PECOTA 50: The top 25
Yesterday, in the first part of our third annual Ultimate Fantasy Draft, we too a look at the first group of 25 players teams would be smart to build their teams around, as well as the honorable mentions. Today, we present the top 25.
No. 25. Justin Upton, RF, Diamondbacks, Age 20 (HM)
I wonder how high Upton might have ranked if we had done this list in April, back when it looked like he was ready to contend for an MVP award. Still, while Upton may not entirely avoid growing pains, to become a solid big-league regular by age 20 is exceptionally unusual and almost always indicative of greatness.
No. 24. Felix Hernandez, P, Mariners, Age 22 (No. 15)
Expectations were so high for King Felix that his career seems to strike some as a disappointment, but his stuff is still wicked, and he's quietly had a very good season. If there's a worry, it's that his groundball-to-flyball ratios, which had been a Hernandez trademark in the past, has not been quite as strong this year. Here's a fun comparable that PECOTA came up with: Fernando Valenzuela.
No. 23. Jay Bruce, OF, Reds, Age 21 (--)
Like Upton, his bat cooled down a bit after an outstanding start, but also like Upton, he has virtually unlimited upside. In spite of having hit for some solid batting averages in the minor leagues, his greatest potential is really as a power hitter, along the lines of a Ryan Braun. Another thought -- it might not be the worst thing that Bruce has struggled at times in the second half if, as it might force him to learn the plate discipline that folks like Jeff Francoeur never did.
See the comment for Justin Verlander: Beckett's strikeout and walk numbers have been just as good in 2008 as they were last year, even if they haven't paid as many dividends in terms of the showcase statistics of wins and ERA. He's still the American Leaguer you'd most want on the mound if you had to have somebody start a Game 7.
No. 21. Josh Hamilton, CF, Rangers, Age 27 (--)
For my money, it's a tough call between Hamilton and Michael Phelps for Sportsman of the Year. What's remarkable with Hamilton is not just that he maintained so much of his raw ability, but also that he's emerged with pretty good higher-level baseball skills. Hamilton takes a decent number of walks, for instance, and is a perfect 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts. His center field defense, however, is a touch rough, and he'd probably belong on a corner for a team that had more depth in its outfield.
No. 20. Cole Hamels, P, Phillies, Age 24 (No. 29)
The juxtaposition for Hamels has always been his reputation for being a bit of a party boy with his extremely mature approach on the mound, where he somehow gets away with using his top-notch changeup more than 30 percent and still having hitters bite on it.
No. 19. Scott Kazmir, P, Rays, Age 24 (No. 33)
Kazmir is already very good, but the reason that he is rated this highly is that he has the potential to become even better if he can learn that he doesn't have to be quite so cute with his pitches and can trust his defense instead. With a slight improvement in his command, he is capable of running off some Johan Santana-type seasons.
No. 18. Brandon Webb, P, Diamondbacks, Age 29 (No.16)
...and Brandon Webb might be a pretty good example for Kazmir to follow. His unprecedented ability to keep the ball on the ground is not only a valuable skill unto itself, but also allows him to exit the at-bat early and preserve his pitch counts. That's why Webb has never been on the DL in six seasons, in spite of accumulating massive innings pitched totals.
No. 17. Ryan Braun, LF, Brewers, Age 24 (--)
One of the hazards of being a baseball writer is that you'll not infrequently get e-mails from friends, family, wives and coaches of players when you have something critical to say about them. I got one such e-mail from a very close relative of Braun's last year after I'd bashed his defense at third base, which rated at 21 runs below average last year according to our Prospectus Fielding Runs metric. This year, the Brewers were smart enough to move him to left field where he's actually become quite a good defensive player, able to fully exploit his athleticism. That really resolves the only outstanding question we had about Braun, who is going to have a 50-HR season or two once he reaches his peak.
No. 16. Curtis Granderson, CF, Tigers, Age 27 (HM)
Somewhere around Webb or Braun, we really turned a corner into the next tier of talent. Granderson is just a superlative ballplayer, excelling in every phase of the game, and his work ethic is so strong that he could wind up getting even better.
No. 15. Tim Lincecum, P, Giants, Age 24 (41)
When I circulated a draft copy of this list to the BP internal mailing list, I had several people tell me that Lincecum's rating was low. But I'm hedging just a little bit because, while I understand all the biomechanical perfection behind his unorthodox-looking delivery, I want to see him get another complete, injury-free season under his belt before I'm completely ready to sign off on it. Pound-for-pound, certainly, he's already the best pitcher in baseball.
No. 14. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers, Age 25 (4)
The apparent decline in his offensive numbers isn't quite as significant as it might seem at first glance, as he was transitioning into the more difficult league and may have needed half the season to get fully acquainted with it. Still, his value eroded significantly once the Tigers recognized that he wasn't really going to be capable of playing a solid third base.
No. 13. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies, Age 29 (No. 22)
Utley is going to make for a fascinating Hall of Fame debate one day. Since he didn't really become a big league regular until age 26, his career totals might not wind up being all that fantastic, but he has played at an MVP caliber ever since. Bonus factoid: Utley has led the National League in hit-by-pitches both this year and last.
No. 12. Jake Peavy, P, Padres, Age 27 (No. 13)
Peavy ranks seventh all-time in strikeout rate among pitchers with at least 1000 lifetime innings pitched; every pitcher ahead of him but Kerry Wood will eventually wind up in the Hall of Fame.
No. 11. Brian McCann, C, Braves, Age 24 (9)
Catchers who hit like this don't grow on trees. Since World War II, in fact, just seven catchers aged 24 or younger have hit .300 or better in a season in which they also hit 20 home runs. Those are Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza, Joe Torre -- and McCann, who did so in 2006 and has a chance to do so again this year.
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