The battle to be the second-best player in Major League Baseball is an odd one. No person will tell you they want to be the silver medalist in the Olympics, but this is different in a large sense. Mike Trout is a god, and at just 26 years old with 56.7 bWAR under his belt already, Trout is not only the game’s best player, but likely will be for years to come.
He’s actually statistically having his best season ever early on, but this isn’t about Trout so much as the mere mortals below him. We really have to decide on a consensus second-best player, because, well, there is none. A lot of players have a case for the sport’s second-best player, but “best” is subjective, so we’re going to look at a whole bunch of stats, positions, and criteria to decide a true runner-up to Trout.
The problem is that I’m completely lost in deciding a runner-up. I’m gonna write down a dozen or so players (because a dozen or so players have been interchangeable as second-best in recent years) and you readers can sound off in the comments, passionately and maybe profanely.
Admittedly, Mookie Betts has probably the best case out of anyone for the honors of the Number Two player in the world. A marvelous defender in a place that is notoriously awful to fielders (Fenway Park’s weirdly shaped right field), Betts has posted 80 defensive runs saved over his first five seasons in the big leagues. Couple that with superb production at the dish (career .296/.356/.504 hitter), and you have a five-tool superstar just entering his prime.
At 25, Betts has all the tools he needs to be the player he is for the next decade, and 2018 is a great start to what should be the player’s prime years. So far, he’s posting MVP numbers, leading MLB in batting average (.370), on-base percentage (.449), slugging percentage (.850), OPS (1.299), and home runs (12). A true two-way force.
Kris Bryant is all about progression. The Chicago Cubs third baseman went from Minor League Player of the Year, to National League Rookie of the Year, to NL Most Valuable Player in three years, eliminating his flaws and toughening up his presence at the plate in the process. Bryant, a two-time All-Star, is a career .288/.390./.527 hitter with 97 home runs just 24 games into his fourth full season.Mike Trout is the clear best player in baseball, but who's second?Click To Tweet
Bryant is a plus defender, a stellar baserunner, and cutting down considerably on strikeouts this season. There are very few players more complete than the 2016 World Series champion, and at just 26, he still has room to grow (which is borderline insane).
With the knowledge that Jose Altuve is probably the best pure contact hitter since Ichiro Suzuki was in his prime, the 2017 American League MVP could be the second-best player in baseball. Four years running, the gritty Houston Astros second baseman has led the AL in hits while exceeding 30 stolen bases in six straight seasons. At 27, he has more career hits (1,293) than Pete Rose had at the same age, and with a .328 average this season, he’s looking to add onto that number
Altuve isn’t the greatest defender (being 5’6″ doesn’t help), but has posted five defensive runs saved since 2015 and is a past Gold Glove Award winner. Nonetheless, the career 31.0 bWAR player could be the worst defender ever and remain a valued asset the way he eats pitchers for breakfast and runs the bases well.
Max Scherzer has won two consecutive NL Cy Young Awards, and looks about as good — if not better — in 2018 as he has before. The right-hander is 6-1 for a Washington Nationals team that really needs that dominance, holding a 1.79 ERA and an MLB-high 65 strikeouts in seven starts this season. To think that Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young champ and career 147-76 pitcher, is having his best season at 33 speaks to how spectacular the Nats ace is.
Since his 2013 AL Cy Young campaign with the Detroit Tigers, “Mad Max” is 95-34 with a 2.82 ERA and 1,385 Ks. To say the second-best player in the bigs is one that plays every five days is bold, but Scherzer is certainly up there.
From a right-handed finesse guy to a left-handed sidearm maestro, Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale has enjoyed a recent stretch of supremacy that ascends him into this conversation. Sale is already a six-time All-Star at 29 and only getting better, posting a 2-1 record with a 2.14 ERA and 1.9 bWAR thus far in 2018. This comes after his 308-strikeout season of 2017, in which the two-time Cy Young Award finalist went 17-8 in Boston’s AL East-winning campaign.
Sale has finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting in each of the past five seasons with the Red Sox and Chicago White Sox. Though all-around stars like Betts compete on Sale’s team, he might be the most valuable presence on one of the most adored teams in the sport, and therefore a top-two overall player.
After a monster 2015 NL MVP season, the bar Bryce Harper has to clear yearly is pretty high. The former NL Rookie of the Year is one of few players who can reach that level, though. In 2018, the 25-year-old has 39 walks in 32 games (eight of which were intentional walks), but also leads the NL with 10 home runs; nobody wants to pitch to him. Even if he isn’t hitting for average (.254 this season), he invokes that superstar fear in opposing pitchers.
Harper is a decent defender when completely healthy, with a career 23 DRS in all outfield spots, and four in his customary right field position. With free agency upcoming, it could be Harper’s final season in Washington, or just one of many, but wherever this polarizing lefty goes, he’s one to watch.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but Nolan Arenado is a prototypical five-tool star. A defensive marvel, Arenado has won five straight Gold Glove Awards at third base for the Colorado Rockies. And guess what? He’s only 27. With 104 DRS in his career already, he could retire with 300 and nobody would bat an eye, and when you couple that prowess at the hot corner with a career .291/.343/.537 slash line, you have an all-around MLB star.
Arenado has twice led the NL in home runs, RBIs, and total bases, and received Gold Gloves, Silver Slugger Awards, All-Star Game appearances, and top-ten MVP finishes in three years straight. But, yes, Born in the Rockies: Coors, The Banquet Beer.
Both can be true at the same time: Aaron Judge is overhyped because he plays for the New York Yankees, and Aaron Judge is a generational talent in swinging the bat. Judge was the runner-up for AL MVP to Altuve in his rookie season last year, hitting a rookie record 52 home runs, adding AL-highs in runs (128) and walks (127). Being a 6’7″ behemoth at the plate makes it to where just tapping a ball can send it 430 feet, and Judge is a delight to watch because of it.
He’s also a freakishly quick defender for a man is size. Worth nine DRS and a 6.1 Ultimate Zone Rating in 2017, Judge is no liability in the outfield for the Yankees. He’s still only 26, and he could be the second-best player in the game already.
Nobody loves playing baseball more than Francisco Lindor loves playing baseball. If I was as talented as the switch-hitting Cleveland Indians shortstop, I’d love playing too. A career .292/.349/.476 hitter, the 24-year-old is coming off a career year of 33 home runs and 89 RBIs, finishing fifth in the MVP voting while accruing a Silver Slugger Award and his second All-Star Game appearance. Excellent with the stick and even better with the glove (37 career DRS), the future is bright for the youngster.
With 17.5 bWAR under his belt at just 24, Lindor may not currently be the best non-Trout player in MLB, but he very well could become such in the near future.
Saying “Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball” isn’t as easy as it once was, but it still isn’t hard: Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. He may not have elite velocity, but he still gets it done, and he has posted a respectable 2.86 ERA and 1.0 bWAR on a Los Angeles Dodgers team that hasn’t fared any better (14-17, fourth in the NL West). The three-time Cy Young Award winner is a certain Hall of Famer in the future, with a career 145-68, 2.37 ERA, and 61.6 bWAR record to his name.
The 2014 NL MVP has led MLB in ERA and ERA+ four times, in wins and strikeouts three times, and in fielding independent pitching and strikeouts per nine twice. My favorite Kershaw stat comes from his 2016 season, in which he struck out 172 batters and walked just 11. Eleven. He’s absurdly good.
It’s somewhat difficult to say that Carlos Correa is the next-best player to Mike Trout when he may not be the best player in his own infield. However, the Houston Astros shortstop has MVP potential. Correa played only 109 games last season, but hit .315/.391/.550 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs, posting a career-best 6.3 bWAR (that’s a 162-game pace of 9.4, which would have led MLB).
Wrap a plus defender, an underrated baserunner, and an all-world hitter playing a premium position up into a little ball and you have Correa, who, as hard as it is to comprehend, is only 23 years old. CBS Sports thinks he’s the second-best player, so…
You can’t be left off this rundown when you hit 59 home runs in a season, right? The boo-birds at Yankee Stadium don’t want you to read this, but Giancarlo Stanton is one of the best players in baseball and could be considered top-two. The 28-year-old is one of the most transcendent slugging talents ever, with 274 homers in just over 1,000 games, and the potential to be more under his ginormous contract in the hitter’s park in the Bronx.
Stanton might strike out a lot, but the career .267 hitter is one of the best risk/reward players in the game’s long history, and he has the chance to do even more as his career progresses. The 2017 NL MVP is also a pretty strong defender, with 61 total DRS in his career.
The runner-up to Stanton in the 2017 MVP race is the greatest batsman since Tony Gwynn. Joey Votto walks at will, as the active MLB leader in career on-base percentage (.427) has paced the majors in walks five times and intentional bases on balls three times. The most disciplined hitter in baseball is a career .312/.427/.537 hitter who will have a permanent home in Cooperstown after retirement, but at 34, the lefty has a lot left in him.
The 2009 MVP and five-time All-Star plays for the lowly Cincinnati Reds and has become severely overlooked and underappreciated over the past decade and change. But when you look at the first baseman’s stats, it’s clear he should be considered for the best non-Mike Trout player spot.
Jeff Bagwell Lite, Paul Goldschmidt, has maybe the weirdest combination of power and baserunning speed in baseball. The Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman and three-time NL MVP nominee has blasted 180 career home runs and stolen 119 bags in his eight MLB seasons, with the 30-year-old still chugging along as one of the premier position players in the game. Goldschmidt hasn’t had the best season thus far (.245 and four long balls), but it only means there’s room for improvement.
The righty is on a Hall of Fame trajectory and is a career .297 batter. His stock is still very high, and with 35.9 career WAR at a pretty stacked position, is as good as any non-Trout player in the sport.
The best catcher in baseball and the leader of three World Series title teams goes by the name of Buster Posey. The 2012 NL MVP is having himself another strong season, hitting .286/.365/.429 with two home runs, 11 RBIs, and an even strikeout to walk ratio (12:12). The five-time All-Star is tasked with backstopping a depleted rotation for the San Francisco Giants and has excelled, as the career 99 DRS catcher is already four fielding runs above average in 2018.
Posey is a career .308 hitter whose resume screams Hall of Fame. At 31 years old, the righty remains an elite presence both behind the plate and in the batter’s box, and depending on how difficult you consider the catcher position to be, he could be the second-best player in MLB.
Maybe the second-best player is any of these guys. Maybe it’s Corey Seager, or Manny Machado, or Marcell Ozuna, or Freddie Freeman, or Corey Kluber. Mike Trout is Mike Trout, but the race for second-best is an interesting one, so let us know who you think is the runner-up to Trout in the comments.
“The problem is that I’m completely lost in deciding a runner-up.”
I try to avoid the ‘me too’ response . . .but I am right there with you.
The only flaw I see with a couple you mention is experience. Fun time to be an MLB fan.