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The Nine Best Aprils of the Last 10 Years

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

With April 2013 winding down and players such as Adam Wainwright and Justin Upton producing at very high levels, I thought it might be fun to revisit some of the best Aprils in recent memory. A few notes to start. First, March numbers are included for the few years that included 1-2 games in March because it’s simply too difficult to separate out that data and let’s face it, it’s pretty much the same thing. Second, I’ve determined these ranks by Wins Above Replacement (WAR) because it’s the easiest way to boil players down to one number who play different positions during different seasons. One shouldn’t treat this as a precise measure, but it’s the best we can do without inundating ourselves with information. Third, I haven’t included 2013 because it isn’t over yet and this is meant for you to compare this year’s performers with those performances past. For the years 2003-2012, The Nine Best Aprils follow.

9. Ryan Braun, 2011 (2.0 WAR)

Braun opened his MVP campaign in style with 26 games in April 2011. He hit 10 HR and posted a .367/.457/.724 line, good for a .496 wOBA and 220 wRC+. He would wind up hitting 33 HR over the course of the season with a 173 wRC+ and 7.3 WAR.

8. Alex Rodriguez, 2007 (2.1 WAR)

A-Rod, too, won the MVP in 2007 after a great April. He hit 14 HR and hit .355/.415/.882 to go with his .521 wOBA and 226 wRC+ during the first month and ended the year with 54 HR, a wRC+ of 175 and 9.6 WAR.

7. Alex Rodriguez, 2003 (2.1 WAR)

No this isn’t a typo and yes, Alex Rodriguez posted two separate 2.1 WAR in April in two separate MVP seasons in the last ten seasons. In this particular season, he hit 9 HR and posted a .355/.444/.673 slash line which produced a .472 wOBA and 188 wRC+. His season totals for 2003 were also impressive, with 47 HR, a .298/.396/.600 line, a 151 wRC+, and 9.1 WAR.

6. Matt Kemp, 2012 (2.2 WAR)

Just last year, Matt Kemp turned in an elite opening month by hitting 12 HR and delivering a .417/.490/.893 slash line to go with his .566 wOBA and 270 wRC+. Unfortunately for Kemp, injuries would shorten his season to 106 games and while he hit 23 HR and posted a .303/.367/.538 line, it would only be good for 3.2 WAR due to limited playing time.

5. Brian Roberts, 2005 (2.3 WAR)

Once upon a time, Roberts played an entire month of baseball without getting hurt. In April 2005, he hit 8 HR and stole 10 bases while posting a .379/.459/.726 line and a .496 wOBA and 214 wRC+. Roberts played well the rest of the season, and hit 18 HR and stole 27 bases to go with 140 wRC+ and a 9.4 UZR, but his 6.6 WAR wouldn’t be good enough to get him the MVP award that others on this list had coming.

4. Jose Bautista, 2011 (2.3 WAR)

2011 wouldn’t be an MVP year for Joey Bats, but his 9 HR in April and .366/.532/.780 line, wOBA of .541, and wRC+ of 249 would be good enough to put him on the path to a third place finish behind Justin Verlander and Jacoby Ellsbury. Bautista would finish the year with 43 HR, 182 wRC+, and 7.8 WAR. Nothing at which to sneeze.

3. Albert Pujols, 2006 (2.4 WAR)

Pujols delivered a superb April in 2006 enroute to a World Series win and 2nd place MVP finish. He hit 14 HR and .346/.509/.914 with a .548 wOBA and 240 wRC+. He’d finish the year with 8.2 WAR, 49 HR and a wRC+ of 174, but the voters wouldn’t ignore Ryan Howard’s 58 bombs.

2. Chase Utley, 2008 (2.5 WAR)

Howard’s teammate comes next on the list as Chase Utley posted great April 2008. His 11 HR, .360/.430/.766 line look awesome night to his .491 wOBA and 202 wRC+. He’d finish with 33 HR, 134 wRC+, and a 19.5 UZR, good for 8.0 WAR, but Pujols (who had a nice April 2008) beat him out for MVP. That doesn’t bother me much, as Pujols had a slightly better season. What does bother me, however, is that Utley somehow finished 14th despite having the second highest WAR.

1. Barry Bonds, 2004 (2.8 WAR)

Well you knew this was coming. 2004 would be Bonds’ final MVP season and he (and maybe some chemicals) certainly earned it. In April he hit 10 HR and posted an insane .472/.696/1.132 line to go with an otherworldly .673 wOBA and 322 wRC+. No one else is even the same conversation. He would conclude that season with 43 HR and a 233 wRC+ and 11.6 WAR.

It’s probably worth noting that the only one on this list who didn’t have a fantastic season was Matt Kemp, who simply got hurt. So if you have a 2.0 WAR type April, you’re probably in line for an awesome season. You have a great shot at an MVP award, too. Mr. Upton and Mr. Wainwright, things look good.

The Nine Best Left Fielders for 2013

Compiling a list of The Nine best left fielders proved interesting this season because so many of the players on this list were not full time left fielders last season. By my count, three or four of the top nine spent time at a different position in 2012 and as of this publication, they are not all 100% locks to play left field. If you’re reading this during the season and are like, “Hey, #1 plays centerfield!” you might be right. Please take the positionality of the outfielders with a grain of salt.

That said, this was a very deep list. Apologies to many who didn’t make the cut. Prove me wrong and end up on next year’s list.

9. Curtis Granderson/Brett Gardner (Yankees)

Now it may seem strange to have the ninth spot go to two players, but I’m just not sure which Yankee is going to be in left field this season and either one would fit right here on my list, so it’s both of them. Whichever plays there, lands here. Granderson hits for power, but Gardner is much better at getting on base and plays a much better defense. Both players have great aspects of their games and both have weaknesses.

8. Yoenis Cespedes (Athletics)

Cespedes hit nicely in 2012, but missed 33 games and played below average defense. It’s hard to be sure about those flaws because we don’t have any great data from his time playing in Cuba, but he has all the necessary tools to excel in the majors. My hesitation with him is merely that I don’t have nearly as much information about him as I do for everyone else on the list. If he repeats his 2012, he’ll move up the list quickly.

7. Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies)

CarGo’s place on this list is really a testament to his contemporaries rather than a knock on him. He’s on base a lot and hits for power to go along with some good baserunning chops. His defense is something of an open question because certain people love it and certain people hate it. Gonzalez gets help from his park to some degree, so that will cost him just a spot or so on the list. Great player, but not a top five left fielder for 2013.

6. Justin Upton (Braves)

Upton still has his prime ahead of him and is moving to the Braves and left field to play with his brother, but he also had a rough season in 2012 compared to a great 2011. Most people see the talent and expect great things, but he also seems to have developed the reputation as an underperformer. The change of scenery should be good for him because his coaching staff and front office won’t be looking to trade him every day. A good season for Upton is ahead, but not a great one.

5. Matt Holliday (Cardinals)

Holliday is a great and consistent offensive performer and is just starting to slow down defensively at 33. He’s the centerpiece of a great lineup and hasn’t been worth fewer than 4 WAR since 2006. The ceiling might be lower than Upton, but the floor is higher.

4. Alex Gordon (Royals)

Gordon took a while to arrive relative to expectations, but he finally did in 2011 and followed it with a great 2012. He’s a gold glove defender in left and does everything well. Power, speed, and discipline mix nicely in Gordon and for my money, after Ben Zobrist, is probably baseball’s most underrated player. The Royals might not have enough to contend this year, but they have a star in left.

3. Bryce Harper (Nationals)

Harper is another player moving to left this season, and he’s doing it on baseball’s best team. He had a great season for a teenager at 19 and another year under his belt should only make him better. Harper is often referred to as a generational talent, but even if he isn’t Mantle or Mays, a single step forward from last season should be enough to put him near the top of this list. Harper does everything well and should be at the top of this list for years to come.

2. Ryan Braun (Brewers)

Ryan Braun is arguably baseball’s best all-around player. He is an MVP at the plate, runs the bases well, and is consistently improving his defense in left. He’s entering his prime despite having a collection of elite seasons already under his belt and has never missed more than twelve games in a season in five and a half big league seasons. The fact that Braun is second on this list despite that resume tells you something about the man ahead of him.

1. Mike Trout (Angels)

Mike Trout had an all-time great season at 20. The guys who do that, tend to be all-time greats. He hit for power and average, ran the bases as well as anyone in the game, and was among the very best defensive centerfielders in the sport. He was, by far, the best player in the league in 2012. That performance is not something you can easily duplicate, but even 75% of what he was last season would be enough to challenge Braun for first on this list. If Trout was half as good as he was last season, he would still be a perennial all-star. Mike Trout might not be the best player in the league for years to come, but it’s hard not to dream on his talent and get caught up in his 2012 season. Lost in this love letter to Trout is that there is a player on the Angels who is good enough on defense that he is pushing Trout to left in 2013; Peter Bourjos. Trout is the best left fielder for 2013 only because there is someone on his team who is a better defensive centerfielder than he is. Pretty amazing.

Like this list? Hate this list? Have a more nuanced feeling about this list? Join the discussion in the comments section or on Facebook and Twitter. 

2012 Season in Review: Milwaukee Brewers

83-79, 3rd in the NL Central

The Brewers came close to following up their run to the 2011 NLCS with another playoff appearance, but ended up just short and finished 5 games behind WC2 St. Louis. This might feel like a respectable season given the loss of Prince Fielder to the big spending Tigers and Zach Greinke to the Angels via trade, but it’s hard not to look at 2012 as a missed opportunity if you’re a Brewers fan.

The reason I say this is because the Brewers could have made the playoffs if their bullpen didn’t implode time after time during the first half. They played well down the stretch and certainly could have won five more games with two more months of Greinke mixed with a not-terrible bullpen in May and June.

Ryan Braun had a near MVP season (7.9 WAR) and Aramis Ramirez filled in admirably in place of Fielder (6.5 WAR) behind him. Jonathan Lucroy posted a spectacular 3.9 WAR in 96 games behind the plate and Carlos Gomez (3.5), Nori Aoki (2.9), and Corey Hart (2.9) all had solid seasons at the plate.

Collectively, Brewers position players accumulated 33.6 WAR on offense and defense, good for second in all of baseball. They didn’t miss Fielder that much. They got elite production from their stars, solid contributions from regulars, and didn’t have anyone who dragged them down with a lot of at bats of negative value.

On the hill, the story is a bit different. Greinke gave them two great months (3.8 WAR) and Mike Fiers (3.0), Marco Estrada (2.7), and Yovani Gallardo (2.7) all had solid seasons. Wolf and Marcum also made quite a few starts of mediocre value, but the key deficiency of the rotation was that only Gallardo make more than 24 starts. By WAR, they had the 9th best rotation in baseball.

The bullpen, however, was 25th in baseball and posted a 4.11 BB/9 rate. Only the Cubs and Dodgers were as bad or worse in 2012. Only the Mets had a worse Left on Base rate. Only the Astros and Rockies gave up more hits. We should cut them some slack because they pitch in a hitter friendly park, but not this much. And we should also remember they stunk in the first half and did get a little better.

But the story here is that bullpens performing very badly over a short period can cost you a good deal of games with a small raw amount of terrible performance. I don’t like Saves as a stat for many reasons, but when you blow 30 of them as a team in one season, you’re doing something wrong.

So the story of the 2012 Brewers is a story about a good offense, respectable starting pitching, and a rough bullpen. They were good enough to make the Play-in Game except for a ton of blown games late. It’s hard not to let that eat at you over the course of an offseason.

The loss of Greinke going forward will cost them without an obvious replacement, but they should be able to recreate him with a couple of solid arms who can replace all of the starts they gave to AAAA type players.

The Reds and Cardinals aren’t going anywhere and the Pirates look serious. The Brewers need to beef up their bullpen and solidify their rotation if they want to give their offense a shot at carrying them back to the postseason.

2012 Grade: C

Early 2013 Projection: 82-80

2012 Awards Series: NL MVP

Preseason Prediction: Justin Upton (OF – ARZ)

So this was a bad one. Upton’s 2.5 WAR didn’t even crack the Top 30 in the NL. Don’t get me wrong, .280/.355/.430 is a solid big league season, it’s just nowhere near MVP levels. The talent is there to win an MVP for Upton, but there’s a lot swirling around him at this point in Arizona, so I’m not sure we’ll even see that freakish peak potential that allowed him to go #1 overall in 2005.

And the award goes to…

I think you could make a case for six players. That’s a large MVP group. Buster Posey (8.0), Ryan Braun (7.9), and David Wright (7.8) are virtually indistinguishable by WAR. I’d also include Chase Headley (7.5), Andrew McCutchen (7.4), and Yadier Molina (6.5).

I’d have a hard time arguing against any of those six. Here’s the quick case for each.

Posey led in WAR, OBP, wRC+, and played good defense at a premium position for a really good team.

Braun was a very close 2nd in WAR, tied in wRC+, led in SLG, wOBA, hit 41 bombs, stole 30 bases, and did it under intense steroid scrutiny.

Wright was a little worse on offense than those two, but made up for it with what UZR called a great season on defense to bring his WAR in line with the leaders. It can’t be ignored that Wright did this on a team much less talented than most of his rivals.

Headley is a fun one because he put up great offensive numbers at Petco Park and only missed one game all season. 31 homeruns and 17 steals from the Padres 3B to go along with solid defense. The park holds him back a little on the more conventional side and he’ll lose votes because his team wasn’t great, but Headley should be in this conversation.

McCutchen almost singlehandedly made the Pirates relevant in 2012 and came in 3rd in wRC+. The defensive metrics hate him on defense, which puzzles me a little, so his overall WAR is a little depressed, and in a race this close I’m not sure how to judge it.

Finally, Molina put up phenomenal offensive numbers for a catcher (really for anyone) and continued to be one of the most imposing defenders in the game. The 6.5 WAR isn’t quite on par with the rest of the bunch, but he loses some value because he only players 140 games a year as a catcher.

You can dive into all the statistical details yourselves because there are really too many players to really evaluate in this space, so I’ll give you my take in a crowded field.

I’m hearing from most people in the mainstream media and a lot of more insider types that Posey is likely to run away with this because of his second half surge to lead a good team to the playoffs. That’ll push him over for most voters.

I’m going to take Braun. It’s essentially a tie from any sort of statistical measure, so you have to make a value judgment based on less than objective criteria. All of these guys deserve it, but I’m voting for Braun because he deserves it after his name was tarnished by a faulty drug test last fall.

Braun tested positive for elevated testosterone, but the testing procedure was breached and he won the appeal. However, just the association has put Braun on trial with the public and I’m impressed at how he had another great season even after he “got caught” using steroids.

I don’t buy into the argument that you have to be on a playoff team to win MVP, so that isn’t in my calculus. Braun had a great year and did so while under a microscope than the others weren’t. Granted, points gets to Posey for coming back from the brutal ankle injury and lots of love for Wright, Headley, McCutchen, and Molina as well, but I’m behind Braun.

Full Ballot:

10. Jayson Heyward (OF – ATL)

9. Aaron Hill (2B – ARZ)

8. Clayton Kershaw (SP – LAD)

7. R.A. Dickey (SP – NYM)

6. Headley (3B – SD)

5. Molina (C – STL)

4. Wright (3B – NYM)

3. McCutchen (OF – PIT)

2. Posey (C – SF)

1. Braun (OF – MIL)

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