In terms of challenges, ranking the top 100 players in baseball is one of the more enjoyable ones. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. The incredible innovations of resources like Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball offer us more data than we’ll ever need. Analyzing that data allows us to place every player in the right context. Using a weighted three-year WAR formula pioneered by former SI.com writer Jay Jaffe in 2018 and updated by Emma Baccellieri in 2019, the SI staff landed on a list of the top 100 players for the 2019 season after several days of animated discussion.
This ranking is for the top players in the game entering the season: All of us would rather have Ronald Acuña than Lorenzo Cain for the next five years, but Cain is probably a more valuable piece for the upcoming season. And, before you ask … yes, we think that is the right ranking for Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
The committee was comprised of eight experts: Stephanie Apstein, Emma Baccellieri, Gabriel Baumgaertner, Michael Beller, Jack Dickey, Connor Grossman, Tristan Jung and Jon Tayler. They all have Twitter accounts should you have disagreements with the final rankings.
Graphic designer Jorge Ruiz created the stylish player cards accompanying each entry.
100. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Like winter or Gabbo, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is coming. When he arrives, he’s poised to deliver some serious thunder. Consider what he accomplished at Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo last year at 19 years old: .402/.449/.671 at the former, .336/.414/.564 at the latter, and just one fewer walk than strikeouts combined. And he was doing this against pitchers anywhere from five to 10 years his senior. The son of a Hall of Famer who was one of the best natural hitters of his era, Vladito promises to be a special player immediately, even if he should have debuted last year. — Jon Tayler
The Big Number: 2 | Only two hitters in the 21st century have gotten 500 or more plate appearances in their age-20 season and put up an OPS+ of 125 or better: Jason Heyward and Mike Trout. Bet on Vlad Jr. becoming the third.
99. José Abreu
José Abreu had the worst year of his career last year, and still managed to hit .265/.325/.473 with 22 homers, 36 doubles and 78 RBIs. Abreu is largely overlooked because he isn’t a superstar and has spent his career playing for a dreadful White Sox team. He will remain one of the league’s most under-the-radar threats. — Michael Beller
The Big Number: .221 | Abreu’s career isolated slugging percentage. Since 2014, he’s one of five active players with an ISO above .220 and a strikeout rate lower than 20%. The others? Anthony Rizzo, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Nolan Arenado.
98. Charlie Morton
Charlie Morton was once a middling ground ball pitcher with serious injury problems. After signing with the Astros in 2017, he raised his velocity 4 mph. Since he, in his words, “just tried to throw harder,” he became a strikeout machine, postseason hero and one of the best pitchers in baseball. Regardless of whether you credit Astros player development or believe in his ability to stay healthy, the reality is his numbers aren’t indicating any slowdown even after his offseason move to the Rays. — Tristan Jung
The Big Number: 10.83 | Morton's strikeouts per nine innings in 2018, higher than Luis Severino, Aaron Nola and Corey Kluber. In his last season as a full-time starter before joining Houston, his K/9 rate was 6.7 for the Pirates in 2015.
97. Madison Bumgarner
The Madison Bumgarner of October 2014 is gone, and even the Bumgarner of 2016 seems like a distant memory. That’s the last time he pitched a full season. Last season he fractured his hand in the last game of spring training and in 2017 endured the infamous dirt bike crash that shelved him for two months. It’s hard to know what to expect from Bumgarner right now, but he’ll lack no motivation in a contract year. — Connor Grossman
The Big Number: -2.4 | Bumgarner’s strikeouts per nine innings decreased from 10 in 2016 to 7.6 in 2018, trending the wrong direction in tandem with other peripheral categories like walks per nine and strikeout-to-walk ratio.
96. Jackie Bradley Jr.
Here’s a weird one: Jackie Bradley Jr. won his first Gold Glove in 2018. Sure, you can pick apart the rest of his game—streakiness at the plate, with otherwise solid production broken up by truly dreadful cold spells loaded with strikeouts—but his centerfield defense? It's beyond unimpeachable! Fresh Gold Glove acquisition aside, at this point, Bradley is what he is. A smooth glove offsets a temperamental bat. And, hey, when the bat is hot—it’s now demonstrated that it can earn him an ALCS MVP. — Emma Baccellieri
The Big Number: 17 | JBJ has flashed his speed in center for years, of course, but last season was the first time that he really did so on the bases. He’d never had more than 10 stolen bases until 17 in 2018.
95. Jose Berrios
Jose Berrios’s curveball isn’t too flashy; the drop isn’t extreme and the spin rate won’t jump out from a leaderboard. But, man, it is so good. Berrios leaned on it more often as his out pitch in 2018, and he got even better results. In his second full season in the big leagues, Berrios improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio, boosted his groundball rate and shaved a bit off his ERA. He gave up more home runs and endured more hard contact, but it was an overall step forward for the 24-year-old hurler. — EB
The Big Number: 2 | Berrios’s two complete games last year were tied for the most in baseball, an honor that he shared with just five other pitchers. It was the first season in baseball history in which no pitcher threw four or more, which, if that’s not a sign of the times…
94. David Price
If he reads this, David Price will likely feel some joy and some resentment at being ranked this low. He relishes the role of the lone hero and proved many wrong in the 2018 playoffs, when he went from worst postseason starter in history to World Series champion. He adjusted his changeup grip and his arm slot while warming up before Game 4 of the ALCS; from that day on, he had a 1.37 ERA and .152 batting average against in 19.2 innings. If his adjustments stick, Price could be an excellent No. 2 starter. — Stephanie Apstein
The Big Number: 8.7 | Strikeouts per nine innings after Price’s mid-playoffs adjustments. That number had been 7.96 in postseason appearances with the Red Sox.
93. Miles Mikolas
Miles Mikolas flamed out of MLB after spending parts of three seasons with the Padres and Rangers before excelling in Japan for three years. That earned him enough of the Cardinals’ attention to sign a contract. He made the most of it, amassing a 2.83 ERA and 1.07 WHIP across 200 2/3 innings, winning 18 games and being selected for the All-Star Game. He doesn’t walk anyone, keeps the ball on the ground and in the yard, a surefire recipe for success for any pitcher. — MB
The Big Number: 3.6% | Mikolas’s walk rate last year, best in the league in 2018 and 11th best for a full season over the last 10 years.
92. Jesus Aguilar
Jesus Aguilar led all of Triple-A in home runs from 2014 through 2016, which is a little like being the best student in driver’s ed—a nice accomplishment to earn once, but it starts to feel damning if you’ve been stuck in the classroom long enough to collect it thrice. He finally got a chance to demonstrate his power at the big league level when he was picked up by the Brewers in 2017. After 16 home runs in his rookie season in 2017, Aguilar leveled up with 35 in 2018. The 28-year-old also dropped his strikeouts, boosted his walks, and pulled the ball more. At this level, he just might keep cruising for a while. — EB
The Big Number: 2 | Seventeen of his 35 home runs last year came when he had two strikes against him.
91. German Márquez
There’s so much to like from German Márquez. If he pitched anywhere but Colorado, the 23-year-old would be considered a top asset going forward. If he can limit damage from lefties and continue to sharpen his control, Márquez could be an ace for the Rockies. As it stands, his traditional numbers will always be a bit high (he had a 2.85 ERA on the road and a 4.74 ERA at home), but in terms of stuff and potential, Márquez compares well to other young, ascending pitchers. — TJ
The Big Number: .186/.254/.337 | Looking at Márquez’s splits against righties in 2018, it’s an astonishing line for a second-year pitcher who starts half his games in Coors Field.
90. Carlos Martinez
It wasn’t long ago that Carlos Martinez was considered the Cardinals’ ace for the foreseeable future. And then, on Aug. 21 until the end of the season, Martinez operated only out of relief. There have long been concerns regarding Martinez’s usage, so St. Louis moved him to the bullpen to protect his ailing shoulder. He’s a question mark entering this season, but if he’s healthy he should return to his high-strikeout, dominant ways. — Gabriel Baumgaertner
The Big Number: 4.55 | Martinez’s 4.55 walks per nine innings in 2018 was a stark rise from the his career rate of 3.2. He’s always been a bit erratic, but he won’t be able to sustain that kind of stress on his arm if he doesn’t improve his accuracy.
89. Scooter Gennett
Scooter Gennett probably didn’t expect to find himself on this list a couple years ago. Yet here he is, having blossomed into a middle-of-the-order bat since joining the Reds in 2017. The team clearly believes in him, too. They traded top infield prospect Shed Long this offseason, clearing the way for Gennett to remain at second. — CG
The Big Number: .358 | A pinch of luck never hurt anyone. Gennett had the seventh-highest batting average on balls in play in 2018, which may stir a little skepticism into his recent emergence. For what it’s worth, MVPs J.D. Martinez and Christian Yelich led baseball in BABIP.
88. Blake Treinen
After adding a cutter and improving his slider last offseason, Blake Treinen compiled one of the greatest campaigns by a relief pitcher in history (0.78 ERA, 38 saves) with the A's. The combination of a 97 mph sinking fastball, 95 mph cutter and an 89 mph slider is too much for most hitters to handle. — TJ
The Big Number: 27.95% | Treinen’s slider is the definition of nasty. A whiff rate of nearly 28% is ridiculous, and it’s turned the righthander into one of the game's top closers.
87. Kyle Freeland
Kyle Freeland might be my favorite example of a pitcher who can thrive in this era of launch angles, exit velocities and high strikeouts. While still averaging 93 mph on his fastball, Freeland effectively alternates between four pitches and keeps hitters off-balance with his cutter, according to Brooks Baseball (Statcast thinks of it as a slider). He allowed a 28.9% hard-hit rate from opponents last year, better than soft-contact specialists Trevor Bauer, Miles Mikolas and Kyle Hendricks. If your idea of a great pitcher looks like Greg Maddux, Freeland is an absolute treat to watch. — GB
The Big Number: 2.40 | Freeland’s home ERA in 2018. Whether it’s sorcery or merely genius, a 2.40 ERA at Coors Field over 93 2/3 innings is a phenomenal accomplishment.
86. Edwin Díaz
The save isn’t just timeworn, it’s a downright fusty throwback to simpler and more statistically primitive years. That doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate that Edwin Díaz had 57 saves in 2018. 57! Only Francisco Rodriguez in 2008 had more. Even more insane? Close to half—27 of those 57—involved protecting a lead of a single run. No one has ever had more saves with one run, and he'll need to replicate that success trying to protect the lacking Mets offense. Sure, you can use some more fashionable numbers to prove his excellence in 2018. The 44.3% strikeout rate, for instance, which registered as the sixth-highest of all-time. The 208 ERA+. The 99-mph fastball. But 57 saves? 57 saves. — EB
The Big Number: .121 | That was opponents’ batting average against Díaz’s slider, his nastiest pitch, in 2018. Yikes.
85. Khris Davis
The three true outcomes (home run, walk, strikeout) are in vogue, and Khris Davis fits the mold as well as anyone in baseball. He strikes out more often than most, but hits the absolute snot out of the ball. It’s pretty hard to complain about the performance of the major’s home run king in 2018. — CG
The Big Number: 133 | No one has hit more home runs over the past three seasons than Davis. Trailing the A’s slugger are Giancarlo Stanton (124), Nolan Arenado (116) and J.D. Martinez (110) to name a few.
84. Dallas Keuchel
Dallas Keuchel, with a fastball and sinker that average around 90 mph, is not one of this era's many power arms. In an time when 17 starters produced swinging strikes on at least 13% of their pitches in 2018, Keuchel only achieved 8.3%. The fact that Keuchel does not possess the traits that have become common in the game today has seemingly convinced fans that he does not belong among the game’s best starters. But he does. More than half of the balls put in play against him wind up on the ground, ready for well-positioned defenders to gobble them up. So what if it’s not as sexy as a strikeout? — Jack Dickey
The Big Number: 950 1/3 | Over the last five seasons, only seven pitchers have thrown more innings than Keuchel with an ERA+ as good or better than Keuchel’s 121: Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Zack Greinke, Jon Lester, Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, and Cole Hamels. It’s a nice club to be in.
83. Buster Posey
Similar to teammate Madison Bumgarner, it’s hard to pencil in the kind of season Buster Posey is headed toward after season-ending hip surgery. The 32-year-old former MVP expects to have a bit more juice in his swing after hitting just five home runs in 448 plate appearances last year, but playing at pitcher-friendly Oracle Park does him no favors. — CG
The Big Number: 10 | If nothing else, Posey remains a defensive stalwart behind the plate. His +10 Defensive Runs Saved rated second in the big leagues among peers who caught 750-plus innings in 2018.
82. Robinson Canó
Yes, he’s 36 and heading to a team that’s seen plenty of former stars slump with age. But Robinson Canó’s bat remains a weapon, even if his defensive production is increasingly limited. Despite missing 80 games because of a violation of the MLB drug policy, Canó managed 3.2 WAR and a .303/.374/.471 slash line in 80 games. A 136 OPS+ is the hallmark of a stud hitter, and that’s what Canó managed in the hitter’s graveyard that is Seattle. His swing is still among the prettiest that baseball has ever seen. — GB
The Big Number: 93.1 | Canó’s average exit velocity in 2018, higher than J.D. Martinez, Khris Davis and Christian Yelich, the three of whom combined for 127 homers in 2018.
81. Craig Kimbrel
Last year, Craig Kimbrel racked up 42 saves and struck out 96 in 62 1/3 innings—and that was a step down from an absurd 2017, when he posted a 1.74 ERA and punched out 126 batters in 69 frames. Despite a shaky end to last season, the righthander still boasts a nuclear-powered fastball that flies in at 97–99 mph, or a slicing slider against which batters hit .082 (!) with a swing-and-miss rate of 56.1% (!!). When Kimbrel is on, he’s untouchable. —JT
The Big Number: 333 | Not only is Kimbrel the active leader in career saves, but he’s also already top 15 all-time in that category. No pitcher has compiled more career saves through his age-30 season than Kimbrel.
80. Jameson Taillon
After arm injuries slowed Jameson Taillon’s progress through the minors, a testicular cancer diagnosis interrupted his 2017 season. Cancer-free and arm injuries in the rear-view, Taillon pitched to a 3.20 ERA and 1.18 WHIP with 170 strikeouts in 191 innings in 2018. It took longer for him to get here than expected, but Taillon has arrived. — MB
The Big Number: 1.47 and 30.1% | Taillon’s groundball-to-fly ball ratio and hard-hit rate, respectively. He was one of seven pitchers in the top 15 in both metrics that indicate how well a pitcher controls damage on balls in play.
79. J.A. Happ
J.A. Happ is old school. For years he relied on variety and pitch mix to get the job done, enough over the last three seasons to earn him another $34 million from the Yankees. But Happ has adapted to the game as he’s gotten older by throwing harder now than he did ten years ago, pounding righties inside and making a concerted effort to gain movement and direction on his fastball. It’s strange for a 36-year-old lefty to transition into a power pitcher this late in his career, but that’s what Happ and the Yankees are hoping for. — TJ
The Big Number: 193 | Happ set a career-high with 193 strikeouts last season, 30 more than his previous career high. There’s no better stat to illustrate the death of plate discipline than Happ nearing 200 strikeouts in a season at age 35.
78. Aaron Hicks
Brian Cashman has bilked many general managers during his distinguished career, but acquiring Aaron Hicks from the Twins for backup catcher John Ryan Murphy may be his crowning achievement. Murphy played 26 games for the Twins. Hicks has 50 homers over three seasons in New York and remains one of the top defensive outfielders in baseball. He doesn’t have the glitz of Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton, but Hicks is a complete player whose speed and power make him one of the game’s most underrated outfielders. — GB
The Big Number: 15.5% | Hicks’s walk rate has improved every season since he’s arrived in New York, and his 15.5% mark was good for fifth in baseball, ahead of José Ramírez, Matt Carpenter and Alex Bregman.
77. Michael Brantley
In 2018, Michael Brantley played his first generally healthy season in four years, and he looked like a slightly slower version of his old self. He slashed .309/.364/.468 line across 631 plate appearances and is a wonderful fit in Houston’s flexible lineup. If Brantley proved anything last year, it’s that he still has plenty of great baseball left in the tank. — MB
The Big Number: 1,136 1/3 | Brantley’s innings logged in the outfield last year, his most since 2014.
76. Jack Flaherty
It’s hard to make this list with 150 innings pitched in your rookie season, but Jack Flaherty really was that good last year. The stats are all outstanding: a 3.08 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 3.34 ERA at age 23 will go a long way to earning trust with the Cardinals front office. The only thing holding him back is inexperience. After cruising through the summer, Flaherty faded in September. He will still slot in at No. 2 or No. 3 in the St. Louis rotation. — TJ
The Big Number: 1.13 | Over 32 innings, Flaherty’s 1.13 ERA in August was spectacular. He also had 38 strikeouts and walked just 9 batters.
75. Josh Hader
So how does one follow up the most dominant season from a reliever ever? It won’t be easy for Josh Hader to replicate the brilliance he trotted out of Milwaukee’s bullpen last year in the late innings. Or the sixth inning. Or the fourth. All eyes will be on the 24-year-old southpaw in 2019, from the the innings he’s deployed in to the velocity he brings after an extended workload in 2018 to the content of his social media accounts. — CG
The Big Number: 17 | That's the number of outings Hader allowed zero hits and struck out at least three batters. The previous record was 13 by Brad Lidge, according to Jayson Stark of The Athletic.
74. Chris Taylor
Chris Taylor regressed after a breakout 2017 campaign, and he’ll need to cut down on his whiffs if he wants to avoid plummeting even further down the list. Taylor struck out in a ghastly 29.5% of his plate appearances last year (178 total, which led the National League) and his average dropped from .288 to .254. His defensive abilities across the infield and in the outfield make him an extremely valuable piece for the Dodgers, but the league appeared to identify his tendencies last season. — GB
The Big Number: 40% | Taylor was caught stealing on 40% of his stolen base attempts last season after being nabbed just 20% of the time in 2017. Worse? He stole just nine bases in 2018 after swiping 17 in 2017.
73. Mike Clevinger
The 28-year-old righthander refined his command and improved the whiff rate on his fastball in 2018. A 145 ERA+ bumped Mike Clevinger's career figure up to 132, which makes him one of just 70 pitchers ever to open the first three seasons of their career with such a high figure over at least 300 IP. He sits sandwiched on that leaderboard between Fernando Valenzuela and Babe Ruth. It’s hard to ask for more than that. — EB
The Big Number: 200(-ish) | 200 IP, 207 Ks, one combination of durability and performance that feels increasingly special nowadays.
72. Walker Buehler
Like a modern-day Nuke LaLoosh, Walker Buehler announced his presence with authority in last season’s playoffs, punching out 29 batters in 23 2/3 frames, including seven shutout innings against Boston in Game 3 of the World Series. That was the exciting cap on an already brilliant season: a 2.62 ERA, 151 strikeouts in 137 1/3 innings, and a 148 ERA+. The former first-round pick and Vanderbilt product looks structurally unsound at 6’2” and a reedy 175 pounds, but his stuff is pure power: a four-seam fastball that sits at 96 mph, a pair of wicked breaking balls in his slider and curve, and a hard sinker that batters hit just .217 against. Just 24 years old, expect to see Buehler’s name soar on next year’s list. — JT
The Big Number: 27.9% | Buehler’s strikeout rate would’ve ranked 12th in the majors if he’d pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title—ahead of Aaron Nola, Corey Kluber, and Jose Berrios, to name just a few.
71. Brandon Nimmo
Wisecracking ex-Mets GM Sandy Alderson explained in December 2017 that his impecunious then-club wasn’t pursuing Giancarlo Stanton because “with Brandon Nimmo in right field, we just didn't feel that we had a need there.” This, to be clear, was not prophecy but a swipe at Nimmo, who had been Alderson’s first first-rounder with the Mets in 2011, and whom Alderson would block from the starting lineup (despite his career .380 OBP in the minors and majors) by signing the feckless Jay Bruce one month later. A lot can change in 14 months! Bruce is in Seattle; Alderson is in Oakland; and Nimmo, not so improbably after all, is on this list. — JD
The Big Number: .404 | Nimmo’s on-base percentage in 2018, fourth overall behind Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Joey Votto. OK, it was aided by a league-leading 22 hit-by-pitches, but still—Nimmo’s otherworldly plate discipline should have him among league leaders here for a while.
70. Gleyber Torres
Gleyber Torres made a strong case for Rookie of the Year honors after hitting .271/.340/.480 with 24 homers, a 118 OPS+ and 2.9 bWAR in 123 games, but lost out to two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani. Torres is still a baby at 22 years old, but his tape-measure home runs and effortless power suggest that he’s strong beyond his years. It’s not all perfect: The Venezuelan infielder has too much swing-and-miss in his game and could stand to make more contact. But when he connects, the ball goes a long way, making him a dangerous man in an already loaded New York lineup. — JT
The Big Number: .543 | Torres crushed fastballs last year, slugging nearly .600 against them and bopping 18 of his 24 homers on heaters.
69. Marcell Ozuna
Peer deeper into Marcell Ozuna’s outstanding 2017 season and you’ll discover some predictors of his 2018 regression. A .355 batting average on balls in play was not sustainable (it shrunk to .309 in 2018) and his .340 average at home in spacious Marlins Park was suspiciously high (it fell to .299 in his first season at Busch Stadium). What was most concerning was Ozuna’s power outage. After belting 37 homers in 2017, he managed just 23 in 2018, part of a season where he regressed in every major hitting category except strikeout percentage. Perhaps it was a blip, but Ozuna is not the expected MVP candidate that he was entering last season. — GB
The Big Number: 415 | The average distance (in feet) that an Ozuna home run traveled in 2018, good for fifth among hitters with at least 300 batted ball events. When he connects, it goes plenty far.
68. Josh Donaldson
Despite entering his age-33 season and coming off two injury-plagued campaigns, Josh Donaldson can still be a quality player (when he is, in fact, playing). The Braves gave Donaldson a one-year, $23 million deal, one that makes sense for both sides. Even in Donaldson’s 113-game 2017, he put up 5.1 fWAR and had 33 home runs. His bat is declining, but if he settles in to an .860-.880 OPS, Donaldson still belongs on this list. — TJ
The Big Number: .801 | Donaldson’s .801 OPS over 219 plate appearances in 2018 was his worst since 2012.
67. Starling Marte
Marte’s spells of inconsistency at the plate prevent him from establishing himself as an elite player. (He followed up a 1.006 OPS last July with a .652 figure in August, for example.) Yet on a decidedly mediocre Pirates team, he remains a solid player entering his age-30 season. — CG
The Big Number: .327 | Marte’s on-base percentage last year was his lowest since playing one-third of the 2012 season as a rookie.
66. Travis Shaw
You might do a double take seeing Travis Shaw on this list. He’s nobody’s idea of a star, and he’s never had the pedigree of a top prospect. But quietly, the Brewers’ third baseman (and occasional second baseman in their positionless infield) has established himself as one of the Senior Circuit’s stronger hitters. Last season was his second straight with 30-plus homers, and his 119 OPS+ was eighth best among all players with 100 or more games played at the hot corner. It’s an unexpected turn of events for Shaw, whom the Brewers all but stole from the Red Sox in a 2016 trade. One man’s trash is another’s treasure, and in the case of Shaw, Milwaukee turned rubbish into gold. — JT
The Big Number: 4.1 | Among all third basemen with 100-plus played at the position last year, only six topped Shaw’s bWAR of 4.1, and all are legit All-Stars: Matt Chapman, Jose Ramirez, Alex Bregman, Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon, and Eugenio Suarez.
65. Mitch Haniger
On a torn-down roster, Mitch Haniger may be a trade candidate that will fetch a high price after an excellent 2018. His batted-ball profile suggests his .208 ISO is no fluke and he is entering his prime with four years of team control and a season and a half of sustained success. He’s someone who could jump up this list in the next couple years if he stays healthy. — TJ
The Big Number: 138 | Haniger ranked 12th in the league in wRC+ at 138, ahead of the likes of Matt Chapman and Jose Altuve.
64. Nelson Cruz
Are we allowed to invoke David Ortiz’s name? Or is that baseball blasphemy? Because Nelson Cruz is having a late-30s run that’s awfully similar to what Ortiz did before hanging up the spikes. Since turning 35, Cruz has slashed .278/.359/.538 with seasonal averages of 40 homers and 107 RBI. After what he did in Seattle the last four seasons, Target Field should be a piece of cake. The bottom line: Hitters hit, and that’s exactly what we should expect of Cruz with the Twins. — MB
The Big Number: .546 | Cruz’s combined slugging percentage in his age-35 through age-38 seasons. For reference, David Ortiz slugged .556 from 35 through 38 years old.
63. Patrick Corbin
After enjoying a career year during a contract year, Patrick Corbin cashed in on a $140 million, six-year deal with the Nationals. He became a strikeout machine, whiffing more batters than all but four pitchers last year. As his K totals rose, his peripheral numbers (WHIP, BB/9, H/9, HR/9) dropped to career bests. — CG
The Big Number: 40.9% | Corbin threw his slider more than ever last season, and it worked. Opponents hit .145 against the pitch while whiffing on it 53.6% of the time.
62. Jean Segura
Jean Segura is a throwback player. He's a contact hitter with great speed and elite defense at shortstop who was a perfect target for the Phillies, who haven’t had a dynamic shortstop since Jimmy Rollins. While Segura's 20-homer season in 2016 may not be repeated, a .300 hitter at shortstop who routinely steals 20+ bases will do just fine. — TJ
The Big Number: 3.8 | Segura dropped his strikeout rate by 3.8 percentage points in 2018, enhancing his ability to get on base even further.
61. Rhys Hoskins
Rhys Hoskins is a poster child for the new generation of hitters: top 10% of the league in walks, top 15% in strikeouts and 34 home runs. He's a three true outcomes kind of guy, and one the Phillies expect to anchor their lineup. He’s a steady power bat who logged a preposterously high extra-base hit rate of 52.5% and a comparably worrisome strikeout rate of 22.7%. It’s no mystery who Hoskins is as a player today. What we’re awaiting is if he’ll become more dimensional in his age-26 season. — GB
The Big Number: 192 | The number of games it took Hoskins to reach 50 career home runs. He is the seventh fastest of all-time, trailing Rudy York, Mark McGwire, Ryan Braun, Aaron Judge and Ryan Howard.
60. Yasmani Grandal
Despite his 2018 postseason disaster, it’s hard to argue Yasmani Grandal wasn’t the second-best catcher in baseball last season. The position as a whole lacks depth, and Grandal’s offense was significantly better than Cubs backstop Willson Contreras, the only close candidate. Grandal didn’t show enough for the Dodgers to retain him, but his pitch framing and above-average bat was enough for the Brewers to give him $18.25 million for 2019. — TJ
The Big Number: 16.3 | Grandal was the best pitch framer in baseball according to Baseball Prospectus’ numbers. His 16.3 runs saved gives him enough defensive value to be playable. Combined with his bat, he’s still a top-tier catcher.
59. Tommy Pham
Tommy Pham is a Statcast legend. In 2018—which had been shaping up as a lost year before St. Louis dealt Pham to the Rays at the deadline—he ranked No. 12 in hard-hit % and No. 9 in average exit velocity. Not bad for a player who was ready to quit baseball just two years ago. If his actual statistics line up with his contact numbers, and he offers a full-season line like the one he had in two months in Tampa Bay, he’ll threaten for the AL MVP. — JD
The Big Number: 21.1% | The share of out-of-zone pitches Pham has swung at over the past two years, per Fangraphs, seventh lowest in baseball. Despite suffering from keratoconus, a rare and degenerative ocular condition, Pham’s batting eye is one of the game’s best.
58. Shohei Ohtani
The 2018 AL Rookie of the Year is not the best player in baseball, but he is the most amazing. He and Babe Ruth are the only players in major league history with 50 innings pitched and 15 home runs in a season and four wins as a pitcher and 10 home runs in a season. The children he has inspired to try playing both ways are not yet in pro ball, but front offices have grown more comfortable with the idea. But here on the Top 100, Ohtani gets credit for what he is likely to do on the field this year, where he will be relegated to duty as the least amazing player of all: the part-time DH. He underwent Tommy John surgery in October, and won’t pitch until 2020. — SA
The Big Number: 15 | Home runs after the All-Star break, tied third-best in the American League. When he devotes himself fully to hitting, as he will this season, he should be dangerous.
57. Andrew Benintendi
The best demonstration of Andrew Benintendi’s effectiveness isn’t his defense which helped the Red Sox clinch the AL pennant. It’s his plate appearance against Hyun-jin Ryu in Game 2 of the World Series. Down one run with two runners on, Benintendi forced the methodical lefty to work instead of ambushing him, fouling off a 2-0 cutter, taking a close 2–2 fastball and wasting two 3–2 curveballs for foul balls until taking ball four in the dirt. Instead of trying to take the lead with one swing, Benintendi painstakingly wore out Ryu, who was removed after the walk. By the end of the inning, the Red Sox were leading 4–2. If Benintendi were impatient and swung early, maybe the Dodgers ride that 2–1 lead to a victory in Game 2. Instead, Boston assumed full control of the series. There are no easy at-bats whenever Benintendi checks in. — GB
The Big Number: 87.5% | Benintendi’s stolen base percentage in 2018, tied for fourth across baseball. Only Jonathan Villar had more steals (30) than Benintendi (21) with a similar success rate.
56. James Paxton
Every pitcher is an injury risk, but James Paxton is a greater concern than most. But when he has been healthy the last two seasons, he has been one of the best strikeout pitchers in the league. Last year Paxton threw his cutter more and his four-seamer and changeup less, and he had the best season of his career by all metrics other than ERA.. Yankee Stadium is no picnic for pitchers, but Paxton has the stuff to dominate no matter where he pitches. — MB
The Big Number: 14.3% | Paxton’s whiff rate in 2018, sandwiched between Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole for seventh in the majors.
55. Cody Bellinger
Cody Bellinger could be a top-15 player by the end of 2019 or he may fall off the list entirely. If we were grading instincts, Bellinger would be atop the list: He seamlessly transitioned into centerfield last year from first base and was caught stealing just once in 15 stolen base attempts last year. Yet Bellinger still swings too freely and seldom wins battles against the game’s top pitchers. His power numbers derive from pitchers' mistakes more than executing smart at-bats. The question remains whether he’ll mature into a smarter player in his age-23 season. — GB
The Big Number: .113 | Bellinger’s combined batting average in the 2017 and 2018 World Series. He struck out 23 times in 45 total plate appearances.
54. Whit Merrifield
Whit Merrifield led the majors in hits and can play almost anywhere on the diamond. However, because he did not make the majors until his age-27 season and he plays for a bad team, it all feels a little fluky. It shouldn’t feel fluky. Merrifield hits for average and steals bases, of course, but his Statcast expected-SLG sits at a respectable .438 over two seasons. His defensive flexibility is a major added bonus. Merrifield is an extremely valuable piece for the Royals on a team-friendly four-year $16 million contract. — TJ
The Big Number: .438 | Merrifield turned in a very solid slugging percentage last year. Via Statcast, His expected slugging based on his batted balls was also .438, meaning it’s no fluke.
53. Kyle Hendricks
In the beginning of July, some may have argued Kyle Hendricks might not make this list at all. He had an appalling 7.03 ERA in June, and typical doubts about his lack of velocity and weapons resurfaced. But Hendricks dominated his way to a 2.84 ERA in the second half. The change was easy to see: Hendricks allowed 1.39 HR/9 in the first half and cut that to 0.51 HR/9 in the second half. With his K/9 down for the second straight year, Hendricks must increasingly focus on keeping the ball in the ballpark if he wants to keep up his excellent production for the Cubs. — TJ
The Big Number: 33 | Hendricks started a career-high 33 games last season, providing the Cubs with critical consistency.
52. Justin Upton
Having hit at least 30 homers in three consecutive seasons, Upton remains an anchor of the Angels’ lineup. He still possesses the skill that wowed evaluators while ascending as a teenage phenom with Arizona, but the 30-year-old’s defense is eroding. Unfortunately for the Angels, they don’t exactly have an opening at DH with Shohei Ohtani in the fold. — CG
The Big Number: .197 | Upton turned in a putrid performance with runners in scoring position in 2018. If he can replicate last season's performance while improving marginally with runners on base, his counting stats will shoot up.
51. Gary Sanchez
Few players crashed as dramatically last season as Gary Sanchez, who went from an All-Star and centerpiece of a dangerous Yankees lineup in 2017 to injured and unplayable throughout ’18. The Dominican catcher hit a putrid .186 in 374 plate appearances, homered only 18 times, and spent large chunks of the season on the disabled list due to groin strains. When on the field, meanwhile, he spent the season getting dragged by the media for his woeful work behind the plate. The good news for El Gary is that he still hits the ball absurdly hard: His average exit velocity barely moved from 2017 to ’18 (and ranked top 60 in the league), and his hard-hit rate barely budged either. — JT
The Big Number: .197 | How much of Sanchez’s awful 2018 can you blame on bad luck? His .197 batting average on balls in play suggests a lot went wrong once ball left bat despite good exit velocities and hard-hit percentages. Any kind of movement toward a league average BABIP (.296 last season) would provide a huge boost to Sanchez’s overall stats.
50. Noah Syndergaard
Noah Syndergaard has done the impossible. Despite pitching in New York with electrifying stuff, a catchy nickname and Game of Thrones looks, he’s somehow become a little overlooked. Syndergaard’s injury issues in 2017-18 shifted the spotlight to Jacob deGrom, whose Cy Young season deserved every bit of recognition. But for all Syndergaard's struggles (holding runners, viral infections, Mets-y injury mismanagement), the numbers show he is still one of the best starters in baseball. If he finally hits 200 innings for the first time in his career with similar results to 2018, he will have checked all the boxes for a staff ace. — TJ
The Big Number: 2.66 | Syndergaard’s career FIP of 2.66 is second to only Clayton Kershaw since debuting in 2015.
49. Xander Bogaerts
A big part of Boston’s annus mirabilis was the breakout of Bogaerts, awaited and as excellent as advertised. In his age-25 season, the Aruban shortstop hit a stellar .288/.366/.522, cracking 23 homers to go with a 135 OPS+ and 3.8 bWAR. Among all regular shortstops, that OPS+ figure trailed only Manny Machado. Two things helped Bogaerts reach his potential last season: better health and a newfound aggressiveness in the strike zone, where he swung earlier and more often. With all the natural talent Bogaerts has, it’s hard to bet against him making last year a jumping-off point for an even brighter future. — JT
The Big Number: 90.5 mph | Bogaerts makes loud contact with heavy frequency, as his average exit velo will attest. That 90.5 mph figure ranked 49th in baseball last season among qualified hitters, and was better than those of Francisco Lindor, Nolan Arenado and Matt Carpenter.
48. George Springer
It’s fair to say George Springer’s 2018 wasn’t up to his standard. After playing a central role in the World Series-winning 2017 Astros, Springer missed time with a thumb injury in August. His OPS+ dropped from 141 to 116, and he hit 22 homers after breaking out with 34 in 2017. The thumb injury wasn’t the issue either–he hit better after he came back than before the injury. But for a 29-year-old player as physically talented as Springer, a slight down year shouldn't be huge cause for concern. — TJ
The Big Number: 5.7% | Springer’s rather disappointing 2018 at the plate can largely be attributed to losing 5.7 percentage points on his hard-hit rate. It needs to return to previous numbers to keep him in the top 50.
47. Blake Snell
Blake Snell told pitching coach Kyle Snyder last winter that he would be the 2018 AL Cy Young. Snyder believed him, even if the suggestion sounded preposterous. Perhaps he noticed that Snell had more than doubled his strikeout-to-walk ratio—1.32 to 2.96—from the first half of ’17 to the second or sensed the newfound determination of the young man whose 2017 demotion to Triple A crushed him.
Whatever Snyder saw was on display to the rest of the world this year, as Snell finished the season with a 1.89 ERA, third-best in the American League since the implementation of the designated hitter. Snell is criminally underrated at No. 47; expect him to spend 2019 proving that. — SA
The Big Number: 31 | Games started. Snell was the only pitcher the Rays trusted to start all his own games, rather than deploying an opener.
46. Trevor Story
Either Trevor Story is an elite power hitter or he’s a prime regression candidate. Story’s 2018 season is frighteningly similar to Jonathan Schoop’s 2017 campaign: both were 25-year-olds with high strikeout rates who hit over 30 homers for the first time. The difference with Story is that he steals bases (27 last year after just 15 over his first two seasons) and carries a flashy extra-base hit rate (48%). There are some worrisome Coors splits in Story’s profile but he’s established himself as a feared centerpiece of the Colorado lineup. — GB
The Big Number: .276 | Story’s isolated power outranked NL MVP Christian Yelich and teammate Nolan Arenado, who beat him by one home run for the NL home run crown.
45. Andrelton Simmons
Who is baseball’s best shortstop, per Baseball-Reference WAR, since 2014? Hint: It’s not Francisco Lindor, or Carlos Correa, or Brandon Crawford, or Didi Gregorius, or Xander Bogaerts. It’s Andrelton Simmons. The 29-year-old has never been an All-Star, but his remarkable defense, bolstered by an offensive breakout over the last two seasons, gives him the top spot on the leaderboard with 24.9 WAR. Maybe 2019 is finally his All-Star year. — EB
The Big Number: 53 | Simmons’s defensive runs saved over the last two years—the highest of any player at any position.
44. Charlie Blackmon
Charlie Blackmon is a little like the Rockies as a whole—good but something short of great, older, and not as athletic as you'd like. He's also expensive and possibly on the verge of collapse. Colorado extended him after his sensational 2017 and his OPS fell by 140 points, with even more pronounced deterioration in his defense. (The team is moving him to right for 2019, which would be a win for all parties involved were he not being replaced in center by Ian Desmond.) Still, a rebound season would put him back among the NL’s best hitters. — JD
The Big Number: 1.184 | Blackmon’s OPS in the fifth inning in 2018. It was seventh-best in baseball among hitters with at least 50 plate appearances. Bet ya didn’t know that!
43. J.T. Realmuto
In 2018, J.T. Realmuto was the best catcher in baseball. He can hit, defend and even wields above-average base running skills. The key to Realmuto’s place on this list is just how much better he is than the average catcher. Every single game played by a catcher last year totaled 49.9 fWAR. Realmuto had 4.8 fWAR last season, meaning he compiled roughly 10% of all the value catchers produced in baseball. That marginal value is huge, and explains why he was a coveted trade piece this offseason. — TJ
The Big Number: 148 | Across baseball, catchers had a .676 OPS in 2018. J.T. Realmuto’s OPS of .824 was 148 points higher.
42. Stephen Strasburg
After last year's abbreviated campaign, there is concern that Strasburg may never consistently reach the peak we were promised. He didn’t pitch poorly in 2018: a 3.74 ERA, 114 ERA+ and 10.8 strikeouts per nine aren’t exactly dreck. But it’s a step back from a brilliant 2017 campaign that, instead of being the first step toward transcendence, now seems more like a brief glimpse of heaven. Worryingly, arm injuries were once again Strasburg’s downfall, limiting him to just 130 innings—the third time in the last four years he’s failed to crack the 150-inning mark. Those health issues may simply always keep Strasburg from fully becoming the ace he was expected to be, though the version we’ve got is still pretty damn good. — JT
The Big Number: .280/.526 | Hitters had no trouble squaring up Strasburg’s four-seamer last season, hitting .280 with a .526 slugging percentage against it and taking it deep 12 times. That fastball is the key to Strasburg’s effectiveness and he needs to get it right.
41. Matt Carpenter
Quick show of hands: Who predicted before the season that Matt Carpenter would finish tied for third in the National League in home runs? Anybody? I didn’t think so. Carpenter’s explosion of power was a surprise (and perhaps fueled by special salsa), but you shouldn’t be shocked to see his name once again among MLB’s top options at the dish. Not only were his 36 homers a career best (and at age 32, no less), but he also logged his highest OPS+ (143) and bWAR (4.9) in five years to earn down-ballot MVP support. Carpenter rips line drives with aplomb and can handle either infield corner, making him a valuable piece for St. Louis. — JT
The Big Number: 49.0% | Per FanGraphs, nearly half of all of Carpenter’s batted balls in 2018 fell under the “hard-hit” designation, and that 49% figure was tops among all qualified hitters last season. Baseball Savant’s Statcast-derived calculation isn’t quite as high, at 44.6%, but the conclusion remains the same: Few batters make as much consistent loud contact as Carpenter.
40. Corey Seager
Corey Seager’s value suffered after missing all but 26 games of the 2018 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. If his back and elbow are healed, he’s one of the game’s elite infielders. A strong defensive shortstop with plus power and established track record entering his age-25 season is the mark of a budding superstar. Seager’s health, and whether he should be playing shortstop everyday, are legitimate question marks. When he’s right, however, he’s a franchise player. — GB
The Big Number: .013 | Seager’s isolated power was 13 percentage points higher than the league’s in 2017. In 2016, he was 52 percentage points higher. His performance in 2019 will determine whether we should consider Seager as a great hitter or a great power hitter.
39. Javier Baez
After years of grasping at, but failing to reach, his full potential, Javier Baez put it all together and nearly won NL MVP. The glove has always been elite, but the bat arrived last year, with Baez hitting .290/.326/.554 with 34 homers and 111 RBIs. With his high ceiling at the plate and Gold Glove skills at multiple positions, Baez may have another gear in him yet. — MB
The Big Number: 76.5% | The rate at which Baez swung at pitches in the strike zone, an increase of seven percentage points from his previous career high and one of the major reasons for his breakout season.
38. Eugenio Suarez
The uninitiated may believe that Eugenio Suarez came from out of nowhere last season. That’s because they’re uninitiated. Suarez built toward his breakout season, posting a 106 OPS+ in 2015, 115 OPS+ in 2017 and 135 last year. He turns 27 in July, is in the peak of his physical prime, and can do it all at the plate. He hits for for power, average and walks in more than 10% of his plate appearances. Suarez won’t surprise anyone when he’s one of the 20 best hitters in baseball this season. — MB
The Big Number: .243 | Suarez’s isolated slugging percentage in 2018, the same as Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt, and ahead of Manny Machado and Francisco Lindor.
37. Juan Soto
Yes, Juan Soto became a box score time-traveler last year when he hit a home run in a rescheduled rain-out that, technically, began before he had ever been called up from Double-A Harrisburg. Pretty nifty—yet, somehow, not the most incredible feature of Soto’s 2018 season. His .923 OPS put him in rarified company, one of fewer than four dozen rookies ever to post such a high number. He earned one of baseball’s best nicknames in recent memory with “Childish Bambino.” He hit a home run on the first pitch of the first plate appearance of his first start. And, yes, he was a teenager during all of this. (He turned 20 in October.) — EB
The Big Number: 146 OPS+ | That’s the highest ever OPS+ by a teenager. (Condolences to Mel Ott, who’d previously had a solid grip on this record since 1928.)
36. Justin Turner
He’s missed 91 games over the past two seasons, but Justin Turner always provides when healthy. Despite playing in just 103 games, Turner finished the year slashing .312/.406/.518 with 31 doubles, more than Anthony Rizzo had in 201 additional plate appearances. His defense at third is consistent and he’s the mayor of a clubhouse that has won back-to-back National League Pennants. He’s essential to the Dodgers’ success, and his contributions aren’t all reflected in box scores. Watch enough of his at-bats, however, and you’ll learn what an advanced hitter Turner really is. — GB
The Big Number: .396 | Turner’s weighted on-base average (wOBA) in 2018, better than Alex Bregman, Jose Ramirez, Aaron Judge, Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt.
35. Trevor Bauer
A stress fracture in his right ankle may have kept Trevor Bauer from winning the 2018 AL Cy Young. At least that’s what he’ll tell you. Through 25 starts, Bauer had a slightly higher ERA than eventual winner Blake Snell (2.22 to 2.05) but allowed six fewer homers and had a higher K/9 total (11.6 to Snell’s 10.4). He’s the game’s foremost antagonist online and off, but Bauer set a career high in strikeouts (221) despite making his fewest starts since 2014. He’s a legitimate ace almost anywhere but Cleveland. — GB
The Big Number: 2.6% | That was the chance a hitter had to “barrel” (a hit type with an exit velocity and launch angle that has a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage) a ball against Bauer in 2018. The only starters with better numbers in 2019 were Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard.
34. Carlos Correa
Carlos Correa struggled quite a bit after nagging back problems limited him to 110 games in in 2018. Starting on June 6, the shortstop had an .811 OPS, not the figure from his torrid 2017 total of .941, which came despite missing 53 games with a thumb injury. After returning from his back trouble in 2018, he logged a .628 OPS. Ouch. If he can return at full strength and typical talent in 2019, it ultimately might not look like anything more than a blip on his stat sheet, but it was a steep fall for the 2015 Rookie of the Year. — EB
The Big Number: 18.3 | That would be Correa’s Baseball-Reference WAR, after four seasons in the big leagues—even with the hit from last year’s weak showing (1.7 WAR), the total still ranks third among all shortstops since 2015.
33. Anthony Rizzo
Ever wonder what it’s like to roll out of bed and produce a .280/.370/.500 slash line with 30 homers and 100 RBIs in an MLB season? Ask Anthony Rizzo. His average season over the last five years is as follows: .282/.385/.512, 30 homers, 100 RBI, 34 doubles, 138 OPS+. The first baseman has been the steadying force at the center of the championship-window Cubs, and is the one Cub who has never wavered—by departure or injury—during their current run. — MB
The Big Number: .385 | Rizzo’s OBP since 2014, tied for seventh in the majors in that time.
32. Ronald Acuña Jr.
Baseball is supposed to be a sport of slow growth. MLB has seen its fair share of phenoms and teenage stars, but for every Andruw Jones and Ken Griffey Jr., hundreds of would-be bonus babies disappear from the league without leaving so much as a footprint. So how do you make sense of someone like Ronald Acuña Jr., blasting his way into the majors at 20 and conquering everything in his path? It’s more than an impressive debut; it’s a counter to all we thought was immutably true about baseball. It never humbled Acuña, who blasted 26 homers, stole 16 bases, and posted a 144 OPS+ and 4.1 bWAR—that last one a higher figure than Xander Bogaerts, Justin Upton and Giancarlo Stanton, among many others. What’s truly scary to consider is what comes next for this superstar-in-the-making. — JT
The Big Number: .304/.380/.589 | For as great as Acuña’s season was, he struggled through his first month-plus before a knee injury knocked him out for most of June. When he came back, though, he took a blowtorch to the league, hitting .304/.380/.589 through the end of the season thanks to a swing change that unlocked his power.
31. Zack Greinke
Like just about any 35-year-old, Zack Greinke has lost a tick on his fastball in the last few years. (In 2018, it averaged a perfectly round 90.0 mph, per Brooks Baseball.) He’s responded by throwing his changeup more and developing a wicked slow curve. With last year’s 3.21 ERA (135 ERA+), he ranked among the top ten qualified starting pitchers in the NL. He may not be the same pitcher that he was previously, but he can be one that’s nearly as sharp, by camouflaging his flaws and developing new strengths—and isn’t that what aging gracefully is all about? — EB
The Big Number: 200 | In four of the last five seasons, Greinke has more than 200 IP—a feat he’d never pulled off before he turned 30.
30. Gerrit Cole
Gerrit Cole has some of the best stuff of any pitcher alive and the Astros are highly adept at turning great pitches into their most dominant selves. Thus, it should’ve been no surprise to anyone that data-savvy Houston turned Cole from occasional ace into full-blown No. 1 starter. His 2018 season was a triumph, with a 2.88 ERA, 140 ERA+ and career-high 5.3 bWAR in 200 1/3 innings, along with an MLB-best 12.4 strikeouts per nine. Thanks to the Astros, we’re now seeing what a fully operational version of the former No. 1 pick looks like. — JT
The Big Number: 19 | Home runs were Cole’s biggest issue in his final season with the Pirates, but that problem disappeared in Houston as Cole cut that number almost in half to 19. The secret? He more or less junked his sinker, one of his least effective pitches, and started throwing more curveballs, which had a swing-and-miss rate of 33.9%—almost a 10-point jump from 2017.
29. Giancarlo Stanton
Giancarlo Stanton still lights up the radar gun with his terrifying exit velocity numbers and parabolic homers, but 2018 was hardly a standout year for one of the game’s elite sluggers. He struck out an unsightly 211 times (a 30% rate), saw his average dip 15 points from his MVP campaign in 2017 and hit 21 fewer homers despite moving to the hitters paradise of Yankee Stadium. Stanton remains in the midst of his peak physical prime at age 29, but the sheer lack of competitiveness in many of his at-bats—especially in the playoffs—was a bit dispiriting for Yankee fans. — GB
The Big Number: 0 | Extra-base hits Stanton had during the Yankees' ALDS series loss to the Red Sox. He struck out seven times and took no walks in his 18 plate appearances during the series.
28. Luis Severino
For the first 15 or so weeks of the season, Luis Severino was the AL Cy Young frontrunner. After blanking the Red Sox over 6 2/3 innings on July 1, the Dominican righty had dropped his ERA to 1.98 in 118 1/3 frames to go with 138 strikeouts and just 29 walks allowed. Then the wheels flew off so hard they practically shot into orbit: From July 7 onward, Severino posted a bloated 5.67 ERA in 73 innings, including 13 homers allowed, followed by two shaky postseason starts that were like watching a blindfolded man walk through a minefield. The cause of his dramatic downfall—Injury? Pitch tipping? Voodoo doll?—remains unknown, but it complicates how we view him going forward. Who’s the real Severino? The Pedro Martinez clone who destroyed the AL over the season’s first three months or the dude who couldn’t locate a fastball to save his life down the stretch? Only 25 and blessed with a bazooka for an arm, there’s plenty of time for Severino to figure it out. — JT
The Big Number: 97.6 | The best reason not to short Severino going forward is his supernova fastball, which clocked in at an average of 97.6 mph, the fastest four-seamer in the majors last year among all qualified pitchers. Able to hit the high notes with ease, Severino’s task will be better control of that pitch. If he can harness that consistently, look out.
27. Clayton Kershaw
The end is coming, but is it nigh? Clayton Kershaw’s 2018 was a study in maintaining effectiveness amid collapse. He managed only 161 1/3 innings thanks to the chronic back injuries that stymied the two seasons prior, and posted his worst ERA and ERA+ figures in eight seasons. His fastball, meanwhile, has never been slower, averaging a tick under 91 mph last season and, most nights, refusing to climb out of the high 80s. Despite all of that, though, that Season of Doom resulted in a 2.73 ERA, 142 ERA+ and 155 strikeouts, and Kershaw still possesses some of the best breaking stuff in the game. — JT
The Big Number: 42.3% | Per Fangraphs, Kershaw’s slider usage reached an all-time high last year: He threw it more than any other pitch, including his fastball. Clearly trying to compensate for the four-seamer’s drop in effectiveness, the veteran lefty now leans on his slider.
26. Carlos Carrasco
He’s the most underappreciated pitcher in the majors. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2015, Carlos Carrasco has a 3.40 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 3.03 xFIP and 28.2% strikeout rate. And yet, he’s been in the top-five in AL Cy Young voting once in his career. He’s a staff ace for probably 25 teams in the majors, but he’s teammates with Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. Don’t let that obscure his talent, though. He’s every bit a legitimate ace. — MB
The Big Number: 22.6% | The difference between Carrasco’s strikeout and walk rates since 2015. It’s the sixth-widest gap in that time.
25. Joey Votto
Joey Votto will play this season at 35 years old, and pundits will be quick to cite age as soon as he goes 0-for-4, but don’t believe it. He is such a brilliant student of hitting—in 2012, SI’s Tom Verducci informed him that he had pulled one ball into the stands his entire career to that point and Votto remembered it—that he will postpone decline. — SA
The Big Number: 0 | Infield fly balls hit by Votto last year. The year before, he hit one. The year before that, zero. You get the idea. Votto can control the bat.
24. Aaron Nola
It is a joy to waste time on Baseball Reference, but there's a real mission to the website: It's hard to think of any publication that has done more to enhance popular understanding of baseball. But when it comes to Aaron Nola and WAR, Baseball Reference is wrong, dead wrong, as wrong as the movie critics who praised The Favourite. He had 10.5 bWAR from pitching in 2018! 10.5! The 12th-best pure pitching season of the expansion era!
Here is why this is insane: B-Ref calculates its pitcher WARs, in part, by adjusting for the defense's overall performance; Fangraphs uses FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which removes the defense from the equation altogether. The Phillies fielded an awful defense overall, which earned Nola a healthy adjustment from B-Ref, but the Phillies weren't bad when Nola played. They turned only 69.4% of batted balls into outs in general, but they turned 74.6% of batted balls into outs behind Nola. In conclusion, don't trust Aaron Nola's bWAR. Oh, by the way, he's a very good pitcher. — JD
The Big Number: .257 | Nola's xWOBA last year—that's the Statcast metric for how opposing hitters should have fared against him based on quality of contact, walks and strikeouts. It was sixth-best among starters, trailing only Sale, Verlander, deGrom, Scherzer, and Walker Buehler.
23. Lorenzo Cain
Why did baseball sleep on Lorenzo Cain? He does everything: he hits; he fields; he runs. He always has. Cain reached free agency at age 31 after the 2017 season—one in which he produced 5.3 bWAR for the Royals; he averaged 5.0 bWAR annually over the three seasons preceding that one—but didn’t sign with Milwaukee until late in January ’18, for a below-market five years and $80 million. If anyone was surprised that he finished seventh in the NL MVP voting, and along with Christian Yelich powered the Brew Crew to their first division crown since 2011, they shouldn’t have been. — JD
The Big Number: 11.5% | Cain’s walk rate in 2018, which was the best of his career. His walk rate has improved for four straight seasons, while his strikeout rate has fallen each of the last two.
22. Anthony Rendon
You probably haven’t thought much about Anthony Rendon lately. Amid the Nationals’ recent collection of talent like Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer and Juan Soto and Stephen Strasburg, Rendon can be overlooked, quiet as he is—literally. But even if he doesn’t seek the limelight, Rendon deserves some shine as one of the most productive third basemen in the league. Last season, he led the NL in doubles with 44, cranked out 24 homers, posted a 137 OPS+, and put up 4.2 bWAR. Only two other regular third basemen put up similar seasons in 2018: Matt Chapman and Alex Bregman, both MVP candidates. Rendon is the elite of the elite. You won’t hear him bragging about it, but feel free to shout it from the rooftops for him. He deserves it. — JT
The Big Number: 5.8% | Rendon’s approach at the plate changed substantially last year, as he swung far more often both inside and outside the strike zone (and suffered a slight dip in walk rate to go with it). Amazingly, his swinging-strike rate barely moved, going from 5.1% in 2017 to 5.8% in ’18, and testament to Rendon’s terrific ability to make consistent contact.
21. Matt Chapman
Matt Chapman’s defensive highlights are not most impressive for his arm, or his range, or his quick reflexes. No, they’re most impressive for their variety—Chapman’s defensive performance includes all of the above and more. It’s difficult to identify an individual standout skill here, because the third baseman is just that well-rounded. Swiveling out of a tight spin move to nail a throw across the diamond? Making a perfectly timed acrobatic leap to snare a ball down the line? Charging in with notable speed and soft hands to spoil a well-placed bunt? Yep. It’s all here, and, somehow, Chapman makes it all look effortless. After a strong showing at the plate in his rookie season in 2017, he took another step forward in 2018. His 136 OPS+ put him in a talented group—on a list of last year’s most productive third basemen, look for him between Anthony Rendon and Nolan Arenado (his former high school teammate)—as he cut down on strikeouts and added some power. — EB
The Big Number: 29 | Defensive runs saved in 2018—more than any other player in baseball. Only nine other third basemen have ever posted a higher number. If Chapman can finish another season with such a high DRS, he’ll become just the second third baseman to be able to repeat this kind of defensive performance, joining Brooks Robinson.
20. Bryce Harper
Like a ship bobbing amid storm waters, Bryce Harper’s career has risen and fallen in sporadic bursts: His 2015 NL MVP season was one of the greatest performances in modern baseball history; the subsequent year, he was slightly better than Eddie Rosario. In 2017, he was cruising toward an MVP before being derailed by freak injury. Harper hits towering home runs and possesses the kind of plate patience that would make Barry Bonds jealous, but his game is marred by inexplicably iffy defense and a nasty tendency to fall into slumps pocked with strikeouts and endless grounders to the right side. Consider his single-season bWAR totals since 2013: 1.1, 10.0, 1.5, 4.7, 1.3. That’s a Ted Williams in his prime, a half-season of Mike Trout, and three years where Harper was basically worth as much as your average fourth starter. How do you make sense of that?
Ultimately, it’s worth remembering that Harper is still—still!—just 26 years old. He’s six months younger than Aaron Judge, almost a year younger than Trout, three years younger than Giancarlo Stanton—and yet he already has more career plate appearances than Trea Turner and Alex Bregman combined. He’s on a Hall of Fame track even with the weird blips and erratic skids that have marked his career. And the talent that made him a No. 1 draft pick and an MVP is still there, just waiting for some team to come to its senses and pay him for it. — JT
The Big Number: .350 | After two years of seeing shifts roughly a fifth of the time, teams suddenly went wild stacking infielders against him: He saw a shift in 51.6% of his plate appearances in 2018. The results weren’t pretty, as Harper’s weighted on-base average was a mere .350 against the shift versus .404 without it.
19. Freddie Freeman
While Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr. shined in their emergence with the Braves last season, perennially underrated first baseman Freddie Freeman remained, well, just that. Around the game, first base no longer harbors a lengthy number of household names with the decline of Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, among others. Freeman, though, continues to remind us why he shouldn't go unnoticed and remains one of the few elite hitters at first base. It wouldn’t at all surprise if he chased down his first MVP after a fourth-place finish in 2018. — CG
The Big Number: 162 | Let’s keep it simple. In an era of pitch counts and planned days off, teams have never taken more precautions than they do now. That’s why it is ever more impressive anyone plays all 162 games. Freeman was one of seven to do it last season.
18. J.D. Martinez
J.D. Martinez slashed .330 (second in the AL)/.402 (third)/.629 (second) last year, led the league in total bases and became the first player in history to win two Silver Slugger awards in the same year. For some reason, the voters gave him the honor as a DH (his position) and an outfielder (not his position anymore). It’s that last issue that keeps him this low—his value is hurt because he doesn’t play the field.
But if you were drafting a real-life team, you would want Martinez higher than this. A hitting savant who has been known to stand in his underwear an hour after a playoff game simulating swings with anyone who will listen, Martinez had an unquantifiable effect on his teammates and draws rave reviews from AL MVP Mookie Betts. Nearly everyone worked with the Boston's “third hitting coach,” as he called himself, at some point last seasn. — SA
The Big Number: 876 | Runs scored by the Red Sox last year, most in baseball. At the risk of oversimplifying things: A nearly identical lineup, minus Martinez, scored 785 (10th) in 2017.
17. Kris Bryant
Higher than you were expecting? That’s fair. It’s also fair for us to give a pass to a guy who’s known nothing but extreme success before a left shoulder injury sapped his power and wrecked his 2018 season. Bryant is fully healthy and likely to return to his prior career trajectory. Now in his age-27 season, he’s a former MVP in his physical prime with defensive versatility, baserunning expertise, and uncanny ability to avoid grounding into double plays (23 in his MLB career). — MB
The Big Number: .983 | Bryant’s OPS on the day he hurt his shoulder. That would’ve been the fifth-highest OPS in 2018.
16. Paul Goldschmidt
The top first baseman in baseball has quite possibly been the best player in the National League since 2013. Four times since then he’s finished in the top six of the MVP vote, slashing .301/.406/.541 in that window. He’s third in slugging percentage and second in on-base percentage while compiling the top WAR in the league between 2013-2018. For good reason, he’ll be seeking a sizable contract as a free agent next winter. — CG
The Big Number: 51 | Through 51 games Goldschmidt was on pace for a horrendous season—relative to his elite standard—batting .201 with a .319 on-base clip and six home runs. From that point he reverted back to his superstar form, wielding a .330 average and 1.022 OPS over the next 107 games to finish with season totals that shield his awful start.
15. Jose Altuve
The 2017 AL MVP spent most of the 2018 season battling a knee injury yet slashed .316/.386/.451 over 137 games. He even earned some down-ballot MVP votes and still won the Silver Slugger award. Even hobbled, Altuve is the consummate threat at the plate: a masterful all-fields hitter with plus power and 30-steals speed who stabilizes the most terrifying offense in Major League Baseball. —GB
The Big Number: 33.6% | Altuve battled a knee injury for almost the entire year, but logged a 33.6% hard-hit rate—5.6% higher than his MVP season. He also recorded the highest walk rate (9.2%) of his career. He may have been hurt, but Altuve somehow improved his pitch identification after a season when he hit .346.
14. Christian Yelich
In the second half of 2018, Christian Yelich’s precocious contact skills and batting eye blossomed into a refined approach. With a ridiculous 67 RBIs and 25 homers after the All-Star break, Yelich earned his first MVP award and plenty of admiration from around the league. Much like Alex Bregman, Yelich could easily be in the top 10 if he stays at an MVP-level for all of 2019. Right now, he remains a tier below Francisco Lindor and Mookie Betts. — TJ
The Big Number: 21 | In just 242 plate appearances, Yelich clubbed 21 home runs in August and September. That’s a home run in every 8.6 plate appearances. Pretty, pretty good.
13. Manny Machado
Manny Machado deserves his $300 million payday. He bounced back from a disappointing 2017 with his best offensive season, even with a midseason trade to the NL. He set career highs in batting average and OPS+ in 2018. If anything, Machado’s lengthy free agency was a testament to his value: the consistency he’s shown makes him arguably a better “franchise cornerstone” than anyone on the market. He’s been more consistent than Harper throughout his career, and the Padres will get to take advantage of his prime. — TJ
The Big Number: 91.6 | Machado had his best season at the plate in 2018, helped by his career-high exit velocity of 91.6 mph.
12. Alex Bregman
Here is the list of the last 12 men to produce 30-homer seasons while walking more than striking out, under 25 years old: Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Johnny Bench, Don Mattingly, Frank Thomas, Gary Sheffield, Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Pujols, Alex Bregman. Nice company, huh? Power plus contact plus plate discipline—it’s a formula for a Hall of Fame career. — JD
The Big Number: 4.3% | Bregman swung and missed on only that small sliver of the pitches he saw in 2018, second-best in baseball to his new teammate, Michael Brantley, who had about half of Bregman’s power numbers.
11. Justin Verlander
Is there any other 36-year-old in baseball you feel more confident in than Justin Verlander? His post-Astros trade resurgence continued in 2018 as he led all of baseball in WHIP and the American League in strikeouts. This is a good time to remind you that his MVP-Cy Young season was eight years ago. Nearly a decade later he remains one of baseball’s elite arms, so it’s only natural for the conversation to shift to Verlander’s Hall of Fame candidacy. With 300 wins fading as the benchmark for all-time pitchers and Verlander hinting that he might try to play until he’s 45, he seems well on his way to Cooperstown as a defining arm of this era. — CG
The Big Number: 95.4 | As Verlander leans on his fastball more and more, he’s recaptured the velocity to make it his signature pitch once again. He averaged 95.4 mph on his fastball, which aside from 2017, is the top average velocity on his fastball since his marquee 2011 season.
10. Aaron Judge
Aaron Judge was on pace to replicate his stunning rookie season before missing almost two months with a broken right wrist. Wrist damage can sap players of their power, and Judge hit only one home run in 51 regular-season plate appearances after returning. But then October hit, and so did he: dingers in each of his first three playoff games, all with exit velocities of 108.8 mph or higher. He has reportedly been launching balls in his spring-training batting practice. Look out. — SA
The Big Number: 54.1% | More than half the balls off Judge’s bat took off at 95 mph or above, best in baseball.
9. Corey Kluber
The people call him “Klubot” for his stolid disposition regardless of circumstance, but it’s an apt moniker for the Indians ace’s production as well. In each of the last five seasons, Corey Kluber has pitched 200 innings or more and never posted an ERA above 3.50. He has, for one season or another, led baseball in each of the following: ERA, ERA+, WHIP, K/BB, wins, games started, shutouts. If baseball’s rise of the machines will look anything like a league full of The Klubot, hitters should be terrified, and fans should be thrilled. — EB
The Big Number: .103 | In 2018, that was opponents' average on Kluber’s breaking ball, which serves as his out pitch, with good reason. (It’s alternately been classified as a slider, curve, and slurve—whatever you call it, the pitch is nasty.)
8. Nolan Arenado
I know there are only seven spots better than eighth in a rankings list and that people like Mike Trout and Mookie Betts exist, but this feels low for one of the surest things in Major League Baseball. Wind Nolan Arenado up in March, let him go, and you’re bound to get 40 homers, 130 RBI and a 130 OPS+, all with Gold Glove defense at third base. Oh, right, he’s also played at least 156 games in each of the last four seasons. Arenado is a set-it-and-forget-it superstar. — MB
The Big Number: .931 | Arenado’s OPS over the last four seasons, good for eighth best in the majors.
7. Jacob deGrom
The Book of Judges tells the story of Samson, who derives his great strength from his locks until they are shorn by his lover, Delilah. After the 2017 season, Jacob deGrom, at the time known just as much for his big hair as his big fastball, asked team captain David Wright to chop it all off. “Honestly, I don’t really know why I cut it,” he said. “I was just kind of tired of it.” He went on to have the best season for any pitcher, by Fangraphs WAR, since 2004. He held opposing hitters to a .521 OPS and managed to convince all but one of the NL Cy Young voters that he deserved the trophy, despite the Mets going 14–18 in his starts. Move over, Richard Dawkins—that’s how you rebut scripture. — JD
The Big Number: 28% | The percentage of runners that scored from third when there were less than two out. It was the best figure for any qualified starter; nearly half of the league average (51%).
6. Chris Sale
Is Chris Sale on a path to becoming the best pitcher to never win a Cy Young? He has already compiled an epic career: his 1,789 strikeouts before age 30 are 579 more than Bob Gibson achieved at that age in just 34 more innings. For all the injury concerns about his violent arm motion, he has never started fewer than 26 games in a season and had 30 starts in 2018 when including the playoffs. His slider is borderline unhittable, his strikeout numbers keep increasing in the pitching environment, and he has the best stuff of any pitcher in the American League.
The thing about Sale is he just keeps getting better (and rising up this list). In 2018 he reduced his home run rate from 1.01 HR/9 to 0.63 and posted his highest groundball rate since 2013. Maybe he'll finally take home baseball's top pitching award in 2019. — TJ
The Big Number: 48 | Chris Sale’s 48 FIP means he is about 52 percentage points better than the average major league pitcher. Also, it would’ve been No. 1 in baseball, just ahead of Jacob DeGrom at 49, if he had qualified on the leaderboards.
5. José Ramírez
Quick: Name the only three position players from the last two seasons to accumulate a total of more than 14 WAR. Mike Trout. (Duh.) Mookie Betts. (Makes sense.) And… José Ramírez? Yep. If you’re caught a bit off guard by that one, you are forgiven. It wasn’t so long ago, after all, that everyone was wondering if the undersized infielder could repeat his breakout 2016. It seemed unthinkable that he’d only be skyrocketing past that performance. For two consecutive seasons, he’s finished in third place for AL MVP, with similar levels of stellar offensive production. (145 OPS+ in 2017, 150 in 2018.) He doubled his previous career walk percentage, finishing the season with more free passes than strikeouts for the first time ever. He cut back on groundballs, lifted the ball more, and set a personal best for home runs with 34. Ramírez may seem like he’s at the top of his game, but he’s clearly still cultivating his potential—fair enough for him, as he’s only just turned 26. — EB
The Big Number: 30 | In September, Ramírez became the first player in six years to join the 30-30 Club. (Two weeks later, he was joined by Mookie Betts.) Don’t be surprised if he’s a repeat entrant.
4. Francisco Lindor
Francisco Lindor is fascinating because his stats are as dazzling as his smile, but he seems to compile them in a different way each year. In the minor leagues, he was considered a glove-first prospect who could hit for average and moderate power. As a slap-hitting rookie in 2015, he hit .313 and led the league in sacrifice bunts (13). The next year he slugged even worse but played even better defense. In ’17 he sacrificed some contact (.273) and lost a step in the field but hit 33 home runs, the most by a shortstop in a decade. And then last season he set career highs in home runs (38), walks (70) and stolen bases (25), while producing his second-best defensive WAR (2.5). Who will Lindor be this year? We have no idea, but we’re pretty sure he’ll be a joy to watch. — SA
The Big Number: .931 | Lindor’s OPS his first time facing a starting pitcher, 19th in baseball and tops among full-time leadoff men. Whereas most hitters begin to prey on pitchers as they tire, Lindor ambushes them: His nine home runs to open games were most in the majors.
3. Max Scherzer
There is no doubt that Max Scherzer is the top pitcher in today’s game. He narrowly missed out on winning his third straight Cy Young Award last season after leading baseball in innings and strikeouts while topping the National League in a number of peripheral categories. His remarkable body of work includes 10 straight seasons of 30-plus starts and seven consecutive years with 230 or more strikeouts. Using WAR as the barometer, Scherzer’s been baseball’s best pitcher since joining the Nationals in 2015. With his 35th birthday on the horizon and no sign of slowing down, each passing year elevates his Hall of Fame case higher and higher. — CG
The Big Number: .192 | Opponents have hit .192 against Scherzer since he joined the Nationals in 2015. The next closest pitcher, Rich Hill, has yielded a .201 average against in that timeframe.
2. Mookie Betts
“Last year could be arguably the best year I have in my career,” Mookie Betts told WEEI in August 2017. “When am I going to hit 30 home runs again? I don’t know if I ever will. When am I ever going to hit .320 again? I don’t know if I ever will.”
Fortunately for the Red Sox, Betts is a better player than he is a prognosticator. There is no case for anyone other than Mike Trout at No. 1—true, Betts’s 2018 was the best season either has had, but Trout has displayed more consistent excellence—but there is also no case for anyone other than Betts at No. 2. He tore through the league last year, eventually finishing with a 10.9 WAR and the 21st-best season of all time. He became the first player in history to win the World Series as well as the AL MVP, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. He turned 26 in October and he has little injury history (a concussion in 2015, a strained left abdominal muscle in ’18), making him a good bet to star this year, too. Oh, and for the record, in 2018 he hit 32 home runs with a .346 average. — SA
The Big Number: .989 | Betts’s OPS in 0–2 counts. League average was .384! Only three other players—Mike Trout (1.088), J.D. Martinez (1.031) and Christian Yelich (1.000) had better marks than Betts’s 0–2 OPS for their full season.
1. Mike Trout
By its very definition, suspense requires a degree of uncertainty—a feeling that what you know may not be true, or that what you don’t believe may suddenly make itself reality. But in making a list of MLB’s top 100 players, it’s impossible to create any drama as to who stands atop the mountain, because you, the wise reader, already knew who it was before you came here. For as long as he’s active and healthy, Mike Trout is the king of kings. That’s true even as his AL compatriots keep successfully snatching his MVP chain, though you can make an easy case that Trout should be polishing his sixth trophy in seven years.
Forget about how the writers treat Trout and the pulsating misery that is watching him waste baseball's greatest individual seasons on a mediocre Angels team. Consider instead the awe-inspiring fact that Trout—already the best player in the world—might actually be getting better. Last season, Trout set career highs in on-base percentage (.460, his third straight year above .440), home runs (39), walks (122) and OPS+ (199) and came within a smidge of doing the same in bWAR (10.2, against 10.5, which he’s already done twice)—and he did that despite missing 22 games with a thumb injury. There are no holes in Trout’s game, no way to attack him, no flaws that present themselves. He is the dictionary definition of The Best of The Best of The Best. Long may he reign. — JT
The Big Number: 64.3 | Just how impressive is Trout’s career WAR total of 64.3? It’s better than 84 Hall of Fame hitters, including Jackie Robinson, Mike Piazza, Vladimir Guerrero, Yogi Berra, Hank Greenberg, and Lou Brock. If Trout stays healthy and does his usual thing this season, he’ll pass Willie McCovey, Craig Biggio, Robbie Alomar, Ernie Banks, Edgar Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez, Tony Gwynn, Tim Raines, Gary Carter, Jim Thome, and 2020 inductee Derek Jeter—and, more likely than not, Zack Greinke, Robinson Cano, and Miguel Cabrera. By the time the dust settles on the 2019 season, there will probably be only one active player with more career WAR than Trout: Albert Pujols. This is the point where I remind you that Trout won’t turn 28 until August.