Top 100 Right Now: #15-11

Continuing our countdown of the top 100 players in the majors, we hit numbers 15 through 11 today. You can find the explanation and origin of our list here. Since we are only doing five players a post, we will be going even further in-depth. Alex will talk about the player’s past, while I will find comps for each player, trying to show how he projects in the future. As a quick refresher, here are 100-16:

T100 – Jordan Zimmermann – SP -WAS
T100 – Michael Bourn – CF – ATL
T98 – Gio Gonzalez – SP – WAS
T98 – Nick Swisher – RF – NYY
97 – Nelson Cruz – RF – TEX
96 – B.J. Upton – CF – TBR
95 – Jayson Werth – OF – WAS
94 – Miguel Montero – C – ARI
93 – Lance Berkman – 1B/RF – STL
92 – Ubaldo Jimenez – SP – CLE
91 – Yunel Escobar – SS – TOR
90 – Corey Hart – RF – MIL
89 – Josh Beckett – SP – BOS
88 – Carlos Beltran – RF – STL
T86 – John Danks – SP – CHW
T86 – David Wright – 3B – NYM
85 – Gavin Floyd – SP – CHW
84 – Alexei Ramirez – SS – CHW
83 – Buster Posey – C – SFG
82 – Matt Garza – SP – CHC
81 – Anibal Sanchez – SP – MIA
80 – Joel Hanrahan – RP – PIT
79 – Jay Bruce – RF – CIN
78 – Howie Kendrick – 2B – LAA
77 – Mat Latos – SP – CIN
76 – Yadier Molina – C – STL
75 – Alex Gordon – LF – KCR
74 – Chris Carpenter – SP – STL
73 – Chase Utley – 2B – PHI
72 – Doug Fister – SP – DET
71 – Desmond Jennings – OF – TBR
70 – John Axford – RP – MIL
69 – Jonathan Papelbon – RP – PHI
68 – Brett Gardner – OF – NYY
67 – Daniel Hudson – SP – ARI
66 – Justin Masterson – SP – CLE
65 – Sean Marshall – RP – CIN
64 – Matt Moore – SP – TBR
63 – Mark Teixeira – 1B – NYY
62 – Rickie Weeks – 2B – MIL
61 – Craig Kimbrel – RP – ATL
60 – Carlos Santana – C/1B – CLE
59 – Yovani Gallardo – SP – MIL
58 – C.J. Wilson – SP – LAA
57 – Jose Reyes – SS – MIA
56 – David Price – SP – TBR
55 – Mariano Rivera – RP – NYY
54 – James Shields – SP – TBR
53 – Madison Bumgarner – SP – SFG
52 – Mike Napoli – C/1B/DH – TEX
51 – Adam Wainwright – SP – STL
50 – Hanley Ramirez – 3B/SS -MIA
49 – Hunter Pence – RF – PHI
48 – Matt Wieters – C – BAL
47 – Alex Rodriguez – 3B – NYY
46 – Brett Lawrie – 3B – TOR
45 – Joe Mauer – C – MIN
44 – Shane Victorino – CF – PHI
43 – Carlos Gonzalez – OF – COL
42 – Brandon Phillips – 2B – CIN
41 – Jered Weaver – SP – LAA
40 – Matt Cain – SP – SFG
39 – Tim Lincecum – SP – SFG
38 – Giancarlo Stanton – RF – MIA
37 – Jon Lester – SP – BOS
36 – Cole Hamels – SP – PHI
35 – Kevin Youkilis – 3B/1B – BOS
34 – Jacoby Ellsbury – CF – BOS
33 – Josh Johnson – SP – MIA
32 – Brian McCann – C – ATL
31 – Stephen Strasburg – SP – WAS
30 – Josh Hamilton – OF – TEX
29 – Pablo Sandoval – 3B – SFG
28 – Zack Greinke – SP – MIL
27 – Curtis Granderson – CF – NYY
26 – Prince Fielder – 1B – DET
25 – Adrian Beltre – 3B – TEX
24 – Dan Haren – SP – LAA
23 – Ian Kinsler – 2B – TEX
22 – Matt Holliday – LF – STL
21 – Andrew McCutchen – CF – PIT
20 – Ryan Zimmerman – 3B – WAS
19 – Ben Zobrist – 2B/RF – TBR
18 – Clayton Kershaw – SP – LAD
17 – Justin Upton – RF – ARI
16 – Felix Hernandez – SP – SEA

15 – CC Sabathia – SP – NYY – MLB (26)
Alex (16) – Sabathia was drafted out of high school from the Cleveland Indians in the 1998 MLB draft. He was taken 20th overall and got a $1.3 million dollar signing bonus. He made his major league debut in 2001 and impressed right off the bat. He showed his ability to strike batters out, but did show some struggles with his command. In 2007 he won the AL Cy Young award. His 73/73/77 ERA-/FIP-/xFIP- highlighted that effort and in 2008 he went on to post another dominant season. In 2009 he signed a free agent contract that landed him with the New York Yankees. Since signing with the Yankees he’s continued his dominance. This season he’s off to another good start. He’s getting batters to strikeout 24% of the time, while keeping his walks below 7%. Assuming he stays healthy he should finish the year like every other year.

Lee (11) – Sabathia took a very standard career path, starting out with a bunch of 2-4 WAR seasons before breaking out in 2007.  Since then, he has consistently put up 5-7 WAR seasons.  He is already nearing 2500 innings pitched, despite the fact that he doesn’t turn 32 until next month.  Sandy Koufax and Greg Maddux both had a few years of average to above-average production before turning the corner, though their peak years were better than Sabathia’s.  A pitcher who matched Sabathia’s career track pretty closely so far was Hippo Vaughn.  A huge (for the time) lefty, Vaughn had a great rookie season, then fell back and slowly progressed to a nice 5 year peak from 1916-1920, posting 32 WAR for those seasons.  I don’t see Sabathia falling off a cliff like Vaughn did in 1921, but with the high number of innings already thrown, Sabathia’s decline may be faster than usual.  Already at 50 career WAR, Sabathia should be able to get to 65-70 WAR, which gives him around a 90% chance at the Hall of Fame.

14 – Robinson Cano – 2B – NYY – MLB (8)
Alex (6) – Cano signed with the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 2001. His first season in the Majors was in 2005 and for the most part he was a replacement level player. He didn’t impress in a particular area, his 103 wRC+ was essentially average and his .161 ISO was slightly above. He had a problem drawing walks, but he also did a good job limiting strikeouts.His best season was in 2010 when he finished third in the American League MVP voting. At the time his .214 ISO was a career high, and his impressive plate discipline continued to shine. All things taken into account he had totaled 6.5 WAR. Cano is off to another potential year. Through 56 games he has 2.5 WAR and is on his way to another big year. Cano continues to be one of the best players in the game.

Lee (20) – Cano has been a very inconsistent player throughout his young career, posting extreme hitting and defensive numbers.  A player who had a similar career track to Cano was Hall of Fame Tiger Charlie Gehringer.  Both are/were second basemen, did not start at a really young age (22 and 23), and had flashes of brilliance and frustration early in their careers.  I don’t see Cano having the same career totals, since Gehringer had his career peak at ages 30-34 (as I watch Cano hit two bombs so far tonight).  If he starts to add walks as he ages, he could become an elite hitter, possibly leading him to a Hall of Fame career.

13 – Ryan Braun – LF – MIL – MLB (9)
Alex (10) – Taken out of the University of Miami fifth overall in the 2005 draft, Braun has been one of the best outfielders in all of baseball. He blew through the Milwaukee Brewers farm system, making his big league debut two years later. Braun played 113 games in 2007 and in the process became the National League rookie of the year. He showed big league power right away, posting an ISO of .310. His overall slash line was an impressive .324/.370/.634 (155 wRC+). Last season was his best season of his career as he was named the National League most valuable player. His 14% strikeout percentage was the lowest of his career and his 9% walk percentage was a career best. He finished with 7.8 total WAR at seasons end. This season he started right where he left off. He continues to show his top of the line power, and his solid plate discipline. As of today he currently has 2.9 WAR.

Lee (16) – His career path definitely started down an odd path, showing that tremendous bat and an even more tremendously awful glove, posting defensive values around -30 at third base.  Since moving to left field, he has been average defensively, helping his overall value immensely.  One of the closest matches I found was Dave Parker, who excelled through age 28 before weight gain and drugs sent his career in a spiral, aside from a good 1985 season.  Another good comparison is Al Simmons, who had his peak during another great offensive era, around 1930.  He was a high average and high power hitter playing a corner outfield position, on his way to a Hall of Fame career.  Braun doesn’t look to be slowing down at all, so injuries are likely the only thing stopping Braun from making Cooperstown.

12 – Adrian Gonzalez – 1B/RF – BOS – MLB (14)
Alex (13) – Originally drafted by the Florida Marlins first overall in the 2000 draft Gonzalez has been in his fair share of trades. In June of 2003 the Marlins traded him to the Texas Rangers in a package for Ugueth Urbina. After the season ended the Rangers flipped him to the San Diego Padres along with Chris Young in exchange for Adam Eaton. 2006 was his first full season in the majors and if it gave any indication of the future then the Padres got a major steal. As it turns out they did. Gonzalez’s best season for the Padres was in 2009 when he posted 6.2 WAR. He walked an oustanding 17% of the time, and struck out only 16% of the time. His ISO was also a career high .274. Gonzalez was definitely one of the most feared players in the game. On December 6, 2010 Gonzalez was traded from the Padres to the Boston Red Sox. In return the Padres got starting pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and a couple of other pieces. This season Gonzalez’s power has all but disappeared. His ISO currently sits at .145, and overall his offensive numbers are down. There’s still time for him to turn it around and have a productive season though.

Lee (12) – Despite his lofty draft status, Gonzalez did not reach the majors full-time until age 24.  After three seasons around 2-3 WAR, Gonzalez broke out and become a consistent elite hitter.  The easiest comparison for a left-handed first baseman who had a mediocre start then turned into an elite hitter is Rafael Palmeiro.  Palmeiro had a great run at ages 33-37, likely aided by PEDs, so it is unlikely that Gonzalez will maintain great production so late into his career.  His current struggles are likely a blip on the radar, though it could be the beginning of the decline phase.  Just over 25 WAR at age 30, it is unlikely that he will make the Hall of Fame, but not out of the question.

11 – Cliff Lee – SP – PHI – MLB (18)
Alex (15) – After being drafted by two teams but choosing to attend community college and college, Lee was taken in the fourth round by the Montreal Expos in the 2000 draft. Then in 2002 one of the most lopsided trades in MLB history occurred. Lee, Brandon Phillips, Lee Stevens and Grady Sizemore were traded to the Cleveland Indians for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew. Lee spent a couple of seasons in the bullpen until finally becoming a starter in 2004. He didn’t experience his real breakout until 2008 when he won the AL Cy Young award. That year he only struck out 19% of batters that he faced but only walked 4%. His FIP- was 67 and his xFIP- was 82. He was dominant in every sense of the word. The next couple of seasons he played for a couple different teams to do to trades. In 2011 he surprised everyone by signing with the Philadelphia Phillies, a team he had played with during the second half of the 2009 season. This season he’s off to another fantastic start. He’s striking out a career best 27% of batters and walking only 4.5%. He has a 2.90 FIP and his 2.53 xFIP states that he could get even better. Barring injury he should finish the year extremely strong.

Lee (9) – A peripheral king, Lee has become a great pitcher after a few years of middling results.  His K/BB ratio is now consistently among league leaders; in 2010, he was extremely close to breaking the all-time record.  The lack of walks is his strong suit, much like the career Mike Mussina had.  While he has not had the HOF buzz that some other pitchers of his era have received, Mussina had a tremendous career, consistently posting 4-7 WAR seasons, even retiring after a 5 WAR season.  Lee did not have much success before age 29, severely hurting his Cooperstown chances.  He has not shown signs of slowing down, except injuries are creeping into seasons more often.  He would probably need to double his current 30 WAR total to be inducted, which would be tough to do after age 33.

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