Bautista is quickly proving that last year was no fluke. Bautista is also quickly proving that he's the best player in the American League. Bautista's approach at the plate is simple yet devastatingly effective: He waits for his pitch and crushes it when it comes to him. If it doesn't, he takes his walk.
2011 All-MLB team
Who is the best at each position in 2011? Based on performance trends, ages and health histories, we can make some sturdy assumptions about what a hypothetical "All-MLB" team might look like. We'll consider the full spectrum of player value. For position players, we'll look at hitting, defense and base-running. For pitchers, we'll keep an eye on run prevention, but we'll also emphasize those elements of the game most under their direct control (strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed). These guys may not have been tops among their peers in 2010, and the pecking order may very well change by 2012. For the current season, though, they're the best. — Dayn Perry
Left-handed starter — Cliff Lee, Phillies
Breaking news: The Phillies have a good rotation. Last season, Lee notched the second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio of all time. That was thanks in large part to his allowing just 16 unintentional walks in 212.2 innings. Lee, of course, has been an elite-level pitcher since his breakout campaign of 2008, and that's because, in terms of command and durability, he's second to only teammate Roy Halladay. Other lefties worthy of discussion include Jon Lester, CC Sabathia, Clayton Kershaw and Francisco Liriano.
Right-handed starter — Roy Halladay, Phillies
As you might guess, this is a crowded field. Felix Hernandez, Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Wainwright, Tim Lincecum, Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, Josh Johnson, Clay Buchholz are certifiable aces in the discussion. Halladay, however, stands above all. Halladay is the most durable pitcher in the game today (four times he's paced the league in innings pitched, and six times he's led in complete games), and that's just the beginning of his merits. He's struck out 200 batters in each of the last three seasons, topping the loop in strikeout-to-walk ratio each time. On six occasions he's finished in the top five in ERA, and twice he's won the Cy. There's no reason to expect anything less of Halladay in 2011. Savor the chance to watch him pitch.
Closer — Mariano Rivera, Yankees
A number of other closers merit serious consideration — Heath Bell, Joakim Soria, Brian Wilson and Carlos Marmol among them. But Rivera, who's coming off a sub-2.00 ERA for the third straight season, towers above all. He's the greatest closer in history and he's quite obviously still pitching at an elite level. Yes, Rivera is 41 years of age, and sudden decline is a distinct possibility. Still, Rivera's stunning body of work and recent excellence earn him the benefit of the doubt.
Catcher — Brian McCann, Braves
If Joe Mauer can manage to stay healthy for longer stretches, then he'll perhaps reclaim this honor. Right now, however, McCann is the best catcher in baseball. He has rare hitting skills for the position, and he's durable and capable defensively. Buster Posey (before the injury) and Yadier Molina merit mention, but McCann is on another level right now.
First base — Albert Pujols, Cardinals
With apologies to worthies like Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera, Pujols is the best player in baseball and, by definition, also the best first baseman in baseball. It's possible he's entering his decline phase, and it's possible Votto's best is yet to come. Until further notice, though, Pujols is tops. In 2011, expect more of the same: an average comfortably north of .300, tons of walks, 90 or so extra-base hits, and stellar glove work. Pujols will almost certainly end his career as one of the 10 greatest ever.
Getty ImagesBob Levey
Second base — Robinson Cano, Yankees
Last season, Cano established himself as a true superstar. He led all second basemen in OPS, and he's made much progress defensively. At age 28, Cano's entering what should be his prime. In other words, expect this level of production to continue. Chase Utley, even in decline, is worth remembering, but Cano has taken from him the title of "best second baseman in baseball."
Third base — Evan Longoria, Rays
Consider this a neck-and-neck race with Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals. For now, the edge goes to Longoria, in part because he's generally doing it against tougher competition. Longoria may be the best combination of offensive and defensive prowess in the American League. His excellence with the glove is unassailable, and he hits for power, has good OBP skills and runs the bases well. It's easy to forget that Longoria is still just 25 years old. Don't be surprised if there's an AL MVP award or two in his future.
Shortstop — Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
With all due respect to Hanley Ramirez, no one combines hitting and fielding prowess quite like Tulo. Once you correct for the home parks in question, Ramirez is the better hitter. However, Tulowitzki is trending upward with the bat, and he's clearly the best defensive shortstop in baseball (at least so long as Brendan Ryan isn't a regular). If he stays healthy in 2011, then Tulo could key a Rockies playoff run and win NL MVP honors.
Getty ImagesJeff Gross
Left field — Matt Holliday, Cardinals
Is left field the most loaded position in baseball right now? Quite possibly. Consider the contending field: Holliday, reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton, Triple Crown threat Carlos Gonzalez, prize of the offseason Carl Crawford and steady power producer Ryan Braun. So why Holliday? He's proved he's far more than a product of his former home of Coors Field, and his consistency and solid glovework are also commendable. Hamilton, while coming off a brilliant season, is prone to injury and occasional bouts of inconsistency. Gonzalez simply needs to prove that 2010 wasn't an aberration. For now, though, Holliday, coming off a campaign in which he hit .312 AVG/.390 OBP/.532 SLG, is the narrow choice.
Center field — Curtis Granderson, Yankees
Granderson is enjoying a career year in terms of power. But he's always been a hitter who thumps right-handed pitching while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in center. Others like Matt Kemp and Colby Rasmus deserve consideration, but right now Granderson is tops.