Archive for February, 2012

The mistake in evaluating history is framing it as only the extreme past. It is something that has happened and ended; and while it should observed, it’s so far gone that it can’t actually be partaken in now. In the game of baseball, no element of its storied history has been subjected to such treatment more than the Negro League era.

Perhaps it’s the lack of statistical records in comparison to Major League Baseball, which has caused it to have a more mythological status by perception. But really, it had no choice. Stories of the exploits of those amazing players had to be kept alive, or be lost to time. Perhaps the only way to keep the flame alive and to accurately describe the greatness of the time was to describe it in a miraculous fashion….that maybe is closer to the truth than we ever know.

The idea of “Separate but Equal” is a driving element in the ever evolving cultural landscape of America. However, in many cases, “Separate, but Superior” has proven to be resoundingly true as well, and if there is a perfect place to put that to the test it’s in evaluating the great black players of both the past and now. Many of the greatest ballplayers of all-time, regardless of color or affiliation, are recognized throughout the halls of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum to this day. On their Field of Legends, 10 of the most outstanding talents that ever took the field for the league are on display to this day, where monuments stand that will forever recognize their contribution to the sport, on stage that helped define the cultural landscape, and eventual progress, of blacks in America

While we will never be able to see them first hand to truly marvel at what remarkable talents they are, there are many players that are products of the mold they created over 60 years ago. So, to bring home Black History Month here at CSP, let’s take a look at a bit of just that, history; both established and establishing. Here are is recognition of the players on the Field of Legends at the Kansas City-based Museum, and a player today that is keeping that still providing a chance to get a real, live glimpse of what they brought to the field still today.

 

First Base – Buck Leonard: He smacked the ball around the field like few others. He was everything, and more on many accounts, for the Homestead Grays that Lou Gehrig was for the Yankees. His recognized career batting average was .320, but featured five seasons of better than a .350 average. However, in most seasons, he either led or finished second in the Negro Leagues in homers, which is something that…

Prince Fielder can identify with today. He’s crushed the most homers in game over the last seven years, including knocking out 50 at only 23 years old. He’s averaged 40 a year since that season and has three All-Star games to his young credit. 9 more and he’ll tie Leonard’s mark.

Leonard's greatness placed him #47 in the Sporting News' Greatest 100 Players of All-Time

Second Base – Pop Lloyd: Honus Wagner is generally the consensus greatest shortstop in Major League history. Well, the Flying Dutchman went on record as considering it “an honor to be compared to Lloyd”, and received a co-sign from Babe Ruth on his status as the greatest. The Negro Leagues didn’t fully develop until he was 36, and he still hit .363 in 12 seasons in it. He played with a dashing style of play that stays alive today in the game of…

Brandon Phillips, who plays with equal ease hitting from leadoff to cleanup, and has joined the 30-30 club, while also being a multiple time Gold Glove recipient. Lloyd wasn’t afraid to air out his intentions to those that stopped to listen, and often Phillips’ loud style of play is overshadowed by his even louder mouth. But he’s backing it up, just like Pop.

Third Base- Ray Dandridge: A third baseman, with the range of a shortstop; Dandridge was such an amazing fielder that it’s said he never made more than two errors in one year. His skill with the glove was so great that he taught a young Willie Mays the defensive ropes. His effect at the plate was nearly just as great, as he annually hit over .350. Even in his 40’s he made it all the way to Triple-A MLB ball, and hit .349. His style continues to live on through…

Hanley Ramirez, who will take his first chops at third base this season, but was long regarded the best shortstop in the game. While Dandridge was a smooth fielder, then a steady bat, opposite is the case for Hanley. He lead the National League in runs scored and joined the 30/30 club in 2008 and followed that with a battling title in ’09.

Shortstop – Judy Johnson: Johnson is recognized at shortstop here, but was in actuality one of the great third basemen of all-time, because being a .344 career hitter is legit as it gets. He was the glue that held together the great Pittsburgh Crawfords teams, and did so by being one of the smartest ballplayers the game has even known. He later became the first African-American coach in Major League history in 1954. He the mold for the cerebral, yet highly productive player….

…that Derek Jeter has taken to new heights. Being a step ahead of his opponent has made Jeter a five-time champion, Gold Glove winning, member of the 3,000 Hit Club. He’s become the standard for every shortstop following him simply because he’s always ahead of the game and one the greatest leaders to ever take the field. Sound familiar?

Outfield – Cool Papa Bell: If you’re fast enough to cut off the lights and get in bed before the room gets dark, you’re rolling. stories of Bell’s speed even more legendary than the man himself nearly, but it is nearly agreed upon he stole over 1,000 bases if an accurate count had been kept, including over 170 in multiple years. He wore down the path for a lot of speed demons over the years, and the closest carrier of that flame today is….

Michael Bourn. The Atlanta speedster is so fast that he rarely ever has to dive for many balls hit anywhere in the outfield. He also hasn’t finished with fewer than 50 stolen bases in the last three years, leading the National League each year. Now let’s see if we can get a clock on him from light switch to sleep sometime soon.

Bell is still a legend in the St. Louis area, and is currently is recognized with a statue outside of Busch Stadium

Outfield – Oscar Charleston: Mays & Griffey before Mays & Griffey, there was nothing Charleston couldn’t do. Baseball historian Bill James ranked him as the fourth best player of all-time. He carried a .353 career average, in addition to being prodigious power hitter and defender that could reach everything. He also managed one of the greatest collections of talent ever in the 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords….and still managed to hit .363 as well. With this massive amount of skills, the closest comparison in today’s game resembles….

….LA Dodger’s Triple Crown threat Matt Kemp. There’s nothing that the centerfielder can’t do, as his 39 homer, 40 steal, 195 hit, 126 RBI season showed. He also added his second Gold Glove to his growing resume. He’s on the way to becoming yet another in a long line of do it all stars, that all have done great Charleston impressions.

Outfielder – Martin Dihigo: Tying DiHigo to a position is tough, because he mastered nearly of them. In one season in the Mexican League, he won the league’s batting title hitting .387, while winning 18 games as a pitcher with a 0.90 ERA. The ultimate utility man, he hit .307 over his Negro League career with 64 doubles, 61 home runs and 227 RBI, along with 29 wins and a 2.92 ERA as a pitcher. A uniquely total package that resembles…

Carl Crawford in today’s game. Crawford is the most constant overall threat in the game in the number of ways he can beat you. He’s had five seasons of 10 triples or better, as well as topping .300 six times at the plate. Speed is what sets him apart the most, and he has passed 50 stolen bases five times & 40 in two other seasons. Top all of this off with his Gold Glove defense, and like Dihigo, there’s nowhere that Crawford isn’t a threat.

Catcher/Hitter – Josh Gibson: The legendary greatest power hitter of all-time, regardless of league. His credits include over 800 home runs and a .351 average. He was so powerful that he hit a ball out of Yankee Stadium, something Ruth or Mantle never did. No slouch in the field either, Gibson had a strong arm from behind the plate and only the best dared to run against him. He hit the ball over the fence at such a rate and style that…

…. Only Ryan Howard could compare to his feats today. He has chased down home run records at a blazing pace, needing the fewest games to reach 100, 150, 200 & 250 long balls. He is one of four players to ever hit at least 45 homers and 135 RBI in four consecutive years. A Home Run Derby between him and Gibson is exactly why Field of Dreams has to be real one day.

Pitcher: Satchel Paige: The ageless wonder was nearly unanimously declared as the greatest pitcher of his time, which stretched for over 25 years. His uncanny combination of power, precision and longevity allowed him to dominate both the Negro, Mexican, Cuban, barnstorming & finally, Major Leagues, which he was a two time All-Star in despite not making his debut until after his 50th birthday. After it all, he became the first player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his accomplishments in the Negro Leagues. All of which gives way two arms that both display the best parts of Satch today…

CC Sabathia & David Price: It takes two to meet what Satchel meant to the game, because Satch might as well have played two careers. CC’s pitching for the highest profile team in game in the New York Yankees, just like Satchel did for the Kansas City Monarchs and Homestead Grays. Also, CC just keeps on winning; he hasn’t dipped below 17 wins in the last five years and is an innings eating warrior.

Price, on the other hand, is a rocket tossing strikeout artist that combines elements of both early and late Paige. On one end, his 97 mph fastball is among the best in the game, and on the other end he made a quick impact in pushing the Rays to the World Series as a rookie reliever in 2008; exactly what Satch did 60 years earlier for the Cleveland Indians.

Paige was the greatest showman, as well as the most respected, pitcher of his era. In both the Negro & White leagues.

Pitcher – Leon Day: He stands in right field at the Museum; it’s on the pitcher’s mound where Day made his incredible impact. He pitched a perfect season and was a dominant strikeout artist. But he’s not in right for no reason: he also hit .320 for his career and played the field on days when he didn’t pitch. He was one of the most versatile players ever, in way that…

….Curtis Granderson has continued on. While he doesn’t pitch, there isn’t much he doesn’t do. He has a 40 homer year, a season with 23 triples and has stolen over 20 bases three times. He led the American League in RBI’s a year ago and just added another notch to a full field impact Day would be proud to see.

Before I wrap, I would be doing a great injustice in attempting to showcase the progress of the game without mentioning the great Buck O’Neil, who was both an outstanding player & patriot of Black baseball. He played with the great Negro Leaguers and observed many of the players above that extended their style of play into today. He was a giant of PR in bringing the Negro Leagues into a brand new era, and his contributions will live on as long as the game does, if not longer.

Also, thanks to the President of the NLBM, Bob Kendrick for his efforts in maintaining the history of the game in the present and being very generous in his time to share the exploits of the league.

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Among the many revelations of last fall was that the St. Louis  had a legit player in Allen . Mind you, this wasn’t breaking news of the original variety, as for a few years it was seen that he had what it took to make a play here & there, as well as be a serviceable rotation outfielder. But that was before he took the late and post seasons by the horns and made them his own. This leaves the team with an issue, albeit a rather desirable one…

What to do about Allen Craig?

It’s a question that will have a delay in being answered, due to him being likely sidelined until May after November knee surgery. But when he comes back, finding at-bats for him will be a chess match for manager. And it all goes back to the last time the third year outfielder had to make his way back from leave of absence due to injury.

Craig has played his way into a lineup that has no extra space for him in 2012.

Craig has shown a remarkable way of making up for lost time. Last summer, after tearing the stitches out the ball as the fourth/fifth outfielder to the tune of a .336 average, a knee injury kept him out of nearly all of June & July. However, he crashed the  walls when he came back in August & September, hitting .327 in the season’s final month and seven homers and seven doubles in August & September. All of which set the stage for what’s put the current situation into place, October.

 

For the rest of this article, including how he actually does fit in when he returns, and what former Cardinal All-Star his situation most closely resembles, head over to St. Louis Sports 360 here: http://stlouissports360.com/cardinals-12-in-12-part-3-the-craig-quandrary/

 

And be sure to come back tomorrow for a very special wrap to Black History Month, as well as in-between check me out on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

The St. Louis  2011 season will always be known just as much for change as it was for winning. Because for as much came in, arguably just as much left. From  to  and , departures changed the identity of the team rapidly. Coming into a new year, there is yet another familiar element that is casting a cloud of suspicion over the club already, perhaps justifiably so.

Does this scenario sound familiar? “All-Star benchmark cuts off  as the spring gets under way”. It should, because for the second year in a row, off field negotiations have become the biggest story of the first week of . Last spring, Pujols’ lack of a contract was the dominant topic right now. This year the situation has returned, with  being due a new deal.

A Molina deal represents a second chance to retain a irreplaceable franchise player in two years. Will the same rules repeat?

However, that’s where the similarities stop, and in a strange way, the urgency gets much higher. So let me get this out the way early, so that it’s clear:

Yadier Molina is the most important and irreplaceable player on the team. And this isn’t a new development.

 

For more on exactly what it could take to land Yadi & what could to the down spin if they can’t connect on a deal, head over to St. Louis Sports 360 here: http://stlouissports360.com/spring-12-in-12-part-2-the-irreplaceable-yadi/

 

For everything else revolving around the Cardinals and their march back to Watch the Throne, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Here’s what’s coming up in the fifth, and final, countdown of the 100 best players in baseball today:

– 24 All-Star Games.

– 9 MVPs/Cy Youngs.

– 10 World Series appearances.

– $140,250,000 worth of 2012 earnings.

In other words, it’s getting serious, and really, there’s no further introductions needed. Because while their names speak loudly enough for who they are, their accomplishments silence anything that could be contrary to their place at the top of the game.

Now, time to head up to the summit of the game today…

10. Mariano Rivera, Yankees: He’s been the best closer in the game for so long that even when the man that was his contemporary and would surpass 600 saves and become the All-Time saves King before him, Trevor Hoffman reached these milestones, everybody knew it was the definition of temporary.

With nearly 650 saves to his credit, it seems like Mo really could dominate the game as long as he desires.

Mo broke the record in September of last year, amidst his eighth year out of nine with an ERA under 2.00. He also surpassed 40 saves for the eighth time as well; all at the age of 41. Arguably, there’s been no player in baseball history who’s been the unquestionable best at what he does for as long as Rivera has. And it’s a throne he may be abdicating from the top, as 2012 most likely will be his last go around.

9. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: In just two years, he’s gone from rotational fill-in infielder/outfielder to being the premier power hitter in the game. Since Opening Day 2010, Joey Bats has cranked 97 balls over the fence, leading the Majors in both seasons. Before his 54 shot outbreak in ’10, his career high was 16 with Pittsburgh in 2006.

The respect that he’s earning stretches both on the field and off; he led the Majors in both walks of both the intentional and unintentional last season and raked in 7,454,753 All-Star votes as well, shattering the previous record held by Ken Griffey, Jr by over 1.3 million.

8. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: The heavy hitting shortstop is nothing new, and has become more and more common over the years. However, perhaps none has combined all the elements of the tradition and new age position together as well as Tulo has. While he’s a highlight waiting to happen in the field (two consecutive Gold Gloves of the legit variety), it’s his bat that’s really set him apart.

2010 saw him hit 15 home runs & rack up 40 RBI in September alone, and he carried the act into 2011 by pulling in his fourth year of topping .290, 24 homers, 25 doubles and 90 RBI. This justifiably led to the Rockies handing the 26 year old a $120 million deal that keeps in Colorado through 2021.

7. Matt Kemp, Dodgers: Talk about a guy realizing there’s really nothing he can’t do on the field, and then him actually going out and doing it? That’s called Kemp’s 2011 showing.  He hit .324 on 195 hits, 115 runs scored, coming by way of 39 homers, 33 doubles and 4 triples, which brought home a total of 126 runs. For good measure, he threw in 40 steals too, which left him one homer short of being the fifth player to ever join the 40-40 club.

Kemp landed the largest contract in Dodger history shortly after wrapping up his monstrous 2011 campaign.

All of this made him the first player to finish in the top two in homers and steals in the same season since Hank Aaron in 1963. But this wasn’t good enough for him: he says he’s shooting for 50-50 this year. He’d be the first to do that, and after all of this I’m not going to be the one to doubt him.

6. Robinson Cano, Yankees: Go back through this list, and don’t even go all the way to 100. Along the way you’ll see five Yankees before this one, and none of them are what Robby Cano is today. He’s the best player on the most talented roster in the game. He’s always out there (he’s missed a total of 11 games since 2007) and he’s all over the place.

Over the last three years, he’s averaged a .314 average, 27 home runs & 104 RBI a year. He even won the All-Star home run derby over much bigger swingers such as Prince Fielder, David Ortiz & Jose Bautista. Second basemen don’t do that. But no other second baseman is Cano either.

5. Ryan Braun, Brewers: It’s terrifyingly how many different ways he can beat you. He’s just as likely to single, steal a base and then use his speed to close the gap on a single, as he is to cut to the chase with a 450 foot homer. In his first five years, he’s only seen a season that didn’t end with at least 30 home runs & 100 RBI; his rookie year where he “only” notched 97 after being called up in March. Since that year he’s become a hits king in ’09, a member of the 30-30 club and finally an MVP last season.

Braun banged out his first MVP and a division title in his finest season of several to date.

The shadow of a positive steroid test has clouded the perception of what an amazing talent he truly is, and could cost him 50 games this year. Whether it’s right or wrong is up for debate, what isn’t is that he’s truly one of the most consistently devastating presences in the game.

4. Justin Verlander, Tigers: Before last year, Verlander was regarded as one of the more intimidating pitchers in the game, and already had a no-hitter to his credit. However, once the season got started, it really started to feel like he could throw one every time out. By the end of the summer, he wasn’t only the best pitcher in the game, but the best player as well. His 24 wins, 250 strikeouts and 2.40 ERA all led the AL and he became the first starting pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1986 to walk home with the MVP & Cy Young Awards.

Along the way, he threw another no-hitter and won the most games by an AL hurler in over 10 years and solidified himself as the most feared man to step on up on the hill since Randy Johnson’s prime.

The Tigers showcased both the 2011 AL batting champ & MVP in Cabrera & Verlander.

3. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: So how do you want it? There’s nothing that involves hitting a baseball that Cabrera hasn’t mastered yet, and he’s only 28. No seriously, where do you want to take this? Hits: he hasn’t had less than 180 in the last seven years. Doubles: Highs of 50, 48 and 45. Homers: Only hit less than 30 once over a full year. He’s an RBI machine as well, with eight straight years over 100. In one season or another, he’s led the league in each stat as well.

And remember, he’s 28.

2. Roy Halladay, Phillies: He’s the best doing it, period. Any year he doesn’t win the Cy Young is usually just because of a career year from another guy. Nearly everything Doc throws is judged by an awestruck headshake, a confused head cock or thrown bat. He’s the level of great that when someone actually does get a big hit off of him or he gives up three runs in one day, it’s a legit shock. And his reaction to all of this? To give off the emotion of John Wayne mixed with a dash of Javier Barden from “No Country For Old Men”.

He’s a warrior: 20 career shutouts, 66 complete games, five seasons over 19 wins, a no-hitter in his first postseason appearance…which followed up a Perfect Game earlier in the year and since joining coming to the NL, he’s notched a 39-16 record on a 2.40 ERA, while building up 439 strikeouts against only 65 walks. Competitive imbalance is caused just as much by Doc as it ever was by steroids.

1. Albert Pujols, Angels: Okay, there’s a rhetoric going around this offseason that is confusing as hell for me. Somehow, there’s some notion that Pujols, the absolute most complete player the game has seen in a very, very long time. And by the time it’s all said and done…well let’s just say he’s got an “E-V-…” so far.

What’s causing this? Is it because he crossed 30? Or maybe it’s the “down year” he had last season, where he hit still hit 37 home runs & racked up 99 RBI, while winning a second World Series? That season broke a 10 year streak of topping .300/30/100, but still leaves him as the only guy to ever hit 30 homers in his first 11 years.

He's set his eyes on new horizons, but same old results are bound to follow Albert out West.

He’s a year and a half away from both 500 homers & 1,500 RBI. He’s a .328 career hitter that has just as much range in the field as he does foul pole to foul pole at the plate. And while the hat, league and surrounding will change, one thing won’t:

Albert Pujols is not just the best player in the game now, but he’s the best of the last 40 years. And he’s working on is next “E”.

 

That’s that, hope you enjoyed it all. For more on these and the other 90 of the list’s exploits in 2012, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

12 in 12. It’s the for this upcoming season of St. Louis , one that is now un-officially (yet still officially) underway. is in motion in Jupiter, Florida and the road for the defending Champions has the first few steps taken on it by the . Soon the full assortment of positional players will also be in action, and the effort to follow up last year’s magical 11th championship with a 12th one will be completely underway.

However, things are undeniably different this year, yet still the still the same. There are still position battles to play out, rehab projects to engage in, young players to evaluate and internal competition to hash out before taking it across the league.

Basically, business is still business and over the next few weeks here, I’ll be breaking down 12 issues & topics that are surrounding the team as they enter their first season as defending champions since 2007.

In the first entry today, we’ll take a look at the biggest facing the team currently: who’s on second? For a few years now, there has been a revolving door at the second base position; a spot that hasn’t had a definite owner in more than … years. Now, once again, the position is up for grabs and there are three contenders entering a scrap the top seed at the position.

What does each bring to the spot, and what works both in, and against, them in landing the only open spot on the roster? Let’s dig into this a bit deeper

CANDIDATE: (.264/1/28/20 doubles in 2011)

Descalso showed he can spark the club as a fill in a year ago, and has a chance for much more on the horizon.

In his favor: He’s shown steady improvement at the position, as well as proven he can contribute on a daily basis. There’s a lot of value in a player like Descalso, who isn’t exactly “scrappy”, but….

 

For the rest of this article, including the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate vying for the opening at second, as well as my take on who’s the best fit, head over to St. Louis Sports 360 here: http://stlouissports360.com/cardinals-spring-12-in-12-part-1-whos-on-second/

 

And for everything else as it develops, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

THE LINEUP: The 100 Best Players in Baseball, Part 4

Posted: February 20, 2012 by The Cheap Seat Fan in MLB, The Lineup
Tags: , , ,

I’m going to be honest, this was supposed to be the last part of this series. But alas, it is not. But the problem is not mine, I planned it out well: 100 players, 25 per, list done, argument goes frantic.

But these folks from these high numbers at the end of this list made that impossible. Either that or this would’ve cracked the 2000 word barrier, and nobody’s reading this blog with the desire to feel like they are reading a great novel or the instructions to working a Deloran.

Nah, it’s become clear that the Top 10 needs it’s own write up too, but that doesn’t mean that we’re settling in any fashion with today’s list. There’s Cy Young winners up and down the list to come today. An MVP or three or four as well. So in perfect kickoff style, lets start back up with a coast sailing, record breaker who fits into several of the promised upcoming categories, all in one….

25. Ichiro, Mariners: Yeah, he had a down year (which meant only 184 hits), but the big picture is still unchanged: he led the AL in hits for 5 consecutive years & collected 10 Gold Gloves in 10 years. What’s more, despite nine years in Japan before coming over, he’s still within range for 3,000 MLB hits and has topped the mark already as a professional. His 3,706 combined hits would be good for 4th all-time.

24. Joe Mauer, Twins: Injuries have kept him from being him recently, but let’s not be short sighted; this is already one of the greatest hitting catchers of all-time by the age of 28. His three batting titles in a four year span (’06 to ’09) are the most of any player at the position over their entire career.

23. Prince Fielder, Tigers: He may have the most raw power of any hitter in the game (nearly halfway to 500 3 years before he’s 30). He’s moving out to the spacious Comerica Field this year & a new league to boot, but he averaged over 430 feet per homer last year, so he’s immune to any ballpark’s confines.

Prince will set his sites on some new confines in 2012...with similar results to follow.

22. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox: He got comfortable in a hurry in his new confines in Fenway Park. Released from the restrictions of both a cavernous park and lack of talent from his peers in San Diego, Gonzo had career highs in hits and average & won his fourth consecutive Gold Glove in his new league as well.

21. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins: Another case of injuries keeping a superior talent of the game a year ago. Now he’ll return to a new look/name team, a new ballpark & even a new position at third base. If he’s the same player who averaged 27 homers and 86 RBI with a .319 average over his full-season career coming into last year, the Fish could be on their way to some familiar levels of success again.

20. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox: He came back from an injury ravaged 2010 a new man last year. Always a premier speed threat (120 steals in 2008-09) he kept that part of his game, but hit 30 more homers than he had in his entire career and also set a career high in batting average by 20 points as well. All before coming into a contract summer this time around.

19. CC Sabathia, Yankees: Nobody wins like CC does. The lone dependable arm on the game’s most highlighted roster, he’s won 70% of his starts since re-locating to the Bronx, leading the league twice. He’s averaged 19 W’s a year since 2007, on an average of 240 innings a year.

CC's warrior mentality has made him a winner everywhere he's been, large or small spotlight.

18. Mark Teixeira, Yankees: A power bat & RBI machine as well (8 straight years over 30 homers & 105 RBI), he’s the axis the Yankee lineup works around. His well rounded attack doesn’t relent anywhere; the switch hitter’s 12 games with home runs from both sides of the plate is a Major League record, and he can make legit claim to best corner glove in the game as well.

17. Felix Hernandez, Mariners: Despite being supported by one of baseball’s worst offenses over the past few years, King Felix has still managed to dominate the game like few other pitchers. Despite only a 27-26 record over the last two years, batters have hit just .230 against him over 483 innings, and striking out 454 times.

16. Josh Hamilton, Rangers: What a ride he’s been on: his historical Home Run Derby run in 2009, a batting title, MVP & World Series trip in 2010, followed by a return to the Series in 2011. There may not be a more naturally skilled player in the game, and if he can keep his demon low, the sky may not even be limit enough for him.

Hamilton has all the tools to stay at the top; but there's few players with both as much gift & curse.

15. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: LA decided to take the restrictions off their 23 year old phenom and he responded with a 21 win, 248 strikeout, 2.28 ERA season. He won 80% of his games on the way to that pitching Triple Crown performance, which brought him home a Cy Young. He even grabbed a Gold Glove on his way out as well.

14. Tim Lincecum, Giants: For a guy with two Cy Young Awards in his first five years and three consecutive strikeout titles, his 13-14 record in 2011 should appear as a disappointment. However, when you look deeper and see he received the least run support of any pitcher in the game (zero runs in 10 starts, 2 or less in 21), and then see he still 2.74 ERA, it becomes clear he was still his usual self.

13. Cliff Lee, Phillies: He started the year by coming back to Philly & becoming half of the best 1-2 punch in the game. He finished it with 17 wins, six of which were shutouts and three came consecutively. Overall, he compiled a 34 inning shutout streak in June and had 0.21 ERA for the month.

12. Joey Votto, Reds: No MVP hangover for the Reds first baseman. Despite a rougher year for his club, he set career highs in doubles, hits, walks & on-base percentage, as well as took his overall game to another level in gathering his first Gold Glove.

11. Evan Longoria, Rays: The most complete infielder in the game. He kept a greatly depleted Rays in contention, and sealed their return to the playoffs with a walk-off homer in extra innings on the last day of the season. A complete hitter at the plate & a shutdown defender at third base, he’s the closest thing to Mike Schmidt since the original.

It's early, very early. But Longoria has a skill set that gives him a chance at third base immortality.

10….. It’s getting real tomorrow. We’re finishing this thing up & drawing baselines in the concrete all the way to #1.

Until then, follow me on Twitter for the word in-between at @CheapSeatFan

THE LINEUP: The 100 Best Players in Baseball, Part 3

Posted: February 17, 2012 by The Cheap Seat Fan in Uncategorized

It’s getting close to the real now. In the first two parts of CSP’s ranking of the Top 100 players in baseball today, there’s been a mixture of giving props to up and comers, some rehabbing stars, as well as some generally solid All-Star caliber players.

No more of that now.

It’s time to crack the Top 50 now, and it’s about to get personal. These are the all-time greats that are still solidifying their legacies, along with the franchise players that are the building blocks of their teams, and even a few guys who are putting the finishing touches on redefining the MLB record books. This is the definition of bleacher talk; of really kicking up the debate in the Cheap Seats.

From here on out it’s all about MVPs, Cy Young’s, World Series heroes and crème de la crème of young, future franchise cornerstones. Speaking of which, let’s get right into a few of those right now….

50. Eric Hosmer, Royals: Is it too early for the Royals first baseman to be this high up, even after a rookie year with a .293 average, 19 homers & some sharp D? Well, watch him play for a bit and you’ll figure it out. This is more prediction than review, so check this again in September and it will make obvious sense.

49. Buster Posey, Giants: Let’s define valuable really quick. In 2010, before he came up, the Giants were lodged in third place in the NL West. After Posey was promoted to the Show, they won the World Series. Last year, up until his season was ended due to a broken leg in May, the Giants were in first place…only to finish eight games with him out from behind the plate. This, my friends, is value.

48. Adrian Beltre, Rangers: With his cannon arm & super reflexes, Beltre is the best defensive third baseman in the game and a thief of anything hit in general area. He’s also a destroyer of anything left over the plate from his stomach up; he’s launched 82 doubles & 60 homers over the last two summers.

47. Ian Kinsler, Rangers: Few players can do more than he can when he’s right. After an odd power outage in 2010, he cracked an extra 23 homers over the fence last summer to hit a career high 32. For good measure, he added 32 stolen bases too and joined the 30-30 club for the second time in three years.

Kinsler & Beltre are two parts of one of the most complete infields in baseball.

46. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: Tommy John surgery kept Waino off the mound after the first week of Spring Training last year. Before that, the most devastating curveball in the game didn’t see a win total south of 19 or an ERA north of 2.66 over the past two years.

45. Brian Wilson, Giants: The Beard and the over the top personality get headlines, but forget all of that: this guy can bring it on the field way better than off, and that’s saying something. He went over 35 saves for the fourth straight year, despite two trips to the Disabled List.

Fear the beard, but save a little bit for the 98 mph fastball coming in front of it too.

44. Carl Crawford, Red Sox: His debut in Boston was underwhelming and winter surgery will keep him down for the beginning of ’12, but don’t let that cloud the truth: this is the best athlete in the game. There’s something about the five seasons over 50 steals and .293 career average that tell me he’ll be back and just fine.

43. James Shields, Rays: Shields went vintage a year ago, and a season the guys from the 60’s had to approve of. He finished what he started 11 times, with four shutouts in the mix as well. All along the while “Complete Game James” held down a 2.82 ERA. Somewhere Gibson, Seaver & Carlton are getting some hope for the youngsters.

42. Chase Utley, Phillies: Injuries have taken away some of the dynamic that made him one of the best overall in the game a few years back, but there are still few that can do what he does at second base. This year with Ryan Howard out for most of the year he’ll have a chance to pull right back into the league’s elite by keep the Phil’s offense going.

41. Yadier Molina, Cardinals: He’s been the unquestioned best defensive catcher in the game since Pudge Rodriguez for years now, but in 2011 with his .305 average and even a bit of power, he’s beginning to make legit claim to be the best overall backstop today as well.

40. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox: The scrappy heart of the Red Sox does a bit of everything to beat you. He had the best fielding rating of any second baseman in the game, swatted 21 homers & put together a 25 game hitting streak and knocked in a career-high 91 RBI. Not bad for a guy barely scraping 180 pounds.

39. Brian McCann, Braves: He’s been steadily moving along the path to this truth for a few years, but now it’s finally official: McCann is the best hitting catcher in the game. He’s topped 20 homers five of the last six years, and made an All-Star visit each year as well.

38. Mike Stanton, Marlins: Of all the young power hitters in the game, none are in Staton’s class. In his 250 games he’s hit 56 out of the park. That’s good for a rate of one per every 15.6 times at-bat. And he just turned 22 in November.

There are big things on the way from Stanton; many of them free souvenirs of his bat as well.

37. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals: One of the smoothest gloves and purest bats in the game (also the owner of both a 30 game hit & a 43 game on-base streak). For a long time, they were put to no use due to prolonged struggles of the Nationals. Now the team is on the rise, and his talents will finally see some competitive spotlight.

36. David Wright, Mets: He’s one of the sole survivors of the Cash Money Mets of the late 2000’s, but despite a few injuries, few can do what Wright does all over the field. He’s bested 100 RBI in five of his eight years, and is only the second third baseman to enter the 30/30 club.

35. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals: Carp had a slow starting season (didn’t get his first win until June), but I’d say it’s pretty fair to say he made up for it. In elimination games in regular season, Divisional Series & World Series: his line? 24 innings, 2 runs, 19 strikeouts. 3 wins, a 0.83 ERA and two complete games.

34. Michael Young, Rangers: The year started off with him being forced off third base and into the DH role. How did one of the classiest players in the game respond? By leading the AL in hits in route to a career-best .338 average, as well as passing the 2,000 hit plateau.

33. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: He’s done everything there is to do, and is apparently coming into the year in the best shape he’s been in in some years. Right on time too, as he’s paced to become the third player to pass 650 homers as well as 2,000 RBI this year.

32. Brandon Phillips, Reds: He’s a bit of talker, but he backs it up on repeat. The complete package, he’s been an nearly equal amount of trouble with the bat (130 HR) as he’s been on the bases (139 steals) & who’s took home the last two Gold Gloves at his spot as well.

31. Matt Holliday, Cardinals: He battled every injury possible last season, but Holliday is still among the best hitting outfielders in the game, and proved it again last year. A career .315 hitter, he’ll inherit the #3 spot in the Cardinals lineup this year and could be prime for a career year.

Much of how the Cardinal offense evolves post-Pujols sits squarely on Holliday's heavy hitting shoulders.

30. Jared Weaver, Angels: He raced out to MLB record six wins in April, and really never looked back. He finished that year .1 runs away from an ERA championship and begins this one atop the rotation for the retooled Angels. Not that he needed too much help as it was.

29. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies: Cargo netted an $80 million contract for one & a half year’s work. Why? Because there aren’t many better overall talents than the 26 year old outfield, who has a batting & hits title, along with a Gold Glove while splitting time at two outfield positions, to his credit already.

28. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks: Isn’t it great when potential becomes real? Upton treated the D’Backs to such a reality last year, where after years of “if’s”, “when’s” & “maybes” turned into 31 homers, 21 steals, 39 doubles & leading a last-to-first NL West championship.

The sky is the limit for Upton has he comes into his own in the desert.

27. Jose Reyes, Marlins: The game’s most dynamic leadoff hitter took his talents to a new level a year ago, winning his first batting title, while doing it with a familiar style (16 triples, 31 doubles & topping 35 steals for the seventh time). Now he’ll take that style to South Beach and try to bring the new look Marlins up to his speed.

26. Curtis Granderson, Yankees: If I showed you a season that reads “41 homers, 119 RBI, 136 Runs, 25 steals & 10 triples” then told you to name the New York centerfielder who owns that performance, a reasonable answer is Willie Mays. But you don’t need to go that far back to match the incredible performance to its owner, who mans the Yankee outfield here & now.

25….

Next week, we’re bring it around third and breaking down the Top 25 players in the game today. Until then, follow me go completely crazy over spring training starting over on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.