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.
Over the last two weeks we’ve revealed our nine best catchers and first basemen for 2013 and today we’re talking about those who man the keystone sack. This was a surprisingly tough group to rank because there are a lot of similar players in this crop. As with the catchers and first basemen, I’m thinking about 2013 only.
Note: Ben Zobrist is considered an OF for 2013 by STT.
9. Dustin Ackley (Mariners)
A look at Mr. Ackley’s 2012 numbers might not breathe life into his candidacy here, but there is a lot to like. His minor league numbers suggest he has the ability to get on a base at a high level and could easily be a 15+HR player, especially with the fences coming in at Safeco. Additionally, his defense, while originally a question seems to be playing at the big league level. Entering his age 25 season, I like this as a breakout year for the former top prospect.
8. Jason Kipnis (Indians)
I’ve seen a lot of Kipnis in the AL Central over the last two seasons and his minor league numbers also support the fact that he has a good command of the strikezone and can hit for power. I expect him to be a top five or six offensive second basemen in 2013 entering his age 26 season, but his defense will hold him back on this list a little bit. He’s not a huge liability, but he is far from great with the glove.
7. Neil Walker (Pirates)
Walker enters his age 27 season in 2013 and has confirmed his ability to walk at a league average or better pace while putting up 15-20 homeruns a season from the second base position. That should be good enough to make any list of this nature when combined with solid defense. If we take the past as a predictor, Walker belongs somewhere near the bottom third of this list. But, I’m pegging Walker for a power breakout in 2013 and expect him to be close to 20-25 homeruns, which should shoot his value north. And, being a switch hitter who is brother-in-law to Don Kelly doesn’t hurt either.
6. Brandon Phillips (Reds)
This may seem a tad low for @datdudeBP, but I’ve always found him to be a tad overrated. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very good player, but there are facets of his game that bother me. First, he’s entering his age 32/33 season, which means he’s not likely to improve on his past performances, even if he can sustain them. While he hits for power as well as almost any second baseman around, his extremely low walk rate (4.5% in 2012, 5.8% for his career) really bothers me. Driving in runs is important, but you need to put yourself on base so someone can drive you in as well. His defense is often raved about, but I’m more skeptical than most in that regard. The metrics put him firmly above average to great, but he makes a lot of hotdog plays (behind the back, between the legs) that he doesn’t have to make. He’s a showman and as his physical skills decline with age, I think that will bite him. Phillips is a very good player, but he has a couple holes that are two big to ignore.
5. Ian Kinsler (Rangers)
Kinsler was a tough one to place for me. He is consistently above 20 homeruns and a league average or better walker. He limits strikeouts. He steals bases. The batting average is on the low side of average. The defense is viewed well, but I’m not a huge fan of it. But he is also going to turn 32 this season and he might not get to play second base for the whole season with Jurickson Profar, baseball’s number one prospect, waiting in the wings. I thought about all of these factors and thought fifth made sense. He’s definitely no higher than fourth and no lower than sixth, so I did the lazy thing and put him in the middle of those two.
4. Aaron Hill (Diamondbacks)
This could go a lot of different ways. Aaron Hill was phenomenal in 2012. He was a top tier second baseman in every way. No doubt. But in 2011 he was a mess. A giant mess. In 2010, he hit for power but with no average. In 2009, he was excellent. So this has a wide distribution of possibilities, but I’m betting on the top end. I think it’s safe to say the power is for real, it’s just a question of if he can hit enough for it to show up. I think that he can. If you take out 2010-11, his average is pretty stable between .270 and .300. If I let myself believe that he has gotten himself straightened out, I can easily talk myself into another good year. Probably not another 6.2 WAR, but to put himself fourth on this list, I’m only asking for 4.5 WAR or so. His defense has also generally been slightly above average and I don’t see any reason why that can’t continue. I’m bullish on Aaron “Two Cycle” Hill.
3. Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox)
I don’t have a bad thing to say about Dustin Pedroia. He hits and hits for power. He steals bases and plays superb defense. Going into his age 29 season, he should be one of the top second basemen in the game and could easily be the best. He also gives hope to small human beings everywhere.
2. Robinson Cano (Yankees)
I would imagine I’m in the minority in placing Cano anywhere but first on my list, but I have good reason. Cano is a very good hitter. High average and power, but a somewhat pedestrian walk rate. Even in his most patient years, he’s only league average. His defensive numbers are very scattered. Some years he’s great, some he’s terrible. I lean more toward the latter. I actually think Cano is below average in the field, but gets good marks from some because he rarely makes boneheaded plays, so he always looks good even when a ball is getting past him. He’s an excellent player and is very durable, but he’s not the guy who I think will be the best in 2013.
1. Chase Utley (Phillies)
My view that Utley will be the best second baseman in baseball in 2013 is predicated on his ability to stay healthy. If he can do that, I have no doubt he’s the best player on this list. But he hasn’t played a full season since 2009, so I am going out on a proverbial limb here. But let’s say Mr. Utley can stay on the field, consider what he can do. He hits for average, hits for power, has a good eye, runs the bases well, and plays excellent defense. If you look at his numbers year by year, the only complaint you can make is that for the last three seasons, he hasn’t played enough games. When he plays, he is very good. When he plays healthy, he is incredible. Now I know he’s 34 and likely past his peak, but I’m buying into one more great year from a great player. From 2005-2009, the list of players to accumulate more WAR than Utley is short. It has one name: Pujols. So while his best days may be behind him, his best days are better than anyone on this list for me. And I’m banking on one more great season.
Sound off on this list in the comments section and share your own!