BtB's 50 Best of the Next 5 Years: No. 30 - No. 21

And today we continue with the most watched series in the baseball specific sabermetric niche of one of the largest athletics-based blogging networks in the country, BtB's 50 Best Players of the Next 5 Years.

We've laughed, we've cried, we've marveled at the fact that our projections apparently love Tampa Bay center fielders. Either way, this has just been one big barrel of fun (right..?) and so we'll continue today with the next ten players on our list. We're finally getting into the range where some legitimate cornerstones lay, the kind of players that you try to lock up long-term and just pray that they stay healthy. And hey, we've even got a couple pitchers today for those of you who got bored with all of the position players yesterday. Before we kick things off, here's your chance to catch up on things, with Steve's methodology for the projections, the beginning of our rankings (No. 41-50) and our second installment from yesterday (No. 31-40).

With all of that jazz out of the way, let's get started with this last week's Mr. Perfect Game.

No. 30: RHP Roy Halladay, Philadelphia (Age 33; Total projected WAR: 21.24; WAR Years 1-5: 5.4, 4.8, 4.2, 3.7, 3.2)

Halladay is probably one of the most peculiar cases on this list, simply because it's shocking to believe that a 33-year-old pitcher's projection for the next five years could be so good. These projections really do seem to put Halladay on a level of his own, though, as he's the only pitcher to grace this list with a present age of older than 26. 

Then again, should we really be that surprised by Doc? He hasn't posted a sub-3 WAR season since 2000, has been good for 5.5+ WAR in each of the past four seasons, and has four 7+ WAR seasons under his belt. He's an absolute workhorse, but a guy who's also adept at missing bats and inducing ground balls while keeping mistakes at a minimum. You'd truly be pressed to find a better prototype for a pitcher these days.

That being said, few things in baseball retain more risk than an aging pitcher, particularly one with Halladay's wear and tear. Obviously Doc isn't like other pitchers, but at some point all of those 220+ inning seasons are going to catch up to him. But our projections see Doc as the third-best pitcher in baseball in Year 1, and the fourth-best pitcher in Year 2. He remains one of the six best starters in baseball through the entirety of the five years, as the projections have few pitchers improving over the duration of the projections and no pitchers improving after their Age 26 season. It's certainly one of the main flaws with the projections, but adding pitcher-specific age curves for each pitcher would be a totally different project on its own.

Either way, I think the fact that our projections have Halladay as one of the top starters in the league as a 38-year-old is a pretty nice reflection of how special he is. Although it's also a pretty good reflection of why projecting pitchers is so difficult, because only the guys with absolutely monster track records can be reasonably projected to continue that performance.

No. 29: SS Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland (Age 24; Total WAR: 21.30; WAR Years 1-5: 4.1, 4.3, 4.4, 4.4, 4.0)

 

Clearly, our projections bought into Cabrera's breakout last season as one of the top shortstops in the AL. The switch-hitter depends mostly on his batting average to support his above average offensive performance, as his power is solid for the position but both his ISO and walk rate are below league average.

After coming over to Cleveland from Seattle in the Eduardo Perez deal (I know, they dealt Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo for Eduardo Perez and Ben Broussard..   How did everyone miss that at the time?), Cabrera played well splitting time between Cleveland and Triple-A in 2007 and 2008 before grabbing the everyday job at shortstop in 2009.

Cabrera thrived, putting up a .354 wOBA while flashing an average glove at shortstop, good for a 3.0 WAR in his first full season as a starter. Cabrera is struggling somewhat this season though, he's putting up a hollow .287 batting average (.303 wOBA) and the metrics have his defense as below average, he's been a roughly replacement level player so far in 2010.

But our projections are pretty bullish, acknowledging Cabrera as a slightly below average defender but actually projecting some improvement as far as his offense goes. After putting up a roughly +12 RAA in 600 plate appearances last season, our projections have him +13.5 RAA in Year 1, with significant improvement in the next two years into a roughly +18.5 RAA bat, adding a solid half-win in value. WAR marks like the ones projected for Cabrera would put him among the 3 or 4 best shortstops in the American League. Not a bad return for Eduardo Perez, ESPN baseball analyst.

No. 28: OF Colby Rasmus, St. Louis (Age 23; Total WAR: 21.48; WAR Years 1-5: 3.9, 4.2, 4.4, 4.5, 4.4)

It looks like Albert Pujols will have two sidekicks in St. Louis if he sticks around, with Colby Rasmus following through on his massive potential. Already among the best center fielders in the game despite being just 23, Rasmus combines plus power and athleticism with a patient approach at the plate and good reads in center field. He's a star both at the plate and in the field, and it would seem that making consistent contact could be the one thing holding him back from true greatness.

Routinely regarded as one of the best prospects in baseball while climbing up the minor league ladder, Rasmus impressed in his debut season last year, putting up a 2.3 WAR in 147 games thanks to an impressive defensive showing. And while he showed last season that he had some rough edges to smooth out in his offensive game, he's already shown some major improvement there in 2010.

He's already in the Top 10 among NL outfielders in wOBA, thanks primarily to a huge walk rate (14.8%) and a whole lot of power (.247 isolated power). He's striking out 36% of the time, up from 20% last season, which is certainly cause for concern, but it appears to be a function of Rasmus trying to become more patient as a hitter. His swing rate is down significantly this year, and he's seeing significantly less pitches in the zone this year, too, so it's good that he's showing a willingness to lay off bad pitches.

Rasmus also doesn't really see much of a dip in his performance here, as the projections play out through his Age-27 season, so they totally miss the decline phase of his career. Interestingly, Rasmus' offense actually peaks in Year 5, but his glove is essentially average by then, so his best overall season isn't his best offensive season. If you're a Cardinals fan counting at home, though, that makes two 4+ WAR players on your team already without even delving into the best player in the game.

No. 27: 3B Alex Rodriguez, New York (AL) (Age 34; Total projected WAR: 21.73; WAR Years 1-5: 5.5, 5.0, 4.5, 3.8, 3.0)

There's a part of me that keeps wondering if the Yankees have had that, "Oh, crap" moment yet when they realize that A-Rod has already started his decline phase even though he's still owed $206M through 2017. Probably, although they surely would never admit to such a thing.

Because for those of you keeping track at home, in that fifth year when A-Rod is projected to put up a 3.0 WAR, the Yankees owe him $25M with another $61M (!!) still coming his way. Daniel touched on A-Rod apparent changes a few days ago, and it would really seem that Rodriguez is eschewing power somewhat in an attempt to make more contact.

Then again, at Age 34, it's probably not really fair to expect another 70+ RAA season from Rodriguez ever again. Our projections peg Rodriguez to essentially repeat his 2009 season in Year 1, but without missing time due to a hip injury. He put up a +34 RAA in 2009, compared to the +33.7 RAA we project him to put up in Year 1, and we have his defense as a few runs better than the -6 UZR mark he put up last season.

Given his age, it's not surprising that such a stark decline is projected, particularly as he enters his late 30's. His projected decline is essentially identical in the first two years, but he loses over a half-win in value after Years 3 and 4, primarily due to a rapidly declining bat. If you think that it's weird when A-Rod is making $30M to be merely really good, think about how it'll be when he's making $25M to merely be slightly above average. And remember kids, this is assuming that Rodriguez can stick at third base for that long.

No. 26: SS Elvis Andrus, Texas (Age 21; Total projected WAR: 21.76; WAR Years 1-5: 3.4, 3.9, 4.6, 4.9, 5.1)

For those who might have missed it, I'm a big Elvis fan. Projected as the best shortstop in the AL and the third-best shortstop in the majors over the next five years, Andrus combines a top-notch glove at shortstop with a progressing bat that our projections see taking some major strides.

After stepping in as the Rangers' shortstop before he could even legally drink, Andrus put up a 3.1 WAR season on his way to being thoroughly underrated in the Rookie of the Year balloting. But that lack of attention won't last long, as Andrus has taken major strides as a hitter since last season while maintaining his superb defense.

After being a slightly below average hitter in 2009, he's already on his way to an above average performance this season, and our projections peg him at roughly average offensively in Year 1. The shocking thing, though, is that the projections see Andrus' offense absolutely taking off relative to his glove. After putting up a +0.4 RAA in Year 1, that mark jumps to +6.4 in Year 2, +14.2 in Year 3, +18.1 in Year 4 and a shocking +21.1 RAA in Year 5. Only one player on the entire Top 50 shows more improvement between Year 1 and Year 5 in terms of RAA and WAR, and there's really no comparable on the list in terms of seeing a player go from average to well above average over the course of the projections.

There are dozens of things to get excited about with that team in Texas, but there's little doubt in my mind that Andrus should be at or near the top of that list.

No. 25: C Matt Wieters, Baltimore (Age 24; Total projected WAR: 21.88; WAR Years 1-5: 4.3, 4.4, 4.5, 4.5, 4.2)

While the projections for Wieters are no longer otherworldly and borderline god-like, there are still a lot of reasons to believe that Wieters has a bright future in front of him. While the expectations bestowed upon Wieters were sometimes pretty unfair given the nature of prospects, there's little doubt in the baseball community that Wieters is a truly special talent.

After being arguably the top talent in the 2007 draft, he embarrassed minor league pitchers for all of 2008 and part of 2009 before putting up league average numbers in the majors as a 23-year-old in his second professional season. He's off to a rough start again this season, the power still isn't translating to the majors and his BABIP is fairly low right now, but he doesn't need to be an absolute monster with the bat to offer value at the catcher position.

Our projections have Wieters as a roughly average defensive catcher, finishing a few runs below average in Year 5. But more importantly, we see Wieters bouncing back from his underwhelming performance thus far in his MLB career. Like with many other players, the next five years eat up a good chunk of the catcher's prime, so we don't see a whole lot of improvement or decline. In Year 1 he's a roughly average defender and a +13 RAA bat, improving up to a +18 RAA bat by Year 4. Then again, these kind of numbers would make Wieters easily the best catcher in the AL not named Mauer, which is exactly what we project.

No. 24: 2B Gordon Beckham, Chicago (AL) (Age 23; Total projected WAR: 22.04; WAR Years 1-5: 4.0, 4.3, 4.5, 4.6, 4.6)

Beckham was expected to emerge this season as the new cornerstone of the White Sox, but instead he's struggled so badly that there have been calls to return him to Triple-A to work things out. After putting up 2.2 WAR in 103 games last season with Chicago, he came into this season as the team's everyday second baseman. But he's promptly been one of the worst players in baseball, his -0.6 WAR is the second-worst in the AL, better only than White Sox teammate (and former Sox cornerstone) Carlos Quentin.

But it's only been a quarter of the season, and before this year Beckham had an awfully long track record of success going back to his days as the star shortstop at the University of Georgia. Our projections have Beckham as a roughly average defender at second base while showing some offensive improvement in Year 1, with a +16.5 RAA. 

While his defense would decline over the years, it should only cost him a few runs in terms of value, which his offensive improvement more than makes up for. These projections probably look awfully bullish now given how bad Beckham has looked this season, but Beckham still looks like one of the best young infielders in the game.

No. 23: OF Cameron Maybin, Florida (Age 23; Total projected WAR: 22.04; WAR Years 1-5: 4.0, 4.3, 4.5, 4.6, 4.6)

Honestly, this is another one that really surprised me. I know that the numbers, and particularly CHONE's numbers, really like Maybin, but this is a guy who's been given multiple chances at the major league level and he's failed in each of them.

Maybin leaves scouts drooling with his raw skills and he's shown flashes of being a star, but the guy has a .309 wOBA and 1.5 WAR in 109 games with the Marlins and Tigers. Contact has always been an issue with him and things in Florida have been no different, his 72.5% contact rate is well below the league average. There are still a lot of reasons for hope though, particularly if Maybin can get some luck with his BABIP.

Our projections have Maybin putting up 4+ WAR seasons while playing below average defense, which is a little crazy because Maybin's glove is really the only thing that's played well in the majors so far. Our projections believe that Maybin's offense should translate to the majors almost immediately, with a +18 RAA in Year 1, steadily improving up until his +27 RAA in Year 5. But his defense is below average for the duration the projections, including a -5 mark in Year 5.

And that should really say something about Maybin's potential. Our projections have this guy as the 23rd-best player in baseball for the next five years, and that's while arguably underrating his defense by a good deal. If his bat progresses like we project and he proves to be better than average defensively, then we could be looking at one of the very best players in baseball.

And on a purely interesting note, Maybin and Beckham have almost identical projections. Their WAR and RAA marks are always within 2 runs of each other in each season, and their defensive marks within 1 run of each other.

No. 22: 1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati (Age 26; Total projected WAR: 22.11; WAR Years 1-5: 4.8, 4.8, 4.4, 4.2, 3.9)

Probably one of the most underrated hitters around, Votto has quietly emerged as one of the best players in the NL over the past three years. He burst onto the scene with a 4.0 WAR in his 2008 rookie season, and followed that up in 2009 with a 4.5 WAR that he put up in significantly less playing time.

There's little doubt that Votto is an absolute star at this point as he anchors the first-place Reds' offense. Votto currently leads the NL in wOBA and has the highest WAR among NL first baseman (yeah, that includes Pujols). After putting up a +40 RAA in 2009, he's easily in line to beat that mark in 2010, this guy is like the new Lance Berkman.

Our projections peg Votto as a 30+ RAA bat in all five seasons, peaking in Year 2 with a +36.2 RAA. After Year 2, his Age-27 season, he begins the decline phase of his career, even though he didn't really start to get going until his Age-24 season. His defense stays roughly average for the entirety of the 5 years, staying between -2 and +2 in each respective season, so essentially all of his value comes from his bat.

Alas, Votto gives the Reds a pretty awesome bat to build their lineup around, particularly when teamed up with the other guy they have on this list.

No. 21: RHP Felix Hernandez, Seattle (Age 24; Total projected WAR: 22.18; WAR Years 1-5: 5.1, 5.1, 4.5, 4.0, 3.5)

Is it me or is it absolutely crazy that King Felix is only 24? The guy's already pitched nearly 1000 innings in the majors, but he's still younger than the top prospects for a lot of teams. There really isn't that much to say about Felix that hasn't already been said.

Like Halladay, he's an absolute ace, a workhorse that misses bats and churns out worm burners. He's doesn't quite avoid walks like Halladay, but he strikes out more hitters, and he obviously gets bonus points for being 24 and not 34. That being said, our projections are pretty rough on Hernandez once he turns 26.

In his first two seasons, his 5.1 WAR marks are quite impressive. And because pretty much all of the pitchers see the same aging curve, his WAR marks are among the top 4 in baseball in all five projected seasons. And frankly, considering that Hernandez put up a 7 WAR season as a 23-year-old last year, I would argue that consecutive 5.1 WAR seasons from Hernandez is borderline pessimistic, although obviously those marks are factoring in the sizable injury risks.

Either way, the Mariners have to be awfully happy that they have Felix locked up for a long while.

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