Editor's Note: NESN.com Red Sox reporter Tony Lee will examine one hot-button baseball topic each day in December. On Saturday, he gave his predictions for who would have a breakout 2011.
Baseball is such a game of specialization. It’s downright impossible to truly compare a closer to a catcher or a right fielder to a middle reliever. Statistically, they operate in separate worlds. Similarly, the naked eye sees them perform vastly different jobs.
Fortunately, relatively new formulae allow us to rank most players under value systems the same across the board, regardless of position. That ability to rate a player’s importance to his team gives us one quantifiable measuring stick in answering the question, who is the best all-around player in the game today?
Of course, we will always have the naked eye, too. In 2010, when using use both systems — the old-school system of observation and analysis AND the new-fangled calculations — there is one guy who stands out among his peers, if you can even call them that.
Josh Hamilton, the runaway winner for the American League Most Valuable Player Award this year, fulfills both criteria. The 29-year-old outfielder, whose only issue as a ballplayer is his inability to remain completely healthy, is often a sight to behold. Hamilton’s power may be unmatched in the game. Nobody hit for a higher average in all of baseball than Hamilton did last year (.359). He runs the bases well in spite of his brawny frame and very few possess an arm in the outfield quite like Hamilton.
If aliens landed and requested our best example of a baseball player in exchange for the promise of intergalactic peace, we'd have to give them Hamilton in order to save the rest of us. Batting practice with the Texas Rangers outfielder ought to be televised nationally. It’s that impressive, even when he isn’t hitting them into the atmosphere swing after swing. Even his line drives have that jaw-dropping element, if you’re fortunate to be close enough to catch the sound.
If you’re not one to gush, or to get caught up in someone else’s desire to do so, then you can turn to the numbers and come to the same conclusion. Hamilton led all major leaguers — including catchers, closers and middle relievers — with a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 8.0 last year. This implies that Hamilton was worth eight wins more than a typical replacement, and it factors in all facets of the game.
Hamilton also topped all players in other metrics, including the similar RAR (Runs Above Replacement). He scored a 77.5 in that category, nearly six runs more than anyone else. A center fielder in 2010, Hamilton will move to left in 2011 in an effort to keep him a bit healthier. The sight of the 240-pounder racing into gaps to rob hitters of extra bases may have scared some in the Rangers front office, while impressing everyone else. When he settles into a corner spot, he will showcase an arm that ranked, according to another metric (Outfield Arm Runs Above Average), as the sixth-best in all of baseball and should be able to stay in the lineup a bit more.
Maybe then we will be afforded the opportunity of watching Hamilton play a full season once again. He has averaged only 117 games since coming up in the Cincinnati system in 2007.
Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez were the leaders in many of the value-based metrics in recent years, and before them Barry Bonds controlled the categories. Similarly, each has been labeled the best all-around player at one time or another, guys who did everything and did it all well.
Due to issues with drugs early in his professional career and injuries here and there, Hamilton’s rise to the top of the shelf has seen some obstacles. He should have smooth sailing from here on out, and should maintain his status as the best in the game.
Who is the best all-around player in the game today? Leave your comments below.
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