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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.

If Not A-Rod, Who?: Five Players Who Could Get to 763

Editor’s Note: This article was written prior to Tuesday’s steroid allegations and the writer believes the situation will likely not improve for him, even if it doesn’t get worse. 

There was a time, not long ago, that it seemed inevitable that Alex Rodriguez would break Barry Bonds’ all-time homerun record of 762. Today, that certainty is slowly fading.

Ken Rosenthal and the rest of the crew on MLB Network’s Hot Stove yesterday considered the possibility that A-Rod might never make it back to a big league lineup, but at the very least is unlikely to play in 2013. With the loss of an entire season quite possible, A-Rod’s shot at hitting another 116 homeruns is dwindling.

He’ll be 38 in July, which means he’ll be 38/39 in 2014. If we assume 2013 is a lost cause, that gives him four seasons to get to the end of his contract and hit 116 homeruns. Given that he’ll be 42 when the deal is up and that his body is already breaking down, I don’t think it’s likely that he’ll play beyond 2017.

If these assumptions hold, does A-Rod have a shot at the record? He would need to average 29 HR a season to get to 763. He hasn’t hit that many since 2010. Granted, he hit 30 or more in every season before 2010, but still. He hasn’t even hit 20 in either of last two seasons. His batting average and walk rate are down from his peak. He’s no longer a great defender and his baserunning is not much to look at.

He’s an aging slugger who is breaking down and losing his athleticism. That doesn’t make for a good formula going into his late 30s and early 40s.

So while 116 more homeruns aren’t out of the question, it doesn’t look likely. Only Barry Bonds hit more homeruns as he got really old, but most don’t. This is a lesson in inevitability and prediction. In baseball, there is a lot of uncertainty and a lot can go wrong.

A-Rod, for all of his talent, is likely going to come up short of a mark he looked certain to achieve. And Bonds’ record will stand a little longer. Not that A-Rod breaking the record would make us feel better. He admitted to using PEDs during his Rangers days. He’s one of the least popular star athletes of our lifetime and is a constant source of ridicule.

So I’m not going to get nostalgic and upset about A-Rod’s demise, but I am going to get inquisitive. If not A-Rod, then who? Who among the active baseball world could get to 763 homeruns and unseat Bonds?

Here are five candidates who could get there if they place into their early 40s:

5) Mike Trout (Angels)

Trout is 21 and has 35 homers. He’s probably not going to hit 30 a year every season for 20 years, but even that wouldn’t be enough. He’s good enough to make a run at it, but it’s important to remember that young players have a disadvantage because they have a lot of ground to cover, even if they do have time to do so. Needs: 20 years of 37+HR

4. Bryce Harper (Nationals)

The same goes for the 19 year old Harper who already has 22 homeruns. He’s a generational talent and is very young. He could do it, but the odds are still long given how many he still has in front of him. Needs 22 years of 34+HR

3. Miguel Cabrera (Tigers)

Cabrera is a still under thirty for a couple of months and he’s already 321 homeruns into the race. He hit a career high 44 in 2012 and a few more years at that pace will give him a shot at Bonds’ record. But Cabs has always been more of a pure hitter than a power hitter, so 40 homer years might be the exception to a 30 homer pace. Needs 12 years of 37+HR

2. Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins)

Stanton is only a couple years older than Trout and Harper but he’s 93 homers deep into the chase. Don’t get me wrong, a lot has to go right for him to make it to 763, but I like his odds better just because he’s already near 100. Needs 20 years of 34+ HR

1. Albert Pujols (Angels)

Pujols is easily the furthest along in the race at 475 homeruns, but he’s also the oldest. If we figure he’ll play out the final nine years of his deal in LA, he’ll need to hit 32 a year to make it happen. The task is easiest for him, but he’s also the only player on this list on the wrong side of 30. Needs 9 years of 32+HR

The Nine Best First Basemen for 2013

Last week I rolled out the best catchers for 2013. And let me tell you, that list was a lot easier. The first base crop is great at the top, but then it gets a little bit less clear. Plenty of debate should come from this, but here are my top nine first basemen for the 2013 season.

9. Eric Hosmer (Royals)

Yeah, yeah, yeah his 2012 was a disaster. But I’m a believer. He’s very young and I’m comfortable writing off one bad season after he broke onto the scene in style in 2011 and during spring training last season. I love his glove and when he squares up a pitch, it can go a long way. If 2013 doesn’t go well for him, I’ll back off, but for now, I’m still a believer.

8. Anthony Rizzo (Cubs)

If you multiply the half season he played in the majors in 2012 by 2, he’d have been a top five first basemen. Not everyone is capable of doing that over a full season, but I think Rizzo is. His defense was good for the Cubs and I really like his swing. Solid average and good power. If he can improve the patience a touch, which I think he will, Rizzo could be a star.

7. Allen Craig (Cardinals)

Craig is a bit of tossup. His glove at first isn’t wonderful, but he’s a phenomenal hitter. He mixes contact and power in an excellent fashion. If he can stay healthy he’s great, if not, he won’t be. Simple as that. I’ll bet on only a couple weeks on the DL and say he’ll be a top nine 1B.

6. Mark Teixeira (Yankees)

Teixeira does certain things well. He hits for power. He walks. He plays excellent defensive. What he does not do well, is make contact. People who don’t make contact don’t crack the top five.

5. Freddie Freeman (Braves)

Freeman walks, hits for power, and plays solid defense. The average needs a boost and I buy a breakout from the young Braves first basemen. His lineup is better than last year and he’ll be another year older and wiser. Freeman is a guy to watch in 2013.

4. Adam LaRoche (Nationals)

LaRoche is also someone who combines power, walks, and defense. Well he did in 2012. He’s a bit of a wild card, but I’m going for it. He was a mess in 2011 due to a low BABIP, but I’m going to bank on him for one more year in the middle of that great Nationals lineup.

3. Prince Fielder (Tigers)

Prince is an excellent hitter. He hits for average. He draws walks. He has prodigious power. He hits behind the game’s best slugger and is one of the most durable baseball players in the world. He doesn’t play good defense though, so he can’t crack the top two.

2. Albert Pujols (Angels)

2012 was a down year for The Machine, but 30 HR and 3.9 WAR is better than a down year for almost every person on Earth. Pujols just set a very high bar. The future Hall of Famer is probably on the decline, but coming down from his insane peak still leaves a lot of room for him to be great. Look for a couple more great years before the party is over.

1. Joey Votto (Reds)

There is a case to be made the Votto is the best offensive player in baseball. In 75% of a season in 2012, he posted a 5.9 WAR. He’s a good defender, too, but man the offense. I’m just going to let his slash line do the talking, because really, what could I say that it doesn’t? .337/.474/.567. Read that again and let it sink in. Unbelievable.

Read the Midseason Update

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