As we enter baseball’s final quarter, which players will be named their position’s most lethal offensive weapon?
We are three-fourths of the way through the Major League Baseball season and there is plenty of intrigue entering the final month-and-a-half. Heading into what promises to be an exciting final quarter, several players have been building impressive resumes in hopes of obtaining hardware at the season’s end. Some races are tighter than others, but if these players can sustain their splendid performances in the season’s final weeks, they’ll stand a strong chance of earning the distinction of their position’s greatest offensive weapon: the Silver Slugger.
NL - Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
We lead off with arguably the least competitive race in baseball. Giants backstop Buster Posey has solidified his status as the most productive offensive catcher in the game and, after conceding Silver Slugger honors to Wilson Ramos last year, has re-established dominance in the National League. Posey has maintained superstardom despite hitting in the heart of one of the weakest lineups in baseball. His AVG, OBP, OPS, and wRC+ are tops among all catchers in the MLB. His 10.6% K% is the eighth-lowest in baseball and he is one of only a handful of players who are walking (12%) more often than striking out.
Final-Quarter Contender: CHC Wilson Contreras: 21 HR, 70 RBI, .861 OPS
AL - Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
The decision in the American League is much less clear-cut, as last year’s winner, Salvador Perez, has improved in almost every relevant statistic, raising his slash-line dramatically and already surpassing the 64 RBIs he posted last year. However, his .308 OBP ranks near the bottom among AL catchers with at least 250 PA, and last year’s Bronx phenom, Gary Sanchez, has proven that his breakout was no fluke. Despite spending about a month on the DL, Sanchez leads Major League catchers with 58 runs and 22 HRs. More importantly, Sanchez has been on a tear recently, slashing .328/.392/.746 with eight home runs and 17 RBI since July 27, culminating in a five RBI performance Thursday night. This race is still open, but considering the pace Sanchez has established since returning from the DL, he should be considered the favorite to take home the hardware.
Final-Quarter Contender: KC Salvador Perez: 21 HR, 65 RBI, .510 SLG
NL - Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Wow, this is a tough call. Six NL first basemen hoist an OPS north of .900, including last year’s winner, Anthony Rizzo. Many of baseball’s best performances have come from this position but, for now, the nod goes to the Reds’ Joey Votto, narrowly edging out Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks. Votto paces all of baseball with an absurd .448 OBP and 1.049 OPS, supported largely by an astronomical BB% (18.5%), which has become his signature over the years. Meanwhile, he ranks in the NL top-10 in AVG, HR, R, SLG, and RBIs. Votto and Goldschmidt are both quietly having extraordinary seasons, and it will be a shame to see one of them go home empty-handed. For now, we can sit back and enjoy the mastery. It’s quite possible that whoever wins this Silver Slugger will also go home with NL MVP honors.
Final-Quarter Contender: ARI Paul Goldschmidt: .319 AVG, 29 HR, 95 RBI, 1.034 OPS
AL - Justin Smoak, Toronto Blue Jays
For seven years, former first rounder Justin Smoak seemed like one of the biggest busts of the decade. In 824 games prior to 2017, Smoak accumulated a mere 1.5 WAR and showed little hope for resurgence. Yet, suddenly, Smoak has emerged as the top-tier power threat he was projected to be when drafted out of the University of South Carolina. Smoak leads AL first basemen in several major statistics, including HR, RBI, OBP, SLG, wOBA, and wRC+. Not only that, but the once free-swinging Smoak has honed his approach to drop his K% by more than 12% and dramatically increase his ability to make contact. His 79.7% contact rate is nearly eight points higher than last year, leading to a .296 AVG that trails only Eric Hosmer among AL first basemen. Many were skeptical of Smoak’s success early in the season, but his elite productivity has actually increased after being named to his first Mid-Summer Classic. Smoak has swatted 10 HR and slashed .289/.396/.589 in 33 games since the All-Star break. He has silenced the doubters and given little reason to expect any sort of regression in the final quarter.
Final-Quarter Contender: KC Eric Hosmer: .315/.377/.500, 20 HR
NL - Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals
After coming just short of MVP honors and a batting title last year, Daniel Murphy seems out for revenge in 2017. The 2016 Silver Slugger has distanced himself from the pack after his breakout year, leaving little doubt as to who the best offensive keystone is in the National League. Murph will compete for the batting title again, this year, posting a sizzling .326 AVG to this point. He is pummeling his competition in every statistic, leading NL 2B in HR, R, RBI, AVG, OBP, SLG, wOBA, wRC+ and just about everything else. If last year was the coming-out party for the late-blooming 32-year-old, this year marks a full-blown renaissance. They may as well begin etching Murphy’s name on the trophy. No one else comes close.
Final-Quarter Contender: CIN Scooter Gennett: .289 AVG, 20 HR, .869 OPS
AL - José Altuve, Houston Astros
At a position that hosts the likes of Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, Brian Dozier, and Dustin Pedroia, José Altuve is on pace to win his fourth-straight Silver Slugger. Like Murphy, Altuve posted MVP-worthy numbers last year, but, so far, he has been even better in 2017. His .361 AVG is the best in baseball and he leads the AL in hits for the fourth season in a row. Not only is he likely to claim his third batting title, but the diminutive middle infielder is posting career-highs in OBP and SLG and currently leads the league with a 175 OPS+. Throw in 26 stolen bases and Gold Glove-caliber defense it becomes clear why Altuve has accrued the most Wins-Above-Replacement on the planet. At just 27 years old, Altuve seems to be reaching the prime of what could be a Hall of Fame career.
Final-Quarter Contender: BAL Jonathan Schoop: .302 AVG, .540 SLG, 26 HR, 86 RBI
NL - Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
After finishing third in MVP voting last year, Seager has remained a steady force in the Dodgers’ lineup. He has raised his OBP and SLG from 2016, leading to tidy slash-line. Seager has developed into an Ichiro-esque “backward split” hitter, wearing out left-handed pitchers to the tune of .348/.411/.582. He also currently leads all NL SS in runs, HR, and RBI, and has posted a wRC+ (143) that bests his Rookie of the Year mark in 2016 (137). An injury to All-Star starter, Zack Cozart, left Seager with little competition, but the starlet had already placed himself in a tier above the rest of the shortstops in the National League, as his 5.0 WAR puts him third in the NL and in the MVP hunt for the second year in a row.
Final-Quarter Contender: CIN Zack Cozart: .312/.403/.580, 17 HR, .983 OPS
AL - Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
A lot of this race depends on how quickly Correa, who is currently on the DL with a thumb injury, can return to the field. Most reports expect him to return at some point in early September, but the Astros shortstop only just managed to grip a bat and has yet to begin swinging. However, one wonders if Correa might have already done enough to earn the award in the 84 games he played prior to the injury. Correa was a front-runner for AL MVP, posting a tantalizing .320/.400/.566 line and 158 wRC+. He was placed on the DL on July 18th, but his 20 HR and 67 RBI are still the most among AL SS. It is unlikely that voters would give the award to a player who only played half of the season, but if Correa can return with even mild productivity for the final few weeks, he’ll be the undeniable favorite.
Final-Quarter Contender: NYY Didi Gregorius: .311 AVG, 18 HR, .503 SLG
NL - Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
This is another toss-up in the National League and a race that will depend heavily on the next month-and-a-half. There are a number of worthy candidates. Rockies superstar Nolan Arenado leads baseball with 103 RBIs and Anthony Rendon of the Nationals has accrued a 5.1 WAR in a quietly MVP-caliber season, but Justin Turner has been arguably the biggest cog in a Dodgers’ machine that is 51 games over .500. His .345 AVG is the best in the National League, and his OBP, OPS, wOBA, and wRC+ are all tops among NL 3B. A mid-season DL stint has kept his counting stats fairly low, and may be enough to keep him from earning the Silver Slugger title, but sabermetricians will find it hard to deny the astonishing ratios Turner has maintained.
Final-Quarter Contenders: COL Nolan Arenado: .312 AVG, 27 HR, 100 RBI, .591 SLG and WAS Anthony Rendon: .304/.408/.555, 22 HR, 76 RBI, 4.4 oWAR
AL - Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
After playing in just 27 games last year, Moustakas is having the greatest season of his career, providing the driving force in the Royals’ playoff bid. His 35 bombs trail only Aaron Judge in the American League and his 77 RBIs and .566 SLG lead all AL third basemen. Moose has struggled to get on-base, as a shockingly low 4.9 BB% has diluted his OBP to an unimpressive .320, but his power (.283 ISO ranks 5th in AL) has more than made up for those struggles. It’s a tight race, but if Moose continues to slug down the stretch, he should be able to stave off Indians’ spark plug, José Ramírez.
Final-Quarter Contender: CLE José Ramírez: .308 AVG, 38 2B, .896 OPS, 3.8 oWAR
NL - Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
Rockies’ center fielder Charlie Blackmon has been feasting on pitchers at Coors Field for several years now, but his splits this year are some of the most dramatic in baseball history. Chuck Nasty has put up video game numbers in 55 home games, mashing 18 HR with an incomprehensible .394/.467/.814 slash line. Skeptics are quick to qualify any stat-line that is heavily influenced by the high-altitude in Colorado, but those numbers are too great to ignore and may thrust Blackmon into the MVP discussion. After all, he hasn’t exactly been a scrub on the road, putting his season totals near the top in several categories. A Silver Slugger last year and arguably the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball, Blackmon has already surpassed his oWAR total from 2016 and has crossed home plate an MLB-leading 111 times.
NL - Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
Unless you’ve been on a baseball sabbatical since the All-Star break, you’re highly aware of the historic pace at which Giancarlo Stanton has been crushing baseballs. The Miami sensation has blasted 23 homers in his last 36 games on his way to a Marlins single-season record. His seven-game home run streak may have ended on Wednesday, but many projections calculate that Stanton could tick close to 60 home runs, a feat which only Babe Ruth and Roger Maris have accomplished outside of the Steroid Era. After averaging just 115 games per season since 2012, we are finally getting a look at what a healthy Stanton can do, and it’s astonishing.
NL - Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Even in the company of the two historic seasons mentioned above, Nationals’ Bryce Harper continues to prove why he’s baseball’s biggest star. After a disappointing 2016, Harper has reclaimed the form that earned him NL MVP honors in 2015. Harper ranks in the top-five in the National League for nearly every relevant category, riding a .326/.419/.614 slash line while socking 29 HRs and collecting 92 runs and 87 steaks. Nats fans suffered a scare over the weekend when Harper suffered what looked to be a career-altering injury, but MRIs have indicated a bone bruise that will only require a short stint on the DL. Dusty Baker will likely play it safe with Harper once he returns, considering the Nationals own a substantial 14-game lead in the NL East, but a return to the lineup in September would be enough to solidify Harper’s claim for his second Silver Slugger.
Final-Quarter Contenders: MIA Marcell Ozuna: .303 AVG, 27 HR, 90 RBI, .541 SLG;
NYM Michael Conforto: .279/.386/.561, 26 HR;
LAD Chris Taylor: .307 AVG, 17 HR, 3.6 oWAR
AL - Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
Judge has slowed dramatically since the All-Star break, slashing just .165/.333/.330 after posting a blistering .329/.448/.691 in the first half. Yet, even with those struggles, Judge leads qualified AL hitters in HR, runs, SLG, OPS, and wOBA. Judge will need to right the ship to some degree, but considering his first half, even a mediocre finish would make him a lock to place a Silver Slugger on his mantle next to his inevitable Rookie of the Year trophy. His titanic blast at Citi Field on Wednesday showed that Judge still has plenty left in the tank.
AL - Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Trout, who has been awarded a Silver Slugger in five consecutive seasons, missed 38 games with a thumb injury and may still win another MVP. Despite the lengthy DL stint, Trout’s 23 long-balls are good for fifth among AL OF while maintaining an ungodly .340/.466/.679 line. He does not yet qualify for leaderboards, but among players with at least 300 PA, Trout is first in OBP, SLG, OPS, wOBA, and wRC+. Assuming he can maintain this pace, we’re likely to see career-best numbers for a guy who has never finished lower than 2nd in MVP voting. Make no mistake, he is the greatest player in the world — and getting better.
George Springer, Houston Astros
Finally, George Springer joins Altuve and Correa as another catalyst for the AL-leading ‘stros. The five-tool outfielder has already swatted 28 homers, just one short of his career-best, and his slugging percentage is bested only by the two outfielders mentioned above. Springer has reduced his strikeout-rate every year, allowing him to raise his average over 40 points to an impressive .307.
Final-Quarter Contenders: HOU Marwin Gonzalez: 20 HR, .311/.388/.557;
BAL Trey Mancini: 21 HR, .290 AVG, .361 wOBA;
DET Justin Upton: 23 HR, 85 RBI, .891 OPS.
NL - Adam Wainwright - St. Louis Cardinals
After popping two homers on Opening Day, Madison Bumgarner seemed a slam dunk to earn his third Silver Slugger, but when a freak dirt bike accident forced Bumgarner to miss several months, the door opened for a few other #PitchersWhoRake. Waino’s .244 AVG and .439 SLG are tops among pitchers with at least 30 PA, and he leads all pitchers with 2 HRs, 6 runs, and 11 RBI. Wainwright might be having the worst season of his career on the mound (5.12 ERA), but he has been far-and-away the league’s most productive hurler at the plate.
Final-Quarter Contender: SF Madison Bumgarner: 2 HR, .500 SLG, .773 OPS
AL - Nelson Cruz - Seattle Mariners
Cruz has had several impressive campaigns in a row, managing 40+ HR each year since 2014, but has no Silver Sluggers to show for it. Boomstick is putting together another excellent season in the twilight of his career and, with David Ortiz‘s retirement, he has very little competition at the DH position. Cruz leads the American League in RBIs and has maintained an impressive OPS. He leads the position in home runs and has quietly crushed 12 long balls since the All-Star break. The award is his to lose.
Final-Quarter Contender: TB Corey Dickerson: .285 AVG, 22 HR, .496 SLG
*All statistics via Fangraphs/Baseball Reference as of 9:00 am August 18, 2017
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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