Qualified Superstars of the 2017 Season
The 2017 MLB season has been one to remember. We have once again seen elite level performances from players like Jose Altuve, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, and many others.
We’ve seen spectacular breakout performances from lesser-known players such as Marwin Gonzalez, Chris Taylor, Tommy Pham, Steven Souza Jr., Luis Severino, Jimmy Nelson, Jonathan Schoop, as well as some others.
There has even been a good amount of former highly regarded prospects finally breaking out after years of middling results such as Logan Morrison, Justin Smoak, and Yonder Alonzo.
It’s even had a couple of excellent seasons from Rookie of the Year locks Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger.
All of these players can be seen on the Fangraphs Leaderboards without having to change the minimum plate appearances qualifications. This article is not about these players. This article is about the ones who do not appear on the qualified leaderboards.
Unqualified Superstars of 2017
As mentioned earlier, this has been a season to remember. Despite seeing healthy and brilliant seasons from so many great players, there have been other stars with injuries that have cost them a big chunk of their seasons. Some players may have started off the season in the bullpen, not as the clear starter, or even in the minors, which cost them innings or plate appearances. Thanks to these reasons, we have 13 notable players whom I believe to be the Unqualified Superstars of 2017.
Elite Stars – Mike Trout, Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson, Carlos Correa
Before the midseason injuries to Mike Trout and Freddie Freeman, the pair were putting up laughably great seasons. For Freeman, in 165 plate appearances until 5/17, he hit .341/.461/.758 with a 201 wRC+, 14 HR and 11 2B. Trout lasted just about a week and a half longer than Freeman playing until 5/28 before his injury, hitting .337/.461/.742 with a 208 wRC+, 16 HR and 14 2B in 206 PA.
Thankfully neither player missed much more than a month and a half, and are still putting up excellent overall seasons. Freeman is hitting a full season MVP pace of .325/.420/.631 with a 166 wRC+, 22 HR and 22 2B in 343 PA. Meanwhile, Trout is actually right in the middle of the AL MVP discussion hitting an absurd .333/.457/.688 with a 200 wRC+, 26 HR and 18 2B in 352 PA.
The pair of Carlos Correa and Josh Donaldson are on the opposite sides of the same coin, both experiencing fairly major injuries, though at completely opposite times. Donaldson’s came in mid-April with a late May return, while Carlos Correa had a mid-July injury and has yet to return.
Before his injury, Correa looked like a bonafide MVP candidate hitting .320/.400/.566 with a 157 wRC+, 20 HR, and 18 2B in 375 PA. Although Correa is one of four Houston Astros to have a 150 wRC+ or higher, it absolutely does not lessen the impact that he has made this season with his bat, let alone his glove at shortstop.
As for former MVP Josh Donaldson, his overall numbers are right in line with the elite numbers he’s put up each of the four seasons before this one. To this point, Donaldson has hit .265/.393/.526 with a 144 wRC+, 20 HR and 15 2B in 349 PA. This was a bit of a shock to myself, after not really hearing much about him this entire season. A large part of that must do with the underwhelming season for the Blue Jays, but were it not for an early season injury, he might just be right up there with Altuve, Judge, and Trout.
Breaking Out – Alex Wood, Lance Mccullers, James Paxton
The trio of Alex Wood, Lance Mccullers, and James Paxton have all shown great promise prior to 2017, but injuries limited all three players innings to fewer than 130 each. While each player has still dealt with injuries in 2017, once Paxton pitches another two innings, all three will have passed their innings from 2016.
James Paxton may have put up the best showing the last couple of years between the three, and may even get some consideration for the third spot in the AL Cy Young voting, though good luck beating out Chris Sale or Cory Kluber for any votes. Paxton this season is 12-3 with a 2.78 ERA, 2.49 FIP, and 4.2 fWAR in 119.2 IP. He has improved on his already great 2.80 FIP from the year prior, while greatly improving on his 3.79 ERA. He may well be ready to replace Felix Hernandez as the ace of the Seattle Mariners.
Alex Wood’s 2017 may be one of the biggest surprises of the year for many, having a 14-1 record with a 2.30 ERA, 2.70 FIP, and 3.6 fWAR in 117.1 IP. 14 wins in 15 decisions is certainly something that stands out and is a stark contrast from his 1-4 record in 14 games (10 starts) from his 2016 campaign. Despite only one win last season, Wood was still quite good with a 3.73 ERA and 3.18 FIP in just 60.1 IP. After a rough start to the season, Wood struck out 54 while only allowing 9 walks and four home runs in his final 39.1 IP of the season, sporting a 2.52 ERA in the process. Injuries cost him the bulk of the season, but it was clear the level of talent Wood has, which has seeped into 2017.
Lance McCullers is the only first round pick of the bunch, also coming with a big league pedigree and a father who pitched in the MLB for seven seasons. He only pitched 81 innings in 2016, but had a 3.22 ERA and 3.00 FIP flat while doing so. His biggest problem was a 5.00 BB/9, sandwiched by an 11.78 K/9 and 0.56 BB/9. McCullers has vastly improved his BB/9 going all the way down to 3.07, while still maintaining his HR/9 at 0.51 and keeping his K/9 above 10.
The biggest difference from 16-17 seems to be that he’s allowing more base runners to score, going from an 81.4 LOB% in 16 to a very sub par 69 LOB% this season. It’s a big reason why his ERA has jumped 0.70 points. If McCullers can start pitching to better results with men on base, we are very likely to see his ERA meet his low 2.95 FIP at some point.
Under the Radar – JD Martinez, Zack Cozart, Brad Peacock, Zack Godley
Zack Cozart and J.D. Martinez are interesting players, both having huge years prior to becoming free agents. However, Martinez was traded to a contending team while Cozart remained on a non-playoff team. Prior to 2017, Martinez and Cozart could not have been more different, with Martinez being known for his great bat and bad fielding, while Cozart was known for his light hitting and great fielding.
While the fielding for Martinez has not changed, the hitting for Cozart has, even hitting better than Martinez with a 151 wRC+ to 147. Cozart has hit .313/.404/.578, but is just a bit below the qualified threshold at 374 PA. Martinez has hit .281/.368/.612 while also hitting 25 HR. Keep an eye on the pair this offseason, it might be a good race to see which player ends up getting the better contract.
Zack Godley and Brad Peacock are two pitchers who weren’t expected to be some of the better members of their team’s rotations but have been much better than expected. Steamer projected Godley for a total of 38 IP with just 0.2 fWAR earned before the season. Peacock’s Steamer projections weren’t any kinder, projecting for 0.2 fWAR in 71 IP.
Instead, Godley has been the second best pitcher by fWAR in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ rotation with a 3.13 ERA, 3.27 FIP, and 2.7 fWAR in 112 IP. As for Peacock, he made 13 very good appearances out of the bullpen, but is now set in the rotation and has overall numbers with a 3.21 ERA, 2.66 FIP, and 2.9 fWAR in 98 IP. Peacock actually is tied for the team lead in fWAR with Lance McCullers, providing huge value for a Houston Astros rotation that has struggled in the second half.
In Their Twilight, But Still Rocking It – Adrian Beltre, Howie Kendrick
Adrian Beltre did not play a game this season until 5/29. Since that point, he has played 71 games and has not skipped a beat from last season when he hit .300/.358/.521 and 130 wRC+ in 153 games. To this point, Beltre has hit .308/.385/.540 with a 139 wRC+, 14 HR and 17 2B in 303 PA. His defense hasn’t been quite as otherworldly as past seasons, but is still above average, which is quite the feat for the 38-year-old.
Last month Beltre got his 3,000th hit, and it does not look like he will be slowing down anytime soon. Much like Josh Donaldson, were Beltre to have played all season, it seems like he would absolutely be in line to receive some lower ballot MVP votes.
While Adrian Beltre has enjoyed late career success with the Rangers for the last seven seasons, Howie Kendrick has played for four different teams in the last four seasons. He was traded from the Angels to the Dodgers, Dodgers to the Philies, then Phillies to the Nationals. Kendrick’s production has dropped since his last season with the Angels, going from a 4.6 fWAR in 2014, to 2.2 in 2015, all the way down to a 0.9 in 2016. However in 58 games this season, Kendrick is hitting better than ever at .342/.394/.515 with a 138 wRC+ in 221 PA, even playing some of his best defense in a few seasons putting up a 1.6 fWAR thus far.
At 34 years old Kendrick still has time to play productively to help a team, and both the offensive and defensive rebounds from him are very encouraging. While researching the article, no one surprised me more than seeing Howie Kendrick with a near 140 wRC+ in over 200 PA. Kendrick was a bit wasted on the Phillies, a team going nowhere in 2017, but on the playoff bound Nationals, his veteran presence should be quite nice for the club.
Let Us Not Forget the Unqualified
In this 2017 season, we have seen Jose Altuve with a .362 batting average, Giancarlo Stanton hit 45 home runs, Joey Votto get on base to a .447 OBP, and Chris Sale strike out 250 batters before the end of August. These players are some of the best attention grabbing players not only because of the great accomplishments so far, but because we see them on the qualified leaderboards. But when we expand and look at the players who were not able to qualify to this point, we can see that there is much more to the 2017 season than meets the eye.