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Active Players and The Top 200 List

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
May 16, 2007

I'm notorious for being the first Baseball Evolution staff member to put an active player on a Top 100 (or 200) List.  When I made my first list in 2003, Asher could not stop laughing whenever he saw that Pedro Martinez was ranked #35 on my list.  But Pedro came in at #33 in our 2006 Composite List, and he did so without the benefit of a stellar season (by his standards) between 2004-2006.  I feel vindicated by this; my ranking of Pedro was timely and true.

However, another active pitcher crept his way onto that same list at #100.  His name was Kevin Brown.  I reasoned that Brown was every bit as qualified for that spot as the Bert Blylevens and the Rube Waddells of the world, and had the extra benefit of being able to add to his numbers.  At the time, Brown sported a .605 winning percentage, but went only 18-18 after the '03 All Star Break, winding up with a .594 mark.  But Brown actually pitched even worse than his .500 record indicated in those final years, as the three teams that he pitched on averaged 94 wins a season.  Kevin allowed eight unearned runs in the second half of 2003, and plenty of earned runs in two injury-riddled Bronx seasons afterwards.  I now have him ranked at 127, and he's seated at 139 on our Composite Top 200.  

Despite those mixed results, I still generally rank active players on my list before either Scott or Asher does, and those that we all rank, I tend to have a smidgeon higher.  I try to rank active players conservatively, but sometimes it's hard not to get caught in the hype.  It probably makes things more interesting this way, anyhow.  Without further exposition, here are some of the active players who could be leaping one way or another on my 2007 Top 200 list:

Keith's 2006 ranking for each player is in parenthesis

Albert Pujols (NR)

This is the one everyone wants to know about.  Prince Albert entered the 2007 season with more Batting Runs than Charlie Gehringer (359), more home runs than Hack Wilson (250), and a career .332 batting average that ranked 20th among post-1900 players.  He is also just 27 years old, with just over six seasons on ML service time.

I hate to disappoint with anticlimax, but I will not rank Pujols this year either.  I ranked Pedro midway through his eleventh year and was chastised and ridiculed for it.  Has Pujols really shown more in six-plus seasons than Pedro showed through 11.5?  When I ranked Pedro, he'd already won three Cy Young Awards, was in the middle of his fourth season of better than a  200 ERA+, and had the best career winning percentage of all time.  Albert Pujols has never had a season with an OPS+ over 200, has won just one batting title and one MVP, and boasts no home run or RBI crowns.  Arguably, he has never even been the best hitter in the National League.  If ranking Pedro in 2003 was questionable, then ranking Pujols in 2007 is unthinkable.

Basically, if we rank Pujols now, we would need to rank him conservatively, probably in the 100-125 range.  But honestly, anyone who doesn't think Pujols will wind up a top 50 player hates the Cardinals more than this Cubs fan does.  Trying to determine exactly where he ranks now is both futile and unenlightening, and I will not be a part of it.  My new rule will be just like the Hall of Fame's: playing a minimum of 10 major league seasons before being eligible for ranking.  I haven't ranked a player before that yet, and I never will.  See you in 2010, Albert.

Alex Rodriguez (38)

Scott also mocked me in 2003 and 2004 for my treatment of A-Rod.  Asher and I had him ranked in the 60's, while the shortstop did not appear on Scott's lists at  all.  While I still do not agree with Scott's decision not to rank him, A-Rod - who was in his tenth season in 2003 - serves as an excellent example of why we need to rank active players conservatively.  This is because he moved to third base in 2003, after winning his second straight Gold Glove at shortstop.

Alex has cooled somewhat from his torrid April pace, but is still slated for nearly 70 2007 dingers as of this writing.  It's not as though his value has diminished much from his move to the hot corner.  In fact, A-Rod has still played a greater percentage of his career at shortstop than the primary man he is chasing, Honus Wagner (although A-Rod is scheduled to drop below Wagner's 68% mark this season).  Nevertheless, Wagner still had 216 more Batting Runs than A-Rod did at the start of 2007, plus better baserunning skills and defensive reputation to boot (not that A-Rod is lacking in those categories). 

Will A-Rod ever pass Wagner?  Difficult to say.  A-Rod could opt out of his contract at the end of the year and move back to shortstop with another team - which could either increase his value or shorten his career.  He could thrive playing in front of non-moronic fans, or he could get derailed in a pitcher's park.  But even now, he has shown himself to be clearly superior to Arky Vaughan, and therefore deserves to rank somewhere in the 20's (where Asher already has him).

Carlos Delgado (NR) and Vladamir Guerrero (NR)

Asher surprised everyone last year by ostensibly jumping the gun on two active players before I did.  Illustratively, one ranking looks good right now while the other appears ridiculous.  Vladamir Guerrero is finally 100% healthy again, and is enjoying the best year of his fine career.  He seems a cinch to reach the 2,000 hit plateau before his 32nd birthday and notch his 11th straight season with a batting average over .300.  #137 does not seem outlandish at all for Vladdy G,

Carlos Delgado, on the other hand, looks as though he might be done.  It's too early to make that call, but there's no doubt that he is no longer the same player that he was from 2000-2003; oddly, it's the plate patience that has suffered the most, something that generally improves with age.  But Delgado, who once seemed a cinch for 500 homers, now seems like someone who may or may not have a career better than Orlando Cepeda's.  Frankly, ranking him at #123 was preposterous.  

Derek Jeter (115) and Nomar Garciaparra (110)

I've always maintained that despite Nomar's health issues, his superior rates stats and defense put him ahead of Mr. November.  But entering the season, Jeter had 38 more batting runs than Garciaparra.  Jeter's awful play at shortstop is still probably more valuable than Nomar's above average play at first, and Jeter is still one year younger, of course.  Jeter is going to be ranked higher this year.

Even more startling for a Jeter-hater such as myself, is that his BR total is greater than Joe Cronin's (ranked 79), Luke Appling's (69), Barry Larkin's (65), and Lou Boudreau's (88).  Jeter is not only better than Nomar, but he is also solidly among the top 100 players of all time.

Jorge Posada (NR) and Ivan Rodriguez (150)

Posada actually came into the season with 37 more batting runs than Pudge, and Posada has gotten off to a somewhat better start offensively than I-Rod has.  The tricky bit here is measuring defense, which is so important for a catcher.  Posada has allowed 115 more stolen bases, caught 251 fewer baserunners, allowed nine more passed balls, and committed 48 fewer errors.  Using .52 for the run value of a caught stealing and -.3 for the run value of a stolen base, passed ball, or error allowed, I-Rod's defense has been approximately 98 runs better than Posada's, more than making up for Posada's offensive edge.  Jorge still has a shot at the top 200 list, but he'll have to show that the start of 2007 is more indicative of his current abilities than the start of 2005 was. 

Bernie Williams (NR) and Sammy Sosa (185)

Entering 2007, Sammy Sosa had just four more career batting runs than Bernie Williams did.  That's right, four.  Bernie played the more valuable position, but neither player was even above average on defense.  Sosa's main edge over Williams, surprisingly, was his speed on the base paths.

That and 600 homers.  Only four other players can boast that on the back of their baseball cards.  No one else can lay claim to three 60+ home run seasons, or four consecutive 50+ home run campaigns.  But for all those home runs, Sammy's career SLG is an embarrassing .537, lower than contemporaries such as Jason Giambi and Juan Gonzalez, and just edging out the likes of Jim Edmonds and Nomar Garciaparra.

What Sosa does have going for him is that he is proving to be a reasonably valuable player for the Rangers at age 38.   Sosa could still have several more productive seasons in him, while Bernie Williams is unemployed and unemployable at the same age.  Sosa is the better player, but not as superior as people think, and I'm very happy with Sosa at 185 and Bernie somewhere after 200 for right now.

Craig Biggio (68)

Biggio's in the classic end-of-career decline where he is struggling to keep his head above the .300 OBP mark in an attempt to reach 3,000 hits and possibly 300 home runs.  It is also very reasonable to think that Biggio will finish his career 5th on the all time doubles list.  Biggio's real advantage is that he can use his bat control to hit 20 homers a year in his quirky home ballpark.  Between 2005 and 2006, Biggio hit 34 home runs at Minute Maid and 13 elsewhere.  He's hit an impressive two road homers this year, but Biggio might have been out of baseball four years ago were he not Mr. Astro and playing at Minute Maid Park.

Anyhow, Biggio is more likely to drop on my list than ascend at this point, because those milestones are being reached by artificial means, and Biggio's rate stats are going to suffer as a result.  

Omar Vizquel (NR)

Most good-hitting shortstops become offensive liabilities in their mid-to-late 30's.  Vizquel has remained solid.  He has the best shortstop's fielding percentage of all time, though all measurements of his range show him to be just slightly above average in that department.  He is very, very good, but certainly not one of the best defensive shortstops ever as many fans claim.  Joe Tinker and Ozzie Smith both had FA% 12 points above their respective league's averages, just as Vizquel does.  But those two had legendary range and more impressive offensive numbers than Omar does.  Vizquel finally appears to be done offensively this year, and doesn't look as though he'll gain enough ground on Tinker and Smith to seriously contend for a spot on the Top 200.  The Hall of Fame remains a possibility for him, however.

Roy Oswalt (NR)

Does anyone else notice that Oswalt has an ERA+ of 142 through 1264 innings?  Like Pujols, I won't truly evaluate him until 2010, but when he and his .680 winning percentage hit the top 200 list, there will be a definite impact.

Lance Berkman (NR)

He's not eligible for ranking until next year, but Berkman really snuck up on me in terms of his career numbers.  276 Batting Runs entering the season, and a real shot at 500 homers, 1500 runs, and 1500 RBI.  He'll be on the list before we know it.

Trevor Hoffman (NR)

I've already discussed Trevor Hoffman's place in history at length last summer.  Briefly, his IP*ERA+ isn't enough to put him on the Top 200 list - it's all about the saves and the save percentage.  Comparing Hoffman's totals in those areas to guys like Dan Quisenberry, Bruce Sutter, or even Mariano Rivera isn't very illustrative, since those guys were frequently called upon to save games entering in the eight inning, while Hoffman almost never has.  We will have to wait to see whether the Francisco Rodriguez's, Jason Isringhausens, and Huston Streets can approach 500 saves at a 90% success clip.  Of course, should Hoffman reach 600 saves or simply finish with more than Mariano Rivera, we may need to take Top 200 action immediately. 


Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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