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Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Best of the best

ESPN.com

Baseball fans love a good debate, and today we have three good ones. Starting off with a discussion of the best position player and pitcher in the game right now.

You, too, can let us know what you want our experts to discuss: Tweet us @ESPN_MLB with suggestions. You also can use the #espntripleplay hashtag.


1. Who's better right now: Josh Hamilton or Matt Kemp?


Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick), ESPN.com
Gotta go with Kemp here. Hamilton is in an incredible zone, but it's hard to argue with a .924 slugging percentage and a 1.437 OPS. Kemp recently joined Tony Armas of the 1981 Oakland A's as the second player to capture consecutive Player of the Week awards to start a season. Plus, he's doing it in a tougher hitter's ballpark, with a less formidable supporting cast. He's the man right now.

Diane Firstman (@dianagram), Value Over Replacement Grit
Kemp is putting up video-game numbers in a lineup bereft of other big threats, in a severe pitcher's park, and he frequently visits Petco and AT&T Park. Hamilton, while finally solving his "day-game vision" issue through drops and shades, benefits from a potent lineup in a hitter's park and plays fewer in-division road games in pitcher's parks. Edge to Kemp.

Matt Meyers (@mtmeyers), ESPN.com
While I think Kemp is the better overall player, what Hamilton is doing right now is remarkable. According to FanGraphs, he is swinging at 60.7 percent of pitches, which is most in the majors, and hitting .400 with power (8 homers) in the process. It just goes to show how locked in he is that he can be that aggressive and still hit the ball with such authority. That kind of combo of hacking and power can't last forever, but Hamilton is something special to watch at the plate right now.


Justin Verlander
Through four starts, Justin Verlander has a lower ERA (1.71) than he had last season (2.40).

2. Who's nastier right now: Justin Verlander or Stephen Strasburg?


Crasnick: I'm tempted to say "Philip Humber," but how can you not pick Verlander? Strasburg throws harder (95.4 mph on average for the fastball to Verlander's 93.9), but Verlander generates a higher percentage of swings and misses, and he recently hit 100 mph with his 131st pitch of the game against Kansas City. When Strasburg appears in a video-game commercial with swimsuit cover model Kate Upton, give us a call.

Firstman: Strasburg has the tools and composure to become what Verlander already is. Verlander has the rare ability to gain velocity through the later innings. Every one of his pitches grades out as "plus" or "plus-plus." Let's see what Strasburg can do when he is allowed to go 200-plus innings. Based on durability and pitching in the tougher league, edge to Verlander.

Meyers: Maybe I'm getting caught up in the flavor of the month, but Strasburg is just unreal right now. Going back to last year when he made a few late-season starts, Strasburg has allowed zero home runs and just four extra-base hits in 49 innings. Hitters simply cannot square him up. Obviously, he needs to stay healthy to reach Verlander's level of sustained excellence, but there is no pitcher I would rather watch right now than Strasburg.


3. Who's more worried right now: The Phillies or Angels?


Crasnick: My guess is the Angels. Sure, the Phillies look bad right now, but they've been through enough hard times not to be rattled by a bad month, and they'll get Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back eventually. Albert Pujols will snap out of his funk soon enough, but what about the rest of that lineup? The Angels aren't as battle-tested as a team. And they're healthy, so there's no excuse for the offense being this putrid.

Firstman: With the Rangers the most complete team in the majors, the Angels may have to resign themselves to a wild-card slot. Pujols, who will eventually homer, gives the lineup much more depth. The Phillies need Howard (possibly) and Utley (unlikely) to return in the next month, as the elite rotation can't do it all by itself, and now Cliff Lee is on the shelf. The Phils also have Miami, Washington and Atlanta jousting with them for playoff spots all season long. Therefore, the Phils are worrying more.

Meyers: Three of the Phillies' best players are on the disabled list (Lee, Utley and Howard), and we have no idea when they will be back, and how good they will be when they do return. Considering the recent stellar play of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, I think the Phillies have to be worrying more, and if Lee misses more than five starts they will be lucky to get the second wild card.