We’re through the Wild Card rounds, and just eight teams remain. There are flashy, exciting players to watch on each team, but let’s take a look at the ten best players who will see the division series. There’s a lot of big names remaining, although all of this year’s MVP candidates have already been eliminated. 2021 was one of baseball’s most fun years in recent memory, as the young talent swept through the league, and they’ll be seen all over this list.
10. Wander Franco
The Rays are the number one seed in the American League for a reason, and their young talent has been a huge part of that. Wander Franco didn’t debut until June, but he still had a massive impact on the reigning AL Champions. He struggled at first, then had a record-breaking 43 game on-base streak, finishing his rookie season with a 127 wRC+, .347 OBP, and 2.5 fWAR.
He’s already Tampa Bay’s best player and will be one of baseball’s best within a few short years. The 20-year-old played 70 games but was on a 5.8 fWAR and 8.1 fWAR pace over a full 162 game season. The switch-hitting SS hits in the top third of a top-5 lineup in baseball. During his streak, he had a .398 OBP, .401 wOBA, and 163 wRC+ with just an 8.1% K%.
He has a below league average barrel rate and hard-hit rate while playing below-average defense according to Statcast’s OAA. Most of those defensive mishaps, however, came at third base, and he’s been playing solely shortstop for the past two months. He’s also shown some defensive upside, and will only continue to get better. He’s one of baseball’s hottest hitters, which will be huge for Tampa Bay as they attempt to defend their 2020 AL title.
9. Luis Robert
Luis Robert got hurt early on in the 2021 season, but he had one of the better offensive seasons in baseball despite playing just 68 games. Among players with as many plate appearances as Robert, he ranked 6th in baseball in wRC+, 1st in batting average, and 8th in slugging. On the year, he had a 157 wRC+, .378 xwOBA, and ranked in the 89th percentile of OAA with 5, in just 575.1 innings.
Robert was hitting at an elite level before his injury and came back even stronger. Since his return on August 9th, Robert slugged .622, with a .424 wOBA, and 173 wRC+. Even his plate discipline, one of his major flaws, was also better since his return, as he lowered his strikeout rate to just 17.1%. He had a pretty high BABIP, which means some regression is inevitable, but he did have a 13.5% barrel rate.
Robert has settled into the 2-hole of Tony La Russa‘s lineup in the past week, which is a great spot for one of his two best hitters. As the White Sox travel to Houston for the first two games of the ALDS, the production of Robert will be crucial if they are able to advance in the playoffs.
8. Kyle Tucker
Astros’ right fielder Kyle Tucker is one of baseball’s most underrated players despite a massive breakout year in 2021, especially in the 2nd half. Tucker hits seventh in the best lineup in baseball but led the team in wRC+, xwOBA, and SLG in 2021. On the season, he put up a 147 wRC+, .395 xwOBA, and 4.8 fWAR in 140 games.
In his age-24 season, Tucker cut his strikeout rate down to just 15.9% while raising his walk rate to 9.3%, resulting in a .359 OBP, 53 points above his previous career average. He’s struggled in the postseason in both 2019 and 2020, but he is a different player now in 2021. Tucker and the Astros are the current favorites to win the American League and will look to continue their run of dominance from the past few years with yet another ALCS appearance.
7. Max Scherzer
Following three players under 25, we have one of the oldest, yet best, players in baseball. Max Scherzer has been in the big leagues since 2008, and already has the full legacy of a Hall of Famer. After starting the Wild Card game and giving the Dodgers 4.1 innings of 1 run ball, Scherzer will look to add to that legacy in 2021.
He’s already made himself a candidate for the 2021 NL Cy Young Award after putting up an incredible 2nd half with Los Angeles. In the 2nd half, Scherzer had a 1.98 ERA and 2.72 SIERA, even after allowing 5 earned runs in each of his last two starts. He had a 37.2 inning scoreless streak in the midst of that 2nd half and ended the season with a 2.46 ERA, 2.97 FIP, and 2.90 SIERA in his age-36 season. Scherzer will also look to add a 2nd World Series ring to his resume, as he’s now a member of the reigning World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
6. Yasmani Grandal
The best catcher in baseball has made the playoffs in each of the last seven seasons, but he had a career year in 2021 despite missing multiple months due to injury. Yasmani Grandal had just a .240 batting average in 2021, but don’t let that deceive you. He walked 23.2% of the time, getting on base 42% of the time, slugging .520, and putting up a 159 wRC+.
Now 32, Grandal has established himself as the best offensive catcher in baseball. He’s the definition of a three true outcome hitter, with 182 of his 375 PAs (48.5%) ending in a walk, strikeout, or home run, the highest percentage in baseball. He’s not the defender he once was, but Grandal may now be a top-20 player in baseball when healthy.
5. Trea Turner
The Dodgers landed Trea Turner at the trade deadline, and he’s been nothing short of expectations since the trade. Once known as simply a speed demon, Turner has established himself as one of baseball’s truly elite players since the start of the 2020 season.
Over the past two seasons, Turner has a .330/.380/.551 slash line with a .394 wOBA and 147 wRC+, combined with solid defense and elite baserunning to provide 9.6 fWAR in 905 PAs. As a Dodger, Turner has put up a .385 OBP, .565 SLG, 153 wRC+, and 2.6 fWAR in 52 games. He’s shifted to 2nd base but is playing for his 2nd ring in three years, so the trade paid off well for Turner, who is under team control for another season.
4. Alex Bregman
Alex Bregman admittedly hasn’t lived up to his potential in the past two seasons, but he’s dealt with injuries and other issues in the process. Bregman entered 2021 as one of my top-3 players in baseball, trailing just Mookie Betts and Mike Trout, but he had another underwhelming season in 2021 to follow up his two MVP caliber seasons in 2018 and 2019.
Due to this, he’s tough to rank. He’s obviously somewhere in between the 162 wRC+ hitter and 8 WAR player of 2018-19, and the 117 wRC+ hitter and 2 win player of 2020-21. FanGraphs’ depth charts projection system has a 138 wRC+, 5.5 fWAR player, which is a fair estimate.
Either way, Bregman is one of baseball’s premier players, as the 2nd best player on the Astros, who are two wins away from their 5th straight ALCS appearance. Since 2018, Bregman has a 149 wRC+, .392 OBP, and 18.9 fWAR, fueled by some of the best plate discipline in baseball, making him the perfect table-setter for the Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, and Carlos Correa.
3. Carlos Correa
Correa, who has become the face of the Astros’ cheating scandal, continues to produce at high levels and shut up his haters as he goes. Like many of his teammates, he struggled during the 2020 regular season but came alive in the playoffs. In 2021, he stayed healthy and stayed hot, putting up a .366 OBP, .372 xwOBA, and 134 wRC+ at the plate, combined with his always-elite defense for a 5.8/7.2 fWAR/rWAR season.
The 26-year-old impending free agent will play in his 5th straight postseason. When the stakes increase, so does Correa’s production, as he always steps up and plays hero under pressure. He had a walk-off in each of the 2017 and 2019 ALCS’ as the Astros won the pennant both years. In last year’s ALCS he forced a game six with a towering home run off of Nick Anderson. As always, it seems Correa will have another defining moment in this years’ playoffs as his team looks for their 2nd championship in five years.
2. Corbin Burnes
Corbin Burnes, NL Cy Young candidate, had the best season of his career in 2021. He’s established himself as one of the top-3 pitchers in baseball and continued to dominate after the foreign substance crackdown, unlike many others. Although throwing just 167.0 innings, he still put up a 7.5 fWAR behind his 1.63 FIP, 2.43 ERA, and 2.61 SIERA.
Another young superstar, Burnes will make his first playoff start in game 1 against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. He has nine relief innings of playoff experience from the 2018 playoffs when Milwaukee made it all the way to game 7 of the NLCS.
Since the start of 2020, Burnes has a 2.34 ERA, 1.74 FIP, 2.48 xFIP, 35.9% K%, and 2.75 SIERA. His strikeouts and walk rates are incredible, and they’ve stayed relatively the same since the foreign substance crackdown of June 21. He’ll be a big part of Milwaukee’s rotation for years to come, and he’ll have to come up big if the Brewers make a deep run towards their first World Series championship in franchise history.
1. Mookie Betts
The two-time World Series champion Mookie Betts comes in at number one on the list of remaining players. He’s leading off for the Dodgers once again, who are looking to defend their World Series title from last season. He went 2-4 in the Wild Card game, despite struggling in past seasons’ playoffs.
He’s been one of the best players in baseball since 2016 when he broke onto the scene with an 8.3 fWAR and 9.5 rWAR season. Betts was an MVP candidate in 2020 but had a relative down year in 2021. He had a 131 wRC+, .379 OBP, and 3.9 fWAR in 2021, his lowest wRC+ since 2017.
Although the Red Sox won a World Series without elite postseason production from Betts in 2018, the Dodgers will look to Betts to hit at an elite level in order to get past the Giants and to the NLCS in 2021. Although he has just a career 99 wRC+, Betts had a 136 wRC+ in 82 plate appearances in the 2020 postseason. His postseason started early due to the Dodgers losing the NL West, but the Dodgers are still the favorites to win the World Series, and Betts is a massive part of that.
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