ESPN is gradually releasing its list of the top 500 Major League Baseball players in 2012. They won’t get to the top 100 until next Thursday, but I thought I’d give you mine now, to see how they compare.
To make this list, I brainstormed players who may be among the game’s 100 best right now, lined up their Wins Above Replacement (per fangraphs) from 2009, 2010, and 2011, and predicted what their 2012 WAR might be based on trends, age, and trajectory. I then made a few subjective adjustments and ranked them 1 through 100.
Here they are, with scattered comments:
100. Craig Kimbrel, Braves – Something of a token, since I don’t think it’s possible for a relief pitcher to be among the 100 most valuable players, but it’s hard to argue he’s not one of the best. Apologies to staters Matt Harrison, Anibal Sanchez, Tommy Hanson, Max Scherzer, and Jordan Zimmermann, who just missed the cut, but will likely earn more WAR than Kimbrel in ’12.
99. Matt Moore, Rays – Or he could be 15th. Or 450th. Who knows?
98. Jayson Werth, Nationals
97. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees – The rotting corpse of ARod is still one of the 100 best players in the game.
96. Edwin Jackson, Nationals – Quietly consistent, with 3.6, 3.8, and 3.8 fWAR the past three seasons.
95. Michael Pineda, Yankees
94. Jaime Garcia, Cardinals
93. Carl Crawford, Red Sox – What’s the next number in this sequence: 5.6, 7.6, 0.2? If you can figure it out, you’ll have a better idea what’s in store for Crawford and the Red Sox this season.
92. Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays – This guy strikes out everybody he doesn’t walk. I see a breakout in ’12.
91. Buster Posey, Giants
90. Josh Beckett, Red Sox
89. Corey Hart, Brewers
88. Mat Latos, Reds
87. Rickie Weeks, Brewers
86. Howie Kendrick, Angels
85. James Shields, Rays
84. Brandon McCarthy, A’s
83. Ricky Romero, Blue Jays
82. Joe Mauer, Twins – Mauer would have been first or second had I made this list before the 2010 season.
81. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals
80. Carlos Beltran, Cardinals
79. Peter Bourjos, Angels – If his defensive numbers from 2011 are for real, Bourjos ma be even better than this.
78. Carlos Santana, Indians
77. Chris Young, Diamondbacks – The centerfielder, not the pitcher.
76. JJ Hardy, Orioles – The Mets and Astros get shut out, but the equally hapless Orioles get a player in the list.
75. Hunter Pence, Phillies – The least aesthetically pleasing great player in baseball.
74. Mark Teixeira, Yankees
73. Justin Masterson, Indians
72. Derek Holland, Rangers
71. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals – I see him coming back from Tommy John surgery as a 4.5-win pitcher after competing for Cy Young awards in his last two healthy seasons. Move him up or down 30 places as you see fit.
70. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals – On a rate basis, he’ll be one of the best pitchers in the game, but he won’t pitch enough to be as valuable as other top pitchers.
69. Michael Bourn, Braves
68. Starlin Castro, Cubs
67. Doug Fister, Tigers – Was his monster 2011 for real?
66. Jhonny “sic” Peralta, Tigers – A lot of Tigers had career years in 2011. They may be due for some regression.
65. Matt Garza, Cubs
64. Brandon Beachy, Braves – Another high strikeout guy who may break out in ’12.
63. Yunel Escobar, Blue Jays
62. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
61. Alex Avila, Tigers – See Fister and Peralta above.
60. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
59. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins – He’s too young (28) for his recent decline to continue.
58. Cameron Maybin, Padres – Because of Petco Park, no one will know he’s one of the best players in the NL this year.
57. Elvis Andrus, Rangers
56. Alexei Ramirez, White Sox – I’ve got a lot of AL shortstops in the second 50, but Ramirez ranks highest.
55. David Price, Rays – May prognosticators expect bigger things from Price this year, but even a career-high 4.8 fWAR keeps him outside the top 50.
54. Jason Heyward, Braves
53. Shin-soo Choo, Indians
52. Josh Johnson, Marlins – He’s been perhaps the best pitcher in baseball when healthy each of the last two years, but he can’t stay healthy enough to stay on the field.
51. Yadier Molina – Dave Cameron himself says that Molina is probably the one player whose contributions are least appreciated by the WAR formula. He may be even better than this.
50. Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks
49. Brett Gardner, Yankees – Almost certainly the best defensive outfielder in the game, UZR suggests that he might be the best defensive player.
48. Brian McCann, Braves
47. Daniel Hudson, Diamondbacks
46. Josh Hamilton, Rangers – The seasons before and after Hamilton’s 8.5-win 2010 may portend a fall for Jacoby Ellsbury. Sometimes everything just comes together for a summer.
45. Matt Cain, Giants
44. Yu Darvish, Rangers – Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m guessing the learning curve for Darvish is short.
43. Prince Fielder, Brewers
42. Shane Victorino, Phillies – The best offensive player on the Phillies in what is quickly becoming the post-Utley era.
41. Brandon Phillips, Reds
40. Cole Hamels, Phillies
39. Matt Holliday, Cardinals – Quietly among the game’s best hitters every year.
38. Tim Lincecum, Giants
37. Jon Lester, Red Sox – He’ll have a higher ERA than Lincecum, but he’ll do it in a very different environment.
36. Matt Wieters, Orioes – Actually, the O’s get two. Wieters arrived last year and won’t let us forget him next year.
35. Curtis Granderson, Yankees
34. CJ Wilson, Angels
33. Jered Weaver, Angels
32. Dan Haren, Angels – Yeah, the Angels can pitch.
31. Alex Gordon, Royals – Quietly enjoyed an MVP-type season in 2011. Is he finally here?
30. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals – He’d be higher if I were confident he’d stay healthy.
29. Mike Napoli, Rangers – The game’s best hitter on a rate basis in ’11 won’t be quite as impressive in ’12, but he’ll play more.
28. Jose Reyes, Marlins
27. Pablo Sandoval, Giants
26. Zack Greinke, Brewers – In the past three seasons, only Jacoby Ellsbury’s 2011 (9.4 was more valuable than Greinke’s ’09 (9.3) according to fWAR.
25. Robinson Cano – The best hitting second baseman in the game, he’d be ranked higher with a little patience and defensive range.
24. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
23. Ben Zobrist, Rays
22. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
21. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
20. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
19. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
18. CC Sabathia, Yankees
17. Cliff Lee, Phillies
16. Albert Pujols, Angels – AL pitching may be an adjustment for Pujols, but he’ll still rake.
15. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox
14. Madison Bumgarner, Giants – I’ve got two NL pitchers ahead of him because they’re safer picks, but Bumgarner is my unofficial Cy Young pick this year.
13. Ian Kinsler, Rangers – That’s seven Rangers in the top 100 (only the Yankees have as many), and this guy’s the best of them all.
12. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
11. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers – He wasn’t quite the best pitcher in the NL last year, but he’s young and he’s for real.
10. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
9. Ryan Braun, Brewers
8. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers – If I had any reason to believe he could hold his own at third base, he’d probably be number three.
7. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays – I’d be surprised to see him walk as much this year, but he’ll mash again.
6. Matt Kemp, Dodgers – The real NL MVP in ’11, and my third choice in ’12.
5. Justin Verlander, Tigers – Fangraphs tells us that his 2009 (8.3 fWAR) was even better than his 2011 (7.0)
4. Roy Halladay, Phillies – Until he’s not, he’s the best pitcher in baseball.
3. Joey Votto, Reds – The guy I think will win the NL MVP this year, because the next guy’s team will be bad.
2. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies – The best player in the NL in 2012.
1. Evan Longoria, Rays – The best player in baseball in 2012.
A breakdown by team in case you’re interested:
7 Rangers (5 hitters, 2 pitchers)
7 Yankees (5 hitters, 2 pitchers)
6 Angels (3 hitters, 3 pitchers)
6 Cardinals (3 hitters, 3 pitchers)
6 Red Sox (4 hitters, 2 pitchers)
5 Brewers (3 hitters, 2 pitchers)
5 Braves (3 hitters, 2 pitchers)
5 Giants (2 hitters, 3 pitchers)
5 Phillies (2 hitters, 3 pitchers)
5 Rays (2 hitters, 3 pitchers)
At least one of those teams will miss the playoffs this year.
***Addendum: commenters have asked where David Wright is, which made me realize that I did indeed leave a deserving third baseman off my list. Brett Lawrie will be a 4-5 win player in 2012, so slot him in somewhere in the 70s. Let’s say he’s between Pence and Hardy.***
Agree? What did I get wrong? Leave a comment below.