Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Baseball's Best: AL Regulars Edition

Since I've been charged with rendering a bunch of video files at work, I have a lot of free time this week. I'd say it's time for my monthly look at which players are having the best seasons at each position in each league. AL first!

C Jason Varitek, BOS
.307/.386/.546/16 HR/45 RBI/38.5 VORP

With numbers like those, it's surprising he doesn't have more RBI, but I'm guessing that's because Manny and Ortiz take away many of those opportunities. It's yet another reminder why RBI is not a very good measure of a player's worth. At any rate, Varitek is having his best season yet, and this comes after he signed a huge contract. He's definitely worthy of the captain's C. Other AL catchers of note include Victor Martinez, who has rebounded from a slow start to post a 27.0 VORP. Joe Mauer checks in at 28.6, meaning he's the only guy in Minnesota who can hit anything.

1B Richie Sexson, SEA
.271/.371/.550/26 HR/81 RBI/39.8 VORP

In a year when it looked like no AL first baseman would shine, Sexson has been absolutely scintillating in the past month. His line: .359/.455/.728. Hey, those are Derrek Lee numbers! But seriously, Sexson is proving that he's almost worth the money, unlike a certain teammate whose initials are Adrian Beltre. The other first baseman of note is Detroit's Chris Shelton, who has posted a line of .338/.386/.540 in just over 200 plate appearances. He's only 25 and he's always had great plate discipline, so Detroit looks to be set at first base for some time to come.

2B Brian Roberts, BAL
.328/.404/.552/16 HR/55 RBI/20 SB/56.0 VORP

Though he'll never have another month like April again, Roberts is equally impressive to me for continuing to put up solid enough numbers to maintain that batting line. Throw in the 20 steals in 25 chances, and you've got a bonafide MVP candidate, or at least Most Improved Player. If Alfonso Soriano could draw a walk or hit outside of Texas, he might be challenging Roberts...but he can't.

3B Alex Rodriguez, NYY
.316/.417/.584/29 HR/83 RBI/10 SB/59.0 VORP

A-Rod is blowing away the competition at his position, and is a legitimate MVP candidate, especially if the Yankees make the playoffs. He's well on his way to over 40 home runs, and if he goes on a power tear, could make a run at 50. The potent Yankee lineup means that he could also record 120+ RBI for the first time since 2002. His only step backward this year is in his fielding, but his offensive prowess relegates his defensive struggles to footnote status. In the meantime, Jorge Cantu is having a nice year for the Devil Rays. His .481 SLG is second best behind Rodriguez, which further illustrates his dominance.

SS Miguel Tejada, BAL
.322/.370/.582/22 HR/70 RBI/60.3 VORP

Tejada is flourishing in Baltimore. Those rate numbers (AVG/OBP/SLG) would represent career highs in all categories. Unfortunately for him, his counting stats (HR/RBI) will probably not be as high as last year, and Baltimore's collapse into mediocrity will hurt his MVP chances. At this point, I'd say he's neck in neck with Rodriguez. Personally, I think it should be Tejada, just because he has nowhere near the same protection in his lineup. Elsewhere in the AL, Mike Young has continued to use Arlington to his advantage, putting up .327/.380/.503, while non-All-Star Derek Jeter has become a singles and walks machine at .301/.379/.438. Tampa once again has a surprising representative in the top 5; Julio Lugo has been steady but unspectacular (.302/.356/.399), but more impressively has 30 steals in 35 attempts and has fielded his position 6 runs above average.

LF Manny Ramirez, BOS
.277/.377/.580/29 HR/97 RBI/36.7 VORP

Ramirez has turned into more of a slugger than an all-around hitter this year, but that is to be expected as he gets older. The Sox still can't complain about his .377 OBP. As long as Manny has his batting eye, he'll continue to tear the cover off the ball. Hideki Matsui has a higher cumulative VORP than Ramirez, but has 30 more plate appearances. In honesty, this is a dead heat because Matsui has been 4 runs better than average in the field, while Manny is 6 runs below average. After those two, there's a steep drop-off to Carl Crawford, Kevin Mench, and Rondell White, all of whom are having solid but unspectacular seasons. Only Crawford's 34 steals in 39 attempts is worth noting.

CF Johnny Damon, BOS
.338/.383/.486/8 HR/51 RBI/11 SB/41.9 VORP

With or without the caveman beard, nothing can go wrong for Johnny this year. Everyone thought he would come down from last season, but he's riding that high batting average to career highs in AVG/OBP/SLG. He hasn't hit as many homers, but he's managed to add even more singles and doubles. Throw in his +3 defense in center, and you've got the best in the AL. There are a group of 4 AL centerfielders clumped behind Damon: Grady Sizemore, David DeJesus, Vernon Wells, and Torii Hunter. Wells and Hunter (now out with an injury) were expected, but Sizemore and DeJesus are putting up very solid numbers for such young players. Sizemore is particularly promising, and if he cuts down on his strikeouts and can improve his fielding a bit, he'll be the best guy in the AL for a long time.

RF Vladimir Guerrero, LAA
.312/.371/.560/21 HR/70 RBI/37.4 VORP

This was a virtual dead heat between Sheffield and Vlad; either choice is a winner. Sheffield gets on base more and fields slightly better, while Vlad slugs more and has done so in fewer plate appearances. I opt for Vlad here because Vlad plays in a vastly inferior lineup. His smaller counting stats will probably prevent him from collecting a 2nd straight MVP trophy, but he's certainly the most valuable player in the AL West--without him, the race wouldn't be close. Ichiro has gone on somewhat of a power binge (for him) recently, upping his VORP to 30.9. His most impressive number, however is the 11 fielding runs above average. No one plays right field better than Ichiro.

DH David Ortiz, BOS
.300/.396/.570/25 HR/88 RBI/48.5 VORP

At some point, I've got to reward durability and consistency, so Big Papi gets the nod over Big Donkey (Travis Hafner: .310/.418/.578) and Big BALCO (Jason Giambi: .283/.443/.547), despite the other two having higher VORP rates. Fact is, Manny couldn't be Manny without Big Papi hitting behind him, and vice versa. Giambi's resurgence is most surprising here. I figured he'd be washed up this year. I hope if he continues to excel this year, he'll admit to past steroid use and start the dominoes falling.


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