Football season is beginning to heat up while hockey and basketball are both in full swing, but at least for people like me, there is always more baseball to talk about. After another season full of unexpected moments, Cinderella stories, huge upsets, and memorable performances, here are the top ten most dominant players heading into 2017:
Jose Altuve (2B, Astros)
Perhaps because the Astros, despite having loads of talent, have yet to make a deep postseason run, Altuve’s consistent production has gone somewhat unnoticed. Yes, he was an MVP candidate this year, but no one seems to really give him credit for how incredible he has performed. The second basemen has led the American League in hits during each of the past three seasons and in batting average during two of them (2014, 2016). Since his rookie year in 2011, he has stolen 30 or more bases every year, also receiving a Gold Glove and three Silver Sluggers over what has been a short but fruitful career to date.
Buster Posey (C, Giants)
While he still may not be the best defensive catcher in baseball (despite this year’s Gold Glove), second only to Yadier Molina, his offensive production and playoff record make him the best all-around player at his position. Since his first full season in 2010, he has appeared on four all-star rosters, earned a Rookie of the Year and an MVP award, and has led his Giants to three World Series victories. With a career batting average of .307 and three Silver Sluggers, along with his defensive intangibles, Posey is not only the best catcher in the game, but also one of baseball’s most consistently productive players.
Zach Britton (P, Orioles)
As far as closers go over the past few seasons, there has been no one more dominant or more effective than Zach Britton. Despite the consistency he has held over these past three seasons, fans only really began to pay attention to him this year, and with good reason. He led the league in saves with 47 while giving up slightly over a hit every two innings. The statistic that really got me, however, was the fact that in 67 innings pitched in 2016, he let up four earned runs (no, that’s not a typo) en route to a 0.54 ERA. Amazingly, going back to 2014 and 2015, the numbers are not that much different, given that he pitched to 1.65 and 1.92 ERAs, respectively, saving over 35 games in both years. The only true closer to be found on this list, the game is really all but over as soon as Britton takes the mound with a lead.
Josh Donaldson (3B, Blue Jays)
Since coming to Toronto just two years ago, Donaldson has been nothing short of fantastic. It was evident during his first few years with Oakland that he was a special player, but he has really begun to produce since 2015. Appearing in three All-Star Games, winning two Silver Sluggers, and being named 2015 AL MVP, Donaldson has demonstrated the perfect mix of contact and power to become the scariest hitter in an already dangerous Blue Jays lineup. He has also shown a unique ability in the big moment, leading his team to consecutive AL Championships with his clutch performance (remember who started the rally in the Wild Card game or who scored the winning run in the ALDS?) and establishing himself as one of the most potent players baseball currently has to offer.
Andrew Miller (P, Indians)
When I said that Britton was the best closer in the MLB, I did not mean that he was the best reliever. Am I basing this ranking too much on this season’s postseason performance? Possibly, but it seemed evident that how well he played in the 2016 playoffs was a representation of the kind of dominance he has brought to his craft for years. Since making the conversion to the bullpen in 2012, he has posted an ERA over 3.00 just once, cruising to ERA’s of 2.02, 2.04, and 1.45 and striking out almost twice the number of batters as innings pitched over the past three seasons. Perhaps his greatest value, however, comes in his versatility. Over parts of four seasons with the Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees, and Indians, he has shown the ability to close out games, be an effective setup man, or even be dominant as early as the fifth inning (as Terry Francona showed us). As such, he has become, without question in my mind, the most effective reliever in baseball.
Kris Bryant (3B, Cubs)
Despite the fact that he has spent only two seasons in the league, he has proven to be one of baseball’s best, becoming the centerpiece for the Cubs’ transformation. In those two years, Bryant has appeared in both All-Star Games and he has won a Rookie of the Year and an MVP, racking up 65 homers and 201 RBI in the process. Regardless of the fact that he has not won a Gold Glove (seemingly the only thing he has yet to achieve), his defensive ability and versatility cannot be denied. He is a premier third basemen with the unique ability to migrate to the outfield or wherever else he is needed. In his rookie and sophomore campaigns, he has made a big enough splash to be considered one of baseball’s most outstanding performers.
Madison Bumgarner (P, Giants)
Bumgarner has still yet to lose a game when his team is on the brink of elimination. In all honesty, I could just stop there, but the statistics tell the same dominant story. Over the past four seasons, his ERA has not risen above 2.98, he has amassed a 62-37 record, and has made the roster for all four All-Star Games. I should also probably mention the fact that he is without question the best hitting pitcher in the MLB (Bruce Bochy gave up the DH in an interleague game so that Bumgarner could remain in the lineup). Also, as previously mentioned, there is no better active pitcher when it comes to postseason performance. Over the course of four playoff runs, Bumgarner has won eight games (almost halfway to Andy Pettite’s record at 19) while pitching to a 2.11 ERA. And who could forget one of the most dominant World Series performances to date in 2014 when he gave up just a run on 9 hits in 21 innings on his way to three victories and a series MVP? There is no doubt that, between regular season and postseason consistency, Bumgarner can take over any game and any series.
Clayton Kershaw (P, Dodgers)
I rooted against this guy for the longest time (one thing about me is that I love to see the “unbeatable” player/team in any sport get upset) for the same reason I rooted against Kentucky’s undefeated season (NCAAMB), the Warriors last year against the Cavs, and any playoff game that involved Tom Brady. The more I watch Kershaw pitch, however, the more I realize that there is a certain beauty in his dominance and the fact that he simply overmatches the best hitters in the world. The numbers pretty much speak for themselves: with the exception of 2008 (his first year in the league) his highest ERA was 2.91 and he has won 126 games over a span of nine seasons. He has made six All-Star rosters, won three NL Cy Young Awards, and in 2014, he became one of ten pitchers in the history of baseball to win a Cy Young and an MVP in the same season. Over the past few seasons, he has even managed to correct the only flaw that people ever point out: his postseason track record. When it comes to dominance, he is, and has been for awhile, the best pitcher in the MLB.
Miguel Cabrera (1B, Tigers)
He is the best hitter of his generation. Period. End of story. He hit .316 this year and somehow, it lowered his career batting average all the way down to .321. In fact, to find the last time he failed to crack .300, go back to 2008. Over his 14 year career, Cabrera has been to 11 All-Star Games, has won back-to-back MVPs, and has managed to earn a triple crown (league leader in average, homeruns, and RBI). Here’s the crazy part: he is still on top of his game. All these years later, at age 33, Cabrera is still putting up numbers, slashing his way to 38 homers and 108 RBI during his 2016 campaign. If not still the scariest hitter in all of baseball, he is certainly among them, and it has been that way for so long that he cannot be left off this list.
Mike Trout (OF, Angels)
While Cabrera may be the best hitter baseball has today, Trout is far and away the game’s best all-around player. At just 25 years old, he has taken part in five All-Star Games and he has won a Rookie of the Year, two MVPs, and five Silver Sluggers. His career .306 average, 168 homeruns, and 497 RBI speak to this overall offensive production. Fun fact, he also had more homers at the time of his 25th birthday than all-time leader Barry Bonds. With the offensive production and the defensive consistency to go with it, there is no question that Mike Trout is the most prolific player in baseball today.
I understand that when it comes to popularity, Harper and Trout are probably at the top of the MLB. The one huge difference between the two of them, however, is that Harper still has a lot to prove. Does he have superstar potential? Absolutely. My only problem is that he has yet to sustain it. In 2015, when he led all players in almost every offensive category, I thought he was poised to take the league by storm. The way he followed it up in 2016, on the other hand, has me doubting whether he can sustain that level of play. With an average down in the .240s this past season, he still has a ways to go before he penetrates this list.
He holds the record for the hardest fastball ever thrown (105 mph) while consistently sitting about 100 mph. For a reliever to make this list, however, they need to be outright spectacular (exactly what Miller and Britton are). While there is no doubt that his fastball is almost impossible to catch up to, he simply has not had the same impact out of the bullpen as guys like Zach Britton and Andrew Miller. Regardless of his incredible ERA of 2.08 over his seven year career, I feel, especially as the opposing team, that he is more likely to give up a run than the two other bullpen hurlers on this list.
Paul Goldschmidt/Nolan Arenado
The only reason, and I mean the only reason they were left off this list, is their teams have lacked recent success (presumably through no fault of their own). Both are premier dominant players in today’s MLB, but until their teams begin to contend for playoff positions, I feel they cannot be included on this list.