Everyone loves to track the potential award winners throughout the MLB season. MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year get more than their fair share of attention. Overlooked over the years, especially by the BBWAA, is WAR, the stat that actually provides a valuation of each and every player. In order to give WAR a little bit more due (and drive the old schoolers crazy), we’ll be checking in on the WAR leaderboard at the beginning of every month to see who will win the race to be the best hitter and pitcher according to WAR come the season’s end.
Mike Trout (2.5 WAR)
Hold on, let me find my surprise face. Yes, Mike Trout, once again, leads the free world in WAR. That’s kind of his thing. Not only are Trout’s offensive numbers up a touch this year, but his defense is actually rating much better in WAR than it did last season. So, yeah, don’t be surprised when he finishes the season with an 11+ WAR and blows away the field.
Troy Tulowitzki (2.3 WAR)
Tulo is really good. He has always been capable of this kind of performance. What he hasn’t been capable of in the past is staying healthy enough to remain on the field and productive all season long. It will be fun to see how long he can actually remain amongst the leaders before his body parts just start falling off his body.
Charlie Blackmon (1.9 WAR)
Who? Yeah, I don’t know either. Blackmon was competing just to win a roster spot back in Spring Training and now he’s got the third-highest WAR in baseball. Call me crazy, but I don’t think it is going to last. Blackmon is better than anyone realized, but he isn’t one of the best players in baseball. That being said, it will be amusing to see just how long he can hang out near the top of the WAR leaderboard. It will be even more fun to watch the Rockies’ season crash and burn when Tulo gets hurt and Blackmon comes back down to earth. If you’ll excuse me for a minutes, I’m going to go grab some popcorn.
Justin Upton (1.6 WAR)
Bemoan his strikeout rate all you want, but Justin Upton is raking right now to the tune of a .326/.400/.641 slash line. This is the kind of numbers people have always envisioned Upton being able to put up. The problem is that he has put them up in the past, but usually just for a month at a time. History suggests that it is only a matter of time before Upton sees his average plummet 80 points. Although, maybe this is finally the year he puts it all together. If you think about it, the timing would be perfect as it would be the cherry on top of the nightmare season for his former GM, Kevin Towers.
Chase Utley (1.5 WAR)
Wait, am I looking at a leaderboard from 2008? No? Seriously? Wow, ok, I guess Chase Utley is good again. Utley was once a great player, but he is 35 years old now and there is just no way he is capable of keeping this up. There is still plenty of talent in his old bones, but the real issue is that those bones can’t withstand a full season of baseball anymore. Utley has played between no more than 131 games in a season four years running. Utley is either going to end up on the DL or wear down and watch his production fall off of a cliff.
Jose Fernandez (1.6 WAR)
Swoon. Fernandez was the popular pick to emerge as the best pitcher in baseball this year and he has not disappointed. He has an absurd strikeout rate (12.48 K/9) and a microscopic ERA (1.59). The scary part is that it doesn’t feel fluky at all. Perhaps even more scary than that is that Fernandez actually has something resembling a competent roster playing behind him this year. This race is his to lose.
Jon Lester (1.4 WAR)
The Red Sox are off to a sluggish start, but it isn’t Lester’s fault. He’s pitching as well as he ever has, which is perfectly timed with him hitting the free agent market after the season. Perhaps that monetary reward will provide Lester a little extra motivation and keep him in the mix for pitching WAR leader.
Cliff Lee (1.3 WAR)
Hey, look! Cliff Lee is great again and nobody really seems to care… again. Lee just keeps on doing what he’s doing and there is no reason to think that he won’t keep on doing it. Just like there is no reason to think that Ruben Amaro will trade Lee even though he pretty clearly should.
Felix Hernandez (1.3 WAR)
It is the age old story of King Felix being one of the best pitchers in baseball playing for one of the most disappointing teams in baseball. Sooner or later Felix is going to slow down, but this doesn’t look like it is going to be the season. Expect him to be on this list until the bitter end.
Martin Perez (1.3 WAR)
One of these things is not like the other one. Perez is the only guy on this list that lacks brand name recognition. That could change if he keeps pitching the way he has been in April. He is striking out just 5.48 batters per nine innings, which raises the degree of difficulty on him being able to perform like an ace, but it is working for him so far. Let’s see if it actually lasts, especially once the temperatures start going up in Arlington.
*All WAR calculations use the Fangraphs version of WAR