With the biggest free agents finally in new homes, spring training games in full swing and the real deal just a couple of weeks away, we're ready to unveil our MLB Rank Top 100 on Tuesday and Wednesday.
But before we dive in on the 2019 rankings, we wanted to take a look back at how we did with last year's MLB Rank. Whom did we rank too high? Too low? Whom did we miss altogether? And what do we expect in this year's rankings?
We asked four of our national baseball writers to weigh in -- and welcome your opinions as well.
Based on 2018 performances, who was the most underrated player in last year's MLB Rank Top 100?
Eddie Matz: My first instinct is to say Aaron Nola because he ranked dead last in the top 100. I don't put a ton of stock in pitcher WAR, but Nola finished 13th in the MVP voting, and you could easily argue that he deserved better than that. All of which is to say, he was probably among the 20 or 25 best players in baseball last year. That's 75 or so spots higher than we ranked him, which would be the largest projection/production gap of any player in last year's rankings. Having said all that, the increments between all 100 spots aren't the same. Especially at the top. So even though Mookie Betts was ranked 16 spots too low, if you wanted to make the case that 2018's best player was also our most underrated player, I wouldn't disagree.
Bradford Doolittle: He's right at the bottom of the list: Philadelphia's Aaron Nola came in at No. 100 last year. By the end of the season, he was tied with Jacob deGrom for the most bWAR in the National League. While I might not fully buy that rating, the Phillies certainly are believers, giving Nola a $45 million extension over the winter.
Sam Miller: There are plenty of great candidates, but among them all Justin Turner (No. 50) might have had the best pre-emptive gripe about these rankings. Like most late bloomers, he has faced skepticism ever since his late bloom, but five years of stardom might finally be enough to convince everybody that this really is the real Turner: He was one of the 10 best players in baseball by WAR per game, and despite missing the first six weeks of the season he still led the National League champs in WAR. He's a very good defender and, anecdotally, one of the best teammates in the game.
David Schoenfield: Nola is certainly a good choice -- particularly given that Michael Fulmer was ranked a couple of spots higher, a reminder of how volatile pitcher performance can be. But I'm going to cheat and go off the board for a player who didn't even crack the top 100: A's third baseman Matt Chapman, who finished with the seventh-highest position player WAR via FanGraphs (6.5) and third-highest via Baseball-Reference (8.2).
Based on 2018 performances, who was the most overrated player in last year's MLB Rank Top 100?
Matz: Clayton Kershaw (No. 2) and Carlos Correa (No. 10) both jump out at me here, but it's hard to separate their production from their health. So for me, the winner in this category -- by a landslide -- is Bryce Harper. That's not to say that when all was said and done, he authored a poor campaign. But No. 5 in the majors? Heck, according to FanGraphs WAR totals, he was the fifth-best player on his own team last season.
Doolittle: I hate to do it, because I love watching him pitch so much, but after another injury-truncated season and a further dip in velocity, we oversold Clayton Kershaw at No. 2. In my rating system (Awards Index), I had him at No. 62 at season's end and no one is really calling him the game's best pitcher at this point. Doesn't mean he can't reclaim that distinction -- after all, 2018 was his worst season, and he still posted a 2.73 ERA. But Kershaw has to make it through a full season to recapture his full allure, and the early spring stories of his achy shoulder are not encouraging.
Miller: Good players have bad years, so I'm hesitant to call any of these players "overrated" so much as simply "off" last year. Charlie Blackmon (No. 18) stands out as a player who might have been off, might have entered his decline phase or might have been genuinely misvalued in the first place: After signing a six-year extension in the spring, he had a terrible defensive season and his offense returned to his early, pre-stardom levels. Coors Field shaded over that offensive decline some -- he hit .334/.390/.567 at home and .249/.329/.439 on the road -- but it made his defensive decline even worse, as a below-average center fielder is a real liability in Colorado's huge outfield. He's probably still one of the 50 best players in baseball, but a second year like that one -- whether in center or left field -- would cause a pretty severe reassessment.
Schoenfield: So many choices! I'm going with Eric Hosmer, who parlayed a career year in 2017 into a $144 million contract from the Padres and a No. 64 ranking. But that ranking ignored his history of inconsistency, and he produced a 1.4-bWAR season with the Padres -- not necessarily out of line with his past:
2017: 4.1 WAR (tied for 63rd)
2016: 1.2 WAR (tied for 326th)
2015: 3.6 WAR (tied for 84th)
2014: 0.8 WAR (tied for 430th)
Based on 2018 performances, who was the most glaring omission from last year's MLB Rank Top 100?
Matz: Matt Chapman. Not only should he have been ranked last year, he probably should've been in the top 20. As in the number that's both the numerator and denominator in the old adage about hindsight.
Doolittle: Seattle's Mitch Haniger may be baseball's most underappreciated star right now. He went unranked by our panel of esteemed voters and went on to finish No. 17 in my ratings. He hits (a .367 wOBA) and fields (5 defensive runs saved). But the biggest proof of his value is the simple fact that Jerry Dipoto hasn't traded him.
Miller: In my life, only 13 starting pitchers have ever had an ERA below 2.00, so that sort of number still makes my heart giggle. Blake Snell is the 13th. He had a 1.25 ERA in his final 15 starts. He had the fifth-lowest hits/nine innings rate in the past century. He won the Cy Young.
Schoenfield: Looks like I jumped the gun on my answer of Chapman above. Since I named him already, I'll join Sam in going with Snell, who had the quietest sub-2.00 ERA season by a starter in history. At least the writers finally recognized him at awards time and -- deservedly in my opinion -- voted him the AL Cy Young Award winner over Justin Verlander.
Who is most likely to be underranked in the 2019 MLB Rank?
Doolittle: I can't back it up with data or projections, but I'm buying on Cody Bellinger this season as a major breakout candidate. Given his raw ability and what he did as a rookie in 2017, a "major breakout" would put him in the top 10-15 players in baseball this season. I think he's got that kind of ceiling and we'll start seeing it in 2019. My guess is he will barely crack the top 50 in our top 100, perhaps even lower.
Miller: Carlos Correa seems to me the player most likely to be the Mookie Betts of this year's ranking -- ranked pretty high, sure, but (after a relatively down year) low enough that it will look ridiculous when he posts a career-high WAR and wins the MVP award. I like Michael Conforto as a guy who might not make the preseason list but might make 20 MVP ballots.
Schoenfield: Interestingly, the first name that popped into my head was a Mets outfielder as well -- but it was Brandon Nimmo, not Conforto. Nimmo is coming off a .404 OBP season, and I'm not sure many people recognized how often he was getting on base. If anybody said anything about the Mets in 2018, it was either about Jacob deGrom or LOL Mets, something ridiculous just happened again. I like Nimmo's chances of producing another 4.4-WAR season -- or higher.
Who is most likely to be overranked in the 2019 MLB Rank?
Doolittle: He's going to be great, he will provide some highlight-reel homers and he might well be the AL's Rookie of the Year, but the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. frenzy tells me that folks might be forgetting that he's going to be a 20-year-old rookie. If he's a top-100 player, and he might be, that's a great rookie season. Ranking Baby Vlad higher than 90-100 is probably jumping the gun at this point.
Miller: Khris Davis has been hauntingly consistent for four years, but thanks to his first black ink, some clutch hits and an unexpected A's run, he's being reimagined as something better than that. He'll be great this year, but the narrative around him will lose some energy.
Schoenfield: Probably a closer.