In 2023, Ronald Acuña Jr. put together a season for the ages, blending his combination of power and speed to unprecedented levels, blasting 41 home runs and stealing 73 bases to create the first ever 40-70 club.
Unfortunately for Acuña, and the Atlanta Braves, the fairy tale ride of a season was cut short in October, when Bryce Harper once again led the Philadelphia Phillies past the Braves and eventually all the way into the NLCS for their second-straight deep playoff run.
When looking at the teams in the NL East, star power is everywhere. From Acuña to Harper, to Francisco Lindor on the New York Mets. Some of the game’s best talents are playing in the NL East, and are all looking to post some big numbers again in 2024.
Today we are going to rank the best position players in this division to showcase which team is most-loaded with star power ahead of the upcoming season.
1. Ronald Acuña Jr.
Could we really put anyone else atop this list than the reigning National League MVP?
As previously mentioned, Acuña had a special season in 2024, which saw him lead Major League Baseball (along with Mookie Betts) with his 8.3 fWAR. Acuña hit .337/.416/.596, leading the league in runs scored by a healthy margin at 149.
Acuña set career-highs across the board, driving in 106 runs and finishing the year with a whopping 80 extra-base hits. His 170 wRC+ trailed only Shohei Ohtani.
Having just turned 26 years old last month, Ronald Acuña Jr. is in his absolute prime, set to vie for more MVP titles for years to come.
2. Francisco Lindor
Francisco Lindor doesn’t have the same ability to carry a lineup like others players on this list, but when it comes to an all-around talent, few are better.
Since Lindor entered the league back in 2015, there have only been two players more valuable than him when it comes to Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement. Mookie Betts and Mike Trout.
Lindor has posted an fWAR of at least 4.0 in every season of his career, and has eclipsed six wins in each of the last two seasons. The only other players who eclipsed an fWAR of at least 6.0 in 2022 and 2023 were Betts and Freddie Freeman.
A lot of Lindor’s value comes from his work at shortstop, where he leads all fielders in Major League Baseball with 93 OAA since 2018. Second-best on that list is Nolan Arenado at 67 OAA.
While he is more known for his defense, Lindor has still posted a wRC+ over 120 in each of the last two years, and has driven in 205 runs across that span. Although it pales in comparison to Ronald Acuña Jr.’s 40-70 club, Lindor joined the 30-30 club for the first time last year.
3. Bryce Harper
When the lights are the brightest in October, there may not be a better player in baseball than Bryce Harper. Over the past two postseason runs, Harper has become a legend in Philadelphia, Although his first World Series title still eludes him.
While winning it all is the main prize, Harper still has a big regular season ahead of him as he makes the full-time transition to first base. This is a new era for Harper, with the Phillies hoping to keep the face of their franchise healthy and in the middle of their lineup for years to come.
Despite returning to the Phillies a mere 160 days removed from Tommy John surgery, Harper still turned in a fantastic season in 2023. He hit .293/.401/.499, with 21 home runs, 72 RBIs and a 142 wRC+ in 126 games played.
Still very athletic at 31 years old, Harper has the chance to become an above-average first baseman this year with more reps at the position. If he can provide value with the glove and stays in the box for 150+ games, there is every chance that Harper could have another MVP-year in the tank.
4. Matt Olson
Typically when you lead Major League Baseball in both home runs and RBIs, there is a pretty good chance that you can take home the MVP award.
Unfortunately for Matt Olson, the National League was loaded last year with his teammate Ronald Acuña Jr. winning the award and Dodgers teammates Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman rounding out the podium in second and third respectively.
Olson finished fourth in the MVP race, but at least took home his first career Silver Slugger for his efforts. The left-handed slugger hit .283/.389/.604, with 54 home runs and 139 runs driven in.
Dating back to 2019, there is only one player in MLB who has hit more home runs and has driven in more runs than Matt Olson. We would tell you who that league-leader is now, but he is going to appear just a few slots down on this list.
5. Austin Riley
Coming in at No. 5, we have Austin Riley. For those counting at home, this gives the Braves three of the top five players in this division.
While you could make an argument for each of the next two guys on this list to have cracked the top-five instead, I could not ignore the consistency of Riley. Here’s a guy who plays every single day, who always hits for a high average and has cleared 30 home runs in each of the last three seasons.
Since 2021, Riley has hit .286/.354/.525, with a 135 wRC+. You can pretty much pencil him in for 35 home runs, with over 90 runs driven in and an fWAR of at least 5.0 each season.
A shaky defender when he first entered the league, Riley has improved year-over-year and is quietly one of the better defenders at the hot corner. Over the last three seasons, Riley’s 28 Defensive Runs Saved is the third-best mark among third basemen.
6. Pete Alonso
I told you we would get back to that league leader in the run production department.
Since 2019, Pete Alonso leads all hitters with 192 home runs and 498 runs batted in. An argument can be made that Alonso endured a career-worst season in 2023, and yet he still managed to hit 46 home runs and drive in 118 runs.
People can knock the defense, although it has steadily improved (6 DRS, 0 OAA in 2023), but what you can’t poke a hole in is Alonso’s ability to put runs on the board. His career-low for a full season is 37 home runs and 94 RBIs back in 2021. In every other season he has cleared at least 40 and 100.
This will be a big season for the 29-year-old, as Alonso is set to hit free agency following the 2024 season. Expect some gaudy numbers in a contract year for the Mets popular “Polar Bear”.
7. Trea Turner
Coming into last season, Trea Turner would have ranked much higher on this list, and there is every chance that ranking him at No. 7 is way too low.
Prior to last season, Turner put up two six-win seasons and he showcased that ability again down the stretch after he got comfortable playing in Philly. Across the final two months of the season, Turner hit .317/.371/.629, with 16 home runs and a 165 wRC+ in 51 games played. His 2.8 fWAR during that span carried him to a respectable 3.8 fWAR for the season.
Put everything together and Turner had a 108 wRC+ last year, which is by far the lowest mark of anyone mentioned on this list thus far. Everyone else finished 2023 with a wRC+ of at least 120.
Still, the counting stats were there for Turner, who hit 26 home runs, scored 102 runs and stole 30 bases. At 30 years old, Turner is still one of the most athletic players in the game, with every chance to have a full bounce back to being one of the top performers in this division.
One other place we can dock Turner however is his defense, as he posted -12 DRS and -4 OAA in 2023.
8. Brandon Nimmo
Do you want to hear a mind-blowing stat about Brandon Nimmo that will explain just how criminally underrated he is when being compared to the best hitters in the game?
Nimmo has a career 133 wRC+. A stat that measures hitters on a league average of 100, and Nimmo is over 33% percent better. But that is not the mind-blowing part.
Across the past seven seasons, Nimmo has finished the year with a wRC+ of at least 130 on five separate occasions. The only other hitter in the entire National League East who can say that other than Nimmo is Bryce Harper.
Now there are some small sample sizes with Nimmo due to the COVID-shortened 2020 season, where he posted a career-best 149 wRC+, and there’s a 2021 season where he was limited to 92 games played due to injury.
Still, Nimmo has always been productive whenever he’s in the box and he has stayed healthy in each of the last two seasons, posting an fWAR of 9.5 across that span. One thing to monitor with Nimmo moving forward is if he can continue to tap into his power.
The soon-to-be 31-year-old hit 24 home runs last year, marking a career-high. If he can replicate that moving forward, and continue to maintain his strong on-base numbers, Nimmo will remain one of the most productive players in this division for years to come.
9. Kyle Schwarber
It is only fitting to go from a wRC+ darling like Brandon Nimmo, and immediately follow it up with a man that defies all advanced statistic in Kyle Schwarber.
I don’t care about what Fangraphs tells me about Schwarber’s “wins above replacement” or his “weighted runs created plus”. Sometimes we can get some paralysis by analysis when it comes to a player like Schwarber, where we try to talk ourselves out of them being a great player.
But let me ask you this question. How many players in all of Major League Baseball have hit over 90 home runs in the past two seasons? The answer, is two. Aaron Judge and Kyle Schwarber.
Olson and Alonso are third and fourth on that list in the high 80s, but Schwarber is leading the pack in the NL East by a wide margin at 93 tanks. He’s not quite the run producer as those guys, falling behind a bit in RBIs, but Schwarber does his thing and does it really well.
The absolute embodiment of a three-true-outcome hitter, Schwarber doesn’t have to hit over the Mendoza line to be a star for the Phillies. He walks a ton to get on-base and he hits the ball over the fence. It is no coincidence that Philly has seen such great success in his two years with the club.
10. Michael Harris II
There are exactly four different second basemen in this division who could have the argument to grab the 10th spot on my list. We will get to that group in a minute when we review our honorable mentions.
Instead of picking who was the best second baseman of the bunch, my cop out choice was to take Michael Harris II and circumvent that position altogether by grabbing a center fielder.
Harris is just scratching the surface of what he can become in his big league career, as he will turn 23 years old in March. Harris won the NL Rookie of the Year in 2022, but endured a bit of a sophomore slump in the first half of 2023.
The lefty completely flipped the script in the second half though, hitting .325/.356/.522 to raise his season average to over .290 for the second year in a row. He was one home run away from the 20-20 club in 2022, and then was two home runs shy in 2023.
There is every chance that Harris can tap into more home runs and stolen bases as he continues to grow, but a floor of being a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder, who can go 20-20 is absolutely a star player in this division.
Honorable Mentions: Nearly All the NL East Second Basemen
With all due respect to Luis Garcia, every second baseman in this division outside of Washington could have been considered for this list.
Luis Arraez was the second baseman I most considered at that No. 10 spot, just to get a Miami Marlin on this list, but it was hard to justify including him instead of second basemen like Ozzie Albies, Jeff McNeil or Bryson Stott, when they are are all more well-rounded players.
Arraez is pretty one-dimension as a player. He hits for an extremely high average, having won a batting title in each of the last two seasons. His career average of .326 is very high and when you watch him play every day, that impact in your lineup is felt.
The problem however is that he is not great defensively and provides very little power compared to someone like Albies, who hit 33 home runs and drove in 109 runs last season. Albies was the only second basemen in this division to post an fWAR of at least 4.0 last season.
Meanwhile Stott fell just short of a 4.0 fWAR, settling in at 3.9 after hitting 15 home runs and stealing 31 bases in his sophomore season. Stott is probably the best defensive second basemen in this division, and has enough juice in his bat to continue to improve.
Still, putting Stott on this list would have been projecting forward, when Michael Harris II has done far more in his first two seasons.
Last we have Jeff McNeil, who has been a bit inconsistent in recent years, but has shown a higher ceiling than any of these second basemen. In 2022, McNeil won a batting title and nearly finished with a six-win season, posting a 5.7 fWAR.
The National League East is filled with star talent right now, particularly when you look at the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets.
Atlanta led the pack with four of our top 10 players in this division, which fairly represents their standing as the six-time defending NL East champs. The quartet of Acuña, Olson, Riley and Harris is among the best in baseball, particularly when you factor in Albies, and even catcher Sean Murphy.
Behind the Braves, the Phillies and Mets each have a trio of star players who are capable of leading their teams on a run this year. In Philly, we have seen what Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber can do over the last two years. If Trea Turner returns to pre-2023 form, the Phillies top trio will be tough to beat.
Meanwhile the Mets are coming off a down-year and look to have taken a real step back in this division. Yet we can’t forget that they won 101 games back in 2022 thanks in large part to the contributions of Lindor, Alonso, Nimmo and McNeil.
The Braves will probably win this division for a seventh-straight year, but the race to get there is sure to be a fun one with all of the talent that exists in the National League East.