PECOTA 50: The top 25 (cont.)
No. 10. Johan Santana, P, Mets, Age 29 (No. 3)
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.
No. 9. C.C. Sabathia, P, Brewers, Age 27 (No. 17)
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 Carlos Zambrano to Roger Clemens -- have tended to hold up quite well to injury.
No. 8. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees, Age 32 (10)
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 Barry Bonds' mark of 762.
No. 7. Joe Mauer, C, Twins, Age 25 (No. 2)
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.
No. 6. Jose Reyes, SS, Mets, Age 25 (No. 7)
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.
No. 5. Grady Sizemore, CF, Indians, Age 25 (No. 5)
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, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips for half a year of Bartolo Colon, was in fact the worst deal in baseball history. Our only nitpick with Sizemore is that he probably did not deserve his Gold Glove in 2007.
No. 4. Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays, Age 22 (HM)
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 Mike Schmidt do in his rookie year? He hit .196.
No. 3. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals, Age 28 (1)
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.
No. 2. David Wright, 3B, Mets, Age 25 (No. 8)
Longoria is to Mike Schmidt as Wright is to George Brett? The analogy isn't perfect, but both Wright and Brett became big league regulars at age 21 ... and Brett hit .305 through his age-25 season, whereas Wright thus far has hit .307.
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.
No. 1. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins, Age 24 (No. 6)
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.
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