keyboard_arrow_uptop

We are now on the eve of the seventh baseball season of this, the second decade of baseball’s third century. If baseball were a trashy fantasy novel, this would be the year in which the miller’s/weaver’s/craftsman’s son, after seven years of blissful ignorance about his true identity as the Emperor of the Dwarves/King of the Mystic Realm/Grand Poobah of the Pyrenees, would be awoken to his fateful quest by some wizened old man hobbling up the hill to his house.

As it is, there’s a baseball season to play.

Before we do, though, it’s worth stopping and reflecting on the greatness we’ve already seen in the first six years of this decade. Most of us weren’t around to watch Joe DiMaggio in his prime. Even fewer watched Babe Ruth disrespect the game by showing up the pitcher with his called shot in the ‘32 World Series. But all of us—I’m assuming there are no 6-year-olds reading this piece, though good for you if you are—have been around to witness some truly transcendent performances over the past six years, and those performances are worth reflecting on and appreciated now, before the men who lived them have faded too far into history.

So, without further ado: The best single-season performances of the decade so far, by WARP, and sorted by position.

1 — The Pitchers

NAME

YEAR

AGE

GS

IP

R

BB

SO

FIP

cFIP

ERA

DRA

WARP

Justin Verlander

2011

28

34

251.0

73

57

250

3.03

70

2.40

1.92

9.2

Justin Verlander

2012

29

33

238.3

81

60

239

2.90

71

2.64

2.04

8.7

Clayton Kershaw

2015

27

33

232.7

62

42

301

2.02

56

2.13

2.16

7.9

Zack Greinke

2015

31

32

222.7

43

40

200

2.79

82

1.66

2.17

7.6

Jake Arrieta

2015

29

33

229.0

52

48

236

2.38

67

1.77

2.31

7.4

Well. There are two stories here, really. One is that, yes, last year’s NL Cy Young race was just as good as we all thought it was. The man with the lowest WARP (Arrieta) ended up taking home the prize, but given the tiny differences in the numbers, and the uncertainty baked into so many parts of the WARP equation, it’s best not to quibble too much. A three-sided die would have done as good a job as the voters did in picking a winner, and in any case picking a winner among the three men considered wasn’t the point. We were all winners, last year.

And then there’s Verlander. He wasn’t (and isn’t) a pitcher with stuff that sneaks up on you. He’s a pitcher with stuff that hits you in the face with its power, then hits you again when you try to get up. In 2011, when he put up an astonishing 9.2 WARP over 251 brilliant innings, he featured a fastball at 95, a changeup at 87, a slider at 86, and a curve at 80 even. And, what is more, he could put them wherever he wanted. As Verlander plays out the last years of his career in Detroit, remember that he used to pitch in a way that brought stadiums to their feet.

2 — Catchers

NAME

YEAR

AGE

PA

R

HR

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

ISO

TAv

BWARP

Buster Posey

2012

25

610

78

24

69

96

.336

.408

.549

.213

.346

9.8

Yadier Molina

2012

29

563

65

22

45

55

.315

.373

.501

.186

.315

8.3

Brian McCann

2011

27

527

51

24

57

89

.270

.351

.466

.195

.291

8.2

As valuable as Verlander was in 2011, Posey was more valuable in 2012. Not by a lot—and again, you can mess with the numbers to come up with the opposite result—but the point is that Posey did what he did (which is triple-slash .336/.408/.549) as a 25-year-old catcher. That’s makes him a generational talent, and puts him more than a full win above Molina, who was brilliant in his own right in 2012, who’s likely on the downswing of his career at the moment (he’s got a wonky thumb), and who almost certainly has value that we’re not adequately capturing here.

And then there’s Brian McCann. He’s not the weirdest name you’ll see on this list—that’s coming, don’t you worry—but he’s also not what you think of when you think of generational talents. And yet. His strong performance in 2011 was driven, in large part, by our model’s belief that he is an extremely good defensive catcher: his 41 FRAA in 2011 was part of a sequence of five straight 25-plus marks from 2008 to 2012, and drove McCann to performances of 7.8 WARP or above in four straight years, from 2008 to 2011. Not bad, and better than you’d think.

3 — First Basemen

NAME

YEAR

AGE

PA

R

HR

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

ISO

TAv

BWARP

Albert Pujols

2010

30

700

115

42

103

76

.312

.414

.596

.284

.357

10.4

Paul Goldschmidt

2015

27

695

103

33

118

151

.321

.435

.570

.249

.348

9.2

Joey Votto

2010

26

648

106

37

91

125

.324

.424

.600

.276

.362

7.8

Pujols, on the other hand, is exactly as good as you think. I mean, not now, obviously, but that’s sort of the point. The 2010 campaign put the finishing touches on a first decade in the game (he made his debut in 2001) that would have made him a first-ballot Hall of Famer had he retired on the spot, and all he did afterward was win a second championship (in 2011) and abscond to Anaheim, where he’s been much worse than he was before but also still good enough to rack up the counting stats that Hall of Fame voters love. Goldschmidt and Votto, meanwhile, were very good in 2015 (yes, Votto too, though 2010 is the season featured here) and will likely be very good in 2016, too. Let us enjoy them while we can.

4 — Second Basemen

NAME

YEAR

AGE

PA

R

HR

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

ISO

TAv

BWARP

Matt Carpenter

2013

27

717

126

11

72

98

.318

.392

.481

.163

.312

7.3

Robinson Cano

2012

29

697

105

33

61

96

.313

.379

.550

.238

.319

6.9

Aaron Hill

2012

30

668

93

26

52

86

.302

.360

.522

.220

.296

6.8

Aaron Hill?!? Here are his WARP totals for the past six years:

2010, 0.5

2011, -0.3

2012, 6.8

2013, 1.8

2014, 0.2

2015, 0.7

Did you spot the outlier? It’s hard to know what to say here, because sometimes these things just happen out of nowhere. The fact is, as things stand right now, Aaron Hill has the third-best season by a second baseman this decade. And that’s a reality we’ll all just have to get used to. Meanwhile, Matt Carpenter was very good in 2013, and Robinson Cano has been very good for the better part of a decade, despite Safeco recently robbing him of some power. But you knew that already.

5 – Third Basemen

NAME

YEAR

AGE

PA

R

HR

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

ISO

TAv

BWARP

Miguel Cabrera

2013

30

652

103

44

90

94

.348

.442

.636

.288

.372

7.9

Josh Donaldson

2015

29

711

122

41

73

133

.297

.371

.568

.271

.324

7.6

Nolan Arenado

2015

24

665

97

42

34

110

.287

.323

.575

.287

.299

7.5

Here, the interesting story is Nolan Arenado. His on-base-percentage last year wasn’t particularly exciting, and that’s usually hard to make up for, but one really good way to make up for it is to hit 42 home runs (yes, even at Coors) and play exceedingly good defense at third base. That’s what Arenado did last year as a 24-year-old, and it should make the next decade or so very interesting for fans of the young Floridian.

Another path to 7.5-ish WARP, of course, is to do what Josh Donaldson did, which is to walk twice as much as Arenado, hit 40-plus homers in a non-Coors park, and score 81 other times to boot. Because he got a late start on his life as a baseball superstar, Donaldson might never get the truly massive free agent payday he deserves, but don’t let that stop you from getting excited about what he can do. It’s a lot.

(Miguel Cabrera is an inner-circle Hall of Famer, and he had a good year in 2013.)

6 — Shortstops

NAME

YEAR

AGE

PA

R

HR

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

ISO

TAv

BWARP

Jose Reyes

2011

28

586

101

7

43

41

.337

.384

.493

.156

.318

6.4

Troy Tulowitzki

2010

25

529

89

27

48

78

.315

.381

.568

.253

.319

6.3

Jean Segura

2013

23

623

74

12

25

84

.294

.329

.423

.129

.265

5.6

This is sort of a weird list, and there’s enough great young shortsops in the game right now (Correa, Russell, Lindor, etc.) that it’s quite likely that it’ll change dramatically before the decade is over. Still, Tulowitzki has had moments of brilliance in between debilitating injuries, and 2010 was one of those moments. In 2013, meanwhile, Segura found a way to hit enough to complement his excellent defense (that year, at least—2016 is an iffy proposition), and Jose Reyes had a very contact-y season in 2011 (look at those 41 strikeouts!). Again, this is a weak group, on the whole. Let’s move on.

7 — Left Fielders

NAME

YEAR

AGE

PA

R

HR

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

ISO

TAv

BWARP

Alex Gordon

2011

27

688

101

23

67

139

.303

.376

.502

.200

.303

7.1

Josh Hamilton

2010

29

571

95

32

43

95

.359

.411

.633

.274

.336

7.0

Ryan Braun

2011

27

629

109

33

58

93

.332

.397

.597

.265

.345

6.9

Two fallen heroes, and one whose legend is still growing. Gordon has always been a plus-plus defender in left field, and in 2011 he married that skill with a wonderfully productive offensive season, resulting in the 7.1 WARP campaign you see above. The 2010 season is the one you remember Hamilton for, and also the year he helped lead the Rangers to their first of back-to-back AL titles. (Boy, that team faded quickly, didn’t it?) Braun, meanwhile, has gone to ignominy and ba…well, no. He hasn’t ever really been forgiven by the baseball world at large for his steroid-related transgressions, which is a shame, because at his peak he was a lot of fun to watch swing an overly large bat, steroids or not.

8 — Center Fielders

NAME

YEAR

AGE

PA

R

HR

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

ISO

TAv

BWARP

Mike Trout

2015

23

682

104

41

92

158

.299

.402

.590

.290

.353

10.0

Mike Trout

2013

21

716

109

27

110

136

.323

.432

.557

.234

.367

10.0

Matt Kemp

2011

26

689

115

39

74

159

.324

.399

.586

.262

.357

9.7

You were waiting for this one, weren’t you? You were sort of hoping that Trout would take all three places, weren’t you? Well, this is pretty close. Trout’s 2014 actually slots in fourth, just a tiny bit behind Kemp’s brilliant 2011, when he went on an April tear and heard not a whisper from the balky hip that has derailed his career ever since. And as good as he was that year, as much press as he got that year, Mike Trout has been better in two of the past three years, and essentially just as good in all three. If you have MLB.tv, set up an alert for Mike Trout. Then double-check to make sure you set it correctly. He is the best player of his generation, and he’s playing at the top of his game right now. Watch him, so you can tell your grandkids that you did.

9 — Right Fielders

NAME

YEAR

AGE

PA

R

HR

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

ISO

TAv

BWARP

Bryce Harper

2015

22

654

118

42

124

131

.330

.460

.649

.319

.386

11.2

Jose Bautista

2011

30

655

105

43

132

111

.302

.447

.608

.306

.357

10.0

Giancarlo Stanton

2014

24

638

89

37

94

170

.288

.395

.555

.267

.342

8.3

Oh. You should watch Bryce Harper too. In slow motion, if at all possible. With some '80s synth beats playing in the background, if you can swing it. Harper’s 2015 season is the best season on this list by quite a ways, and he is—it’s hard to write this—just 23 years old this year. Twenty-three! Bryce Harper was 9 years old* on 9/11, and in fourth grade. Now, he’s hitting baseballs out of sight in our nation’s capital, and looking rougueish doing it. He is unreasonably good at what he does. Watch him. Appreciate him. There are very, very few like him.

Jose Bautista, for his part, has been in the news this offseason mostly for things unrelated to his baseball talent (which is a shame, and not at all his fault), but don’t sleep on his hitting game: he’s really good there, too, and Giancarlo Stanton is a freak of nature built to hit home runs on a line. Neither is quite as transcendent as Trout and Harper, but then 99.999999999 percent of the world’s population aren’t either.

n/a — Designated Hitters

NAME

YEAR

AGE

PA

R

HR

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

ISO

TAv

BWARP

David Ortiz

2013

37

600

84

30

76

88

.309

.395

.564

.255

.332

4.9

Victor Martinez

2014

35

641

87

32

70

42

.335

.409

.565

.230

.335

4.7

Edwin Encarnacion

2015

32

624

94

39

77

98

.277

.372

.557

.280

.324

4.7

We started with a bang, and we’ll end with a whimper. WARP doesn’t love designated hitters in general, as it debits them heavily for their lack of a defensive position. Still, there’s three very nice offensive seasons on this list, and a few guys who are reaching the tail ends of careers they should rightfully be proud of.

***

What have we learned? Not a lot we didn’t know already, honestly. But the point was never to learn something we didn’t know. The point was to appreciate the greatness we’ve just recently seen before it fades away. Most of us are blessed with innumerable privileges we fail to recognize, but should, on a daily basis: a roof over our heads, food to eat, air to breathe. Baseball privileges aren’t quite on that order, but that’s no reason to neglect them, either. We have a whole 2016 ahead of us, and all of the players on this list are still active. Let us appreciate together the greatness we have witnessed.

*Editor's note: So was Rian, so we're really not sure whether to let him get away with that sentence.