Everyone loves to track the potential award winners throughout the MLB season. MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year get more than their fair share of attention. Overlooked over the years, especially by the BBWAA, is WAR, the stat that actually provides a valuation of each and every player. In order to give WAR a little bit more due (and drive the old schoolers crazy), we’ll be checking in on the WAR leaderboard at the beginning of every month to see who will win the race to be the best hitter and pitcher according to WAR come the season’s end.
Mike Trout (5.2 WAR)
Trout gave the league a head start by way of his prolonged slump in May, but he’s now back to superhuman form and likely to win the MLB WAR crown for the third year in a row. Even with that slump and nagging leg and back injuries, he is nearly half a win better than anyone else. There is no stopping Mike Trout and you probably can’t even hope to contain him.
Troy Tulowitzki (4.8 WAR)
Tulo finally fell behind Trout, but he should have the National League WAR title well in hand… assuming he stays healthy, which is always a question for him. Plus now there is the added wrinkle that he is captain of the NL Home Run Derby team, so he is almost certainly going to screw up his swing in that event. Yep, things are about to get interesting.
Alex Gordon (4.6 WAR)
What the hell is a Royal hitter doing here? The Royals are competitive this year, but they aren’t exactly known for their offensive prowess. Gordon isn’t known for that either. It turns out his WAR relies heavily on his stellar defense in the left field outfield. He leads all of baseball with 20.1 defensive Runs Above Replacement. That isn’t to say Gordon can’t hit, but his wRC+ of 122 is a far cry from the other guys in this grouping. With that in mind, Gordon might be able to make a real run at Trout if he gets hot with the bat in the second half. I’m not sure KC players are capable of that, but stranger things have happened.
Giancarlo Stanton (4.1 WAR)
Stanton is perfectly designed for crushing homers, so there is no worry about the Derby messing him up. He did tail off a bit, at least in relative terms, in June though. With the Marlins starting to fall out of contention, it will raise the degree of difficulty for Stanton to continue to perform at such a high level, especially if Loria starts selling off roster pieces like used car parts, as he is wont to do.
Jonathan Lucroy (3.8 WAR)
Lucroy makes his first appearance on this list, so does that mean the Brewer will be releasing attack ad videos against the four players above him or are they cool with it so long as none of the four are Cardinals? Whether or not Lucroy can continue to rank this high remains to be seen. He’s enjoying a career year and thus likely to regress at least a tiny bit. He’s also a catcher and thus likely to get a few more days off, even a workhorse like him, as a result.
Felix Hernandez (4.8 WAR)
We are only halfway through the season and we might just have to go ahead and call this race. Felix is just so far out ahead of the rest of the pack. Part of his advantage comes from leading the free world in innings pitched, but mostly it is his microscopic 2.10 ERA and 1.95 FIP. Barring a catastrophe, everyone else is playing for second place.
Jon Lester (3.3 WAR)
Lester had a sparkling 1.98 ERA in June, but saw his K/9 rate fall to 7.02 for the month, which balanced things out a bit. Things could start getting interesting with Lester though if the flagging Red Sox decide that they can’t sign him to an extension and opt to trade him this month instead. As David Price told us last week, trade rumors can make a pitcher angry. We may not like Jon Lester when he’s angry.
Yu Darvish (3.3 WAR)
Yu Darvish… still not injured. This has been your monthly update on a Texas Rangers pitcher managing not to get hurt. He’s also still pretty great. He has slipped a bit in the second half of his previous two MLB season, which might well be a coincidence but might also be indicative of the general struggle of players to survive the Texas heat during the dog days of summer.
Corey Kluber (3.2 WAR)
Even halfway through the season, Kluber’s inclusion in this group continues to be a surprise. He’s been overtaken by some of the real brand name aces, but that is more to do with them stepping their games up than him coming back to the pack.
Clayton Kershaw (3.2 WAR)
The only new entrant into the top five from last month, Kershaw is doing his best to make up for lost time. I mean that literally as Kershaw missed the entire month of April. That actually makes his high WAR total even more impressive. He’s compiled that figure in just 79.1 innings of work whereas the four pitchers above him are all between 104.1 and 128.1 innings pitched this season. He’s got a lot of ground to make up if he wants to catch the King, but if anyone can do it, it is Kershaw.