Who Is the Best Offensive Player in MLB Heading into the 2022 Season?

At least until there’s an official announcement to the contrary, we can go on believing that Major League Baseball’s lockout will eventually conclude and the 2022 season will take place.

When that happens, well, batter up.

For kicks and giggles—and maybe to generate an argument or two—we’ve pondered which of MLB’s offensive players is the best. This meant conjuring a list of 10 candidates and judging them by how well they hit, hit for power, get on base and run the bases. We also weighed any outstanding health question marks.

Though we’ve presented these 10 players is descending order, it’s less of a ranking than a progressive consideration of how well they check the boxes. We ultimately wanted to land on the one hitter that, though maybe not altogether perfect, is the right combination of dangerous and well-rounded.

First, some honorable mentions.

 

Honorable Mentions

Mookie Betts, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers

He’d be a candidate for the No. 1 spot if he were fresh off his 2018 season, in which he hit .346 with 32 home runs and 30 stolen bases. Four years later, though, that year is an outlier amid an offensive output that’s otherwise more high-floor than high-ceiling.

       

Aaron Judge, RF, New York Yankees

He was in the 100th percentile for both exit velocity and hard-hit rate in 2021, so he has a strong case as baseball’s most dangerous hitter when he makes contact. It’s making consistent contact that’s his problem. Besides, he’s also generally not much of a threat on the bases.

        

Cedric Mullins, CF, Baltimore Orioles

To get diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and then go out and have a 30-30 season anyway? That’s darn impressive. The catch for our purposes is that Mullins’ other numbers were more good than extraordinary, but we’ll grant that he might have still more upside if he’s in better shape now than he was going into 2021.

        

Trea Turner, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

Turner is coming off a year that saw him hit an MLB-high .328 with 28 homers and 32 steals, so not putting him in the top 10 is arguably an unforgivable crime. But sans a steady walk habit and eye-catching batted ball peripherals, he seems to have a hard ceiling as a hitter.

 

10. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Free Agent

  • 2021 Stats: 159 G, 695 PA, 31 HR, 8 SB, .300 AVG, .393 OBP, .503 SLG, 133 OPS+, 4.5 oWAR

This list just wouldn’t be valid if it didn’t contain the most consistent hitter in baseball.

Freddie Freeman is the only hitter who’s topped 250 plate appearances and a 130 OPS+ in each of the last nine seasons. In this span, his 162-game norms include a batting average in the .300s, an OBP near .400 and roughly 30 home runs.

So it went in 2021, and that’s even though Atlanta’s longtime star actually underachieved with the stick. Most notably including 86th and 87th percentile marks for his strikeout and walk rates, respectively, his batting peripherals were substantially above average across the board.

Freeman is even a pretty good baserunner in spite of his modest foot speed. It may not show in his stolen bases, but he generally takes an extra base on hits about half the time.

Yet if it feels like Freeman is always among the best hitters but never the best, there’s some truth to that. To wit, he’s never led the league in any of the triple-slash categories (i.e., AVG, OBP and SLG) even once.

 

9. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B, Toronto Blue Jays

  • 2021 Stats: 161 G, 698 PA, 48 HR, 4 SB, .311 AVG, .401 OBP, .601 SLG, 169 OPS+, 6.6 oWAR

Even as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. struggled to live up to the hype in his first two seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, paradoxically he also never seemed far from a proper superstar breakout.

Indeed, he more than held his own against major league pitching. Particularly in the way he posted strikeout rates in the teens, thereby bucking baseball’s most alarming trend. He also took his walks when he could, so he really only needed to more consistently tap into his power.

In 2021, he did just that.

So good was Guerrero at hitting the ball on the screws, in fact, that he tallied 274 batted balls of at least 95 mph in addition to his 48 home runs. That’s the most that any hitter has had in a single season since Statcast arrived in 2015. What’s more, Guerrero only struck out 24 more times than he walked.

But while all this grants Guerrero entry into discussions of who’s the best hitter in baseball, his overall offensive reputation still has an obvious detraction. On the bases, he’s about as station-to-station as they come.

 

8. Kyle Tucker, RF, Houston Astros

  • 2021 Stats: 140 G, 567 PA, 30 HR, 14 SB, .294 AVG, .359 OBP, .557 SLG, 147 OPS+, 4.7 oWAR

Little-known fact: Kyle Tucker was the best hitter in baseball for most of the 2021 season.

He had little to show for his fourth season with the Houston Astros through May 8. Then something clicked, and he went off for a .329/.394/.620 slash line and 25 homers the rest of the way. Per his 174 wRC+, his production from the batter’s box outpaced even that of Bryce Harper and Juan Soto.

Tucker was a tough out, putting a 14.8 strikeout percentage against a walk rate of 9.8 percent. He also averaged a sturdy 91.6 mph on his batted balls. Not quite elite, but the same as Matt Olson and even better than Freeman.

Though Tucker isn’t a burner, his 28-for-32 career success rate in stolen bases doesn’t lie about his knack for opportunistic thefts. Likewise, he’s more likely than not to take an extra base on hits.

Tucker still needs to show he can maintain superstar-level production across a full season. But if he does, the last five months of 2021 point to something like a 1.000 OPS, 30-plus homers and 20-plus steals.

Author: Lucy Green