September is upon us, and so it’s time for our monthly look at the top 100 players in baseball.
When we did this coming into the season, the rankings were based upon reasonable expectations — using things like age and recent performance history — to make educated guesses at which players would provide the most value in 2016. Since the start of the season, though, each installment has been about performance to date. As such, the rankings you’re about to see reflect nothing more than who’s been the best in 2016 so far. The preceding has been italicized for emphasis.
In coming up with these rankings, your scribe paid no heed to what may or may not be sustainable. Some of the names will be very much at home among the game’s best, while others belong to players who have solidly over-performed. In either case, we’re not worried about whether the performances will stick. It’s all about what’s happened thus far in 2016 and 2016 alone. In the case of players who have been traded during the season, their overall body of work this year is what’s being considered.
As for what matters, with position players it’s a mix of batting, defense, and base-running. On offense, we’re not concerned with things like RBI. Getting on base and hitting for power matter above all, as do playing time, context of the player’s home ballpark, and production relative to positional peers (e.g., the offensive bar is lower for shortstops and catchers than it is for first basemen and DHs). For pitchers — and since this a backward-looking assessment of value provided — run prevention and workload will be the drivers, but we’ll also give some consideration to underlying fundamental indicators like strikeouts and walks. When it comes to relievers, leverage, or the relative importance of the innings a reliever works, are taken into account. This is why closers tend to beat out middle relievers for spots on this list. (And it’s also hard for relievers to crack this list in the first place, given how much more valuable starting pitchers tend to be, thanks to their much higher innings loads.)
Again, this is all about the season to date, and the rankings suggest nothing about whether the player in question can maintain the current level of performance. As such, the next time you see this list, it’ll probably look very different.
Now let’s roll out the current rankings (rankings and statistics cited are current as of Sept. 1) …
100. Billy Hamilton , Cincinnati Reds
No, Hamilton still isn’t much of a threat at the plate, but he is everywhere else. He’s an excellent defensive center fielder, he’s stolen a majors-leading 54 bases in 62 attempts, and he’s taken the extra base an amazing 68 percent of the time. The defense and base-running put him on this list.
99. Trevor Story , Colorado Rockies
He’s a rookie shortstop who was leading the NL in homers at the time of his season-ending injury. Sure, Coors Field and all, but he’s been a highly valuable performer. That remains the case even though he hasn’t played since July 30.
98. Stephen Piscotty , St. Louis Cardinals
He’s been solid defensively in right, and he’s batted .276/.349/.470. He’s on pace for 25 home runs and 36 doubles.
97. Melky Cabrera , Chicago White Sox
Cabrera’s got a healthy 112 OPS+ after 121 games, and adding to his value is that he’s been excellent in clutch situations thus far in 2016.
96. Odubel Herrera , Philadelphia Phillies
The Phils’ everyday center fielder is batting .285/.366/.418 with some speed and pop.
95. Neil Walker , New York Mets
Walker appears to be out for the remainder of the season, and he’ll be missed. In 113 games, he batted .282/.347/.476 (120 OPS+) while pinning down second base for the Mets.
94. Rich Hill , Los Angeles Dodgers
Hill’s been limited by blister problems in the second half, but his work to date has been tremendous. He’s worked just 82 innings, but over that span he’s allowed just 22 runs while registering 93 strikeouts.
93. Jake Lamb , Arizona Diamondbacks
Lamb’s been slumping, but overall he’s still slugging better than .500 with a shot at 75 extra-base knocks.
92. Tyler Chatwood , Rockies
Chatwood’s scuffled a bit in August, but the overall numbers remain strong, particularly on a park-adjusted basis. He’s running a sub-4.00 ERA despite having made the majority of his starts at a mile above sea level.
91. Trevor Bauer , Cleveland Indians
Bauer’s made 22 starts and seven relief appearances for Cleveland, and along the way he’s put up a 126 ERA+ in 152 innings.
90. Ian Kennedy , Kansas City Royals
It’s been nifty first year in KC for Kennedy. After 27 starts, he’s struck out roughly a batter per inning and logged an ERA of 3.66.
89. Bryce Harper , Washington Nationals
A strong August has pushed Harper back into the top 100. He’s racked up 529 plate appearances, and over that span he’s batted .249/.382/.464 with 23 bombs.
88. Nelson Cruz , Seattle Mariners
Safeco’s tough on power hitters, but Cruz has 32 homers and a 140 OPS+ to his name in 2016.
87. Mark Melancon , Nationals
He’s been one of the best closers in baseball this season, whether it be in Pittsburgh or D.C. In 55 ⅓ innings, Melancon’s run a 1.30 ERA with 52 strikeouts against 11 walks.
86. Logan Forsythe , Tampa Bay Rays
Forsythe plays a premium position, and he’s got a line of .273/.340/.471 with 17 home runs.
85. Edwin Encarnacion , Toronto Blue Jays
Encarnacion’s blasted 36 homers while batting .265/.357/.544.
84. Chris Tillman , Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore rotation has had its problems this season, but Tillman has been the exception when healthy. He’s on the DL now, but he’s worked 153 innings with an ERA+ of 118.
83. Stephen Strasburg , Nationals
Strasburg has elbow woes at the moment, but the overall body of work in 2016 remains quite strong: 145 ⅓ innings, 117 ERA+, 179 strikeouts against 43 unintentional walks.
82. Jose Ramirez , Indians
Ramirez has been a savior for the Tribe, especially in the absence of Michael Brantley . He’s batted .308/.362/.457 with 34 doubles and 20 steals while spending time at four different positions. Useful!
81. Carlos Carrasco , Indians
Carrasco missed time with injury earlier in the year, but he’s having a strong season nonetheless. After 128 innings, he’s put up an ERA+ of 145 while striking out more than a batter per frame.
80. Ian Desmond , Texas Rangers
Desmond’s numbers at the plate has been sliding lately, but overall it’s been a strong season. In addition to manning center field quite capably, Desmond’s headed for a 25-25 campaign.
79. Andrew Miller , Indians
He’s been even more dominant since the trade to Cleveland, and he’s shown a willingness to be flexible in his deployment. On the season, Miller’s pitched to a 1.35 ERA with 101 strikeouts in 60 innings. Dominance.
78. Martin Prado , Miami Marlins
Prado’s batting a productive .319/.371/.432 while providing plus defense at the hot corner.
77. Gregory Polanco , Pittsburgh Pirates
Polanco’s a solid defender in right who can run a little, and at the plate he’s hitting .273/.339/.506 with 21 homers and 30 two-baggers.
76. Ben Zobrist , Chicago Cubs
Zobrist has reliably held down second base for the best team in baseball, and he’s batting .278/.383/.442 with more walks than strikeouts.
75. Ryan Braun , Milwaukee Brewers
When he’s healthy, he still hits, and that’s been the case in 2016. Braun’s closing in on 25 homers with an OPS of more than .900. He’s also still adding value on the bases.
74. Zach Britton , Orioles
Britton’s authoring one of the great closer seasons in history. He’s allowed seven runs in 54 innings and converted every save opportunity. To boot, he’s got an unthinkable ground ball-fly ball ratio of 10.0.
73. Brandon Belt , San Francisco Giants
Belt’s logged 544 plate appearances, and over that span he’s batted .273/.386/.469 with 83 walks and 33 doubles. Don’t forget the run-suppressing nature of AT&T Park.
72. Dexter Fowler , Cubs
Fowler missed significant time with a leg injury, but otherwise he’s been quite productive while playing a strong center field. At this writing, Fowler has a line of .277/.388/.447, and he’s taken the extra-base an excellent 65 percent of the time. He’s been trending downward with the bat, but the overall numbers are worthy.
71. Jonathan Villar , Brewers
Villar’s a shortstop with a strong line of .297/.377/.441 and a whopping 50 stolen bases. That’s good, you know.
70. Charlie Blackmon , Rockies
Blackmon’s OPS+, which is park-adjusted, checks in at 123, and he’s spent almost 1,000 innings in center field. As well, he’s stolen 15 bags and hit into just three double plays.
69. Aledmys Diaz , Cardinals
Diaz remains laid up with a hand fracture, but he’s been a vital part of the contending Cardinals this season. As their primary shortstop, he’s batted .312/.376/.518 in 96 games.
68. Salvador Perez , Royals
Perez is a cornerstone for the defending champs (who are now back in the wild-card race). He’s still a rock behind the plate, and he’s within range of 25 homers for the year.
67. Anthony Rendon , Nationals
Rendon’s stepped up his offensive game in the second half, and he’s now putting up an OPS of more than .800 while also being a notable asset in the field and on the bases.
66. Jason Kipnis , Indians
He’s hit .284/.342/.481 with 21 homers in 566 plate appearances. By comparison, the average second baseman this season has a line of .276/.334/.435.
65. Danny Duffy , Royals
Duffy’s been a vital part of the Royals’ season in 2016. In 143 ⅔ innings, he’s put up an ERA+ of 146 and an excellent K/BB ratio of 4.81.
64. DJ LeMahieu , Rockies
LeMahieu’s an asset with the glove who’s carrying an OBP or more than .400 and an OPS of more than .900.
63. Jean Segura , Diamondbacks
Segura’s adapted quite well to second base, and he’s batted a robust .318/.366/.475 with 28 stolen bases along the way. That’s a heck of a season.
62. J.A. Happ , Blue Jays
Happ’s allowed 59 runs in 161 2/3 innings. In related matters, he’s allowed three runs or fewer in 20 of his 26 starts this year. Keep in mind his hitter-friendly home park, and keep in mind that run-scoring is up this season.
61. Evan Longoria , Rays
It continues to be a nifty bounce-back season for the veteran Longoria, who’s played in almost every game while putting up an OPS+ in the 140s.
60. Drew Pomeranz , Boston Red Sox
Pomeranz’s numbers have slipped since the trade to Boston, but that’s to be expected when you go from Petco to Fenway in the DH league. Overall, he’s got a 3.00 ERA after 26 starts.
59. Matt Carpenter , Cardinals
Carpenter missed almost a full month because of an oblique injury, but he’s been productive enough when healthy to merit a spot on this list with ease. He’s spent meaningful time at three different infield positions while running an OBP close to .400 and slugging better than .500.
58. George Springer , Houston Astros
Springer leads the majors in games played and plate appearances while playing nifty defense and putting up an OPS+ of more than 120. A thirty homer season is well within range.
57. Brandon Crawford , Giants
Crawford’s one of the NL’s best defensive shortstops, and he continues to be a very useful hitter relative to positional norms.
56. Adam Eaton , White Sox
Eaton’s been outstanding with the glove since transitioning to right field, and he’s also been quite useful at the plate and on the bases.
55. Addison Russell , Cubs
Russell’s established himself as being among the top defensive shortstops in the game today, and he’s also developing nicely at the plate. He’s got a shot at 25 homers this season. Oh, and he’s still just 22 years of age.
54. Yoenis Cespedes , Mets
Cespedes has spent some time on the DL since the break, but overall he’s come up big in his return to New York. On the season, he’s got a line of .298/.369/.572 with 27 home runs in 105 games.
53. Aaron Sanchez , Blue Jays
The 24-year-old righty is having his workload scaled back, but at least the Jays kept him in the rotation. He’s still a Cy contender, what with his 2.88 ERA after 162 ⅓ innings.
52. Justin Turner, Dodgers
Turner had a bit of a slow start to 2016, but he’s been an absolute monster in the second half. Pair his high level of production at the plate with his plus fielding at third base and you’ve got a very valuable contributor.
51. Carlos Martinez, Cardinals
Martinez remains the undisputed ace in St. Louis. Through 25 starts, he’s put up an ERA of 3.07, allowed only one unearned run all season, and induced ground balls 56.4 percent of the time.
50. Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves
Teheran continues to craft a strong rebound season. He’s worked 152 ⅔ innings with a 3.12 ERA. He’s also struck out 136 batters versus 31 unintentional walks.
49. Steven Wright, Red Sox
The knuckleball-ing 32-year-old has absolutely been the rotation stablizer that Boston’s needed. In 152 ⅔ innings, Wright’s put up an ERA+ of 144 while allowing just 10 home runs all year.
48. Jacob deGrom, Mets
DeGrom continues to be a strong presence in the Mets’ rotation. After 23 starts, he’s running a sub-3.00 ERA and striking out 23.7 percent of opposing hitters.
47. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
He’s a regular shortstop who’s batting more than .300, getting on base at a strong clip, showing some pop, and running the bases well. So here he is.
46. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
The ageless Beltre still adds a lot of value with his fielding at third base, and he’s slugging close to .500 and on pace for 29 homers.
45. Christian Yelich, Marlins
Yelich remains an emerging star. In addition to fielding his position well, Yelich has an OBP on the high .300s and should wind up with more than 20 homers and 40 doubles.
44. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Yep, Miggy just keeps hitting. He’ll top 30 homers with an OPS+ of around 150. In other words, he’s still a force at the plate.
43. Ian Kinsler, Tigers
Kinsler continues to produce at the plate, in the field, and on the bases while playing in almost every game.
42. Jackie Bradley, Red Sox
Bradley’s cooled off since his magma-hot start to the season, but he’s still an every-day center fielder who’s comfortably exceeding positional norms at the plate.
41. Brian Dozier, Minnesota Twins
That slow start to the season is far behind him. Dozier’s a middle infielder who can run a little bit and barring injury will wind up with 35 to 40 homers this season.
40. Justin Verlander, Tigers
MVP-grade Verlander is gone forever, but he’s definitely back to being a highly effective pitcher. This season, he’s made 28 starts, put up an ERA of 3.30, and needs just two more strikeouts to get to 200.
39. Joey Votto, Reds
Votto’s clawed his past a slow first month of the season, and now he’s hitting .309/.430/.524 with 22 homers and 94 walks.
38. Buster Posey, Giants
Posey remains one of baseball’s top defensive catchers, and he’s also running an OPS+ of around 120.
37. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
Goldy’s enjoying another standout season. Right now he’s on pace for 25 home runs, 33 doubles, and 26 stolen bases.
36. Michael Fulmer, Tigers
Young Fulmer continues to shine after adjusting his approach. After 21 starts, he’s registered an ERA of 2.69 with just three unearned runs allowed.
35. Carlos Correa, Astros
Correa continues to produce at a very high level relative to his shortstop peer group — in terms of power and getting on base with regularity.
34. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
Tanaka’s been a steady presence in the Yankee rotation this season. He’s work a qualifying number of innings for the first time in his MLB career, and he’s pitched to a 3.12 ERA and 5.21 K/BB ratio. Consider him one of the AL’s best starters in 2016.
33. Jake Arrieta, Cubs
Arrieta’s peripheral indicators are well shy of his 2014-15 level of performance, but he’s still putting up strong run-prevention numbers and managing contact off the bat.
32. Freddie Freeman, Braves
Freeman’s been absolutely ablaze in the second half and now boasts an OPS+ of 150. He’s set a career-high in homers and will soon do the same with total bases.
31. Wilson Ramos, Nationals
Ramos’ numbers at the plate have begun to slip a bit, but he’s still toting around an OPS that’s within range of .900. As well, he’s logged more than 900 defensive innings at catcher.
30. Tanner Roark, Nationals
He gets overshadowed in that Washington rotation, but Roark has a 2.87 ERA and is on pace for 215 ⅓ innings.
29. Johnny Cueto, Giants
Cueto’s gotten clear of a brief rough stretch in the second half and is back to having an especially strong season. The best No. 2 starter in baseball this season? Cueto’s very much in the discussion.
28. Starling Marte, Pirates
Marte remains one of the most well-rounded threats in the game today. He’s one of the best defensive corner outfielders in baseball, he’s stolen 46 bases, and he’s put up plus offensive numbers at the plate.
27. Jonathan Lucroy, Rangers
Lucroy was hitting before the trade to Texas, and he’s been hitting since the trade to Texas. He’s also shown Ranger observers why he’s regarded as a skilled defensive catcher.
26. Noah Syndergaard, Mets
In 155 innings this season, Thor’s put up an ERA of 2.55 while striking out a remarkable 29.4 percent of opposing hitters.
25. Chris Sale, White Sox
Sale leads all qualifying pitchers in innings per start, and he leads the majors in complete games. He’ll reach 200 strikeouts, and his ERA+ checks in at 129.
24. Rick Porcello, Red Sox
Porcello’s been simply outstanding in 2016. He’s got a 3.26 ERA (140 ERA+) and majors-leading 5.43 K/BB ratio.
23. Jon Lester, Cubs
Lester continues to enjoy a “Peak Lester” season. After 160 innings, he boasts an ERA of 2.70 with just three unearned runs allowed all season. As well, he leads all qualifiers in quality start percentage.
22. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Kershaw hasn’t made a start since June 26 thanks to back problems, and yet here he is ranked quite high on this list. His 1.79 and patently ridiculous 16.11 K/BB ratio (!) say it all.
21. Kyle Seager, Mariners
Seager’s a plus fielder at the hot corner, and he’s closing in on 30 homers and 40 doubles. He remains an underrated performer.
20. Jose Quintana, White Sox
Quintana is once again doing Quintana things in 2016: 2.77 ERA, 3.85 K/BB ratio, opponents’ OBP of .282. Six times this season, Quintana has taken the loss despite logging a quality start.
19. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
Rizzo has developed into one of the best pure hitters in all of baseball. He boasts an OPS+ near 150 and an OBP near .400.
18. Corey Seager, Dodgers
Seager continues to barrel toward the NL Rookie of the Year award. He’s been an every-day fixture at shortstop for the Dodgers, and he’s getting on base at a high clip while slugging more than .500. He’ll likely get to 30 homers.
17. Jose Fernandez, Marlins
He’s struck out 35 percent of opposing batters, which is an amazing figure for a starting pitcher. That figure also leads all qualifiers in 2016. To boot, Fernandez has a 2.79 ERA after 25 starts. We can argue about whether he’s been the most valuable pitcher in baseball, but he’s thus far been the most dominant.
16. Cole Hamels, Rangers
The 32-year-old lefty tops the AL in ERA and ERA+ at this writing while also being top 10 in the AL in innings and striking out roughly a batter per frame.
15. David Ortiz, Red Sox
He’s enjoying truly one of the great final seasons in baseball history. Big Papi owns an OPS of more than 1.000, and he’s on pace to top 90 extra-base hits.
14. Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Arenado’s a tremendous defensive third baseman, and right now he paces the NL in homers and total bases. Sure, Coors Field helps, but he’s got an OPS north of .800 in road games this season.
13. Max Scherzer, Nationals
After that slow start to the season (as recently as late May, Scherzer had an ERA north of 5.00), Scherzer’s driven his ERA down below 3.00 and re-established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. He’s closing in on 200 innings and 250 strikeouts, and he’s very much in the NL Cy mix.
12. Corey Kluber, Indians
Kluber’s inserted himself into the muddled AL Cy Young debate. He’s got an ERA just north of 3.00 as he works his way toward 200 innings. He’s also struck out more than quarter of opposing hitters while walking just 6.3 percent of same.
11. Kyle Hendricks, Cubs
Hendricks is the perfect example of why this exercise is about value in 2016 only and not projectability or sustainability. After 25 starts, his ERA is within spitting distance of getting below the 2.00 mark. Yes, he’s outperformed his peripherals, but, no, that doesn’t matter for our purposes. His ERA+ of 194 leads all qualifiers by a large margin.
10. Francisco Lindor, Indians
Has Lindor been the most valuable defender in all of baseball this season? That’s quite possible. He’s also produced at the plate, especially by shortstop standards.
9. Robinson Cano, Mariners
Yep, vintage Cano is back again. He answers the bell pretty much every game as always. He’s also got an OPS in the high .800s, and he’ll very likely wind up with a career-high in homers. If you don’t already, start thinking of him as a future Hall of Famer.
8. Madison Bumgarner, Giants
NL Cy Young candidate right here. Mad Bum is working on the best regular-season performance of his career. He leads the majors in innings, boasts an ERA+ of 165, and has already topped 200 strikeouts.
7. Daniel Murphy, Nationals
Murphy’s still very much in the NL MVP discussion. He’s a durable middle infielder who’s closing in on 70 extra-base hits and has an OPS around 1.000.
6. Mookie Betts, Red Sox
What a season he’s having. He’s plus defender in right, he’s already reached 30 homers, he may get to 30 steals, and he leads the majors in total bases.
5. Manny Machado, Orioles
He’s the best defensive third baseman in the AL, he capably pinned down shortstop for a while, and he’s got a shot at 90 extra-base hits.
4. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
How do you know you’re having a good season? When you’re reigning AL MVP, and you’re putting up better numbers than you did in said MVP season.
3. Kris Bryant, Cubs
Bryant’s spent time at six different positions, and he’s been an asset at those he’s manned regularly. He leads the NL in homers and OPS+ while hitting into just three double plays all year.
2. Jose Altuve, Astros
Altuve continues on as perhaps the most complete player in baseball. He hits for power, runs the bases exceptionally well, doesn’t strike out, and mans a key defensive position. Consider him perhaps the favorite for AL MVP honors.
1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
He’s playing every day in center field, and he leads the AL in OBP and the majors in OPS+. He’s also back to stealing bases with semi-regularity. Thanks to his teammates and some hidebound voters, he probably doesn’t have a shot at the MVP award. He’s been crushing the ball in August.
Source: CBS Sports / The top 100 players in MLB right now: Altuve vs. Trout in battle for best player