Ranking players at each position can be entertaining, but making an ultimate lineup for each division might just be better. If the five NL East teams combined, this might be the unit they roll out: the All-NL East Lineup.
Catcher: J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies
Realmuto had another solid season with the Phillies in 2021. He made his third consecutive All-Star team, posting an OPS+ of 110 or better for the fifth time in six seasons. Realmuto hit 17 home runs and 25 doubles across 134 games en route to a .263/.343/.439 triple slash. He posted a career-best walk rate, and he is still one of the better defensive catchers in the Majors. He had an inconsistent season at the plate, but he has no real competition in the division.
First Base: Matt Olson, Atlanta Braves
Olson has the tough task of following a club legend in Freddie Freeman, but he might be the correct man for the job. In six seasons with the Oakland Athletics, Olson won a pair of Gold Gloves, made the 2021 All-Star team, and received MVP votes twice. He slashed .252/.348/.511 en route to an OPS+ of 134. He is coming off the best season of his career, roping 39 home runs and drawing 88 walks. Olson posted an OPS+ of 153 and 5.8 bWAR.
The most interesting trend in Olson’s career is nearly cutting his strikeout rate in half from 2020 to 2021. If the trend continues, he might walk more than he strikes out.
Second Base: Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves
Albies is a one-of-a-kind hitter. While he does have a high home run rate, he swings so much that he strikes out and walks less than the average hitter. Albies swung at 56.8% of pitches seen in 2021, nearly 10% higher than the average hitter. Despite this, Albies ranked in the 82nd percentile in barrel percentage. His approach means the results can be as volatile as any hitter in baseball, but Albies always finds a way to 40 doubles, a handful of triples, and 20-plus home runs.
Albies is a switch-hitter, but he has a career OPS that is 200 points higher as a righty (versus lefties) compared to his stats as a lefty (versus righties). In six right-versus-right plate appearances in 2021, Albies hit a pair of home runs and drew a walk.
Third Base: Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves
After two below-average MLB seasons, Riley was a monster in 2021. He slashed .303/.367/.531 en route to a seventh-place finish in MVP voting. He tacked on a Silver Slugger and All-MLB selection as well. Riley still strikes out far too often, but his quality of contact improved dramatically. He saw increases across the board in expected batting average, expected slugging percentage, and xwOBA. Riley might not hit .300 again in 2022, but he has almost certainly left the days of batting below .240 behind him.
Riley’s defensive metrics are one of the weirder sights in baseball. He posted +6 total zone and +13 DRS, but Baseball Savant rewarded him with -6 OAA.
Shortstop: Francisco Lindor, New York Mets
Lindor struggled for much of 2021, but he began to turn his season around late in the year. In the first half of the season, Lindor had an OPS below .700. In the second half, he had an OPS of .813. Despite his offensive struggles, Lindor continued to be one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, ranking in the 100th percentile in OAA. He might not post a .856 OPS as he had in his final three full seasons in Cleveland, but Lindor will rebound.
Lindor posted a career-best 11.1% walk rate. He had the lowest chase rate of his career.
Left Field: Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
Sure, Soto is now a full-time right fielder, but the allure of this outfield is far too great for any arbitrary rules. Soto had an absurd season in every facet. He walked 145 times including 23 intentional walks. 2021 was the fourth season in a row that Soto had an on-base percentage above .400. Since 2020 began, Soto has a .322/.471/.572 slash line with an OPS+ of 185. Soto rarely swings (35%), but when he does, no one makes the same quality of contact.
In 2021, Soto had a terrific defensive season. He had +5 OAA and +4 DRS.
Center Field: Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
Depending on the oddsmakers, Acuna is the second favorite to win the NL MVP (behind Soto). This is despite Acuna likely missing all of April as he continues to recover from a torn ACL. Either way, Acuna is one of the most spectacular players modern baseball has to offer. In 82 games in 2021, Acuna blasted 24 home runs and 19 doubles. He stole 17 bases, and his Statcast page is littered with bright red (indicating 90th percentile or better).
One of the quirks with this lineup is that Acuna finished tied for first in xwOBA across MLB in 2021. He was .001 ahead of Soto, and he tied with the right field representative.
Right Field: Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
The reigning NL MVP is almost an afterthought in an outfield this talented. However, Harper had a monster season. He slashed .309/.429/.615 en route to leading MLB with a 1.044 OPS and 179 OPS+. Ironically, he did not make the All-Star team as he only had an OPS of .899 in the first half. In the second half, Harper’s on-base percentage jumped by nearly 100 points as his slugging increased by nearly 200 points. After the All-Star Break, Harper had an OPS of 1.188.
Harper was so excellent in 2021 that his second-worst OPS in a month was .947 (June). He had an OPS of over 1.000 in March/April and July before a 1.231 in August and 1.157 in September.
Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz, Washington Nationals
Cruz posted a 130 OPS+ or better for the eighth season in a row, splitting time with the Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays. While he was much better in the first half with the Twins, he had a solid enough end of the season with the Rays. Despite being a professional baseball player since before his teammate Soto was born, Cruz continues to blast baseballs. In 2021, he ranked in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity, 94th percentile in hard-hit rate, and 99th percentile in maximum exit velocity.
While most NL teams have a decision to make for their designated hitter, Cruz is an easy pick for the Nationals. Since 2017, Cruz has played just 10 games in the field including one in the last four years.
Pitcher: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
There’s dominance in sports then there’s what deGrom did in 2021. Across 92 innings, deGrom allowed 11 earned runs en route to a 1.08 ERA. This is an ERA+ of 373, a figure that would be a career year for any reliever. He worked to a WHIP of 0.554, and he finished ninth in NL Cy Young voting despite missing more than half the season. It is easier to say what deGrom did not rank in the 100th percentile in 2021.
One popular stat for pitchers is K%-BB%. In deGrom’s career, the average MLB pitcher has a figure of 15.5%. Naturally, deGrom’s career average is much better: 24.3%. His figure in 2021 was 41.7%. Only one pitcher who threw 90 innings in a season in MLB history even posted a strikeout rate that high (Brad Lidge in 2004).
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