The 2017 regular season is behind us, and it's time for one last monthly look at the top 50 players in baseball.
When we did this coming into the season, the rankings were based upon reasonable expectations -- using things like age and recent performance history -- to make educated guesses at which players would provide the most value in 2017. Now, though, it's all about the numbers they've put up in the regular season that's just been completed.
In coming up with these rankings, your scribe paid no heed to what may or may not be sustainable. Some of the names will be very much at home among the game's best, while others belong to players who have solidly over-performed or are just establishing themselves as premium performers. Whatever the case, we're not worried about whether the performances will stick in future seasons. It's all about what happened in 2017.
As for what matters, with position players it's a mix of batting, defense, and baserunning. On offense, we're not concerned with things like RBI. Getting on base and hitting for power matter above all, as do playing time, context of the player's home ballpark, and production relative to positional peers (e.g., the offensive bar is lower for shortstops and catchers than it is for first basemen and DHs). For pitchers -- and since this a backward-looking assessment of value provided -- run prevention and workload will be the drivers, but we'll also give some consideration to underlying fundamental indicators like strikeouts and walks. When it comes to relievers, leverage, or the relative importance of the innings a reliever works, are taken into account. (Note: It's hard for relievers to crack this list in the first place, given how much more valuable starting pitchers tend to be, thanks to their much higher innings loads.)
Again, this is all about 2017, and the rankings suggest nothing about whether the player in question can maintain the current level of performance in 2018 and beyond. As such, the next time you see this list, it may look very different. Or not. Whatever, man.
As always, reach to the author at his personal email address -- firstname.lastname@example.org -- with all your complaints …
Andrew Cashner Texas Rangers SP
|Cashner was a nice low-cost find for Texas this season: In 166 ⅔ innings, he pitched to an ERA of 3.40.
Willson Contreras Chicago Cubs C
|Contreras missed significant time with a hamstring injury, but he still wound up being a highly valuable piece for the NL Central champs. A catcher with a slash line of .276/.356/.499 in 117 games definitely makes the cut.
Zack Godley Arizona Diamondbacks SP
|Godley was a nifty stabilizer in the middle of the Arizona rotation. Through 25 starts (and one relief appearance), Godley had an ERA+ of 142 and more than three times as many strikeouts as walks.
Bryce Harper Washington Nationals RF
|Harper lost a big slice of his season to a knee injury. However, he had enough pre-injury value in the bank to earn him a spot. In 492 plate appearances, Harper hit .319/.413/.595 with 29 taters.
Gary Sanchez New York Yankees C
|The Yankee backstop was again steady source of power. If not for the biceps strain that cost almost a full month, he'd be quite a bit higher in these rankings. Still, Sanchez wound up with 33 homers in 122 games.
Marwin Gonzalez Houston Astros LF
|Gonzalez rang up an OPS of .907 while also seeing time at six different positions (significant time at five positions). That's highly valuable, to say the least.
Byron Buxton Minnesota Twins CF
|Buxton caught fire in the second half, which lifted his overall numbers into adequate territory. Really, though, it's his elite defense in center and similarly elite baserunning (29 steals in 30 attempts) that put him in the rankings.
Jose Abreu Chicago White Sox 1B
|Abreu arrested his recent decline and then some. For the year, he wound up batting .304/.354/.552 with 33 round-trippers and 43 two-baggers.
Jonathan Schoop Baltimore Orioles 2B
|Schoop's a solid defender at second, and he enjoyed a heck of a year at the plate. He batted .293/.338/.503 with 32 homers and 35 doubles.
Josh Donaldson Toronto Blue Jays 3B
|Donaldson lost significant time to a calf injury and struggled for a chunk of the season. However, the veteran third baseman wound up producing close to a customary level: .270/.385/.559 with 33 homers in 113 games.
Lorenzo Cain Kansas City Royals CF
|Cain played excellent defense this season and put up an OBP of .363 while stealing 26 bases in 28 attempts.
Anthony Rizzo Chicago Cubs 1B
|Rizzo remains durable and a defensive force at first base. He also batted .273/.392/.507 with 32 home runs.
Cody Bellinger Los Angeles Dodgers 1B
|The rookie Bellinger was one of the richest sources of home run power in all of baseball this season. He slugged .581 on the year and hit 39 homers in 132 games.
Mookie Betts Boston Red Sox RF
|Betts is probably the AL's best defensive corner outfielder, and this season he racked up 24 home runs, 46 doubles, and 26 stolen bases. He also took the extra base a remarkable 68 percent of the time.
Alex Bregman Houston Astros 3B
|The 23-year-old infielder gets a bit overlooked in that stacked Houston lineup, but he shouldn't be. He's batted .284/.352/.475 with 19 home runs, and he's spent time at third, short, and second.
Ervin Santana Minnesota Twins SP
|Another strong season for the veteran right-hander. After 33 starts and 211 ⅓ innings, Santana pitched to a 3.28 ERA.
Justin Upton Los Angeles Angels LF
|Pretty much a vintage season from Upton: .273/.361/.540 with 35 spanks, 44 doubles, and some action on the bases.
Robbie Ray Arizona Diamondbacks SP
|Ray was sidelined after a scary incident in which he was hit in the head by a line drive, but he resumed dominating upon his return. For the season, he registered a 2.89 ERA with 218 strikeouts in 162 innings.
Buster Posey San Francisco Giants C
|Posey spent more than 800 innings behind the plate, and along the way he notched an OBP of .400 while cracking 34 doubles.
Tommy Pham St. Louis Cardinals LF
|Despite being in the minors for all of April and then some, Pham was rather easily the Cardinals' most valuable player this season. I addition to playing all three outfield positions, Pham batted .306/.411/.520 with 23 homers and 25 steals.
Corey Seager Los Angeles Dodgers SS
|Seager wasn't all that healthy in the second half, but he still managed to log 613 plate appearances. Over that span, he had an OPS of .846 while manning shortstop for the NL's best team.
Marcell Ozuna Miami Marlins LF
|Ozuna certainly appears to have taken the next step. This season, the 26-year-old outfielder batted .312/.376/.548 with 37 dingers.
Zack Cozart Cincinnati Reds SS
|Thanks to injuries, Cozart played in just 122 games, but he made the most of them -- .297/.385/.548 with 24 homers from the shortstop position.
Francisco Lindor Cleveland Indians SS
|He's a slick-fielding shortstop who tallied 33 homers, 44 doubles, and 15 stolen bases.
Justin Verlander Houston Astros SP
|It's another strong season for Verlander. In a combined 206 innings for Detroit and Houston, Verlander had an ERA+ of 132 with more than a strikeout per inning.
Carlos Carrasco Cleveland Indians SP
|Carrasco's been a worthy No. 2 behind Corey Kluber. In exactly 200 frames this season, Carrasco owns a 140 ERA+ and a K/BB ratio of 4.91.
Justin Turner Los Angeles Dodgers 3B
|Turner missed some time due to injury this season but was a big producer when healthy. He batted .322/.415/.530 with 21 homers, more walks than strikeouts, and good defense.
Stephen Strasburg Washington Nationals SP
|What a year. Strasburg worked 175 ⅓ innings, struck out more than 200 batters, and registered an ERA of 2.52.
George Springer Houston Astros CF
|Springer pinned down center field for one of baseball's best teams and along the way batted .283/.367/.522 with 34 bombs.
Carlos Correa Houston Astros SS
|Correa missed roughly a quarter of the season because of a torn thumb ligament, but his final line of .315/.391/.550 as a shortstop earns him a lofty spot.
Zack Greinke Arizona Diamondbacks SP
|After an out-of-character 2016, Greinke's bounced back in a big way this season. He logged 202 ⅓ innings with an ERA+ of 149 and 215 strikeouts against 45 walks.
Andrelton Simmons Los Angeles Angels SS
|Simmons remains one of the top defenders at any position, and the plate this season he put up an OPS+ of 104 with 38 doubles and 19 steals.
Paul Goldschmidt Arizona Diamondbacks 1B
|Goldy's probably the most complete first baseman in the game. He's a good fielder, he stole 18 bases, and batted .297/.404/.563.
Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles Dodgers SP
|Kershaw missed time with a back injury but otherwise didn't miss a step: 180 ERA+, 202 strikeouts in 175 innings, 6.73 K/BB ratio.
Marcus Stroman Toronto Blue Jays SP
|Stroman's big year should net him some down-ballot Cy Young votes. In 201 innings, Stroman pitched to a 3.09 ERA/149 ERA+.
Luis Severino New York Yankees SP
|Young Severino was a rotation savior in the Bronx this season. In almost 200 innings, Severino struck out 29.4 percent of opposing batters and ran an ERA+ of 153.
Gio Gonzalez Washington Nationals SP
|Gonzalez gets overshadowed in the D.C. rotation, but he had an excellent season. The veteran lefty topped 200 innings and put up a sub-3.00 ERA.
Kris Bryant Chicago Cubs 3B
|Bryant hasn't missed a beat since winning the NL MVP Award last year. He played in 151 games, flashed a good glove at third and batted .295/.409/.537.
Anthony Rendon Washington Nationals 3B
|Rendon's an asset with the glove, and this season he stayed healthy while batting .301/.403/.533 with 25 homers and more walks than strikeouts. He's in line for a top-five finish in the NL MVP balloting.
Chris Sale Boston Red Sox SP
|Sale topped 300 strikeouts for the year, and he led the majors in innings while running a sub-3.00 ERA.
Jose Ramirez Cleveland Indians 3B
|Ramirez is a plus defender at the hot corner, he's a useful threat on the bases, and in 2017 he was an extra-base machine (29 HR, 6 3B, 56 2B). Consider him a darkhorse contender for AL MVP honors.
Charlie Blackmon Colorado Rockies CF
|Blackmon put up strong offensive numbers, even after adjusting for his home ballpark, and that's especially the case by the standards of up-the-middle defenders. He winds up with a line of .331/.399/.601.
Mike Trout Los Angeles Angels CF
|Undergoing thumb surgery of course took a big bite out of Trout's 2017, but he wound up leading the majors in OPS+ across 114 games. That's in addition to manning center and running the bases very well. Without that injury, Trout would be No. 1 -- easily.
Nolan Arenado Colorado Rockies 3B
|You know he's the best defensive third baseman in baseball, and he once again putting up big numbers at the plate -- even after you correct for the Coors effect. For starters, he racked up 87 extra-base hits.
Max Scherzer Washington Nationals SP
|The 2016 NL Cy Young winner is still one of the best pitchers on the planet. He wound up with an ERA+ of 176, and he led the NL in strikeouts.
Giancarlo Stanton Miami Marlins RF
|Stanton wound up only one homer shy of 60 for the season. He led the NL in SLG and wound up with 377 total bases.
Joey Votto Cincinnati Reds 1B
|A .320/.454/.578 line across more than 700 plate appearances? Yeah, that'll land you near the top of this list every time.
Aaron Judge New York Yankees RF
|Judge put those second-half struggles behind with a huge September. With 52 home runs and an OPS+ of 170, Judge has authored perhaps the greatest rookie season ever.
Corey Kluber Cleveland Indians SP
|Kluber was laid up for a while with injury, but he's been completely dominant when healthy. His ERA+ of 204 leads the majors, and he struck out 265 batters in 203 ⅔ innings.
Jose Altuve Houston Astros 2B
|Altuve's probably the AL MVP front-runner, and that's with good reason. In addition to playing a strong second base, Altuve's a force on the bases and has a batting line of .346/.410/.547.