Ranking the Top 25 MLB Players Through the First Two Months
Ranking the Top 25 MLB Players Through the First Two Months
Using a simple calculation of MLB Wins Above Replacement (WAR) plus Wins Above Average (WAA), we can look at who are the top overall major leaguers in 2022 after two months of games. These metrics look at pitching, offense, and defense as part of their equations. There are some familiar and expected names towards the top, but also some surprises along the way.
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Top 25 MLB Players Through the First Two Months
25. Alek Manoah, SP, Blue Jays
The strikeouts (8.06/nine innings) may be down from his impressive rookie debut in 2021, but so are the walk and the home runs. His emergence has given the Toronto Blue Jays a legitimate three-headed monster in their starting pitching with Kevin Gausman and Jose Berrios. He has also cut his barrel rate in half from 2021.
24. Jeff McNeil, 2B/OF, New York Mets
In the running for the most surprising name on this list, but a .315/.369/.449 slash line with stellar defense will get the job done. He also never strikes out (10.3% of the time, seventh-best among all hitters) so you know he is going to put the ball in play.
23. Tony Gonsolin, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Gonsolin makes the list over teammates Walker Buehler and Julio Urias because he has a higher strikeout rate, and lower home run rate, and has pitched just a few innings less than both of those guys. The .200 BABIP screams that there is some regression coming, but for now, the Dodgers can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
22. Jameson Taillon, SP, New York Yankees
Absolutely everything is working right for Taillon this year. The strikeouts may be down from years past, but he has career-bests in walk rate, home run rate, ERA, and xERA. After his dismantling of the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday, Taillon has sneakily jumped into the top 10 in pitcher WAR this season.
21. Willson Contreras, C, Chicago Cubs
Contreras has the most compelling case for the league's best catcher two months into the season. His 1.9 WAR is several ticks ahead of Jonah Heim at 1.4 and his .408 wOBA is more than 50 points higher than the next backstop on the list. A slash line of .278/.401/.530 is almost unheard of for catchers in 2022, but the Cubs are keeping him fresh by offering regular DH days this year.
20. J.P. Crawford, SS, Seattle Mariners
Crawford is another player who is setting career highs across the board this season. His .297/.390/.451 slash line all represent career-bests. He has also reduced his strikeout rate to a very low 15% this year. At 11.7%, Crawford also now carries the best walk rate in the league among all shortstops.
19. Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees
Judge actually shows up as a negative in the defensive WAR department, which is why he isn't higher on this list after two months. But in terms of offensive WAR, only Mookie Betts and Manny Machado have been better in 2022. Judge bet big on himself in his last year before free agency, turning down a large contract extension from the Yankees. With 20 homers and 41 RBI through two months, it looks like that gamble is going to pay off with a massive contract in the offseason.
18. Taylor Ward, OF, Los Angeles Angels
After yo-yoing between the minors and the major leagues the last five seasons, Ward has finally struck gold with the Angels this year. Even with missing several games due to injury, Ward has 10 home runs, 26 RBI, and a .333/.443/.644 slash line. There is certainly some luck involved as he has a .391 BABIP (sixth-highest among all batters).
17. Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
He may only have two home runs, but the second-year phenom in Pittsburgh is doing just about everything else as well as anyone could ask. He has a .295/.379/.405 slash with an elite 11.1% walk rate. But he is really making a name for himself with his defense, ranking fifth among all third-basemen in defensive WAR through two months.
16. Paul Blackburn, SP, Oakland Athletics
Blackburn got hit hard on Saturday, but it doesn't change the fact that he has been one of the more dominant pitchers in 2022. The strikeouts are not dominant, per se, but his elite 50% ground ball rate and tiny 7.5% HR/FB rate have kept his ERA under 3.00 all season. It's an astounding feat that on a team as miserable as the Athletics, Blackburn in 5-1 this year.
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15. Corbin Burnes, SP, Milwaukee Brewers
Burnes also got hit hard his last time out, but he remains one of only six pitchers with a K/9 rate over 10.00 and a BB/9 rate under 2.00. So far this season, Burnes is actually doing a better job than in 2021 of allowing walks to opposing hitters. And with a K/9 rate over 11.00, this is one of the best pitchers the game has to offer today.
14. Jose Ramirez, 3B, Cleveland Guardians
Jose Ramirez is on a 162-game pace to hit 45 home runs and drive in 179 runs. He has simply been an unbelievable offensive force through the first two months, with only an average defensive WAR number driving down his ranking. His on-base percentage and slugging percentage currently represent career-highs and his BABIP is actually below the league average. With how disciplined he is at the plate, there is a chance this could actually get better this year.
13. Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox
WAR values highly things like walks, but Devers laughs in the face of free passes. His triple-slash line of .338/.367/.598 reminds us of the Red Sox of yesteryears like Ted Williams and Fred Lynn's MVP year. Devers is back among the league leaders with a low 18% strikeout rate, and at just 25, should be a staple near the lists of top MLB players for years to come.
12. Jeremy Pena, SS, Houston Astros
Rookie Jeremy Pena in the top 12? Pena does have the fifth-highest offensive WAR among shortstops this year and has made the Astros and their fans say Carlos Correa who? But it's his defense that is really turning heads this year. Pena leads all major league players in defensive WAR this season and has simply been a revelation at the position. He's like former Astros' shortstops Carlos Correa and Adam Everett all in one player.
11. Ty France, 1B, Seattle Mariners
Another player whose ability to avoid strikeouts is Ty France, and it's driving his value way up this year in just his second season in a full-time role. France is hitting .341/.414/.493 with 36 RBI already this year. He has increased his HardHit% from 38.9% last year to 42.2% this year which has resulted in line drives being dropped all over the field by France this year.
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10. Pablo Lopez, SP, Miami Marlins
Not many pitchers can say they have chopped their ERA from 5.09 to 1.81 in just four years, but that's exactly what Lopez has done since 2019. His strong ERA this year is supported by a 9.31 K/9 rate and an elite 0.76 HR/9 rate. But much like Paul Blackburn, it's the groundball rate at almost 47% that is his bread and butter this year. He has the perfect pitch mix for the spacious ballpark he is in and the ERA estimators show that this breakout is mostly legit.
9. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
What more can you say about the GOAT? He is back doing GOAT things again this year after a couple of injury-filled seasons. He may not steal bases anymore (which is good for him and the Angels), but his average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage are all upper tier again. But the best part about his season is he has been fully healthy and looking like the Trout of old again.
8. Nestor Cortes, SP, New York Yankees
There are a number of metrics you can point to that show Cortes very well may be the best pitcher in the majors in 2022. His 1.50 ERA is second only to another pitcher on this list, but his xERA of 2.14 is miles better than anyone else. The success can be directly attributed to a 10% increase in ground ball rate and a 10% decrease in fly ball rate since last year. He will likely start allowing a few more home runs at some point, but this is still a top-five pitcher without question this season.
7. Sandy Alcantara, SP, Miami Marlins
Sandy Alcantara is looking an awful lot like Sandy Koufax this season, sporting a 1.81 ERA with an 8.56 K/9 rate and an elite 52.4% groundball rate. Averaging almost seven innings per start this year, Alcantara has been one of the more reliable and efficient pitchers in the majors. If only Miami had an offense to complement their pitching staff this year, Lopez and Alcantara might be getting come Cy Young love.
6. Nolan Arenado, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals
If Arenado's 2021 Cardinals debut was the tasty appetizer, then the 2022 season is an even better main course. All of his meaningful metrics have improved since last season and he is on pace for more than 30 home runs and 115 RBI. He is also playing his usual stellar defense at third base, and getting to get an occasional day of rest at DH to keep him healthy. Arenado and his teammates below are the primary drivers for the Cardinals' 31-23 record, including 7-3 in their last 10.
5. Martin Perez, SP, Texas Rangers
How is it even possible that a journeyman like Martin Perez is the best pitcher in the major leagues in 2022? He is inducing groundballs better than almost anyone for starters, over 56% of the time this season. He hasn't allowed a home run this year in 63 innings, which on the surface is a good thing, but we should see some glaring red flags here. This is a guy who has a career ERA over 4.50. He allows a 12% HR/FB rate in his career, so the 0.0% this year can't keep up. He has been the best pitcher in baseball to this point. But your money shouldn't be bet on this trend continuing.
4. Tommy Edman, 2B/SS, St. Louis Cardinals
Recently shifting to shortstop to accommodate uber-prospect Nolan Gorman, Tommy Edman has been hitting and stealing hits no matter where he plays. This is a legitimate breakout season for the young star, and his .281/.353/.413 line is accompanied by 14 stolen bases, second in the majors. His walks and hard-hit rate are up, and he has been the leadoff catalyst for one of the best offenses in baseball.
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals
That's correct, three Cardinals bats in the top ten so far this year. That's how good this offense has been. Goldschmidt (.349/.427/.630) is turning back the clock to about 2015 with these numbers so far this year. With 12 homers and 47 RBI already, he is looking to smash all his personal best records hitting behind Edman, Gorman, and Arenado. Typically first basemen don't rank highly on WAR lists because of their lack of contribution to defense, but Goldy's offense is just that good this year.
2. Mookie Betts, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
It seems like a lifetime ago that there were offseason discussions about Betts might be slowing down after suffering a serious hip injury. Those concerns look foolish now that he is batting .308/.391/.607 with the second-most homers in baseball (16). He also has the best defensive WAR among all right fielders this year. Many predicted that this Dodgers' offense might be one of the best ever, and Betts is doing his part to make sure that prediction comes true.
1. Manny Machado, 3B, San Diego Padres
Machado and Mookie Betts have almost identical offensive WAR numbers this year, so Machado's defense at third base pushes him over the edge as the top player in the majors this year. It doesn't hurt, of course, that he is batting .344/.421/.566 this year with nine home runs and seven stolen bases. This is looking like a career year for Machado, and the combination of offense and defense is pushing him to the top of almost every list of best players in 2022.
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