This article is not an argument over the MVP awards. I have no problem with Bryce Harper getting the nod ahead of Juan Soto in the NL. And I was definitely on the Shohei Ohtani side of the argument ahead of Vlad Guerrero Jr. for the AL award.
No, this article is to introduce you to the very best play in Major League baseball. The player who, on a game-for-game basis, outplayed the sensational sextet in the photo below.
Intrigued? Read on.
So, on a game for game basis, who is the best player in baseball?
Remember when he swung so hard that his career looked in jeopardy?
Despite partially dislocating his shoulder on four separate occasions in 2021, Tatis Jr. appeared in 130 games, cranking out 42 homers with 99 runs and 97 RBI. A series of erratic defensive plays dragged his WAR down, but the San Diego swag star out-produced both MVPs on a game-for-game basis.
In 141 games, Bryce Harper was a 6.6 fWAR player, which equates to 7.58 fWAR for a full slate of 162 games. Vlad Guerrero Jr. played 161 games for 6.74 fWAR. Tatis Jr. was ahead of both with a 162-game equivalent of 7.60 fWAR.
For ease, I’ll refer to this full season equivalent as FS fWAR for the remainder of the article.
Fernando Tatis Jr. 7.60 FS fWAR.
The Texas Rangers’ recent acquisition played every game of the 2021 season for the Blue Jays. The sheer number of plate appearances contributed to Semien’s excellent season of 45 home runs, 115 runs and 102 RBI with .873 OPS.
Alas, the MLB-leading 724 plate appearances diluted the 30-year-old’s impact on a game-for-game basis.
Marcus Semien 6.6 FS fWAR
The flamboyant White Sox superstar missed nearly 100 games during the 2021 season, but when he was on the field, you could not take your eyes off of him. His full-season pace was 30 home runs, 100+ runs, 100+ RBI and 15 stolen bases.
And his .338 batting average would have brought the batting title to Chicago. Power, speed and a high average. What’s not to like?
Luis Robert 7.62 FS fWAR
By comparison, Trea Turner (the 2021 MLB batting champ with .328 AVG) had 7.55 FS fWAR.
When the Braves’ high-octane outfielder went down with a season-ending torn ACL injury in July, the likelihood of the Commissioner’s Trophy getting paraded along the streets of Atlanta in November seemed far too remote for consideration. You’ve gotta love baseball.
Acuña Jr. is one of the most mesmerising hitters of this magical generation. He only played half a season, yet he scored 72 runs, including 24 long balls. Considering that Acuña Jr. had the lowest BABIP of all of the contenders, it’s worrying for the rest of baseball that we have not seen the best of him yet.
Ronald Acuña Jr.’s FS fWAR 8.30
If you guessed that Mike Trout was the best player on a game-for-game basis in 2021, then take a bow. You’re not correct, but you were close.
Remember a couple of paragraphs ago when we mentioned that the two MVPs had the full-season equivalents of 7.58 fWAR (Bryce Harper) and 6.74 fWAR (Vlad Guerrero)? Well, they are Triple-A players compared to Mike Trout with his 10.35 FS fWAR.
2021 was another disrupted season for the greatest player I’ve ever seen play live, who appeared in just 36 games, hitting .333 AVG with 1.090 OPS.
His .451 wOBA made me question whether I had understood the metric. Excluding 2020’s shortened campaign, the only times over the last 12 years that a qualified hitter exceeded .451 wOBA was Miguel Cabrera in 2013 and Bryce Harper in 2015. Trout was on fire in 2021.
Mike Trout’s FS fWAR 10.35
Amazingly, Trout’s historic start to the season still did secure him the title of “The best player in MLB”, that accolade goes to…
Despite only playing 61 games, the Twins centre fielder accrued 4.2 fWAR – the same as Nick Castellanos (12th in MVP voting) was worth for the whole season.
The second overall pick from the 2012 draft (Carlos Correa went at one) has promised so much, but seemingly always failed to deliver.
The 27-year-old was the hottest player on the planet, hitting .370 with 1.180 OPS before a hip strain took him out of action for 39 games at the start of May.
“They” say avoiding an injury is a skill, but obviously “they” know nothing, as Buxton was hit by a Tyler Mahle fastball three games into his comeback. Rocco Baldelli, Twins manager, described the fluke injury as a “boxer’s fracture” to his left hand.
The injury kept him out of action for a further 55 games. Despite nine homers in the 33 games after returning from injury, Buxton was not as productive as his early-season start, with only an .872 OPS (only!).
Pro-rata Buxton’s 2021 season for 162 games and you get figures of 50 home runs, 132 runs, 85 RBI, 24 stolen bases with .306 AVG and 1.005 OPS.
The only time during the last 50 years that anyone has hit over 50 home runs with more than 20 stolen bases and a batting average north of .300 was Alex Rodriguez in 2007. Once in 50 years! That’s how good Byron Buxton is.
Add to this electric defence and you have, game-for-game, the best player in baseball.
Bryon Buxton’s FS fWAR 11.15
- A minimum of 100 plate appearances was used. I trialled with 10 plate appearances, but even though Buxton, Trout and Acuña Jr were still the top three, White Sox’ Luis Gonzalez‘s six games distorted the results.
- Pitchers were ignored. The comparison between hitter WAR and pitcher WAR is too unreliable to make fair case, so only data for hitters was analysed.
- Shohei Ohtani was ignored.
- Catchers were ignored.
The article is for entertainment. Don’t take it too seriously. We realise that the Full Season fWAR is simplistic, so please just chill. However, if you want to conduct your own analysis, Bat Flips and Nerds very own sabermetric expert, Russell Eassom suggests “If you wanted to be more rigorous you should break down each component of WAR (hitting, baserunning, defence, positional adjustments, replacement level) and put them all on their own rates then combine them.”
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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