Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports. MLB.
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Bill James recently wrote an article entitled, “The All Important Closer” in which he showed that having an elite MLB closer was the most common element of World Series Champions over the past 40 years. The other thing they had in common was they had multiple top ten players by position.
In “The All Important Closer”, Bill James finds that 78% of the last 40 World Series Champions had a top ten closer. He also discovered that 58% of the regulars on the Championship teams were top ten players at their respective position. In James’ article, he looked at 11 positions; Catcher, 1st base, 2nd base, 3rd base, shortstop, left field, center field, right field, right-handed starter, left-handed starter, and closer.
55% of the last 40 World Series Champions had a top ten MLB player at 7 positions. The ’76 Reds had 9 top ten players including 4 top players at their particular position. The ’98 Yankees actually had 10 top ten players, but the average ranking of all positions was 4.6 for the ’76 Reds and 6.7 for the ’98 Yankees.
With this in mind, lets look at the 10 teams that have a chance to win it all in 2017. This of course is being done by projecting top ten players at each position when in fact Bill James based his rankings on actual year long production. Only time will tell if the projections meet reality. Lets go.
The Mets in 2017 have only 3 top ten players by position but with the reinstatement of Jeurys Familia they may have a top ten closer. Their other top ten positions they have according to projections are left field and right-handed Starter. The depth of the Mets Starting Pitching gives them a chance in any series if they can get into the playoffs. A rotation of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, and Matt Harvey or Zack Wheeler has a chance to beat anyone.
The Mets also have several players just outside the top ten at their position. Yoenis Cespedes (1) (.263, 6 HR, 10 RBI) is the best player in left field in all of baseball and he carried the Mets on his back with 30 home runs each of the last two years.
Noah Syndergaard (10) (1-1, 1.73, 30 K) is the Mets best right-handed starting pitcher but they have several outstanding right-handed starters, including Jacob deGrom (0-0, 1.89, 22 K) and Matt Harvey (2-0, 2.84, 17 K).
Number 9 – St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals currently have four top ten players and with Trevor Rosenthal returning to form in the bullpen they may soon have five, with closer being one of them. With a top ten catcher, 1st baseman, 2nd baseman and shortstop, St. Louis joins only the Cubs and the Giants with that combination. Catcher Yadier Molina (4) (.221, 1 HR, 6 RBI) is the field general for the Cards, while Matt Carpenter (7) (.250, 2 HR, 5 RBI) has taken over at 1st base. Aledmys Diaz (10) (.239, 3 HR, 5 RBI) made the 2016 All Star game at shortstop and Dexter Fowler (9) (.179, 2 HR, 3 RBI) came over from the Cubs to man Center Field for the Cardinals.
Apr 19, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin (55) hits a double in the second inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports. MLB.
Number 8 – Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have six top ten players, including a top ten left-handed starter. In addition, Toronto has a top ten catcher, shortstop, 3rd baseman, right fielder and right-handed starter. The Blue Jays are off to a horrible start but they still have the pieces necessary to make a run. Russell Martin (6) (.159, 1 HR, 1 RBI) at catcher and Troy Tulowitzki (8) (.263, 1 HR, 10 RBI) at shortstop give the Jays two veteran leaders. Josh Donaldson (4) (.310, 2 HR, 4 RBI) has become one of the best 3rd basemen in baseball. Jose Bautista (5) (.131, 1 HR, 4 RBI) is off to a terrible start but remains one of baseball’s most powerful bats averaging 36 home runs per years since 2010.
Marco Estrada (8) (0-1, 2.63, 24 K) is the Blue Jays top right-handed starter and J.A. Happ (7) (0-3, 4.50, 20 K) is their top left-handed starter.
Number 7 – Cleveland Indians
The Indians only have five top ten players but one of them is a closer. In addition, Cleveland has a top ten 1st baseman, 2nd baseman, shortstop, left fielder and right-handed starter. Carlos Santana (6) (.246, 2 HR, 13 RBI) hit 34 home runs in 2016 playing 1st base for the Indians, while Jason Kipnis (7) (.000, 0 HR, 0 RBI, just returned from DL) is a complete 2nd baseman. Francisco Lindor (1) (.323, 4 HR, 10 RBI) at shortstop gives the Indians one of baseball’s most exciting players.
Corey Kluber (2) (2-1, 4.28, 27 K) 3rd in the AL Cy Young voting in 2016 after winning the award in 2014 has started slowly in 2017 but is still one of the best right-handed starters in baseball. With both Cody Allen (6) (0-0, 1.35, 15 K, 3-3 saves) and Andrew Miller (1) (1-0, 0.00, 9 K, 0-0 saves) in the bullpen, the Indians have two top closers.
Apr 19, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) talks with catcher Nick Hundley (5) at the mound in the fourth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports. MLB.
Number 6 – Washington Nationals
The Nationals have seven top ten players but they do not have a top ten closer. But with a top ten 2nd baseman, shortstop, 3rd baseman, center fielder, and right fielder plus a top ten right-handed starter and left-handed starter the Nationals are dangerous. If they solve their closer issue they will sky rocket up this list and become the greatest threat to Number 1.
Daniel Murphy (4) (.323, 2 HR, 10 RBI) at 2nd base was runner up in the 2016 MVP race and since standing closer to the plate in 2015 he has become one of the most dangerous hitters in all of baseball. Trea Turner (4) (.158, 0 HR, 1 RBI) has moved to shortstop in 2017 and he brings his blazing speed and quick bat to the infield. With Comeback Player of the Year in 2016, Anthony Rendon (8) (.237, 0 HR, 4 RBI) at 3rd base and newcomer Adam Eaton (5) (.279, 1 HR, 7 RBI) in center field the Nationals have a great team OBP. Bryce Harper, the 2015 NL MVP (1) (.407, 7 HR, 20 RBI) has the potential to be a truly great player and has started as hot as ever in 2017.
Max Scherzer (1) (2-1, 1.37, 24 K) the 2016 NL Cy Young Award winner is the top ranked right-handed starter in baseball and leads an excellent starting staff for Washington. Gio Gonzalez (10) (1-0, 1.33, 15 K) gives the Nats a top left-handed starter.
Number 5 – San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants have 7 top ten players including a closer. They also have a top ten catcher, 1st baseman, 2nd baseman, shortstop, right fielder, and left-handed starter. Buster Posey (1) (.343, 1 HR, 2 RBI) still is the top of the list at catcher and his bat is the center piece of the Giants line-up. With Brandon Belt (8) (.238, 4 HR, 8 RBI) at 1st base and Brandon Crawford (5) (.283, 2 HR, 8 RBI) at shortstop the Giants have two left-handed bats in the infield. Hunter Pence (10) (.288, 1 HR, 8 RBI) in right field rounds out the top ten position players for the Giants.
Johnny Cueto (5) (3-1, 5.25,19 K) is the Giants top right-handed starter while Madison Bumgarner (2) (0-3, 3.00, 28 K) is their top Left Handed Starter. Mark Melancon (10) (0-1, 3.86, 6 K, 3-4 Saves) gives the Giants a top closer.
Apr 20, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts (50) hits a double to score three runs against Toronto Blue Jays in the tenth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Number 4 – Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have 7 top ten players including a closer. They have a top ten 2nd baseman, shortstop, left fielder, center fielder, right fielder, and left-handed starter. Dustin Pedroia (5) (.258, 0 HR, 5 RBI) remains a stalwart at 2nd base and along with Xander Bogaerts (6) (.333, 0 HR, 5 RBI) at shortstop makes the Sox strong up the middle. Andrew Benintendi (9) (.299, 1 HR, 10 RBI) may be the top prospect in baseball in left field for Boston. Mookie Betts (2) (.316, 1 HR, 8 RBI) finished second in the 2016 A.L. MVP voting and established himself as one of the best right fielders in baseball.
David Price (5) (Remains on DL) is the Red Sox top left-handed starter, while Craig Kimbrel (7) (1-0, 2.00, 17 K, 6-7 Saves) is their closer.
Number 3 – Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have 7 top ten players including a closer. Los Angeles also has a top ten catcher, shortstop, 3rd baseman, center fielder, right fielder, and left-handed starter. Catcher Yasmani Grandal (3) (.250, 2 HR, 4 RBI) brings power and pitch framing to the table for LA, and shortstop Corey Seager (2) (.308, 3 HR, 14 RBI) played MVP type baseball as a rookie in 2016. Justin Turner (6) (.358, 0 HR, 6 RBI) hit 27 home runs in 2016 and he became a legitimate threat at 3rd base.
Joc Pederson (7) (.233, 1 HR, 7 RBI) is a powerful bat in left field, and Yasiel Puig (8) (.254, 4 HR, 11 RBI) continues to show promise in right field. Clayton Kershaw (1) (3-1, 2.54, 32 K) is the best left-handed starter in baseball and Kenley Jansen (2) (0-0, 3.00, 8 K, 4-4 Saves) is their closer.
Apr 19, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) is tagged out by Los Angeles Angels catcher Martin Maldonado (12) on a play at the plate during the first inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Number 2 – Houston Astros
The Astros have 8 top ten players including a closer. Houston also has a top ten catcher, 2nd baseman, shortstop, 3rd baseman, center fielder, right fielder, and a left-handed starter. With catcher Brian McCann (10) (.311, 2 HR, 8 RBI) behind the plate and Jose Altuve (1) (.303, 0 HR, 5 RBI) at 2nd base the Astros have two of the foundational positions well manned. Add shortstop Carlos Correa (3) (.212, 1 HR, 3 RBI) to the mix and the Astros are very strong up the middle. George Springer (2) (.222, 7 HR, 13 RBI) has finally become the player many expected him to be after hitting 29 home runs in 2016.
Dallas Keuchel (9) (3-0, 0.96, 22 K) is the Astros top left-handed pitcher while Chris Devenski (10) (1-0, 1.35, 25 K, 1-1 saves) would rank as a top closer, even though Ken Giles has the job.
Number 1 – Chicago Cubs
The defending champion Chicago Cubs have 10 top ten players including closer. The only position that the Cubs fall short of the top ten mark is center field and by year’s end that may not be the case. Catcher Wilson Contreras (7) has a great arm so his hitting is a bonus, while slick fielding Anthony Rizzo (4) averages 30 home runs at 1st base. 2nd baseman Ben Zobrist (6) was a sought after free agent before the 2016 season who won the World Series MVP in 2016, and shortstop Addison Russell (7) give the Cubs a great double play combination. Kris Bryant (2) at 3rd base completes the all top ten infield for the Cubs after hitting 39 home runs in 2016 while playing exceptional defense.
Back in Left Field is Kyle Schwarber (2) and he will make the Cubs even better. Jason Heyward (9) in Right Field gives the Cubs outstanding defense and a streaky bat with some pop. Jake Arrieta (3) is the Cubs top right-handed starter, while Jon Lester (3) is their best left-handed starter. Wade Davis (10) (2-0, 0.00, 9 K, 4-4 saves) is the Cubs closer in 2017.