Thursday, July 28, 2016

Ranking The Best Closers In Baseball In Honor Of The Chapman Trade

So much about how closers are used today makes no sense. It's insane that managers won't use their best reliever in a four run game in the ninth, but will in a three run game just because it qualifies as a save opportunity. It makes even less sense that a manager will save their best reliever for the ninth inning, even if it's the bottom of the line up coming up, as opposed to using them in the eighth inning to face the best hitters. Despite this mishandling of relievers they have become more important than ever in today's era.

Due to all the off days in the postseason schedule playoff baseball has become a different game than the regular season. Managers can rest their hard throwing relievers so are able to use them more often and shorten nine inning games. This is part of the strategy the Royals have used to win back to back pennants, it's what the Yankees tried to do entering this season, and it's why the Cubs just gave up so much for Aroldis Chapman. As we take a look at the best relievers in the game it comes as no surprise that they all play for teams above .500 and in playoff contention.

Honorable Mention:

Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox, Age: 28

Entering the season he likely would have ranked top three on this list but is having an uncharacteristic season so far by his standards. He has been great during save opportunities with a 1.45 ERA and 27 strikeouts to 3 walks in 18.2 innings in those situations. However, in non save situations he has a ridiculous 6.28 ERA due to walking 12 hitters in those 14.1 innings. This has caused his WHIP to rise for the fourth consecutive season. Still just 28 years old Kimbrel has too impressive of a track record to not be mentioned in this conversation. 

5. Wade Davis, Royals, Age: 30

In 2014 Wade Davis finished eighth in the American League Cy Young voting and wasn't even the Royals' closer. That season in his first year as a full time reliever he went 9-2 with a 1.00 ERA and 109 strikeouts in just 72 innings pitched. If we look at his numbers since the beginning of that year, which include his time as Kansas City's closer, he has a 1.09 ERA with a 11.4 K/9 rate. A very important stat for relievers is how few home runs they give up, since a long ball can blow a lead on one swing of the bat. Since the beginning of 2014 Davis has given up a league leading 0.16 HR/9 innings. For comparison Yankees legend Mariano Rivera averaged four homers allowed during his 16 years as a closer. Over the past two and a half years Davis has given up a total of just three. 

4. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers, Age: 28

Jansen has been so efficient now for so long that he often gets overlooked during the discussion of best closers in the game. He is the type of guy who most everyone will have in their top five but few will have as their number one. This season he has been his usual great self with a 30.9 K-BB%, which currently ranks fourth among relievers. His 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings ranks fourth all time yet somehow he became an all star for the first time this season. Hitters are currently hitting just .154 off him, which ranks sixth among relievers. He has saved 25 games every year since 2012 and his BB/9 have improved each of the past three seasons, which makes him a strong candidate to continue pitching well as his velocity diminishes later in his career.

3. Andrew Miller, Yankees, Age: 31

Everything you need to know about Andrew Miller is that he is the only pitcher to get batters to swing at more pitches outside of the strike zone than inside. Similar to Davis, Miller began his career as a starter but struggled and became a dominant relief pitcher instead. Since his breakout 2014 season Miller is second among relievers in strikeouts per nine innings. In 2016 he has struck out 44.8% of the batters he has faced, which ranks second in baseball and is nearly six percent higher than the pitcher who ranks third. Strikeouts are even more valuable when combined with an elite walk rate. Miller's ranking on this list is due to the fact that this year he ranks first among all relievers in strikeout to walk ratio.

2. Aroldis Chapman, Cubs, Age: 28

Strikeouts matter for pitchers no matter how you can get them. But there is something to be said for a closer coming in to protect a lead who can throw the ball faster than any human has ever been able to do so. In the era of power bullpen arms Chapman reigns as the best of them all. His 15.2 career strikeouts per nine innings is the best of all time. Combine this with reasonable control (currently 30th among relievers in BB/9) and it means he has the chance to go down as one of the best closers the game has ever seen. He has shown no signs of slowing down either. On July 18, 2016 he tied the all time mark for the fastest pitch ever thrown at 105.1 mph, a record he set himself back in 2011. 

1. Zach Britton, Orioles, Age: 28

This may come off as controversial but when you take a closer look at the numbers it absolutely shouldn't. We have discussed the importance of closers registering strikeouts and keeping the ball in the ballpark. Perhaps the most important stat to look at for relievers is how often they keep the ball on the ground. When a ground ball is hit it cannot leave the park. It most likely only results in a single if it gets through the infield. This means it takes multiple hits to beat an extreme ground ball pitcher, which is the kind of arm I want saving a one run game for my team. 

Nobody in baseball is better at getting ground balls than Zach Britton, who in 2016 does so at a 79.2% rate, which is one of the best of all time. This year batters are hitting just .149 off him, which is third best in the league, and he has allowed just one home run. He has done this while still averaging over a strikeout per inning and ranks top 20 in K-BB%. Britton currently has a 0.63 ERA. He was built to protect one run leads, which makes him the best closer in the game right now.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

What Active Players Have The Best Chance To Make It To The Hall Of Fame?

Baseball is always changing, which makes it tough to definitively determine who is and who is not a Hall of Fame player. For example, 500 home runs used to be a milestone that meant a player was on their way to Cooperstown. The steroid era changed that. We now have advanced analytics that, while not perfect, can better help us understand which players are deserving. Analytics also add to the debate since not all voters embrace them, however.

A lot about the Hall of Fame voting process doesn't make sense though. Writers are only allowed to vote for 10 player even though some want to go over that limit. Many of these voters won't vote for "steroid guys", which makes it possible an entire era of great players won't be getting voted in for a while. But that's a story for another day.

I limited the below list to players over 30 because too much can happen with anyone younger than that. What was most interesting about the research for this is how no active pitchers can be considered locks for the Hall of Fame. Due to pitch counts and Tommy John surgeries it seems inevitable we will have to change how we view Hall of Fame pitchers going forward. It's entirely possible nobody ever reaches 300 wins again. The two active pitchers most likely to reach the Hall would be Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez but even they can't be considered locks yet. Without further ado here are the seven active players who have the best chance of becoming Hall of Famers:

Absolute Locks

Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Marlins Age: 42

First things first it's pretty impressive Ichiro is even still playing. At 42 he is the second oldest player in baseball, just a few months younger than Bartolo Colon. In spring training Ichiro declared he wants to play until at least 50. While this may be a bit far-fetched he has shown that he still has some life in his bat as a fourth outfielder for the Marlins. This season he is batting .339 in limited time and is just four hits shy of 3,000 for his career. 

Now think about how hard it is to reach 3,000 hits. In the history of baseball dating back to the late 1800s only 29 players have ever done it. Cap Anson was the first. Alex Rodriguez was the most recent. The other players that have reached the milestone this millennium are Cal Ripken Jr, Rickey Henderson, Rafael Palmeiro, Craig Biggio, and Derek Jeter. Reaching 3,000 hits takes a combination of hall of fame talent, longevity, and durability. The fact that Ichiro did not begin his MLB career until he was 27 makes his accomplishment that much more ridiculous. 

Ichiro hasn't been an all-star since 2010 so it's easy to forget how dominant he was when he first came over to the United States. In his 2001 rookie year Ichiro won Rookie of the Year, AL MVP, the batting title, a gold glove, a silver slugger, and was an all-star. He led the Mariners to a record 116 wins. In the 10 year span from 2001 to 2010 Ichiro appeared in 10 all star games, won 10 gold gloves, two batting titles, and led the league in hits seven times. In all 10 of those seasons he hit at least .300 with at least 200 hits. He stole at least 30 bases in every season but one. Regardless of how long he plays for, five years after Ichiro finally retires he will become the first Japanese born player to be inducted into Major League Baseball's hall of fame.

Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels Age: 36

Pujols has obviously not been the same player with the Angels that he was with the Cardinals, which makes it easy to forget how great he was. His apex came in the latter part of this past decade. In all six seasons from 2005-2010 he led National League position players in WAR. During that stretch he won three MVP awards with two second place finishes. That's a dominant prime and Pujols also has the longevity. In the 10 seasons from his rookie year in 2001 until 2010 he hit at least 30 homers with 100 RBI and a .310 batting average in every one of them. 

Currently Pujols is sitting on 579 career home runs, which barring injury makes him a lock to become just the ninth player in history to reach 600. Doing so without the suspicion of steroids will increase the percentage he gets in on the first ballot, much like it did for Griffey this year. As if all this wasn't enough Pujols has won two World Series and in game 3 of the 2011 fall classic he became one of just four players to ever hit three homers in a single World Series game.

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers Age: 33

Easily the youngest player on this list Cabrera has had an unbelievable 14 year start to his career. From 2005-2015 Cabrera batted at least .320 in all but one season, winning four batting titles along the way. His .320 career average ranks 50th all time, which is more impressive when we realize he is doing it in an era when it has become tougher than ever to get a hit. Until an injury shortened 2015 he had an 11 year streak of 25 home runs and 100 RBI. 

Cabrera has finished in the top 5 in MVP voting a whopping seven times and won the award in both 2012 and 2013. In 2012 he became the first player in 45 years to win the batting triple crown. Cabrera already has 2,440 hits and 427 homers, which makes him likely to become just the sixth player in history to reach both 3,000 hits and 500 homers. Absolutely dominant in his prime he is still just 33 years old and has plenty of time to add to his already impressive counting stats. When all is said and done it will make Cabrera a no-brainer, first ballot Hall of Famer.

Should Get In Eventually

Alex Rodriguez, DH, Yankees Age: 40

Obviously this is only due to the fact that voters have been too stubborn to vote in steroid users. On paper A-Rod is one of the 10 or 20 best players of all time. Even though he missed all of 2014 with the longest PED suspension in baseball history he still entered this season with a real chance at Barry Bonds' home run record. Currently he has 696, which puts him just 18 shy of Babe Ruth for third all time. With another season left on his contract after this one it seems probable he surpasses Ruth.

For his career A-Rod has appeared in 14 all star games, won 10 silver sluggers, three MVPs, and two gold gloves. He has led the league in homers five times, won a batting title, and is one of just four players to ever have a 40/40 season. In the all time ranks he is currently fourth in homers, third in RBI, eighth in runs, 20th in hits (with over 3,000), and sixth in total bases. Some fans and voters will never get over the steroid use but he is undoubtedly one of the best players ever and maybe the greatest right handed hitter of all time.

David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox age: 40

It's tough not to put Ortiz on the absolute lock list but there will be voters who think a designated hitter doesn't impact the game the way a position player does. The worry for the Large Father is that Edgar Martinez received just 43.4% of the vote this year, which is well short of the 75% requirement. Ortiz fans shouldn't panic though because his numbers are much better than Edgar's. Martinez has just 309 home runs and 1,261 RBI, which are both well short of Papi's 527 homers and 1,722 RBI. 

Ortiz also had a much better apex than Martinez. In the five year stretch from 2003-2007 Papi finished in the top five in MVP voting every season. He has the longevity as well and in his age 40 season leads the league in doubles, slugging, OPS, and intentional walks. In addition to being the best DH of all time Ortiz holds the title for greatest clutch hitter of all time as well as the most important Red Sox of all time. His postseason achievements include three World Series rings, the 2004 ALCS MVP, and the 2013 World Series MVP where he hit .688 in the six game series against the Cardinals. How voters view the DH position will determine how quickly Ortiz is ultimately inducted.

Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers Age: 37

The case for Beltre is one for consistency and longevity. The above graphic shows where he ranked in WAR among third baseman in each of his eighteen seasons so far. There is a real argument that he was never the best third baseman in the league aside from an outlier 2004 season when he hit 48 homers, which is 12 more than his next highest total. Those who do not vote for Beltre will point to the fact that he only ranked top three at his position in four of 18 season so far.

All that being said Beltre has amassed 2,862 hits and 427 homers. Assuming health he is a lock for 3,000 hits and has an outside shot at 500 homers. The hits would almost have to make him a lock for the Hall since every other player to reach the milestone is either in or a steroid guy who should be in. Beltre spent much of his 20s being pretty mediocre and just in the past couple of years has been talked about as a potential HOF guy. That consistency and longevity has added up, however, as Beltre ranks 31st all time on Baseball Reference's WAR leaderboard for position players. That puts him ahead of guys like Chipper Jones, Jeter, and Griffey. He probably belongs in the Hall of Very Good and may not get in first ballot but 3,000 hits while being free of steroid suspicion means he will get in eventually.

Carlos Beltran, OF, Yankees Age: 39

Out of everyone on this list Beltran's resume is probably the weakest. He likely won't reach 3,000 hits or 500 homers and never won an MVP. In fact he finished in the top 10 just twice, which could be a big deal for voters looking at his apex. His case for induction is the combination of doing a lot of things very well. He is fourth all time in stolen base percentage, won three gold gloves, and made nine all star teams. He already has 2,500 hits and has the third most home runs ever for a switch hitter.

Beltran's best selling point is that he is one of just five players to ever record 400 homers and 300 steals, joining Bonds, A-Rod, Willie Mays and Andrew Dawson. Two of those players are Hall of Famers and the other two are obviously deserving. Voters who are still torn on Beltran's induction will look to his ridiculous playoff resume where in 52 games he hit 16 homers while slashing an insane .332/.441/.674 line with a 1.115 OPS. Incredibly he never won a World Series with those stats. Ultimately his career numbers put him in line with the likes of Dawson who was elected on his ninth ballot, which seems like a reasonable amount of time Beltran will have to wait. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

What Baseball Stories Need To Be Made Into 30 For 30s?

What if I told you that there are still some great baseball documentaries that need to be made? Out of the 70 docs 30 for 30 has done thus far just seven have been baseball related. Some of the best include the recent Doc and Darryl, Jordan Rides The Bus, and Four Days in October. With so many good stories still to tell, and with more companies getting into the sports doc business, here are the four baseball Reddit mentioned most wanting to see:

1. The 1998 Home Run Race

1998 is arguably the most important season in the history of baseball. Following the strike of '94 this home run record chase is thought of as the most significant factor to regaining fan interest in our national pastime. You would think that someone would have made a great documentary about this already. The only reason I can come up with is that the use of steroids would reflect negatively on MLB, but fuck that. The steroid era was awesome. It doesn't diminish how incredible the summer of '98 was. 

The home run race to challenge Roger Maris' record of 61 originally gained attention in '97 when Mark McGwire hit 58 homers and Ken Griffey Jr. hit 56. Sammy Sosa joined the race in June of 1998 when he hit a record 20 home runs in a single month. But it was McGwire's season all along. He homered in the first four games of the season and finished May with 27 home runs, which put him on pace for over 80. Incredibly McGwire sat on 60 home runs just as the Cardinals were set to begin a two game series against Sosa's Cubs. McGwire tied Maris' record in the first game, and then hit his record 62nd home run of the season the very next night with members of the Maris family in attendance.

The fact that the Cardinals and Cubs were playing each other the night of the record breaking homer is the type of stuff deemed too unrealistic for movies. When all was said and done McGwire finished the season with 70 home runs, 147 RBI and a .299 average. Sosa hit 66 homers to go along with 158 RBI and a .308 average to win the MVP award. While Maris' record stood for 37 years McGwire's would last for just three. In 2001 Barry Bonds defied the odds and went on to hit 73 homers. While this was an incredible feat it didn't resonate with fans the way the summer of '98 did.

2. The 2001 Seattle Mariners

116-46 don't mean a thing without the ring. In the past decade we have the seen incredible attention given to the 2007 New England Patriots and 2016 Golden State Warriors as teams that set records in the regular season but didn't deliver a championship. So why does nobody ever mention the 2001 Seattle Mariners? Unlike the Patriots and Warriors the Mariners didn't even make it to the championship, losing in five games to the Yankees in the ALCS.

What's incredible about the Mariners' season is that they set the MLB wins record literally the season after losing Alex Rodriguez, who at the time was one of the five best players in baseball. Despite the loss of A-Rod the '01 Mariners led baseball in runs scored and fewest runs allowed. The major reason for this was the addition of Ichiro Suzuki, who led the league with a .350 batting average and would go on to win both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. Outside of Ichiro the roster left a lot to be desired with a supporting cast featuring the likes of Edgar Martinez, Bret Boone, John Olerud, Jamie Moyer, and Freddy Garcia. 

The dream regular season has an added layer of torture to it for Seattle fans since it is the last time the Mariners made the playoffs despite winning 93 games in both 2002 and 2003. Although the 116 wins are a MLB record the team registered just the sixth highest winning percentage of all time, due to the fact that more games are played now than the early part of the century. Other ideas for docs related to the 2001 Mariners include Ichiro's journey to America as well as one on the '01 season in general, which also featured Bonds' 73 homers, Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season, baseball returning after 9/11, and a classic seven game World Series featuring the Yankees and Diamondbacks.

3. The Rise And Fall Of The Yankee Dynasty

Has there ever been a sports franchise more universally disliked over a period of time than the Yankees in the late 1990s? This installment of Yankee dominance came right before the league created a more fair revenue sharing system, which gave small market teams a better chance at re-signing their young stars and giving them a better chance to compete. The Yankees combined their endless pockets of money with an impressive core of homegrown talent. The group eventually became to be known as "The Core Four" and featured Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera. 

Following the retirement of Don Mattingly after a heartbreaking 1995 playoff loss to the Mariners, the Yankees used this homegrown talent to win the World Series in 1996, which was Joe Torre's first season as Yankee manager. The team made the playoffs in '97 but lost to the Indians in the ALCS, which led to New York winning the next three World Series from 1998-200. Highlights from this three peat include winning 114 games in '98, David Wells and David Cone pitching perfect games, the trade for Roger Clemens in '99, and facing their cross town rivals the Mets in the 2000 World Series. 

In 2001 the team came three outs away from a fourth consecutive title but lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in an all time classic. New York seemed destined to win after the 9/11 attacks on the city, especially after the Yankees came back from a 2-0 World Series hole to win all three games at home in wildly dramatic fashion. Luis Gonzalez's bloop single off Mariano Rivera is considered by many to be the end of this Yankee dynasty. In the six year stretch from 1996-2001 the Yankees won 14 of 16 playoff series and won five pennants with four World Series titles.

4. The Final Night Of The 2011 Season

One of the single best nights of baseball in recent memory. It's honestly hard to believe that the wild card winners from both leagues came down to the final game of the season. Also remember that in 2011 MLB still only had one wild card representative from each league, so everything was on the line. In the American League the Rays were nine games back of the Red Sox on September 3rd. In the National League the Cardinals overcame a 10 game deficit of the Braves. After 161 games of baseball no playoff match ups were set.

The Rays had the most improbable win of the night, coming back from a 7-0 deficit in the eighth inning against the Yankees. After scoring six runs in the bottom of the eighth Tampa Bay sent up Dan Johnson with two outs and none on in the bottom of the ninth. Johnson, a .108 hitter that season up until this moment, homered to tie the game and send it to extra innings. Meanwhile Jonathan Papelbon came in to save a 3-2 Red Sox lead in Baltimore following a lengthy rain delay. The Sox that season were 77-0 when leading after eight innings to this point. Incredibly Papelbon blew the save and mere minutes later Evan Longoria homered in the bottom of the 12th to send the Rays to the playoffs. The Red Sox loss gave the team a 7-20 September record and ended both the Theo Epstein and Terry Francona eras in Boston.

The National League games also featured a devastating blown save. Craig Kimbrel of the Braves also blew a 3-2 lead in the ninth and Atlanta ultimately lost to the Phillies in 13 innings. The Cardinals had the only anticlimactic game of the evening, taking a 5-0 first inning lead on going on to win easily behind a gem from Chris Carpenter. This win had huge implications for St. Louis, who went on to win the World Series in Albert Pujols' final season with the team. Ultimately there was no game 163 in either league and the night of September 28, 2011 is still regarded as one of the best in MLB history. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ranking The Best Home Run Derbies Of The Past 20 Years

Chicks dig the long ball. Even in the post steroid era home runs are one of the most exciting plays in sports, which makes it so surprising that the home run derby gets such a bad rap. The home run derby isn't perfect. The best players don't always participate. They're always tinkering with the format. Once Robinson Cano didn't even hit a single homer. But the tournament has had its share of moments over the past 20 years. Here are recaps on four of the most memorable:

4. 2005 Winner: Bobby Abreu, Stadium: Comerica Park

Prior to 2005 the record for most home runs in a single derby was 27 by Miguel Tejada. In 2005 Abreu hit 24 in the first round alone. His 41 total long balls are still a record for a single contest. He was Josh Hamilton before Josh Hamilton. What made his performance special was that he was the first player to hit that night. MLB should have canceled the rest of it right then and there. Abreu was never a power hitter outside of this night though. He finished 2005 with the same number of home runs (24) he hit in the first round. For his career he never hit more than 31. 

3. 2015 Winner: Todd Frazier, Stadium: Great American Ballpark

The most recent derby was memorable for a few reasons. First of all Frazier became the second player ever to win the contest in his home ballpark. Secondly he won on a walk-off, which was an unbelievably cool way to end it. Just fast forward to the end of that video. But the biggest reason is because MLB finally changed the format to draw more interest. For the first time ever batters were placed into a bracket to face off single-elimination style. More importantly though was the time limit. Instead of receiving 10 outs batters received five minutes to hit as many home runs as possible. This really helped the pace of the night and the format drew rave reviews. For this year's derby batters will receive four minutes instead of five.

2. 1999 Winner: Ken Griffey Jr, Stadium: Fenway Park

The height of the steroid era. McGwire. Sosa. Griffey. The backwards hat. The perfect swing. 1999 is very arguably the best home run derby of all time. It's strange looking back at the totals from that year though. Griffey ultimately won despite hitting just three homers in the first round, and 16 in total. The real story of the night however was McGwire, who hit 13 absolute bombs in the first round. This was the first derby since his record 70 homer season and he did not disappoint. Add in the fact this took place at iconic Fenway Park and it's one of the two best derbies ever.

1. 2008 Winner: Justin Morneau, Stadium: Yankee Stadium

When I hear the words home run derby the first thought that comes to mind is Josh Hamilton in 2008. In the first round that year Hamilton took 38 swings and hit homers on 28 of them. That's a record. It was in the final year of the old Yankee Stadium. It was at the height of his unbelievable return to professional baseball from drugs and alcohol abuse. 2008 was the greatest home run derby ever. But he didn't win. The derby makes slight changes to their rules nearly every year so it can get confusing but back in '08 the home run count reset entering the finals. After hitting 28 in round one a gassed Hamilton hit just 4 in round two before Justin Morneau edged him out 5-3 in the finals. Regardless of the defeat Hamilton's performance is the best and most memorable of all time.

Monday, July 4, 2016

If All Of MLB Had A Re-Draft Who Would You Take With The Number one Pick?

Similar to franchise modes in games like MVP Baseball and MLB The Show we are assuming the league is starting from scratch and that you have the number one pick. Who ya got? The only difference here is we are taking current contracts out of the equation. In this hypothetical world every first round pick receives the same deal. So the only other factor to consider would be age. For example, while Miguel Cabrera should be awesome for the next couple of years it would probably make more sense to consider someone younger. The below list is not necessarily the order I would take them in but are the guys I believe deserve the strongest consideration.

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies Age: 25

Baseball is a regional sport, which means fans aren't always caught up on story lines happening outside of their city. Because he has always played for subpar Rockies teams Arenado has never received the national attention he deserves. He has always been known for his glove though and since entering the league in 2013 leads all third baseman with 77 defensive runs saved. The next closest are Manny Machado with 57 and Josh Donaldson with 47. Safe to say nobody is catching him anytime soon. He has won a gold glove every year he has played in the league and it is widely expected that he captures a fourth this season.

But what has transformed Arenado from a defensive wizard to one of the best all around players in baseball is his bat. While playing half his games at Coors Field has its advantages Arenado was never expected to hit like this. After hitting a combined 28 homers between 2013-14 he exploded for a National League leading 42 last season to go along with 130 RBI. So far in 2016 he ranks fourth in the majors with 22 home runs and second with 66 RBI. Machado is the only other player that possesses Arenado's rare combination of power and defense, which makes him worthy of consideration as a top five pick.

Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox Age: 23

What we have here is a 23-year-old up the middle defender who in the American League currently ranks second in hits, third in batting average, fifth in OBP, fifth in runs, and seventh in doubles. After a disappointing rookie season in 2014 where he batted just .240 Bogaerts showed the ability to make an adjustment at the major league level and raised his batting average a whopping 80 points last year. The biggest concern with his game entering 2016 was if he would be able to hit for enough power after hitting just seven homers a season ago. He has once again made an adjustment and through the first half of the season has nine homers.

However the argument for Bogaerts is also an argument for the position he plays. There are simply not as many good offensive shortstops as there are outfielders or corner infielders. So locking up a player of Bogaerts' hitting ability at a position like shortstop makes it easier to build a team around him. If you believe the power progression he's made so far will continue you can reasonably argue for Bogaerts as a top five pick as well.

Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs Age: 24

Bryant just turned 24 in January, which is a little surprising since he has played just one full season in the big leagues. Regardless his 2015 rookie year was impressive and his 5.9 WAR were more than the 5.1 Bryce Harper accumulated during his rookie season. While Bryant led the league in strikeouts he showed he had the rare ability to both hit for power (26 home runs) and get on base (.369 OBP). 

Thus far in his sophomore season Bryant has only gotten better and currently leads the National League with 23 home runs. He has maintained his impressive on base skills while lowering his strikeout rate (31% to 23%) and increasing his home run rate (4% to 6.5%). In today's pitching dominated game Bryant's right handed power is one of the most sought after commodities. As a perennial favorite for 40 plus homers Bryant should be considered as high as third on this list. 

Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers Age: 28

It's important to note that Kershaw turned 28 in March, which makes him easily the oldest player on this list. However I still think anybody taking a pitcher first overall has to take Kershaw. He's won three of the past five NL Cy Young awards. He hasn't had an ERA below 2.53 since 2010. Over the past five years he's led the NL in strikeouts three times, ERA four times, wins twice, complete games twice, shutouts twice, and FIP twice. 

In addition Kershaw's 2016 season has been a joke. Here is a list of categories he leads the majors in: ERA, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched, strikeouts, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, BB/9, and strikeout to walk ratio. Some of those stats are common ones that every fan can understand and some are more advanced, yet they are all equally impressive. But the most impressive? Kershaw's 16.11 strikeout to walk ratio would be the best ever for a single season. The current record? 11.63. In other words Kershaw is striking out more hitters while walking less at a rate we have never come close to seeing. 

Now the concern with Kershaw is obviously his postseason performance. In 13 career playoff games (10 starts) he's 2-6 with a 4.59 ERA. However he was a lot better in 2015, going 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 13.2 innings. The rest of his postseason numbers (WHIP, BB/9, K/9) are much closer to his career norms so not all hope is lost there. Plus there's no doubt he gives you the best chance of any pitcher at making the postseason over the next 3-4 years. While I personally wouldn't consider a pitcher within the top 10, Kershaw would be the first off my board if I did.

Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles Age: 23

Through the first half of 2016 Machado is having an MVP type season and in the American League ranks second in doubles, fourth in average, sixth in OBP, second in slugging, fifth in OPS, and fifth in hits. He has made a full recovery from two early career knee injuries and in 2015 played in all 162 games while leading baseball in plate appearances. 

Originally a shortstop Machado converted to third base at the major league level and has won gold gloves there in each of his two full seasons. This season he added a potentially game changing element to his resume by showing the ability to move back to shortstop and play it at an elite level. In two and a half years both Machado and Harper are set to become free agents. While Harper is expected to receive the largest contract in the history of professional sports there are beginning to be rumors that teams may favor Machado instead. About to turn 24 he is one of just three players to seriously consider with the hypothetical number one pick.

Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals Age: 23

2016 is Harper's fifth year in the majors. He's younger than the reigning NL Rookie of the Year Bryant. Since he came to the majors when he was just 19 years old it feels like he has been playing longer than he has. In 2015 in his age 22 season Harper became the youngest unanimous MVP in the history of baseball. Last season he led the entire league in OBP (.460), slugging percentage (.649), and WAR (9.9). He also batted .330 with an NL leading 42 homers. 

What makes this question so great is that just a couple of months ago Harper likely would have been the consensus number one pick. From the start of this season through April 28th he batted .314/.425/.786 with nine home runs, 24 RBI, and five stolen bases in just 21 games. This hot stretch coincided with a slow start by Mike Trout, which combined with last season's MVP award led many to consider Harper as baseball's best player. While he has cooled down over the past two months and doesn't provide the consistency Trout does, he has the potential to absolutely carry a team during his hot stretches. It's frightening to think that Harper has yet to enter his prime. He doesn't turn 24 until October, which makes him the youngest player I've mentioned and gives him more upside than anyone on this list. Harper is a no brainer top three pick with a real argument to be made for choosing him over Trout.

Mike Trout, OF, Angels Age: 24

Every full season Mike Trout has played in the majors he has finished either first or second in the American League MVP voting. That's fucking incredible. He is the perfect combination of power, speed, defense, durability, and drive. The production through the first five years of his career compares similarly to all time talents such as Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Alex Rodriguez. While WAR is not a perfect statistic it is worth pointing out that Trout has accumulated the most WAR through ages 20, 21, 22, and 23. 

While Harper's 2015 season was as good, if not better, than any year Trout has produced so far the real separation between the two comes in their track records. Trout's 162 game average would be .306/.400/.560 with 34 home runs, 100 RBI, 28 stolen bases, and 118 runs scored. In separate years he has led the American League in categories such as runs, RBI, stolen bases, walks, slugging, and OPS. There isn't a facet of baseball in which he doesn't positively contribute. Mike Trout is a generational, once in a lifetime player and would be the first overall pick in an MLB re-draft.