Monday, November 29, 2010

Best Players in Their Prime

We introduced the topic of players in their prime this past weekend.  We analyzed 109 position players, younger than 29 at next year's All Star Game, with Major League experience.

In Sunday's Players in Their Prime post, we saw the likes of Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun, and even the Indians' Carlos Santana well represented on a few statistical leaderboards.  Today, let's look at the entire pool of players, strategically ranked by position, with a overall Top 100 countdown as our exciting conclusion...

1st Base
Joey Votto
Miguel Cabrera
The Brewers have the bats,
if they can get the pitching.
Prince Fielder
Billy Butler
Ike Davis
Daric Barton
Mitch Moreland
Brandon Allen
Matt LaPorta
Gaby Sanchez
Justin Smoak
James Loney
Freddie Freeman
Yonder Alonso
Lars Anderson

There is a lot of uncertainty at the first base position, as it gets younger around the league.  Of course, this is one of the positions on the diamond that carries older players.  So, there are still a bunch of very good first basemen in their 30's, and many of them can be expected to be productive for a few more years to come: Pujols, Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez, and so on.

The first base position, alone, could create quite a spirited discussion of who's better/who's best.  From Billy Butler to Mitch Moreland and Brandon Allen to Lars Anderson, this list could be turned upside down by mid April.

2nd Base
If you think Jeter's worth a lot...
Robinson Cano
Dustin Pedroia
Rickie Weeks
Neil Walker
Gordon Beckham
Howie Kendrick
Sean Rodriguez
Blake DeWitt
Eric Young, Jr.
Emmanuel Burriss

We may be a bit late to the Neil Walker bandwagon, but I don't really think so.  I think he's still likely underrated even in Pittsburgh.  He has a nondescript name that sounds too much like Todd Walker for people to naturally expect much upside.

3rd Base
Is that Joe Maddon's bike?
Evan Longoria
David Wright
Ryan Zimmerman
Pablo Sandoval
Pedro Alvarez
Mark Reynolds
Casey McGehee
Ian Stewart
Chris Coghlan
Dayan Viciedo

The top 3 players here, Longoria, Wright, and Zimmerman are fantastic.  Zimm has a case to be listed above David Wright, but his career wOBA and OPS+ paled in comparison to Wright's.  Next season, when we do this list again, Wright will be too old to be considered.

How good, or bad, is Pablo Sandoval?  He famously hit .330 with 25 HR's in '09, with those numbers plummeting to .268/13 this past season.  We're betting on a bounceback, but respect the fact that he could fail to improve his conditioning and become relegated to platoon or pinch hitting duties.

We expect big things from Pedro Alvarez, McGahee, Coghlan, and Stewart are solid, while Mark Reynolds and Dayan Viciedio are higher risk/reward types.

Shortstop
The Cubs' Castro should move up
this list over the next several years.
Hanley Ramirez
Troy Tulowitzki
Jose Reyes
Asdrubal Cabrera
Stephen Drew
Yunel Escobar
Elvis Andrus
Starlin Castro
J.J. Hardy
Ian Desmond

Shortstop and 2nd base continue to look like the weakest hitting positions.  It almost doesn't matter from which perspective we view the middle infield positions.  When looking at available free agents, players in their 20's, etc, these two spots on the diamond are the shallowest.  In this exercise, depending on how you feel about Jose Reyes and Rickie Weeks, there is a big drop in perceived value from the top two at each position, with Cano/Pedroia and Hanley/Tulo tandems.  Each four of these players is the highest rated on his team, among players who are younger than Shin-Soo Choo, of course.  Yesterday, when looking at the Top 10 leaderboards of a few stats, like OPS+, wOBA, and WAR/600 plate appearances, Pedroia and Cano missed the cut each time.

Catcher
It's too early to bet against Wieters.
Joe Mauer
Brian McCann
Buster Posey
Carlos Santana
Geovany Soto
Matt Wieters
Kurt Suzuki
Wilson Ramos
Chris Iannetta
Josh Thole

It's unclear if Josh Thole can be a productive every day catcher, but the rest of this position looks well positioned for the future.

Mauer and McCann are already in the midst of exceptional careers, and the next five guys, from Posey to Ramos, have a chance at being considered pretty special before they're done wearing the tools of ignorance.

Outfield
We choo choo choose you, Shin-Soo!
Ryan Braun
Shin-Soo Choo
Jason Heyward
Carlos Gonzalez
Nick Markakis
Justin Upton
Jay Bruce
Andrew McCutchen
Matt Kemp
Grady Sizemore

I know there are thousands, probably millions, of people who appreciate Shin-Soo Choo.  He was seen as good player in Asia and with two different Major League organizations before distinguishing himself with the Indians.  He was a very good outfielder for the AAA Tacoma Rainiers in the Mariners' organization before getting traded to Cleveland in an awful Bill Bavasi trade for Ben Broussard.  Yikes, that's bad.

And now, the moment we've all been waiting for...

Best Players in Their Primes
100. Chris Carter (Mets) OF
99. Michael Bourn OF
98. Lastings Milledge OF
97. Eric Young, Jr. 2b
96. Michael Saunders OF
95. Blake DeWitt 2b
94. Felix Pie OF
93. Ian Desmond SS
92. Jesus Flores C
91. Cameron Maybin OF
90. Sean Rodriguez 2b
89. Josh Thole C
88. Brett Wallace 1b

The Astros' Wallace is an interesting case.  We're giving him a dose of the benefit of the doubt, as his Major League career performance to date (just 154 plate appearances) have been unimpressive.  He's had a good batting average in the minors, has always been a highly rated prospect, played fine for his age, but struck out a bit too much.  He was traded three times before his Major League debut, but we don't know if that was because other teams wanted him so badly, or because his current team(s) soured on him.

87. J.J. Hardy SS
86. Lars Anderson 1b
85. Yonder Alonso 1b
84. Freddie Freeman 1b

Personally, I'm rooting for Alonso to be the best of this bunch.  More than once, I've suggested the Red Sox let Adrian Beltre leave, slide Youkilis to 3rd, and start Lars Anderson at 1st.  Alas, Boston may not grant the opportunity for Anderson.  Could he be moved in a trade sooner rather than later?

83. Chris Johnson 3b
The A's Carter is the one on the left.
82. Dexter Fowler OF
81. Will Venable OF
80. Kila Ka'aihue DH
79. Starlin Castro SS
78. Chris Iannetta C
77. Domonic Brown OF
76. Wilson Ramos C
75. Chris Carter (A's) OF

Domonic Brown will be charged with the difficult task of replacing Jayson Werth.  Werth has been so outstanding that Phillies fans will probably have to be pleased if he even comes close.  Ramos is playing very well in the Winter Ball and should be given every opportunity to become a leader for the Washington Nationals.  And, we are huuuuge fans of the A's Chris Carter's abstractly indefatigable upside.

74. Jose Tabata OF
73. Chase Headley 3b
72. James Loney 1b
71. Danny Valencia 3b
70. Seth Smith OF
69. Drew Stubbs OF
68. Alex Gordon 3b
67. Austin Jackson OF
66. Howie Kendrick 2b
65. Justin Smoak 1b
64. Desmond Jennings OF
63. Kurt Suzuki C
62. Gordon Beckham 2b
61. Jacoby Ellsbury OF
60. Gaby Sanchez 1b
59. Matt LaPorta 1b
58. Brandon Allen 1b

We clearly think highly of Cleveland's LaPorta and Arizona's Allen, as we show here by placing them ahead of more than a few players who have distinguished themselves at the Major League level.

57. Elvis Andrus SS
56. Adam Jones OF
55. Delmon Young OF
54. Chris B. Young OF

The Diamondback's Chris Young is interesting because his statistics throughout parts of his career were so terrible, that he's at a big disadvantage when comparing himself to his peers.  However, he has shown the ability to do everything well on a baseball field.  Last season, at 26 years old, he had an excellent season.  It would likely behoove us to expect more good things from Young and the D'Backs offense in 2011.  We mentioned we like Brandon Allen, right?

53. Denard Span OF
52. Dayan Viciedo 3b
51. Mitch Moreland 1b
50. Neil Walker 2b
49. Yunel Escobar SS
47. Stephen Drew SS
46. Chris Coghlan 3b
45. Daric Barton 1b
44. Ian Stewart 3b
43. Hunter Pence OF
42. Carlos Quentin OF
41. Casey McGehee 3b
40. Adam Lind OF
39. Brett Gardner OF
38. Mike Stanton OF
37. Mark Reynolds 3b

There is a lot of 3rd basemen and Outfield volatility in the group.  As we enter the top 25 of our countdown, we are really talking about exciting players with tools of speed, power, and/or world class plate discipline and bat control.

32. Colby Rasmus OF
31. B.J. Upton OF
30. Matt Wieters C
29. Geovany Soto C

Colby Rasmus could arguably be a bit higher than this group.  Had he placed ahead of the next player on our list, Sizemore, it would have put him in the Top 10 outfielders.

28. Grady Sizemore OF
27. Jose Reyes SS
26. Ike Davis 1b
25. Rickie Weeks 2b
24. Carlos Santana C

Besides Ike Davis, whom we are very bullish on, the other four players in the above group can only blame injuries for not being in the top 20 or 10 of our overall rankings.

This is one of those instances where I wish I were a better writer.  Wouldn't it be cool if I could write something insightful, enjoyable, or as Neal Page would say "mildly amusing" about each player in our Top 20 or 25?

There is volatility at the elite levels of our player pool.  In fact, each player in our Top 25 has some chance of putting together an MVP caliber season.

23. Matt Kemp OF
22. Andrew McCutchen OF
21. Billy Butler 1b
There are lots of reasons to be excited
about an Upton on the trade block.
20. Jay Bruce OF
19. Justin Upton OF
18. Nick Markakis OF
17. Carlos Gonzalez OF
16. Prince Fielder 1b
15. Buster Posey C
14. Dustin Pedroia 2b
13. Robinson Cano 2b

As we alluded to before, Cano and Pedroia are the highest of the super powered Yankees and Red Sox.  Not only that, the only other players from those clubs listed here are Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Lars Anderson.

12. Ryan Zimmerman 3b
11. Brian McCann C
10. Troy Tulowitzki SS
9. Jason Heyward OF
8. Shin-Soo Choo OF

Throw Albert Pujols into the names below, and we could get started with a mock roto draft.

7. David Wright 3b
6. Ryan Braun OF
5. Evan Longoria 3b
4. Miguel Cabrera 1b
3. Hanley Ramirez SS
2. Joe Mauer C
1. Joey Votto 1b

Honorable mention to: JP Arencibia, Emmanuel Burriss, Jason Castro, Lucas Duda, Alcides Escobar, Jonathan Herrera, Jose Lopez, Fernando Martinez, and super-sleeper Ben Revere.

Special thanks to our friends at Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Think Factory for all statistics and projections.

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