This past week MLB Network counted down its list of the “Top 100 Players Right Now”. Always good for creating arguments. Just when I think analytics are starting to make an impact because of shows like Clubhouse Confidential I hear Mitch Williams say that he would rather have Jose Valverde over Justin Verlander. His rationale? Valverde saved 49 games last year and Verlander only won 24. Only. He thinks if it wasn’t for Valverde Verlander wouldn’t have won that many. Talk about missing the point altogether. Amazing that these guys have jobs but someone who “blogs” is immediately dismissed because it is assumed he/she has no idea what they are talking about.
Now we have the top 100 list that MLBN delivered this week. We will count down in increments of 20 and see how awful this list is. It was supposed to take into account positional importance (which became painfully obvious that they did not consider position when closers immediately began appearing on their list), defense, past performance and future projections. Essentially that is WAR without the projections.
I looked at the top pitchers and positional players in terms of WAR on baseball-reference.com over the past two seasons and figured out my top 100. The formula I used for the “Total” column was: (2010 WAR + (2011 WAR * 2))/3. I did it this way to add weight to recent history. The main problem with my rankings is that I didn’t factor in ZiPS or any other projection system and I will discuss that a bit as we look at the lists.
My ranking is on the left with MLBN’s on the right. I color coded my list and players in red did not make MLBN’s top 100, players in yellow were ranked 25 spots or more higher by MLBN than my list and those players highlighted in green were ranked 25 spots or more lower by MLBN than myself.
(Long read ahead, you have been warned!)
First up: 100-81
It is pretty easy to understand that the bottom of my list might have a bunch of players who were valuable each of the past two years but were omitted by MLBN. I am OK with pretty much every one of the guys in red on my list not making MLBN’s top 100. Hiroki Kuroda is just a quiet assassin and I wouldn’t have even thought to include the newest Rockies pitcher, Jeremy Guthrie, on any top anything list for baseball but we see he is fairly consistent in his value. I still think 2011 was a fluke for Ubaldo Jimenez and would be inclined to include him on the top 100 list.
Mariano Rivera and Michael Young make their rightful appearance on my list towards the bottom and you can see that MLBN had them each inside the top 30. Young and Evan Longoria’s ranking is what drove me over the edge and forced me to go through this exercise. I knew Young was ranked way too high and you will see eventually how low MLBN has Longoria ranked. Young is a “team player” according to Harold Reynolds and he obviously forgot about the stink Young made prior to last year when the Texas Rangers wanted him to DH after they acquired Adrian Beltre.
As for MLBN’s list and players on their list that I didn’t rank this is where my system is faulty. Stephen Strasburg and Starlin Castro certainly should make the list due to their potential and Adam Wainwright should too but he missed mine since he was out all of 2011 after having Tommy John prior to the season. Since my list doesn’t include projections these guys are left off. But look at all those relief pitchers! Craig Kimbrel won the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year award was still only worth three wins above replacement in 2011. We will see a bunch more closers on our next set of 20 players. Mo Rivera is easily the best closer in baseball and his average WAR over the past two seasons using my weighted formula only has him at 3.3 WAR and the bottom of my list. MLBN ranked him 27th! Teams are still overvaluing closers by spending big money on them in the free agent market and MLBN follows suit by over-ranking them on their list.
Now we have some serious issues.
Rockies fans! Look at Jhoulys Chacin! The 67th most valuable player according to my formula and there isn’t a lot of reason to think he regresses a bunch in 2012 and MLBN doesn’t even have him in their top 100.
Nick Swisher, Trevor Cahill, Carlos Ruiz and Shaun Marcum should all sue MLBN for bad publicity. All of these guys should easily make a top 100 list.
I was surprised to see Matt Wieters this high. It wasn’t that long ago that Wieters was a can’t-miss prospect and one that was supposed to be the best hitting catchers in baseball for the next 10 years. That didn’t happen, needless to say (and think of stories like this when you want your team to trade a proven commodity for a can’t-miss prospect). For Wieters to have been worth four wins last year is surprising to me.
There are a few names on my list that are yellow, which means MLBN had them ranked at least 25 spots higher than my formula thinks they should be ranked, that I can completely understand why they were ranked higher. If I had used any one of the numerous projection systems out there in my list Carlos Gonzalez and Alex Avila would have been higher. There are also names like Brett Lawrie and Eric Hosmer who just made their big league debut last year that are easily deserving of being on a top 100 list as their ceiling is very, very high.
What about Zack Greinke?? If I made a top 100 list off of the top of my head I bet I would put Greinke in my top 30. MLBN had him 64th and my list doesn’t even include him. Greinke struck out over 10 batters per nine innings last year and that screams value to me. BR.com only had him at 1.7 WAR in 2011 probably because of his home run rate and the fact that he only threw 170 innings. The only beef I have with MLBN’s inclusion of Greinke is that they have him so low on their list.
Valverde, Jonathan Papelbon, John Axford, Brian Wilson and Heath Bell have no business being on this list. Sure they can close out games but no one even heard of Axford going into last season. Wilson was worth a total of 4.3 wins the past two years and Bell in that pitcher’s park was worth 4.1 in that same time frame. In other words they were about a full win short of making my list and bumped quite a few good players off of MLBN’s list.
We have our first two players highlighted in green which means MLBN had them ranked more than 25 spots lower than my list. Tim Hudson has sort of turned into that pitcher that doesn’t dazzle due to low strikeout rates but he produces so many ground balls he continues to be extremely effective. And what is with the so-low ranking for Chase Utley? Even with the injury concerns in 2011 he was still worth nearly four wins. Utley is usually the kind of guy who gets a ton of love from MLBN and they almost didn’t include him on their list.
If I had to pick two names that most surprise me on my list it is easily Doug Fister and R.A. Dickey. I mean, who? I know who they are but who would have ever thought they would have been two of the more valuable pitchers the past two seasons?
I am also surprised at how low Tim Lincecum and Justin Upton finished on my list. B.J. Upton has been more valuable, according to BR.com, the past two years than his younger brother? Very surprising and frankly very hard to believe.
If MLBN included Wainwright due to his potential the year after surgery then they should definitely include Johnson. And on the opposite end we have Ryan Howard. Howard has been worth about two wins a season each of the past two seasons which isn’t spectacular and not good enough to make my top 100. Add in his injury and the fact that the he might not return until June and there is no reason to include him on this list.
Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira didn’t make my list and just barely missed. McCann was #101 and Tex wasn’t far behind. The other Yankee in this group, Derek Jeter, didn’t make mine either and I am shocked that MLBN didn’t rank him in the top 10 the way some of those announcers view Jeter as some sort of deity.
And now we are slammed with green. MLBN undervalues Ricky Romero, Michael Bourn, Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis and Ben Zobrist. And somehow MLBN left off the 26th (C.J. Wilson), 31st (Brett Gardner) and 35th (Chris Young) most valuable players each of the past two years.
It is really amazing considering all the pub Wilson got when he signed with the Anaheim Angels along with Albert Pujols and Gardner is a freaking Yankee! How can they leave off a Yankee? Well, actually MLBN included Alex Rodriguez, Jeter and Tex in their rankings when they shouldn’t have (OK, Tex is worthy) but missed on Gardner and Swisher. It’s all those closers! MLBN included eight closers in total with Rivera being their highest ranked reliever and that means seven more deserving players were left off of this list (I think Mo is worth putting in the 90’s on a list like this).
Gardner has been about twice as valuable each of the past two seasons than Jeter and he doesn’t even get as many plate appearances as the Yankees captain and not near the respect.
When MLBN aired this episode (players 40-21) my head was hurting by the end of the hour. Young ranked 29th and Longoria ranked 20th?! Longo is way too low and Young way too high. My figures support that belief.
But my numbers aren’t perfect, far from it. While Hanley Ramirez had a bad year in ’11 I wouldn’t consider leaving him off of a top 100 list, but due to his performance the past two years he did miss my top 100 (and prior to the ’11 season MLBN tried to tell me that Ramirez was a better shortstop than Troy Tulowitzki which spawned this). I also would have a hard time leaving Nelson Cruz off of the list but he spends so much time on the DL that an accumulative stat like WAR is impacted due to his lack of playing time. Even with his injuries I don’t have a problem with MLBN ranking him this high.
Remember earlier when I mentioned that Mitch Williams on MLBN said he would rather have Valverde than Verlander, well, this just proves the idiocy behind that comment. Verlander is the second best player in baseball according to MLBN and according to my list he is the fifth best. It really isn’t even a discussion.
Both of the top 20 lists are the same list of names for the most part. Cole Hamels was a pretty major snub by MLBN when they ranked him 68th. The Philadelphia Phillies have Roy Halladay (3rd), Cliff Lee (13th) and Hamels (19th) on my list. Who cares that Howard is a drain on the Phillies? Their pitching is ridiculous.
It will be interesting to see what Miguel Cabrera’s WAR is at the end of the year if he plays third all season. One could assume that his defense is going to be so bad that he won’t be worth near seven wins in 2012 because of his defense.
And the last surprise, to me, on both lists is Pujols ranked outside the top 10 in both of them. Something tells me he finishes 2012 as one of the three most valuable players in baseball.
I love rankings like this because it generates so much discussion, but it is almost like MLBN is trolling baseball fans with their list because some of the picks and ranks are moronic.