The National League East features some of the best teams and players in Major League Baseball. Here’s a look at 10 of the best players from the division.
In 2019, the National League East was one of the most competitive leagues in MLB. There were four teams in the race for the NL East title all the way up until the All-Star break. The Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals, and New York Mets were all contending. It was a three-team race going into the final month of the season with the Phillies dropping out first. Eventually, the Braves took a strong lead, clinching the NL East a few weeks prior to the end of the regular season.
There’s a reason why most of the teams in the NL East can compete for the majority of the season. That is because almost every team has multiple players that are in the very good to the elite range. Four of five NL East teams are represented by at least one player and three are represented two minimum. The Miami Marlins are the only team that was unable to contribute at least one player to the list. The Braves feature the most on the list with four players and the Phillies the least (excluding Marlins) with one.
10: Ozzie Albies, 2B, Atlanta Braves
This spot on the list was the hardest one to decide on. It came down to Ozzie Albies and Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto. Ultimately, despite the fact that the catcher position is slightly thinner, Albies’ superior offensive abilities and similar defensive abilities landed him the last spot on the list. Also helping is that Albies is very young, 23, and looks to potentially be the best second baseman in baseball.
Albies was a stud in 2019, posting a batting line of .295/.352/.500/.852 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage/on-base plus slugging percentage). The second baseman led the National League in hits with 189, while also contributing 86 RBI and 102 runs scored. Albies was impressive with his display of power, ripping 24 home runs and 43 doubles. This all led to him earning a Silver Slugger award in 2019.
He also flashed on defense and had a knack for making great plays and providing exciting moments for the fans. In addition to the eye-popping highlights, Albies had the numbers to back up his great defensive play. He saved 11 runs and a .994 fielding percentage. His offense and defense abilities combined saw him finish with a win above replacement figure of 4.4.
Ultimately, Albies’ prowess at the plate and quick reactions in the field were able to give him the edge he needed for the 10th and final spot on the list.
9: Mike Soroka, SP, Atlanta Braves
Mike Soroka broke out in a huge way in 2019. After a promising 2018 campaign fell short due to injury, Soroka came back with a vengeance last season.
In 2019 Mike Soroka tossed the ball for 174.2 innings. That led to a 13-4 record and 2.68 earned run average. He was a pitch to contact type that relied on control and movement to get batters to ground out. Soroka did accrue 142 strike-outs, however, along the way.
He led the NL in home runs given up per nine innings, with just 0.7 HR/9. Soroka was also a more-than-solid fielder, fielding all balls in his domain and committing zero errors.
Soroka earned his first All-Star selection last year and even placed sixth in NL Cy Young voting. He lost the NL Rookie of the Year award to fellow National League East player, Pete Alonso, finishing second. It’s even arguable that Soroka should have won the award. Just consider how well he pitched and how few home runs he gave up in a year that has become known for the juiced baseball.
Showing great promise in his first full season, Soroka has the potential to be a perennial All-Star. He should even compete in the NL Cy Young races on regular occasions. It seems the Braves have finally found their next long-term ace.
8: Pete Alonso, 1B, New York Mets
Now this list moves along to 2019 All-Star and NL Rookie of the Year, Pete Alonso. The first baseman has immense power, leading the league in home runs his first year in the majors with 53. Alonso had an unprecedented first half of the season but declined some in the second half. However, he should still be capable of hitting .250 and slugging over 45 home runs every year.
His second-half cooldown saw Alonso finish the year with a .260 BA and .583 slugging percentage. He had a tendency to strike out though, totaling 183 in 2019. Alonso could put up even better numbers if he can improve his plate discipline.
The power Alonso contains should lead to a baseline of your typical power hitter that struggles to keep a higher average. But Alonso also showed enough in his rookie year to potentially be the rarity. A power hitter that can keep his batting average at a number above-average. In the end, the Mets have gotten themselves a powerful first-baseman that can eventually be an NL MVP candidate.
7: Bryce Harper, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
Bryce Harper has always been a highly-touted outfielder due to his power numbers and an admittedly stunning 2015 campaign. However, since the 2015 NL MVP season, Harper has yet to come close to producing the astonishing .330/.460/.649/1.109 stat line along with 42 home runs he put up then.
Even though he hasn’t matched those numbers or even approached them really, Harper is still a threat at the plate. In 2019, he hit .260 but also had an OPS of over .880. He also belted 35 home runs and drew 99 walks. If he is to improve this season though, he must cut down on the high strike-out numbers.
In 2019 he had almost 180 strike-outs and had 169 the year prior. Even though he’ll draw walks, he needs to stop striking out so much if he’s to return to MVP consideration. It would be very helpful to his Phillies as well if he could boost his .372 OBP from 2019.
Harper is the best player on his team without a doubt. However, until he shows he can return to his 2015, or even 2017, form on a regular basis then he will be overshadowed by the rising stars in his own division. There is still time for him to improve and recapture the MVP form as he is just 27 years old. Should he cut down on strikeouts and improve his OBP then he could potentially lead the Phillies to either a National League East division title or at least a Wild Card spot in the playoffs.
6: Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington Nationals
Stephen Strasburg recently landed a huge deal from the Washington Nationals this past season. He earned every bit of it after a very successful 2019 season. He earned the contract after leading the National League in both wins (18) and innings pitched (209).
Leading the NL in wins and IP wasn’t all he did last year though. He also racked up over 250 strikeouts, while walking less than 60 batters and giving up just 24 home-runs. Strasburg had some impressive ‘per nine innings’ numbers as well. He gave up less than 7H/9, just 1HR/9, over 10K/9, and under 2.5BB/9.
In 2019, Strasburg also placed 15th in NL MVP voting and fifth in NL Cy Young award voting. The pair of Strasburg and Max Scherzer gives the Nationals arguably the best starting duo in the National League East.
5: Max Scherzer, SP, Washington Nationals
2019 saw Scherzer deal with back injuries both affecting his play and availability. The Nationals pitcher is looking to rebound with a fully healthy season. After seeing what he did in 2019, in a very competitive National League East, Scherzer could look to solidify himself as a top-three player in the NL East and reclaim the title of the best pitcher in the MLB.
The 2019 season performance from Scherzer was impressive regardless of injuries. When factoring in the injuries affecting him his performance looks all the better. Over 172.1 innings pitched, Scherzer was able to fan 243 batters. He gave up just a total of 56 earned runs and a 2.92 ERA.
His control was also impeccable, walking just 33 batters all year and just over 1.5 batters per nine innings. He was adept at limiting homers, allowing less than 20 in 2019 and less than one home-run every nine innings. He also led the league in strikeouts per nine innings with almost 13 strikeouts recorded every nine innings.
Scherzer has shown he has the stuff to be the NL’s best pitcher, having claimed three Cy Young awards. The 2019 season saw him finish third in Cy Young voting and 22nd in MVP voting in the National League. Hopefully, 2020 sees him get to pitch fully healthy all year and anchor a potential top-five starting pitching group.
4: Juan Soto, OF, Washington Nationals
This makes the third National in a row on the list, all of which are inside the top-six players. That should tell you why they won the 2019 World Series and why they should be seen as a legitimate threat to the Atlanta Braves in the National League East.
Juan Soto is one of the league’s best young outfielders and in most other divisions would be seen as the best outfielder in his division. However, as will be seen later, this is no ordinary division. Moving on, Soto’s impressive plate discipline is the driving force behind what makes him so potent at the plate.
He is patient at the plate which allows him to wait for his pitch and when it crosses the plate he rarely misses the ball. And if he happens to not get his pitch he is fine with taking the free base.
In 2019, when he finished ninth in NL MVP voting, Soto hit for a .282 batting average but had a ridiculous .401 on-base percentage. He belted 34 home runs, 32 doubles, and five triples on his way to a .548 slugging mark while only striking out 132 times while walking 108 walks.
Soto has the potential to become one of MLB’s best players and has already staked a rock-solid claim as one of its brightest young players. His future looks exciting and Nationals fans have the privilege of rooting for one of the best young outfielders in Major League Baseball.
3: Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves’ first baseman is easily the best in the National League East, a top-three first baseman in the MLB, and very possibly the best period. All in all, his excellent bat and impressive fielding earns him the third spot here on this list.
Freddie Freeman is a four-time All-Star and is also a previous Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award winner for the first base position. He’s finished in the top-ten of NL MVP voting four times now as well. He has twice played in all 162 games of a season.
In 2019, Freeman slashed .295/.389/.549/.938, including 87 walks, 38 home runs, 34 doubles, two triples, and 121 runs batted in. The last time Freeman hit under .275 was back in 2012 and he has been a consistent force for the surging Braves.
With a bone spur removed this past offseason, Freeman will be looking to complete his first pain-free season in a few years. Knowing what he can do with a bone spur causing him a lot of pain leaves the imagination running wild thinking about what he could be capable of doing without having to deal with all the pain.
Despite some young guns aiming for Freeman’s claim to the Braves’ heart and soul of the team, his calm demeanor, and quiet leadership keeps him constantly the top dog in the Braves’ clubhouse. Freeman’s constant and consistent elite-level play provides the lineup with a number three hitter that can always be counted on. As long as Freeman is wearing a Braves uniform, he will be one of the most popular and elite Braves.
2: Ronald Acuna Jr., OF, Atlanta Braves
The National League East’s brightest young star finds himself second on this list. Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. is quickly becoming one of the most well-known names in the big leagues thanks to his uncommon combination of immense power and lightning speed. In just his second year in the majors, and his first full year, he very nearly joined the 40/40 Club, a group of players that have managed to belt 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season.
His 2019 season saw him hit .280, but thanks to a high number of homers and a healthy amount of doubles Acuna had an OPS of .883. Acuna can hit over .300 for a full season once he learns better plate discipline and isn’t swinging at pitches out of the zone. Also, starting off the season at the lead-off spot should help him get started faster than he did last year.
Even batting first in the line-up, Acuna managed to drive in over 100 RBI and plated 127 runs himself. One year after winning the Rookie of the Year Award for the NL, Acuna followed it up by clinching an All-Star spot, a Silver Slugger Award, and finished fifth in the MVP race.
A year after finishing just three steals shy of joining the 40/40 club, Acuna has his sights set on Major League Baseball history. He is aiming to become the first person in MLB history to hit 50 homers and steal 50 bases in one year, creating his own personal 50/50 club.
Whether or not he is able to fulfill such lofty hopes remains to be seen. However, he possesses all of the tools needed to reach those heights so long as he cuts down on his strike-outs and experiences the minimum number of ruts throughout the 2020 season. The sky’s the limit for Acuna, and with a historical year, he could find himself atop this list this time next season.
1: Jacob deGrom, SP, New York Mets
The best player in the National League East right now is none other than New York Mets’ starting pitcher Jacob deGrom. The Mets’ pitcher is coming off of two consecutive seasons in which he has won the NL Cy Young Award, been an NL All-Star, and finished in the top ten of MVP voting.
In his two Cy Young-winning seasons, deGrom has finished with ERAs of 1.70 (2018) and 2.43 (2019). He has also been a strike-out machine, with 269 in 2018 and 255 in 2019. He has also kept walks to a minimum, with under 50 in both seasons. In 2019, deGrom threw over 200 innings of work that led to a per nine-inning average of 6.8H/9, 0.8HR/9, 1.9BB/9, and 11.3K/9. His WHIP was an impressive 0.971.
Overall, deGrom’s control and velocity get him a lot of swings and misses while limiting his walks allowed. His arsenal of pitches to choose between is only going to improve as he is adding a curveball to this mix, along with improving his slider. In case there were any doubts about deGrom’s ability to successfully deploy his new curveball, just look at his six-year history in the major leagues.
DeGrom is not one to settle for mediocrity and if he plans to use it, there’s no doubt it will be MLB-ready and deadly to his opposition. DeGrom is a top three pitcher in Major League Baseball and the top overall player in the NL East. It’s going to be exciting to see what happens in his seventh season shutting down opposing teams.
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