Who Is the Most Valuable Player in Baseball? (Part 2)

Previously on Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, the gang tried to learn the secret of the haunted lagoon, only to run into a veeeery scaaaary surprise. Also, we took a crack at figuring out the Most Valuable Player in Baseball.

As a reminder, here are the ground rules:

Every active player who has played a game in the major leagues is eligible. Every team has the same budget, and the same salary commitments (which is to say, none). Every ballpark has the same neutral dimensions. Leagues and divisions are abolished. We’re assuming that every team magically evaluates every player exactly right, so a sneaky-good player with “hidden value” (say, Daric Barton) isn’t the answer.

Finally (and perhaps most importantly), every player would be a team’s to keep for the rest of his career.

Under those conditions, which player would be most in demand? In other words, who is the most valuable player in baseball, no conditions attached?

We’ve narrowed the list down to three finalists. Before we break down those three, though, a quick nod to one candidate not mentioned in Part 1: Joe Mauer. I’m a gigantic Joe Mauer fan. Offensive production like his from a catcher comes along…well, almost never. And if 2009 was Mauer’s baseline performance and not an outlier–given it’s the only time he’s even managed double digits in homers–you could argue he should be #1. But given the lack of power, Mauer’s age (he turns 28 in April) and his position (catchers carry greater injury risk), he misses the cut.

Now then, our final three:

Hanley Ramirez: The Recency Effect is a phenomenon that can overpower even the savviest thinkers. We tend to place too much emphasis on an event that just recently occurred, and lose sight of the much longer string of events that immediately preceded it. If you eat a banana and you’re blowing chunks 10 minutes later, you might shy away from bananas in the future, even if you’ve eaten hundreds of them in the past without incident.

Ramirez’s 4.4 WAR season in 2010 is our rancid banana (assuming it was the banana that even made you sick in the first place, and not something totally unrelated). A player posts a wOBA over .400 three seasons in a row, does it while playing the most demanding position on the diamond, and yet some people might downgrade him severely because of one very good but not quite great season. Not everyone feels this way, though. Both Bill James‘ projection and FanGraphs’ own fans’ target predict a bounceback in 2011, if not quite to the 7-plus WAR player Ramirez was from 2007 through 2009.

The more valid concern is Ramirez’s sketchy defense. By UZR, most other advance metrics, or even the human eye, Hanley isn’t exactly Omar Vizquel out there. His size and suspect range make him likely to move to another position in the next five years. You can still put Ramirez at a relatively offense-scarce position like second base or even third base and derive major value from his bat (and for now, at least, his legs). But that drawback, combined with some attitude concerns (we don’t sweat that stuff too much, but if you’re talking about the single most valuable player in baseball, every factor should be considered), relegate Ramirez to #3.

Albert Pujols: His narrow losses in last year’s WAR and MVP standings notwithstanding, Pujols has been the best player in baseball since…possibly 2005, i.e. right after Barry Bonds‘ final season as an elite performer (depends what you want to do with Alex Rodriguez‘s 2005 and 2007 campaigns, mostly). If Pujols’ career ended today, he’d already be a deserving Hall of Famer, with numbers that stand out even in one of the most prolific offensive eras of all-time.

Of course, with Pujols there are two glaring issues in play.

1) His position. Skeptics would argue that there are many big, strong first basemen who can hit the ball a mile. Meanwhile, teams are desperately scraping for shortstops who can kind of-sort of throw their bodies in front of balls, or hit their weight.

Hell, I recently spent an entire post arguing that a single crappy shortstop could torpedo the chances of one of baseball’s (otherwise) strongest teams, and another one claiming that defense might still be underrated, even after all the yelling that’s been done in the analytical community. It’s very tempting to toss all first basemen (and maybe left and right fielders) out of the most valuable player argument entirely, and let Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki (plus possibly a third baseman here, catcher or second basemen there) duke it out for world supremacy.

On the other hand…LOOK AT THIS.

Pujols isn’t just another hulking first baseman who hits some bombs. He’s the greatest player of his generation, he crushes even the mightiest beasts at his position, he fields well, he runs well, he’s durable, he’s universally regarded as a hard worker and model teammate. Hell, the guy might even have a second career as a paramedic.

2) He turned 31 on Sunday. Now this is a legitimate concern.

So how does Pujols stack up against the last guy on our list…

Evan Longoria: He’s been the #1 guy on Dave Cameron’s Trade Value list in each of his three seasons in the major leagues. The nine-year contract he signed–agreed upon while he was still in the minors–was so unique that it warranted several pages of analysis and agent interviews in that book whose cover is creepily thrusting toward you on the right side of this page, like a possessed scud missile.

But the whole reason Longoria’s contract is so beneficial to the Rays is because you’re talking about one of the truly elite players in all of baseball. Longoria hits for power, gets on base, runs the bases well (a very common trait on the Rays) and is in the lineup just about every day. He’s averaged 6.5 wins a season in his first three years in the majors, and he’s just 25 years old–giving us that elusive combination of proven track record with plenty of future production, even potential upside. Merely glancing at Longoria’s offensive numbers doesn’t do him justice either: Tropicana Field played as the single toughest hitter’s park in the majors last year, and shows a multi-year trend of significantly dampening offensive output relative to other parks.

Make Evan Longoria your franchise player, even with a market-value contract, and you’re doing prettaaaay, prettaaaay well.

So who’s it gonna be, then? Pujols or Longoria?

The answer is…Pujols. Here’s why.

First, the smaller point. Longoria gets a ton of credit for his defensive value–about four and a half wins with his glove alone over his first three big league seasons. It’s pretty safe to say he’s a plus defensive player. UZR is one of many advanced defensive metrics that say so, fan surveys echo the point, and two straight Gold Glove awards show that those in the game agree.

But we’re still working out precise run and win values for defensive contributions. FIELDf/x will likely tell us many things we don’t yet know about defense. HITf/x might too, by telling us the velocity, spin and other batted ball factors that might influence a fielder’s chances to make a clean play. It is possible (not certain, but possible) that Longoria’s value is somewhat overrated by the metrics we have now.

Here’s the bigger point: Pujols is the better player (the best player) right now. And right now will always be more important than later. As Dave Cameron noted in an email exchange last night (note: Dave is not arguing for or against Pujols, or anyone else, here’s merely making a point about present value):

Wins now lead to more fans, more revenue, and more chances to invest in the future. You could make a good case that +30 WAR over the next 7 years is more valuable than +40 WAR over the next 10 years if the difference in WAR is almost all tied to years 8-9-10, because getting the value up front would produce enough revenue to buy an extra +10 WAR in those final three years.

In other words, you never know what the future will hold. In theory, Longoria should have 7 to 10 really good years ahead, maybe even more. Jason Heyward, who was quickly dismissed in Part 1, might have 12 to 15 great years ahead–or more.

But this isn’t an exercise in simply adding up projected career WAR. A right-now-superstar isn’t merely worth 1 or 2 more wins than another very good but somewhat lesser talent. At the extremes, a player’s contributions are no longer linear. Albert Pujols is the best bet to push a team toward a World Series right now, and very possibly for the next three to five years. That fact alone is the single most important factor to consider in this debate.

So yes, Albert Pujols is the most valuable player in baseball. If the Mayans are right and we’re all doomed, you’ll be happy you chose the best guy. And if the Mayans are wrong, you’ll still be happy.




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Jonah Keri is the author of The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First -- now a National Bestseller! Follow Jonah on Twitter @JonahKeri, and check out his awesome podcast.


119 Responses to “Who Is the Most Valuable Player in Baseball? (Part 2)”

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  1. Luke in MN says:

    Nope, don’t buy it. I don’t expect Albert Pujols to completely blow the other guys out of the water over the next 3-5 years, which is the entire basis of your argument. He’s clearly the best bet for performance in the next 3-5 years, but it’s just not that massive advantage. After that, youth wins. You discout future wins, you don’t completely ignore them.

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    • Telo says:

      Eh, I agree with the sentiment but not this sentence:

      “I don’t expect Albert Pujols to completely blow the other guys out of the water over the next 3-5 years”

      I fully expect him to continue to be the most dominant hitter in the game until he’s 35-36. But yes, I would value the younger players in this game higher as well. My list would’ve been Lincecum/Longo/Tulo.

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      • Luke in MN says:

        Comparisons are tough with someone as unique as Pujols, but A-Rod was almost exactly as good as Pujols from age 21-30. But from age 31-34, A-Rod’s averaged 5.85 WAR per season with steadily declining totals. He was 6th in WAR in MLB over that span, not 1st by a long shot.

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      • Wally says:

        The A-rod comp might be the best we could do. I mentioned Bagwell below, but Bags wasn’t really quite as good as Pujols, especially in their younger years.

        http://www.fangraphs.com/graphsw.aspx?playerid2=1177&playerid3=1274&playerid4=&playerid5=

        5 WAR in what would be years 2-4 from the would be best player in the game for the remainder of their careers is just not going to cut it. A-rod should serve as a cautionary tail for people picking the 31 year old in this exercise.

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      • Chris K says:

        Luke, +1 for your analysis, but -1 for using the contradictory phrase “as unique as”.

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      • PiratesBreak500 says:

        I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but I do disagree with putting Lincecum on the list of three. A pitcher is extremely dependant on the rest of his team; position players can lift a team with their defense, whereas pitchers depend on it. They can’t strike out all the batters every game.

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      • Luke in MN says:

        Chris K, my handy internet dictionary tells me that comparison of so-called absolutes like “unique” has been standard practice since the mid-19th century.

        http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/unique

        If you’re starting a campaign to reverse this practice, I hope its failure is very much complete.

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      • Matt says:

        Luke, you really don’t have to use semantics and usage to defend yourself: Chris K is simply wrong. You weren’t comparing Pujols to anything or anyone. You weren’t saying, “Alex Rodriguez is as unique as Pujols.” You were essentially saying, “You can’t compare anyone to Pujols because he is unique.” You just said it in a different way that used “as unique as,” which Chris K learned once upon a time is generally wrong, but failing to understand why, dogmatically views it as unacceptable, even in situations where the meaning of the word unique is upheld.

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      • Llewdor says:

        That it is standard practice does not make it right.

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      • Anon21 says:

        Actually, Llewdor, it does. There is no platonic form of English set down on stone tablets or grammar book pages which mankind, in its sinfulness, falls short of. There is only the sum total of usage. “Standard” and “non-standard” are the only useful evaluative terms with regard to grammar, syntax, spelling, pronunciation, etc.

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    • GiantHusker says:

      I must agree with Luke. Longoria + 6 years > Pujols (easily). Keri’s conclusion ignores his own rules.

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  2. Horace says:

    You take Pujols, I will take Hanley Ramirez and Daric barton. Something like that. Of course Pujols is the best player, but to win a world series I would rather have an elite shortstop and a good first baseman rather than a super elite first baseman and bad shortstop (which is what you likely would have considering shortstop is not a super talented position right now).

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    • fredsbank says:

      ramirez is hardly an elite shortstop, his bat may be, though it certainly wasn’t last semester, and he has serious attitude and work ethic problems. tulo is the only elite shortstop in baseball right now.

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      • fredsbank says:

        not to mention his turrible defense

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      • Horace says:

        Hanley is not an elite shortstop? Really? Tulowitzki had a better year last year. Hanley is a better player and the best shortstop in baseball, defense factored in. He has 180 wRAA in 2800 PA. Tulo has 77 wRAA in 2000 PA.

        But he plays better defense! Okay, you take Tulo and his D and I will take the best offensive SS in history.

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      • fredsbank says:

        tulo has had 3 full seasons and each has been a significant upgrade over the last. it’s perfectly reasonable for ramirez to have a little more than twice the wRAA given having a third more PAs and not having had the freak injuries that tulo has, so yeah, i’ll take continually improving offense, elite defense, superb work ethic, drive and desire to win and being a major clubhouse leader over turrible defense, potentially declining offense, and an equally turrible personality, and then we can meet up again in 7-10 years and see who made the better choice

        as for being the “best offensive shortstop in history?” he may have had a better career at the plate than tulo has, but arod as a shortstop was light-years ahead of ramirez, and dont forget a guy called honus wagner.

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      • tdotsports1 says:

        Is anyone forgetting Tulo plays at Coors Field?

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      • fredsbank says:

        is anyone forgetting how his h/r splits have decreased every single season, and were all the way up to 111 wRC+ last year?

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      • tdotsports1 says:

        get real, if Hanley played his home games at Coors, we can only imagine what his numbers would look like…. ditto almost any player in the game

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      • tdotsports1 says:

        Hanley has more games (760) higher OPS (905) wOBA (393) and a way more balanced split sheet (stronger vs righties, whom you face predominantly) in a pitcher’s park.

        Tulo has 554 games (857 OPS) .368 WOBA, with a lefty heavy platoon split, 790 OPS on the road and has been injury prone.

        The Tulo/Hanley talk needs to stop, seriously.

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  3. Undocorkscrew says:

    Revisit this topic next year when Heyward puts up a .290, .410, .520 line and signs a 10-year extension for around $850,000 a year.

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  4. Telo says:

    The question is: If all teams have the same budget and scout perfectly…Under those conditions, which player would be most in demand?

    The answer I think you are driving at is who is the player with the most marginal wins over other players at that position (who is BEST) – which is probably Pujols – basically, where can you gain the biggest edge over your opponents? But even in that situation, since everyone else has perfect information, you’ll still end up paying market value for each marginal WAR, and the bidding war for Pujols would end in someone paying a huge but equitable amount for him.

    The game is moot when everyone has perfect info and the same starting parameters… if you also assume all of the GMs are also using perfect game theory.

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    • Marver says:

      Well, I think this is a draft-based ranking. Regardless, with perfect GMs the difference, in the end, would only be because of the dynamics regarding the statification of talent. It’s possible that if one player is worth 15 WAR, that whoever gets him, even if everyone is picking their players perfectly, that whoever gets that first pick results in a considerably better team.

      However, I don’t believe that is the case. Since everything is basically neutralized here, and Pujols wouldn’t add a drastic amount of WAR over what the other teams would eventually accumulate through this draft, the ‘win now’ argument can be thrown out. That’s because the teams will all be so closely bunched together in talent that the result of the season would be so overwhelmingly due to luck/randomness that the revenue that extra WAR adds would be extremely small since the odds of its fruition is correspondingly low.

      That considered, I think expected long-term WAR is more important — given the assumptions presented — making Heyward or Longoria my pick.

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      • Wally says:

        That’s a very good argument, but I do think this was set up as a free agent type system. Though your point still applies to the FA system as well.

        And in a FA system the best players are probably going to be over payed for their value (winners curse type issue), negating much of Dave’s argument that they will increase win% and thus revenue. And even if they are fairly paid relative to their value, the exercise set up as an rule that all teams have the same budget. So, now you payed a lot for Pujols, but have less money to attract talent to fill out the other 24 spots you need to win. (Plus if enough people believed Dave’s argument, you’d initiate game theory issues, where some would buck the trend for the hot prospects, Heyward, as they have now become undervalued)

        The only way this “win now” money generation thing can really work is if we violate at least one if not two assumptions in the original premiss. The other being that we are looking for the best player, not for “undervalued” talent, which if we were, we could obviously build a better team for the same money, thus assuring us a chance to actually compete in this “win now” mentality.

        Anyway, it seemed like this was a pretty straight up who’s gonna have the best career from here out kind of thing, then to rationalize his choice, the author changes the game to include team issues, such as when you win and revenue generation. I was honestly expecting a long term projection of talent.

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      • Marver says:

        Well said; a violation of the assumptions is certainly necessary for the ‘win now’ argument to hold water. Perhaps a better system would be:
        – assume every team is exactly league average.
        – choose one player from all of MLB to ‘duplicate’ and place on your average squad in place of one player.

        In that scenario, the extra WAR or two from Pujols over the next 2-3 seasons has much greater potential to bring an immediate revenue boost that you wouldn’t get from Heyward, since the playoff probability distribution is more drastically altered.

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      • Wally says:

        Even in that case, I’m not sure I’d take Pujols first.

        While the positional value adjustments in WAR are supposed to fix this, talent, especially upper end talent, is nothing like evenly distributed across the positions. So, if you want a fairly young 5+ WAR first baseman, you’d got a lot of options right now.

        Pujols, Tex, Votto, Youk, A. Gonzalez, Cabrera.

        For 3rd baseman the list is: Longoria and Zimmerman. Wright is kinda risky for this now (though I guess you could play Youk here too).

        So, it would appear that on this random team, Longoria may still stands a better chance at giving you the most improvement.

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      • Marver says:

        I guess it’d depend on the positional WAR for the ‘average’ player I defined. But we’re on the same page on basically everything here: the right one.

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  5. Wally says:

    Aren’t you operating from a bit of a false assumption that Pujols is even better than Longoria right now?

    Fangraphs projections has Pujols a WHOOPING .5 WAR ahead of Longoria for next year. That has to be statistical tie.

    Plus, this will come in Pujols’ age 31 season and Longoria’s age 25 year old season. By 2012, its a pretty good chance Longoria will pass Pujols. You aren’t talking about years 8-9-10 here. You might be talking about years 2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-15 in which Longoria is better than Pujols.

    Anyway, I’d love to see a PDV (present day value) assignment of WAR based on how much money you think you’re gaining from wins now vs. wins in the future (typical inflation rates would probably work well since this whole thing is money driven away). Of course, in our little thought experiment, where everyone becomes a FA right now, these players are going to be paid roughly what they are actually worth, at least for the first few years. This means if Pujols is generating more money now, he’s also likely taking more money from the team now as well. Limiting your ability to invest in the future. You simply have to consider both sides of this equation. Dave’s little email there is just a little short sighted.

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    • Sockmonkey says:

      That’s just the crowdsourced projection that has Pujols and Longoria close in value. Bill James has Pujols with a significant lead, as will any other projection.

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      • Justin says:

        I do not think Longoria is the player we should be using. Car Gon put up almost identical numbers and plays outfield. Strausburg barely tasted the minors and will likely by what Halladay is now, if not better, for the next 10 or more years. Joey Votto hit .324/37HR/106R/113RBI/16SB with UZR/150 at 2.2 while Pujols hit .312/42HR/115R/118RBI/14SB with UZR/150 at 1.1. Votto is 27 and Pujols just turn 31. There are numerous comparisons of younger players that put up similar numbers. In 2008, when Pujols hit .357/37HR/100R/116RBI/7SB while posting an 11.9 UZR/150 there would be a gap. But that player is gone and I believe the SB and UZR/150 are going to rapidly go as well since he is now on the wrong side of 30.

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      • Wally says:

        James’ projections aren’t that much different. Its an extra .011 wOBA for Longoria, and .016 for Pujols, plus 2 extra games for Longoria and 4 extra games for Pujols.

        That’s not exactly a lot. It would add just 4 runs to Pujols over Longoria. Which highlights the error in these things more than anything, if that’s how easy it is to get your projection to be different by about half a win.

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      • tdotsports1 says:

        @Justin

        Strasburg a strikeout machine with his arm in a sling is like Halladay (ground balls, efficient) only better? What an odd comp. CarGo plays at Coors Field, his numbers away were average at best. Gonna be hard for a guy with his BB rate to continue posting ridiculous BA.

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      • fredsbank says:

        because bb rate is correlative in any way to average, right?

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      • tdotsports1 says:

        if you’d take CarGo over about 10 of the name listed on here, you’re out of it, if you’d take him over the top three, you’re delusional.

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      • Matt says:

        Of course it does. Look at Ichiro: low walk rate, low batting av…. oh, wait.

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      • tdotsports1 says:

        great point Matt, CarGo’s BABIP of .384 probably had NOTHING to do with his high BA, OBP.

        my point was his low BB rate coupled with a likely regression in BABIP will surely see his numbers plummet in ’11…

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    • Grammar rodeo - head buckaroo says:

      “Fangraphs projections has Pujols a WHOOPING .5 WAR ahead of Longoria for next year.”

      I think you’re looking for “whopping”. “Whooping” is a cough.

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  6. bsally says:

    Regarding Dave’s argument, surely one could also make the case that fans are drawn to young stars who they can see mature and develop, especially if they’re under team control for their whole career.

    As I posted on the first part, I just don’t see how it can’t be Heyward. He put up a .393 OBP and couldn’t even drink for most of the season!

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    • Justin says:

      I agree, he is certainly in the discussion with all the young superstars that are in a similar situation. Car Gon went absolutely insane to the tune of .336/34HR/117R/111R/26SB at 25 while playing all three outfield position for substantial amounts of time. Pujols hit .312/42HR/115R/118RBI/14SB at 30 while playing 1B! Your gaining 5 years or almost identical lineup production and gaining an outfielder over a 1B.

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      • dutchbrowncoat says:

        id take heyward over cargo going forward any day. cargo has a low walk rate, a high k rate, and coors field.

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      • fredsbank says:

        …all which improved the more time he spent in the majors

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      • Wally says:

        His walk rate went backwards in 2010….

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      • fredsbank says:

        a decrease of 2% over 300 additional PAs, and it increased as the season went on just as his K rate decreased…

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      • bsally says:

        Uh, thanks, but I’ll take Heyward over Cargo 6 days a week and twice on Sundays. A .384 BABIP for a guy who hits 37% of balls in the air simply isn’t sustainable.

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      • Friedman says:

        with cargo, you have to remember that this scenario is a neutral park…cargo had ridic home/away splits last year with a .487 wOBA at home and .339 wOBA away. combine that with a low walk rate and a high K rate…

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      • Wally says:

        “a decrease of 2% over 300 additional PAs, and it increased as the season went on just as his K rate decreased…”

        That’s nice, but it doesn’t really mean anything. If you’re looking at pre/post ASB, you’re talking about an extra 10 walks in ~300 PA. How much of that do you think is noise and how much do you think is actual true talent changes? James’ predictions give him a 7% walk rate, only slightly higher than his 2010 season as a whole and decent amount below his 2009 numbers.

        You can be optimistic if you like, but you don’t really have a lot of evidence to convince a skeptic that your optimism is justified.

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      • fredsbank says:

        read: haters gotta hate

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      • Wally says:

        haters hate the hater who hates

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      • bsally says:

        No, read: Heyward is better than Gonzalez. By a lot.

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  7. But… but… how can wins right now be more important than later? Dayton Moore says later is always more important and he’s a real GM not some silly sabermetric basement dude. I’ve taken that to heart so well, that I decided to stop being a Royals fan this past year and buy a Cardinals cap ’cause Pujols is so awesome. I should be a Royals fan …later.

    (note to those who will think I’m totally serious — I love sabermetrics & think Dayton Moore is less.)

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    • tbad says:

      Would’ve been funny if you didn’t try to explain. The internet is anonymous – sack up and trust that people will get it

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      • Patrick says:

        Correction: Would’ve been FUNNIER. It was still funny. :)

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      • The Hit Dog says:

        You’re right, it was hilarious!

        (note to those who will think I’m totally serious – this post was not hilarious, because Dayton Moore is sabermetrics’ own beaten, dead horse).

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  8. Justin says:

    If they were all free agents, Pujols would undoubtedly draw the largest per year salary of any player in baseball. That said, the total amount of the contract I do not believe would be the most of any player in baseball. Pujols will sign a contract soon, will it be 6-8-10 years, nobody knows but I think the smart money is on the lower end. Giving Longoria a contract that lasts more than 10 years would not be illogical whatsoever and I think perhaps a team like the Yankees would even go more. So, Pujols will probably snag 27M/yr for 7 years, maybe 8 bringing a grand total of 189-216M whereas Longoria would probably be in the range of 20M/yr initially and end up in the 32M/yr range which creates an average of 26M/yr for anywhere from 10-12 seasons or 260M-312M. They gave A-Roid something in that ballpark and he was certainly not 25 years old. Therefore, with age considered, Longoria is the most valuable players in baseball because the years Pujols has been awesome are mostly negated and surpassed by the fact Longoria still has them to come. Feel free to substitute Longoria with Car Gon, Tulo, Heyward, Strausburg.

    Why are we leaving pitchers out of this discussion when they are paid equally? I remember a certain ARZ World Championship that came on the back almost entirely of two pitchers. I also remember a paltury lineup and ACE that threw up 10Ks who recently brought a World Championship to SF. Anyhow, I suppose that is best left for another thread.

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  9. JDSussman says:

    I don’t usually post, but I really disliked this argument…

    “But we’re still working out precise run and win values for defensive contributions. FIELDf/x will likely tell us many things we don’t yet know about defense. HITf/x might too, by telling us the velocity, spin and other batted ball factors that might influence a fielder’s chances to make a clean play. It is possible (not certain, but possible) that Longoria’s value is somewhat overrated by the metrics we have now.”

    Isn’t it true that, “It is possible (not certain, but possible) that Longoria’s value is somewhat [underrated] by the metrics we have now.” Possibly even grossly underrated?

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    • intricatenick says:

      If you measure an extreme value again, using a different measuring stick, the odds are that it will be lower, not higher.

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      • JDSussman says:

        Aren’t you assuming the initial measurements are accurate?

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      • Wally says:

        Sure, there is the issue of regression to the mean, but there is also the issue of measurement error.

        There is also the issue of what mean do you really want to regress people to given that we have more information we could use (like say age, build, speed, etc).

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  10. shthar says:

    I’d go with tulokokoskibidoobydoo

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  11. TK says:

    I find the “wins now” argument to be flimsy. I’m going to use Heyward and Pujols. I’m going to give Pujols a lot of credit for the rest of his career and Heyward a modest career compared to most projections. Pujols nice projection to me would be 8 WAR next year with a .5 regression for the next 9 seasons (8, 7.5, 7, 6.5, 6, 5.5, 5, 4.5, 4, 3.5) and then retirement (52.5). Now a modest projection for Heyward is a max out at 6.5 wins at age 27, then the same regression to age 36, so something like (5, 5.5, 6, 6.5, 6.5, 6.5, 6.5, 6, 5.5, 5, 4.5, 4, 3.5, 3, 2.5, 2) which is 78.5 total (and 59 during the rest of Pujols’ career).

    That means Heyward provides about 50% more wins above replacement. Now think about the rules. The player is unpaid. It is just who provides the most value for a team. This is where I really have a problem with the notion that a few greater seasons beats lesser seasons. The player, in theory, provides those extra wins in each year, which gives the team a greater chance to win in each and every one of those seasons. Now, if you can explain why having 78.5 wins over 16 seasons is not better than 52.5 seasons over 10 years, I’m all ears. How does any small advantage of having slightly better peak years make up for how many more wins Heyward provides? Heyward provides more seasons of free play that gives the team more opportunities to win lots of games, creating more value (if that is even true).

    And sure, Heyward could do much worse (so could Pujols), but he could also do much better.

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    • Wally says:

      Quite right.

      I also think we brush off the possibility Pujols’ skills diminishing “early” and quickly.

      See, for example, Jeff Bagwell. Bagwell was a good fielding first baseman, seemed fit and hard working, was posting 7-8 WAR seasons from ages 28-31. Then he had a couple ~6 WAR seasons, then a couple 5 WAR seasons, and then at age 36 he was basically done for purposes of this conversation, with a 3 WAR season followed by a season in which he played 39 games and retired.

      Yes, all players have an implosion risk that should always be built into our projections, but that risk needs to go up as players get into there mid and then late 30’s, so it would seems to me that even projecting 3-4 WAR out to age 40 is rather foolish. 3 or 4 WAR is probably near the best of what Pujols would be doing if he’s even still playing. So a mean projection at that point for him is probably closer to 1-2 WAR, with the most likely case being he’s either retired and accumulating zero WAR, or still playing at a fairly high level, but not much in between.

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      • bsally says:

        Couldn’t agree more. People who dismiss Heyward as “not being a sure thing” are shortsighted-it’s far more likely that a 33 year old will decline rather than a 23 year old.

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      • adohaj says:

        “so it would seems to me that even projecting 3-4 WAR out to age 40 is rather foolish.”

        yea not everyone is Barry Bonds

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      The “team keeps him for the rest of his career” line, pretty much gives it to Heyward.

      It also throws in huge unknowns.

      When you put in that statement, someone out there can probably make a case that Harper will likely put up a comparable season to Heyward at the same (or younger) age, and therefore harper is more valuable (or as valuable) as Heyward or the remaining years of Pujols.

      I think a case could be made that a 21yo could be just as, if not more, unpredictable than a 31yo playing heading into their 2nd decade of baseball.

      I hope both guys are able to progress through their peak & decline years without major injury.

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    • Jon says:

      On the other hand, Pujols has established himself as a year-in, year-out hard worker and producer who can handle the grind, the money, and the celebrity, not to mention all the scouting and pitching adjustments. Heyward is a brand-new, young talent in the league, and there’s still a chance he could fizzle, turn out to be injury-prone, get stressed out by the press and pressure of being a team leader, become less selective when he’s counted on to drive in runs…

      Sure, the age difference is huge, and the vast likelihood is that Heyward has a much greater number of productive seasons ahead of him. However, he has very little track record in the major leagues, and the “conservative” projection of {5, 5.5, 6, 6.5, 6.5, 6.5, 6.5, 6, 5.5, 5, 4.5, 4, 3.5, 3, 2.5, 2} seems really unrealistic to me. Maybe the idea is that the projection of absurd consistency over many years is offset by setting a very modest peak value? But it’s just a very small number of players in history who sustain a consistent, high level of play for that long. Looking even at the great young players whose careers totally panned out, you have guys like Ken Griffey Jr. and Andruw Jones, who dropped off suddenly near age 30… Ok, I just checked baseball-reference.com for Heyward’s comparables, and those guys are both in the top four. (Admittedly, they’re not all that comparable–better outfielders who didn’t walk as much.) Also in his top four is Cesar Cedeno, who never had a great season after his mid-20’s.

      I think the chance that Pujols has a much higher likelihood of producing in the neighborhood of our projections for him than Heyward does.

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      • Jon says:

        “I think Pujols has a much higher likelihood of producing in the neighborhood of our projections for him than Heyward does,” that was meant to say.

        (And Heyward has a much higher likelihood of grossly under-producing the projections, it was meant to imply.)

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    • GiantHusker says:

      Yup, Keri broke his own rules by bringing up the (specious) financial argument that wins now are more valuable.

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    • KJOK says:

      Using a 10% compounded discount rate to account for possible injury, etc. using your projections for each gets you (Hayword then Pujols)

      5.0 5.0 5.0 4.9 4.4 4.0 3.7 3.1 2.6 2.1 1.7 1.4 1.1 0.9 0.7
      8.0 6.8 5.8 4.9 4.1 3.4 2.8 2.3 1.9 1.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0

      Haywood does come out slightly ahead. However, it could probably be argued that Haywood’s discount rate should perhaps be greater than 10% as he has a smaller past sample, making his projections less reliable.

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  12. TK says:

    and if a players contribution at the extreme of WAR are not linear, you need a new calculation for WAR.

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  13. Maverick says:

    I think Pujols is too much of a gamble because of his age. Sure, he might be able to preform at an all star caliber level until he is 37 or 38, but anything past that is a reach. There is also a very real chance that he starts to decline at 34 or 35. I don’t think that you can take him with the #1 overall pick because of that.

    Just to doodle some thoughts down while on this topic I will give Longoria, Heyward, and Pujols their career average WAR and extend that out as if they all three play until 40 years of age. Pujols gets 8 WAR for 10 years for 80 WAR. Longoria gets 6.5 WAR for 16 years, totaling 104 WAR. Heyward and his lone season at 5 WAR gives him 20 seasons and 100 total WAR.

    It’s not expected that any, let alone all 3, will produce those numbers up to age 40, and if I had to wager who has the best chance to come close to those numbers, my money would be on Heyward, as his 5 WAR will likely be eclipsed frequently over the next 10 years. And 5 WAR is more easily attainable than 6.5 and 8 as they age.

    If you go to their age 35 seasons, it’s 40 for Pujols, 71.5 for Longoria, and 75 for Heyward. Can they all average 8, 6.5, and 5 WAR respectively until age 35? Sure, I think so. Could any, or, all of them eclipse those averages? I think Heyward absolutely can, Longoria might be able to, but I don’t think Pujols can top that 8 WAR per year.

    For those reason, I will take Heyward over Longoria, and both of them over Pujols.

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  14. dustygator says:

    You can make a case for Longoria because, as the article acknowledges, he has the rare blend of proven quality and youth. But I hesitate taking Heyward. Yes he was a 5 win player at age 20. The problem is that’s all we have to go on. Pujols is as much of a sure thing as there ever has been in sports.

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  15. Bob says:

    Heyward could do “much better” than an 80-WAR career? I’m sure his agent will be VERY glad to hear that. ;)

    (That 78.5 WAR projected for Heyward over the next 16 seasons? Coincidentally, that’s Ken Griffey Jr.’s exact career total [per B-Ref].)

    Gotta keep in mind how much of a wildcard is durability–and Pujols has established his durability like few great players of recent decades. It’s entirely possible he doesn’t even *begin* to decline for another 3-5 years, given his extraordinary work ethic and Gehrig-esque consistency to this point.

    Much as I love Longoria & Tulo (a perfect example of greatness partly diluted by durability questions), I have to agree with Jonah. Pujols is the choice.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I did not see that you mentioned Griffey. I talked about him later in the thread.

      I think some folks should go look up Griffey’s stat page and realize that they are basically suggesting that Heyward is going to “be Griffey” for the next 10 years. That may happen, but I wouldn’t talk of it as if it is certain.

      It’s always fun talking about Griffey in his 1st 10 years.

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      • TK says:

        Someone could be not nearly as talented as Griffey and post a much higher WAR if they didn’t have freak injuries during prime and a terrible decline phase. Heyward could have 40 fewer WAR points than 78.5, but he could also have 40 more. The chances Pujols has more than 65 more WAR are very low.

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  16. Jeff says:

    The only thing keeping Cabrera from being Pujols is a few UZR points… and we all know that UZR fluctuates greatly each year…

    I would take the guy 3 years younger…

    then again I would take Tulo, Heyward and Cabrera over Pujols…

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  17. Yep! Pujols, Hanley, Eva Longo.

    Looking at the stats I still don’t get why anyone would put Tulowitski up with those three guys…

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  18. MrKnowNothing says:

    Longo may not even be better than Zimmerman…

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    • Matt says:

      But he’s a year younger. If you’re busy trying to split hairs trying to figure out which guy is better, you go with the younger guy.

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  19. Doug says:

    I’m pretty sure the massive difference in salary from Pujols to Longo (especially in the very near future when he gets an extension) will MORE than make up for the extra revenue he’ll bring in by being the better player right now.

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  20. Pachoo says:

    A year from now, if this article is revisited, I think Heyward will be the clear winner. Before his thumb injury on May 14th, Heyward had a higher OPS than Pujols, over 1.000. His performance outside of the 6 to 8 week period when his thumb was hurt, was astounding, especially for a 20 year old.

    Barring injury, I think Heyward is going to have a stupendous 2011, posting a 7+ WAR campaign, as a 21 year old.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Before his thumb injury on May 14th,

      I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Pujols has probably had some 6-week spans of just outrageous stats. I’m not, at all, insulting Heyward … but really, we’re going to compare Heyward and Pujols through the 1st 6 weeks of the season?

      ——————————–

      If Heyward is fortunate enough to replicate Griffey’s 10 seasons (following his rookie year), he would have 70.2 WAR after a decade … 10 Wins short of what AP5 has done in his 1st decade.

      I shouldn’t have to remind anyone of how ‘The Kid’ was viewed during that decade. It was taken for granted that the title of “Best Ever” (and the all-time HR record), would just be his.

      Pujols DOUBLED Heyward’s batting runs, and trailed in fielding by 3 measily runs in 2010. That there are other great hitting 1B’s just makes his WAR even more impressive. When you look at the batting & fielding runs comparison, I don’t see where Heyward is going to beat AP5 in the next few years … not unless he adds 20 fielding runs to his 2011 totals.

      Heyward has to get better, quite a bit better and maintain that peak for the next 5-7 years in order to equal AP5’s likely “declining numbers”.

      I don’t have much doubt that Heyward will be a 5+ WAR player for the next 5-7 years (or more), but likely so will Albert. A 5 WAR 1B is a bigger force in the lineup than is a 5 WAR RF, and Heyward’s defense isn’t taking many more runs away than Albert’s is.

      But, the question is ..

      Finally (and perhaps most importantly), every player would be a team’s to keep for the rest of his career.

      So, we’re basically comparing what? 7 years of AP5 to 15 years of Jason Heyward. With that last qualifying statement, it has to be Heyward.

      The 2 catchers are either going to age quicker or move to another position that diminishes their value. The 3B’s play a demanding position, that becomes more difficult with age, and if they’re moved to another position, lose their some of their value.

      But, when I look at Heyward, I wonder how is he going to get better? He’ll have to walk more, strike out less (26%), and hit a bunch more homers. He isn’t going to get any faster, and will probably never be 20 fielding runs on defense. He’s going to have to stay healthy. He’s literally going to have to “turn into Griffey” in order to match AP5’s performance.

      I like Heyward a ton, and think he’s going to be really good. But, I’m not going to go on the assumption that he’s going to be “Griffey good” for a decade. Not sure why Jonah added the “teams to keep for the rest of their career”, as that aspect adds a whole bunch of unknown that none of can really know, other than laying out “average” career paths which may or may not apply to these two great players.

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  21. Victor Frankenstein says:

    cough cough posey cough cough

    I have a half formed thought (they all are) about handling an elite pitching staff, but everbuddy knows Bochy calls the pitches when he’s awake and Rags calls ‘em when he’s sleeping.

    Reading some of the above analyses I wasn’t certain it wasn’t a HOF campaign.

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  22. CFIC says:

    isn’t Ryan Zimmerman better than Longoria?

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  23. Joe says:

    Please be careful with the ESPN park factors. While 2010 is a pretty data point to say extreme pitchers park/dampening…. I’d suggest looking at, I don’t know, the 5 previous years where it was middle of the pack (with the exception of 1 year). I guess I don’t see the “multiyear dampening” you refer to.

    Additionally Longoria’s home vs road splits for wOBA, ISO and OPS are all nearly identical so the dampening field apparently travels with him. Looking at this data, as well as maybe 5-10 years of a park factors, might be better than a 1 year park factor which is noisy – New Yankee stadium was 2nd last year, 20th the previous year (run adjusted park factor).

    (And yes you should look back longer than just the Longoria years to understand how the park plays)

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  24. Ken Discorfano says:

    A-Rod “is” the best player to come along in a long time… and it will be a long time until someone else can match him. Albert Pujols is right behind him – but, behind him at least a bit. A-Rod has been hampered a bit with his hip which this year should be just fine… though I think he’ll watch it in the field – though he still plays hard… he’d got to protect that hip some to keep his career moving forward to 42. He still has a chance to catch Barry… but, also has other fish to fry – he wants to “WIN!” A taste in 2009, is fuel for the furnace to roll up 140 RBIs and 45 homers in 2011… back on his normal track… if not better! But, Cardinal and NL fans have much to cheer for in Albert too!

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  25. dcs says:

    I’m not sure why Heyward is getting all this love. I realize he had a good age 20 season, but it was mainly fueled by the walks. He hit .277/.393/.456. The BB are impressive, but I want to see some more BAvg and HR power before I take him over the rest of Pujols’ or Longoria’s career. And where is that going to come from? At this point, he is an unusual combination of a GB hitter who strikes out a lot. Those attributes are pretty much consistent over a player’s career.

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    • TK says:

      I think it was because he was the best prospect in baseball (over the also very hyped Strasburg) and he responded by having the second best 20-year old season since color television (while hurt part of the year).

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    • Maverick says:

      Watching Heyward play last season, I am fairly confident that the HR numbers will climb, and the K rate will drop for the simple reason that it’s not all that likely that he will be bothered by another bad thumb for 183 plate appearances before going on the DL (158 of 520 ABs. That’s over 30% of his AB’s). And you have to realize that the thumb was a lingering issue after the DL stint. You have to. Do I think it will be an issue in 2011? No, I don’t. Others may, but I don’t see any reason it wouldn’t be healed completely and ready to go. Check out this breakdown.

      He slid into third on May 14th and injured his thumb. These are the numbers he had up to that game (Apr 5-May 14):
      .299/.425/.608 (31 games, 97at bats, 8HR)

      While playing hurt (May 15-Jun 26):
      .222/.328/.361 (40 games, 158 at bats, 3HR)

      After his DL stint (Jul 15-Oct 3):
      .302/.419/.457 (71 games, 265 at bats, 7HR)

      That puts his numbers surrounding the time he first injured his thumb, and his DL stay, as follows:
      .301/.422/.533 (102 games, 362 at bats)

      You can see that his power was down after coming off the DL, and it was reported by many that his thumb wouldn’t be 100% until the offseason, but there is also nothing to say he could have kept up the power numbers he was putting up in his first 30 games. I do think it would be reasonable to assume that it would have fell somewhere in the middle of his .608 SLG% and his .457 SLG% had his wrist been 100% those last 71 games, though.

      His power numbers were just fine right up until he injured his thumb. Barring another thumb injury, those first 31 games make it easier to project 25-30 HRs this year, if not more.

      As for the K rate, I don’t have as much evidence as to why I think it will improve, but I feel like you can still point to his top hand’s thumb as a reason, or an excuse if you must, for some of those K’s. I honestly think that without a thumb injury in 2011 he will improve on all of his offensive numbers. I know a lot of people back up their skepticism towards him by saying that a players game usually doesn’t make huge strides in a lot of the rate stats and what not, but I think that the thumb injury changes all of that. Let him show what he can do with a full season’s canvas. It will be art. I really do believe that.

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  26. Ewan says:

    This is all assuming Pujols is actually only 31 too

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    • Wally says:

      Yeah, this is kinda the elephant in the room. While it might not be likely his birthdate is wrong, if it is and he’s actually, say 33, then it GREATLY changes the remaining WAR we can expect from Pujols, because it shaves off the most productive seasons left (age 31 and 32). So, I don’t know, maybe there’s a 10% chance he’s 2 years older than he actually is. That means would should take off about 15 WAR from his projection. Which takes 1.5 WAR away from his overall projection. Considering he’s already likely gasping to catch up to Heyward and Longoria in remaining career value, and his only real case is certainty in high level performance NOW, this hurts him greatly.

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  27. camisadelgolf says:

    You’re all idiots. You can’t have a discussion about the most valuable player without mentioning Juan Castro.

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  28. elpikiman says:

    Ryan Zimmer is very compareable to Evan longoria

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    • Ben says:

      Yup, which is why in round 1 of this conversation Jonah said Zimm’s got a good case to be #4 on this list. He’s a year older than Longoria, but other than that they’re very similar players. So it makes sense that he would be just slightly behind him in the rankings.

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      • Wally says:

        Zimmerman also has a little shorter of a track record of really being a great player, despite being older. Which should give us more confidence in Longoria’s peak being higher, and possibly longer.

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  29. uub140 says:

    Err… And what about Jeter?

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  30. Bob says:

    Glad someone brought up Jeter.

    age 22: 2.6 WAR
    age 23: 4.6
    age 24: 7.8
    age 25: 8.0

    Then, over the next eleven seasons, The Cap’n was one of the most durable, productive player in the majors. How many wins was he worth per year? Seven? Six?

    Try less than 4 1/2.

    And that’s a freakin’ first-ballot HOFer. It’s just so unlikely that even the best young superstars can maintain their greatness—that’s what sets Pujols apart; he’s already done it.

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    • bsally says:

      I’d say that’s not necessarily an indictment of every young player but more of a statement of how incredibly overrated Jeter is.

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  31. Andrew says:

    The present value comes into the equation, but part of that is assuming that you have to sign a guy to multiple contracts too, no? On other words, the present value scenario comes with some underlying assumption about future costs, or at least would appear to. Your analysis assumes that you have this player for life irregardless. Thus that extra 10 or so WAR in years 7-10 so make a significant difference in your decision, especially as the other 2 finalists are established stars as well. Under the same underlying assumptions, you might not trade Pujols for either of the other 2 guys. Not saying your wrong, but just questioning the impact of Pujols’ immediate value, and its use in your analysis, with your underlying assumptions.

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  32. Dauber says:

    Mayan is the adjective; they are the Maya.

    Awesome is the adjective; he is Pujols.

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  33. Damnedifino says:

    I read none of the foregoing BS, but I take the guy who knows the opposing hitters, calls the the game, bats third for the perennial division champs, and contend every year for a gold glove and batting title. His name is Joe Mauer.

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  34. Richard Kidd says:

    Not to put too fine a point on all this, but I think everyone’s overlooking the most solid, versatile, and durable player in the league right now. Michael Young has performed exceptionally well at every position he has played. He’s alway consistent in the hits, and runs scored categories. A superb clutch hitter, I can”t think of anyone I’d rather have up if the game’s on the line. As DH this year, his value actually increases, and I believe he’ll start 100 games in the field this year at all infield positions (except pitcher, and catcher).
    Michael has repeatedly changed playing positions to accommodate other players. He is the quintessential team player, almost universally respected, and liked by his peers. That is the criteria for Most Valuable Player in my book

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    • Jason B says:

      I admittedly can’t tell if this is written tongue-in-cheek, but I’ma have a go at it anyway…

      “I think everyone’s overlooking the most solid, versatile, and durable player in the league right now.” Durable? Yes. Versatile? Meh. He changed positions because he had nothing to offer at SS, and is again being displaced by a much superior defender. Solid? I guess – you know what you’re getting from him year-in and year-out, but consistent (H/T, Joe Morgan) doesn’t at all equate to “superior”. You can be consistently good, consistently mediocre, or consistently bad (hi Frenchy!). There’s no way he is more “solid” than Pujols unless you have a strange, strange definition of solid indeed.

      “A superb clutch hitter, I can”t think of anyone I’d rather have up if the game’s on the line.” I can give you about fifty names without much effort.

      “Michael has repeatedly changed playing positions to accommodate other players.” Because his range is declining, and it was either that or go to the bench. Don’t forget that he bitched about the move off of SS before deciding to go on over to 3B. Just for comparison’s sake, A-rod bitched none when giving up SS to a starkly worse defender.

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  35. Duffy says:

    Pujols may be the MVP but don’t believe all you read concerning his age.
    STL and MLB have done a great job covering up the fact that he’s actually 37 years old, or six years older than officially listed. So age is more of a factor here than anything. He may have another good 2-3 years but after that is anyone’s guess.

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  36. WilsonC says:

    While Dave’s point about the economic advantages of front-loading value is valid, I think the bigger factor is in the reliability of predictions. It’s a lot easier to forecast next year’s performance than it is for 2013 or 2015 performance. While the younger player has the better projected aging curve normally, you’re also presenting more opportunities for a career-altering injury or for a significant shift in performance as you stretch the player’s value out over more years. When we’re dealing with players who are among the best in the league already, there’s usually more downside risk than upside risk. Likewise, Pujols’ chances of aging gracefully into his 30’s is better than those of a typical younger player, because he’s completed his age 30 season without showing signs of decline yet.

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  37. Bob says:

    The Decline And Fall Of The Pujolsian Empire is something I’ll believe in as soon as I see some evidence.

    Pujols reminds me of no one quite as much as Hank Aaron—and here’s a smattering of Aaron’s late career hitting performances:

    Age 35 177 OPS+
    Age 37 194
    Age 39 177 again

    The in-between years weren’t half-bad, either. Try 147 and 148.

    Given AP’s defensive position, I don’t expect his glovework contribution to diminish much over the next decade. Soooo, a *standard* pattern of decline just does not feel likely. To me.

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