With about half of the MLB season complete, I wanted to check in on our active WAR leaderboard. Who’s going to the Hall? Who’s improving their case? Who’s seen his progress stalled? Without any further ado, let’s get this party started.
Alex Rodriguez, 118.0 WAR. Pretty shockingly A-Rod has been worth 2.1 WAR already this year. At this rate, this’ll be his best year since 2008. Mays is down. So is 3,000. He hasn’t needed this season, obviously. He only needs for us to get over our steroid issues.
Albert Pujols, 99.0 WAR. He’s been in for as long as I can remember, and 2014 seems like it might be a renaissance of sorts. Pujols is looking like he might have his best year since he left St. Louis. He’s leading the AL in homers, and he’s passed Ted Williams, Frank Thomas, Willie McCovey, Jimmie Foxx, and Mickey Mantle on the all-time homer list already this year. Mike Schmidt, Manny Ramirez, and Reggie Jackson are kind of likely to fall too.
Adrian Beltre, 79.4 WAR. Beltre has done himself no favors this season, but he hasn’t needed to. If the voters are at all reasonable, he’s going. One of the ten best 3B ever absolutely should.
Carlos Beltran, 66.9 WAR. At age 38, Beltran is about done. And because he can’t field any more, his WAR is slipping for the second consecutive year. Still, Beltran seems over the line. He’s the ninth best CF ever by JAWS, so he should make it. On the other hand, Kenny Lofton is eighth, and things haven’t exactly worked well for him. Only four guys ever – Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, and Andre Dawson – top him in career HR and SB. Every single player who tops him in runs scored and batted in is either in the Hall, going, or used steroids. He’s going to make it one day.
Miguel Cabrera, 63.4 WAR. This will be his seventh straight season and ninth overall with at least 5.0 WAR. And don’t tell anyone, but he’s on pace for his best year ever by bWAR. Obviously the two-time MVP and 2012 triple crown winner is going.
Chase Utley, 60.7 WAR. Retire now, Chase! Retire now! Utley has already given back 1.3 WAR in his age-36 season. By JAWS, he’s 12th all-time among 2B. But Willie Randolph is 11th. In spite of what’s going wrong now, everyone who didn’t use steroids with five seasons of 7+ WAR is in the Hall. Utley should be too.
Mark Buehrle, 58.9 WAR. You have to be paying pretty close attention to know that Buehrle is the top active pitcher by WAR. The lefty with a perfect game among his 207 career wins is still going strong. He’s on pace to reach 200 IP for the 15th consecutive time. And with just two more wins, he’ll reach double figures in that category for the 15th straight time too. Plus, he’s on pace for his 15th straight season of 2+ WAR. Buehrle is very much on the Don Sutton path to the Hall. However, Sutton won over 100 more games. I don’t know. Does Buehrle have 43 more wins in his left arm? If so, I think he’s going to make it.
Ichiro Suzuki, 58.6 WAR. He came to the majors at age-27. He won seven hit titles, two batting titles, and a steals title. He’s been a shoe in for the Hall of Fame for some time. He’s famous. That’s for sure.
Tim Hudson, 57.8 WAR. Hudson is three years older the Buehrle, which is quite a surprise. He’s been mediocre for a few years now, and with “only” 219 wins, I think he’s going to have a very hard time making it, at least until voters reconfigure their voting criteria. And even if they do, Hudson has rarely been excellent, posting only three seasons of 5+ WAR. I don’t think he gets there.
CC Sabathia. 54.8 WAR. If you asked me three years ago, I’d have said that the big lefty was near a sure thing. Then he fell off a cliff. He came up at age 20, won 17 games, and then put together a dozen more seasons of 11+ wins. He started his Yankee career with four straight years of 125 ERA+ or more. In his last three, that mark hasn’t topped 84. And he’s regressed in terms of WAR over that time too. His career looks a lot like Hudson’s at this point. But Sabathia is only 34. He has time to remake himself. I just don’t know that he can. My money isn’t on him.
Robinson Cano, 52.2 WAR. Man, it’s hard to put together a Hall of Fame career. After five straight years averaging 7.3 WAR, Cano is putting up a clunker this year. With six total seasons at the All-Star level and two or three at the MVP level, I think Cano is in decent shape even if he’s just mediocre for a few seasons. Still, I don’t think he will be. He’s just 32 and should turn things around.
Torii Hunter, 51.0 WAR. Even though he hasn’t been valuable for a couple of years, mainly because he’s so bad in the field, he still producing numbers. We’ll get to his counting stats in a moment. First, let’s look to his former defensive greatness. There are 19 guys with as many Gold Gloves as Hunter’s nine. Eleven of them are already in the Hall. Three more – Pudge Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, and Ichiro Suzuki – will go. The other six are Jim Kaat, Andruw Jones, Keith Hernandez, Don Mattingly, and Omar Vizquel. I happen to believe that two of those guys deserve it. So Hunter is in great company. Now for the counting stats. Seven players ever can match him in R, 2B, HR, RBI, and SB. They’re Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Dave Winfield, and Andre Dawson. And there’s a real shot Dawson won’t make the list by the time Hunter hangs ‘em up. I don’t think he’ll deserve it, but I think around 2040 Torii Hunter finds his way into the Hall of Fame.
Mark Teixeira, 50.9 WAR. A funny thing happened to Teixeira on his way to the old folks home. He’s on pace to have his best season since his first in New York, and he has a real shot at reaching 400 home runs this year. He’s just 35, so there could certainly be more left. Right now Tex is just 28th at 1B in JAWS. But that’s ahead of Orlando Cepeda and just a sliver behind Tony Perez. In other words, one might say he’s already done enough to get into the Hall. As they’ve both been killed in the HoME, I’m clearly not one of those people. Let’s say he gets to 450 homers and 1500 ribbies. If so, he’ll be in a group with 33 others. That’s some elite hitting company. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I think he’s going to make it.
David Wright, 49.9 WAR. He’s my favorite player in the National League, and I don’t mind being a fanboy in spite of Wright’s troubles the last two years. As it is only 23 3B can match Wright in HR and RBI. If Wright plays until he’s 40 and averages only 10 HR and 50 RBI for the rest of his career, that list will contain just seven names. At just age 32, Wright ranks 22nd among 3B by JAWS. He’s going to put up more than 80 HR and 400 RBI the rest of the way. He’s going to get there.
Felix Hernandez, 48.1 WAR. Wow! At just 29, he’s already the fourth best active pitcher. Things would have to go quite wrong for the King not to get to the Coop. Trivially, this is only the second season of his career in which he’s thrown more than one shutout. He’s getting in.
David Ortiz, 47.3 WAR. It appears that Ortiz is nearing the end of the road. He’s 39, so that presumption shouldn’t surprise anyone. I think he has the 22 homers left that he needs to reach 500. That number plus his post-season heroics should get him to Cooperstown. Oh, but there’s that leaked steroid test that may or may not have been accurate. We’ll see.
Miguel Tejada, 46.9 WAR. He’s still active?
Zack Greinke, 46.4 WAR. He’s only a couple of wins behind Felix, and he’s only a couple of years older. Greinke had his fair share of problems early in his career, and he was just 60-67 while in Kansas City in spite of his 2009 Cy Young campaign. Since he left, he’s been 69-25. He’s currently dominating NL hitters so much that if the season ended today, he’d have the third best campaign of his career. Greinke looked to be putting together a Gooden-like career with one signature season and a bunch of others supporting it. But this year might make him a little more like Red Faber. Give him one more amazing year, and maybe we’re looking at, dare I say, Sandy Koufax. The story on Greinke has yet to be written. And that’s good news for him because he has only 129 wins.
Joe Mauer, 46.4 WAR. Mauer hasn’t been that great a player for a couple of years, yet he’s already done enough to get into the Hall. Three batting titles from a catcher? He’s already 9th in JAWS. And he’s just 32. Without being great for the rest of his career, he’s going to pass Mickey Cochrane and Bill Dickey to move into seventh place. Pretty impressive.
Jimmy Rollins, 45.3 WAR. Rollins appears done. He hasn’t had an OPS+ above 101 since 2008, yet he’s still put up 12.2 WAR in that time. He’s 36, and older shortstops just don’t exist too much. And clearly he doesn’t hit enough to play elsewhere. He’s 31st in JAWS and not getting any better. Of course Phil Rizzuto is 35th and Rabbit Maranville is 37th, so stranger things have happened.
Dustin Pedroia, 45.1 WAR. The Laser Show keeps firing away. On the DL now, Pedroia has been hitting about as well as he ever has this year. He owns an MVP, a Rooke of the Year, four Gold Gloves, and two World Series rings. He has a couple of rings and is incredibly popular. His BOS/NY battle with Robinson Cano, one that he was losing, is now over. But maybe Pedroia will get the best of Cano before things are all said and done. In 22nd place among 2B in terms of JAWS, Pedroia already can make a case. But to deserve it, he’ll need more depth to his career. I’m not betting against him. In fact, I’d bet he gets there.
Cole Hamels, 44.4 WAR. On the plus side, he’s only 31. On the minus side, he has only 113 wins and has topped 15 just once. Again on the plus side, he seems like he’ll escape Philadelphia this month. He already has seven seasons of 4+ WAR, and he’s on pace for another this year. It’s really hard to bet on a pitcher who’s 31 and not yet close, so I’m not going to support Hamels just yet.
Matt Holliday, 44.4 WAR. At 35, his stretch of nine consecutive years of 20+ homers is about to come to a close. This year he’s looking like a brittle singles hitter who for some reason can still draw a massive number of walks. While it seems silly to count out a hitter who’s maintained an OPS+ above 126 every year since 2006, I just don’t know that Holliday will do enough. There are only 18 players ever who top him in BA, R, HR, and RBI, which is pretty good. And only two of them, Ted Williams and Al Simmons, are left fielders. I don’t know. Maybe?
Cliff Lee, 44.3 WAR. If it’s over, it’s been one heck of a career. Only 143 wins, sure, but three seasons of 6.9 WAR or more. He’s not getting into the Hall, I don’t imagine.
Bartolo Colon, 43.6 WAR. Yeah, he’s one heck of a story. From 2006-2011 he averaged 3.67 wins per year. Extrapolating this season, it’s 15 per over the last four. That said, the Mets should try to trade him. Get whatever they can. In spite of his nine wins, he’s not any good now. He’s not getting into the Hall, but maybe he could get the Mets a pinch hitter and a Wild Card playoff spot.
Ian Kinsler, 42.9 WAR. He’s the last of four second basemen on this list. And unless you’re incredibly hopeful about the end of Ben Zobrist’s career, one of only four 2B who have a prayer of getting into the Hall until Jason Kipnis or Jose Altuve put their careers together, at the very earliest. He’s 33, and he continues to produce. This season looks to be his eighth of 4+ WAR. Among 2B in baseball history only Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Aolmar, Craig Biggio, and Ray Durham can match Kinsler in R, HR, RBI, and SB. With health, something Kinsler didn’t have early in his career but has generally had in the last five years, I think he can make it.
Clayton Kershaw, 42.7 WAR. The four-time defending ERA champ, defending MVP, and three-time Cy Young winner looks to be struggling this year. He really isn’t. He just has an insanely inflated HR/FB rate, an inflated BABIP, and a deflated strand rate. This year is generally in line with his great career. I’d expect quite a turnaround in the second half and another All-Star level season. With health, he can be an inner circle guy. How are we going to evaluate decreased WAR totals because of decreased innings going forward?
Evan Longoria, 41.5 WAR. Do Hall of Famers ever have disappointing careers? Of do I just expect too much from the 29-year-old Longoria? He hasn’t made an All-Star team or driven in 100 runs since 2010, yet he’ll average 4.8 WAR over those five years if his second half of 2015 matches his first. Longoria isn’t the defender he once was, but he keeps accumulating value. He’s 28th among 3B in JAWS, and if his next eight years are only half as good as his first eight, he’s going to reach the top ten. With health, I think he’s going.
Justin Verlander, 41.2 WAR. Pitchers sometimes have very short windows of greatness. From 2009-2013 Verlander averaged 6.1 WAR. He also averaged over 234 innings. Last year he struggled. This year he hit the DL. Since he’s just 32, he has some time to get healthy and turn things around. If he does, maybe he could become Jim Palmer. If he doesn’t, maybe it’s Vida Blue or Camilo Pascual. My money isn’t on him.
Adrian Gonzalez, 40.7 WAR. In his late-20s he was kinda great. Now he’s just another guy. When his career is over, he’s going to look something like Don Mattingly. If things go really well it might be Norm Cash. He’s no Hall of Famer.
In case you’re wondering, Mike Trout, after only four full seasons, is already 48th on the active list. By the end of the season, he should get past Victor Martinez, Ryan Zimmerman, Dan Haren, and Freddy Garcia (how is he still considered active?). Depending upon health and greatness, he could also pass Hanley Ramirez, Adam Wainwright, and Jered Weaver. Un-freakin’-believable!