pitchers.
22. Jacob deGrom, Mets – He’s the oldest of the Mets’ three aces, but he was the best in 2014 and 2015. If he can reach the 200 inning plateau for the first time this year, he should contend for the Cy Young.
21. Madison Bumgarner, Giants – It’s an even year, so we’ll put Bum down for 53 shutout innings in the postseason after his standard 215 innings with a sub-3 ERA.
20. Joey Votto, Reds – Among the six players representing their teams alone on this list, Votto rates the highest. He’s a near lock for 175 hits, more than 100 walks, a 20 plus homers.
19. Lorenzo Cain, Royals – The Royals of the last three seasons have seemed to play much better than the sum of their parts, but Cain is the one part who keeps putting up better and better numbers. His .307 average, 16 homers, and 28 steals in 2015 were all career highs.
18. Dallas Keuchel, Astros
17. Corey Kluber, Indians – These are the last two AL Cy Young winners, each a bit of a surprise in his breakout year. Both are poised for big things in 2016, but I’ll take Kluber’s strikeouts over Keuchel’s suppression of walks and homers.
16. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs – A slugger with speed and on-base skills, Rizzo could be the NL’s best player this year. On this list, he’s not one of the top three Cubs.
15. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins – He’s been the game’s preeminent slugger for five years, but injuries have kept him from reaching the 40-homer mark. Would anyone be surprised if he skipped right to 50 this year?
14. David Price, Red Sox – As a neutral observer, I might be tempted to predict a Cy Young award for Price. But as a Red Sox fan who’s lived through the last few years of free agent acquisitions falling off the face of the earth as soon as they get off the T, I’m more skeptical about Price’s ability to make a seamless transition.
13. Jake Arrieta, Cubs – There’s ay last year’s second half was indicative of Arrieta’s true talent. If it were, he’d be one a short list of the best pitchers of all time. But he was great in ’14, even better in ’15, and he’s still 29, so there’s no reason to think he’ll turn back into a pumpkin in 2016.
12. Jason Heyward, Cubs – Always an elite fielder and baserunner, Heyward put it together offensively last season, to the tune of a 121 wRC+. At 26, there’s room for the power to develop, and if that happens, he’s one of several MVP-type players on his new team, the Cubs.
11. Buster Posey, Giants – WAR doesn’t love catchers, so a WAR-based system probably underrates them. 11 is a strong ranking, but with no other catcher in the top 60, the Giants may have a better asset in Posey than the teams who employ the next few guys.
10. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates – As he approaches 30, McCutchen’s not the fielder he once was, and his baserunning and batting average took a bit of a slide last year. Then again, he’s almost a career .300/.400/.500 guy playing a premium position for a team that just keeps winning.
9. Chris Sale, White Sox – Like Jose Fernandez, Chris Sale is typically among the best in the game when he’s healthy, but his slight frame gives prognosticators pause when ranking players’ potential like this. Unlike Fernandez, Sale has thrown 789 innings over the last four seasons and has pitched like a Cy Young candidate the whole time.
8. Max Scherzer, Nationals – If not for what Greinke, Arrieta, and Kershaw did last year, Scherzer would probably have a Cy Young Award in each league. Ignoring three guys may sound like a stretch, but a season with a 2.79 ERA, a 2.77 FIP, and 276 strikeouts usually puts a pitcher in the conversation.
7. Kris Bryant, Cubs – Bryant might expose a shortcoming in my formula. Smart projection systems account for minor league numbers for young players and base future projections on a larger body of work. My projection system sees Bryant as a 24-year-old with no data other than a 6.5-win rookie year and projects that’ll grow to 7.5, ahead of every National League position player. I’ll temper that a bit and call for another 6.6, almost a full win ahead of Steamer’s projection of 5.7.
6. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks – The middle of this list is full of one-dimensional sluggers who play first base because it’s the only place they won’t embarrass themselves. Goldschmidt’s a slugger as well, but he’s cut from a different mold. Over the last three seasons, his 88 homers don’t leap off the page, but throw in 115 doubles and 281 walks, all despite missing a third of the 2014 season and you’d have a superstar even if he weren’t a threat on the basepaths (21 steals last year) and a quality defender. Typically, rounded first baseman like Goldschmidt come from across the diamond (Albert Pujols played third and left in the big leagues and Jeff Bagwell played third in the minors), but Goldschmidt was a lightly-regarded minor-league first baseman who broke through at first and became the game’s best first baseman.
5. Manny Machado, Orioles
4. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays – The game’s two best third basemen (with apologies to Bryant) got to where they are in very different ways. Still just 23 and probably still waiting for JJ Hardy’s release to move him to shortstop, Machado adds skills to his well-hyped repertoire every year. In contrast, Donaldson didn’t really crash the scene until he was 27, but over the last three years, only Mike Trout has been more valuable. Subjectively, I’d guess this is the year Machado plays at an MVP level and Donaldson takes a small step back, but like Billy Beane, I’ve doubted Donaldson before and he just makes me look foolish.
3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers – According to Baseball Reference, Sandy Koufax was worth 53.2 WAR and 30.7 WAA in his career, driven by an ERA+ of 130. Another decent Dodgers lefty, Kershaw’s been worth 47.2 WAR and 34.4 WAA, based on a 154 ERA+. Anyone who argues that Koufax was better is playing the “back in my day” card pretty egregiously.
2. Bryce Harper, Nationals – This season will tell us if picking a National League MVP every year will be as boring an exercise as it’s been in the AL the last few years. Harper could be the Mickey Mantle to this guy’s Willie Mays…
1. Mike Trout, Angels – This spot has been a no-brainer for three years. Subjectively, Harper was worth consideration for the top spot this year, based on his age and his obliteration of the National League last year. Let’s not forget, though, that Trout has been one of the two best players in the game each of the last four years, and that only the last who guys you read about have ever had an argument as the game’s best player since Trout became a full-time player. Without the subjective adjustment, my formula projects Trout for 10.3 wins, to Harper’s 7.1. There’s only one Mike Trout.