5 players having better years than you realize

August 30th, 2018

We're thrilled about the possibility of J.D. Martinez winning the American League Triple Crown. We're loving , Max Scherzer and heading down the stretch in their quest for the National League Cy Young Award. Finally, the MVP Award races in both leagues appear to be wide open. In lots of ways, these things have never been more competitive.

But beyond the headliners -- that is, beyond and , beyond Matt Carpenter and -- there is a long list of players flying under the radar, despite having tremendous seasons.

That happens sometimes. We get so caught up in the postseason chase and the awards that we miss a few things. That was true in 2017, too. Only when the season ended did some of us realize, for instance, how good Nationals third baseman had been: 6.8 Fangraphs WAR, .403 OBP, 41 doubles, 25 home runs, 100 RBIs, 81 runs, 84 walks.

How's that for filling up a stat line? Some obviously noticed, since he finished sixth on the NL MVP Award ballot, but the larger point is valid. That's going to be true again this season, so to get out in front of this thing, here's a look at five players having better seasons than you probably think:

1. , LHP, Dodgers

6-5, 2.39 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 8.98 K/9

You're wondering how a three-time NL Cy Young Award winner and one of the two or three best pitchers of his generation can be overlooked? Two trips to the disabled list have kept Kershaw from this year's NL Cy Young Award conversation, and it has been easy to assume that his overall numbers are a reflection of diminished performance. They do not. During his 20 starts, he has been pretty much as good as ever, pitching deep into games and giving the Dodgers a chance to win. Kershaw's fastball velocity is down, but he has figured out a new way to pitch, throwing more sliders and curves and fewer fastballs. In other words, Kershaw is still Kershaw.

2. , 3B, Astros

6.3 WAR, 43 doubles, 25 home runs, .395 OBP, .928 OPS

Yes, Bregman was a postseason star for the Astros in 2017. Yes, he made the AL All-Star team this summer. But because Bregman plays on a team with the 2017 World Series MVP () and the 2017 AL MVP Award winner (), his emergence as an elite player has been easy to miss. Bregman has elevated every part of his game to the point that he's leading the AL in doubles and is sixth in WAR and wRC+. His defense at third is superb, and on a team hit hard by injuries, he has been huge in keeping Houston atop the AL West.

3. , 3B, A's

6.2 WAR, 26 defensive runs saved, .892 OPS, 32 doubles, 21 home runs

Chapman is leading the Majors with 3.3 WAR since the All-Star break, maintaining a trend line in which he has established himself as an elite player in his first full Major League season. He's a generational defensive talent at third, with eight more defensive runs saved than any other player, regardless of position. In the second half, Chapman is hitting .344 (52-for-151), leads the Majors in doubles and is second in extra-base hits for baseball's hottest team.

4. , LHP, Rockies

12-7, 2.90 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 164 1/3 IP, 7.8 K/9

We'll begin with Freeland's microscopic 2.27 ERA in 12 starts at Coors Field, which is astonishingly good. In this case, it may not be fair (although it's certainly fair that he has figured out the ins and outs of pitching in the Mile High City). But it may not be fair, because this guy is so good he'd succeed anyplace. He throws a 92-mph fastball with a mixture of cutters and breaking stuff. In other words, Freeland gets the art of pitching, location, tempo, etc. His manager, Bud Black, said he "has been as good as anybody in the game." Freeland didn't get nearly enough All-Star buzz this season, but that's likely to change in 2018. There aren't many better.

5. , OF, Brewers

4.6 WAR, .943 OPS, 28 doubles, 26 home runs, 14 stolen bases

Brewers general manager David Stearns has gotten just what he hoped for with the offseason acquisitions of outfielders and Yelich. Both are complete players. Cain has played a Gold Glove-caliber defense in the outfield, and Yelich has been solid with the glove, as well. Overall, Yelich's 2.7 WAR since the All-Star break is the third highest in the Majors, trailing only Chapman and Braves rookie  In that time, Yelich has been one of baseball's best offensive players, hitting .372 (tops in MLB) with 15 home runs (second in MLB) and a 1.189 OPS (best in MLB). His hot streak culminated in one of the best single-game performances of the season Wednesday, when he went 6-for-6 and completed the cycle.