The Yearly Reader
Leaders and Honors, 2021
Our list of baseball’s top 10 hitters and pitchers in both the American League and National League for the 2021 baseball season, as well as the awards and honors given to the game’s top achievers of the year.
The National League’s Top 10 Hitters, 2021
Bold type in brick red indicates league leader.
1. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia
Key Numbers: .309 average, 101 runs, 42 doubles, 35 home runs, 84 RBIs, 100 walks, 13 stolen bases, .615 slugging percentage, 1.044 OPS.
In winning his second MVP, Harper was at his most powerful with the bases empty; he hit 27 solo home runs, including a Phillies-record 14 straight to start the year.
2. Juan Soto, Washington
Key Numbers: .313 average, 111 runs, 29 home runs, 95 RBIs, 145 walks, 23 intentional walks, 23 grounded into double plays, .465 on-base percentage.
Ironically, Soto was more effective after most of his star teammates (Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Josh Harrison, etc.) were dealt away in the Nationals’ midseason fire sale. His 1.56-1 BB/K ratio was nearly double that of the next guy on the list (Houston’s Yuli Gurriel, at .87-1).
3. Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego
Key Numbers: 130 games, .282 average, 99 runs, 31 doubles, 42 home runs, 97 RBIs, 25 stolen bases.
Though it was a disappointing year for the Padres (who finished 79-83), they certainly got their truckful of money’s worth from Tatis—who was given a whopping $340 million extension before Opening Day. Tatis thrived in spite of a bothersome shoulder that occasionally sidelined him.
4. Trea Turner, Washington-Los Angeles
Key Numbers: .328 average, 107 runs, 195 hits, 34 doubles, 28 home runs, 77 RBIs, 32 stolen bases.
In a year in which the multi-talented infielder set numerous career marks (including his first season over 20 home runs), Turner became the first NL batting champ playing for multiple teams since Willie McGee in 1990.
5. Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati
Key Numbers: 138 games, .309 average, 95 runs, 38 doubles, 34 home runs, 100 RBIs.
The relatively underpaid Castellanos rightfully opted out of his current contract after a superlative All-Star campaign; his .359 batting average at home was the majors’ highest.
6. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta
Key Numbers: .300 average, 120 runs, 180 hits, 31 home runs, 83 RBIs, 85 walks.
Beyond winning his first World Series ring, the highlight of Freeman’s solid follow-up to his 2020 NL MVP season was his second career cycle on August 18, matching Herman Long (1896 and 1900) in franchise history with multiple such feats.
7. Joey Votto, Cincinnati
Key Numbers: .266 average, 36 home runs, 99 RBIs, 77 walks.
At 38, Votto was energized with a vintage power surge after belting no more than 15 in any of his three previous seasons; nine of his long shots were hit over seven consecutive games in late July.
8. Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis
Key Numbers: .294 average, 102 runs, 177 hits, 36 doubles, 31 home runs, 99 RBIs, 67 walks, 12 stolen bases, 0 caught stealing.
Just another year at the office for Goldy, who along with Nolan Arenado and Tyler O’Neill became part of the second trio of Cardinals to collect 30-plus homers in one season.
9. Austin Riley, Atlanta
Key Numbers: 160 games, .303 average, 91 runs, 179 hits, 33 doubles, 33 home runs, 107 RBIs.
Two years after an excellent debut followed by a prolonged struggle to maintain and adapt, Riley impressively rebounded into peak form as part of a potent Atlanta infield from which all four of its members hit at least 27 homers.
10. Tyler O’Neill, St. Louis
Key Numbers: 138 games, .286 average, 89 runs, 34 home runs, 80 RBIs, 15 stolen bases.
Amid a young, promising St. Louis outfield, the 26-year-old Canadian native emerged as the potential star with a late-season bloom of boom—hitting 13 home runs over his last 30 games.
The American League’s Top 10 Hitters, 2021
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto
Key Numbers: 161 games, .311 average, 123 runs, 188 hits, 29 doubles, 48 home runs, 111 RBIs, 86 walks, 20 grounded into double plays, .401 on-base percentage, .601 slugging percentage.
After mild output in his first two major league campaigns, Junior exploded; no player before him hit more home runs in one season at age 22 or younger, and he set an AL record by hitting at least three in eight different series. He would have won the AL MVP…if only he could pitch.
2. Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles
Key Numbers: .257 average, 103 runs, 26 doubles, 8 triples, 46 home runs, 100 RBIs. 96 walks, 20 intentional walks, 189 strikeouts, 26 stolen bases, 10 caught stealing.
Like Guerrero, the Japanese native broke out after a mild start to his MLB career; unlike Guerrero, he secured the MVP because he could pitch—and quite well, we might add, posting a 9-2 record and 3.18 ERA over 23 starts with 156 strikeouts. Comparisons to Deadball Era ace-turned-slugging myth Babe Ruth were not hyperbolic.
3. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland
Key Numbers: .266 average, 111 runs, 32 doubles, 5 triples, 36 home runs, 103 RBIs, 72 walks, 27 stolen bases.
One of the majors’ most underrated—and complete—offensive threats continued to quietly produce as teammates struggled to lend him support or bump the team up in the standings around him.
4. Marcus Semien, Toronto
Key Numbers: 162 games, .265 average, 652 at-bats, 115 runs, 39 doubles, 45 home runs, 102 RBIs, 15 stolen bases.
The iron man of the day—for the second time in three years, he played all 162 games—Semien got the most from his mileage, breaking Davey Johnson’s 1973 season record for home runs by a second baseman.
5. Matt Olson, Oakland
Key Numbers: .271 average, 101 runs, 35 doubles, 39 home runs, 111 RBIs, 88 walks.
The 27-year-old slugger shattered the notion that lefty-on-lefty was a handicap for hitters; 22 of his 39 homers came against southpaws, over just 222 at-bats.
6. Bo Bichette, Toronto
Key Numbers: .298 average, 121 runs, 191 hits, 30 doubles, 29 home runs, 102 RBIs, 25 stolen bases, 1 caught stealing.
Still just 23 years of age, the Blue Jays’ shortstop grouped with Guerrero to solidify Toronto as a Land of Legacies, putting together a campaign worthy of father Dante back in the day at mile-high Colorado.
7. Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto
Key Numbers: .296 average, 92 runs, 29 doubles, 32 home runs, 116 RBIs, 12 stolen bases.
As if Guerrero, Semien and Bichette weren’t enough for opponents to deal with in Toronto’s potent lineup, along came the relative no-namer in Hernandez—who easily made it four Blue Jays with at least 100 RBIs, the first such grouping since the 2003 Braves.
8. Rafael Devers, Boston
Key Numbers: .279 average, 101 runs, 37 doubles, 38 home runs, 113 RBIs.
The revival of Boston teammates who badly struggled in 2020 helped to strengthen Devers’ 2021 numbers, as he continued to stay the statistical course as one of the majors’ most dangerous young sluggers.
9. Kyle Tucker, Houston
Key Numbers: .294 average, 83 runs, 37 doubles, 30 home runs, 92 RBIs, 14 stolen bases.
A year after almost single-handedly carrying Houston’s offense to the postseason, the tall, talented Tucker arguably remained the Astros’ biggest threat at the plate (and on the basepaths) even if he was more hidden in the stat charts among more brand-name stars like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel.
10. Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay
Key Numbers: .247 average, 97 runs, 31 doubles, 39 home runs, 99 RBIs, 68 walks, 167 strikeouts.
In a virtual copy-and-paste of his 2020 experience, Lowe easily led the Rays in home runs—but was dead again in the postseason, going hitless in 18 at-bats against Boston in Tampa Bay’s ALDS defeat.
The National League’s Top 10 Pitchers, 2021
1. Walker Buehler, Los Angeles
Key Numbers: 2.47 ERA, 16 wins, 4 losses, .800 win percentage, 33 starts, 207.2 innings, 149 hits allowed, 212 strikeouts, .199 batting average against.
Other pitchers may have had slightly better numbers here and there, but Buehler collectively showed more strength and resilience throughout the year; he ran up a streak of 30 straight starts (postseason included) without the Dodgers losing.
2. Max Scherzer, Washington-Los Angeles
Key Numbers: 2.46 ERA, 15 wins, 4 losses, .789 win percentage, 30 starts, 179.1 innings, 119 hits allowed, 36 walks, 236 strikeouts, 10 hit-by-pitches, 7 caught stealing/picked off, 0.86 WHIP, .185 batting average against.
The highlights were many for Mad Max in a season split between the Nationals and Dodgers; he recorded his 3,000th strikeout, pitched his third immaculate inning (nine pitches, nine strikes, three outs), and posted the year’s longest streak of consecutive innings without allowing an earned run at 38.
3. Julio Urias, Los Angeles
Key Numbers: 2.96 ERA, 20 wins, 3 losses, .870 win percentage, 32 starts, 185.2 innings, 38 walks.
After years of sluggish progress, the once highly-heralded prospect reached the promised land of stardom by becoming the year’s only 20-game winner.
4. Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia
Key Numbers: 2.78 ERA, 14 wins, 10 losses, 32 starts, 3 complete games, 2 shutouts, 213.1 innings, 46 walks, 247 strikeouts.
Wheeler’s 213.1 innings qualified him as the workhorse of the year—the lowest ever by an MLB leader in a non-shortened season—with his most apropos outing being a two-hit shutout on the day the Phillies retired Roy Halladay’s jersey number.
5. Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee
Key Numbers: 2.43 ERA, 11 wins, 5 losses, .688 win percentage, 28 starts, 167 innings, 34 walks, 234 strikeouts.
The 26-year-old right-hander proved that his 2020 transformation from worst to best was no fluke; he struck out 58 batters before allowing his first walk of the season, and edged Wheeler for NL Cy Young Award honors. Continuing the theme of diminished work from starting pitchers, Burnes’ 167.1 innings were the fewest thrown by a starter winning the Cy in a full season.
6. Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee
Key Numbers: 2.56 ERA, 9 wins, 10 losses, 179.1 innings, 211 strikeouts.
Just a half-step below Burnes in quality of output, Woodruff suffered from a lack of run support that led to an undeserved sub-.500 record. He also perhaps suffered from the sticky substance ban; his ERA was 1.89 pre-ban, 3.30 afterwards.
7. Josh Hader, Milwaukee
Key Numbers: 1.23 ERA, 4 wins, 2 losses, 60 appearances, 34 saves, 58.2 innings, 102 strikeouts.
As if a stifling Milwaukee rotation wasn’t hard enough on opposing hitters, they then had to deal with an equally tough bullpen—topped by Hader, winning his third NL Reliever of the Year award in four seasons.
8. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis
Key Numbers: 3.05 ERA, 17 wins, 7 losses, .708 win percentage, 32 starts, 3 complete games, 206.1 innings.
Waino’s reputation no longer preceded him as he washed away five years of aging underachievement with a sparkling vintage effort, all while turning 40 in the process.
9. Charlie Morton, Atlanta
Key Numbers: 3.34 ERA, 14 wins, 6 losses, .700 win percentage, 33 starts, 185.2 innings, 216 strikeouts.
The 37-year-old vet offset a primarily young Atlanta rotation with a steady campaign—improving his record over five years to 61-24.
10. Kevin Gausman, San Francisco
Key Numbers: 2.81 ERA, 14 wins, 6 losses, .700 win percentage, 33 starts, 192 innings, 227 strikeouts.
Taking tips from archery to improve his aim, Gausman hit the bulls-eye with a 7-0 start accommodated by a 1.27 ERA, a prime factor in the Giants’ shocking express-elevator ride back to the top of the NL West.
The American League’s Top 10 Pitchers, 2021
1. Gerrit Cole, New York
Key Numbers: 3.23 ERA, 16 wins, 8 losses, .667 win percentage, 30 starts, 2 complete games, 181.1 innings, 41 walks, 243 strikeouts.
The high-priced ($36 million) Yankee proved his value, six times striking out at least 10 batters without a walk—one shy of the all-time record. Curiously, five of those outings came before the sticky substance ban took effect.
2. Carlos Rodon, Chicago
Key Numbers: 2.37 ERA, 13 wins, 5 losses, .722 win percentage, 132.1 innings, 91 hits allowed, 185 strikeouts.
Practically an afterthought after two rough seasons, Rodon quickly reestablished his game with an April 14 no-hitter; used with caution after Tommy John surgery in 2019, he held it together for a full season despite numerous small absences.
3. Liam Hendriks, Chicago
Key Numbers: 2.54 ERA, 8 wins, 3 losses, 69 appearances, 38 saves, 71 innings, 113 strikeouts.
What Rodon and other White Sox starters couldn’t finish, Hendriks often did, as the Aussie earned his second straight AL Reliever of the Year award.
4. Lance McCullers Jr., Houston
Key Numbers: 3.16 ERA, 13 wins, 5 losses, .722 win percentage, 162.1 innings, 76 walks, 185 strikeouts, .205 batting average against.
The sixth-year pitcher justified the Astros’ five-year, $85 million extension given to him with a team-leading 13 wins—but the team missed his presence in the postseason as he succumbed to a sore forearm.
5. Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles
Key Numbers: 2.57 ERA, 7 wins, 5 losses, 65 appearances, 34 saves, 70 innings, 12 walks, 103 strikeouts.
While Shohei Ohtani understandably got all the attention among Angels pitchers, Iglesias—in his first year at Anaheim after six seasons in Cincinnati—shined from the bullpen.
6. Lance Lynn, Chicago
Key Numbers: 2.69 ERA, 11 wins, 6 losses, 157 innings, 176 strikeouts.
Following two strong years with Texas, Lynn came to the South Side and continued to shine—particularly with a first-half performance where his ERA stayed below the 2.00 mark.
7. Chris Flexen, Seattle
Key Numbers: 3.61 ERA, 14 wins, 6 losses, .700 win percentage, 179.2 innings, 40 walks, 22 grounded into double plays.
Taking a year off following three terrible seasons (a combined 3-11 record and 8.07 ERA) with the New York Mets, Flexen settled in Seattle and found his groove; despite an unremarkable ERA, the right-hander grinded down opponents with his refusal to yield the strike zone while inducing a plethora of ground balls.
8. Jordan Romano, Toronto
Key Numbers: 2.14 ERA, 7 wins, 1 loss, 62 appearances, 23 saves, 63 innings, 85 strikeouts.
By now you’d be expecting AL Cy winner Robbie Ray (who gave up too many home runs and steals to make the list), so the top Blue Jay here is local kid Romano, thrusted into the closer role and excelling on the challenge after Kirby Yates’ preseason Tommy John diagnosis.
9. Chris Bassitt, Oakland
Key Numbers: 3.15 ERA, 12 wins, 4 losses, .750 win percentage, 157.1 innings, 159 strikeouts, 11 hit-by-pitches.
About the only pain suffered within an otherwise solid, pain-free Oakland rotation was an August comebacker that drilled Bassitt in the face, costing him a month of action; tis a shame, because his full presence down the stretch might have given the A’s a late boost to catch the Astros in the AL West.
10. Ryan Pressly, Houston
Key Numbers: 2.25 ERA, 5 wins, 3 losses, 64 appearances, 26 saves, 64 innings, 81 strikeouts.
The Dallas native, in his third-plus year with Houston, justifiably cemented his spot as Astros closer after five-plus years bouncing about Minnesota’s bullpen as a nondescript reliever.
2021: Once Underachievers, Now Underdogs The Atlanta Braves, once so dominant yet unable to win Baseball’s big prize, performs a role reversal by ruining the championship ambitions of presumably stronger teams in the Dodgers and Astros.