The Five Best Hitters in Baseball Now
Major League Baseball pitching earned run average (ERA) has been in a steady decline for the past seven seasons and correspondingly, so has hitters’ on base plus slugging percentage (OPS). It’s getting harder and harder to find great hitters who produce at elite levels with real consistency. Some hitters, like Justin Upton will have a great season here, then an average season there. David Wright of the New York Mets, has fought injuries along the way of having some superb, then some above-average seasons. Mark Teixeira is an example of a hitter who notoriously struggles early, heats up in May, then puts up respectable numbers the rest of the way.
Here, at the end of May, I felt this was as good of a time as any to determine who the best five hitters are in Major League baseball, right now. My evaluation criteria involves taking into account past performance but primarily relies upon the broad range of current statistical performance, with an emphasis on ability to hit with runners in scoring position and player value, represented by Wins Above Replacement (WAR). WAR is a statistic that calculates how many more wins one player represents for their team, over a replacement level player at the same position. Without further ado, here are the top-five best hitters in baseball right now:
- 1. Josh Hamilton- Hamilton has been the face of Major League Baseball in 2012. “The Natural”, as he’s been dubbed, has an abundance of raw power, which he grafts upon as sweet of a swing as there is in the game. Hamilton presently leads the Major League in OPS, Homeruns and RBI. He’s also hitting a red hot .368. His 4-Homerun performance earlier in the month at Baltimore was a majestic hitting display for the ages. Hamilton enjoyed an MVP season in 2010 before falling off slightly last season due to pesky injuries. He will be a free agent following this season and is certainly putting on quite a show for prospective suitors.
- 2. Matt Kemp- The Los Angeles Dodgers slugger has been in “beast mode” this season, particularly powered by a scorching hot month of April where he batted .417 and clubbed 12 Homeruns. Kemp led the National League in 2011 in WAR and won his second Gold Glove award. The 27-year old is in his prime, and will be coming off the Disabled List Tuesday night, after being sidelined with a hamstring injury for the past two weeks. There’s nothing this masher cannot do at the plate right now.
- 3. Ryan Braun- The Milwaukee Brewers slugger and reigning NL MVP was dogged by allegations this offseason that he used a performance enhancing drug. Ultimately, he appealed his 50-game suspension and won. Considering Braun continues to star on the diamond and nothing was proven conclusively, we give him the benefit of the doubt. What is not debatable is his exceptional power (he finished 3rd in MLB in OPS) and excellent performance in the 2011 National League Playoffs. Braun has picked up where he left off in 2011. He’s currently 2nd in the NL in Homeruns and 5th in the NL in OPS.
- 4. Joey Votto- Votto has not slowed down at all since winning the 2010 National League MVP. In fact, the Canadian-born Reds first baseman has flat out raked since arriving in “The Show” during the 2007 season. Votto finished 3rd in the National League in WAR in 2011 and is currently tops this season. He also leads the NL in OPS and holds a lifetime batting average of .314. Votto is 28 years old, in the prime of his career, and should continue to wreak havoc on opposing pitchers.
- 5. Paul Konerko- The biggest surprise on this list has amazed so far in 2012. Through 46 games, the veteran righty power bat is hitting a stunning .395, all with an OPS just percentage points lower than the incredible, Josh Hamilton. Konerko started hot in April and has turned up the temperature even higher in May. Even more incredible is the way he’s treating right-handed pitchers (RHP); He’s currently hitting .417 with 10 homeruns and 28 RBI in 127 at bats against RHP. Following elite seasons in 2010 and 2011, it’s time to give this veteran his due. And to start considering whether he may finish his career worthy of a Hall of Fame nod. Given his late-career renaissance, and the potential of more to come, it’s not out of the question.