If you’re a fan of seeing the best players in MLB perform at extremely high levels, the last few seasons have been fun for you. We’ve seen a number of great performances and it’s caused us to ask the question, who are the best players at each position?
In some cases, the answer is obvious. In others, it’s a little more challenging.
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have a long rivalry that continues here when trying to decide between Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge in right field and J.D. Martinez and Giancarlo Stanton at DH.
Jacob deGrom won a Cy Young Award in 2018. But an NL East rival challenges his spot as MLB’s best pitcher.
As we move towards the 2019 MLB season, these players should be considered the best in the league at their respective positions.
J.T. Realmuto, catcher, Philadelphia Phillies
Realmuto has become a star over the last two seasons. Now, he’s going from Marlins Park (a serious pitcher’s park) to Citizens Bank Park, which one of MLB’s best hitter’s yards in the game. In his career, Realmuto is a .245/.294/.384 hitter in Miami and a .282/.312/.476 hitter in Philadelphia. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also going to a lineup that will give him much better protection than what we saw in 2018. If there was more certainty around the health of Buster Posey, this would be a pretty interesting debate. As it is, though, Realmuto is MLB’s best backstop as we head into 2019.
Freddie Freeman, first baseman, Atlanta Braves
Over the last three seasons, Freeman has hit .306/.396/.549, while new St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has hit .295/.401/.528. Even some of Goldschmidt’s home run edge (93 to 85) can be chalked up to Freeman missing significant time in 2017. Besides, Freeman’s slugging percentage edge shows that while he not hit as many home runs, he can drive the ball just as well. On top of that, Freeman is the reigning NL Gold Glove winner at first base. Make no mistake; you’re not going to go wrong with Goldschmidt, either. But heading into 2019, Freeman gets the nod.
Jose Altuve, second baseman, Houston Astros
The fact that Javier Baez will man shortstop for the Chicago Cubs (at least while Addison Russell is suspended) removes some doubt here. But even if Baez was staying at the keystone, Altuve’s sustained excellence is hard to ignore. Even while battling injuries in 2018, Altuve hit .316/.386/.451 with 13 home runs and 17 steals. Over the last five years, Altuve has hit .331/.384/.489 while averaging 17 home runs, 35 steals, and over 200 hits a season. On top of that, he won’t turn 30 until May — of 2020. Second base doesn’t lack for good players. But none can be ranked ahead of Altuve.
Nolan Arenado, third baseman, Colorado Rockies
Over the last four seasons, Arenado has hit .297/.358/.573 while averaging 40 home runs a year. And this isn’t a matter of one good season skewing the sample, either. He’s hit no fewer than 37 home runs in any of those seasons. And that’s just his offense. Defensively, Arenado is about as good as anyone we’ve ever seen. While Arenado has been around for a long time, he’ll turn 28 in April. That’s only one year older than Aaron Judge. Also, as good as he’s been, the best may be yet to come. If you’re an opposing player (especially a pitcher), that’s scary.
Francisco Lindor, shortstop, Cleveland Indians
Cleveland’s shortstop would easily be in the top-five of players we’d take if we were starting a franchise. Lindor finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 and has finished top-10 in AL MVP voting in each of the three subsequent campaigns. And looking at the numbers, it’s not hard to see why. Lindor has topped 30 home runs in each of the last two seasons, hitting a career high 38 in 2018. Lindor also has genuine 30-30 potential, as he stole 25 bases a season ago. The shortstop position is quite healthy right now. But as good as it is, we couldn’t justify putting anyone ahead of Lindor.
Christian Yelich, left fielder, Milwaukee Brewers
Prior to 2018, Yelich was a good, young player with a lot of potential. But, while the Miami Marlins had a good offensive team around him with the likes of Realmuto, Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna, and Giancarlo Stanton, much of his career in Miami was spent with the organization in complete disarray. Yelich went to the Brewers in 2018 and became an MVP, hitting .326/.402/.598 with 36 home runs and 22 steals. Now, he’s building off of that season and is still really just entering his prime. There’s a lot to like about Milwaukee right now. Yelich tops the list.
Mike Trout, center fielder, Los Angeles Angels
Trout’s been accurately touted as baseball’s best player since his rookie year of 2012. But for the sake of this argument, let’s look at the last two years. Over the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Trout hit 72 home runs and stole 46 bags. This is relevant, of course, because he played in only 114 games in 2017 and 140 in 2018. The injuries have become something to be at least slightly concerned with going forward with Trout. We’d love to see Trout healthy for a full year. But even with the injuries, he’s still the best player at his position and the game, in general.
Mookie Betts, right fielder, Boston Red Sox
En route to winning the AL MVP in 2018, Betts hit .346/.438/.640 with 32 home runs and 30 steals. But while that was a career best season Betts is far from one-year wonder. Over the last three years, he’s hit .308/.379/.538 and averaged 29 home runs and 27 steals. As if that wasn’t enough, he also plays right field to near perfection (which is not easy when Fenway Park is your home stadium) and has won the Gold Glove in each of the last three seasons. And while 2018 was his best season to date, it may not be that way when his career is wrapped up. Betts is only 26. There’s a lot more greatness to come.
J.D. Martinez, designated hitter, Boston Red Sox
From 2014-2016, Martinez hit .299/.357/.540 with 83 home runs. Any way we slice it, he’s been a good hitter. But something flipped in 2017. He went to a new level. Over the last two years, Martinez has absolutely raked, hitting .319/.391/.655 with 88 home runs. And even if we can criticize that the award’s voting allows for this, the fact that Martinez won a Silver Slugger at two different positions in the same season is awfully impressive. Playing in a hitter friendly ballpark in one of baseball’s best lineups, we’re not exactly banking on seeing a lot of regression from Martinez in 2019, either.
Max Scherzer, starting pitcher, Washington Nationals
If not for a truly historic year from Jacob deGrom, Scherzer would have won his third straight (and fourth overall) Cy Young Award in 2018. He posted a 2.53 ERA, 0.911 WHIP, and struck out 300 batters. Given that Scherzer will turn 35 this season, we’d normally be inclined to give this nod to deGrom or an even younger Blake Snell. But over the last six years, Scherzer has posted a 2.81 ERA, 0.975 WHIP, an 11.1 K/9 rate, has made at least 32 starts and thrown no fewer than 214.1 innings each year. That’s a tremendous body of work. As good as other starters are, none can take this spot from Scherzer.
Josh Hader, relief pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers
Since his MLB debut, Hader has done nothing but dominate. He has a career 2.30 ERA, 0.876 WHIP, and a 14.7 K/9 rate. While his 3.6 BB/9 rate is a little higher than we’d like, a 4.3 H/9 rate shows how hard it is for offenses to take advantage of those walks. Also, in 2018, Hader posted a more respectable 3.3 BB/9 rate and backed it up with 4.0 H/9 and 15.8 K/9. In other words, his control is getting better and he’s not sacrificing anything else. Also, while many relievers are dominant, their outings tend to be brief. In 2018, Hader 81.1 innings pitched in 55 appearances. Hader isn’t just dominant. He’s a game-changer.
Blake Treinen, closer, Oakland Athletics
Treinen’s 0.78 ERA in 2018 was the lowest among any pitcher who threw at least 80 innings in a season. Treinen is the only man in history to finish a season with ERA under 1.00 while recording 30 or more saves and striking out at least 100 batters. The knock is that Treinen’s dominance is abbreviated. And unlike Hader, Treinen had a rather vast and inconsistent body of work. But that really just shows how good Treinen was in 2018. The most recent thing we’ve seen from Treinen is a level of dominance that we’ve never seen before. Because of that, we have no issue claiming him as MLB’s top closer.