The first month of the 2021 MLB season is complete, which means it’s as good a time as any to examine the best performers thus far.
It was tough to keep this list short, and there was some back-and-forth about the results. Regardless, here are the 10 best players – five hitters, five pitchers – through the opening month of the campaign.
Mike Trout, Angels
Just when it seems like the best can’t get any better, Trout does exactly that. The three-time American League MVP leads the majors in fWAR, OPS, wRC+, and wOBA. He’s showcasing a more powerful stroke – as evidenced by a career-best 20.0% barrel rate and 56.0% hard-hit rate – resulting in an absurd .356 ISO for the Angels’ 29-year-old superstar.
Jacob deGrom, Mets
Speaking of the best getting better, deGrom reached a new level of excellence in April. The National League’s strikeout leader has improved his strikeout rate from 38.8% in 2020 to 48% this season. His 3.3 walk percentage is also a career low and is accompanied by an absurd 747 ERA+. If only the 32-year-old could get some run support. The Mets are averaging 2.79 runs in deGrom’s starts, resulting in a 2-2 record for their ace.
Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves
Trout looks like an early AL MVP favorite, and Acuna might be his equal in the NL. The Braves’ star outfielder is tied for the NL lead in home runs and is among league leaders in wRC+, wOBA, and slugging percentage. His 201 OPS+ leads the majors, and no one has scored more runs or totaled more bases. Acuna would likely be among the stolen-base leaders, too – if he ever stopped at first; half of the 23-year-old’s hits have been of the extra-base variety.
Corbin Burnes, Brewers
Burnes, 26, established himself as one of the league’s best pitchers in April and might enter the record books when he returns from the injured list. The Brewers right-hander has struck out 49 batters without issuing a walk – three strikeouts short of the longest such streak to start an MLB season. Thanks to a nearly unhittable cutter – opponents are batting .164 against the pitch – Baseball Savant ranks Burnes in the 90th percentile in most pitching categories, including strikeout rate, whiff rate, and chase rate.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
Every aspect of Guerrero’s game has improved since he lost 42 pounds in the offseason, and the Blue Jays are reaping the rewards. Toronto’s first baseman is top five among MLB players in home runs, OPS, and fWAR thanks to better plate discipline (he ranks fourth in walk-to-strikeout ratio), an improved launch angle, and a 53.1% hard-hit rate. Guerrero, 22, is also looking like a nimbler defender at first base and running the bases with an extra pep in his step, sprinting an average of 26.9 feet per second compared to 25.3 feet per second last season.
Carlos Rodon, White Sox
It was tough to choose between Rodon and fellow no-hitter thrower Joe Musgrove, but the White Sox left-hander gets the nod after striking out 12 in his latest outing. Rodon sits second in ERA and seventh in K/9 after being non-tendered in the offseason following a rough 2020 campaign. Good thing Chicago decided to re-sign the 28-year-old because his four wins and 0.64 WHIP are tops in the AL.
Byron Buxton, Twins
Buxton might be the only player in baseball who had a better first month than Trout. The Twins outfielder ranks first in batting average, fWAR, wRC+, wOBA, OPS, and ISO among players with at least 70 plate appearances. He’s been crushing everything he sees (22.6% barrel rate and 62.3% hard-hit rate) while maintaining his high standard of play on defense (five defensive runs saved, two outs above average). Minnesota just needs the 27-year-old to stay healthy.
Gerrit Cole, Yankees
Cole was good in 2020, but this is the version the Yankees paid $324 million for. New York’s ace sits first among starters in fWAR and FIP, third in K/9, and fourth in BB/9. He’s allowed just one home run after giving up 14 in roughly twice as many innings last season, and opposing batters are hitting just .040 against a changeup the 30-year-old has started using more frequently.
Yermin Mercedes, White Sox
No one saw Mercedes coming. The White Sox DH had one major-league plate appearance to his credit before the season, yet he ranks first in hits, second in batting average, and fifth in OPS. If he can maintain this level of success over the entire campaign, the 28-year-old will likely become the oldest Rookie of the Year winner since Seattle Mariners pitcher Kazuhiro Sasaki won the award at 32 in 2000.
Tyler Glasnow, Rays
Glasnow entered the 2021 season as a predominantly two-pitch hurler, but the addition of a slider has pushed the 27-year-old to another level. Opponents are batting .222 against his new pitch, which has bolstered the success rates of his other weapons: Opposing hitters own a .143 batting average against his four-seam fastball and 2-for-37 against his curveball. The Rays pitcher ranks fourth in fWAR, fifth in FIP, and sixth in K/9 thanks to his expanded arsenal.
Honorable mentions: J.D. Martinez, Joe Musgrove, Danny Duffy, Nick Solak