|Baseball's best player through April and May
Fan Graphs is a site that I couldn't live without and has a great stat called Runs Above Replacement (RAR) that combines offensive and defensive contributions while comparing players to "replacement-level" guys at the same position.
For example, how many runs would the Cardinals lose if they had to replace Albert Pujols with a random first baseman called up from the minors? Last year the answer was 89.2 runs, which led baseball.
While not perfect, Runs Above Replacement is an excellent way to examine all-around contributions and can be used to determine the top MVP candidates based strictly on their between-the-lines performance.
Now that May is in the books I thought it would be interesting to update the RAR leaders through the season's first two months:
AMERICAN LEAGUE RAR NATIONAL LEAGUE RAR Evan Longoria 33.1 Raul Ibanez 28.7 Joe Mauer 27.1 Albert Pujols 26.6 Jason Bartlett 27.1 Mike Cameron 26.5 Ian Kinsler 25.6 Ryan Zimmerman 26.3 Marco Scutaro 25.3 Hanley Ramirez 26.1 Kevin Youkilis 25.0 Adrian Gonzalez 26.0 Nelson Cruz 23.9 Matt Kemp 25.2 Victor Martinez 23.3 Chase Utley 23.0 Aaron Hill 23.2 Justin Upton 22.1 Torii Hunter 22.2 Ryan Braun 20.8
Evan Longoria ranked as the best player in baseball through the end of April and he's still atop the RAR leaderboard a month later, hitting .327/.396/.623 with 13 homers, 20 doubles, 55 RBIs, and excellent defense in 51 games overall. Through his first 173 career games, Longoria has been 86.7 runs better than a replacement-level third baseman.
Joe Mauer has amazingly vaulted into the No. 2 spot among AL position players despite spending all of April on the disabled list, which shows just how spectacular he was in May. Mauer hit .414/.500/.838 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs in 28 games while logging 176 innings at catcher last month, guiding Twins pitchers to a 4.19 ERA with him behind the plate after the staff posted a 5.26 ERA in April.
Raul Ibanez ranked second among NL position players in RAR through the end of April and barely slowed down in May, hitting .312/.366/.661 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs in 28 games to take over the top spot from Mike Cameron. Of course, Ibanez is having by far the best season of his 14-year career, topping his previous high OPS by nearly 200 points, yet has been all of 2.1 runs better than Albert Pujols.
At the other end of the RAR spectrum, Garrett Atkins (-13.3) and Delmon Young (-12.2) rank as the least valuable all-around players in their respective leagues, with Brian Giles (-10.5) and David Ortiz (-11.8) not far behind.