Continuing on in the week long series on the 50 most valuable assets in major league baseball. If you missed the introduction, it can be found here.
Ranking, Player, Position, Franchise, 2006-2008 WPA/LI
25. Chad Billingsley, RHP, Los Angeles, 2.03 WPA/LI
24. Josh Beckett, RHP, Boston, 6.22 WPA/LI
23. Scott Kazmir, LHP, Tampa, 4.40 WPA/LI
22. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit, 9.55 WPA/LI
21. Roy Halladay, RHP, Toronto, 8.84 WPA/LI
Billingsley is a terrific young pitcher who is coming into his own in ’08, raising his strikeout rate even further while cementing his spot in the Dodgers rotation. At just 24, and with not even two full years of service under his belt, the Dodgers have control over one of the game’s best under-25 arms through 2012. However, there are still questions about him – can he improve his command in order to reduce his pitch count and work more innings? Can he hold up over a 200 inning season? We simply don’t know the answers to these questions yet, so as talented as he is, he can’t be much higher on this list. Given a season to answer some of those questions, he might find himself much higher at this time next year.
At 28, Josh Beckett is in his prime. The walks are a problem of the past, and he’s managed to command the strike zone without losing his strikeout stuff, making him one of the game’s very best pitchers. He’s on track to throw 200 innings for the third straight season, and since the Red Sox have him under control through 2010, they have to be quite happy with their ace. Flags fly forever, and all that, so there’s no way they can wish they hadn’t acquired Beckett and Mike Lowell, but man, was the price ever high. We’ll get to that guy later.
After providing a spring training scare with yet another arm injury, Kazmir has sparked since returning, with better control of his stuff allowing him to pitch like a true all-star in 2008. This is the guy that everyone has always expected Kazmir to become, and at just 24, he’s heading into the prime of what should be a very productive career. However, the questions about his durability linger, and while the Rays were able to lock him up through 2012, it was at a per year salary of over $9 million. He’s not the financial bargain that some others are, but on talent, there aren’t many guys you’d want before Kazmir.
The Tigers paid a king’s ransom for Cabrera this winter, and why not? Heading into his age 25 season, his most comparable players through the early part of his career read like a stroll through the Hall of Fame. His career averages were staggering, and he had cemented himself as the game’s greatest young hitter. But, things haven’t worked out for the first few months of his Detroit career – the experiment with him playing third base has ended with the inevitable move across the diamond, and his offense is down across the board. There’s no reason to think this is his real talent level, but that doesn’t help alleviate the disappointment. He’s going to hit better than this, but now, as a first baseman making huge money, he has to.
Halladay is tied for the American League lead in complete games in 2008… with the Cleveland Indians. He has, by himself, more complete games this year than 29 of the 30 teams in baseball. Only the Indians pitching staff has been able to match his six complete games, and, you know, they’re a pitching staff. He’s one guy. It’s hilarious how much better he is at this than the rest of the world. If he was signed longer than the next two and a half years, he’d rank a lot higher on this list, because he’s as much a sure thing as any pitcher alive. His combination of strikes and groundballs have already earned him one Cy Young, and he’s doing his best to get another this year.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.