A belated retrospective at the past decade of baseball

Last night, I stumbled across a perplexing top 100 players of 2000-2009 list by none other than Rob Neyer. I usually respect Neyer’s opinion, but his list was way out of whack. For example, not only was Johan Santana ranked ahead of Randy Johnson, but Randy Johnson was barely ranked in the top 20 (No. 18)! There is no justification for ranking any of Jorge Posada, Bobby Abreu, Johan Santana, Todd Helton or Lance Berkman ahead of the Big Unit, arguably the best pitcher of the modern era.

The list kind of gave me a headache and got me thinking. With the new year around the corner, another season removed from the Steroid era, Neyer’s list ineffably inspired me to look at some leaderboard data from 2000-2009, courtesy of the new time-span feature on Fangraphs. Here is what I found:

  • Per cumulative UZR, the 10 best defenders at a single position of the past decade were Andruw Jones (CF, +120.8), Adrian Beltre (3B, +113.2), Carl Crawford (LF, +97.7), Scott Rolen (3B, +96.4), and Ichiro Suzuki (RF, +83.1). Note that cumulative UZR is ranked for player by position played, not by player en toto.
  • Per cumulative UZR, the 10 worst defenders at a single position of the past decade were Manny Ramirez (LF -110.2), Jermaine Dye (RF, -103.5), Brad Hawpe (RF, -83.8), Dunn (LF, -71.5), and Bobby Abreu (RF, -60.7). SexyRexy’s boy Michael Young ranked No. 6, with a -60.7 UZR at SS, while Jason Bay (LF, -47.1 UZR), Pat Burrell (-44.6 LF) and Johnny Damon (CF, 41.6) all wished they played more DH.
  • Accounting for difference in position (an 87.8 run adjustments, the difference between Andruw Jones playing all of his CF time over the last decade in the corners) to allow apple-to-apple comparisons, the difference between the best (Andruw Jones, CF) and worst (Manny Ramirez, LF) fielders at a single position over the last decade was 319 runs. In other words, on average, the difference between using Manny in left instead of Jones would cost you 3.2 WAR. That is how many WAR David Ortiz was worth in 2010, how many WAR Elvis Andrus was worth in his rookie year, and +4.7 more WAR than Neifi Perez accrued over the course of his career (-1.5 WAR). Scary, right?
  • The five most plunked batters of the past decade were Jason Kendall (159), Jason Giambi (138), my boy David Eckstein (134), Craig Biggio (132), and Carlos Delgado (126). Utley, who only became a full-time player in the middle of the decade, was plunked a ridiculous and league leading 99 times from 2005-2009.
  • Of pitchers who threw 1,000 or more innings last decade, Johan Santana had the lowest tERA (3.31), Curt Schilling had the lowest xFIP (3.16), and Pedro Martinez had the lowest FIP (2.92) and ERA (3.02). If we lower the IP threshold to 400 and only include starting pitchers (ignoring guys like Mariano Rivera and Eric Gagne), then Tim Lincecum ranks No. 1 in tERA (2.91), FIP (2.75) and ERA (2.91). Lincecum was “only” third best in xFIP (3.23), behind only Curt Schilling (3.16) and Randy Johnson (3.21).
  • Only three starting pitchers who tossed 400+ innings last decade averaged a strikeout rate of 10 or more batters per nine innings: Randy Johnson (10.37), Mark Prior (10.37), and Tim Lincecum (10.17). Only Big Unit pitched more than two full seasons last decade, however, making his achievement all the more impressive. Kerry Wood (9.94) and Pedro Martinez (9.93) came damn close to making this list.
  • Brad Radke had the best walk rate of any pitcher who tossed 600+ frames last decade, a hard better than big fat David Wells (1.40), while Daniel Cabrera (5.24) and Victor Zambrano (5.15) were the only 600+ inning pitchers of the past decade to walk more than five batters per nine. Oliver Perez (4.95) is crying somewhere.
  • Kirk Reuter did his best to post a K/BB under 1.00 last decade, but failed (1.03). Daniel Cabrera was also pretty bad (1.30). Meanwhile, Curt Schilling’s 6.01 K/BB mark last decade was by far the best. The second and third best K/BB posters of the last decade, Mariano Rivera (4.88) and Pedro Martinez (4.63), couldn’t hold a candle to Schilling’s bloody sock of control.
  • In terms of Fangraphs WAR value (for pitchers, this is based on FIP), the 10 most valuable players of the past decade were: Alex Rodriguez (+76.4), Albert Pujols (+73.3), Barry Bonds* (+65.1), Randy Johnson (+55.8), Chipper Jones (+54.2), Todd Helton (+53.8), Lance Berkman (+53.8), Roy Halladay (+53.8), Andruw Jones (+50.1), Javier Vazquez (+49.2). Curt Schilling (+45.6 WAR) barely missed the cut.
  • The five worst hitters (per cumulative batting runs) of the past decade were almost exclusively shortstops: Jack Wilson (SS, -121.4), Cristian Guzman (SS, -99.7), Omar Vizquel (SS, -84.6), Vinny Castilla (3B/SS, -75.3), and Orlando Cabrera (SS, -72.4). This goes to show that even in the era of offensive shortstops, shortstops were still amongst the worst hitters in baseball.
  • Juan Pierre (-44.0 batting runs) was the worst non-shortstop playing hitter of the past decade.
  • The five best hitters (per cumulative batting runs) of the past decade were Barry Bonds* (+570.7), Albert Pujols (+566.3), Alex Rodriguez (+499.5), Manny Ramirez (+447.9), and Lance Berkman (+415.7). No surprise here, as these Hall of Fame-worthy hitters were the only hitters to accrue 400+ batting runs last decade. Sorry, Todd Helton (+396.7).
  • The difference between using Jack Wilson over Barry Bonds at DH last decade would have resulted in a loss of 687.7 runs, or a ridiculous 6.9 WAR per season. Thank god Jack Wilson, when healthy, is one of baseball’s most elite defenders at one of baseball’s hardest positions to field, right?
  • In terms of total fielding value (cumulative fielding runs), the five worst fielders of the past decade were Manny Ramirez (-126.0), Bernie Williams (-119.5), Adam Dunn (-115.9), Jermaine Dye (-106.3), and last year’s gold glove winner Derek Jeter (-77.8). This list closely tracks the UZR/position list, but gives a more complete picture of each player’s total defensive value.
  • In terms of total fielding value (cumulative fielding runs), the five best fielders of the past decade were Andruw Jones (+176.1), Adrian Beltre (+115.8), Scott Rolen (+114.4), Ichiro Suzuki (+110.5), and Placido Polanco (+101.1). Carl Crawford (+100.7) was the only other name to eclipse the 100 fielding runs mark, though something tells me Chase Utley (+74.0) would have as well if made a full time player before 2005. This list closely tracks the UZR/position list, but gives a more complete picture of each player’s total defensive value.

*With respect to Bonds, remember he stopped playing baseball after 2007 and barely played (52 PA) in 2005. His inclusion at number 3 on this list despite only playing two-thirds of the decade are testament to his greatness, steroids or not.

As always, leave the love/hate in the comments.

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Comments

  1. ralf said...

    Wait, wait… hang on a minute… “The difference between using Jack Wilson over Barry Bonds at DH last decade would have resulted in a loss of 687.7 runs, or a ridiculous 68.8 WAR per season.”

    I think you need to divide by 10 one more time. The difference in batting RUNS over the decade is 687.7.  At 10R/win, that’s a 68.77 runs/season, which means roughly 6.8 wins/season.

    Still a big difference, but to get 68.8 WAR/season, you’d have to replace Barry Bonds with, for example, me.

  2. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Todd,

    And if A-Rod, the better defender over Jeter, had not switched to 3B from SS, he’d be far and away another 10-20 WAR better smile

  3. Todd said...

    “And if A-Rod, the better defender over Jeter, had not switched to 3B from SS, he’d be far and away another 10-20 WAR better”

    According to the numbers I found on Fangraphs, before moving to 3B, A-Rod’s positional adjustment was usually about +7. Since joining NYY, it’s been in the +.5-2 range. Call it +1. Then from 2004-2010 (7 years), he’s been missing out on about 6 RAR each year, or .6 WAR/year. .6 * 7 = 4.2 WAR. So if Pujols had another year, and A-Rod had stayed at SS, given a typical Pujols year I think it would be very close (he was only below 7 WAR in 2002).

    Of course, despite being a competent OF & 3B, Pujols was also moved down the defensive spectrum to 1B due to elbow trouble. He’s produced enough fielding value at 1B that it’s hard to say for sure he’d have produced more value off 1B then on it, but he might well have.

  4. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Todd,

    You raise a very good point. I think Bonds, A-Rod and Pujols are easily the three best players of the past forty years, irrespective or steroids. Imagine the extra value Bonds would have provided late in his career if he would have just played first base.

    Feel free to rank each of them in order as you feel fit. I do not think anyone can particularly argue that ordering any of them in a certain way, particularly if it is a question of Arod or Pujols, is faulty

  5. Paul E said...

    Yo Todd,
      For all the science involved in these metrics, I don’t believe we can say “irrespective of steroids” and ignore the science and performance enhancing value of steroids. A-Rod has admitted his “cousin” hooked him up and Bonds has admitted he “unknowingly” used the same crotch cream which enabled Tim Montgomery to set a world record in the 100 meters. Yes Pujols is great, and Bonds and A-rod were great and destroyed their own legacies. Pujols is the greatest since Schmidt and if you want to imagine Pujols a superior fielder if given the continued opportunity at 3B, then he is the greatest since Mantle, Mays, and Morgan

  6. barbie oyunlar said...

    Pujols a superior fielder if given the continued opportunity at 3B, then he is the greatest since Mantle, Mays, and Morgan

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