We took a look recently at the pitchers who have done the most this year to drive big first-time arbitration salaries this fall. Today, we’ll look at some position players that have done the same.
For hitters, the key factors — as MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz ascertained about six years ago — are playing time and power. The accumulation of plate appearances, home runs, and runs batted in are the biggest factors in driving earning power through arbitration, even if those are far from the only things that go into making for a productive baseball player.
While prior years’ performances certainly factor in, we’re focused here on which players have done the most in 2017 to boost their next salaries. We’ll assume that marginal Super Two candidates such as Carlos Correa, Eddie Rosario, and Tommy Pham will not sneak in and gain eligibility. Here’s the list:
Mookie Betts, Red Sox — Though he hasn’t been quite as exciting as he was last year and excels in some areas (contact, defense, baserunning) that don’t pay much in arbitration, Betts still easily cracks this list. Among the players listed here, he leads the way with 553 plate appearances and is second with 76 RBI. He also has swatted 18 long balls on the year, though obviously he won’t match last year’s tally of 31.
Justin Bour, Marlins — An injury has really hurt Bour’s case, but it’s tough to ignore what he did before going down. Over 339 plate appearances, the slugger swatted 21 home runs with 63 RBI. There’s no chance he’ll take home anything like the paydays of the players that sandwich him on this list, but Bour has earned a solid payday for 2018 while also locking down a starting role for the foreseeable future.
Kris Bryant, Cubs — The 25-year-old isn’t anywhere near to last year’s pace when it comes to the key counting stats, as he has only 23 home runs and 55 runs batted in through 511 plate appearances. But that’s only sparse in relative terms, and Bryant’s overall track record — including Rookie of the Year and MVP nods — will get him a huge and much-deserved payday as a Super Two.
Maikel Franco, Phillies — There’s no sugarcoating this season for Franco, who is reaching base at an anemic .277 clip and isn’t even playing at replacement level. Fortunately for him, an arbitral panel would likely largely look past the broader picture. Despite his broader struggles, Franco has still managed to leave the yard 17 times and drive in 59 runs over 494 plate appearances.
Jake Lamb, Diamondbacks — The third baseman has turned in a big season at the dish for Arizona. Through 503 plate appearances, he has smacked 27 round-trippers — just barely pacing the rest of the names on this list. Better still, he’s a shoo-in to reach triple-digits in the sabermetrically disfavored, arbitrationally relevant RBI statistic. With 95 already in the bag, Lamb is lapping the competition in this cohort.
David Peralta, Diamondbacks — Peralta’s case is weaker in every way than is his teammate’s. In fact, he just nudged out Kevin Pillar of the Blue Jays for inclusion. But with 13 dingers and 43 ribbies over 438 plate appearances — not to mention a .303 batting average — Peralta sneaks in amongst the top ten. (Pillar, for what it’s worth, has managed a dozen homers and has nearly reached 500 plate appearances, but has only driven in 32.)
Steven Souza, Rays — What makes this such an exciting season for Souza isn’t even what is going to get him paid. Right now, he’s running a walk rate that’s double what he carried in 2016. And the power has been there, too, with 26 bombs and 73 RBI over 494 plate appearances. Souza should earn well in his first trip through arbitration.
Eugenio Suarez, Reds — Speaking of exciting walk totals, Suarez has ramped up from a 4.3% rate in 2015 all the way to 14.0% this year. He’s also knocking the ball around the yard, with 21 homers and 64 runs batted in through an even 500 trips to the plate.
J.T. Realmuto, Marlins — The standout Marlins backstop doesn’t have gaudy numbers, but his solid output and heavy workload — only Buster Posey has more plate appearances among catchers — ought to play in his favor. Realmuto has 14 home runs and fifty RBI through 432 plate appearances; he’s also carrying a .287 batting average.
Mike Zunino, Mariners — Last but not least, we find another catcher who happens to be one of the game’s most extreme sluggers. Zunino has driven the ball out of the park 18 times in just 322 plate appearances … while recording a hefty 121 strikeouts to go with his 48 RBI and anemic .222 batting average. Zunino will also benefit from the fact that he would have been a Super Two last year if he had been on the active roster for enough days; as a result, he had already logged quite a few plate appearances (1,247) — and, yes, dingers (50) — entering the season. Honorable mention on the catching side of things goes to James McCann of the Tigers and Cameron Rupp of the Phillies, each of whom has nudged into double-digit home-run tallies.