Yesterday, in the first part of our third annual Ultimate Fantasy Draft, we too a look at the
I wonder how high Upton might have ranked if we had done this list in April, back when it looked like he was ready to contend for an MVP award. Still, while Upton may not entirely avoid growing pains, to become a solid big-league regular by age 20 is exceptionally unusual and almost always indicative of greatness.
Expectations were so high for King Felix that his career seems to strike some as a disappointment, but his stuff is still wicked, and he's quietly had a very good season. If there's a worry, it's that his groundball-to-flyball ratios, which had been a Hernandez trademark in the past, has not been quite as strong this year. Here's a fun comparable that
Like Upton, his bat cooled down a bit after an outstanding start, but also like Upton, he has virtually unlimited upside. In spite of having hit for some solid batting averages in the minor leagues, his greatest potential is really as a power hitter, along the lines of a
For my money, it's a tough call between Hamilton and
The juxtaposition for Hamels has always been his reputation for being a bit of a party boy with his extremely mature approach on the mound, where he somehow gets away with using his top-notch changeup more than 30 percent and still having hitters bite on it.
Kazmir is already very good, but the reason that he is rated this highly is that he has the potential to become even better if he can learn that he doesn't have to be quite so cute with his pitches and can trust his defense instead. With a slight improvement in his command, he is capable of running off some
...and Brandon Webb might be a pretty good example for Kazmir to follow. His unprecedented ability to keep the ball on the ground is not only a valuable skill unto itself, but also allows him to exit the at-bat early and preserve his pitch counts. That's why Webb has never been on the DL in six seasons, in spite of accumulating massive innings pitched totals.
One of the hazards of being a baseball writer is that you'll not infrequently get e-mails from friends, family, wives and coaches of players when you have something critical to say about them. I got one such e-mail from a very close relative of Braun's last year after I'd bashed his defense at third base, which rated at 21 runs below average last year according to our Prospectus Fielding Runs metric. This year, the Brewers were smart enough to move him to left field where he's actually become quite a good defensive player, able to fully exploit his athleticism. That really resolves the only outstanding question we had about Braun, who is going to have a 50-HR season or two once he reaches his peak.
Somewhere around Webb or Braun, we really turned a corner into the next tier of talent. Granderson is just a superlative ballplayer, excelling in every phase of the game, and his work ethic is so strong that he could wind up getting even better.
When I circulated a draft copy of this list to the BP internal mailing list, I had several people tell me that Lincecum's rating was low. But I'm hedging just a little bit because, while I understand all the
The apparent decline in his offensive numbers isn't quite as significant as it might seem at first glance, as he was transitioning into the more difficult league and may have needed half the season to get fully acquainted with it. Still, his value eroded significantly once the Tigers recognized that he wasn't really going to be capable of playing a solid third base.
Utley is going to make for a fascinating Hall of Fame debate one day. Since he didn't really become a big league regular until age 26, his career totals might not wind up being all that fantastic, but he has played at an MVP caliber ever since. Bonus factoid: Utley has led the National League in hit-by-pitches both this year and last.
Peavy ranks seventh all-time in strikeout rate among pitchers with at least 1000 lifetime innings pitched; every pitcher ahead of him but
Catchers who hit like this don't grow on trees. Since World War II, in fact, just seven catchers aged 24 or younger have hit .300 or better in a season in which they also hit 20 home runs. Those are
There has been just a tiny bit of erosion in his performance. Santana's strikeout rate, 9.7 batters per nine innings last year, has declined to 7.5 K/9 this year, when it should be moving in the opposite direction since he moved out of the DH league. Any team would still love to have Santana, but the question of just who exactly is the best pitcher in baseball is a lot more open now than it had been in recent seasons.
In fact, we are now ranking one pitcher ahead of Santana: Sabathia of Milwaukee, whose statistics are now just as good as Santana's, but who is two years his junior. There is a pretty widespread perception out there that Sabathia, because of his huge bulk, is an injury waiting to happen. But for whatever reason, pitchers with a little bit of meat on their frames -- ranging from
Last season might go down as A-Rod's career year, but he's yet to show any real signs of slowing down at the plate. Rodriguez will finish this season with about 560 lifetime home runs; PECOTA figures that he'll be good for another 184 from 2009 to 2014, at which time he'll be 38. That would leave him at 744, just one more half-decent season away from breaking
An outstanding defensive catcher who is capable of winning batting titles and posting a .416 OBP is a rare and wonderful thing. The question is whether Mauer is ever going to be able to develop his power stroke to the point where he's hitting 20 home runs a year rather than 10. He is certainly a big enough guy to have some projectable power left in his bat, but with each year that passes without him seeing a power spike, it becomes incrementally less likely. As such, he has drifted downward slightly in our rankings.
Here is some fodder for those looking to make the case for Reyes as being the most exciting player in baseball: he is the only shortstop since World War II to have reached double digits in both triples and home runs in each of three consecutive seasons. The most exciting player in baseball, of course, isn't necessarily the best one, and it's a touch disappointing that Reyes hasn't sustained the increased walk rate that he maintained during the first half of 2007, when he had a .380 OBP. Still, playing in the New York media market, Reyes has to be about even-money to win an MVP award at some point over the next five seasons.
With each year that Sizemore continues to excel, it becomes easier to argue that the transaction consummated on June 27, 2002, in which the Expos traded Sizemore,
Yeah, he's this good. In addition to everything he's done at the plate, Longoria has already saved the Rays 14 runs in the field this year according to our Prospectus Fielding Runs metric. And he's improving before our very eyes, having posted a .982 OPS since the All-Star break until his wrist injury set him down. By comparison, what did
The last three guys were exceptionally difficult to rank. Pujols had been our No. 1 player in both 2006 and 2007, and it seemed patently unfair to knock the incumbent out when he's in the midst of such a good season. But the tiebreaker used against him was the high-grade ligament tear in his elbow, which Pujols opted not to have surgery on before the season. There is perhaps a 50:50 chance that the ligament will blow out at some point over the course of the next several seasons, which would require Pujols to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss at least a full season.
Longoria is to Mike Schmidt as Wright is to
What's important, however, is what happened in the next couple of years for Brett. At age 26, his numbers exploded; he accumulated 212 hits and probably deserved to win the MVP award. And in the year that followed that, Brett hit .390. Wright has already established an exceptionally solid baseline level of performance, but there are still bigger and better things yet to come.
Ramirez leads all major leaguers in VORP since the beginning of the 2007 season, narrowly edging out A-Rod. You can make a very sound argument, in other words, that Ramirez is already the best player in baseball, and since he is just 24 years old, that naturally leads to the conclusion that he is probably the most valuable long-term commodity. And look at what has happened to his batting eye. The only offensive skill that Ramirez didn't have in abundance before was taking walks, but this year his walk rate has increased by more than 75 percent. Perhaps no player will ever match what A-Rod did over his first six or seven major league seasons, but Ramirez is the best positioned to give it a try.