Grapefruit and Cactus League play is in full swing. The rumors as to who is on the juice, and who is not, are picking up as well. Yep, you guessed it; the start of the Major League season is right around the corner.
Our national pastime has endured a lot throughout its very extensive history. From scandals, to a strike, to steroids, baseball has been marred by not only controversy, but apparently the letter S as well.
Scandal, strike, steroids, BondS, SoSa, RoSe, McGwire—but I digress.
In continuing with this six-part series, analyzing the third best player in all the major sports, we will take at look at today’s third best offensive threat in major league baseball.
Baseball poses one of the more difficult decisions when choosing which players to analyze. Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez, despite recent findings, remain the two best all-around offensive threats in MLB today.
If not for emerging during the Barry Bonds era at the early part of this decade, Albert Pujols would be the owner of four or five MVP trophies.
Despite recent findings of performance enhancing drug use, A-Rod remains one of the most consistent offensive threats to take the field.
Whether you side with Pujols or A-Rod, there is very little question that both not only rule their respective leagues, but also are the two best offensive players in the game today.
With so many great hitters at the Major League level, it is difficult to figure out just where the second tier of hitters begins and where it ends.
The following five players have shown a level of consistency and performance that far supersedes that of their everyday competition.
As a side note, I will be examining offensive players only. It is very hard to analyze pitching in the Major Leagues, as there is a high turnover rate for pitchers. Injuries, fatigue, and poor team performance all affect today’s pitchers. Consistency is just not what it was 20, 30, or even 10 years ago.
Vladimir Guerrero: OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Vlad is one of, if not the, best players in the league at putting the bat on the ball. If he swings, chances are he is going to make contact.
Guerrero has been a successful hitter at the Major League level for over a decade. He has never recorded a batting average below .300, and only three times since his rookie season in 1997 has he recorded an average below .315; those seasons being 1997, 2001, and 2008.
Guerrero has also knocked in more than 100 runs in every season excluding his rookie campaign and two injury-shortened seasons in 2003 and 2008.
Vlad has only struck out more than 80 times in a season twice and has never struck out more than 95 times in a season. When it comes to putting the bat on the ball, Guerrero can get the job done.
His averages in the major statistical categories since 2005 are as follow: 30 HRs, 110 RBI, 90 runs, and a .318 average. His career numbers are even better, and these numbers are by far a phenomenal season in today’s game.
Vlad may not blow anyone away with 50 HRs, but he is a threat to put the ball out any time he swings. Where you may only be able to expect 30 or 35 HRs, you are able to bank on at least a .300 average.
Manny Ramirez: OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
When Manny is being Manny, he is one of the deadliest hitters alive. This lovable, dreadlocked goofball can flat-out hit.
Since 2005 Manny has averaged 34 HRs, 94 runs, 114 RBI, and a .310 average. It is important to note that in 2006 and 2007 Manny only played 130 games in each season. There is no question that his numbers would be just a bit higher with 20 or 30 more games added in.
Manny has some of the best career numbers offensively in history. He showed last year when he went to the Dodgers the kind of impact he can have on a team.
His laid back, easygoing attitude can help a team relax in tense situations. He is also an easy player to rally around as a fan. He has experienced success on the field everywhere he has played. He has also experienced success in fanfare everywhere he has gone as well.
Manny’s slugging percentage and on-base percentage are among the league’s best every year. He doesn’t strike out a ridiculous amount and draws his fair share of walks.
When it comes to hitting in the clutch, Manny has shown that he is a reliable big-game player. He has shown that he can put a team on his back and carry them into the playoffs.
Mark Teixeira: 1B, New York Yankees
No player has generated the type of hype that Teixeira has generated for himself over the past couple seasons. Cashing in with the Yankees this offseason, Teixeira is emerging as one of the best young hitters in the game.
Teixeira’s stats will surely skyrocket this season with a high-powered Yankees lineup surrounding him. He has bounced around a lot in the past couple years and has shown that playing in a new environment does not affect him.
Since 2005 Teixeira has averaged 35 HRs, 100 runs, 120 RBI, and a .300 batting average. He has done this while splitting time in Texas, Atlanta (twice), and Anaheim over the past four seasons.
Teixeira has shown he can hit for power while keeping his strikeout totals in check. Like Manny, he has a high slugging and on-base percentage every year.
Teixeira has been lost in the shuffle over the past couple years as he has bounced from the American League to the National League, then from the National League back to the American League.
With a long-term deal, one of the best offenses in baseball surrounding him, and finally some stability in his career, Teixeira will certainly find a groove and continue his emergence as one of the game's best hitters.
David Wright: 3B, New York Mets
The New York Mets' phenom third baseman is quickly developing into one of the best all-around offensive performers in the game.
Since 2005 Wright has averaged 29 HRs, 112 RBI, 106 runs, and a .311 average. He has also averaged 22 steals a season while maintaining high on-base and slugging percentages.
Wright has successfully improved each season while playing in the bright lights of New York. He has handled the pressure of being a highly touted prospect and has flourished into the best offensive third baseman in the National League.
He will certainly be a cornerstone of the Mets franchise for many years to come. He has stayed healthy so far and has averaged 186 hits a season since 2005.
With more experience and a healthy lineup around him, there is no telling what Wright might be capable of. Coupled with Jose Reyes, they form a very formidable one-two punch.
Wright has improved on his ability to draw walks while keeping his strikeout totals in check.
As his game improves, his power numbers will continue to rise. He will almost certainly start to top 200 hits on a regular basis, and coupled with the speed he has shown, his runs and stolen bases will continue to rise as well.
Matt Holliday: OF, Oakland Athletics
Matt Holliday has been making an interesting case as one of baseball’s best hitters. Whether it was the friendly air of Coors Field, or his ability as an offensive threat, Holliday has put up some outstanding numbers the past few seasons.
Since 2005 Holliday has averaged 29 HRs, 107 RBI, 104 runs, and a .324 average. It is also important to note that in 2005 Holliday only played 125 games and in 2008 his season was cut short again and he only reached 139 games.
There is little question that if his seasons had not been cut short by injury, his numbers would be significantly better.
He has shown that he can hit for average, with runners in scoring position, for power, keep his strikeouts in check, and draw walks, and he has shown glimpses of speed, averaging 16 steals a season since 2005.
Whether or not Holliday is as good as his numbers have shown will remain to be seen this season when he plays outside the friendly confines of Coors Field.
Like Wright, Holliday is still very young and will have plenty of chances to prove himself. With high slugging and on-base percentages, Holliday will undoubtedly work hard to prove that he is every bit as good of a hitter as the one that led Colorado to the World Series just a couple seasons ago.
With all due respect to such hitters as Ichiro, Ryan Howard, David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, and a whole list of other players, these five have shown consistency in every offensive department.
Where Howard may be the best power hitter in the game, his low averages the past two seasons and high strikeout totals make him far more similar to Mark McGwire than Albert Pujols; not that there is anything wrong with that.
Ichiro may be the best pure hitter in baseball, but he doesn't hit for anywhere near the kind of power the other men listed do.
Ortiz and Cabrera are great hitters in their own right, but consistency comes into question. There are dozens of other great hitters in MLB, but few play at the consistent level of the five mentioned above.
As for who is the third best offensive force in the game today, behind A-Rod and Pujols, it is as tough a call as any in sports.
For my money, I have to give it to Vladimir Guerrero. He has been far too consistent for far too long. He is one of the game's best pure hitters in the game. That is evident by his low strikeout totals and consistently high average.
Vlad hits for power, knocks in runs, scores runs, and on top of all of that, he is a phenomenal defensive player as well.
His free-wielding swing makes him unique to watch, and I’m waiting for the day he hits a ball that bounces three feet in front of the plate into the upper deck in left field.
Teixeira has the potential to go through the roof this season; however, playing for the Boss in New York is an entirely different monster.
Until he shows signs of slowing down, Vladimir Guerrero will continue to be the most overlooked, and underappreciated, hitter in the game today.