This probably needs an introduction but I have no idea what to say other than that I believe I’ve lost touch with my demographic.
Career WAR: 91.2
Comparables: Greg Maddux, Warren Spahn
Best season: 2000 (Stronger, Oops!… I Did It Again, 1.78 FIP)
Brit has managed to assemble a shockingly spectacular career with years left to go, assuming her antics off the field don’t catch up to her. No matter how you feel about her style of play, no one else who has debuted since 1998 can touch her when it comes to the raw numbers. You think she’s only “pretty good”? Look again. If we’ve learned anything from advanced metrics, it’s that the numbers aren’t the liars, our perceptions are. No matter how Britney makes you feel (and for me and for many others, the answer to that question is a jumbled and complicated tangle), she is among — if not the — greatest pop singer of my generation. Those who don’t agree do have some tools to argue with, specifically her extremely low BABIP. However, even after factoring in her extraordinary luck, Britney has still led the league overall every season that she has released a new album. Above all else, she is incredibly consistent, never having experienced a true slump in her entire career. Even 2008, the year she experienced an infamous offseason collapse, her sixth album sold half a million copies in the US in its first week, while Brit broke another record becoming the youngest player in history with five number one albums. Britney is an interesting case because to the naked eye she appears to have very little talent at all. Her voice is weak and forgettable compared to many of the other players on this list, her fastball never gets out of the very low 90s, and while she was once pretty good on the dance floor, that number has sunk as her later career has been plagued by injuries — from 2008-2011 she actually posted a negative UZR. She simply doesn’t have the natural talent to be the superstar that she is and year after year, experts predict that she will regress to her natural talent level, but somehow, some way, she remains at the top of her game.
Career WAR: 74.0
Comparables: Ken Griffey Jr., Willie Mays
Best season: 2008 (Single Ladies, If I Were A Boy, named AL MVP)
The top pick in everyone’s fantasy league — if you know what I mean — Beyoncé seems to represent all things to all people: she is at once a sex symbol and an excellent defensive position player, the girl next door with a slugging percentage to drool over. She is a true “five tool player,” winning us over with her dancing skills as well as her truly spectacular singing voice, cheeky and creative music videos, a seemingly utopian home life, and, of course, the booty. She wins from both sides of the spectrum, making her a perennial all-star: from a numbers perspective, she is among the best selling female artists of all time worldwide, but she is also the kind of player that gives you that inarticulateable feeling in your gut when you see her — like you just know you’re witnessing something special. Whether you root for her team or not, everyone wants to see her do well for herself. The question remains how her career will progress as she transitions into motherhood, but we already have no doubt that she will remain a beloved figure in her game’s history for all time.
Career WAR: 54.8
Comparables: Lance Berkman, Arky Vaughan
Best season: 2010 (Raise Your Glass, Fuckin’ Perfect, led the league in home runs)
Pink is a strange case: an intensely talented athlete with an eleven-year career (so far) and multiple hit singles and millions of devoted fans, she is a talented songwriter and performer with a crazy personality that seems like a perfect fit for the spotlight… Yet she seems to be strangely absent from “the conversation” when it comes to pop stars of her caliber. Why is it? Is it because she doesn’t quite appeal to our loins like Beyoncé or Rihanna? It it because she doesn’t wear dresses made of meat? Is it because she spent most of her career playing for a team that no one cares about? I don’t know, but I do know that I went ice skating with her when I was eighteen and she was really nice. Luckily, last season she released two giant singles and started to be given a slice of the recognition cake she deserves. Let’s hope it continues for many years to come as she makes her surprisingly strong case for the Hall of Fame.
Career WAR: 37.5
Comparables: Dustin Pedroia, Hugh Duffy
Best season: 2009 (You Belong With Me, Fearless, walk off homer in All Star Game)
A lot of people would have had you believe that TSwift couldn’t do it. She was, after all, once a teenage country star with a really large mouth and little discernible talent other than her rare, unaffected earnestness. But somehow, contrary to every possible expectation, she has risen and continued to rise, evolving every year of her extraordinary career, leading up to a young woman at the height of her game with many years to come. It’s easy to imagine her spending the rest of her life here and almost impossible to imagine her retirement in fifteen or more years. She is said to be truly extraordinary in the clubhouse, inspiring her teammates and even winning the hearts of opposing players who would like to hate her but just can’t. Goddamnit.
Career WAR: 35.2
Comparables: Matt Kemp, Greg Luzinski
Best season: 2010 (Rude Boy, Only Girl (In the World), What’s My Name, OBP leader)
Oh, Ri-Ri. She is incredibly talented at the plate, cranking out hits whenever she wants. But like Britney Jr., she is plagued by off the field issues… And her movement? SIGH. It’s like the scouts who recruited her just forgot to ask whether she could dance before signing her to a fat contract. It’d be nice if she could go to an American League team and just stop trying to perform altogether, but there has been a stubborn insistence that such talents can be “learned.” Luckily for her team, her offensive production generally more than cancels out those weaknesses. While she had what many consider to be one of the best performances of her career in the first half of 2011 (Man Down), she didn’t enjoy the same success during the second half of the season — many feel that her latest single We Found Love may be her weakest yet. It appears to this writer to be an asymptomatic “slump” and I don’t forsee a decline in her value next season.
Career WAR: 30.9
Comparables: Hanley Ramirez, Ernie Banks
Best season: 2009 (Paparazzi, Bad Romance, World Series MVP)
Gaga made a splash in her 2008 rookie season and hasn’t stopped contributing, but her OPS has slowly declined since her debut causing some to speculate that her playing career could fizzle. The nonbelievers also claim that her early numbers were inflated due the team surrounding her: the production of her songs may be a greater force in their success than her own abilities. But doubters should also recognize a few facts at work here: 1. Gaga had a minor league career before making it to the show, and by all accounts she was doing a great job slugging away in a variety of parks without any of the bells and whistles that the majors have afforded her, 2. Gaga’s home runs are some of the longest and hardest in major league history. While it might not matter from a technical perspective, those who have danced to “Poker Face,” watched the “Telephone” video, or done karaoke to “Bad Romance” know that those songs were hit well out of the stadium, even shattering a car windshield or two along the way. It’s worth noting that Gaga is a perennial fan favorite, often staying long after the games to sign autographs and meet fans, and devoting much of her influence to the causes she supports. If she doesn’t win a Roberto Clemente award in the next few years, I’ll eat a kitten.
Career WAR: 27.7
Comparables: Andruw Jones, Bake McBride
Best season: 2005 (Since U Been Gone, Since U Been Gone, Since U Been Gone)
Many of us are fantasy owners who are all too familiar with the crush of unfulfilled potential, but what must it be like for the players themselves? When you know that your best song is behind you and you keep on, keep on, keep on trying to make that magic happen again? You feel like you’re just as talented as you used to be but no one else seems to see it that way? You’re criticized for putting on pounds, as if that has anything to do with your decline. You keep playing, working hard, but it just never pays off like it did that one magical year. This is the story of Kelly Clarkson. She is, naked in the ear, the most spectacular raw talent on this entire list. There is a sound when she squares up that is the very definition of “pop” in the best possible way. And yet she just can’t seem to reach her ceiling, she is underused, surrounded by a mediocre team, and time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking into the future.
Career WAR: 19.0
Comparables: Jose Bautista, Kirk Gibson
Best season: 2011 (Rolling In The Deep, Someone Like You, NL Rookie of the Year)
Although she made her debut a few years ago, Adele had her breakout year in 2011, showing us all what we had forgotten to pay attention to in the years previous. She is remarkable, both in the scope of her success and in the sheer quality of her talent. She is one of those players that makes her job look easy, even though what she actually accomplishes is incredibly hard. She is humble, collected, refined, graceful, and elegant. She lacks the swagger and ego of many stars with half of her talent, and I think we have many more years of her great big, beautiful runs to look forward to.
Career WAR: 16.8
Comparables: C.J. Wilson, Don Drysdale
Best season: 2010 (Teenage Dream, Firework, 20 wins)