I like sports. I like sports analysis and discussion. The grease that lubricates sports discussion has historically consisted of some variation of "Who's Better: X or Y?"
I recall being 10-11 years old and just laboriously pouring over Maury Allen's book where he listed the Top 100 players in MLB history; I'm a sucker for lists, be they films or books or rankings of Supreme Court justices, I want to play.
Performance analysis has advanced since 1981 (although you shouldn't tell Murray Chass...hell, you can't really tell Bob Costas; my guess is that we would agree far more often than not on the big issues of the day, perhaps even on more metaphysical matters - but when I watch he and Keith Olbermann talk about baseball as if the sabermetric insights of the past quarter-century haven't happened, that they continue to deny the massive paradigm shift that has occurred during their professional careers and instead revert back to the same level of understanding they had as children, I get incredibly frustrated. And they're the smart guys - your average beat writer is worse - your average sports radio call in host is much worse - and then fans/politicians/and finally Tim McCarver) and my views have evolved; first with Bill James, then with Pete Palmer, then Rob Neyer and Baseball Prospectus, now with Fangraphs.
This is my ranking of the 200 Best Major League Baseball Players of All Time; my reliance is not on anecdote, not on fitting into a particular childhood narrative that player X simply must be better than player y. My reliance is on facts and not faith, on statistics and not storyline. I happen to believe that baseball is more objectively quantifiable - the "truth" of what happens on a baseball diamond more knowable than in virtually any human endeavor.
WARP is, in my view, the superior "universal theory of everything" number; I prefer it vastly to Win Shares as expressing actual career value. The list is skewed to career, as opposed to peak value - I'm attempting to express who had the greatest careers as opposed to "on any given day, who would you pick to win one baseball game for you." That's a reasonable list, I guess, but it's not this one. I add to that WAR (baseball-reference version; I understand if you prefer Fangraphs WAR - choices have to be made.) and that's the totality of the number you see next to the player. In previous versions, I added some "peak" component; BP expresses peak itself with a JAWS number, taking the 7 best years and combining it with the WARP, and at some point, all of those numbers will be sortable and, one assumes, they'll put out their own list of this type; I might even prefer it to mine. There is no peak component to this list, with the tiny exception that I'm breaking ties by favoring the player who played in fewer seasons (or the player who is still active).
The defensive metrics have really evolved even since I began putting the list together, that partially explains the differences between the version you're about to see and any previous you may have read from me. The level of evolution has also served to further reduce the degree to which this is just a career as opposed to a peak list. It's still solely a regular season list, completely ignoring the postseason.
WARP is about to undergo another revision. Could be that after 2011, I have to carve this up again.
Right now, I want to read a book that, using the statistics which I believe are most revelatory, lists the 200 best MLB players ever. A book that adjusts for era and ballpark; that doesn't reflexively list the same top players at each position that the author decided upon when he was 12...
The greatest catcher of all time is no longer Johnny Bench.
...if there was a book like that, I'd buy it.
But there's not. So - I'm writing this list.
From 1871-2010, I've looked at every single career - with the caveat that I'm just the one dude and maybe I missed a guy, or miscounted, or that the numbers will change before you read this - meaning this is my definitive, up to the moment the 2011 season begins, list. (here's the edit - it's the All-Star Break in 2011; in addition to their being two versions of WAR, there are now two versions of WARP; I'm going to use Clay Davenport's, as he's got his database to go back further than the Prospectus database. Maybe one day I'll add the BP and the Fangraphs versions of their respective metrics for the ultimate universal number. Which would then immediately have 4 opportunities to be revised each year.)
I'll do ten a week over the next 20 weeks, walking all the way up to Opening Day.
They're still gonna play baseball in 2011, right? SFG won the WS, so I'm unsure what the point is in continuing - we can focus all of our energies on Golden St.
The previous version, with different methodology, is here.
Okay - without revealing who number 200 is - his combined career WAR+WARP is 111.4 and there are another 50 players with career WAR+WARP of 100-110 and 5 players, who couldn't have come any closer to making the list, who had career numbers above 110.
Here they are - numbers 201-205
201. David Cone (56.9+67.6=124.5)(Edit - so, as of the middle of 2011, Cone, Wynn, Helton will make their way into the main list)
202. Early Wynn (58.3+62.0=120.3)
203. Todd Helton (59.7+69.1=128.8)
204. Sherry Magee (59.1+45.2=104.3)
205. Stan Coveleski (49.5+53.1=102.6)
Helton, obviously, is likely to move into the top 200 in 2011, if he returns. There are 7 additional players, still active at the time of this writing, between 100-110 in total WAR+WARP, meaning they are threats to crack the Top 200 by the end of the 2011 season:
Andy Pettitte (49.4+60.6=110.5)
Jamie Moyer (46.7+57.1=103.8)
Ichiro Suzuki (54.4+46.5=100.9)
Jorge Posada (45.5+54.4=99.9)
Jason Giambi (53.5+60.9=114.4)
Lance Berkman (49.1+59.9=109.8)
Johan Santana (47+58=105)
Helton's 2010 WAR/WARP was .4; he needs to better it, by a little, in 2011, and he'll wheeze into the 200th all time spot.
Pettitte's was 6.2; if he can match that in 2011, that would take him all the way up to #189 (and knock Helton off the list, in that scenario).
Moyer was .4.; it seems improbable he has enough career left to make the list.
Posada was 3.4; he'd have to hold that value 2 additional seasons to make the list.
Giambi doesn't have enough career left to make the list.
Ichiro's combined WAR+WARP in 2010 was 9.4; so he's on the list by the end of 2010 - if he matches his 2010 in 2011, he'll be 179th at season's end - so he and Pettitte are looking at taking two spots.
Berkman's 2010 season (3.2) won't get it done if he repeats it; one assumes a bounceback in 2011 gets him closer than that.
Santana had a combined WAR+WARP of 10, repeating it would get him into the current list - tie him with Helton under the above projections - but they'd both find themselves out given the Pettitte/Ichiro numbers. Obviously, Santana is likely to finish his career solidly on this list. He turns 32 in 2011, so his slide is underway (as seen in his Mets tenure) but finishing in the Top 100 is not an unreasonable goal.
Active players with WAR+WARP above 90: Tejada (99.6), Cameron (91.1) Damon (91.6) Sabathia (104.5) Oswalt (104.4) Hudson (108.3) None of them will make the list by end of 2011. Sabathia and Oswalt will make it by the end of 2012.
Joe Mauer and Chase Utley are both in the low 80s. They have outside chances of making it by the end of 2012, but you'd expect both by end of 2013. Mark Teixeira and Miguel Cabrera are in the low 70s; Hanley Ramirez in the low 60s - they're really too far away to talk about, as is everyone younger you might be thinking about.
Next week - #200-191.