Posted: Monday October 1, 2012 5:14PM ; Updated: Tuesday October 2, 2012 6:09PM
Joe Lemire
Joe Lemire>MLB POWER RANKINGS

Unsung heroes and a new team on top highlight final rankings

Story Highlights

Cincinnati, the NL Central champions, is No. 1 for the first time this season

The Rangers spent most of the season on top but fell to No. 3 this week

The Nationals move up to No. 2 while the Braves and Giants stay at four and five

The end of the regular season means MVP and Cy Young ballots are due this week, but for the third straight year the final edition of SI.com's MLB Power Rankings will be taking a different approach during this awards season by naming each club's unsung hero -- someone whose value to his club this year has been underrated in some way.

The unsung heroes of Power Rankings are the regularly used statistical resources available at Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs.com, BillJamesOnline.com and STATSPASS.com, not to mention the tireless and helpful efforts of our editor, Ted Keith.

Forgive my award-season thank-you speech and now back to the Power Rankings: The Tigers were the week's biggest gainer (14th to 10th), the Brewers suffered the biggest decline (8th to 15th) and the Rays -- owners of the AL's best run differential at +116 -- are the hard-luck club who couldn't translate that success into enough wins. They are ranked 9th ahead of a couple of likely playoff-bound teams but probably won't be joining the October fun.

At the top the three best teams -- Reds, Nationals and Rangers -- are essentially a "pick 'em" as the playoffs draw near, but Cincinnati gets the nominal nod as the season's final No. 1 because of its run prevention. Yes, the same Reds who play half their games in the bandbox that is Great American Ballpark have allowed the second-fewest runs in the majors this year.

NOTES: All stats are updated through Sunday, Sept. 30.

MLB Power Rankings
1Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 2
Unsung Hero: Jose Arredondo, RHP
Aroldis Chapman gets the hype. Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton get the remaining holds and saves. But Arredondo has been a critical piece in Cincinnati's bullpen, with a 3.00 ERA in 60 innings with 60 strikeouts, and on a roster depleted of lefthanded pitchers, his splits against lefty batters (.167 average against) make him valuable. He has opposed more lefties this season than either lefty reliever, Chapman or Marshall.
 
2Washington Nationals
Last Week: 3
Unsung Hero: Craig Stammen, RHP
The Nationals have a bullpen ERA that's top-five in the NL at 3.25, and the man most responsible for that figure is Stammen, whose 2.40 ERA and 86 1/3 relief innings both rank first on the team. Pitching in front of Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, Stammen had a 1.63 ERA in the seventh inning, where he logged 32 percent of his work. He also had length, making 27 appearances of at least two innings.
 
3Texas Rangers
Last Week: 1
Unsung Hero: David Murphy, OF
Gone unnoticed in many quarters is that, amidst the robust Rangers offense, their hitter with the best on-base skills is Murphy, whose .382 on-base percentage leads the team and ranks sixth in the AL. He's batting .306 with 15 homers and 10 steals while playing above-average leftfield defense; he's saved eight runs saved in 2012, which ranks fourth in the league.
 
4Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 4
Unsung Hero: David Ross, C
Ross is the club's perennially unsung hero. Starter Brian McCann has said Ross could be a regular for many other clubs. This year Ross' value has been amplified given McCann's struggles, as the righty Ross has put together a .254/.321/.451batting line in 193 plate appearances and nine homers -- the latter two stats are both personal bests in his four seasons with the Braves.
 
5San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 5
Unsung Hero: Marco Scutaro, 2B
Since acquiring Scutaro from Colorado, San Francisco is 37-19 in games he has started, and with his new team Scutaro has a .361/.382/.472 batting line with 15 doubles and 41RBIs. That's a hefty improvement over the .637 OPS of Ryan Theriot and the .502 OPS of Emmanuel Burriss when they manned second base. In fact, since his July 28 trade, Scutaro's .361 average is second in the majors only to teammate Buster Posey, and those 41 RBIs are as many as Albert Pujols.
 
6New York Yankees
Last Week: 6
Unsung Hero: The DH amalgamation
The Yankees have started 15 different players as their DH, and manager Joe Girardi has concocted the AL's best DH production with his mixing-and-matching. Overall, those players have a league-leading .852 OPS, along with 28 homers and 91 runs scored. Andruw Jones, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez and Alex Rodriguez each has an OPS greater than .850 while logging at least nine starts in that lineup slot.
 
7Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 7
Unsung Hero: Chris Davis, 1B/OF
Davis recaptured the combination of power and plate discipline he showed as a Rangers rookie in 2008. This year with the Orioles he has a .272/.328/.496 batting line with 31 homers. He has walked on 6.6 percent of all plate appearances, which is below the ideal for a power hitter but his best season rate in the four years he's had at least 140 plate appearances. Davis has also been adequate in the field, despite being asked to play a multitude of positions, with a Plus/Minus of 0 at first base and -4, combined, at the two corner outfield spots.
 
8Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 9
Unsung Hero: Tommy Milone, LHP
After his final regular season start Sunday, Milone told reporters in Oakland that he had achieved all of his goals for the season: make big league team, stay with the team all year, have a sub-4.00 ERA and earn at least 10 wins, all of which were boxes he checked. The lefthanded rookie Milone was the sole survivor of Oakland's rotation from start to finish this season, making 31 starts and going 13-10 with a 3.74 ERA and a 3.81 K/BB that ranks sixth in the AL.
 
9Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 12
Unsung Hero: Jeff Keppinger, Inf.
Keppinger was the Rays' Opening Day DH and cleanup hitter and their second baseman batting seventh the next day, foreshadowing his varied roles. Evan Longoria's injury opened daily playing time at third, until Keppinger had a foot injury that sidelined him for 29 games. When he returned on June 23, he went 5-for-5 and has batted .338/.383/.459 in 84 games since as an everyday player. His .377 average against lefty pitchers leads the AL, among players with 400 total PAs.
 
10Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 14
Unsung Hero: Prince Fielder, 1B
Maybe no one with a $200 million contract should be considered "unsung," but the fervor of the recent AL MVP debate surrounding Miguel Cabrera has almost been enough to make you forget the monster year his corner-infield counterpart is having. Fielder is the only qualified AL player above the .300/.400/.500 thresholds. He's played in each of the Tigers' 159 games this season, and his 30th home run on Sunday was an eighth-inning game-winner as Detroit clinched at least tie in AL Central.
 
11St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 11
Unsung Hero: Matt Carpenter, Util.
Primarily a corner specialist -- both infield and outfield -- Carpenter has also logged 18 innings at second base for a total of five positions at which he has started. While the ideal players for the corner spots are often big sluggers, Carpenter has proven his worth despite just six homers because he has gap power, with 22 doubles, and on-base skills, with a .295/.366/.832 batting line in 112 games for a 126 OPS+.
 
12Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 10
Unsung Hero: Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH
The Angels had no idea what to expect from Morales in his return from a broken leg, but he's had a solid overall season (.273/.322/.470 with 22 homers in 131 games) with a fantastic finish. Since Aug. 2 his .890 OPS has led the Angels and his 11 homers are one behind Mike Trout. Morales, a switch-hitter, provides necessary lefthanded pop for an L.A. team that lacks it. He's contributed more than half of the team's homers from that side of the plate.
 
13Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 15
Unsung Hero: A.J. Ellis, C
"Showing up is 80 percent of life," Woody Allen once quipped, and Ellis has now caught 129 of the Dodgers' games. That's fourth-most in the majors and means he'll have cleared the 80 percent threshold by season's end. A catcher who can log that many innings while producing at a high level offensively -- 12 homers and 62 walks for a .369 OBP -- is incredibly valuable.
 
14Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 13
Unsung Hero: Robin Ventura, manager
The Orioles' Buck Showalter and the Athletics' Bob Melvin have gotten the majority of the attention for AL Manager of the Year consideration. Lest we forget, White Sox GM Kenny Williams allowed Mark Buehrle to leave, traded closer Sergio Santos and invoked the word "rebuilding" this winter. Ventura stepped in with no managerial experience and has kept the Sox in the AL Central race until the final series of the season despite enduring an injury to Opening Day starter John Danks and uncertainty in the back of the bullpen.
 
15Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 8
Unsung Hero: Marco Estrada, RHP
When Chris Narveson went down with a rotator cuff injury three weeks into the season, Estrada more than replaced his teammate. Save for his own DL stint due to a quad strain, Estrada pitched very well for a surprising Brewers rotation. He was only 5-7 due to middling run support but had a 3.64 ERA in 138 1/3 innings and led the staff with a 9.3 K/9 and 4.93 K/BB, as Milwaukee is within 26 strikeouts of tying the single-season major league record of 1,404, set by the 2003 Cubs.
 
16Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 16
Unsung Hero: Brad Ziegler, RHP
There are 29 pitchers who have induced at least 20 double plays this season, and Ziegler is the only relief pitcher on that list. In fact, no other reliever has gotten more than 12 GIDPs this season. Ziegler has gotten GIDPs in 29.4 percent of possible situations, which leads all pitchers with at least 30 innings. He's allowed just two homers in 66 2/3 innings, and righthanded batters have only a .504 OPS against him.
 
17Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 17
Unsung Hero: Juan Pierre, LF
Pierre may have been the best pure value in free agency this year. The veteran signed for just $800,000 yet batted .310 with a very good .354 OBP in 390 at bats this year, not to mention stealing 37 bases in 44 tries. His production in leftfield was especially valuable after the trades of Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino and helped the Phillies catch fire in the second half, as they entered the periphery of the playoff picture.
 
18San Diego Padres
Last Week: 19
Unsung Hero: Clayton Richard, LHP
Sure, he's the de facto ace, but for a club with a major-league-high 26 pitchers who logged at least 10 innings, there's great value in taking the ball every fifth day and getting length in games. Richard and Edinson Volquez are the only two Padres to make more than 15 starts and to throw more than 100 innings, but Richard gave quality (3.91 ERA) and quantity (211 2/3 innings, 33 more than Volquez).
 
19Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 18
Unsung Hero: Salvador Perez, C
In the minors Perez had a .287 career average and .726 OPS, numbers he has blown past in the majors. In his first 113 big league games he has a .312 average and .813 OPS with 14 home runs, and he's an even better defensive catcher. Surrounded by elite prospects in a deep Royals farm system the past few years -- Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, et al. -- Perez has more than held his own in the majors and is an outstanding defensive catcher. His five-year, $7 million contract might be the best value in baseball, argues SB Nation.
 
20Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 20
Unsung Hero: John Jaso, C
Jaso appears to be proof that hitting isn't contagious, though perhaps he can still lead by example. The Mariners, for a second straight season, have a team OBP below .300, when the major league average is .319, a level only topped by Jaso, who has an exemplary .393 this season in 352 plate appearances. Jaso isn't just a walk machine, either, with 18 doubles and 10 homers to his name for a .456 slugging percentage that also leads the team.
 
21New York Mets
Last Week: 22
Unsung Hero: Ike Davis, 1B
Yes, he has hit 31 home runs but that .225 and OBP barely above .300 tarnish a really remarkable year. His overall numbers were depressed by his July 3 average of .199, as he was returning from a major ankle injury and from a spring illness that might have been valley fever, but he was the Mets' best hitter, by far, in the season's second half. He had a post-All-Star break OPS of .873 that beats all regularly playing teammates by 100 points.
 
22Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 21
Unsung Hero: Tony Watson, LHP
Watson's personal numbers are fine (3.44 ERA) but his impact on his teammates was profound. In his 67 appearances inherited 61 runners on base -- second-most in the league -- but allowed only 11 to score, for a strand percentage of 82.0 that ranks eighth in the NL. With runners in scoring position, Watson held opposing hitters to a .167/.230/.333 batting line.
 
23Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 25
Unsung Hero: Dwayne Murphy, hitting coach
In 2010 when previous journeyman Jose Bautista burst out with a league-leading 54 homers, he was 29 years old, which is the same age Edwin Encarnacion is now for his breakout season. Encarnacion had a more impressive track record than Bautista prior to their breakthrough seasons, but nothing that predicted his 42 home runs and .941 OPS this year. One common link between the two is Murphy, the hitting coach who has helped Bautista and Encarnacion unlock their power.
 
24Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 23
Unsung Hero: Franklin Morales, LHP
While many fans would probably say the season's end was its most endearing quality, there were a few scattered bright spots, led by Morales demonstrating his ability to start or relieve with a 4.14 ERA in nine starts and a 3.23 ERA in 28 relief outings. Two of his four September starts were total clunkers, but in June and July he was pressed into the rotation and showed consistency. He dominates lefties (.490 OPS against) and is decent enough against righties (.788 OPS against) to full either role.
 
25Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 24
Unsung Hero: Jared Burton, RHP
Burton, who threw only eight innings in the previous two seasons combined, has been the Twins' best reliever this season, with a 2.21 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 3.53 K/BB and 17 holds in 61 innings. He usually enters games to start an inning, but what few runners he's inherited have typically been stranded -- only one of 13 has scored.
 
26Miami Marlins
Last Week: 26
Unsung Hero: Justin Ruggiano, CF
Centerfield has been a position of need for the Marlins for years. Emilio Bonifacio finally appeared to be the answer, but he missed 46 games from mid-May to mid-July and had his season end in August. Cue Ruggiano, the 30-year-old acquired from the Astros for a minor-leaguer in May. Only 18 players with at least 300 plate appearances have an OPS above .900, making Ruggiano's .909 in 320 PAs seem awfully impressive, not to mention his +13 Plus/Minus defense in centerfield.
 
27Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 28
Unsung Hero: Michael Brantley, CF
The Indians have caught some heat recently for having nothing to show for their trades of starters CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee a few years back, but that isn't entirely true. Yes, of course the Indians should have gotten much, much more in return than they did, but Brantley, who was part of the deal that sent Sabathia to the Brewers in July 2008, has become a solid everyday centerfielder. His .288/.347/.403 batting line is similar to the .265/.330/.417 major league average in center; Brantley's 37 doubles are tied for 10th in the AL.
 
28Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 27
Unsung Hero: David DeJesus, OF
The lefthanded hitting outfielder has provided a steadying influence atop the Cubs' lineup -- his .359 OBP when batting first ranks fifth in the NL and he has taken 82 percent of all first pitches, a low rate ahead of a lineup with several eager swingers. DeJesus should run less (seven steals in 15 attempts), but he's a good defensive outfielder, with a +9 in rightfield, according to the Fielding Bible's Plus/Minus.
 
29Houston Astros
Last Week: 29
Unsung Hero: Astros fans
Let's be honest, this was a team that was hard to watch, so the fans who showed up or tuned in regularly deserve credit. It'll be a slow, laborious process, but the Astros are in good hands with general manager Jeff Luhnow running the show and overhauling the organization. It'll take a few more years at least, but they are moving in the right direction.
 
30Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 30
Unsung Hero: Innovation
Plagued by a starting rotation allowing escalating amounts of production, the Rockies implemented Project 5,183, so named for Coors Field's elevation, in which four starts would alternate throwing up to 75 pitches each game and be followed by a "piggyback" reliever who served as the bridge to the back of the bullpen. It didn't appreciably work -- under the traditional plan starters had a 6.28 ERA and .319 average against and a 5.57 ERA and .293 average against under the new plan -- but at least Colorado was willing to experiment in an effort to improve a previously untenable situation.

 
SI.com
Hot Topics: NBA Playoffs NHL Playoffs Chris Johnson Jameis Winston NFL Draft Michael Sam Aldon Smith
TM & © 2014 Time Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines, your California privacy rights, and ad choices.
SI CoverRead All ArticlesBuy Cover Reprint