5/21/09

The Sporting News's "MLB's 50 Best" Is a Joke

We've read The Sporting News since we were young - well, younger - and are generally excited to read it.  We never cared for the feature pieces, really, but the individual analysis of all the teams in the leagues really grabbed us.  

But, as we've gotten older and learned to look at the game more intelligently, mainstream media has started to seem abhorrent to us.  Of course, everyone's favorite target is ESPN - and with good reason, considering how much of their airtime is filled with garbage analysis.  But hey, kudos for having 13 reporters covering a 1-hour slot dedicated to Michael Vick coming home.  Gripping stuff.

This, however, is not about ESPN.  This is about The Sporting News.  We got our issue today, and on the cover, a Herculean Albert Pujols gazed skyward: NO. 1, proclaimed the bold yellow font.  Alright, we thought, a good start.  But...our thoughts went sour quickly.  We'd post the rest of the list, but we don't want to waste any more of your time - though you can look through them here, if you'd like.  No, we're just going to highlight the egregiously bad parts.  Because this is a blog, you see, and all we're in this for is to criticize.  Oh, also this list was voted on by a collection of 99 baseball minds - 13 HOFers, 12 Cy Young winners, 12 MVPs, and 18 guys whose picture features them with a mustache included.  Oh, and Steve Phillips.  Steve Phillips is on there, too.  So 100 people were polled. This should be fun...let's get going.

4. Manny Ramirez: Yes, Manny's a great hitter.  But at this stage in his career, he's the fourth-best player in baseball?  Even with one of the worst gloves in the majors, at the easiest spot in the game?  For as much as defensive analysis has improved these days, putting an all-bat guy who can't be hidden in a DH slot at no. 4 in the lig is silliness. 

5. Hanley Ramirez: Basically, I'm just pushing for him to be in the 4th spot.  However, his manager did have this to say about him: "I think he can be in the top five, but I don't think he's there right now.  But surely he is in the upper third, the top 15."  Way to get your player's back, Fredi Gonzalez!  

8. Derek JeterReally, the pick that prompted this post.  We just want to be sure that we're on the same page as TSN here.  Let's even assume for a minute that we're talking about his entire career, rather than his value right now - when he's a barely average hitter (102 OPS+) and subpar defender.  We're still talking about a guy who's slugged .500 exactly once in his career.  A guy whose career OBP is under .400 - a lofty standard, sure, but not for a top-10 player in all of MLB.  A guy who's never once hit 30 home runs.  Great. Just making sure.  

Oh, and let's not forget this gem: in the writeup on why Jeter is no. 8 overall, the eminent Todd Jones explains why he'd vote for Jeter as no. 1.  Take it away, Todd!

"When I look at Derek Jeter, I see a champion. The captain.  A guy with the "it" factor."

Ok, well, yes, he is a champion.  But we're pretty sure there were 24 other guys on the Yankee teams that won titles.  Yes, he is the captain, but that doesn't have any bearing on whether or not he is skilled at playing the game of baseball right now.  And since "it" factor could mean literally anything, we'll give you that one...even though it's still incredibly stupid.

"A guy who handles whatever comes his way with so much savvy and cool we just shake our heads."

If we're talking about ground balls when we're talking about "whatever comes his way," then we think he sort of handles them with ineptitude.  Which, we guess, can leave us shaking our heads.  But savvy?  Cool?  Meh.  We'd rather have skill.

"During my career, I was giddy around a few players: Cal Ripken, Mark McGwire, Albert Pujols, and Jeter."

But we're really glad you were giddy around him!  Though...you were also giddy around Albert Pujols.  Who is better at everything having to do with the game of baseball.  Guess he just isn't savvy enough.

"Jeter always seems to be in the middle of big plays because he is involved in every pitch of every game....He isn't a guy who puts on his game face only when the red light comes on."

He's involved in every pitch of every game?  We guess so...in the sense that he's on the field.  It's sort of hard not be involved.  Even so, why does that make him great?  We're pretty sure that we'd be involved in every pitch of every game if we were in the majors, but it sure doesn't mean that we could make any plays.  And wait...what?  What red light?  We don't even know how to mock that, it's so bizarre.

MAN oh man we hate it when people praise Derek Jeter like that.

9. Mariano Rivera. We promise we're not Yankee haters.  This has more to do with the idea that a closer - which is a silly notion in and of itself - could be one of the best 50 players in baseball.  It's like putting a really good pinch hitter on the list.  Though we guess it's possible Mark Sweeney or Lenny Harris made this list a couple years ago.

10. Chipper Jones. Woohoo! Top 10!

11. Ryan Howard. His window is closing rapidly.  And we'd really like it if he could hit better than .220 for most of the season.  So, no, he's not the 11th best player.

14. Justin Morneau.  The guy hits 30 HRs and he's Canadian.  So, of course, we love him...but he's not one of the best 15 players in the game.  He's probably not even one of the 15 best hitters in the game. 

15. Jimmy Rollins. His numbers this year have been horrendous, so we're taking issue with his spot at no. 15.  But we're mostly mentioning this because in the writeup about him, the only thing they use to justify his ranking is that he's scored more runs from 2001-2008 than anyone in the NL except Albert Pujols.  And he's scored more runs than Ryne Sandberg or Bobby Doerr had when they, too, were 29.  Uh...congrats, we suppose.  

16. Josh Beckett. Also terrible this year.  Guy's been studly in October, so of course he gets overrated.  Great pitcher, yes.  Better than every starter except Johan and Doc Halladay?  No.

20. Evan Longoria. Too low.  Do we really think he's worse than, say, Jimmy Rollins or Dustin Pedroia?  

21. Lance Berkman. As we said in our post about David Ortiz a couple days ago, Berkman's not likely to be a viable player much longer.  And he's been really, really bad this year.  

30. Ichiro Suzuki. So the voters are confident that the 30th best player in all of baseball is a guy who is good at slap hitting, running, and throwing?  A guy who's barely OPSing .800 for his career?  Well, alright, Hall of Famers! And Steve Phillips.

33. Dan Haren. Too low for such an elite talent.  But we really liked the blurb on this one: "In his first four full seasons as a starter, Haren went 59-42 with a 3.56 ERA and two All-Star appearances.  In his first four full seasons as a stare, Pedro Martinez went 63-35 with a 2.95 ERA and three All-Star apperances."  Um...great!  And in HIS first four full seasons as a starter, Jack McDowell was 56-39 with a 3.52 ERA and two All-Star apperances.  Which is weird, since we just picked a random pitcher to illustrate the odd choice of Pedro as a Haren comparison (like that?) and he happens to have almost the exact same numbers as the ones TSN  chose to represent Haren.

34. Francisco Rodriguez. Never mind that's been trending downward for several years now.  Never mind that he never throws more than an inning.  We'd like to point out two things: relievers shouldn't make this list, and the blurb on him is Goose Gossage calling him very unprofessional.  Ok, Goose.  Go back to intentionally throwing at batters and griping that you weren't voted into the Hall of Fame.  

39. Joe Mauer. We think this is very, very low.  A good defensive catcher who's won two batting titles and should grow into some more power?  We think we'll always remember Torii Hunter saying this about Mauer: "He's only 23.  Wait 'til he grows man muscles."  Indeed, Torii. Indeed.

43. Cliff Lee.  Here's a problem with TSNs list.  They seem to think a guy has to be great for more than one year to be strongly considered, hence Tim Lincecum (19) and Zack Grienke (25)'s relatively low showings.  Well...if we're supposed to consider a body of work, don't you think that a guy who got sent down to AAA JUST A SCANT TWO SEASONS AGO should maybe not be on the list of the best players in baseball? 

50. Brian McCann.  We don't think it's our Braves bias talking when we say that such a gifted offensive catcher as McCann should be higher than 50, especially considering some of the names on the list.  

How about some notable omissions?  Let's look at some players who didn't make the cut, and who plays their position on the list 

Nick Markakis  should replace Ichiro Suzuki. Markakis is putting up a tidy .327/.405/.533 line this year, which is much better than Ichiro's .319/.355/.438 and has a higher career OPS (.858 vs. .807).  

Adrian Gonzalez should replace...well, someone.  It's a crime that Gonzo has to toil in PETCO.  Not only because the Padres are awful, but also because he'd be recognized as one of the best hitters in baseball if he could play in a regular park.  To wit: at home, he hits .264/.339/.440.  On the road: .299/.363/.558.  If he keeps up his hot start this year, maybe he'll finally cement his name as an All-Star caliber talent.  Unfortunately, there're no first basemen that we would replace since he's worse than Pujols, Teixeira, Howard, Berkman (maybe), and Youkilis.  

Matt Kemp should replace Torii Hunter.  Hunter's been getting by on reputation with his defense for a couple years now, and though he's been hot this year, he's still on the downside of his career.  Kemp, on the other hand, is a 24-year old slugger who's already got a better career OPS (.815 to .800) than the declining Hunter. 

Another problem: here are the pitchers on the list.  Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, Mariano Rivera, Josh Beckett, Tim Lincecum, Zack Greinke, CC Sabathia, Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Francisco Rodriguez, Jake Peavy, Chad Billingsley, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Carlos Zambrano, and Cole Hamels.  That's 16 pitchers, which, to us, seems too high.  Yeah, they might be talented, but do they have the most value to a team?  Guys who take the field more than every 5th day are going to contribute more to a team.  So, when hitters like Markakis, Gonzalez, Kemp, and even guys like Brandon Phillips, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn are bumped off the list in favor of pitchers who aren't top-shelf aces, that should raise some eyebrows.  Pare that pitching list down to at most 10 and remove relievers, and you've got a better list.  Rivera, Beckett, Rodriguez, Lee, Oswalt, and Zambrano should easily be taken off.  You might also consider, depending how anti-pitcher you are, losing Billingsley and Hamels.  

Oh, and, TSN?  When you're talking about how great pitchers are, please, please, PLEASE stop using win-loss records.  It's probably the single worst way to measure pitching performances.  And yet...out of those 16 hurlers, pitching records are mentioned in: 11.  And two of those guys are relievers, so realistically, they use wins as a direct measure of how good a pitcher is in 11/14 cases.  How obnoxious.

Well, that list was practically longer than the entire article.  Sorry if we got carried away...but we think we made our point.  The people who voted on this don't know what they're doing.  There, we saved you about 2000 words of reading.  Where's the Tylenol?!

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