The Best Players In Baseball 2004

Who are the best players in baseball, at any given time? Well, one easy way to frame the question is, what players have been the best over the past few years. As it so happens, Bill James has provided us with two tools ideally suited to measuring this question, although unless I’ve missed something (I haven’t received my 2004 Bill James Handbook from Amazon yet), nobody has yet combined the two: Win Shares (which purport to measure a player’s total contribution to a team’s bottom line win/loss record) and Established Performance Levels, which take a weighted measurement of a player’s accomplishments in a given category over the prior three years, giving the most weight to the most recent (I explain the EPL method in a little more detail in this column).
So, for the past month or so, I’ve been working up Established Win Shares levels for the game’s top players. Although I haven’t got to everyone, I’m far enough down the list that I can say with confidence that there are, conveniently enough, 25 players with an EWSL of 25 or greater entering 2004. Here they are, in descending order (I rounded off; players are listed as tied only if they were tied before rounding); listed age, position and team is for 2004:

Rank Player EWSL Pos. Team Age
1 Barry Bonds 45 LF SF 39
2 Albert Pujols 36 LF STL “24”
3 Alex Rodriguez 34 SS TX 28
4 Jason Giambi 32 1B NYY 33
5 Jim Thome 32 1B PHI 33
6 Gary Sheffield 31 LF NYY 35
7 Todd Helton 30 1B COL 30
8 Bret Boone 29 2B SEA 35
9 Carlos Delgado 29 1B TOR 32
10 Chipper Jones 28 LF ATL 32
11T Bob Abreu 28 RF PHI 30
11T Brian Giles 28 LF SD 33
13T Manny Ramirez 28 LF BOS 32
13T Lance Berkman 28 LF HOU 28
15 Miguel Tejada 27 SS BAL 28
16 Luis Gonzalez 27 LF AZ 36
17 Scott Rolen 27 3B STL 29
18 Alfonso Soriano 26 2B NYY 26
19 Carlos Beltran 26 CF KC 27
20 Ichiro Suzuki 26 RF SEA 30
21T Jim Edmonds 26 CF STL 34
21T Shawn Green 26 RF LA 31
23T Eric Chavez 25 3B OAK 26
23T Jorge Posada 25 C NYY 32
25 Andruw Jones 25 CF ATL 27

A few thoughts and observations:
*No pitchers. That says a lot about the volatility of pitchers. By contrast, lots of left fielders and first basemen.
*Much as I can’t stand the guy, there’s still Barry Bonds, and there’s everybody else.
*Most of these guys are in their thirties, which is suggests that at least at the very high end, investing in players in their early 30s may not be a terrible bet.
*I was a little surprised at how high Thome and Boone ranked.
*Chavez is easily the most consistent of the players listed here, with WS totals the last three years of 26, 25 and 25. Of course, at his age, you’d like to see more forward progress.
*The most glaring absence is Vladimir Guerrero, due to the injuries and weakknesses I noted yesterday (I’d still love to have had him, though): his WS totals are a less than spectacular 23, 29 and most recently 18. Oddly, he’s never had a 30-WS season.
UPDATE: Turns out that Soriano is 28, not 26.

18 thoughts on “The Best Players In Baseball 2004”

  1. Established Win Shares

    The Baseball Crank has an interesting post on applying established performance levels to win shares. The established performance level of a player is a weighted average of his last three seasons, with the most weight on the last season. Seasons…

  2. Do you care to present any reason or proof that makes you think Albert Pujols is older than 24?
    Come on.. something substantial please.. not just “He’s from the Dominican Republic, so he must be lying”.

  3. Given that a significant factor in Win Shares is playing time, I’d say that missing 50 games hurt Vlad’s WS total this year. And for 2001, it’s probably his (relatively) low OBP (.377).
    His best OPS season was actually 2000, and it’s arguable that his 98-00 is better than his 01-03.

  4. I don’t pretend to be an expert on Pujols’ age. I know I’ve seen it called into question in quite a few places, and the main reason to give some credence to those questions is the sense — reinforced by this analysis — that Pujols being just 24 is a little too good to be true. I’m not going to over-project Pujols based on his age if there are reasons to think he’s not that young.
    It’s hardly news that ballplayers sometimes lie about their ages – as Rob Neyer’s pointed out, it’s been going on as long as there’s been baseball. These days it mostly happens with Latin ballplayers, since they’re the only ones with a credible opportunity to get away with it.

  5. The reason so many of the top-rated players by your method are in their early thirties is probably a result of the method. Since you use the actual performance of the prior three years, when you look at someone with a 2004 age of 30-32 you’re using their age 27-31 season, a.k.a. most player’s “peak” years. When you look at a 25 year old, you’re looking at their performance at 22-24. I’d actually be surprised if you didn’t wind up with the best players around 30 using this method.

  6. I’m aware of that, but I’d have expected to see more guys around 28-30, i.e., guys whose 3-year peak started at 25 or 26. Of course, some of these guys are a bit past their actual peak, but still better than the competition. What struck me is the guys 33 and up, who are thus ranked for their seasons starting at age 30 or older. There’s 8 of those guys in the top 25 and 5 in the top 8, plus four 32-year-olds who are rated on their seasons from age 29-31.

  7. Crank, using the “established performance” method with the win shares was a cool idea. Incidentally, what was the best EWSL for a pitcher?

  8. If this was a game of “which of these things is not like the other”, I would pick Luis Gonzalez. That World Series performance a few years back was awful (how often do you say that about a player with a series clinching walk-off hit?). Seeing him swing the bat in that series made me want to see the film of his 50+ HR’sm, just so I could believe it happened. He just never strikes me as an elite player.

  9. Bizarro A’s

    This past Sunday, Athletics Nation brought up the idea of the Twilight Zone A’s, with all the position players the A’s lost over the last two-plus years. “Here, things have changed and the Athletics are suddenly a team that has…

  10. This list is crap!!!!
    You don’t even have Vlad Guerrero in the top 25?
    Do you even watch baseball?
    Vlad is easily in the top 5, because he can hit anything, is fast, and has the best arm in the league

  11. This list really does suck! You don’t even have Sammy Sosa or ken Griffey jr. in the top 25. When Ken griffey jr. is healthy he is a top 5 player in baseball. What about Ivan Rodriguez? He is a way better player than Jorge Posada.

  12. thats a very nice lookin list there but theres one little tiny problem………bary bonds is a ****** ****** any man who takes performer enhancing drugs should not be aloud to be put in the hall of fame or the record books cuz its cheating. im in highschool and if i were caught cheating on a test or something id be kicked out and my name would be tarnished forever and thats wat i think should happen to barry…..if he can come back clean and still perform to the best of his ability then and only then will i consider him as one of the greatest but at this moment i can truly honestly say he is ****** ***.

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