By In Stuff

Top 5 Hitters and Pitchers

Bob Dutton, the Mariners beat writer for the Tacoma paper, knows how to send me down rabbit holes. On Tuesday, I went to Seattle’s spring training spot in Peoria to report something I’m writing about the amazing Felix Hernandez and, well, a couple of things happened. The first thing that happened was that I met one of my childhood heroes, Rick Waits. He is now the pitching coach for the Mariners, but longtime readers here might remember that he was also the focus of annual spring arguments I would have with my father.

My side of the argument: This is the year Rick Waits wins the Cy Young Award.

Dad’s side of the argument: No. It isn’t.

As Megamind says, he won some of the arguments, I almost won others. But I’m happy to say that Rick Waits is a fantastic guy, which is all you could ever want from your heroes. In my life as a sportswriter I’ve met just about every one of my childhood heroes — Duane Kuiper, of course, Rick Manning, Buddy Bell, Andre Thornton, Rick Waits, Ozzie Newsome, Greg Pruitt, Doug Dieken, Dave Logan, Austin Carr, Jim Chones — and they are all fantastic people. This is the one advantage of growing up dying with losing teams. There’s a pretty good shot that the players are good guys.

The other thing that happened was that Bob Dutton sent me down another rabbit hole. I’m pretty sure he does this on purpose but it’s also possible that I’m just a lunatic.

This time, he made a simple statement: The Seattle Mariners seem to be the only team in baseball that has a Top 5 pitcher (King Felix, of course) and a Top 5 player(Robinson Cano). When dealing with a normal person, this would be like a five-minute conversation. But Bob knows I’m not normal, and I’m pretty sure he knew that when he said it I immediately had to go to Baseball Reference and make lists and start spreadsheets and … well, I might as well write a little something about it so that my whole afternoon wasn’t just wasted.

Picking the Top 5 players and Top 5 pitchers in baseball is, of course, about as ridiculous as trying to pick the Top 100 players in baseball history.* But I did it anyway.

*Yes, I’ll be posting No. 40 shortly. Really.

Here are are my five choices if there was a draft just for the 2015 seasons:

Top 5 players
1. Mike Trout, Angels
2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
3. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
4. Robinson Cano, Mariners
5. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

Top 5 pitchers
1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
3. Chris Sale, White Sox
4. Max Scherzer, Nationals
5. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals

So, yes, the Mariners are the only team with players on each of my lists. But, of course it isn’t that simple.

With my Oscars predictions this year, I added a feature called Certainty Score. That was a score, from 1 to 10, that expressed just how confident I was with each prediction. And it worked pretty well — all of the predictions where I scored a 10, meaning I was really confident, I was right.

In a way, I think you can do this certainly score with anything. For instance, I am pretty certain that Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Chris Sale (assuming they don’t get hurt) will be among the top 5 pitchers in baseball this year. With Max Scherzer — not as much. With Adam Wainwright — not as much. It’s not a knock on them, it’s just that there are a lot of terrific pitchers in baseball and for me they fit more in the pack with guys like Johnny Cueto and Yu Darvish and Jordan Zimmermann and David Price and Corey Kluber and Madison Bumgarner and others.

If someone said to me that Cole Hamels or Doug Fister would have a better year than Adam Wainwright, I would not argue. I would shrug and say that was certainly possible.

Same thing goes with hitters. I feel really confident that Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen are a cut above, but could Jose Abreu be a Top 5 player? You bet he could — I already regret not putting him on my list ahead of Stanton. Buster Posey? Jose Bautista? Troy Tulowitzki? Michael Brantley? David Wright? Alex Gordon? Dustin Pedroia? I’d say all of them and others could be Top 5 players.

So, here are the teams that MIGHT have a Top 5 hitter and Top 5 pitcher in 2015:

1. Seattle: Cano and King Felix.
— I think Bob Dutton’s larger point is that Robinson Cano is absurdly good; there really aren’t many players in baseball you’d take before him. That can get lost. Cano’s home runs were down a bit last year, but he hit .314. The year before he hit .314. The year before that he hit .313. He’ll give you 60-some walks, 40 doubles, super defense at second and he will finish Top 5 in the MVP voting. He’s about as consistent as King Felix … and I’ll have a lot to say about Hernandez soon.

2. Chicago: Jose Abreu and Chris Sale
— With Abreu we only have one Major League season to go on but, man, the guy hit .317/.383/.581, led the league in slugging and OPS+. What a masher.

3. San Francisco: Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner
— Nobody can look at Bumgarner clearly these days, not after that supernatural postseason performance, particularly in the World Series. He’s ascended into legend status. But, in truth, he has not yet had a season where he was one of the five best pitchers in the game. And, we probably should how it was for Cole Hamels in 2008 after he had that absurd postseason; he’s had ups and downs since then. I don’t think you can call Bumgarner a Top 5 pitcher yet, but he certainly could be by year end. Posey is just consistent

4. St. Louis: Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright
— Is Yadi Molina the greatest defensive catcher in baseball history? And if he is — what does that mean? Does that make him one of the five most important players in baseball no matter what he hits? The Cardinals certainly think so. As for Wainwright, lately we’ve had a spate of superb starting pitchers — legitimate Hall of Fame candidates — who never won a Cy Young Award. There’s Jack Morris, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Andy Pettitte … and you have to wonder if Wainwright will fall into that group. Poor guy has finished Top 3 four time and lost to Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw twice.

5. Detroit: Miguel Cabrera and David Price.
— The Tigers should probably be higher on the list but Cabrera began to show just a hint of age and while I love Price, I just don’t see him quite in the Top 5 category. But that’s just my opinion. At the end of the year, I could admit that I was dead wrong.

6. Cleveland: Michael Brantley and Corey Kluber.
— There’s no telling if they can repeat, but they were both pretty close to Top 5 players in 2014. Kluber definitely was a Top 5 pitcher, and Brantley, well, he had a sensational season. He was the only player in the American League to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases. That’s probably not the most telling statistic about Brantley’s amazing season, but I’ve always liked those power/speed numbers. Brantley is a great story because of the way he just gets better every season.

7. Florida: Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez
— This is a little bit of a reach because Fernandez is coming off Tommy John surgery, and you just don’t ever know how that will work out. But he was so good ridiculously before the injury.

8. Washington: Anthony Rendon and Max Scherzer.
— The thing about Washington is that they have multiple candidates at hitter and pitcher. It’s possible that Rendon won’t be a Top 5 player but Bryce Harper will step up into that realm. It’s possible that Max Scherzer will have a down year but Stephen Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann could emerge as Top 5 pitchers instead. The Nationals are absurdly deep. So far, though, that hasn’t meant much in October.

9. Texas: Adrian Beltre and Yu Darvish
— OK, so when Adrian Beltre finished his Age 30 season, his career batting average was .270. He’d hit .300 one time in his career, and that was his crazy 2004 Dodgers season that everyone was writing off as a fluke. His batting average the last five seasons? Yeah: .316. He’s slugging .535. A huge part of the dramatic improvement involves the ballparks where he’s playing, but the point is that Adrian Beltre iis still a tremendous player. It’s obviously a stretch to call Darvish a Top 5 pitcher, but he does strike out 11 per nine innings and when right he’s just about unhittable.

10. Dodgers: Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw.
— Love Puig. Can’t see him as a Top 5 player but love the guy.]

Also receiving votes: Cincinnati (Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto); Pittsburgh (Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole — I thought I had this on the list originally but did not); Chicago Cubs (Kris Bryant and Jon Lester … and yes, I’m jumping the gun on Bryant, I don’t care); New York Yankees (Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia — but only if you can get a hot tub time machine).

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37 Responses to Top 5 Hitters and Pitchers

  1. Jake Bucsko says:

    Not even an honorable mention for Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole? It’s a lot more likely that Cole makes The Leap than many of the teams mentioned…

    • Every pitcher Joe listed has already made the leap. All of them save Bumgarner have been top 3 in Cy Young voting. Bumgarner was 4th last year, and was sensational in the World Series. Cole has shown promise, but let’s wait until he tops 140 innings in a season before including him in this discussion.

  2. From the hype I’ve heard around Chicago about Kris Bryant’s power, I expect to die in the nuclear aftermath of his first at-bat.

  3. Philip Christy says:

    If Garrett Richards were healthy all year, he would have a good chance to be in the top 5.

  4. Michael says:

    I hate being this person, but I have to since he almost carried me to a fantasy title last year. Brantley wasn’t the only 20/20 guy in the AL, you forgot about Dozier. Who could probably be the focus of his own article on here.

  5. Instead of tormenting Yankees fans with that joke, you could’ve at least thrown the Tanaka/Ellsbury pair into the Honorable Mention section. (I guess then you would’ve been tempted to write some sort of “only if they both play the season in bubble wrap” joke.)

    • Jeffrey says:

      Buckholz/Pedroia have a better shot than Tanaka/Ellsbury, which is to say no shot at all.

      • Bpdelia says:

        Bucholz is clearly not in the same universe as tanaka who was absurdly dominant last season. Ellsbury obviously is just a very good player. But Tanaka and pineda both could easily be the two best pitchers in the division.

        Bucholz really isn’t even in the top 30 SP in the game.

  6. Stoney says:

    Quick note, Mad Max no longer in Detroit.

  7. Josh Vest says:

    With a full season of health, Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto could very easily top this list. Glad that you at least mentioned them.

    • chlsmith says:

      I don’t see it. Johnny is a very good starting pitcher, but he’s always been a level below the best in the league. Joey is an amazing player, so I won’t debate that one, but he’s no spring chicken anymore, either.

  8. george cooper says:

    Ventura and Hosmer as darkhorse candidates.

    • Spencer says:

      Alex Gordon is Kansas city’s actual best shot if you’re going by WAR, which Joe uses as a guideline.

    • KHAZAD says:

      They don’t make horses that dark. They don’t make black holes that dark.

      Eric Hosmer was the 7th best batter on his own poor hitting team (in rWAR) last year, and was the 5th best first baseman in a five team division. He was 238th in WAR as a hitter and fielder (Just behind pitcher and former teammate Zack Greinke) and 334th in batting WAR, just behind pitcher Dan Haren. I would bet my house and my 401K that he doesn’t sniff the top 5, or even finish in the top 20.

      • religion_lol says:

        There’s something about this that’s so black, it’s like how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.

      • Wonk says:

        I’ll take your bet, offering up a Ripken rookie (yes, Cal) on that top 20 assertion versus the pink slip on your house. The odds are long, but the wager is such. If it were even close, we’d then have to come to some universal agreement as to what constitutes top 20 anyways. Probably not workable but submitted in fun.

  9. mwarneridx says:

    If you think Wright’s still a legit possibility, don’t you have to include him and Harvey?

    • Sam says:

      right? I mean, I think Harvey has a better shot at being a top 5 pitcher than Wright has at being a top 10 position player.

      • Chris M says:

        This is exactly what I was coming here to say. I would have understood leaving the Mets out of this if he hadn’t specifically mentioned Wright. I don’t think it’s very likely that Wright will rebound to be a top 5 player again (though he has done it before, so maybe he just has a very strange and hard to predict career arc), but not even mentioning Harvey seems absurd to me. And I’ve seen a few places talk glowingly of Jose Fernandez and barely mention Harvey, which I don’t get. Harvey’s been better to date (7.1 to 5.8 fWar in 13 more innings), AND he’s 6 months further removed from TJ surgery.

        I’m a Mets fan so I expect the worst, but I really do think Harvey has a great chance to be a top 5 pitcher this year, especially considering he has thrown essentially a full seasons worth of innings at Kershaw-esque levels so far in his career.

        • puckpaul11 says:

          Jacob DeGrom might be even better. something about that kid is phenomenal. just knows how to pitch. can’t believe no mention of him at all. lets see what happens!

  10. by baseball-reference rWAR, the teams that had both the top 1 batter and top 1 pitcher were,
    Philadelphia, 1932 – Foxx , Grove
    St. Louis, 1948 – Musial, Breechan
    SF, 1965 – Mays, Marichal

    using fangraphs fWAR, add
    BOS 1949 – Williams, Parnell
    Philly 1981 – Schmidt, Carlton
    BOS 1987, 1988 – Boggs, Clemens

  11. Daniel says:

    Garrett Richards should be back by mid-April. I’d put him and Trout at number 8 on the list.

  12. The 1937 Yankees had Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Gehrig, DiMaggio, all in the top 3 in rWAR (and top 4 in fWAR).

  13. I found this one fascinating!

    according to baseball-ref rWAR only 2 teams have had 3 top 5 overall
    1937 Yankees (Gomez, Gehrig, DiMaggio; Ruffing and Dickey also top 10 overall)
    1982 Expos (Carter, Dawson, Rogers)

  14. by fangraphs fWAR its only 1 team with 3 of the top 5 overall,
    1988 Red Sox (Clemens, Boggs, Greenwell)

  15. Allen Phillips says:

    By the fall of ’15, Ventura and Gordon should be listed.
    and Frank White should be in the Hall.

  16. Max says:

    Sonny Gray and Ben Zobrist? Not as crazy as it sounds…

  17. Andrew says:

    It wouldn’t surprise me if Justin Verlander comes back as the top starter for Detroit. David Price just doesn’t impress me, especially once he started pitching in my team’s uniform.

  18. Marco says:

    Regarding your top 5 for 2015:
    I’m surprised to see Miggy there. The decline of last year, the gimpy ankle, being a year older….etc

  19. laceylaw says:

    Really looking forward to the Felix post

  20. CB says:

    Sooo, your top 5 players don’t include #2 overall position player in WAR in the past 2 years??

  21. jalabar says:

    I know there has been plenty written about the Nats this year, but it really is possible that ANY of their starters could inch into the conversation. Even their #5 this year, Gio Gonzalez, was 3rd in NL Cy voting a few years ago. And it is a definite possibility that they could actually land two pitchers in the top 5 by seasons end. Less likely they could land two hitters in the top 5, though both Rendon and Harper have that potential.

    Though it is highly unlikely, and even were they to challenge the Mariners for best regular season record in the century thus far it would matter little in the post-season, if everything falls right this Nats team could be a regular season monster. Are you kidding me? They say it could be the best rotation since the Braves in the 90s? Well, that Braves team was certainly brilliant at the top, and Avery among others had his moments filling out the rest of the rotation, but even that rotation wasn’t as DEEP as this Nats rotation. Who’s #1? Scherzer, who may have been the second best pitcher in baseball, combined over the past two years? Most likely, though you could make a case for Strasberg, who led the NL in Ks last year, or Zimmermann and Fister, both of whom were arguably better than either Scherzer or Strasberg last year. Who #2? #3? 4? And then you have the fifth spot in the Nationals rotaion, where they are choosing to pitch the guy who was 3rd in the NL Cy voting three years ago and struggled with a 3.50+ ERA and injuries but a 3.02 FIP over the pitcher who finished last year 10 amongst all starters in WAR and had a 2.85 ERA over 180+ innings but only a 3.47 FIP. I’ll leave you with this:

    Tanner Roark is going to start the season in the Nationals bullpen. Last year, Tanner Roark had this stat line:
    198 IP, 2.85 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 1.09 WHIP, 5.1 WAR

    On how many teams could Roark start opening day? On how many teams would Gio Gonzalez, the Nats #5 starter, start opening day?

  22. […] top-tier talent is in place, with Cano and Hernandez, the former having won a ring with the New York Yankees in […]

  23. […] top-tier talent is in place, with Cano and Hernandez, the former having won a ring with the New York Yankees in […]

  24. Clayton says:

    Yadi Molina is a great defensive C, yes, but the greatest? Cmon. Pudge Rodriguez was the best ever. Bench is in the conversation, too, obviously. Yadi was great, but not all-time great.

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