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
15. Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota, 6.09 WPA/LI
14. Brandon Webb, RHP, Arizona, 8.14 WPA/LI
13. Cole Hamels, LHP, Philadelphia, 4.65 WPA/LI
12. Josh Hamilton, CF, Texas, 3.37 WPA/LI
11. B.J. Upton, CF, Tampa Bay, 1.99 WPA/LI
In some circles, Mauer is considered a disappointment because he simply hasn’t developed the home run power that people thought he would grow into. However, if we focus on what Mauer doesn’t do, we’ll miss what he does exceptionally well, and that’s everything else. He’s a 25-year-old outstanding defensive catcher with a career .397 OBP. His command of the strike zone is impeccable, and he has enough juice to drive the ball into the gaps and rack up a significant amount of doubles. Behind the plate, he controls the running game and pitchers love working with him. He’s heading into his physical prime as an elite catcher already. He doesn’t need to add power to be a star – he’s already one.
The best pitcher in baseball checks in at #14 simply because he’s only under contract through 2010. If the D’backs could have locked him up for several more years without paying market rate, he’d have been in the top ten. You can’t really build a pitcher much better than Webb – extreme groundball nature from his diving sinker, good strikeout stuff that he can use for a punch out when he needs it, solid command, and extremely durable. He’s thrown 1,200 innings in just 180 career starts. There are no ups and downs with him – you know exactly what you’re getting, season in and season out. He’s the definition of an ace.
The first time I ever saw Hamels pitch, he was throwing for low-Class A Lakewood in the South Atlantic League. I was sitting behind the plate with some scouts (including Dave Winfield) and was wondering what the big deal was. He was sitting between 88-92 with a fastball that didn’t move all that much and he left up in the zone, and his curveball was just okay, but nothing special. Then, out of nowhere, he throws a change-up that was so ridiculously awesome that I literally jumped out of my chair. He then threw about 15 more while we all felt pity on the poor 18-year-old kids trying to hit this pitch. That change-up is still amazing, and still making hitters look foolish five years later. Durability will likely always be a concern, but talent never is.
Hamilton was another guy who was tough to place on this list. On one hand, he’s established himself as one of the premier left-handed hitters in baseball over the last year and a half, displaying ridiculous power and using his unique physical gifts to complete an offensive package that is tough to match. His raw ability is as good as anyone in baseball, and it’s remarkable how good he is right now considering how much development time he lost. He’s also just in his second year of service, so he’s four and a half years from free agency. However, we can’t overlook the fact that he’s 27, and unlike some of the people ahead of him on this list, he probably doesn’t have a full decade of greatness in front of him. As much as I like Hamilton, the peak is probably going to be too short for me to get him into the top ten.
Upton is quite the interesting player. We know he’s got power – he posted a .209 ISO last year and has 96 career extra base hits. We know he has a good approach at the plate – He’s got a 13.5% walk rate dating back to the start of the 2007 season, and he’s cut his strikeout rate dramatically from last season. We know he can run, as he’s stolen 45 bases in the last year and a half and has made the transition to center field well. The physical abilities are all there, and at times, they’ve all been manifest in his performances. But he’s yet to put the whole package together, and that’s the scary part – at just 23 years old, he’s still got a good bet of room to improve, and he’s already a highly valuable player. Tampa should work on locking him up sooner than later, because the longer they wait, the more its going to cost them. He isn’t going to get less valuable any time soon.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.