A few weeks back, I took a look at how the highest paid player for each team was performing. That overview showed how much, and how little some teams were getting for their biggest investment. This time around, I’m going to look through what I consider to be the best player on each team so far this season. How will I determine that? Entirely subjectively, mixing some of our own advanced stats with some WPA for some fizz.
Welcome to The Hardball Times Dartboard, our weekly attempt to rank all the teams in baseball. The Dartboard Factor is how many wins a team would be expected to have at the end of the season if it played a neutral schedule. Next to that, you’ll find the Dartboard Factor from the previous week. An explanation of our method can be found here.
#1 Boston Red Sox (Dartboard Factor = 101, 101): David Ortiz, DH. Ortiz sneaks past Daisuke Matsuzaka. Ortiz’s power is actually down markedly this year, but boosts to his average and OBP (.325/.434/.573) have him keeping a more or less level GPA (.331). When a guy is hitting .352 with runners in scoring position though, and Ortiz gets plenty of RBI opportunities, that’s enough to power his value to the team sky high.
#2 New York Yankees (Dartboard Factor = 92, 90): Alex Rodriguez, 3B. Welcome to the newest member of the 500 homerun club and the heir apparent it seems to the top of the homerun list. Alex seems almost certain to opt out of his contract after this season. Speculation still abounds about what he might command, but I wonder if there’s some parallels to be drawn with his first contract and the Matsuzaka posting where the number that gets finalized on is nowhere near what we were even dreaming of.
#3 Cleveland Indians (Dartboard Factor = 91, 93): Grady Sizemore, CF. Sizemore (.283/.388/.476) is not really any better or worse than he has been the past two seasons, but for a guy signed though 2012 at an incredibly valuable deal, the Indians will take the status quo.
#4 Detroit Tigers (Dartboard Factor = 91, 95): Magglio Ordonez, OF. Magglio (.348/.425/.566) is no longer on pace to shatter the doubles record, but he is still hovering around the league lead in batting average. His batting average increase, about 50 points above his norm, is almost completely the cause of his inflated statistics. The spread between his BABIP and his LD% shows a lot of room for regression backwards.
#5 Los Angeles Angels (Dartboard Factor = 91, 90): Vladimir Guerrero, OF. Vlad is Vlad, running the same basic line out there every season around .330/.400/.560. If Stoneman doesn’t work out an extension for Vlad, he will arrive at free agency after 2009 along with the majority of players below.
#6 New York Mets (Dartboard Factor = 91, 90): David Wright, 3B. Wright (.304/.392/.511) has brought his performance back in line with his established numbers. Wright shows very little deviation over the past three or so seasons, he should continue to be the cornerstone of the Mets offense for years to come along with Jose Reyes.
#7 Seattle Mariners (Dartboard Factor = 87, 85): Ichiro Suzuki, OF. The only real challenge to Ichiro’s (.347/.398/.438) claim as Seattle’s MVP would be closer J.J. Putz, but Ichiro with his greater continuous impact wins out here. Ichiro continues to do everything he’s always done, but with a shift over to centerfield, his already awesome defensive prowess is magnified as his excellent range propels him to balls that are just flat out unthinkable. The denser Seattle air gets some of the credit for Ichiro’s ratings, but he still is on pace to record over 450 putouts while providing a huge spark for the offense both at the plate and on the basepaths (30 SB, 2 CS)
#8 Los Angeles Dodgers (Dartboard Factor = 87, 90): Brad Penny, SP. Penny is following an improvement path sort of similar to Tim Hudson below. Although his strikeout and walk rates are down, his ERA is minuscule due to his just four home runs allowed, part of which is real, his GB rate is up several points over 50%, and part of which is flukey, having allowed just 3.3% of flyballs to leave the park. Penny is another star scheduled to have his contract expire after 2009.
#9 San Diego Padres (Dartboard Factor = 87, 87): Jake Peavy, SP. Peavy got off to a crazy good start this season and has just running with it all year. He continues to hold onto his title as the strikeout king in the National League, and this season has reached a high in groundballs and allowed a meager four homeruns which leads to his absurd 2.42 FIP and 2.30 ERA.
#10 Atlanta Braves (Dartboard Factor = 86, 85): Tim Hudson, SP. What a comeback for Tim Hudson, who was rumored to be on the trading block this winter per rumblings that the Braves wanted out from under his contract after a poor showing in 2006. All Hudson has done this season is post possibly the best statistical season of his career, yes including 2003, as his FIP hovers around an even 3. His strikeout rate is reaching a local peak, his walks are way down and thanks to an increasing groundball rate, his homeruns allowed are non-existent (just four all season). Strikeouts, plus groundballs, plus less walks equals awesome every time. The Braves are probably pretty happy to hold onto Hudson now for the remainder of his contract.
#11 Milwaukee Brewers (Dartboard Factor = 86, 88): Prince Fielder, 1B. After a bit of stagnation last season, Fielder (.289/.380/.600) has really took off his season leading the senior circuit in homeruns.
#12 Chicago Cubs (Dartboard Factor = 85, 84): Derrek Lee, 1B. I talked about Lee in the highest paid player edition and since then he’s cooled off a little bit, but judging by his peripherals such as BABIP – LD%, he still has a long ways to fall. Longterm I would still be worried about the remaining three years on his contract.
#13 Arizona Diamondbacks (Dartboard Factor = 84, 82): Eric Byrnes, OF. Byrnes narrowly edges out Brandon Webb in runs created, though he blows everyone else on the team away in win shares, Webb included. Byrnes has been a fantastic pickup for GM Josh Byrnes who picked up the other Byrnes in 2006 for a one-year, $2.25 million contract after he was non-tendered by the Orioles. Making about double that this year in his last season of arbitration eligibility, Byrnes is setting himself up well for a big payday this winter.
#14 Philadelphia Phillies (Dartboard Factor = 84, 84): Chase Utley, 2B. Utley’s numbers (.336/.414/.581) are substantially better than previous attempts, but a large amount of the difference can be traced back to his raised batting average, which in turn can be traced mostly back to a lucky distribution of batted balls. With a BABIP of .379, Utley would have to be a tremendous linedrive/groundball hitter, which he is not. He’s more than satisfactory in those regards, but nothing that would point to being worthy of a BABIP that large.
#15 Toronto Blue Jays (Dartboard Factor = 84, 85): Alex Rios, OF. Negating concerns of regression back to his pre-2006 numbers, Rios (.302/.357/.531) has instead taken his ’06 levels and improved on them a bit, though there’s a troubling dip in line drives.
#16 Colorado Rockies (Dartboard Factor = 83, 81): Matt Holliday, OF. Holliday (.338/.398/.585) is yet another example of the burgeoning newly arbitration eligible young stars in baseball. Now with Scott Boras as his agent, expect Holliday to hit the free agency market as soon as possible.
#17 Minnesota Twins (Dartboard Factor = 83, 82): Johan Santana, SP. Johan’s ERA has remained fairly stable at a shade under 3, but his peripherals have degraded a bit. His won-loss record is pretty mediocre which based on the past voting history seems likely to prevent Johan from winning another Cy Young award.
#18 Oakland Athletics (Dartboard Factor = 81, 81): Dan Haren, SP. The power of BABIP variation. Haren’s strikeout rate is just incrementally higher and his walk and GB rates are worse. Haren is probably on his way to finishing at or near the top of the Cy Young race, but going forward, I would expect numbers more like 2005-6 and not the 2007 ERA.
#19 Baltimore Orioles (Dartboard Factor = 80, 81): Erik Bedard, SP. Not part of the current young stud class that have signed long-term contracts that buy out a free agency year or two, Bedard looks to hit the market after the ’09 season. Unlike a lot of improving pitchers, Bedard hasn’t improved incrementally across the board. Rather, what Bedard has done is to become the most dominant strikeout pitcher in baseball and it’s not even close. Bedard averaged almost 1.5 strikeouts more per game than runner ups Santana and Peavy. When you strike out that many people, and keep your homeruns and walks constant, you’re liable to see the jump Bedard has, who has improved steadily every year. If he stays healthy, watch out, his 2010+ contract might be the talking point of the offseason.
#20 Florida Marlins (Dartboard Factor = 75, 75): Miguel Cabrera, 3B. Miguel Cabrera used to be able to play a competent leftfield before he gained twenty or thirty-odd pounds but despite his diminishing defensive skills, his offensive skills continue to improve as his slugging climbs above .600 and his OPS above 1. The only downside is a deterioration in his walk rate. Cabrera is set to hit the open market after 2009, along with several other fantastic players mentioned here.
#21 Chicago White Sox (Dartboard Factor = 74, 73): Mark Buehrle, SP. Remember last year when Buehrle was finished? Well, much like Tim Hudson, he’s experienced a resurgance, helped by a strikeout rate that has climbed back into respectability (though still not close to his peak days of 2004-5) and the walks and homeruns have fallen back closer to his career norms as well. Buerhle has also been the beneficiary of quite a bit of luck as his FIP and xFIP agree that he should be around 4.2 runs per game and not the 3.1 he is currently at. The biggest culprit there is his flukey LOB%, which sits at nearly 80% which is not sustainable for a pitcher that only strikes out 5+ men a game.
#22 Texas Rangers (Dartboard Factor = 73, 75): Michael Young, SS. This is one of the lowest leads for any team. Despite his reputation, due mostly to his highish batting average, Michael Young is nowhere near as valuable as people make him out to be. Like Manny for Boston, a significant part of his offensive output, which is legitimately good for a middle infielder (though not really this season at just .302/.351/.401), is given back in form of Young’s butchered version of defense. The general consensus of advanced defensive metrics point to Young at being at least 10 runs below average at shortstop and it might be as many as 20.
#23 San Francisco Giants (Dartboard Factor = 73, 74): Barry Bonds, OF. Congratulations on 755 Bonds. I know not many people are saying that to you, I don’t care. What you have done, steroids or no, is just incredible and many many people need to stop being hysterical about the whole issue. You are one of the five greatest hitters in baseball history and for the sake of everyone involved, I hope you hit 756 at home.
#24 St Louis Cardinals (Dartboard Factor = 72, 72): Albert Pujols, 1B. Pujols’ overall numbers are still dragged down a bit from his slow April. But since then he’s been his old self. With his pitches seen per at bat rising over four for the first time, Pujols might be getting even more patient at the plate.
#25 Kansas City Royals (Dartboard Factor = 72, 72): Gil Meche, SP. Meche has become a pretty different pitcher from what he was in Seattle, continuing his increasing trend of more groundballs, but making a significant leap up to near 50%. Although that hasn’t made much impact on his hits or homeruns allowed, his walk rate has also been slashed, which is the driving factor for his drop in ERA. It’s only year one, but so far, Meche has been worth his contract.
#26 Washington Nationals (Dartboard Factor = 71, 68): Dmitri Young, 1B. Congratulations Nationals, you did a great job picking Young out of the scrapheap. He has helped you to avoid becoming a complete embarrassment despite your pitching staff lead by Matthew Chico and Saul Rivera. However, there are several troubling signs. Young’s amassed only nine home runs and his high average looks again to be a product of bigger than expected spread between his BABIP and line drive rate. Part of those are due to the confines of RFK, but likely not all. Something will have to resolve itself between Young and Nick Johnson when/if he returns.
#27 Cincinnati Reds (Dartboard Factor = 69, 71): Aaron Harang, SP. Another young pitcher who has been getting a little bit better each year, Harang has done a good job reducing his homeruns allowed this season, though with an unchanged GB%, one is to wonder if it’s a real improvement or simply random noise.
#28 Houston Astros (Dartboard Factor = 68, 68): Carlos Lee, OF. Lee (.296/.351/.522) has been perfectly serviceable, but perhaps not what the Astros were hoping for given his contract. The Astros have another five years with Lee after this one and they better hope he continues to stave off decline, because if he starts falling, it will not be long before he becomes an albatross.
#29 Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Dartboard Factor = 64, 62): Scott Kazmir, SP. The biggest problem facing the Rays, besides the division they play in, is their defense, which they are slowly fixing as more and more of their prized young prospects establish themselves in the big leagues. This will only help to make pitchers like Kazmir and Shields look even better than they already do. Could the Rays make a playoff run as soon as 2008? If the Yankees lose A-Rod and the duo of Manny and Ortiz show some age-related decline, I wouldn’t put it out of the picture.
#30 Pittsburgh Pirates (Dartboard Factor = 64, 65): Tom Gorzelanny, SP. The young lefthander has really excelled in his first full season in the bigs. He shows some flashes of promise last season in 11 starts, but has really improved this season in full duty. Gorzelanny does a good job of limiting the extra base hits, despite not being much of a groundball hitter. When he couples that with solid control and a usable strikeout rate, you get a good young pitcher. Not sure how high you would rate his ceiling, he would have to continue to improve his command to get much higher, but what he is now is very valuable.
The playoff picture takes the above ranking and reforms the teams back into their leagues and divisions including the wild card. This is in no ways a prediction, this is an assessment of how teams have played so far this season, not how each team is going to play.
Red Sox – 101
Yankees – 92
Blue Jays – 84
Orioles – 80
Devil Rays – 64
Indians – 91
Tigers – 91
Twins – 83
White Sox – 74
Royals – 72
Angels – 91
Mariners – 87
Athletics – 81
Rangers – 73
AL WILD CARD
Yankees – 92
Tigers – 91
Mariners – 87
Blue Jays – 84
Twins – 83
Mets – 91
Braves – 86
Phillies – 84
Marlins – 75
Nationals – 71
Brewers – 86
Cubs – 85
Cardinals – 72
Reds – 69
Astros – 68
Pirates – 64
Dodgers – 87
Padres – 87
Diamondbacks – 84
Rockies – 83
Giants – 73
NL WILD CARD
Padres – 87
Braves – 86
Cubs – 85
Diamondbacks – 84
Phillies – 84
Rockies – 83