I’m working on a post comparing the 20 best active baseball players to my 20 favorite active bands. It’s not a particularly scientific study- it’s supported, but not necessarily driven, by numbers, but I think it’s a fairly accurate assessment (or at least the baseball part is).
What struck me when I made the list was the depth of players I consider stars, if not superstars. Without any real research, it seems to me that there must be ten to fifteen superstars in the game at any time. I started following baseball in the mid-1980s, when these guys ruled the game:
I could get to 20 by adding a Frank Viola or Bret Saberhagen here, a Cal Ripken or Alan Trammell there, maybe even Willie McGee. Maybe I could rattle off 40 major stars off the top of my head if I really tried.
Anyway, my point is that I was surprised when I couldn’t find room for the likes of Chase Utley and Jered Weaver in my list of the 20 best active players.
I made my list and imagined posting it on ESPN’s Sweet Spot blog, opening it up to the trolls who cry “east coast bias” every time a writer says the Phillies have a great rotation or that the Giants need a bat to be taken seriously in the playoffs. How would they react to the absence of a Ranger or to Matt Holliday’s exclusion? In honor of those trolls, here are the 21st through 40th best players in the game, again rather unscientifically (and in alphabetical order):
A case could be made for several of these guys to be included among the top 20. This “B” list includes the defending AL MVP, the pitcher for whom I started the Weaver Watch, and a catcher whom I might have named the best player in the game if I had made this list a year ago.
As deep as this list seems, my top 40 doesn’t include Matt Cain, co-ace of the defending world champion pitching staff, or Carlos Beltran, the most coveted chip on this year’s trade market.
It doesn’t include sluggers Paul Konerko, Mark Teixeira, Ryan Howard, Aramis Ramirez, Lance Berkman, or Kevin Youkilis.
Multitalented stars like Buster Posey, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Carlos Gonzalez, Brandon Phillips, Rickie Weeks, and David Wright are conspicuously absent.
It doesn’t include current Cy Young contenders Josh Beckett, James Shields, or Jair Jurrjens, perennial contender Adam Wainwright, or budding aces David Price, Yovani Gallardo, Tommy Hanson, or Michael Pineda.
It doesn’t include any relief pitchers, any of the Athletics’ starters, or any AL shortstops. The Indians are two games out of first place and not represented.
Baseball is flush with stars today. It may seem excessive that more than 80 players are named All-Stars each year (after substitutions), but I’m sure hometown fans would argue that every player in the group above is worthy of top-20 status.
Perhaps every generation has as many great players as this one does, and it’s just the current stars that shine the brightest. But there are four more teams now than there were when I was a kid. There are players from Japan, Venezuela, and Curaçao playing alongside guys from Florida and California. Today’s game is the deepest and most star-studded it’s ever been.
And we haven’t even thought about Strasburg and Harper yet.