MLB Power Rankings: Unsung Heroes Fueling Baseball's Best Teams

The Cubs best player has been ... Ian Happ?
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The season is a mere three weeks old, but in this year unlike any other, that constitutes roughly 33% of the regular season calendar. As we reach this milestone, let’s take a moment to acknowledge each team’s unsung hero so far, keying in on the non-headliners from each club that have played integral roles to this point.

Unranked: St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals haven’t played since July 29. They might resume their season this weekend, pending COVID-19 test results.

29. Pittsburgh Pirates (Last Week: 30)

Third baseman Phillip Evans has been a bright spot in a hapless Pittsburgh offense, batting .359/.444/.487 through 45 plate appearances. He spent all of 2019 at Triple A with the Cubs organization before signing a minor-league deal with Pittsburgh during the offseason.

28. Seattle Mariners (Last Week: 28)

After batting .206/.302/.389 in 113 games last year, Dylan Moore has been the Mariners’ best hitter so far based on wRC+. He leads the team with four stolen bases while seeing time at five different positions.

27. San Francisco Giants (Last Week: 22)

The breakout of 32-year-old infielder Donovan Solano has been something to behold. "Donnie Barrels" is batting .458 with a league-leading nine doubles. His batting average will regress, but maybe not as much as you think—his consistent hard contact has earned him a .341 expected batting average, according to Statcast.

26. Boston Red Sox (Last Week: 24)

Relief pitcher Phillips Valdez spent more than 10 years in the minors before finally making his big-league debut with the Rangers in 2019. He put up a 3.94 ERA in 11 games and was claimed off waivers by Seattle before landing with the Red Sox in February. Valdez has been the most effective pitcher in a beleaguered Boston bullpen, posting a 0.73 ERA over 12 1/3 innings through seven games.

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Merrill Kellyerri pitches against the Padres on Aug. 8.

25. Arizona Diamondbacks (Last Week: 23)

The Diamondbacks’ hopes were hinging on a trio of starters—Madison Bumgarner, Robbie Ray and Luke Weaver—who have been complete duds so far. One bright spot has been 31-year-old Merrill Kelly. He has a 2.29 ERA with just one walk in 19 2/3 innings.

24. Kansas City Royals (Last Week: 29)

Maikel Franco isn't a hot prospect on the Phillies anymore, but he's been a productive presence in Kansas City. He still strikes out too much and doesn’t walk enough, but he’s making plenty of hard contact with the Royals, boasting 11 extra-base hits in 19 games.

23. Detroit Tigers (Last Week: 27)

Through the first four years of his career, Tigers outfielder JaCoby Jones batted .211/.276/.369, earning his keep mostly due to his speed and positional flexibility. This year, he’s tapped in to a previously dormant hit tool, ranking third in the AL in slugging percentage (.717) behind only Aaron Judge and Mike Trout. Pretty good company.

22. Toronto Blue Jays (Last Week: 19)

Travis Shaw was non-tendered by the Brewers this offseason after an abysmal 2019. He’s looked more like his old self after signing a one-year deal with Toronto, batting .267/.353/.500 through his first 34 plate appearances.

21. Los Angeles Angels (Last Week: 20)

In a star-studded lineup featuring Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani, it’s the versatile David Fletcher that’s quietly become a cornerstone. Fletcher ranks first or second on the team in runs, hits, doubles, walks, stolen bases and WAR, while having the highest contact rate in the American League.

20. Texas Rangers (Last Week: 25)

The Rangers are winners of five of their last six games, and their bullpen has been outstanding during that stretch. Texas relievers have a 2.84 ERA and three wins in 25 1/3 innings since Aug. 7. Right-hander Jonathan Hernandez has led the charge, pitching 4 1/3 scoreless frames in that span. The 24-year-old Hernandez is 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 11 innings this season.

Tommy Milone pitches against the Nationals.

19. Baltimore Orioles (Last Week: 26)

The upstart, playoff-position-holding Orioles have plenty of unsung heroes, but we’ll use this space to highlight Tommy Milone. Milone posted a 5.67 ERA pitching for five different teams over the past four seasons before landing in Baltimore on a minor league deal. He has a 3.21 ERA with 16 strikeouts through three starts.

18. Miami Marlins (Last Week: 21)

Pablo López and Elieser Hernández both logged ERAs over 5.00 as members of Miami’s rotation last year, but they’ve allowed just five earned runs in four combined starts spanning 19 2/3 innings this season. Both young Venezuelans have averaged more than a strikeout per inning while exhibiting decent control, too, hinting they may find sustained success in the bigs.

17. Milwaukee Brewers (Last Week: 17)

It's not a good sign for the Brew Crew that 33-year-old backup catcher Manny Piña leads the team’s hitters in win probability added (0.61). With fellow backstop Omar Narvaez, who’s ostensibly a bat-first catcher, struggling badly at the plate, Piña’s bat merits a larger chunk of playing time. 

16. Philadelphia Phillies (Last Week: 16)

Both Philadelphia’s offense and pitching staff have been led by the usual suspects: Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. But 31-year-old utility man Phil Gosselin (.429/.520/.810 in 25 plate appearances) has provided an unexpected spark since kicking off the season with a two-homer game against the Marlins. 

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15. New York Mets (Last Week: 18)

Rookie starter David Peterson has been a godsend for New York’s rotation while Steven Matz, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha have struggled so far. With a team-leading three wins and a 2.91 ERA in four starts spanning 21.2 innings, he’s nearly matched Jacob deGrom in terms of surface-level stats.

14. Cincinnati Reds (Last Week: 15)

As the Reds bullpen has crumbled around him, former Braves first-round pick Lucas Sims has stepped up with 13 strikeouts and a .097 opponents batting average in 9.1 innings. 

13. Washington Nationals (Last Week: 9)

It’s easy to be overlooked when you’re in the back half of Washington’s rotation, but Austin Voth has provided quality innings for the Nationals to the tune of a 3.21 ERA in three starts despite getting little run support.

12. Chicago White Sox (Last Week: 12)

While the White Sox bullpen deserves recognition—Chicago relievers rank seventh in total innings pitched and sixth in fWAR—the team’s biggest unsung hero is utility man Leury García. García filled in at shortstop while Tim Anderson was on the injured list, and hit .306/.342/.417 in the nine games Anderson missed.

11. Cleveland Indians (Last Week: 10)

That Cleveland has a winning record while hitting .195/.303/.293 as a team is a testament to how dominant the pitching staff has been. Setup man James Karinchak has been perhaps the most dominant relief pitcher in the league, striking out 17 of 33 batters faced while allowing one run in 8 2/3 innings. His performance has helped offset a slow start from Brad Hand, who’s allowed four runs in 4 2/3 frames.

10. Houston Astros (Last Week: 6)

With some of Houston’s headliners still struggling, it’s good to get production out of the catcher position. Martín Maldonado has a .370 on-base percentage thanks to an 18.2% walk rate, while playing his usual strong defense.

9. San Diego Padres (Last Week: 13)

Jake Cronenworth was widely considered to be a throw-in for San Diego in the Tommy Pham trade, but his excellent bat skills have forced Padres manager Jayce Tingler to find him playing time. The 26-year-old rookie has four doubles, two triples and two home runs with just six strikeouts in 40 plate appearances. The only Padre with a higher OPS (1.016) is Fernando Tatis Jr.

8. Atlanta Braves (Last Week: 7)

The Braves have lost a full rotation’s worth of starters to either injury (Mike Soroka, Cole Hamels), the team's alternate site (Sean Newcomb, Mike Foltynewicz) or a player’s choice to sit out the season (Felix Hernandez). The bullpen has had to pick up the slack. Swingman Josh Tomlin leads Braves relievers with 11 1/3 innings pitched and didn’t give up an earned until Wednesday against the Yankees.

7. Colorado Rockies (Last Week: 8)

Garrett Hampson has reached base and scored a run in all 10 of his starts this season while moving between second base, center and left field. After going 7-for-16 in a series against Arizona this week, his .966 OPS ranks behind only Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story on the Rockies.

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6. Tampa Bay Rays (Last Week: 11)

Tampa has won six straight, and the bats have woken up in a big way to lead the surge. An underrated contributor has been shortstop Willy Adames. The 24-year-old is batting .286/.375/.482 so far, though he’ll need to cut down his 32.8% strikeout rate to sustain that success.

5. Oakland Athletics (Last Week: 5)

Robbie Grossman is hitting the ball harder than he ever has before. He's posting a career-low 15.5% strikeout rate, batting .311/.466/.600 with three homers and four stolen bases in 58 plate appearances. 

Byron Buxton homers against the Brewers.

4. Minnesota Twins (Last Week: 3)

The Twins have lost five of their last seven and drop a spot as a result, but a bright spot during that slide has been the breakout of Byron Buxton’s bat. In such a loaded lineup, it can be easy to overlook the former No. 2 overall pick. But Buxton has hit .390 in his last seven games with five home runs.

3. Chicago Cubs (Last Week: 4)

Ian Happ wasn’t on the big-league roster for Chicago’s 2016 World Series title, but he may be a key part of the next one. The 26-year-old has stolen the starting center field job from Albert Almora Jr. and ran with it, leading Chicago’s qualified hitters in batting average (.326), on-base percentage (.456), OPS (1.065) and win probability added (0.54). Perhaps he should be hitting leadoff instead of Kris Bryant, who’s struggled in that role so far.

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2. New York Yankees (Last Week: 2)

Chad Green was excellent out of the bullpen from 2017-18, posting a 2.18 ERA over 144 2/3 innings. He split time as a starter and reliever last season to more mixed results, with a 4.17 ERA in 69 frames. He’s back to his previous role in 2020, and back to his dominant ways, striking out 15 batters in 11 innings with no homers allowed.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (Last Week: 1)

The Dodgers have the payroll to compete with anybody, but their ability to construct a low-cost bullpen full of cheap youngsters and reclamation projects is key to their success. The unit is on record pace with a 1.20 ERA, nearly a full run better than second-place Oakland. Rockies castoff Jake McGee, Scott Alexander, Dylan Floro and Adam Kolarek have combined for 26 innings and a lone unearned run.

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