The Kansas City Royals are the 2015 World Series Champions. They have changed the game by redefining what most people consider to be the formula for a winning roster. Looking for dominant starting pitching and power at the plate? The Royals lacked in both categories, but they had an amazing bullpen and were the best contact team in the league. Maybe the most impressive attribute is that they won a championship, arguably, without any superstars (though they may have a few in the making).
Typically, World Champion teams are catalyzed by star players. Just last year, the talents of Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey fueled the Giants. In 2013, the winners were a Red Sox team led by Jon Lester and David Ortiz. Go back as far as you’d like and you will find this to be the case in most instances.
In contrast, sometimes the league’s best players are not so lucky to be on a championship team. Many players have recently posted MVP or CY Young caliber seasons on squads that didn’t even come close to a .500 record. It’s not as if these seasons were a complete waste, as big numbers lead to big contracts. It’s just unfortunate that some the most spectacular season-long performances were not enough to push a team into the playoff race.
This list looks back over the past 15 MLB seasons and selects one player from each year who performed at a level that made you think they were too good to be stuck on that team.
15 Alex Rodriguez - Texas Rangers
In 2009, Sports Illustrated reported that Alex Rodriguez was one of 104 players who tested positive for PEDs in 2003. However, there was no penalty for testing positive in 2003 and, especially from the mid 90s to early 2000s, it’s impossible to differentiate who was totally clean and who wasn’t. In 2003, Rodriguez led the AL in home runs (47), runs scored (124) and slugging percentage (.600), and finished second in RBI (118). In addition to winning his second consecutive Gold Glove award, he was named the AL MVP of 2003.
14 Jason Bay - Pittsburgh Pirates
13 Jose Abreu, 2014 Chicago White Sox
Jose Abreu was unanimously voted the AL Rookie of the Year in 2014 and also received the Silver Slugger award for best hitting first baseman in the AL. Abreu led the league in slugging percentage (.581) and finished fifth in batting average (.317). Despite a stint on the DL, he ended the season third in the AL in home runs (36) and fourth in RBI (107) in one of the most impressive offensive seasons for a rookie in league history.
12 Carlos Pena - 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays
In nearly every season since 2008, the Rays have fielded a competitive baseball team. It is easy to forget that for the first 10 years of the franchise’s existence, they were downright awful. Between the 1998 and 2007 seasons their highest win total was 70, in 2004. Unfortunately for Carlos Pena, they went 66-96 in 2007, even though Pena won the Silver Slugger award as the top hitting first baseman in the AL that season.
11 Joey Votto, 2011 Cincinnati Reds
10 Tim Lincecum - 2008 San Francisco Giants
9 Miguel Cabrera - 2006 Florida Marlins
Miguel Cabrera made his MLB debut in 2003 at the age of 20 and by 2006 he was already considered one of the best hitters in baseball. He finished 2006 second in the NL in batting average (.339) and third in both doubles (50) and on-base percentage (.430). Cabrera won the Silver Slugger award as the best hitting third baseman in the NL that season.
8 Nolan Arenado - 2015 Colorado Rockies
The Rockies finished the 2015 season with a record of 68-94. As is typically the case with the Rockies, they had a few players put up very impressive batting numbers but pitching would be their downfall. It is well known that Coors Field can be quite friendly to hitters, but Nolan Arenado is a beast no matter what field he plays on.
7 R.A. Dickey - 2012 New York Mets
6 Jim Thome - 2002 Cleveland Indians
Jim Thome is one of the great power hitters in MLB history as demonstrated by his 612 career home runs, which have him sitting at seventh on the all-time list for that category. He made his mark as a member of the Cleveland Indians and had his best season in 2002, finishing second in MLB in home runs (52). He led the AL in slugging percentage (.677) and was second in on-base percentage (.445).
5 Mike Trout - 2013 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
A handful of players could be considered as the best all-around player in baseball, but one would be hard-pressed to make a solid argument against Mike Trout. In 2013, Trout finished second in MVP voting to Miguel Cabrera and won a Silver Slugger award as one of the best hitting outfielders in the AL.
4 Todd Helton - 2001 Colorado Rockies
3 Felix Hernandez - 2010 Seattle Mariners
2 Zack Greinke, 2009 Kansas City Royals
1 Randy Johnson - 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks
Five-time CY Young winner and 10 time All-Star, Randy Johnson, won a World Series in 2001 with the Diamondbacks. By 2004 though, the Diamondbacks were a shell of that championship team and posted a downright embarrassing record of 51-111. Johnson deserved a better fate that year, as he turned in a very good season en route to winning 16 games (31.3% of the teams total wins).
He led MLB in strikeouts (290) and WHIP (.90) and had the best ERA (2.60) among pitchers who started at least 30 games. On May 18, 2004, at 40 years old, Johnson threw a perfect game. “The Big Unit” holds the record for most career strikeouts by a left-hander and is second only to Nolan Ryan in overall career strikeouts.
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