5. Brendan Ryan, SS, Seattle Mariners
Now I realize that putting Ryan on this list will probably rub some people the wrong way because of the horrific offensive statistics he has put up the past few years but his defense is truly one of the most undervalued assets in the big leagues. FanGraphs shows that his defense was worth $12.4 million in 2011 and $7.7 million in 2012 (not saying that’s what he’d get on the open market) while posting a combined 4.5 WAR in those two years. He made a combined 5 million dollars in 2011-12 meaning that theoretically the Mariners saved about $15 Million dollars on his defense during those two years. He also lead the AL in defensive WAR in 2012 at 3.6 according to Baseball-Reference while also leading in UZR at 14.7. Also keep in mind that he put up a couple decent offensive campaigns in the past posting (.752 OPS) for St. Louis in 2007 as well as a (.740 OPS) in 2009. You might also want to consider the fact that he plays a defense first position and that because the Mariners play in such a spacious ball park runs come at a premium so every bit of defense counts.
4. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Coming into the big leagues Goldschmidt was viewed as a guy who, in the eyes of many talent evaluators, had decent pop but whose swing was too long to adjust to big league pitching and that he would become nothing more than a part-time player despite his minor league slash line of (.318/.409/.623). Thus far he has proved them wrong putting up a (.286/.359/.490) slash line in 2012 while hitting 20 dingers as well as stealing 18 bases. While the stolen bases may be a fluke you can certainly look for him to improve upon his power numbers as his career goes on.
3. Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals
While he is widely recognized as the best defensive catcher in the game, his hitting, until recently has been quite overlooked. Considering how far he has come since his 2006 season (.216/.274/.321) as compared to his 2012 campaign (.315/.373/.501) it has been truly remarkable to watch him grow into one of the games best all around catchers. According to Fangraphs since 2008 (age 26-30) he has been worth a total of 21.3 WAR as compared to Johnny Bench‘s age 26-30 season in which he put up a 26.4 WAR. That is a pretty impressive comparable if you ask me. Yadier has quietly been one of the best on field as well as off the field leaders in the game and knows how to manage a game as well as handle a pitching staff which are invaluable. If he keeps up his current pace I believe he will go down as one of the best if not the best catcher to wear a Cardinals uniform.
2. Billy Butler, 1B, Kansas City Royals
Butler has quietly turned himself into one of the better First Basemen in the game over the past three seasons posting on base – plus slugging percentages of (.857), (.822), (.882) over the past three years at a time when teams like the Rays are relying on players such as James Loney as their everyday starter at a position where power comes first. Butler also provides a strong veteran presence in the Royals clubhouse for young position players such as Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer at time that is pivotal for the Royals franchise after their off-season acquisitions of James Shields and Wade Davis. If the Royals are to be competitive this year Butler will have to once more step up in his contributions and solidify himself as one of the best first basemen in the game.
1. Matt Holliday, LF, St. Louis Cardinals
Since 2009, Player A has posted a war of 24.7 while Matt Holliday has posted a war of 22.3. Since 2009, Player A has averaged an OPS of .946 while Matt Holliday has averaged an OPS of .905. Over the course of those four years, FanGraphs has pegged Holliday’s dollar value at an average of $24.5 million a year while he has been making $17 million, so in a sense his deal has been somewhat of a bargain for the Cardinals thus far and he has more than lived up to his contract but that is not to say that he could start to decline or spiral downhill during these next 4 years of his contract. Most of his criticism comes from the St. Louis fan base because he has not put up the same ludicrous numbers as Pujols during his time as the 3 hitter in St. Louis, but holding anyone to those Ruthian standards would be unfair and unreasonable. Holliday has put up all-star numbers during his time in St. Louis but is at a disadvantage because he had the fortune of replacing one of the best hitters of the last 50 years. Oh and if you are still wondering who Player A is your answer is Ryan Braun.