Several Cuts Above - selecting 50 best baseball players
The Sporting News
Despite a slew of supposedly defining statistics, TSN's quest to select
baseball's50 best players proves a daunting task. Who glitters
most among the gems, according to the game's insiders? Read on.
Baseball is the game best suited to statistical analysis.
Scanning league statistical columns has become as much of a
Sunday ritual as doing crossword puzzles and visiting Home Depot.
So it figures that baseball players would be easier to compare
than athletes in other sports. A home run is a home run, and .317
is better than .298. Except, of course, that batting at Enron
Field will yield much different results than plugging away at
Comerica Park. And statistics often are worthless in measuring
ability in the field. And how do you compare pitchers and
hitters, or even starting pitchers and relievers? What the heck
do you do with Frank Thomas?
Clearly, rating the major leagues' best players is more
complicated than it first appears. So when THE SPORTING NEWS set
out to do just that, we turned to the people who are paid to draw
such conclusions: the general managers, assistant G.M.'s and
We handed out ballots and asked the experts to rank their top 30
players, based strictly on current value. We imposed no
restrictions on how many players they could select from any
position or a given team. But any player likely to miss at least
half of the 2000 season was ineligible.
As expected, the tabulated results were a mixture of the
predictable and the illuminating. Pedro Martinez is there. Ramon
Martinez is not.
But what about Edgardo Alfonzo and Jeff Kent (one made it, one
didn't)? How high has Vladimir Guerrero risen? How low has Albert
1 Pedro Martinez, RHP, Red Sox. In an age when earned-run
averages resemble Nadia Comaneci's scores on the uneven bars,
Martinez's numbers hearken to the days of Koufax and Marichal, if
not Gibson. (Here's one: He allows about as many earned runs over
21 innings as his closest American League competitors give up in
nine.) As Seattle handyman John Mabry said, "If the Lord could
pitch, I think he'd be a lot like Pedro." Opponents are grateful
for any reprieve--even a short one, like Martinez's current stint
on the disabled list.
2 Alex Rodriguez, SS, Mariners. In the view of many, Rodriguez,
Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra are the greatest trio of
shortstops ever to play in the majors at the same time (certainly
in one league as contemporaries). But our survey puts A-Rod a
short hop ahead of the others. His steals are down, but Rodriguez
ranks high in virtually every other offensive category and wields
a potent arm. And he won't turn 25 until late this month.
3 Randy Johnson, LHP, Diamondbacks. The Big Unit shows no signs
of wear at age 36. Mixing deadly speed and movement with a
stopper's mentality, he is devastating against lefthanded
hitters. Come to think of it, Johnson overwhelms righties, too.
Only unforeseen arm trouble or a low-hanging doorway will keep
Johnson from his third Cy Young award.
4 Barry Bonds, LF, Giants. Bonds, who turns 36 in two weeks,
never has been the game's most popular player. But when he isn't
sitting in the recliner installed in front of his imperial
locker, he is battering National League pitching with those quick
wrists. Bonds' 2000 season has been considerably healthier and
more productive than 1999. His fielding and baserunning have
diminished only slightly.
5 Ivan Rodriguez, C, Rangers. Rodriguez hits like Mike Piazza and
fields and throws like a young Bob Boone. He's so far ahead of
other American League catchers, it's embarrassing. His statistics
are ahead of his 1999 MVP pace. Take a good look at Pudge--you're
watching one of the all-time greats.
6 Ken Griffey Jr., CF, Reds. Only a natural such as Junior could
have reason to grouse after being voted the sixth-best player in
baseball. True, his batting average has plummeted, but Griffey
has plenty of time to get his boat back in the current. Question:
How did the Mariners fail to win a championship when they had
three of TSN's top six players (A-Rod, Unit, and Junior)?
7 Mark McGwire, 1B, Cardinals. Now surrounded by a competitive
team, McGwire has stopped trying to do it all himself. He's
laying off bad pitches, and his batting average is higher than
ever. He's a solid fielder, too. But who are we kidding? The
reason you love this guy is that he has the potential to puncture
the upper reaches of any stadium.
8 Vladimir Guerrero, RF, Expos. Potential has been spun into gold
in Montreal. Guerrero, the man who punishes first-pitch
fastballs, set a stack of club records last year. Now Guerrero is
aiming to exceed most of those numbers, preparing to add a second
200-hit season to his resume and becoming more consistent afield.
9 Nomar Garciaparra, SS, Red Sox. According to our experts,
Garciaparra and Martinez make up the game's premier
pitcher-batter combination. Garciaparra is the current poster boy
for .400 flirtation and the most qualified candidate yet this
season. He has a seasoned batting eye and, after being sidelined
for more than two weeks in May, is coming off a monster June.
10 Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees. Garciaparra or Jeter? Jeter or
Garciaparra? The personnel experts were little help in solving
this puzzler, as the two athletic shortstops finished with nearly
identical vote counts. If you like speed--and a dash of
charisma--Jeter is your guy. Age? Jeter is 26, Garciaparra 27.
11 Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves. Still the game's pre-eminent third
baseman, still the major leagues' most feared switch hitter,
still the big stick in a lineup with World Series aspirations,
Jones could surpass his RBI total from last year's MVP campaign.
12 Greg Maddux, RHP, Braves. Kevin Millwood has been
inconsistent, at best, for the Braves. John Smoltz is absent. It
hardly matters because Maddux has regained much of the form he
lost last year. The four-time Cy Young winner is a proven
workhorse with superb location, and his hits-per-inning figure is
13 Mariano Rivera, RHP, Yankees. Suddenly, effective relief
pitching is as scarce as Steinbrenner wit. Rivers is nowhere near
as unhittable as he was a year ago. But he's the only closer in
our top 32 slots, which makes him a valuable commodity.
14 Kevin Brown, RHP, Dodgers. The intense righthander, who throws
every pitch in the book, can be counted on for 18 wins and 220
strikeouts. He is virtually unbeatable when the Dodgers score
some runs. He ranks second in the N.L. in ERA this year and has
put up such figures as 1.89 and 2.38 in the past five years.
15 Sammy Sosa, RF, Cubs. Sosa has coasted earthward, both as a
home run clouter and a genial hero. But he's still among the
game's most reliable run-producers--and a change of venue
wouldn't affect that. He hits the low ball as well as anyone not
16 Roberto Alomar, 2B, Indians. Second base isn't one of the
majors' strongest positions right now, but don't blame Alomar.
Though his numbers have ebbed, he gets on base, hits for power
and fields brilliantly. And he is among the A.L.'s stolen base
leaders this season.
17 Shawn Green, RF, Dodgers. Los Angeles misses Raul Mondesi as
much as it pines for the stage-3 smog alerts of the leaded-gas
era. Green, a decent fielder and underrated runner, is one of the
finest players in the game and a vital lefthanded bat in the
18 Mike Piazza, C, Mets. Piazza's story is a familiar one. He's
still one of the toughest outs in the game and a liability on
defense. A lifetime .329 hitter entering this year, he was making
that figure appear shabby through the first three months of the
19 Rafael Palmeiro, 1B/DH, Rangers. They're not calling Palmeiro
an MVP candidate this season, as they did a year ago (when he had
Juan Gonzalez batting ahead of him). But the steady 35-year-old
is putting up DH-sized numbers while logging a surprising number
of games at first base.
20 Manny Ramirez, RF, Indians. A bum hamstring has hampered
Ramirez at times during this end-of-contract season, but he's
still averaging about one RBI per game. His health in the second
half may be the key to Cleveland's postseason hopes.
21 Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies. As former Tennessee quarterbacks go,
he's no Peyton Manning. On the other hand, Manning can't abuse
righthanded pitching the way this rising star can. And though
there's no denying that many of Helton's feats are fueled by
Coors Field, his 2000 road numbers alone would project into
something like a .300/30/105 season.
22 Bernie Williams, CF, Yankees. The unflappable Williams isn't
walking as much as he did last year. But that's a small knock
against a player who hits equally well from both sides, drives in
runs in bunches and covers lots of ground in his roomy center
23 Andruw Jones, CF, Braves. It's getting hard to keep up with
the Joneses in Atlanta, where Andruw's constant improvement at
the plate has carried him to an elite level at age 23. After the
first three months of this season, he had more home runs than
24 Mike Mussina, RHP, Orioles. Mussina's stellar winning
percentage has taken a hit this year, and he has struggled
mightily away from Camden Yards. Nevertheless, he remains a
consummate battler who gives you seven innings a game.
25 Jeff Bagwell, 1B, Astros. Bagwell's move to an outdoor bandbox
hasn't been the boon some predicted, but he's one of the best at
a position that looks as powerful as any in baseball. He even
steals bases, almost purely on cunning and timing.
26 Jason Giambi, 1B, A's. Giambi, the most consistent of
Oakland's young sluggers, clearly learned something from his pal
Mark McGwire. Always adept at spraying line drives, he has
developed a lethal power punch and a discerning eye. Giambi's
on-base percentage is among the best in either league.
27 Edgar Martinez, DH, Mariners. Though he's 37, Martinez's
classic stroke looks better than ever. You hardly can turn on
your TV without seeing him knock A-Rod home. But that isn't
enough to sway everyone. This non-fielder was left off many
28 David Wells, LHP, Blue Jays. The sloppier he looks, the better
he pitches. He has been the American League's second-best pitcher
in 2000 (granted, by several kilometers) and has a chance to win
25 games. The pudgy one has a puppeteer's control of his
fastball, curve and changeup.
29 Carl Everett, CF, Red Sox. If the switch-hitting Everett
continues to improve, he may join Martinez and Garciaparra as the
hottest trio since TLC. From the left side, he practically stands
on the plate and waits for tight fastballs to drive. And drive
them he does.
30 Carlos Delgado, 1B, Blue Jays. A big reason to root for the
Jays: Fighting for the A.L. East title would introduce a larger
audience to Delgado. He has balanced his long-ball proficiency
with a gaudy batting average, making him a Triple Crown threat.
31 Frank Thomas, DH, White Sox. His right ankle and bruised
psyche seemingly healed, Thomas is suddenly the veteran steward
in a Chicago lineup of talented under-30 players.
32 Edgardo Alfonzo, 2B, Mets. Perhaps the season-ending injury to
double-play mate Rey Ordonez will shine the spotlight on Alfonzo,
the game's best young second baseman.
33 Trevor Hoffman, RHP, Padres. Hoffman's strikeout-to-walk ratio
might make even Randy Johnson envious. Unfortunately for Hoffman
and the Padres, there isn't much to save in San Diego these days.
34 Darin Erstad, LF, Angels. We didn't think Erstad could stay at
.400. Then again, .350 and 230 hits are distinct possibilities
for the A.L.'s biggest bounce-back player.
35 Steve Finley, CF, Diamondbacks. A Gold Glove outfielder in the
midst of his best offensive season, Finley, 35, has done more
than his share to keep the Diamondbacks in first place.
36 Jermaine Dye, RF, Royals. It's hard to believe he batted .234
just two years ago. He's a legit cleanup man now, with an arm
that dents catchers' mitts from 300 feet.
37 Troy Glaus, 3B, Angels. The best third baseman in the A.L. is
23 years old. If Glaus can cut down on his strikeouts, he will
have top-10 potential.
38 Tom Glavine, LHP, Braves. Glavine returned to All-Star form
just when Atlanta needed it most Despite his recent losing
streak, the lefthander is half of baseball's best 1-2 starting
39 Kris Benson, RHP, Pirates. Benson is the best player you've
never heard of. In one 10-game stretch this year, he went at
least eight innings seven times. He has become Pittsburgh's ace
in his second season.
40 Brian Giles, CF/RF, Pirates. A patient hitter who reaches the
fences without trying too hard, Giles is proving his breakthrough
1999 season was no fluke. He hits for average, too.
41 Larry Walker, RF, Rockies. When healthy, Walker hasn't lost
much offensively or defensively. But he gets an "incomplete" for
the first half of 2000.
42 Jim Edmonds, CF, Cardinals. After Edmonds' remarkable
offensive/defensive play in his first half-season as a Cardinal,
the experts didn't dare leave him off this list.
43 Albert Belle, RF, Orioles. Belle has impeccable credentials
and good millennial numbers, but he is better on paper than on
grass or turf. Alas, he has become Ruben Sierra.
44 Eric Karros, 1B, Dodgers. Karros has traded average for even
greater power this year, perhaps spurred by his new status as the
Dodgers' all-time home run leader in L.A.
45 Orlando Hernandez, RHP, Yankees. No doubt, the world has begun
to solve El Duque's sleight of hand. Then again, he looks good
following Cone and Clemens.
46 Juan Gonzalez, RF, Tigers. Now that Gonzalez has rejected the
Yankees, perhaps he can concentrate on turning a disappointing
season into another banner year.
47 Bobby Abreu, RF, Phillies. Abreu is a poor man's Vladimir
Guerrero. He can hit, run and field, and he has improved
noticeably against lefties.
48 Antonio Alfonseca, RHP, Marlins. Alfonseca's swagger and nasty
ball movement have made the big reliever one of the year's
49 Scott Rolen, 3B, Phillies. With Abreu (26 years old) and Rolen
(25) in the heart of the lineup, the Phillies could be set for
years. Rolen is a marvelous fielder, too.
50 Andres Galarraga, 1B, Braves. The return of the Big Cat gives
the Braves dignity, timely power and a team-high five players in
the Top 50.
Breaking down the Top 50
Starting pitcher: 9
Right field: 9
First base: 8
Center field: 7
Third base: 3
Designated hitter: 2
Second base: 2
Left field: 2
11: N.L. East, A.L. East
9: N.L. West
7, A.L. West, N.L.
5: A.L. Central
4: New York Yankees
3: Boston, Los Angeles
2: Arizona, Anaheim,
Colorado, New York
Pittsburgh, St. Louis,
Seattle, Texas, Toronto.
1: Chicago Cubs,
Chicago White Sox,
Florida, Houston, Kansas
City, Montreal, Oakland,
San Diego, San Francisco.
Minnesota, Tampa Bay.
Readers concur: Pedro's No.1
Just like the personnel experts, TSN Online's readers agree that
Pedro Martinez is the best player in baseball. Online voters
ranked their top 10 players, with 10 points for each first-place
vote, nine for a second-place vote, etc.
1. Pedro Martinez 19,199
2. Randy Johnson 16,187
3. Alex Rodriguez 13,078
4. Barry Bonds 12,953
5. Vladimir Guerrero 12,010
6. Mark McGwire 9,348
7. Ivan Rodriguez 9,095
8. Carlos Delgado 8,408
9. Ken Griffey Jr. 7,463
10. Mike Piazza 6,737
11. Nomar Garciaparra 6,401
12. Todd Helton 5,965
13. David Wells 4,131
14. Derek Jeter 3,726
15. Jim Edmonds 3,652
16. Jason Giambi 3,461
17. Greg Maddux 3,182
18. Chipper Jones 3,090
19. Edgar Martinez 2,849
20. Sammy Sosa 2,740
21. Carl Everett 2,424
22. Frank Thomas 1,893
23. Darin Erstad 1,781
24. Jeff Kent 1,661
25. Gary Sheffield 1,624
26. Andruw Jones 1,620
27. Edgardo Alfonzo 1,525
28. Andres Galarraga 1,339
29. Roberto Alomar 1,287
30. Bernie Williams 1,229
31. Kevin Brown 1,205
32. Shawn Green 1,115
33. Jermaine Dye 1,060
34. Brian Giles 958
35. Jeff Bagwell 880
36. Larry Walker 824
37. Jose Vidro 796
38. Troy Glaus 625
39. James Baldwin 592
40. Juan Gonzalez 574
41. Mariano Rivera 552
42. Tom Glavine 535
43. Manny Ramirez 529
44. Magglio Ordonez 474
45. Al Leiter 469
46. Rafael Palmeiro 459
47. Raul Mondesi 395
48. Mike Sweeney 367
49. Steve Finley 354
50. Jason Kendall 345
Sometime in the next two or three years, Andres Galarraga may
retire, David Wells may lose a little of that leg drive and
Albert Belle may escape the unpleasantness of being around
reporters and fans. Fear not. A fleet of young ballplayers is on
call, ready to fill any holes that might develop in major league
baseball's Top 50. The leading candidates:
Rick Ankiel, P, Cardinals. Newcomers Fernando Vina, Jim Edmonds
and Darryl Kile have clicked for the Cardinals this year. But the
brightest addition to the club's core roster from 1999 may be
Ankiel, a rookie lefthander who pitched 33 innings for St. Louis
last season after a late call-up. Ankiel, who turns 21 this
month, possesses an upper-crust fastball complemented by a slow,
bending curve. Plus, he fields his position well and is dangerous
with the bat.