NL Team by Team Best Players
Current National League Standouts
Judging the best current National League players is different than deciding the American League's top players. That's because baseball is played a little differently in the NL. First, there is no designated hitter rule, so players must man a position on the field. Defense, therefore, is considerably more important in the NL than in the AL.
Overall skills, especially for position players, are essential in standing out on one's team. Pitchers, on the other hand, probably have it a little easier than their AL counterparts. Because opposing pitchers must bat or be pinch hit for, National League hurlers, on average, have better statistics than American League pitchers.
The following players have been named here because they are currently performing at a high level of play. Past achievements haven't been discounted, but players who are slumping, injured, or not playing regularly now haven't been included here.
Author note: Like my other article, AL Team by Team Best Players, I strive to update often. Baseball is one tough game to play at a consistently high level. Players who have posted gaudy numbers in 2014 might get off to a slow start in 2015. But it's the players who consistently bring their team good fortune that are remembered here, whether or not they go through some rough patches at the plate, in the field, or on the mound.
NL East Best Players
SP Stephen Strasburg: With a 37-26 record in 2012-2014, Strasburg perhaps isn't as dominant as some envisioned he would be when he was the first pick of the 2009 draft. Still, he's got a respectable career ERA of 3.06 (as of April 21, 2015). He worked hard to come back from Tommy John surgery in 2010 and he worked 215 innings in 2014.
The 26 year old right-hander struck out 242 batters in 2014 to lead the National League.
Final 2014 stats: 14-11, 3.14 ERA, 242 strikeouts.
Career stats (as of April 21, 2015): 44-31, 3.06 ERA, 763 strikeouts in 667 1/3 innings pitched.
He's only 25 years old, but the free swinging left-handed hitter is entering his fifth full season with the Braves. Freeman frequently gets on base and he consistently knocks in runs.
Final 2014 stats: .288, 18 HR, 78 RBI.
Career stats (as of April 24,2015): .285, 90 HR, 366 RBI, .364 OBP, .465 SLG PCT.
New York Mets
None currently qualified.
None currently qualified.
CF Ben Revere: He led the National League in hits (184) in 2014 and stole 49 bases in 57 chances. He committed a total of six errors in center field the past two full seasons.
Final 2014 stats: .306, 2 HR, 28 RBI.
SP Cole Hamels: The 31-year old left-handed All-Star has post-season experience and knows how to keep hitters off-balance. He's a trade candidate to competitive teams in either league. Other than his rookie season in 2006, he's never struck out fewer than 150 hitters.
Final 2014 stats: 9-9, 2.46 ERA, 198 strikeouts in 204 2/3 innings pitched.
Career stats (through April 25, 2015): 108-85, 3.28 ERA, 1730 strikeouts in 1825 1/3 innings pitched. Opponents have a lifetime .238 batting average against him.
NL Central Best Players
St. Louis Cardinals
LF Matt Holliday: When Albert Pujols left for the American League's Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, a weight fell immediately on the shoulders of Matt Holliday. St. Louis fans were happy to learn that he accepted the challenge with a fervor.
Through 103 games in 2012, Holliday was batting .323 with 21 homers and 76 RBI. His .407 on base percentage was fourth in the NL, and his .555 slugging percentage was ranked sixth.
C Yadier Molina: Has thrown out 21 of 46 base stealers, allowed four passed balls, and committed only three errors through 92 games in 2012. At the plate, the veteran catcher just seems to get better and better. Over the same time frame, the right-handed hitter had a .315 average with 16 homers and 52 RBI.
3B David Freese: The big, strong youngster is developing into a fine defensive third baseman and a probable future power hitter. Through 96 games, the right-handed hitting Freese had a .313 batting average with 15 homers and 61 RBI. Both his on base percentage (.380) and slugging percentage (.503) are very good for a player who mans the hot corner.
SP Kyle Lohse: Through 23 starts, the veteran right-hander has posted a 12-2 record with a 2.79 ERA.
RP Mitchell Boggs: The big right-hander has a 1.54 ERA through 49 appearances in 2012. He'd allowed only twelve walks in 46 2/3 innings pitched.
CL Jason Motte: The former minor league catcher has developed into a dominant closer. In 41 games, he'd saved 23 in 27 chances. Opposing batters were managing a weak .193 batting average against him. His WHIP stood at 0.96 over the same time period.
CF Andrew McCutchen: The 2013 MVP is on a roll. In the years 2012-2014, he hasn't hit under .300 (.327, .317, .314 respectively) nor had an on base percentage under .400 (.400, .404, .410). Does the 28-year old right-handed hitter hit for power? You bet. The past three full seasons his home run totals are 31,21 and 25, respectively.
Final 2014 stats: .314, 25 HR, 83 RBI, 18 SB, .542 SLG PCT.
RP Tony Watson: The big left-hander broke out in 2014 with an All-Star selection. Pittsburgh fans already knew they had a gem in the rough as Watson has posted WHIPs of 1.13, 0.88, and 1.02 the past three full seasons (2012-2014). The 30-year old set-up man is one of the finest lefty relievers in MLB.
Final 2014 stats: 10-2, 1.63 ERA, 81 strikeouts in 77 1/3 innings pitched.
LF Alfonso Soriano: The 36-year old right-handed hitter has been able to keep his slugging percentage at the .500 threshold in 2012. He's on pace to finish with over 30 homers and over 100 RBI.
1B Joey Votto: Entering his eighth full season with Cincinatti, the strong left-handed hitter boasts a career .311 batting average. A nagging left thigh strain kept the native Canadian out of the Reds lineup for much of 2014. Healthy so far this year, Votto was boasting a .721 SLG PCT as of April 24, 2015.
Final 2014 stats: .255, 6 HR, 23 RBI in 62 games.
2B Brandon Phillips: The slick fielding infielder hasn't put up the power numbers he did earlier in his career but he's still one of the best hitting infielders in the National League. He had a power fall off in 2014 but he's only one full season and part of another removed from 2013 when he his 18 HR and knocked in 103 runs.
Final 2014 stats: .266, 8 HR, 51 RBI.
CL Aroldis Chapman: In over four full seasons of major league work, hitters have managed to bat .146 against the Cuban left-hander. Chapman is dominant and still only 27 years old.
Final 2014 stats: 0-3, 2.00 ERA, 106 strikeouts in 54 innings pitched. Saved 36 games in 38 chances.
SP Johnny Cueto: The ace right-hander had a great year in 2014 but the fiscally minded Reds probably won't be able to keep him under contract after 2015. Rumor has it that the Detroit Tigers, who lost Max Scherzer to free agency, are keeping an eye on the talented young pitcher and they have the prospects to make Cincinatti listen when the trade deadline approaches.
Final 2014 stats: 20-9, 2.25 ERA, 242 strikeouts in 243 2/3 innings pitched.
2B Jose Altuve: The diminuitive right-handed hitter put together an All-Star season in 2012. Through 143 games, he posted a .292 average with 34 doubles and 33 stolen bases.
NL West Best Players
2B Aaron Hill: A power-hitting second baseman is an asset to any team, but Hill stands at the top of those rare few. With a .360 on base percentage and .522 slugging percentage, the stocky right-handed hitter was amazing in 2012. In 757 chances at second base, the capable fielder made only 6 errors (.992 fielding percentage). He also belted 26 homers, 44 doubles, and six triples...good for a .302 batting average. He knocked in 85 RBI.
CL J.J. Putz: 1-5, 2.82 ERA. 32 saves in 37 chances. Allowed only 45 hits in 54 1/3 innings pitched. He walked 11 and struck out 65. Opposing hitters batted .223 against the right-handed stopper.
SP Wade Miley: The 25-year old rookie left-hander posted excellent numbers in 2012. He went 16-11 with an ERA of 3.33. His WHIP (walks plus hits per inning) was 1.18. He allowed only 37 base on balls in 194 2/3 innings pitched, and struck out 144.
San Francisco Giants
LF Melky Cabrera: In 459 at bats, The 28-year old switch-hitter hit .346, had an on base percentage of 390, and posted a .516 slugging percentage.
C Buster Posey: .336 BA, 24 HR, 103 RBI. In 2012, the right-handed hitter became the first catcher to win the NL batting title since 1942. He posted a .408 OBP and a .549 slugging percentage.
SP Matt Cain: The big right-hander had another outstanding year in 2012. He went 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA. He allowed only 177 hits and 55 base on balls in 219 1/3 innings pitched (1.04 WHIP). Opposing hitters batted .222 against Cain. He fanned 193.
CL Sergio Romo: 4-2, 1.79 ERA. 14 saves in 15 opportunities. 55 1/3 innings pitched with 63 strikeouts and a 0.85 WHIP. Opposing hitters managed only a .185 batting average against the right-handed closer.
Los Angeles Dodgers
SP Clayton Kershaw: The left-hander went 14-9 with a 2.53 ERA. In 227 2/3 innings pitched, he allowed 170 hits and 63 walks (1.02 WHIP). Finished 2nd in the NL in 2012 with 229 strikeouts (one behind NY's R.A. Dickey).
San Diego Padres
CL Craig Kimbrel: The hard-throwing right-hander has been amazing in 2011-2012. Through 40 games in 2012, the 24-year old Kimbrel has saved 30 games in 32 opportunities. His ERA is 1.35 and opposing hitters have only batted .119 against him.
3B Chase Headley: Led all NL third baseman with 31 HR. Batted .286 with 115 RBI. Second among NL third baseman with a .976 fielding percentage (.001 behind Milwaukee's Aramis Ramirez).
CL Huston Street: Nearly perfect all season in 2012, the right-handed closer saved 23 in 24 chances. Though missing time due to injury, Street was practically unhittable in 39 innings pitched. Opposing batters managed only a .130 batting average against the veteran stopper!
LF Carlos Gonzalez: .303 BA, 22 HR, 85 RBI. The sweet swinging left-handed hitter put together his third consecutive season of excellence at the plate for the Rockies. He turns 27 on October 17, 2012.
CF Dexter Fowler: The switch-hitting center fielder batted .29 points above his lifetime batting average in 2012. He finished the season with a .300 BA, 13 HR, and 53 RBI.