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September 25, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

VORP Leaders

by Jim Baker

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I was wondering where some of the VORP leaders' 2007 seasons rated in terms of their own teams. It seemed to me there might be some all-time leaders in the group. Let's take a look at that today:

Alex Rodriguez, Yankees (90.9): This is currently Rodriguez's fifth-best season, trailing 1996 (112.2), 2001 (103.2), 2000 (101.6), and 2005 (91.0), which he will pass with a decent week. It is also the 40th-best season since 1959 overall, indicating we are not having any VORP years for the ages this season--which isn't to say there aren't some interesting findings among the top 10. In terms of the Yankees, if he does pass the 91.0 mark of 2005, Rodriguez will have posted the third-best Yankee season of the Expansion Era behind Derek Jeter's 108.5 in 1999 and Mickey Mantle's 98.2 in 1961. To add some additional context, Rodriguez's WARP3 this year (13.5) is better than Mantle's and Jeter's in those years. You'd have to go back to Mantle's 1957 season (14.5) and the year before (when he won the Triple Crown) to find a Yankee WARP3 higher than Rodriguez's 2007 effort. In fact, there aren't a whole lot of seasons in the team's history that outrank what he has given the Yankees and their grateful fans this year. Aside from Mantle's pair, Babe Ruth had six higher WARP3s, Lou Gehrig had two--13.8 in 1927 and 13.9 in 1934--and Joe DiMaggio one, 13.8 in 1941.

Hanley Ramirez, Marlins (86.7): Ramirez already cracked the team's top 10 in his rookie year, and is currently beating out the 1996 effort of Gary Sheffield (84.8) and Miguel Cabrera's 2006 and 2007 seasons to grab the top all-time Marlins spot. Sheffield had a higher WARP3 in '96, as did Cabrera both last year and this.

Magglio Ordonez, Tigers (82.4): Ordonez's fine effort in '07 will land him at third on the Tigers team list since 1959; Norm Cash's outstanding 1961 season (97.3), which he used to jokingly attribute to a corked bat and expansion-year pitching, and Alan Trammell's 96.6 in 1987 are the top two. Curtis Granderson's '07 season will wind up being fifth-best.

David Wright, Mets (78.6): Since their inception in 1962, the Mets have never had a truly spectacular offensive season. Here are their best VORP performances by decade:

1962-1970: Cleon Jones, 47.3 in 1969
1971-1980: Lee Mazzilli, 46.8 in 1979
1981-1990: Howard Johnson, 74.7 in 1989
1991-2000: Edgardo Alfonzo, 76.9 in 2000
2001-2007: David Wright, 78.6 in 2007

Wright has grabbed the top spot this year and, as he heads into his prime, remains an excellent candidate to have that first truly great Mets season. I define that as one that gets him at least into the top 50 since 1959. His 2007 season is currently ranked 115th.

David Ortiz, Red Sox (78.2): With a bit of a push in the last week, Ortiz could displace Mo Vaughn from the number 10 slot on the list of Boston's best single-season VORPs since 1959. Ortiz is doing just about the best one can expect from a player who works without a glove. His last three seasons rank ninth (2006), 11th (2007), and 12th (2005) on the Red Sox list. These rank sixth, seventh, and eighth all-time among designated hitters.

Chipper Jones, Braves (73.9): Jones has his younger self to beat, and he's not going to quite get there this year because he's 30 runs behind his outstanding 1999 VORP of 104.8. Still, his '07 season is fifth on the franchise list since 1959, trailing only his own '99 and '01 efforts, Gary Sheffield's year in '03, and Hank Aaron in 1962 (compiled when the team was still in Milwaukee). This despite the fact that Jones missed a good chunk of time to injury for the third year in a row. Looking at his season in terms of VORPr, it is the seventh-highest among third basemen in the last 48 years. At .561, it is the second-best during the Braves' tenure in Atlanta (1966 forward). In that time, Jones occupies the first, second, fourth, sixth, ninth, and eleventh spots. That's pretty much the definition of a franchise player.

Jorge Posada, Yankees (70.9): How good has Posada been this year? How about the fourth-best VORP among catchers since 1959? Only Mike Piazza's insane 1997 season (102.2), his 77.0 from the previous year, and Javy Lopez's power blowout in 2003 have bettered Posada's effort this year. He could still catch Lopez, too, with an outstanding week. Posada has cracked 50.0 twice before (2000 and 2003) but has never assaulted these lofty heights. He is 12th on the Yankees list, with some prospect of moving up a spot or two depending on his playing time and what he does with it in the final week.

Matt Holliday, Rockies (70.4): His '07 season is ranked seventh on the Rockies all-time list. With the likes of Larry Walker and Todd Helton having gotten there before him, cracking the top five is always going to be tough. He is the highest-ranked player not named Walker or Helton, though, and that's not something easily overlooked.

Miguel Cabrera, Marlins (69.0): While not quite as high as last year's effort, it's still close enough to not worry about it. In fact, if you put together enough seasons at this level, they'll let you into Cooperstown without a ticket. His August (.229/.345/.448) seemed brutal while it was happening, but we have to remember that there are third basemen out there holding down starting jobs who have seasonal OPS figures of 793. Edwin Encarnacion, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Ryan Zimmerman, Casey Blake, Melvin Mora, and Jose Bautista are all in that general vicinity for the entire season, while Akinori Iwamura, Alex Gordon, Pedro Feliz, Brandon Inge, and Nick Punto are worse. Remember that we're comparing their entire seasons to Cabrera's worst month. Still only 24, Cabrera has a good shot at grabbing the Marlins' top spot before he departs for parts unknown but richer, although the presence of Ramirez playing the more VORP-friendly shortstop position could continue to impede him.

Chase Utley, Phillies (67.8): Utley is cracking the team's top 10 for the second time, the first coming last year. He's bettered that number and could rise as high as sixth. Considering he missed a fairly significant amount of playing time (he and Dick Allen of 1966 are the only two players in the Phillies top 10 with under 10.0 percent of their team's plate appearances), this is no small feat. Missed time will impact VORP, but not VORPr, and Utley's figure of .519 suggests he is having one of the better second baseman seasons of recent vintage. Only Roberto Alomar's .526 with Cleveland in 2001 has been higher in this century. It is also the ninth-highest of the Expansion Era. After just three full seasons, Utley is arguably the best second baseman the Phillies have had in their 127-year history.

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