With Spring Training less than five weeks away, the closest fans and observers can come to the action is to predict what's yet to come. Luckily, Major League Baseball's immense talent pool for 2018 provides plenty to debate in terms of who's best.MLB Network is set to debate just that,
With Spring Training less than five weeks away, the closest fans and observers can come to the action is to predict what's yet to come. Luckily, Major League Baseball's immense talent pool for 2018 provides plenty to debate in terms of who's best.
MLB Network is set to debate just that, starting tonight at 9 ET. For the eighth consecutive offseason, MLB Network will reveal its top 10 lists of active players at every spot on the diamond, including starting and relief pitchers. The series will run every Saturday night for five weeks, with two positions per night, beginning with the top 10 shortstops and third basemen.
The results will be based on "The Shredder" -- an algorithm based on player performance that accounts for both offense and defense that was put together by MLB Network's research department "without emotion or bias" -- with host Brian Kenny and a cast of analysts (including Harold Reynolds, Cliff Floyd, Mike Lowell, and Mike Petriello) providing their personal top 10 selections as well.
Before this year's lists are revealed, here's a quick look back at 10 things you should know about the seven previous installments of this annual series.
• Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano has been a ubiquitous fixture at his position. Cano's five seasons ranked No. 1 at second base, all consecutively from 2011-15, are the most for any player at any position. Cano played runner-up to Jose Altuve in the past two campaigns, meaning he's been named either the best or second-best second baseman in the game in all seven seasons of this series.
Clayton Kershaw (2014-17), Buster Posey (2013, 2015-17), Michael Trout (2013-14, 2016-17) and Troy Tulowitzki (2012-15) have all captured top honors at their position in four seasons.
• Thirteen players have been featured in a top 10 list in each of the first seven installments: Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre, Jose Cabrera, Cano, Carlos Gonzalez, Ian Kinsler, Yadier Molina, Dustin Pedroia, Posey, Tulowitzki, Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton and Joey Votto.
• Cano, Posey and Votto are the only three players in baseball ranked within the top five at their position in each of the series' first seven seasons. Kershaw, Stanton and Trout have been top-five players for the past six years.
• There have been seven players who went from not being ranked at any position before one season to topping their respective positions the next. By position, those players are:
Right field: Yasiel Puig (topped the RF list in 2014)
Center field: Mike Trout (2013)
Left field: Ryan Braun (2017)
Shortstop: Francisco Lindor (2016) and Corey Seager ('17)
Catcher: Mike Napoli (2012)
Relief pitcher: Wade Davis (2015)
• How reliable has "The Shredder" been in predicting the season's top players? Based on its No. 1 selections at each position, its algorithms have predicted 24 out of a possible 56 All-Star Game starters at the eight positions, excluding pitchers. That's a success rate of roughly 43 percent, which is fairly impressive given how unpredictable the All-Star starters can be amid midseason injuries and wide variance in player performance from season to season, not to mention the vagaries of fan voting.
• "The Shredder" has been about as successful in picking season-end award winners as it has been picking players for the Midsummer Classic. Seven of the 14 MVP Award winners chosen by the Baseball Writers' Association of America since 2011 sat atop an MLB top 10 list before the season began.
• Only two players can claim a No. 1 ranking at two positions since this series began. Cabrera was ranked the game's second-best first baseman behind Jose Pujols in 2011 before he reigned as the top third baseman during his '12 and '13 American League MVP Award-winning seasons. He then resumed as MLB's top first baseman, by this measure, in 2014 and '15.
MLB Network designated Hanley Ramirez as its top shortstop in 2011, when he was the face of the Marlins. But when Ramirez signed with the Red Sox as a free agent before the '15 campaign, "The Shredder" accompanied his position switch with a top billing in left field. Ramirez would play just one season in left before switching to first base.
• Braun and Andrew McCutchen displayed their staying power by topping their positions once and then doing so again after a three-year wait. Braun was designated MLB's top left fielder from 2011-13 before he was named so again last year. McCutchen was named the game's best center fielder in 2011 and again in '15.
• Of all 10 positions ranked each season, right field has seen the most fluctuation at the top. There have been six winners that have paced the right-field list in seven seasons, with Stanton being the only repeat leader in 2013 and '15. He's a great bet to top that list again following his 59-homer season, though his new teammate Aaron Judge will present stiff competition for top honors.
• The Dodgers have seen four of their players -- Matt Kemp, Kershaw, Puig and Seager -- rule a positional top-10 list at least once since 2011, the most of any club. The Cardinals, Indians and Red Sox are right behind L.A. with three No. 1 selections, and 24 of the 30 MLB clubs have featured at least one No. 1 player.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.