July 16, 2006


Top Ten MLB

[Note: This is part one in a three-part series. The other leagues I covered were the NBA and the NFL.]

Fairly slow day in sports today, so it's time to start my newest series of posts: top ten lists for each of the four three major sports. Today I'll start with the MLB, because frankly it's the one I know most about. Here are the rules:

The top ten are determined by this question: If the MLB folded today, and teams started over and drafted their team from the pool of active players, who would go first? And who would go second? Keep going down the line like that.

Contracts do not matter. Obviously, you'd rather pay David Wright $400K instead of paying A-Rod $25 million per year. But, if contracts mattered, then all the top ten would be young guys still on their rookie contracts (Wright, Joe Mauer, Miguel Cabrera, etc). And those players tend to get new contracts within a year or two anyways. Contracts would be voided, and they would work like the rookie draft in all the sports - you'd get a contract based on where you were picked.

Age does matter. You could pick Roger Clemens, but he'd only be around for a year or two. Or you could pick Fransisco Liriano, and have him for the next 15 years. Which is more valuable?

So, if the league folded today, and the Royals had the first pick, who would they take? In baseball, that's an easy question.

1. Albert Pujols

Pujols is far and away the best player on the board, especially when you take age into consideration. Although he has been around for a little while now, he's still only 26 years old - on the front edge of his prime, according to conventional wisdom. (Generally, a player's prime will be from age 26-30, with 27 being the typical "peak" year. I'm not sure if this is actually true, but it's what everyone thinks.) Pujols is easily the best hitter in baseball, and he (along with David Ortiz) is the player you'd want batting for you in the bottom of the ninth. Pujols has seven walk-off homers in his career (tied with Ortiz; the active leader is Bonds with 10), and he's only in his sixth year in the big leagues! His career up to this point, according to baseballreference.com, is most similar to that of Joe DiMaggio, a guy you've probably heard of. And he seems to get better and better - he's a very good first baseman, despite the fact that he's arguably the slowest runner in baseball.

2. David Wright

I think Wright has to be the #2 pick, taking into account his age (23), his marketability, and his production. Wright is a top MVP candidate already, and he's definitely one of the best defensive third baseman in the game today. He's currently on pace for 36 HRs and 136 RBI, and young players typically build their power even more as they get older. Wright would clearly be the second pick.

3. Alex Rodriguez

I know, most people aren't going to like having A-Rod this high, but I think he deserves it. Remember, contracts don't matter - his $25 million per year will be ripped up and replaced with a more sensible one. He has been in the big leagues for seemingly forever, but he's actually only 30 years old - you can get a good 8-10 more years out of this guy. And you can't argue with the production: He's on pace for 35 HRs and 100 RBI while batting in a depleted Yankee lineup, and those numbers would be considered a disappointment! Everyone wants to talk about how terrible he is in the clutch, but that's ridiculous - he's hitting .302 with runners on, .314 with runners in scoring position, and - remember this - .556 with the bases loaded (with a 1.222 slugging percentage)! Compare those numbers with his .284 overall average this year, and you'll be as befuddled as I am at why Yankee fans continue to boo him.

4. Jose Reyes

And you wonder why the Mets are doing so well this year. Reyes at four might seem like a bit of a stretch, but I think it's warranted - Reyes is only 23 as well, and he has outperformed everyone's expectations this year. Reyes is leading the league (easily) with 39 SBs, and has a .300 batting average as well. His batting eye is still a bit of a concern, but Reyes is improving that - he's on pace for 58 walks this year, as compared to only 27 last year. The most surprising thing this year has been Reyes' power - his slugging percentage this year is almost 100 points higher than last year (.481 vs .387). We'll have to see if Reyes can keep this up - he's suffering with a minor pinkie injury right now, but he should be back in the lineup before too long - but right now he's one of the top players in baseball.

5. Miguel Cabrera

It's a fairly large surprise that three of my top five picks are third basemen, but that shows the depth of the position this year (and in the future). A-Rod, Wright, and Cabrera have a chance to be the new "Big Three", much like A-Rod, Nomar, and Jeter used to be as shortstops. Cabrera also happens to be only 23 years old, but he has something that nobody else above him does - a World Series ring. Cabrera also is versitile; he's played both corner outfield positions earlier in his career and I wouldn't be surprised to see him moved to first base sometime down the road (when he's in his mid-30s). Cabrera has had a .320 batting average and a .550 slugging percentage for each of the last two years, and this year he's improved his batting eye as well - he's on pace for almost 100 walks. He should also drive in more than 100 runs for the third year in a row despite playing in a very young Marlins lineup.

6. Johan Santana

Santana is the first pitcher to go. Pitching is, by its nature, harder to predict than pitching, so good pitchers would not be drafted as high as good hitters. But Santana has maintained his greatness since his breakout '04 season, and he's only 27. Santana should finish with 15+ wins, a sub-3 ERA, and a sub-1 WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched; a pitcher with a 3.00 ERA will usually have a WHIP slightly above 1) for the third straight year. Good pitchers come and go, but Santana should be at the top of your rotation for the next decade.

7. Joe Mauer

Santana's batterymate gets picked right behind him, for good reason. Mauer is only 23, he's hitting .373 this year, and he has decent speed. And oh yeah - he's a catcher! Mauer could easily go a bit higher than this, maybe in the top five, but catchers' skills tend to decline more rapidly as they age, and they come down with more injuries than position players. But finding a catcher who can give you decent offensive production is not easy, and catchers who can give you MVP-caliber numbers come along once in a blue moon. Any GM who saw Mauer on the board with the seventh pick would jump at the chance to take him.

8. David Ortiz

He's already 30 years old, he doesn't play the field, he's hitting .280 right now, and he was once released by the offense-lacking Minnesota Twins. But Ortiz would definitely be picked at eight, if not sooner. Ortiz can give you incredible production at the plate - 32 HRs and a .617 SLG already - and nobody wants to pitch to him with the game on the line. Team him up with another good, Manny-esque hitter, and you've got a great offense already. Ortiz is an RBI machine - he's on pace for 165 RBI as well.

9. Ryan Howard

Howard is a very talented young player who (as the Derby showed) can hit the ball a long ways. Howard is actually 26 years old, although he has only been in the league for a short time (he won Rookie of the Year last year). He's on pace to hit 55 homers in just his second full season, and he has an even .600 slugging percentage. He doesn't walk as much as someone with his power usually does, but that's partly from pitchers not pitching around him (due to his lack of a track record). Howard doesn't quite have the ceiling of an Albert Pujols, but he could definitely become a great player someday.

10. Carlos Beltran

The Mets' third selection is enjoying a breakout year as he rounds out the top ten. Beltran is 29 years old and hitting only .276, but that is fairly misleading. He is on pace for almost 100 walks and 45 HRs, despite missing some time early in the season due to an injury. His power numbers have really jumped this year - his .597 SLG would be his career high by 50 points. Beltran has been running a little less now that he is in New York, but he still has the potential to steal at any time (which you already know if you saw the All-Star game).

Also recieving consideration:

Jason Bay, Vernon Wells - The two 27-year-old outfielders are enjoying very good seasons in their respective small-market cities. Neither has quite the talent to make this list, although Wells might vault into the top ten with another stellar season.

Travis Hafner - Hafner is arguably the best overall hitter in the AL right now, despite not making the all-star team. He's a little older than most people on this list (29), but he's leading the majors in OPS and is building quite a name for himself. Like Ortiz, Hafner can't play the field, and he doesn't quite have the track record that some of these other players have. If he keeps hitting like this, though, he'll find himself in the top ten very soon.

Roy Halladay - Halladay would definitely be picked within the next three or four picks, due to his talent and track record. He just doesn't quite have the potential of Santana, which kept him off the list. But Halladay's consistancy would be hard to pass up in the top fifteen.

- Frankie Liriano and Felix Hernandez would probably be the top two young pitchers taken, though Jered Weaver has been great this year and there are plenty of other good young pitchers, such as Jon Paplebon and Justin Verlander. But I wouldn't take any of these pitchers over proven guys like Halladay, Santana, or the aforementioned hitters. Sure, these guys have great upside, and they could be pitching for the next 15 years. But taking a pitcher who doesn't have three or four years already under his belt is extremely risky. Three years ago, if you had done this, Mark Prior would probably have been in the top ten, if not the top three or five. And where is he now? It doesn't take much to throw a young hurler off track. I'd hold off on picking these guys until probably the second half of the first round.

oh my god where is mark texaria and michale young!!!! texaria might be the second best first baseman next to albert and just go and compare the numbers between mark texaria and david wright the last two years it is not even close the only reason david wright is getting attention is he plays in new york.and if you don't know michale young he have the second most hits in mlb in the last five years and if you don't know who won the batting title in 2005 it was michale young.this is a populartiy contast.sometimes the media make me sick.please look the players who play in small market.
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