Welcome to our annual series of ‘best player by position’ per division across all of Major League Baseball. Our goal in this set of articles was to bring to light the player from each position that is the best in the division right now. No weight was given to a player’s glorious or dubious past. These are our opinions as to who is most likely to represent the division in top-tier form in 2013.
As such, we welcome all feedback, criticism, and (gasp!) praise in the comments section below. Enjoy!
Catcher - Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants - He’s not just the best catcher in the NL West, Posey is the best catcher in baseball. The 2012 NL MVP and two-time World Series champ is the heart and soul of the Giants franchise. Last year he led the majors with a .336 batting average. He also smacked 24 homers and drove in 103 runs. His WAR of 7.2 was tops in the national league last year.
1B - Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers - He returned to the NL West late last year and immediately became the best first basemen in the division. He hit .299 last season with 18 homers and 108 RBIs. The average and RBIs are right around his career norms. The 18 homers was a drop off from where his power has been the last few years. In addition to being a fine hitter, Gonzalez is also a good defensive player. He should settle in nicely in Los Angeles.
2B - Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks - Hill is coming off a career year in which he belted 26 homers, drove in 85 runs, and posted a .302 batting average. With Justin Upton gone, Kirk Gibson is going to bat Hill 3rd and hope he can do something that has eluded him throughout his career, find some consistency. In 2011 Hill hit just 8 homers and had a .246 average.
SS - Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies – His 2012 season was ransacked by injuries as he appeared in just 47 games. If he can stay healthy, he is one of the most dynamic players in the National League. A full season of Tulo equals out to 30 homers, 100 RBIs, and at least a .300 batting average. The two-time All-Star also has two Gold Gloves on his mantel.
3B - Chase Headley, San Diego Padres - Headley had a breakout season last year and picked up a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award in the process. He hit a career-high 31 home runs, drove in a career-best 115 runs, and finished with a .286 average. His WAR of 6.0 was 7th best in the NL. Headley even swiped 17 bases last year, showing that he can do it all. He will anchor the Padres this season.
1: Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers - Kemp battled through an injury plagued 2012 season and still posted respectable numbers. In 106 games he hit 23 homers, drove in 69 runs, and finished with a .303 batting average. He is one year removed from an MVP-caliber season. In 2011 he was a monster with 39 home runs, 40 steals, 126 RBI and a .324 batting average. Due to his lingering injuries, Kemp only stole 9 bases last year.
2: Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies - A leaner, more explosive CarGo arrived at spring training this year and the budding young superstar said he wants to get 600 at-bats this year. If he does reach that plateau his numbers will be MVP-caliber. In somewhat of a ho-hum 2012, Gonzalez hit .303 with 22 homers, 85 RBI’s, and 20 steals. He’s looking to eclipse those numbers and lead the Rockies into the postseason in 2013.
3: Dexter Fowler, Colorado Rockies - Fowler had a breakthrough 2012 season in which he hit .300 with 13 home runs, 53 RBI’s, 72 runs, and 12 stolen bases. He is a very good defensive outfielder and he ranked 7th in the NL with a .389 on base percentage last year.
1: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers - The 25-year old Kershaw has led the NL in ERA in each of the past two seasons and he finished 3rd in baseball with 233 strikeouts last year. He already has one Cy Young Award (2011) and will battle for a second one this year. Over the last three years, Kershaw is 48-24 with a 2.56 ERA and 689 strikeouts in 665 1/3 innings.
2: Matt Cain San Francisco Giants – Cain is an absolute workhorse. He has logged at least 200 innings pitched in each of the past 6 seasons. Some highlights from his stellar 2012 campaign include; starting in the All-Star game, pitching the first perfect game in Giants history, and winning a World Series championship. Cain sports a career 3.27 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.
3: Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers - Greinke had a season for the ages in 2009 when he led baseball with a razor thin 2.16 ERA, struck out 242 batters, and won 16 games for the Royals. Since that campaign he has been steady, but has not come close to repeating the numbers he posted in that one epic season. Three times in his career he has reached 200 strikeouts and a move back to the NL will increase his chances of doing it for a 4th time in 2013.
4: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants - The 23-year old lefty has logged over 200 innings pitched and fanned 191 batters in each of the last two seasons. He has a career ERA of 3.20 and a 1.19 WHIP. Those are very impressive numbers for a player who has yet to enter his prime. Bumgarner was 16-11 last year and came up big in the World Series for the Giants.
5: Ian Kennedy Arizona Diamondbacks - Kennedy was sensational in 2011 when he logged 222 innings, 20 wins, a 2.88 ERA, and 1.09 WHIP. He regressed in 2012 as he set new career-highs in losses (12), ERA (4.08) and WHIP (1.30). In his three seasons with the Diamondbacks, Kennedy has pitched at least 194 innings and struck out at least 168 batters. Kirk Gibson has named him the opening day starter for the third consecutive season and he expects Kennedy to have a bounce back campaign in 2013.
Setup - David Hernandez, Arizona Diamondbacks - Hernandez has 48 holds the past two seasons. He possesses a nasty slider that helped him fan 98 batters in 68.1 innings last season. He posted a 2.50 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 2012. Hernandez will once again set up JJ Putz, but could be next in line for saves if the opportunity presents itself.
Closer - JJ Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks - Putz saved 32 games last year and 45 in 2011. In his two seasons with the Diamondbacks, Putz has a combined 2.48 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and has yielded just 23 walks. The biggest issue he has is staying healthy. Putz only logged 54.1 innings last year.
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