Doug’s doing all the heavy lifting around here this spring, and acquitting himself admirably, but I thought I’d lend a hand. I don’t have much of substance to offer, but here’s a frivolity I adapted from my own site.
Who are the greatest active players in Major League Baseball? Are they the guys with the most career WAR? The guys who have never turned in a bad season? The guys who had the highest peaks? I think we’d all agree the answer is a combination of those three things, perhaps weighted toward the former. I developed a simple formula using fangraphs WAR to combine accumulated value, consistency, and peak:
Career WAR/150 games played (30 starts for starting pitchers)
Peak WAR season/2
In theory, the “greatness score” generated by this formula includes an accumulated value factor weighted slightly more than anything else (since it represents more than a year’s WAR for anyone who’s played more than 10 seasons), about one season’s WAR (assuming the average player plays 150 games per season) for average value throughout a player’s career, and a half season’s WAR for peak value (narrowly defined). All WAR values are as of the end of the 2014 season.
I’ll leave relief pitcher evaluation to someone else, since I’m not convinced WAR is a strong measure of their greatness, particularly in a single season, when usage may vary tremendously. Starting pitchers who accumulated value as relievers get an extra boost here, since those games aren’t included in the denominator of their “per 30 starts” calc. I don’t think any of the results below are skewed by this, though, as most of the game’s best active starters have been starters their whole careers.
Here are the results, by position:
Greatest Active Catcher
[table id=243 /]
If you want an actual active catcher, you can’t go wrong with Posey, who’s likely to pass Mauer by this metric in the next year or two, assuming he stays healthy. Mauer, though, has played catcher in 83% of his career innings fielded, so he belongs here, and I think it’s fair to assume a big-league rookie would be more in awe of Mauer’s greatness than Posey’s.
Greatest Active First Baseman
[table id=244 /]
Pujols is second overall in greatness score, so it should come as no surprise that he would top this list, but the margins by which he destroys Cabrera in every category are impressive. We’re watching an all-time great at first base for the Tigers, but peak Pujols was in another league. In fact, Cabrera’s personal-best 7.4-WAR season would rank as the weakest season in Pujols’s seven-year prime (2003-2009).
Ortiz is counted here because I limited the field to players with at least three seasons played and eight career WAR, and no other qualifier has played more than half of his games at designated hitter. As brilliant as Ortiz’s career has been- and his postseason numbers may boost him ahead of Teixeira in perceived greatness- if I’m picking a DH for my all-greatness team, it’s Miguel Cabrera. If we’re looking strictly at first basemen, Adrian Gonzalez would be fifth at 9.97.
Greatest Active Second Baseman
[table id=245 /]
Utley’s far ahead of the field, but it’s interesting to see how closely the next four guys, who are all between 31 and 33, are bunched. Would you have guessed that Pedroia and Zobrist would both rank ahead of Cano?
Greatest Active Shortstop
[table id=246 /]
It’s looking more and more certain that Rodriguez will retire with more games played as a shortstop than as a third baseman. At either position, he laps the field, easily the greatest active player by this measure, or simply by accumulated WAR. Like Rodriguez, Hanley Ramirez looks like he’ll be a designated hitter before too long, but he should retire with more games played at short than anywhere else, and he’s likely to assume the top spot on this list upon ARod’s retirement.
This is morbid, but Tulowitzki may finish his career with more than 5 WAR/150 games played (better than Ripken’s 4.6 or Jeter’s 3.9) and fewer than 40 WAR (Jim Fregosi had 44). Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
Greatest Active Third Baseman
[table id=247 /]
My initial analysis had ARod at third, which gave third base four of the top ten greatness scores among all players. We’ve come a long way, from a time when Pie Traynor was considered by some to be the greatest third baseman ever to an era when Schmidt, Brett, and Boggs can give way to Chipper, Rolen, and Beltre, who are in turn replaced with Longoria, Donaldson, and Machado.
Greatest Active Outfield
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That’s right- the greatest active outfielder, by this measure, was two years old when the greatest active player made his MLB debut in July of 1994. In three (almost) full seasons, Trout accumulated enough career value (29.4 WAR) to place him tenth among outfielders, .2 wins behind 13-year veteran Coco Crisp for ninth. Not only is his 10.5-WAR season in 2013 the best by any active player, but his 139-game call-up in 2012 is also more valuable than any season recorded by any active player. Among actives with at least 8 career WAR, Trout’s 8.95 WAR per 150 games played is 37% more than Rodriguez’s second-place figure and 53% better than any other outfielder’s count. If it feels like Trout hasn’t been around long-enough to hold the title, consider this: if Trout regresses to a league-average level (2 WAR in 150 games) for the next three seasons, at 26, he’ll still have been worth 5.93 WAR per 150, more than any other active outfielder.
McCutchen’s presence ahead of Ichiro and Holliday may speak to my overweighting of per-150 and peak values, but he’s been remarkably good in his relatively young career and is likely to overtake Beltran for second by this measure this year or next.
For the record, Bryce Harper’s 7.50 greatness score ranks 27th among outfielders, but his 39-game start to 2015 would be enough to move him up five spots if I updated the data through today. Here’s guessing he’ll be close to the top fifteen by the end of this season (cracking 15th place would take between 8 and 9 WAR and subpar seasons from a few guys in his way).
Greatest Active Starting Rotation
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Pitching is a fickle profession. The first, third, and fourth guys on this list appear to be shadows of their former selves, while the second and fifth guys are the best pitchers in their respective leagues today. When I ran these numbers in August of 2010, Tim Lincecum ranked seventh (though I included a current year component then). Does his fall to 13th suggest that maybe we shouldn’t expect Felix to jump to second in a few years? Is Chris Sale, who ranks 16th, .08 greatness points behind Price, and has the highest WAR/30 starts among active pitchers, not a lock to pass the Weavers and Buehrles the way we know Harper will leapfrog the Hunters and Kemps?
Is Sabathia really the greatest active pitcher in the game? He’s got the most career fWAR, almost nine wins ahead of Hudson. On a rate basis, he’s ninth among qualifiers. Four pitchers have had a single season better than his best. Meanwhile, RA9 WAR doesn’t like him as much as FIP WAR (B-R has him worth 53.8 WAR coming into this season, behind Buehrle and Hudson. If pitchers held up better, I would feel more confident calling Kershaw and Felix “greater” pitchers based on what they have done, are doing, and will do, but it’s a dicey preposition to risk one’s reputation on a human elbow.
Five years ago, the top three pitchers on this list were Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte, and Johan Santana. These guys are all retired or inactive now, and none is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame (though each has a case). In the interim, it appeared that Verlander was ticketed for the top of the list, but he saw his ERA jump about a run a year between 2012 and 2014 and hasn’t pitched yet in ’15. Kershaw looks like the Trout of pitching and Hernandez may be the hurler’s equivalent of Pujols. Time will tell whether they go Verlander’s route or Greg Maddux’s.
Enough from me. How does this compare to your all-greatest-active team?