Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Top 100 Right Now: #10-6

Continuing our countdown of the top 100 players in the majors, we hit numbers 10 through 6 today. You can find the explanation and origin of our list here. Since we are only doing five players a post, we will be going even further in-depth. Alex will talk about the player's past, while I will find comps for each player, trying to show how he projects in the future. As a quick refresher, here are 100-11:

T100 - Jordan Zimmermann - SP -WAS
T100 - Michael Bourn - CF - ATL
T98 - Gio Gonzalez - SP - WAS
T98 - Nick Swisher - RF - NYY
97 - Nelson Cruz - RF - TEX
96 - B.J. Upton - CF - TBR
95 - Jayson Werth - OF - WAS
94 - Miguel Montero - C - ARI
93 - Lance Berkman - 1B/RF - STL
92 - Ubaldo Jimenez - SP - CLE
91 - Yunel Escobar - SS - TOR
90 - Corey Hart - RF - MIL
89 - Josh Beckett - SP - BOS
88 - Carlos Beltran - RF - STL
T86 - John Danks - SP - CHW
T86 - David Wright - 3B - NYM
85 - Gavin Floyd - SP - CHW
84 - Alexei Ramirez - SS - CHW
83 - Buster Posey - C - SFG
82 - Matt Garza - SP - CHC
81 - Anibal Sanchez - SP - MIA
80 - Joel Hanrahan - RP - PIT
79 - Jay Bruce - RF - CIN
78 - Howie Kendrick - 2B - LAA
77 - Mat Latos - SP - CIN
76 - Yadier Molina - C - STL
75 - Alex Gordon - LF - KCR
74 - Chris Carpenter - SP - STL
73 - Chase Utley - 2B - PHI
72 - Doug Fister - SP - DET
71 - Desmond Jennings - OF - TBR
70 - John Axford - RP - MIL
69 - Jonathan Papelbon - RP - PHI
68 - Brett Gardner - OF - NYY
67 - Daniel Hudson - SP - ARI
66 - Justin Masterson - SP - CLE
65 - Sean Marshall - RP - CIN
64 - Matt Moore - SP - TBR
63 - Mark Teixeira - 1B - NYY
62 - Rickie Weeks - 2B - MIL
61 - Craig Kimbrel - RP - ATL
60 - Carlos Santana - C/1B - CLE
59 - Yovani Gallardo - SP - MIL
58 - C.J. Wilson - SP - LAA
57 - Jose Reyes - SS - MIA
56 - David Price - SP - TBR
55 - Mariano Rivera - RP - NYY
54 - James Shields - SP - TBR
53 - Madison Bumgarner - SP - SFG
52 - Mike Napoli - C/1B/DH - TEX
51 - Adam Wainwright - SP - STL
50 - Hanley Ramirez - 3B/SS -MIA
49 - Hunter Pence - RF - PHI
48 - Matt Wieters - C - BAL
47 - Alex Rodriguez - 3B - NYY
46 - Brett Lawrie - 3B - TOR
45 - Joe Mauer - C - MIN
44 - Shane Victorino - CF - PHI
43 - Carlos Gonzalez - OF - COL
42 - Brandon Phillips - 2B - CIN
41 - Jered Weaver - SP - LAA
40 - Matt Cain - SP - SFG
39 - Tim Lincecum - SP - SFG
38 - Giancarlo Stanton - RF - MIA
37 - Jon Lester - SP - BOS
36 - Cole Hamels - SP - PHI
35 - Kevin Youkilis - 3B/1B - BOS
34 - Jacoby Ellsbury - CF - BOS
33 - Josh Johnson - SP - MIA
32 - Brian McCann - C - ATL
31 - Stephen Strasburg - SP - WAS
30 - Josh Hamilton - OF - TEX
29 - Pablo Sandoval - 3B - SFG
28 - Zack Greinke - SP - MIL
27 - Curtis Granderson - CF - NYY
26 - Prince Fielder - 1B - DET
25 - Adrian Beltre - 3B - TEX
24 - Dan Haren - SP - LAA
23 - Ian Kinsler - 2B - TEX
22 - Matt Holliday - LF - STL
21 - Andrew McCutchen - CF - PIT
20 - Ryan Zimmerman - 3B - WAS
19 - Ben Zobrist - 2B/RF - TBR
18 - Clayton Kershaw - SP - LAD
17 - Justin Upton - RF - ARI
16 - Felix Hernandez - SP - SEA
15 - CC Sabathia - SP - NYY
14 - Robinson Cano - 2B - NYY
13 - Ryan Braun - LF - MIL
12 - Adrian Gonzalez - 1B/RF - BOS
11 - Cliff Lee - SP - PHI

10 - Matt Kemp - CF - LAD - MLB (1)
Alex (6) - Kemp was taken in the sixth round of the 2003 Major League Baseball draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Midwest City High School, located in Oklahoma. Kemp began his career for the Gulf Coast Dodgers in 2003 and started to progress through the Minor Leagues before making his big league debut in 2006. His first great season was in 2009 when he was just 24 years old. That year he showed excellent power, overall he had an ISO of .193. His plate discipline was slightly below average but he still managed to get on base over 35% of the time. His final slash line was .297/.352/.490 (127 wRC+). He ended the season with 5.2 total WAR. His best season was last year though when he finished with 8.7 WAR. He saw a giant spike in his power, his ISO rose all the way to .262. He still struggled with strikeouts but it wasn't a huge deal. He finished the season with the following: .324/.399/.586 (171). This year he was on a similar path, having one of the best Aprils in recent memory and was on his way to another MVP type season. Unfortunately, he hurt his hamstring and it's been a problem ever since.

Lee (15) - Possibly possessing the greatest raw ability in the league, Kemp has began to show more consistent use of those tools.  His combination of size, power, and speed is reminiscent of a young Jose Canseco or Dave Winfield.  As far as actual results go, two players seem to jump out at me: Eric Davis and Sammy Sosa.  Davis consistently hit 25+ HR, also stealing 20+ bases, including 80 his first full season.  He also struck out over 20% of his plate appearances, though he walked over 10% of the time, something Kemp didn't do until last year.  Davis also struggled converting his athletic ability into quality defense, another knock on Kemp's game.  Sosa took a couple years to develop his power, but then he became a 30/30 guy with poor plate discipline.  Neither player came close to Kemp's .353 career BABIP, something only 11 players have surpassed through age 27.  In the future, Kemp still has some plate discipline woes, since his spike in walks came solely from IBB.  The BABIP will start to come down with age and any lingering effects of his current hamstring injury.  I see him having a career similar to Andre Dawson, except without the defensive prowess, which would probably leave him out of Hall of Fame induction.

9 - Dustin Pedroia - 2B - BOS - MLB (12)
Alex (12) - Pedroia was drafted out of Arizona State University during the second round of the 2004 draft and signed for $575,000. His second season in the big leagues was when he developed into an all-star, posting 6.8 WAR. He didn't hit for a ton of power, he only managed .167 ISO but he excelled in many other areas. His plate discipline was very good, he only struck out 7% of the time and walked 6.9% of the time. His .333 BABIP was relatively high, but he had some good speed and had a tendency to hit more groundballs and line drives. He was an excellent contributor offensively, posting a wRC+ of 131 and held his own defensively. Last season was by far his best year though. He continued to show power and other similar numbers across the board. The one thing that stuck out though was defensive. He had a UZR of 17.9, contributing nearly 2 wins with his glove alone. This season Pedroia is off to another solid season. He's striking out a little more and walking a little less but Pedroia should be able to correct that. His .291 BABIP is a little low compared to his .312 average, it's possible that he's run into some better defense this year or he just has a case of bad luck. Either way Pedroia should finish the season as one of the games best second baseman.

Lee (8) - Pedroia possesses the three most underrated skills for a position player: great plate discipline, defense, and the ability to hit the gaps.  Pedroia has walked more than he has struck out in his career, even after removing IBB, something only a handful of players can claim over the same span.  Defensive metrics have placed Pedroia +35 to +55 in his career, 7-11 runs above average per season.  He has hit 218 doubles since the 2007 season, the fifth-most over that span.  A couple WWII second basemen came up as close comparisons: Billy Herman and Bobby Doerr.  Herman's line is nearly identical if you flip the triples and home runs around.  Doerr matches Pedroia in the power categories, though the defense is lacking some.  For the future, Pedroia should remain a consistent hitter, especially if he remains in Boston.  I think he will likely finish with career rates similar to Craig Biggio, with his HOF chances hinging on how long he plays.  If he can amass over 10000 PA, Pedroia will have a very good chance at the HOF.

8 - Albert Pujols - 1B - LAA - MLB (11)
Alex (9) - Due to questions regarding his age, build and other factors Pujols wasn't drafted until the 13th round of the 1999 draft. Pujols dominated right off the bat when he made his debut in 2001. He showed a tremendous eye at the plate, and displayed his big league power. He had an ISO of .281 and his slash line was impressive to say the least. At seasons end it was .329/.403/.610 (158) and finished with 7.7 WAR. In short, he won the rookie of the year in a landslide. Since then he has been the best first baseman in the league, posting numbers that when you see them you think of all-time legends like Lou Gehrig. Due to his accomplishments he was awarded a 10 year-$240 million dollar contract by the Los Angeles Angels. So far the contract hasn't gone as planned but the past month he managed to hit .320/.385/.615 so that could be a sign of things to come. His 11% HR/FB is significantly below his 19.4% HR/FB so it's possible that Pujols isn't hitting the ball as hard. He's also suffering from a low .253 BABIP.

Lee (10) - As Alex said, Pujols is an all-time great, showing both greatness and consistency throughout his entire career.  He is one of eight players to compile at least 70 WAR, essentially a shoo-in Hall of Fame player, before age 30.  Since 2001, only Alex Rodriguez is within 30 WAR of Pujols.  From 2005-10, Pujols led the NL in B-R WAR, meaning he easily could have won six straight MVPs.  His dominance of the league is nearly unprecedented.  The closest historical comparison I could find was Hank Aaron.  Aaron put up 6-9 WAR seasons from '55-'71, never faltering nor putting up an insane season.  Pujols started showing signs of decline last season, and he really struggled early on this year.  He still has good years ahead of him, though 8-9 WAR seasons may be a thing of the past.  He'll likely finish around 120 career WAR, putting him in the top 15 all-time and first-ballot HOF inductee.

7 - Jose Bautista - RF - TOR - MLB (6)
Alex (11) - One of the best stories in baseball, Bautista jumped from team to team before breaking out with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Pittsburgh Pirates took him in the 20th round of the 2000 draft and then taken by the Baltimore Orioles in the rule 5 draft. He then jumped from a plethora of teams before landing permanently with the Blue Jays. During September/October of 2009 is when something suddenly turned on for Bautista. During that stretch he had an ISO of .349 and has been hitting home runs ever since.  In 2010 he posted an uncanny .357 ISO and still managed excellent plate discipline. He also finished with 6.8 WAR, but he still got better. Last year he showed that he wasn't a fluke, he followed up his breakout year with 8.3 WAR. His ISO faced obvious regression, going from .354 to .306. Still an outstanding number. Being one of the most feared hitters in the game he saw his BB% sail to 20%. His slash line was also an extremely impressive .302/.447/.608 (181). The power is still there this season, but his BABIP is unnaturally low, sitting at .197. He should expect some better luck going forward and continue to be a feared power hitter.

Lee (6) - Bautista's career path has never been close to matched in baseball history.  Bautista was a below replacement-level player until 2009, then became one of the best hitters in the game.  Carlos Pena was not quite as bad as Bautista early in his career, but he exploded in 2007 for a 7 WAR season, following that up with a 5-win season, but he has been no better than average since.  David Ortiz also had a slow start to his career, but he never put up more than 6 WAR in a season, something Bautista has done the past two seasons.  Bautista will probably finish his career with an average no higher than .250, since his BABIP skills are so poor.   His walk and strikeout totals are nearly equal since 2010, an impressive feat for such a powerful swinger.  However, the late bloom to his career will likely prevent election to the HOF, but he could end up with Gil Hodges or Norm Cash type numbers.

6 - Justin Verlander - SP - DET - MLB (2)
Alex (8) - Verlander was taken with the 2nd overall pick in the 2004 draft out of Old Dominion University and has been one of the games best pitchers. His best year was in 2009 when he had 8.3 WAR  That season was highlighted by a ERA-/FIP-/xFIP of  76/63/73. He struck out over 27% of batters that he faced and only walked 6%. He also did a good job at preventing the long ball, his HR/FB was 7.4%. Last season he won the American League Cy Young award as well as the American League MVP. Whether he deserved it or not is another story, but he was dominant regardless. His stats across the board were what you would expect, but there were two numbers that stood out. One was his extremely low .236 BABIP and the other an abnormally high 80.3 LOB%. With such a high LOB% that means less runners scored, but this season he's back to his 73 LOB% and his ERA/FIP/xFIP hardly changed. He continues to dominant this season, he already has 3.4 WAR and his command is as dominant as usual. He's striking out just under 26% of batters and is walking less than 6% of batters. His ERA-/FIP/xFIP- is 65/60/77 and is on pace to make another strong run at the Cy Young award.

Lee (7) - While Verlander was putting up good numbers before 2011, the results were not matching his top-notch stuff.  Last year's Cy Young/MVP season cemented his place as a top pitcher in the league.  His three-pitch mix is probably only matched by Strasburg.  His closest historical match is probably Jose Rijo.  After posting a few 5-WAR seasons, Rijo had a 9-win 1993 season.  I do not foresee Verlander posting one more average season, then having arm problems to essentially end his career at age 30.  Luis Tiant and Steve Carlton also had similar career paths.  There are no signs of wear showing in Verlander's performance this year.  He should be in the middle of his career peak, leaving him on pace to accumulate around 60-65 career WAR, in the category of John Smoltz and Jim Palmer.  While those names indicate Hall of Fame potential, Rick Reuschel and Tiant are also right around that area, two great pitchers not in the Hall.  The MVP season should help convince some that he was a truly dominant pitcher at one time, giving him some margin for error in the voting.

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