I thought I'd take a look at which players had the best decade in several key areas of the game. I don't really care who hit the most homers or had the highest batting average.
While those statistics are useful, they are talked about a bit too much at the expense of some others. So let's take a look at some other things.
Note: my decade doesn't include 2000.
1) Jim Thome
Walk rate: 17.1%
Best year: 1999 (20.2%)
For all his strikeouts, Thome has always been a smart, disciplined hitter. This is the very reason he's still an offensive force at age 40 and can probably continue for a few more years.
2) Adam Dunn
Walk rate: 16.3%
Best year: 2008 (18.7%)
He's been pitched around a lot. I think that will stop in Chicago.
3) Lance Berkman
Walk rate: 15.7%
Best year: 2004 (18.5%)
One of the reasons he's still a productive hitter. Berkman posted OBPs above .400 for six years in a row this decade.
4) Todd Helton
Walk rate: 15.6%
Best year: 2004 (18.6%)
He has over 200 more walks than strikeouts in his career. Helton was probably pitched around quite a bit too.
5) Chipper Jones
Walk rate: 15.2%
Best year: 1999 (18.0%), his rookie season doesn’t count.
Chipper couldn't be pitched around as often as some other guys on this list, except perhaps a couple of seasons in the late 2000s.
1) Yuniesky Betancourt
Walk rate: 3.4%
Worst year: 2007 (2.7%)
Yuniesky Betancourt enjoyed three okay seasons in Seattle before being traded to Kansas City last year. Turns out the Mariners had the right idea. Since becoming a Royal, Betancourt has played below replacement level.
In 2010, he suddenly discovered some power, hitting 16 home runs. His career OBP is in the red at .296 and with poor defense and no speed, he’s not long for this game.
2) Shea Hillenbrand
Walk rate: 3.7%
Worst year: 2007 (2.5%)
Remember him? He debuted at the age of 26 and was out of baseball when he was 32. It wasn’t just the lack of plate discipline that ran him out of the game after parts of seven seasons. It was his personality.
Complaints about a lack of playing time, among other things, ran him out of Toronto, then San Francisco, then both L.A. teams.
At the end of the day, Hillenbrand managed to hit .284 through 3816 plate appearances. In his second to last season he hit 21 home runs. He never learned discipline though with a career-high of 26 walks in 2005.
3) Jose Lopez
Walk rate: 3.7%
Worst year: 2005 (3.0%)
With a walk rate percentage points better than Shea Hillenbrand’s, the Mariners’ second baseman Jose Lopez. When he hits .297 he still gets on base at a below-average rate. When he hit .239 in 2010, his OBP was .270.
That’s especially horrible for a guy who collected 622 plate appearances. Unlike the two players above him, Lopez plays plus defense.
That, along with 10-15 HR power, should keep him in the game for another half decade or so. He’s probably more a .260 hitter than the .239 he showed us in 2010.
4) A.J. Pierzynski
Walk rate: 3.9%
Worst year: 2002 (2.8%)
A.J. Pierzynski has been somewhat productive over the years. He is about to turn 34 and has just signed up for his 14th season, his 11th of full-time duty. A career .284 hitter, A.J. has never managed 30 walks in a season. He doesn’t bring much else to the table except for 10 home run power and the fact that he can catch.
Pierzynski is not a good enough hitter to move to any other position when he can no longer catch. He has balanced his lack of discipline with a refusal to strike out. His 8.2% K-rate in 2010 was the second best mark of his career.
5) Christian Guzman
Walk rate: 4.2%
Worst year: 2002 (2.6%)
Christian Guzman is only two years removed from being a .316 hitter. His career slash line of .271/.307/.383 is quite bad. His batting average on balls in play has been above average since 2007, so as long as the hits keep falling in, he’ll have a job.
His strikeout rate spiked in 2010 though so I think his time as a productive hitter is running out. Interestingly, he and A.J. Pierzynski were teammates on the Minnesota Twins during their worst BB-rate seasons.
1) Juan Pierre
Strikeout rate: 6.2%
Best year: 2001 (4.7%)
It’s amazing how infrequently he whiffs. Over 11 seasons, mostly as an everyday player, Pierre has only once struck out as many as 50 times. He’s going to get his 2,000th hit in 2011 due to his amazing ability to hit the ball and run faster than just about anybody else.
Speed and contact are a good combination and it helps that he hits about 2.5 ground balls for every fly ball. Don’t forget to pencil him in for one home run in 2011 as well.
2) Placido Polanco
Strikeout rate: 7.0%
Best year: 2001 (5.0%)
He brings brilliant defense to the table to go along with his career average of .303. Placido Polanco has been worth over 100 runs above replacement level with his glove. The last time he hit below .290 was 2003.
Polanco just turned 35 and we just saw his K-rate go up in 2010, so the years are passing him by but he put together a fine career by seeing the ball and hitting it consistently.
3) Paul Lo Duca
Strikeout rate: 7.6%
Best year: 2002 (5.3%)
His ability to make contact earned him four consecutive all-star appearances. Then he had a bad 2008 season, due partly to bad luck (BABIP=.259) and he was done.
It probably also had something to do with him suddenly being unable to hit home runs. He had zero in his final season through 193 plate appearances.
4) Jason Kendall
Strikeout rate: 8.3%
Best year: 2002 (5.3%)
It seems like Jason Kendall has been around forever. I remember when he was an all star with the Pirates after hitting .314 through his first 5 seasons. Starting in 2007 he stopped hitting for good average putting up a mark of .246 over the last four years.
Unlike the three guys above him, Jason Kendall walked at an average rate allowing him to put up an OBP of .366 over his career. He was never able to hit the ball far with only 1.5% of his fly balls going over the fence since 2002 (when they started keeping track).
5) David Eckstein
Strikeout rate: 8.3%
Best year: 2007 (5.1%)
After some productive years leading off in St. Louis, Eckstein is now a liability at the plate. He still doesn’t strike out very often and should be employed until his average slips below the .260s where it’s been for the last three seasons.
1) Mark Reynolds
Strikeout rate: 38.7%
Worst year: 2010 (42.3%)
With great power comes great strikeout totals. I actually thought he would maintain a decent batting average after he hit .279 as a rookie and .260 in 2009, but apparently not. He’ll rack up the home runs until he whiffs himself out of baseball. I give him a decade and another 270 homers.
That is, unless he can do something about the K’s. He takes a lot of walks and his % of out-of-the-zone swings was below MLB average in 2010.
It’s not a lack of discipline, just a lack of ability to get the bat to where the ball is. That’s probably worse. His line drive rate dropped precipitously in 2010 as well. Hopefully the Orioles can right this ship.
2) Adam Dunn
Strikeout rate: 32.8%
Worst year: 2010 (35.7%)
Adam Dunn has been so consistent from year to year in just about every department. When his K-rate rose in 2010 it was cause for alarm. He should still be able to provide The White Sox with 140 home runs over the life of his new contract though and he will drive in a boatload of guys.
He swung at a ton of pitches out of the zone (28.5%) this year, but he will be difficult to pitch around in Chicago.
3) Ryan Howard
Strikeout rate: 32.0%
Worst year: 2007 (37.6%)
Ryan Howard lowered his strikeout rate in 2010. He was down to 28.5%, his first time below 30%. His home runs declined too, however, as did the walk rate. He still hits for good average (.279 in his career) and has many productive years left.
4) Jim Thome
Strikeout rate: 30.0%
Worst year: 2001 (35.2%)
It’s hard to see Jim Thome on this list because few hitters have been as productive for as long as he has. The strikeouts did not matter one bit. He hit 589 home runs through parts of 20 seasons.
If it weren’t for injuries, he would be well over 600. His .278 batting average and especially his .404 OBP are surprisingly high for someone who has struck out as often as Thome has.
5) Mike Cameron
Strikeout rate: 27.9%
Worst year: 2002 (32.3%) his rookie season doesn’t count.
A lot of his strikeouts are called third strikes. He takes a lot of pitches and has managed a .340 career OBP despite his .250 batting average.
1) Rafael Palmiero
His career BABIP was .283 but his marks were closer to .250 in his final few seasons. He lost a step on the base paths and started hitting a lot more ground balls toward the end of his career. None of this would have mattered if he hadn’t used performance enhancing drugs. He would have easily been a hall of famer.
2) Andruw Jones
It’s not entirely luck. Andruw Jones is in decline. He has clearly been in decline since 2005 when he contended for the NL MVP award. It’s hard to say what changed. He lost some speed and that contributes to BABIP. Still a serviceable fourth outfielder, Jones started early and flamed out fast.
3) Jeromy Burnitz
Luck should even out over a 14-year career so low BABIPs are not entirely due to luck. What it tells us is that these players did not tend to hit the ball in ways conducive to high batting averages. Either they didn't hit the ball very hard, weren’t very fast, hit too many ground balls, or were just unlucky. Jeromy Burnitz had power towards the end of his career but was slow.
4) Vinny Castilla
This has a little to do with the fact that he was so slow. Vinny Castilla has a high proportion of singles and home runs for a guy who was a high quality hitter. He hit a respectable .276 on his career with a strikeout rate that was not cringe-worthy.
5) David Bell
Perhaps he wasn’t as bad as his .257 career batting average but he probably wasn’t all that much better either. He was an average hitter with some pop, though he did play good defense. David Bell is another guy who was very slow and that hindered his ability to get on base but being a ground ball hitter did not help either.
1) Ichiro Suzuki
It’s hard to knock Ichiro in any way, and I have difficulty in calling him lucky. His incredible speed contributes to his .331 career average as do consistently impressive contact rates. Ichiro hits tons of grounders and is very adepts at beating them out.
He typically gets 40 to 50 infield hits in a season, which means that grounders that are generally outs turn into hits for Ichiro. Therefore, his high BABIP has a lot to do with his natural skills and not so much with luck.
2) Derek Jeter
Similar story to Ichiro. Jeter runs like the wind and was fast in his prime years. His ability to hit to all fields helps too. It’s difficult to separate luck and skill in batting averages, but the fact that his BABIPs tended to be rather high (in the .330s or higher most years), tells me that his .314 career average owes a lot more to talent than to good fortune. After all, it’s hard to count on luck to get you through a 15-year hall of fame career.
3) Matt Holliday
Unlike Ichiro and Jeter, Holliday’s power contributes a great deal to his BABIP. However, this stat has trended downward for Holliday and so we may not see another .340 average from him but that was not entirely a luck-inflated figure. He is a smart hitter who has been consistent over his seven-year career.
4) Hanley Ramirez
Hanley is another speedy guy who only had one year I would really attribute to luck. Typically he hits for an average north of .300 with a BABIP near .350. His worst average seasons had him around .300 but he is better than that and should probably be hitting around .320.
5) Miguel Cabrera
This is what happens when you combine legitimate power with good bat control. Many of the balls put in play find their way over the fences and a great many also reach the gaps and the lines.
The only guy on this list not benefiting from speed, Cabrera consistently hits for good average and has done it for too long for him to be “lucky.”
1) Andruw Jones
Best year: 1998 (36.0 runs)
Now that he isn’t an everyday player anymore and spends most of his time as a corner outfielder, he still plays good defense.
2) Ichiro Suzuki
Best year: 2003 (21.1 runs)
He has the speed to get to anything and a cannon for an arm. He has the range you want in a center fielder and the arm you want in right. Shame there’s only one of him.
3) Adrian Beltre
Best year: 2004 (24.4 runs)
When talking about his value, we shouldn’t forget defense.
4) Carl Crawford
Best year: 2004 (24.1 runs)
Speed helps again. He only has one Gold Glove to his name. I would have thought he’d have more.
5) Scott Rolen
Best year: 2002 (22.9 runs)
Still has good range after all these years.
1) Albert Pujols
Easily the best hitter of the decade, Pujols does everything. He hits for power, hits for average, gets on base, plays exceptional defense. Recently he has become a base stealer too. Not at all surprising for him to lead MLB in this category.
2) Alex Rodriguez
It’s amazing that Pujols has been worth an additional ten wins over the next-highest guy. Still, we know what A-Rod has been capable of and what he’s done (and what he’s injected).
3) Lance Berkman
It helps to have the decade span your prime years, and Berkman was 24 when the decade started and is still an excellent hitter as it ends. My fellow Yankee fans were too hard on him, forgetting that he still gets on base with the best of them. Look for a solid 2011 from him.
4) Ichiro Suzuki
His speed and defense have not been worth enough wins to vault him past the three guys ahead of him on this list. Lacking power and often lacking a strong bat to drive him in, Ichiro has still done a lot for this Mariners club over the years as the best lead-off man in the game.
5) Chipper Jones
One of the best hitters of the last twenty years was productive into his late 30s and probably still can contribute at a high level. His discipline is especially remarkable.
ISO is slugging percentage minus batting average. It is supposed to measure pure power but is a somewhat flawed measure in part because slugging percentage does not solely depend on power.
1) Jim Thome
Best year: 2002 (.373)
Thome tops this list because he hit for so much power, not because power was all he hit for. In 2002, his .677 slugging percentage owed something to him hitting .304. I would argue that he has as much power as anyone, even today.
2) Ryan Howard
Best year: 2006 (.346)
The year he hit 58 home runs was the year his ISO was highest, no surprise. An elite power hitter, Howard strung together four years of 45 or more home runs while hitting for acceptable averages.
3) Albert Pujols
Best year: 2006 (.340)
Good thing he has that power. I mean, what else would he fall back on?
4) Sammy Sosa
Best year: 2001 (.409)
In 2001 Sosa had 103 extra base hits, and his 64 home runs does not seem entirely authentic (for some reason).
5) David Ortiz
Best year: 2006 (.349)
I am starting to think ISO has too much to do with home runs to be all that valuable a statistic.
Eight-hundred games is about five seasons worth. I wanted to see who the least valuable player is out of the players who actually stuck around for a while.
1) Yuniesky Betancourt
WAR: 2.5 (in 810 games)
Over five and a half seasons, Yuniesky has contributed only 2.5 wins over what a replacement-level player would. Replacement-level refers to the caliber player readily available on the waiver wire or in AAA. Yuniesky is entering the journeyman portion of his career and will probably not be able to play well enough in 2011 for Milwaukee to exercise his 6 million dollar option for 2012.
2) Shea Hillenbrand
WAR: 4.4 (in 935 games)
It's our friend Shea again. He's here because, despite hitting at least .277 three years in a row, he couldn't walk, never had much power beyond 20 HR or so, and struggled in the field. He had nothing to fall back on when people grew tired of his personality.
3) Juan Encarnacion
WAR: 6.3 (in 935 games)
I am starting to see a pattern here. Players who don't walk tend not to be worth much in terms of WAR. Without that skill, unless the hits fall in or you hit the cover off the ball, you just won't help much at the major league level. That said, Encarnacion was still hitting for average when an unfortunate eye injury ended his career.
4) Jeff Conine
WAR: 7.5 (in 918 games)
You don't have to be a bad player to have a relatively low WAR, you just have to not be an especially good one. A career batting average of .285 is nothing to turn up one's nose at.
5) Jose Lopez
WAR: 7.5 (in 873 games)
An overrated player, Lopez has trouble getting on base, probably won't hit 25 home runs again, and could have been replaced with a run of the mill AAA player to the cost of barely 1 win in the standings.
1) Todd Helton
Line Drive Rate: 25.0%
This rate tapered off as Helton aged and part of the reason he doesn't hit for power anymore is that he just isn't able to hit the ball as solidly as he used to.
2) Michael Young
Line Drive Rate: 24.1%
Another guy who made solid contact and saw results to the tune of five 200 hit seasons.
3) Joe Randa
Line Drive Rate: 23.9%
Hit .284 in his career which included several fine seasons in Kansas City.
4) Chone Figgins
Line Drive Rate: 23.3%
His LD rate in 2010 was his lowest in four years. Back in 2006 (the only other time it was below 21%) he also struggled to hit for average.
5) Ryan Howard
Line Drive Rate: 23.3%
His line drives go pretty far.
1) Luis Castillo
Ground Ball Rate: 63.0%
For some perspective, Castillo is a good 5% above the next-highest GB-rate. I think that he learned not to try to hit home runs and made a successful career out of singles and steals. In fifteen years, he has hit 28 home runs.
2) Derek Jeter
Ground Ball Rate: 57.0%
I wonder how many fewer hits Jeter would have if he didn't run like his pants were on fire every time he made contact.
3) Jacques Jones
Ground Ball Rate: 56.9%
Unlike the guys above him, Jones didn't manage to carve a successful career with a high ground ball rate. Jones had power but probably was not able to adjust when the hits stopped falling in.
4) Juan Pierre
Ground Ball Rate: 56.0%
With that kind of speed, you want the ball on the ground.
5) Ichiro Suzuki
Ground Ball Rate: 55.7%
In that ballpark, trying to hit the ball in the air would be disastrous
1) Alfonso Soriano
Fly Ball Rate:47.4%
If he couldn't still hit all those home runs he wouldn't have much value.
2) Adam Dunn
Fly Ball Rate: 47.0%
His fly ball tendency should serve him well in Chicago.
3) Pat Burrell
Fly Ball Rate: 46.6%
He's hitting more of them now then he was in the early part of the decade, and enough of them are leaving the park.
4) Rafael Palmiero
Fly Ball Rate: 46.5%
The five seasons he played this decade were all as a 36-year-old or older. I don't think steroids help you get the ball in the air, they just your make it go father.
5) Kevin Millar
Fly Ball Rate: 46.4%
Towards the end of his career he wasn't driving the ball, just hitting lazy flies.
1) Vladimir Guerrero
O-Swing %: 39.4%
He has a reputation for swinging at everything but has been remarkably successful in doing so.
2) Jeff Francoeur
O-Swing %: 37.4%
He has been quite a bit less successful than Guerrero.
3) A.J. Pierzynski
O-Swing %: 35.8%
Some guys just won't accept a walk.
4) Alfonso Soriano
O-Swing %: 35.0%
Unlike the guys above him, Soriano makes contact less often.
5) Robinson Cano
O-Swing %: 32.1%
Cano makes contact more often than the other guys on this list.
1) Randy Johnson
Slider %: 38.6
His slider remained devastating even into his forties. Johnson lost about five mph off his fastball over the course of the decade but his slider remained his best pitch.
2) Matt Clement
Slider %: 31.3
When he joined the Red Sox he started experimenting with a cutter and throwing the slider less. He also struggled to keep himself on the field but he was able to squeeze a mediocre nine seasons out of that one good pitch.
3) Ryan Dempster
Slider %: 30.8
From clips I've seen, his slider doesn't have a whole lot of break but it does fall off kind of like a slurve. He gets as many strikeouts as he does by making it look like a fastball.
4) Brian Lawrence
Slider %: 30.2
For those who don't remember, Lawrence spent five seasons in San Diego and one with the Mets and was pretty decent until he went to New York. He was a soft-tosser who had to rely on his breaking pitch to get guys out.
5) Ervin Santana
Slider %: 29.4
After a few years it became evident that his fastball was not the best of pitches, despite being able to reach 93 to 95 mph. Good thing he had this weapon to fall back on.
1) Ben Sheets
Curveball %: 30.8
It has a ton of break to it and Sheets was able to control it most of the time.
2) Wandy Rodriguez
Curveball %: 29.5
It's a big, looping curve, generally about 15 mph slower than his fastball. I wouldn't say it's one of the pretties pitches I've seen but it is quite effective.
3) Matt Morris
Curveball %: 29.0
In his prime this was his best pitch but towards the end of his career nothing was working for him.
4) A.J. Burnett
Curveball %: 27.0
When he's on, it's an outstanding pitch. Shame he hasn't been on much recently.
5) David Wells
Curveball %: 26.4
He was able to get it down below 70 mph which was a nice way to complement an 88 mph fastball.
1) Barry Zito
Average change-up speed: 74.0 mph
If he can start throwing the fastball even less (he throws it about half the time), his other three pitches are decent enough for him to be a little more successful than he has been.
2) Jamie Moyer
Average change-up speed: 74.8 mph
I don't expect anything good out of him if he comes back. I'm just amazed he still does it.
3) Mike Mussina
Average change-up speed: 75.2 mph
He didn't throw it very often (maybe 10% of the time) probably because his curve ball was much better.
4) Cory Lidle
Average change-up speed: 75.6 mph
It was not a very good pitch for him, but then again, nothing really was.
5) Mike Maroth
Average change-up speed: 76.5 mph
He relied quite a bit on his change-up, en route to 4.34 strikeouts per nine innings on his career.