A good way to do player comments would be, well, anything other than this. Ideally, I would go from 1 to 200 and comment on each player. But you know what? There are players that I am more interested in saying why they aren't in the Top 200 than I am in talking about why guys like Willie Mays or Babe Ruth belong where they do. Plus, there are some guys who I have commented on the past whom I felt like including, who have absolutely no connection to, or possibility of getting into, the Top 200.
So, I decided to just start commenting. That is what this represents. I took the liberty of alphabetizing them so you could have some starting point.
I will continue to update as we go.
Bobby Abreu is similar to Brian Giles, only he steals bases and doesnt hit for as much power. Abreu has the potential to become a member of the 300-300 club he currently stands at 198-253 and finish his career as a member of the 3-4-5 club, a club he is currently in. Assuming Barry Bonds doesn't get his average back over .300, Abreu would be the only person ever to accomplish both feats.
Despite Abreu's homer totals he has gone 20-20 seven times and 30-30 twice and his record setting performance in the homerun contest a few years back, Abreu is not a slugger. He has never finished in the top ten in dingers or slugging percentage. His .512 is currently the 30th active total. Nevertheless, Bobby does truly do it all. He hits, steals, walks, homers, strikes out, and has a good glove. He is very good at many things, but is not the best in the league at anything.
As an interesting aside, Bobby Abreu may also be the best underrated player of all time. Unlike many underrated players, like Vlad and Carlos Beltran, Abreu manages to remain underrated year in and year out. This isn't just "oh I didn't think of him" overratedness, this is looking at the stats and still not seeing anything special overratedness. Amazing.
For some odd reason, whether Jeff Bagwell will be a first ballot Hall of Famer seems to be in some doubt. I am not being sarcastic I really don't know why. This is a guy who has just had an incredible career as the Houston Astros' first baseman. Up until the last couple of years of his career, he was a career 3-4-5er. His OPS stands at 948, which is good for 25th all time, and his on-base percentage and slugging percentage are both in the top 50 all time. He has 449 homeruns and 1529 RBI 400 homers and 1500 RBI are essentially Hall of Fame lock stats, even in this era. He also has scored 1517 runs, which is pretty good for a first baseman.
What's more, Bagwell did almost all of this by the age of 36. He did in just 14 full seasons what most players take 18-20 years to do. But forget career accomplishments let's look at single season accomplishments. In 2000, he scored 152 runs, which is more than anyone had scored since 1936 64 years! He went 30-30 twice, and he is a first baseman. He hit 30 or more homers 9 times, and 40 or more three times. His best year was the year the league went on strike and he only played 110 games, yet managed to hit 39 dingers with 116 RBI and 104 runs.
Jeff Bagwell was a run producing machine during his time in Houston, and he was also a fantastic defensive first baseman despite his shoulder problems which set in later in his career. Amongst first basemen, Bagwell was inarguably better than McGwire, Murray, Palmeiro, McCovey, Killebrew, and Thome, to name a few. Bagwell is a no brainer first ballot Hall of Famer, and anyone who doesn't see that is silly.
Carlos Beltran/Adrian Beltre
Plenty has been said about whether Barry Bonds is better than Babe Ruth, and why he is not. Fact is, he isn't, and he isn't better than Ted Williams or Ty Cobb either. Nevertheless, Barry Bonds has been more dominant during his career than any National League player since Stan Musial in the 1940s, and more dominant than any player in either league since Mickey Mantle in the 1950s.
Despite his inferior average, Bonds has been more valuable over his career than Musial. Mantle was similar to Bonds, and may have been a better pure player, but wasn't as durable as Bonds. Mays and Bonds are similar in terms of fielding ability and power/speed abilities, but Bonds is a better slugger and better at getting on base than Mays.
Ruth, Cobb, Williams, Gehrig, and Hornsby were all better, more dominant players than Bonds. I can't really see that anyone else was, though.
More on Bonds vs. Ruth
More on Bonds
Bonds and Roids
Jose Canseco admitted using steroids. He had one of the biggest egos of them all, and stories about what a jerk he was come from fellow teammates, coaches, reporters, and even bat boys. Canseco was a clown who couldn't field, who once lost two-thirds of a season because of an injury sustained while pitching, and who played 150 or more games only five times in 17 seasons. When the Anaheim Angels cut him when he was trying to make a comeback in spring training, Canseco blamed the organization despite the fact that Canseco demanded to be treated like a superstar even though he was trying a comeback. He once failed to make the Los Angeles Dodgers at an open tryout.
Rod Carew stands out as a fantastically gifted, yet not particularly valuable, player. Carew's record as a hitter certainly impresses - .328 average (over a league average of .260), .393 on-base percentage, 3,000 hits, and seven batting titles. His relative OPS is 131, which is merely solid for a homerun hitter but downright spectacular for a guy with 92 dingers in almost 2500 games by comparison, Sammy Sosa had almost 600 homers, and his relative OPS was 129.
Carew's career, like Ernie Banks', seems more impressive because he played a middle infield position, but in reality he played most games at first base than he did at second. He was never particularly well regarded as a second baseman, and became a permanent first baseman when he was 30. This is unfortunate, as there were not a ton of second basemen more valuable than he was, but there were a ton of first basemen who were. Despite his speed, Carew hit into over 200 double plays in his career, and his stolen base percentage is lousy (353/187).
I like to think of Rod Carew as similar to Tony Gwynn they are essentially the same player in fact. They were both excellent hitters who derived most of their value from their batting average.
Ty Cobb was the best player in baseball until Babe Ruth, and if not for the Babe, Cobb would still be the best player in baseball history. Cobb was dominant in batting average and on-base percentage, leading the league in each for many times. But what a lot of people never seem to realize about Ty Cobb is that, by deadball era standards, he was also an elite "slugger." Cobb led the league in slugging percentage eight times, and led the league in OPS ten times. He finished in the top ten in homeruns eleven times, and he is the second all time leader in triples and fourth all time in doubles.
Despite hitting only 117 homeruns, Cobb ranks tenth all time in adjusted OPS and 29th all time actual OPS. Of the 28 players ahead of Cobb on the all time OPS list, Cobb has, far and away, the lowest homerun/at-bat ratio of all time.
At the age of 34, Carlos Delgado will probably hit his 400th homerun. This means he has a very good chance of hitting number 500 before he retires. His .393 on-base percentage is 16th among active players, and he is 24th all time in OPS. Delgado is a curious example of a 1990s era player without ever having a season in which he dominated his league, Delgado ranks among the all time leaders in rate categories, and will one stand beside Mantle and Williams and Banks in terms of homeruns hit.
It would be tempting to skip Delgado to the Top 100, but there are a lot of good first basemen out there, and Delgado is a prime example of why players from this era have a higher standard to achieve.
In the most impressive aspect of Carlos Delgado's game may be his .393 on-base percentage. Unfortunately for Carlos Delgado, he compares better against the history of baseball than he does against his own era. He is a very good defensive first baseman who has been prevented from winning the Gold Glove by better defenders. He is a slugging first baseman who has never won a home run title and only finished in the top five amongst homerun hitters twice. He has an OPS over .950, but has only won one OPS title. He has led the league in doubles once, and RBI once. Of the first basemen that I have ranked ahead of him, over half of them are Delgado's contemporaries Thomas, Bagwell, McGwire, Thome, Murray, Palmeiro, and McGriff. And that does not include Giambi or Helton, both of whom have better numbers but have not convinced me that their records are valid enough to be considered yet.
Delgado is 34 this year, which probably means he has six years left to separate himself from the other first baseman amongst whom he is ranked in order to squeak himself into the Top 100.
A second baseman, Bobby Doerr finished with 223 homers, 1247 RBI, 1084 runs, and over 2000 hits. This despite the fact that he missed 1945 due to World War II, and he retired earlier than he would have due to injury from the war. Had he not missed the year to the war, and put up a couple more years at the end of his career, he may have hit 300 homeruns.
Jim Edmonds number one commodity is of course his centerfield defense. Despite his critics and detractors, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak Edmonds rarely commits an error, usually has around ten outfield assists, and makes fantastic plays. The Fielding Bible muddies the water a little, showing that Edmonds is way below average in terms of getting to balls he would be expected to get to over the last three years, but also shows that Edmonds is among the tops in the league in terms of limiting the number of extra bases opposing base runners take from him.
What Edmonds interesting is his offensive numbers Edmonds is a career .291 hitter with over 300 homeruns and over 1000 RBI. His OPS numbers compare well with several Top 200 players Darryl Strawberry, Norm Cash, Will and Jack Clark, and Duke Snider. Somehow, Edmonds just seems like a paper tiger, but it is hard to argue with his numbers.
Jim Edmonds seems every bit as good as Wally Berger, except he has played longer. Edmonds' numbers compare well head on with Duke Snider, except Duke Snider was one of the top offensive players in the league at his time, while Edmonds has not been Snider finished in the top five in homeruns and RBI four years in a row, led the league in runs three years in a row, and in OPS twice. Edmonds has never led the league in a single relevant offensive category, and has finished in the top in homers once and RBI never
On the steroids issue, I am suspicious of all active power hitters generally. I won't get into the specifics of the issue, because this isn't the place for that, but from what I have seen, there is certainly enough circumstantial evidence and anecdotal examples to support the idea that most contemporary players face a minimum of suspicion, whatever that minimum may be. Obviously, this level of suspicion is flatly higher for players who have admitted or have been busted using steroid Canseco, Caminiti, Bonds, Giambi, Palmeiro. Truth is, I have probably treated Giambi unfairly here, because his numbers alone probably merit his inclusion in the Top 200, but I feel very uncertain about him, so I would like a year or two to go by to allow for some reflection and hindsight.
Brian Giles is the most underrated player in baseball today. He was underrated in Cleveland because Cleveland had so many players in the late 1990s when Giles came up. He was underrated in Pittsburgh because no one outside of Pittsburgh knew who he was. He is underrated in San Diego because he no longer puts up the flashy numbers, but he is still fantastic. Unfortunately, Giles really wasn't an everyday player until he was 28 years old, which means at 34 he is starting to slow down and hasn't really made a dent in any career milestones. Up until recently he was a 3-4-5-er, but he has lost the average. If he can joined up with Billy Beane late in his career, Giles could play until he is 42 or 43.
Giles could crack the Top 100 is he has a few more seasons left in him.
Juan Gonzalez gives me pause because of the way his career has gone from 2002 until the present. In 2001, at the age of 31, JuanGone played only 140 games, but hit 35 homers and 140 RBIs. His OPS was 960, which complemented his .325 batting average. He was simply fantastic, and he has played like an old man ever since. The next year, he was hurt and missed most of the year. In 2003, he had 24 homeruns and 70 RBI in 82 games before getting hurt, and he hasn't been a legitimate player since then.
Gonzalez essentially played from the age of 21 to the age of 31. In what basically amounts to about 12 years of baseball, Gonzalez hit 434 homeruns, 1404 RBI, and scored 1061 runs. His OPS was never something to look at, because he never got on base much, but his career average was .295, and his career slugging percentage is good for 21st all time. He won two MVP awards, and was one of the two best RBI men of the 1990s, Manny Ramirez being the other.
Juan was a mammoth slugger who played with Palmeiro and Canseco and Ivan Rodriguez and is therefore linked, perhaps unfairly, to the steroid scandal. But unlike Sammy Sosa, Juan Gonzalez emerge over night as one of the league's premiere power hitters he was a goliath from Day One.
I also have Hank Greenberg ahead of McGwire. Greenberg is one of the more complicated players in baseball history to get a handle on (Frank Baker and Arky Vaughan also fall into this category). Greenberg debuted in 1930, the greatest offensive season in Major League history, and played one game, batted once, didn't get a hit, and did not return to the majors for three years. In 1933, he was a rookie with the Tigers, playing 117 games and hitting .301. For the remainder of the 1930s, except 1936 when he was limited to 12 games, Greenberg was a dominant player in the American League. In 1935, he had 203 hits and 170 RBIs. In 1937, he had 200 hits, 137 runs, 183 RBIs, and 14 triples. In 1938, he hit 58 homeruns, 146 RBIs, and scored 144 runs, though his days of 200 hits were over. He continued to dominate the league through 1940, when he won his second MVP.
Then 1941 came, and Hank went to war. He was 30 years old, and he missed all but 19 games while in service. Where most players who went to war missed two or three years to service, Greenber missed three complete seasons, 1942-1944, in addition to most of 1941 and over half of 1945. Greenberg left as a 30 year old who dominated the league; he returned as a 35 year old who hadn't played ball in almost five years.
In his first year back, Greenberg was not his old self, though he managed 44 homeruns and 127 RBIs. His average slumped to .277, and his on-base percentage fell below .400 for the first time since he was a rookie, but his slugging percentage was over .600. Greenberg played one more season, hitting .249 in 125 games but walking 104 times before hanging it up. Greenberg finished as a 3-4-6er, with 331 HR, 1276 RBI, and 1051 runs in basically nine seasons.
Where McGwire was one dimensional, Greenberg was exceptional in many respects. Greenberg could hit for power and average, got on base and slugged at a better clip, and were it not for his years in the war, would have easily surpassed many of McGwire's career marks. Greenberg was simply a better player than McGwire.
Interestingly, Heinie Groh is one of the few players who was better offensively before 1920 than he was after 1920. His OPS was always well above league average through 1920, but after 1920, he was usually at or below the league average. Heinie was never a slugger, before or after 1920, and when the dead ball era ended, Heinie's stats, from a comparative standpoint, dipped significantly though he was essentially the same player.
Babe Herman, Billy Herman, Stan Hack, Hack Wilson
More on Andruw Jones
Heinie Manush was a solid player who, like so many other players, got a lot of hits and a lot of batting average points from the fact that he played in the late 1920s and early 1930s. With a relative OPS of 121, this leftfielder's .330 batting average is not enough to get him on the list.
Pedro Martinez is certainly well into the second half of his career, and as recently as 2004 it appeared that he was now in the decline phase of his career. Pedro is certainly more fragile than he once was, and doesn't strike out as many batters per inning as he once did, but he remains among the league's best pitchers. For a four to five year stretch, he was probably the most dominating starting pitcher in baseball history from 1997 to 2003, while baseball was experiencing its most offensively explosive era, Pedro's ERA climbed over two and a half only once, and was sub-2.00 twice. Pedro's current relative ERA is 166 18 points higher than Lefty Grove for first all time.
Coming into 2006, Pedro had pitched 2500 innings, and had a won loss record of 197-84, a strikeout to walk ratio over 4 to 1 (2861/662), and an ERA of 2.72. Through 2500 innings, I have him ranked here. If, in five years, Pedro has pitched 3500 innings, has a record somewhere around 275-110, has 3800 strikeouts and a relative ERA over 160, it will be time to seriously consider him to be the greatest pitcher of all time.
It should be noted that I am being extremely cautious with Pedro. By all rights, he should rank about ten spots higher than he does, but I don't want to rush to judgment. Besides, he has nothing to prove, and it is only a matter of time. I just don't want to give him the first, second, or third spot before we are absolutely certain he belongs there.
Wille Mays/Hank Aaron
I have been accepting the notion that Mays was better than Aaron for a long time, and I am starting to question that notion.
Willie McCovey/Harmon Killebrew
I have a lot of trouble with Killebrew and McCovey. Killebrew was clearly the better homerun hitter, while McCovey was better at just about everything else. Killebrew took more walks, but got less hits at the end of the day, their on-base percentages are the same, and I would prefer hits to walks, all things being equal.
I am also incredibly suspicious of Mark McGwire, but that isn't why I have him ranked where I do. McGwire is currently the sixth ranked first baseman, ranked overall at 54th, and only six slots ahead of Willie McCovey and Harmon Killebrew, who are in essence tied at 60-61. My issue with McGwire is not so much the steroid usage, which at this point is not even alleged and is not under investigation, but rather his inconsistency. During the prime of his career, meaning not the 18 game stint in 1986, or the two half seasons he played in 2000 and 2001 before retiring, McGwire missed an average of 30 games per season, which means that he played an average of 128 games per season.
In my opinion, and I may be alone in having this opinion, having a player who can hit more homeruns per at-bat than any other player in baseball history, and whose on-base percentage is nearly .400, isn't all that valuable if he can only get on the field for 130 games per season. For his career, McGwire managed all of 11 full seasons, which includes his 104 games in 1995 and 130 games in 1996 as full seasons.
What would it have taken to keep McGwire on the field for a larger percentage of the season, and for more seasons during his career? I am not sure. My natural instinct leads me towards the "steroids make you fragile" argument, which I will avoid. However, I am relatively convinced that whatever Mark McGwire would have done to make himself healthier for longer, it would have cut into whatever he was doing that was making him such a prolific homerun hitter. The point is I think that McGwire could have played full seasons, but he would have been a different, and lesser hitter. But that is a simple theory without much to back it up.
Another issue I have with McGwire is production efficiency for all his times on-base, he didn't score a ton of runs, and for all his homeruns, he didn't accumulate a lot of RBIs. This makes me wonder what he could do other than hit homeruns.
For my money, over the years I would have much rather have had Jeff Bagwell, whose OPS was lower (982 vs. 948; 163 vs. 150), and who did not hit as many homeruns per at-bat, but was a much more healthy, talented, and valuable ballplayer all around.
Fact is, it is entirely possible that both players did steroids, so steroids really do not enter into the picture too much in my opinion.
Matt Williams vs. Graig Nettles
Robin Roberts/Don Drysdale
Robin Roberts is an interesting guy, because from the age of 21 to the age of 28, he was really a very good pitcher, winning 20 or more games six years in a row. Then, at 29 he went 19-18 with a 4.45 ERA, and at the age of 30 he went 10-22. He was plaining mediocre for the rest of his career. He finished 286-245 with 3.41 ERA (113 ERA+) and 2307 Ks to go with 902 BBs in 4688.7 innings. Oh, and he also gave up 505 homeruns in his career, good for tops all time.
I have him a spot ahead of Don Drysdale, and I think that is for good reason. Drysdale had more strikeouts and less walks than Roberts in 1200 fewer innings. Like Roberts, Drysdale had his last really good season at the age of 28, was mediocre for two years, then had a resurgent year in 1968 before pitching 62.7 innings in 1969 before hanging it up at the age of 32.
Roberts pitched for eleven more years after his best years were done. Drysdale pitched for a little over three more years after his best years were over. If Drysdale has pitched for 8 more seasons than he did, I think his career numbers would more closely Roberts career numbers.
A 2003 Warning for Andy Pettite
Al Rosen/Charlie Keller/Ken Williams/Gavvy Cravath
Al Rosen, Charlie Keller, Ken Williams, and Gavvy Cravath all had similar career spans, though for different reasons.
Keller spent a season and a half in World War II, and then played his last full season at the age of 29, apparently because of a bad back.
Cravath was a allowed to toil in the minors for many years, enjoying brief call-ups at the age of 27 and 28 before finally sticking at the age of 31. He then played seven full seasons and led the National League in homeruns in six of his seven seasons.
Ken Williams, not to be confused with White Sox GM Kenny Williams, had a similar experience to Cravath's, not playing a full season until the age of 30. Once he hit the scene, though, he was a fine ballplayer. Williams stands out as the original power-speed guy, becoming the first player to go 30-30.
Al Rosen was a fantastic third baseman in the 1950s. In his seven seasons, he led the American League in homeruns twice, including 1953 when he won the AL MVP. He joined the 100 plus club that year, had 201 hits, and a .336 average to go with his OPS over 1.000. Unlike the other three, Rosen lost time at the beginning and end of his career his first full season was 1950, at age 26, and his last season was 1956, at age 32.
If any other these guys belong in the Top 200, then so too does Don Mattingly, who was just as good as any of them through his first seven years in the league, but differs from the others in that he played on despite his injuries, which significantly lessened his career totals.
One of my favorite franchise moments of all time involved Curt Schilling and fellow Top 200 member Jeff Bagwell. The Astros traded franchise star Glenn Davis to the Orioles for three youngsters who turned out to be Curt Schilling, Steve Finley, and Pete Harnisch. Not content to rest on their laurels, the Astros set out to find their next first baseman, and did so by sending Larry Anderson to the Red Sox for one youngster who turned out to be Jeff Bagwell.
Curt Schilling has earlier been traded by the Red Sox with Brady Anderson for Mike Boddicker. Imagine if the Orioles had stopped there, they would have had Curt Schilling, Steve Finley, and Brady Anderson at the beginning of the 1990s.
The problem with Schilling's career, and the reason why he ultimately may not make the Hall of Fame, is that he did not accomplish much until he turned 30, but since he turned 30, he has been quite good. As of 2006, Curt Schilling has 200 wins; 148 of those wins have come since he turned 30.
From 2001 to 2006, Schilling has been a Top 100 caliber pitcher. He missed two seasons due to injury, but in the other three seasons, he has gone 66-19 with an ERA in the twos, and his strikeout to walk ratio has been amazing. His career strikeout to walk ratio stands at 4.291, which is good for third all time behind Tommy Bonds, who pitched in the 1870s, and Pedro Martinez. Schilling's career ERA is really good, at 3.40 in this very offense friendly era.
Schilling is currently 152nd on my list, but could go way up if he has two years left in him. His K/BB ratio probably indicates that he should already be in the Top 100, but his career has been more similar to Sandy Koufax than anyone else, who I have at 112, and Schilling hasnt had as many big years as Koufax did. 2006 is a big season for Schilling he if can pitch well, get to 3000 innings and 3000 strikeouts, get his ERA+ over 130, and maintain his really good rate stats, he could jump quite a bit.
One way to do a Top 100, not a particularly valid or even remotely justifiable way, would be to it in sets of 10, with each set of 10 having a person at each position. The inadequacy is immediately obvious, as it means Barry Bonds would be no better than eleventh because of Ted Williams, Tris Speaker would be in the thirties because of Cobb, Mays, and Mantle, etc.
If we did it this way, though, the eighth best player of all time would be Mike Schmidt. In a way, this whole process is unfair to Schmidt, who is easily the best third baseman of all time, because he is rankly very low, relatively speaking. Two years I had him at 19th, this year he moves up two spots to 17th.
Schmidt was, hands down, the best offensive third baseman ever. He led the National League in homeruns eight times in sixteen full seasons. Using my decade transposition method (where you take a player's rank in a stat, like homeruns, for a given year and transpose it to the same year of a different decade), if Mike Schmidt's career began in 1992 instead of 1972, Schmidt projects to over 700 dingers. More than that, Schmidt won three MVPs, tying the record for players other than Bonds, and won ten Gold Gloves. He probably is the second best defensive third baseman behind Brooks Robinson, but that is like saying someone is the second best strikeout pitcher behind Nolan Ryan very impressive.
Schmidt is also the highest ranked 1970s and 1980s player on the list, the next one being George Brett at 30, also a third baseman. Schmidt doesn't get his due, in my opinion, because he played in that era, kind of an under achieving, low visibility era in baseball. But Schmidt was one of the few players who managed to dominate a league at his position throughout his career. Like Bonds, Mays and Mantle, Ted Williams and Stan Musial, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx, Schmidt was the best his league had to offer as long as he was on the field.
Bucketfoot Al, as Al Simmons was known, shared something in common with many players he debuted in the mid-1920s, starred in the late 1920s, peaked in 1930, and then played a few more good years in the 1930s before fading through the mid- to late-1930s.
What sets Simmons apart from many other players in this era is that he was really quite fantastic. Simmons' forte was accumulating RBIs in 15 full seasons and 5 partial seasons, Simmons ended up with 1827 RBIs, good for 16th all time. He also managed to join the 100-plus club six times. In addition to these feats, he also hit 53 doubles one year, managed 253 hits in 1925, 165 RBI in 1039, 200 or more hits six times, a .334 career batting average, 539 doubles, and 1507 runs.
Interestingly, Simmons ended up with 2927 hits, just 73 shy of 3,000. In today's game, Simmons never would have retired without getting to 3,000, but in his day, 3000 hits was not as big of a deal as it is now.
Simmons' career OPS numbers aren't hugely impressive because he simply did not walk his career high was 53, and this most of his OBP was accounted for via his batting average. Thus, his .915 OPS does not seem as impressive given his era. But he still had a very impressive career.
I feel about Simmons and his era similar to the way I feel about Bonds and his steroids. Sure, RBIs were easy to come by when Simmons played, and sure it was a particularly offensive era. But in the end, only 15 players have more career RBIs than Simmons does, and of those, only four were contemporaries of Simmons' Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, and Ott. Pretty impressive company. Those other four are all Top 20, and Simmons is ranked 83rd I think that's more than fair.
Asher foresees bad things for the Nationals big pick up.
At the beginning of the 2006 season, after he had been traded to the Nationals, I somewhat famously predicted the final demise of Alfonso Soriano. In a lengthy prediction piece, I attributed all the success Soriano has had to big lineups and hitter friendly ballparks. Soriano promptly went out and had the best season of his career, and as of September 3rd is 6 steals away from the 40/40 club.
Soriano was involved in a bit of a face off with the Nationals over being shifted to left field from second base. I began to compare him to Terrell Owens and I labeled him a malcontent. Soriano again proved me wrong. He has shown nothing but professionalism in Washington, and his effect in the clubhouse has reportedly been positive. I think the face off in the spring had a lot more to do with Soriano's agent being concerned about Soriano's value as a left fielder vs. second baseman than anything else.
When Soriano was with the Yankees, I of course disliked him. The main thing I faulted him for was his low walk-high strikeout numbers, which have never changed. I used to say he was a mirage, a facade, and as soon as his bat speed slowed slightly, we would be out of baseball. I still think this might be true, but it doesn't mean he is a bad ballplayer.
Soriano bats about as far forward in the batter's box as any player in baseball today. Whereas many players destroy the back line of the box, and guys like Craig Counsell seem to straddle the back line, Soriano places his feet in the box in such a way that home plate is squarely in front of him. He deserves credit for that, if nothing else.
More on Alfonso Soriano
Some notes on Sammy Sosa for 2006
Asher points out that Sammy's big homerun totals tend to obscure weaknesses in his overall game and career.
Sammy Sosa is the worst case scenario of a player with a high homerun total being one dimensional and not a particularly valuable player. Sosa currently ranks fifth on the all time home run list, behind Aaron, Bonds, Ruth, and Mays, and ahead of Frank Robinson, McGwire, Killebrew, Palmeiro, and Reggie Jackson. Of the Top Ten, Sosa is the worst overall player, and I would add a "by far" to that if not for Palmeiro.
Sosa had all the potential in the world as a young player power, speed, a strong arm. If he would have taken the time to make himself a better player, he could have achieved fantastic things. He took the time to build his muscle mass, whether naturally or artificially, or rather legally or illegally, but in doing so, Sosa lost his speed and became a bumbling outfielder.
Sosa had three or four seasons in which he was a very good, complete player, the finest of these coming in 2001. Other than his good run from 1998 to 2002, Sosa was an impatient hitter, an all or nothing type who swung for the fences, and often came up empty. For all his homeruns, his OPS is preposterously low. His strikeouts were never manageable. He rarely translated his powerful reputation into bases on balls like so many of his contemporaries did. Sosa benefited from the offensive explosion of the 1990s more than any other player it took him from mediocre player to superstar, but in the end his career was simply mediocre.
His homeruns alone are the reason he is ranked as high as he is.
More on Sammy Sosa
More on Sammy Sosa
Vern Stephens/Bob Johnson/Bob Elliott
Vern Stephens serves as an interesting cautionary tale to people who want to rank players. Stephens played in the 1940s and 1950s. He had three great years 1948-1950 during which time he joined the 100 plus club three times, he scored lots of runs, and he walked way more than he struck out. He was 27, 28, and 29 in those years.
Suppose for a moment that Stephens had gone to World War II in 1943-1945, then cameback and two years later had the seasons he had. People like me would automatically begin calculating what Stephens would have done if not for the war. And guess what my calculations would have been much higher if Stephens had gone to war than they actually were since he did not.
You know who else is exactly like Vern Stephens? Bob Elliott. Elliott played through the war years, and his post-war years were demonstratively better. Playing the what if game with him would also boost his ratings.
Bob Johnson also falls into this category. Johnson hit 21 or more homers with 92 or more RBI every year from 1933 to 1941. Johnson ended his career with 288 homers. If he had gone to war from 1942 to 1945, we would probably assume he would have kept up that pace, when in fact he averaged about 12 home runs and 80 RBIs in each of those seasons.
So just remember calculating what a player missed in the years he was away from the game is not always an accurate experiment.
Darryl Strawberry, Kevin Mitchell, Eric Davis
Don Sutton's first season in the majors was 1966 with the Dodgers Sandy Koufax's last season. The Dodgers that year had Koufax, Drysdale, and Sutton. Sutton was probably the third best pitcher on that team, but he was the only one who would win 300 games.
Sutton's last season in the majors was with the 1988 Dodgers, the magical team that featured Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser.
Don Sutton is in the Hall of Fame, an achievement which is based solely on his 324 career wins. In 23 career seasons, Sutton played on exactly six losing teams, most of which came late in his career. He managed to finish with a losing record himself six times, three of which were at the beginning of his career, and one of which was a 3-6 performance in 16 games in his final season. He never had a dominant season, led the league in ERA once, finished with 20 wins once, and finished with 3574 strikeouts without ever striking out more than 217.
If I ever had a chance, I would be pleased as punch to sit down with Sutton and have him tell me all of his stories from his 23 years in baseball. But I do not consider him an elite pitcher.
Ichiro Suzuki/Albert Pujols
Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols present two exciting considerations for Top 100 and Top 200 purposes. I did not include either player, because neither player has, in my opinion, played long enough to merit consideration. Remember, they each won their league's Rookie of the Year Award in 2001, I would probably have to wait until 2008 at the earliest to be safe and decide with some confidence where I think these guys will ultimately end up.
With the possible exception of Frank Thomas, Pujols is probably the best young hitter Major League Baseball has seen since the days of Ted Williams and Stan Musial the type of guy who knew how to hit from day one. Pujols spent the first four years of his career being the second best player in the National League behind Barry Bonds and Bonds spent 15 years getting to the level he was at in 2001.
The beginning of Pujols' career compares favorably with the beginning of Thomas'. Thomas was the better pure hitter, and he got on base a lot better than Pujols, while Pujols has been the more productive hitter and is an excellent fielder at first base. Importantly, Thomas was 23 in his first full season in the majors, having gone to college at Auburn. Pujols went to Maple Woods Community College in Missouri, and was 21 when he became a regular with the Cardinals.
Where Pujols may end up, who knows? He has the potential to be the next Ted Williams, though he will have to start getting on base more than he does now. Frank Thomas had all the skills he needed to be as good as Ted Williams, but injuries slowed him down after he turned 30. With Pujols suffering his first significant injury of his career at 26, baseball fans will be watching anxiously, to be sure.
If Pujols returns from injury and continues at his current pace, he should debut in the Top 50 in the summer of 2009. I haven't seen enough from Pujols to set him apart from Thomas yet, but he is still young and still getting better.
More on Pujols
The other part of this equation is Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro is probably the best pure hitter in the game today. By pure hitter, I mean there is no one better at putting the bat on the ball for a base hit in the game today. Ichiro's talent lends itself to what I call "one-liner analysis." For example Ichiro is so good, he has a bad year if he only gets 200 hits; Ichiro doesn't consider taking pitches because every pitch is hittable to him; Ichiro isn't here to do anything other than hit.
Ichiro presents another issue apart from the issues Pujols presents Ichiro played for several years in Japan before he came to the United States. For the record, he lit Japan up, too he was a 3-4-5 in each of his seven full seasons in Japan except his last, and his batting average never dipped below .342.
So the question is how do we treat Ichiro? We give Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Minnie Minoso, Larry Doby, and others preferential treatment to account for the time they missed before the color barrier was broken. We give Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, and others preferential treatment for the time they missed during World War II. We give Joe Jackson the benefit of the doubt for the time he missed when he was expelled from the game. We consider Addie Joss' death, Lefty Grove being stuck in the minors because of contract disputes, and the late arrivals of players like Gavvy Cravath, Earl Averill, and Bob Lemon.
However we decide to treat Ichiro, he will have to be judged by more than just the time he spends in Major League Baseball. Some accounting for his time in Japan will have to be had. By the time he is done, Ichiro will almost certainly have 3000 hits between the two leagues combined he already has 2,672 combined hits, and he is only 32 years old.
At his current pace, Ichiro will be ready to debut in the Top 100 in 2009.
Gene Tenace was an amazing player. He was a catcher, though he dabbled at first base for almost half of his career, 625 games out of 1555. He was a career .241 hitter who once hit 29 homers and finished with 201 in his career. He never had more than 132 hits in any season, and only got over 100 hits six times in his career. He scored a career high 83 runs twice, surpassed 40 doubles once, and drove in over 80 RBI only twice. Despite all this, Tenace managed a career .388 on-base percentage, 147 points higher than his career average. Of the Top 10 players on my list, only Ruth and Williams managed to have their on-base top their average by more points than Tenace.
In fifteen Major League seasons, Tenace went to the playoffs six time, and played in four World Series, winning all four. He was a part of those fantastic A's teams of the 1970s, which is ironic since he was a Billy Beane player before Beane had even come around.
I have Tenace ahead of Ted Simmons and behind Ivan Rodriguez. Ted Simmons was a catcher's catcher who played forever, and Ivan Rodriguez is a wonderful catcher who, despite fantastic power numbers, has a horrific OPS. I will take Tenace's 135 OPS+ and four World Series titles over IRod's 115 OPS+ and one World Series title any day. That, and the incredible shrinking catcher routine IRod did between the 2004 and 2005 seasons left me with a funny taste in my mouth.
Rube Waddell appears in my Top 100 for the first time. Perhaps I have simply glossed over Waddell in the past, or perhaps I have ignored Waddell altogether, because what I found when I took a good look at Rube Waddell's stats when I finally sat down with them shocked me.
Waddell played from 1897, at the age of 20, to 1910, retiring at the age of 33. During Waddell's career, he went 193-143, an solid but not impressive record to be sure. This record was compiled in 12 seasons, in which he pitched 2961.3 innings, again not staggering numbers. But from there it gets good.
First, consider Waddell's career ERA 2.16, or 134 relative ERA. Solid. Then consider strikeout to walk ratio 2316/803 just a hair under 3 to 1. Also solid. But wait, go back to the strikeouts. Surely, but today's standards, 2316 strikeouts does not seem particularly impressive, and Waddell ranks only 42nd all time in strikeouts. But, of players who pitched from 1900 to 1930, Waddell ranks fourth behind, ready for this?, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, and Christy Mathewson. Or, put another way, my first, second, and fourth ranked pitchers of all time. What's more, those guys compiled their totals in 7354.7, 5914.7, and 4780.7 innings pitched, respectively. Rube Waddell was simply on another planet in terms of strikeouts per inning in the beginning of the twentieth century.
Indeed, Waddell finished first or second in strikeouts eight times in 10 years from 1900 to 1909. He finished first in K/9IP eight out of nine times from 1900 to 1908. And he wasn't just finishing first in these categories. In 1904, when he struck out 349 batters, Jack Chesbro finished second, more than 100 behind at 239. And, Chesbro pitched 71 more innings than Waddell. In 1902, Waddell topped Cy Young by 50 strikeouts despite pitching over 100 fewer innings than Young.
In 1908, Ed Walsh edged Rube Waddell out for the strikeout title. It was the first time in seven years that Waddell had not won the strikeout title. Walsh struck out 37 more batters than Waddell did, 269 to 232. While Waddell pitched 285.7 innings that season, Walsh pitched 464.0 innings.
During the course of his career, Rube Waddell won a pitching Triple Crown, led the league in ERA twice, adjusted ERA three times, and hits allowed per nine innings twice. He was the original strikeout king, before Johnson, Vance, Feller, Koufax, Carlton, or Ryan. And, out of the four strikeout kings just mentioned, Waddell had the second best ERA with respect to his league of all but Walter Johnson.
Larry Walker presents a peculiar quandary similar to one presented by Willie Stargell. Both Walker and Stargell were excellent players, one time MVP award winners, and sluggers who could get on base. But both players also suffered from rarely playing a full season Stargell never once player more than 145 games, and only played 140 or more six times in 21 seasons. Walker's track record was even worse four seasons out of 17 playing more than 140 games, and four seasons of playing 100 or fewer games.
If Walker would have stayed healthy, we would have joined the 500 homers club for sure, as would have Stargell. But, perhaps if Walker and Stargell had played more games per season, they would have been ineffective. Hard to know
Bill James says that the thing about Eddie Murray is that he was consistently very good, but never great (in a nutshell). I have a feeling people regarded Zack Wheat the same way. Wheat was almost always on the top ten in every offensive category runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBIs, adjusted OPS. But he was really never the best player in the league. Still a very good player, though. I have him ranked lower than Murray because Murray played forever.
Billy Williams finished his career with 400 homeruns when it still meant something. Williams is an underrated outfielder because of two reasons one, he played for the Cubs, and between losing constantly and sharing the spotlight with the charismatic Ernie Banks, Williams got little PR; two, Williams finished second in MVP voting twice, in 1970 and 1972, losing to Bench both times. If Williams had managed to win one or both of those MVPs, Williams might be more well known.
Williams did an excellent job as a hitter, and an excellent job getting on-base.
Smokey Joe Wood
Matt Williams vs. Graig Nettles
KNocking on Ted Williams
Early Wynn is the only thing keeping Don Sutton from being the worst 300 game winner around. Before he joined the Indians in 1949, Wynn had a career record of 72-87, with a below average ERA. He then joined the great Cleveland Indians of the 1950s, and won 17 or more games 7 out of the next 9 years, including four 20 win seasons. After he left the Indians and joined the White Sox, he finished out his career in mediocre fashion.
Wynn teamed with Bob Feller and Bob Lemon in the Indians rotation of the 1950s. Like Sutton with Koufax and Drysdale, Sutton was the only on to finish with 300 wins, and was probably the third best pitcher on the team.