Let’s have an argument.
Not that we aren’t already having one–or a few–right now. Anyway, I like arguments. I especially like arguments about baseball. But arguments around here are complicated by the fact that a.) I’m always right about everything; and b.) We all know that each of us comes at an argument from a different place than our co-BJers, often without quite explaining exactly how–and the result is a mess all over everything. What my post presupposes is: What if we didn’t?
Here’s the set-up:
Starved for baseball material before the World Series started, and generally ravenous for anything I can read about my favorite former Brave, I came across this article at a Cardinals fan-site. At one point, the author names him “one of the 15 best position players in baseball.” Because I’m a robot, my first thought was “duh.” But then I had an unusual, human moment of skepticism when I wondered whether that’s actually something you can just say without backing it up. You can certainly say “Jason Heyward is one of the 100 best position players in baseball,” and no one who knows anything about baseball will bat an eye. And you can say “Mike Trout is one of the 15 best players in baseball,” and anybody who has ever seen a Subway ad will go along with it. But Mike Trout is a long way from Jason Heyward, and 15 is a long way from 100, and I like to pin things down.
So who are the best position players in baseball?
- Specifically, based on recent performance, who are most likely to be the best position players over the next couple of years?
- I decided 30 was a good number because there are 30 teams in baseball. So it’s like an imaginary draft where every team gets a first-round pick. I bet they do this draft at a sleepover at Kenny Williams house, right after they crank call Ozzie Guillen.
- No pitchers on this list. If there were, Kershaw would fall somewhere between #2 and #4.
- No 2015 rookies or players who got called up later in 2014–on the Show Me principle. Carlos Correa and Mookie Betts and Kris Bryant (and maybe Kevin Pillar?) probably deserve to be listed here, but…Show Me. Again.
- The whole package is what I’m considering. This is still a list full of great hitters, but players with a less complete game will rank lower than if I were only considering hitting.
- Having a good season two years ago (2013) is important, but not as important as the most recent two seasons; e.g. having an off-year doesn’t hurt you much, but having two off-years in a row since your last really good season is something to consider.
To get my 30, I made a big list of players who have been good in at least one of the last 3 seasons, with “good” being defined as 100 or more Total Runs. “Total Runs” is an all-encompassing stat like WAR that essentially adds up all the good and bad things a player does over the course of a season with the bat, on the basepaths, and in the field (basic definition here). I couldn’t tell you whether it’s more accurate than either of the WARs, but I prefer it in a presentation for two reasons. First, the idea that Bryce Harper has 171 of something is more appealing to me than the idea that he has 9.5 of something. Wouldn’t you rather he had 171 famished barracudas charging him than nine and a half? Second, where the WARs do their positional adjustment voodoo behind-the-scenes, the Total Runs Leaderboard shows exactly how many of the “runs” come from hitting, how many from fielding, how many from baserunning, and how many simply because a guy plays shortstop. You probably should not trust the fielding numbers necessarily. That said, I trust the fielding numbers and use them here as if they’re canon.
So there were a bunch of players. I eyeballed the list and took out some real stinkers who clearly didn’t belong for one reason or another. For the remainder I simply averaged their Total Runs from each season. Well–that’s not quite right. Actually, I gave them a weighted average to reflect the idea that a player’s most recent two seasons are more relevant than his 2013 season for the purpose of this list. So 40% weight to 2015 and 2014; 20% weight to 2013. (There is no scientific or statistical reason why I chose the 40-40-20 ratio as opposed to some other group of 3 numbers that add up to a hundred, if you were wondering.) Then I ranked them according to those weighted averages. (You can see the whole working list with individual season numbers for each player on this Google doc.)
Well that was pretty good, but there were some obvious holes. For instance, there was this brash little demon who plays baseball like it’s just a natural part of his body’s homeostatic maintenance–he missed the top 30; and another guy who doesn’t do anything but hit home runs and change his name–he didn’t come close. So I made some adjustments based on a few factors: age of the player (I moved some guys well into their thirties down a couple pegs); injury considerations (was one of his recent year totals only low because of missing a good chunk of play?). Finally, when it was close, I gave the edge to the player who has proved more capable of having a monstrous season over a player who was consistently good.
The Best Players in Baseball – 2015
|Rk||Player||3-yr W. TR Avg.||2016 Team||2016 Age|
|10||Jason Heyward||123.6||Free Agent||26|
|26||Yoenis Cespedes||115.4||Free Agent||30|
Some observations about the list:
- The Marlins, Pirates, Tigers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Orioles, Mariners, and expansion Free Agents all have multiple players on the list.
- The Mets, Phillies, Brewers, Indians, White Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Yankees, Rays, and Athletics don’t place anyone.
- Joey Votto is more incredible than any of us realize
- Adrian Beltre is more incredible than any of us realize
- Ian Kinsler (!) is more incredible than any of us realize
- Mike Trout is exactly as incredible as all of us realize.
- When it comes down to it, I’ll take Goldschmidt over Donaldson. That was probably the toughest ranking.
- Hooray defense! When Andrelton learns to hit, watch out world.
- Giancarlo Stanton earns the Most Fragile Player award, which is why he’s “only” ranked 15th
- I didn’t get into ranking players after the top 30, but Freddie Freeman is probably somewhere in the 35-40 range. We know he’s capable of a big season. Here’s hoping he puts up 2013 numbers again.
- Yes, Jason Heyward is one of the 15 best position players in baseball. I can return to being a robot.