Which Hitters Have Dominated Baseball Through the First Half?
The All-Star break is here in baseball, which is the unofficial "halfway" point in the Major League season. Yes, we are past the exact halfway point, but when we look up those important first- and second-half splits at the end of the year, this is the split we're talking about.
So it's a good time to take a look at where certain players are in the pecking order with half of 2017 in the books. Below are the statistical leaders at the major offensive categories as the league enters All-Star week, and as always, there are a few surprises.
Wins Above Replacement
The season being put together by New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge borders on the ridiculous, both in the fact it's surprising that Judge has turned into the most valuable player in baseball, and that he's doing it all as a rookie. With Mike Trout being on the sideline in recent weeks, Judge has taken over as the clear WAR leader.
According to FanGraphs, the slugging outfielder has a WAR of 5.5, more than one full win better than the next-closest player, Jose Altuve, who is at 4.4. In the National League, the fWAR leader is the Washington Nationals' third baseman Anthony Rendon at 4.1, which is tied for third-highest in baseball.
As for the player with the worst fWAR among qualified big leaguers? That would shockingly be the the Colorado Rockies' star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, with a staggeringly bad -1.5. The next closest player is Albert Pujols at -0.9.
Among qualified batters, Altuve leads the batting race at .347. This is familiar territory for the second baseman -- after all, he's a two-time batting champ, including last year when he hit .338. He's having an even better season in 2017, and were it not for Judge, would probably be the leading candidate for AL MVP.
Daniel Murphy's ascension into one of the best pure hitters in the game is complete over in the National League. He leads the Senior Circuit with a .342 average, but it won't be for long. As soon as he gets enough plate appearances to qualify, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Justin Turner is going to pass him. Turner has missed time due to injury, but his .377 average would be good enough to give him the clear edge, and he'll become eligible soon after the All Star break.
On-base percentage is perhaps the most important offensive statistic with which to measure an individual player's contribution. Baseball is all about avoiding making outs, and OBP is the one stat that tells you precisely how good a player has done at avoiding outs.
And as we go along here, we're going to find that Judge is on top of a lot of leaderboards, so get used to hearing his name. His OBP of .448 leads all of baseball, but in the NL, Harper is leading the way with a .431 mark.
Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA)
Weighted on-base average is a number that incorporates a lot of batting data and weights it according to importance. Home runs are given more emphasis over triples, triples over doubles, doubles over singles, etc. That number is then configured into a figure that looks like on-base percentage, but is different.
Votto is having one of the best seasons of his already spectacular career, batting .315/.427/.631. No one is complaining about an inability to drive in runs anymore, as he's already smoked 26 home runs with 68 RBI and 65 runs scored.
Weighted Runs Created (wRC+)
Weighted runs created is a number like wOBA, only it's weighted to factor in the park a player plays in. The guys who play in parks conducive to offense like Colorado have their numbers weighted a little less than someone who plays in a more neutral or pitcher-friendly park. That number is then calculated and comes out as a two or three-digit number, scaled to 100 to represent a "league average" run producer.
Generally, wRC+ tends to mirror wOBA, and that's true in this case too, with Judge (197) and Votto (167) leading the way in the AL and NL, respectively.
Baseball is all about the dingers right now, with the game on pace to break the record current record for the most home runs launched in a season. Judge is the only player in baseball to have reached 30 by the All-Star break, with the Houston Astros' George Springer (27) not far off his pace.
He doesn't show up on the "qualified" leaderboard just yet, but will soon.
Runs Batted In (RBI)
The RBI is no longer the marquee statistic it once was, but it shouldn't be tossed out with the bath water. Driving in runs is important, but it should not be used as a major factor in determining how good a player is. After all, they're largely dependent on the hitters in front of that player getting on base.
That being said, two National League players and one American Leaguer share the MLB lead with 70 runs knocked in: Miami's Marcell Ozuna, the Colorado Rockies' Nolan Arenado, and the Seattle Mariners' Nelson Cruz. If you don't knock 'em in, you can't score.
This statistic has gained acceptance as a "sabermetric" number, but it actually has some flaws that make wOBA and wRC+ better when computing a player's overall offensive value. OPS is simply the addition of a players' on-base percentage and slugging percentage, however, it pits the two numbers as being equals, when OBP is more important. It also double-counts batting average, because slugging percentage and OBP both include a players' number of hits.
Nevertheless, it does tell a pretty good story, and more often than not, accurately reflects when a player is doing well. In this case, Judge (1.139) and Votto (1.058) are atop each league's OPS leaderboard. Both just might be the leaders in the clubhouse for MVP.
The art of the stolen base has been de-emphasized over the last few years as managers and front offices eschew the possibility of giving away an out on the bases. That being said, for players who can make it more often than not, the stolen base is still a valuable weapon.
Not surprisingly, the Reds' Billy Hamilton leads baseball with 38 steals, with Trea Turner (35) and Dee Gordon (32) not far behind. In the AL, the Los Angeles Angels Cameron Maybin leads the way with 25.
Win Probability Added (WPA)
Is a player "clutch?" Baseball analysts argue whether or not being "clutch" is an actual skill, or whether it's simply random. It's hard to find empirical data to suggest a player hitting with runners in scoring position is a repeatable "skill," but with WPA, we can at least say who has done a good job in helping their team win games this season.
Every hit in a big league game either helps increase or decrease their team's odds of winning a game. For example, if a player's team is trailing by two runs in the eighth inning, they may have a 20% chance of winning the game. But if that player hits a three-run homer in that spot, their odds of winning increases to 80%. That jump in win probability is put in decimal form (in this case 0.60) and is credited to that player's WPA total.
Among qualified hitters, no player in baseball has a higher WPA than Harper at 3.83. The Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo is second (3.37) with Votto in third (3.17). In the AL, Houston's Springer leads the way (3.02) with the Oakland Athletics' Khris Davis right behind (2.75).