Best Batters in 2018 – Final | The Process Report

Best Batters in 2018 – Final

With the smell of autumn in the air it is natural to turn sights toward individual awards once team success ceases to matter. We can now look at data for the entirety of the season, and herein are the prominent names that should be in the conversation for the award talk. As throughout the year, the currency will be park-adjusted actual and true performance using this year’s model. Additionally, because some rows are easier to hoe, each player will be adjusted up or down based on the difficulty of their collective opponents.

Walking left to right you’ll find the total plate appearance for each batter, my calculations for their park-adjusted actual and true production, and the average true production of their opponents versus the handedness of that batter. These values are converted into weighted runs above average (wRAA) for each of those three categories, and you can think of Opponent wRAA as how many runs above or below average would an average hitter likely be if they only faced pitchers of the quality experienced on the year. True-actual gives you a good idea of which batters show the largest divergence between the two lenses, and then finally we get to Total wRAA.

Let’s dig into the American League hitters first:

As a final summation and the source of our sort here I have averaged actual and true performance and then credited the batter for the difficulty of their opposition faced. The pair of Red Sox, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, have been at or near the top of this list all season, but taking into account actual production and opponents faced it looks like Mike Trout blows right on by for the title of best hitter in the American League, and all of Major League Baseball, this year. The missed playing time for Trout was more than made up for by the impressive production during the other five months of the season where we were graced with the presence of a future Hall of Famer.

The two Boston hitters have come close enough to Trout offensively that there is little mystery left why that team has had such an incredible offense this year. One Mike Trout is amazing, but two hitters of that calibre, even if one should not see the field, makes for an impressive lineup on their own. Trailing this group of three you’ll next find Alex Bregman of the Astros and the two Mariners that make their own lineup so dang impressive in Mitch Haniger and Nelson Cruz. Bregman should need little introduction after the coming out party he has been having for well over a year, though the gap between actual and expected production is fairly large and his opponents faced were more on the easy side. The Seattle twin towers showed some underperformance compared to expectations with Cruz showing a massive gap.

You can dig through the rest with two Cleveland Indians featuring prominently, a quad of Athletics showing why they had the best team offense in the game this year, and it’s hard not to dream on what might have been if Aaron Judge had stayed healthy or if Shohei Ohtani was given more of an opportunity to hit before the elbow blow out.

Switching over the National League where the pitchers look a little tougher by virtue of having to face one another. Bear in mind here that we’re talking strictly hitting, while MVP discussions should factor in positional and defensive ability adjustments, which I’ll get to at the bottom of the post. Looking strictly at the bat you can see Freddie Freeman as the standout player here with his opponents faced pushing him just above Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers. Both sluggers featured divergence between true and actual with Freeman showing some under-, and Yelich showing some over-performance. The hard charging Christian Yelich closed the gap significantly down the stretch, and considering the more difficult position he plays of these two, and how well he plays out there, I have to think he should be the favorite for some award hardware. Matt Carpenter’s fantastic second half ran out of steam down the stretch causing him to slide to third, but should not belie another very strong season.

Another mashing first sacker, Paul Goldschmidt trails just behind Carpenter with his production looking mostly earned, and then we get to Manny Machado who jumped leagues at the trade deadline so will probably not merit much consideration from the panel. A shame as he has hit really well on the season heading into his first foray of free agency. It’s fitting that Bryce Harper came in just slightly behind Machado as they will be rivals in free agency once the season ends. Folks keep waiting on Bryce to have a good season, but if this ain’t that then I don’t know what they’re looking for. Of course, he eclipsed 100 runs batted in this year so maybe he can finally, proudly, say he had a good season.

The rest of the group features a solid mix of grizzled vet (Rendon, Votto, Turner, Markakis, Kemp, Arenado) and plucky young lad (Acuña Jr., Soto, Realmuto, Baez, Nimmo). For many in these groups this might be their career season with a gentle wane back into the sea, but it sure is fun to dream on what the younger crowd could do with a full season. Acuña Jr. and Soto, especially, are going to be a lot of fun to follow after these incredible starts at such a young age, but it should not push the established very good players, both young and old, into the shadows.

Here’s a look at both leagues stacked together, and immediately after you will find some estimate for wins above replacement that can help us see who was the best player, and more merely the best hitter:

Here you will find the Fangraphs WAR components for each player. I have added in xWAR, which subs out the wRAA as calculated by Fangraphs and plugs in the figures calculated above in their stead. Choosing between Mike Trout and Mookie Betts is like choosing between ice cream and an ice cold beer on a hot day. Both will give you what you need, but it comes down to taste to decide which you would choose. We already saw that Trout was the slightly better hitter over the course of the year, and here you can see that each player profiles similarly on the bases and as far as opportunity goes. However, we see a difference in the gloves. Mookie is a preternatural defender in rightfield that would probably be able to play an average or better centerfield. Mike Trout actually does play in center, and you can see that he grades closer to the average at the much more difficult position. It is here where Betts makes up more than enough ground to overtake Trout.

Reasonable minds can disagree on this as the gap is sliver thin with both of these young stars well ahead of the rest of the pack. Support your case for why you choose one over the other and I’ll likely agree with you as long as you’re staying away from team success or more emotional qualities. The race for third comes down to a couple of teammates in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez who both hit well enough, also play demanding positions, and do it quite well. Those that decry the Indians for things that are out of their control, such as, the relatively poor quality of their division-mates, might miss just how extremely good this pair of teammates has been this year. Both have avoided injury, crucial to end up atop these boards, and the author can dream a little bit on the team adding one of the free agent outfielders like Andrew McCutchen who could really push this very good lineup over the top next year.

Switching over to the National Leaguers you’ll find Yelich, Freeman and Rendon doing the heavy lifting. They’re a part of a tight group that can be extended lower to include Manny Machado and Matt Carpenter. While Manny Machado is in the middle of this mud, I hesitate to include him considering he jumped leagues mid-season. Something he will likely not have to contend with next year when he’s a suddenly very wealthy young man. Freeman is your typical masher at first base getting docked aplenty for having to play the position, while Rendon does everything pretty well including playing a more demanding position at third base. The runs he earns playing that tougher position are nearly completely offset by the difference between the batting lines leaving a razor thin margin separating the two players. I think you couldn’t go wrong selecting either as your most valuable player, though Yelich should likely be the favorite.

Moving down the list you can see Carpenter both having a solid argument to be in the conversation, but less of one than those above. Less likely to catch up, but still boasting very strong seasons we come across Bregman and Matt Chapman doing work in the AL, and J.T. Realmuto, Goldschmidt, Trea Turner, and J.D. Martinez making up the next clump. It goes to show just how many very talented players there are in the game right now, but those that deserve your honors have clearly separated themselves. Now it comes down to preference.

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