Power Rankings: Top 30 MLB Players in 2012
A look back at MLB's elite 30 in 2012
The off-season is a good time for retrospection, and what better way to look back at the 2012 MLB season than with a good ol' rankings list of the league's best players of the season?
Now, rankings tend to be endlessly debatable, subjective ventures, but they are a hell lot easier to debate with an understanding of the biases of the person putting it together. It is a personal list, after all.
So before embarking on this journey through 30 members of the 2012 baseball elite, I just wanted to point out a few guidelines which were applied in compiling this list. You might happen to think that the list or guidelines themselves are stupid, but it's better for everyone involved if I laid out where it's all coming from:
1) Though this is a list of the top players in 2012, I put it together with an emphasis on upside. The projectability of each player's success (given age, pedigree), and how repeatable their 2012 season is going forward is something that matters to me. Call it the fluke rule - Sorry, Fernando Rodney.
2) I think batters tend to be more valuable than pitchers. It doesn't mean I don't think the game's best hurlers are amazing, it just means that I'd always take the batter who plays every day for 9 innings over them as a personal rule. For this reason, you'll find this particular rankings list to be batter-heavy – there are no pitchers in the top-10, only one in the top-15, and he's not either of the Cy Young winners. Crazy!
3) This isn't a list of the top 30 players ranked by WAR (what would be the fun in that?); that said, it's something that I do consider. That's why I've included each player's fWAR for reference.
4) Melky Cabrera didn't make the list not because of the PED use, but because he got caught at a time that cost him 50 games of the season.
5) If I were to convert this to a tiers list, it would be as follows: 1-5 – “I'm pretty sure about these guys” tier, 6-30 – largely interchangeable tier. I know there are numbers ahead of all of the players, but don't get too hung up on them, y'know? There's a lot of parity when we're talking about elite players.
6) I have a special, personal rule stemming from a deep-seated hometown dislike that applies to one player, and one player only: Alex Rios. Feel free to slot him in wherever you like on your lists, but you won't him anywhere on mine.
With all that said, I humbly present to you Rant Sports' 2012 power rankings of the top 30 players in MLB:
30. Aroldis Chapman
2012 highlights: 15.32 K/9, 5.30 K/BB, 3.3 fWAR
The Cincinnati Reds signed Aroldis Chapman with the hopes that he'd be a knockout starter, but after the lefty's ludicrous 2012 season in which the Cuban harnessed his electric stuff, you couldn't blame the team for wanting to keep him around as one of the best relievers in the league, right?
With a conversion to starting still on tap for Chapman, don't be surprised if he makes this list again in 2013 as a starter.
29. Aaron Hill
2012 highlights: .360 OBP, 9.9 IFFB%, hit for cycle (twice!), 6.2 fWAR
All it took for Aaron Hill was a change of scenery. His success with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012 wasn't totally unpredicted, given his existing skill set and how he performed when he arrived in late 2011.
The BABIP normalized to around previous career levels, Hill maintained his power, improved his walk rate (best since rookie season), and reduced his pop-up rate below that of his previous four seasons. He kept some of that new-found speed from 2011 to boot, swiping 14 bases.
28. Matt Cain
2012 highlights: 3.78 K/BB, perfect game, 3.8 fWAR
No surprises here - Matt Cain continued his run as one of the NL's top starters in 2012, adding a perfect game to his impressive resume that now includes six straight seasons of 200+ innings pitched, while establishing a new career mark in the strikeout-to-walks department. At just 28 years of age, Cain has longevity and ace-like control in his prime – what's not to like?
27. Craig Kimbrel
2012 highlights: 16.66 K/9, 8.29 K/BB, 50.2 K%, 3.6 fWAR
Craig Kimbrel struck out over half of the batters he faced in 2012.
I could go on about his improved control, etc, but just think on that for a moment. Do you really need to know more? The Atlanta Braves closer is easily the best reliever in baseball, and that's saying a lot, considering how good the other reliever on this list is.
26. Jose Reyes
2012 highlights: 160 GP, 8.8 BB%, 40 SB, 4.5 fWAR
It wasn't the 60+ steal season that Jose Reyes fans hoped for, but that the shortstop played a complete season for the first time since 2008 is a significant talking point to his 2012 season. Once considered the game's premiere shortstop, Reyes season can be considered a near return to form; he remains one of the top speed threats in the game, reaching the 40-steal mark for the first time since '08.
25. Albert Pujols
2012 highlights: 30 HR (12th straight season), .935 (post-AS), 3.9 fWAR
For over a month of the 2012 season, Albert Pujols was little more than the subject of a long-running “X has more home runs” joke across the baseball world.
That he hit 30 of them and finished with a .859 OPS for the season, despite a horrid April where he put up a .570 OPS should tell you something about how well he performed once the longest slump of Pujols' career ended.
The best hitter of this generation was anything but for over a month, but Pujols was mostly back to the happy zone after that. Is it a mis-step, or a sign of things to come? Can you conceive of a 2013 top-30 without him?
24. Billy Butler
2012 highlights: 29 HR, .510 SLG, 3.2 fWAR
If only Billy Butler could hit for power.
That was the line attached to the designated hitter for years; Butler finally made good on that potential in 2012, setting career-best power numbers that earned him the first Silver Slugger award of his career.
Just in time for his age-27 season, too.
23. Matt Holliday
2012 highlights: 27 HR, .877 OPS, 5.1 fWAR
Matt Holliday put up a sub-.900 OPS season for the first time since 2005, but that's hardly a complaint, is it? Perhaps he's just set the standard too high in his career thus far; the 32-year old continued to roll in 2012 as one of the top offensive outfielders in the game.
22. Gio Gonzalez
2012 highlights: 2.89 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 0.41 HR/9, 5.4 fWAR
Gio Gonzalez was all about career-marks in 2012: first season with a sub-3 ERA, first with a sub-4 BB/9; and he cut his home run allowed by nearly half from his 2011 mark.
The 27-year old always had the talent, but '12 was the first in which he truly put all of it together for the whole year.
21. Clayton Kershaw
2012 highlights: 2.53 ERA, 229 K, 5.5 fWAR
It wasn't quite as good as his Cy Young-winning breakout season, but Clayton Kershaw put up a hell of an encore in 2012, throwing 200+ innings for the third year in a row, while maintaining his .204 BAA from '11.
...and he's several years younger than Gio. Imagine what this guy can do in his prime?
20. Adam Jones
2012 highlights: 32 HR, 16 SB, 4.6 fWAR
The walk rate still holds him back a bit, but Adam Jones had little problem finding success despite a .334 OBP that's below his elite peers.
We weren't sure if his newfound power would hold, and he improved it. We weren't sure if he could establish himself as a legitimate speed threat, and he set a career-best mark in stolen bases. It's not quite a 30-20 season, but 32-16 is nothing to scoff at either.
Now imagine if he could draw a walk once in a while?
19. Prince Fielder
2012 highlights: .313 AVG, 182 H, 153 wRC+, 4.9 fWAR
Though Prince Fielder hit “only” 30 homers in 2012, his first season with the Detroit Tigers was a success, largely because he was able to continue developing as a hitter: Fielder set a career-high in hits, learning to drive the ball to opposite field, while cutting his K-rate down to a career best 12.2%.
The first-baseman was only one of four players who got on base with a .400+ clip in 2012 – and don't forget that the power is still there, despite the relatively paltry (by Fielder's standards) home run totals.
18. David Price
2012 highlights: 2.56 ERA, Cy Young award, 5.1 fWAR
David Price was destined for this ever since he burst on to the league with the Tampa Bay Rays as a reliever in the post-season.
In his third straight 200+ IP season, he's finally reached the top: a career-best ERA and WHIP, 2nd straight season with 200 strikeouts, and a trophy to celebrate all of it with.
17. Yadier Molina
2012 highlights: 12SB, .874 OPS, 6.5 fWAR
Yadier Molina has been an excellent defensive catcher through his career, but he's on this 2012 best-of list because he does what most other defensive catchers don't: give a team near-elite offensive production.
Molina was always a pretty good hitter, but in 2012, he also added career-best power (22HRs) and stolen bases (12 SB) to complete an all-around game that makes him a legitimate force, both at the plate and behind it.
16. R.A. Dickey
2012 highlights: 8.86 K/9, 2.73 ERA, some award I can't recall, 4.6 fWAR
The knuckleball is alive and well, thanks to R.A. Dickey, who not only used his pitch to move into the elite echelon of starting pitchers in 2012, but also earning his first Cy Young award in doing so.
The biggest surprise isn't that he's done it at 38-years old; it's that Dickey transformed himself into a strikeout artist overnight, setting down nearly a batter per inning via the K, a 2012 career mark that might be more impressive than his three-year run as a late-bloomer for the New York Mets.
15. Ben Zobrist
2012 highlights: .848 OPS, 137 wRC+, 5.9 fWAR
A utility man in the top 15? Isn't that stretching it?
Not when it's Ben Zobrist, the quintessential super-utility player in the league. Zobrist didn't set any career marks in 2012, but instead simply kept chugging along as one of the game's most underrated players – he provides above-average defense in both the infield and outfield, hits for power (.202 ISO), gets on base (.377 OBP) without strikeout out too much, and can steal a base if he has to.
In short, he's the Swiss army knives of baseball players - there's plenty of value in that.
14. Ian Desmond
2012 highlights: 25 HR, .845 OPS, 5.4 fWAR
For Ian Desmond, it was just a matter of the Washington Nationals using his skill set the right way: namely, not as a leadoff hitter.
After struggling through April with a .655 OPS, Desmond eventually found comfort further down in the lineup, and never looked back – sure, his strikeout-happy approach means his .335 OBP is not anything to write home about, but when Desmond has established himself as a 20-20 threat with above-average defense, it's hard to find too much to complain about.
Who knows, if he hasn't missed 25 games with a sore oblique (that he battled all year, apparently), perhaps we'd be talking about the 27-year old as a 30-30 player right now.
13. Justin Verlander
2012 highlights: 2.64 ERA, 239 K, 6.8 fWAR
This is not a slight to either of the 2012 Cy Young award winners, but the best pitcher in baseball this year was the same guy that took home the trophy last year.
For the second year in a row, Justin Verlander led the league in innings pitched and strikeouts, while putting up his second straight sub-3 ERA season and also leading his peers in complete games.
It's simple, really: no starter is as good as Verlander for as long as he is in any given ball game.
12. Giancarlo Stanton
2012 highlights: 37 HR, .969 OPS, 5.8 fWAR
If Giancarlo Stanton hadn't missed a month of the season while recovering from minor knee surgery, there's a very good chance that he would have ranked higher.
The league's premier power-hitter (.318 ISO, .608 SLG) had all of one home run at the end of April. Stanton played most of the season with a balky knee that required routine time time, logging only 501 plate appearances; despite the setbacks, he still ended his season with 37 homers while hitting .290.
At 23-years old, Stanton is already one of the elite players in the NL. It's going to be scary seeing what the guy can do now that his knee is fixed up and ready to go in 2013.
11. David Wright
2012 highlights: 140 wRC+, .883 OPS, 7.8 fWAR
David Wright's wonky back all but decimated his 2011 season, but boy, did he ever rebound from it in 2012: the third baseman posted his best OPS since 2008, and was a defensive wizard on the field, setting career-highs in fielding % (.974) and UZR/150 (16.8).
Consider this a return to form for one of the league's best at the hot corner.
10. Chase Headley
2012 highlights: 31 HR, 145 RC+, 7.5 fWAR
2012 was a breakout year for Chase Headley, who shook the “good hitter with little power” label and moved into the “good hitter with big power” category of players in the league.
Headley, who also added 17 steals, was the closest 30-20 threat in the '12 class of third basemen. Can he repeat it in '13?
9. Adrian Beltre
2012 highlights: 36 HR, .921 OPS, 6.5 fWAR
Adrian Beltre's .921 OPS in '12 was second among third baseman, and 36 homers is his most since 2004; and of course, his defense is still as good as ever.
In fact, Beltre was so good in 2012, you could make a pretty compelling argument that he was the best player on the Texas Rangers last season, and not that other guy who is now a free agent.
8. Buster Posey
2012 highlights: 24 HR, 162 wRC+, MVP award 8.0 fWAR
All Buster Posey did was just win the batting title, World Series ring, and MVP title as not only the best catcher, but the best overall player in the NL
Not to shabby for a guy who missed almost an entire year.
7. Edwin Encarnacion
2012 highlights: 42 HR, 152 wRC+, 4.4 fWAR
Call it a hometown bias: how can I ignore Edwin Encarnacion finally meeting that 40-homer potential in 2012 after all these years?
Sure, he still would be best off not playing on the field, but Encarnacion was an offensive force in '12 otherwise. With him putting up double-digit stolen base totals for the first time in his career, could Encarnacion become a 40/20 threat next season?
6. Robinson Cano
2012 highlights: 33 HR, .929 OPS, 7.8 fWAR
Never mind Robinson Cano – he's just been busy continuing to be the best second baseman in the game in 2012, setting career-highs in homers and OPS.
5. Josh Hamilton
2012 highlights: 148 GP, 43 HR, 4.4 fWAR
Am I putting Josh Hamilton this high only because of his videogame-like first half?
Hamilton “regressed” to a .833 OPS in the second half of 2012 with strikeout problems, but he also stayed healthy for the first time since 2008 (636 PA is his most since that season), and I mean, he still hit 43 homers en route to his second-best season ever.
It probably wouldn't take much to convince me that he shouldn't be in the 2012 top-five, but...come on, the guy had a 1.016 OPS first half. I'm okay with him here for now.
4. Ryan Braun
2012 highlights: 41 HR, 30SB, 7.9 fWAR
PEDs be damned, Ryan Braun showed that he could repeat what he did in 2011, even adding a new career mark in home runs in the process of becoming the league's only 40-30 player in 2012.
Whether you care about the guy's drug history or not, there's no arguing that he continued to be one of the league's very best in 2012.
3. Andrew McCutchen
2012 highlights: 31 HR, .327 AVG, .400 OBP, 7.5 fWAR
By my books, Andrew McCutchen was the best player in the NL in 2012: he was one of two NL players with an OBP at .400 or over, grew into his power to become a 30-20 player, while leading all outfielders in batting average last season.
You could probably swap Braun (or even Posey) with him here, but McCutchen would've been my choice for NL MVP, and I'm sticking with him at this spot.
2. Miguel Cabrera
2012 highlights: Batting triple-crown, MVP, 7.1 fWAR
What else can I say here that hasn't already been said about Miguel Cabrera? New position in tow, Miggy continued to lay claim to Pujol's title of the best hitter in the game today with nearly his third-straight .1000+ OPS season.
Yes, defense matters; but when you're hitting like Cabrera is, it matters a whole lot less.
1. Mike Trout
2012 highlights: 30 HR, 49 SB, 10.0 fWAR
Forget just the best rookie season ever, Mike Trout might have had one of the best seasons of all-time. His 10.0 WAR easily trumps all of his peers, and Trout is the first to reach that number since Barry Bonds in '04.
Don't forget that Trout wasn't called up until the end of April, either.
I said in the Cabrera slide that defense matters a whole lot less when you hit like him, but when you add elite defense to the kind of offensive production of both players (both Trout and Cabrera put up league-leading 166 wRC+), there's just no other way to put it: Trout was simply the best.
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