Bob Dutton, the Mariners beat writer for the Tacoma paper, knows how to send me down rabbit holes. On Tuesday, I went to Seattle’s spring training spot in Peoria to report something I’m writing about the amazing Felix Hernandez and, well, a couple of things happened. The first thing that happened was that I met one of my childhood heroes, Rick Waits. He is now the pitching coach for the Mariners, but longtime readers here might remember that he was also the focus of annual spring arguments I would have with my father.
My side of the argument: This is the year Rick Waits wins the Cy Young Award.
Dad’s side of the argument: No. It isn’t.
As Megamind says, he won some of the arguments, I almost won others. But I’m happy to say that Rick Waits is a fantastic guy, which is all you could ever want from your heroes. In my life as a sportswriter I’ve met just about every one of my childhood heroes — Duane Kuiper, of course, Rick Manning, Buddy Bell, Andre Thornton, Rick Waits, Ozzie Newsome, Greg Pruitt, Doug Dieken, Dave Logan, Austin Carr, Jim Chones — and they are all fantastic people. This is the one advantage of growing up dying with losing teams. There’s a pretty good shot that the players are good guys.
The other thing that happened was that Bob Dutton sent me down another rabbit hole. I’m pretty sure he does this on purpose but it’s also possible that I’m just a lunatic.
This time, he made a simple statement: The Seattle Mariners seem to be the only team in baseball that has a Top 5 pitcher (King Felix, of course) and a Top 5 player(Robinson Cano). When dealing with a normal person, this would be like a five-minute conversation. But Bob knows I’m not normal, and I’m pretty sure he knew that when he said it I immediately had to go to Baseball Reference and make lists and start spreadsheets and … well, I might as well write a little something about it so that my whole afternoon wasn’t just wasted.
Picking the Top 5 players and Top 5 pitchers in baseball is, of course, about as ridiculous as trying to pick the Top 100 players in baseball history.* But I did it anyway.
*Yes, I’ll be posting No. 40 shortly. Really.
Here are are my five choices if there was a draft just for the 2015 seasons:
Top 5 players
1. Mike Trout, Angels
2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
3. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
4. Robinson Cano, Mariners
5. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
Top 5 pitchers
1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
3. Chris Sale, White Sox
4. Max Scherzer, Nationals
5. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
So, yes, the Mariners are the only team with players on each of my lists. But, of course it isn’t that simple.
With my Oscars predictions this year, I added a feature called Certainty Score. That was a score, from 1 to 10, that expressed just how confident I was with each prediction. And it worked pretty well — all of the predictions where I scored a 10, meaning I was really confident, I was right.
In a way, I think you can do this certainly score with anything. For instance, I am pretty certain that Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Chris Sale (assuming they don’t get hurt) will be among the top 5 pitchers in baseball this year. With Max Scherzer — not as much. With Adam Wainwright — not as much. It’s not a knock on them, it’s just that there are a lot of terrific pitchers in baseball and for me they fit more in the pack with guys like Johnny Cueto and Yu Darvish and Jordan Zimmermann and David Price and Corey Kluber and Madison Bumgarner and others.
If someone said to me that Cole Hamels or Doug Fister would have a better year than Adam Wainwright, I would not argue. I would shrug and say that was certainly possible.
Same thing goes with hitters. I feel really confident that Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen are a cut above, but could Jose Abreu be a Top 5 player? You bet he could — I already regret not putting him on my list ahead of Stanton. Buster Posey? Jose Bautista? Troy Tulowitzki? Michael Brantley? David Wright? Alex Gordon? Dustin Pedroia? I’d say all of them and others could be Top 5 players.
So, here are the teams that MIGHT have a Top 5 hitter and Top 5 pitcher in 2015:
1. Seattle: Cano and King Felix.
— I think Bob Dutton’s larger point is that Robinson Cano is absurdly good; there really aren’t many players in baseball you’d take before him. That can get lost. Cano’s home runs were down a bit last year, but he hit .314. The year before he hit .314. The year before that he hit .313. He’ll give you 60-some walks, 40 doubles, super defense at second and he will finish Top 5 in the MVP voting. He’s about as consistent as King Felix … and I’ll have a lot to say about Hernandez soon.
2. Chicago: Jose Abreu and Chris Sale
— With Abreu we only have one Major League season to go on but, man, the guy hit .317/.383/.581, led the league in slugging and OPS+. What a masher.
3. San Francisco: Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner
— Nobody can look at Bumgarner clearly these days, not after that supernatural postseason performance, particularly in the World Series. He’s ascended into legend status. But, in truth, he has not yet had a season where he was one of the five best pitchers in the game. And, we probably should how it was for Cole Hamels in 2008 after he had that absurd postseason; he’s had ups and downs since then. I don’t think you can call Bumgarner a Top 5 pitcher yet, but he certainly could be by year end. Posey is just consistent
4. St. Louis: Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright
— Is Yadi Molina the greatest defensive catcher in baseball history? And if he is — what does that mean? Does that make him one of the five most important players in baseball no matter what he hits? The Cardinals certainly think so. As for Wainwright, lately we’ve had a spate of superb starting pitchers — legitimate Hall of Fame candidates — who never won a Cy Young Award. There’s Jack Morris, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Andy Pettitte … and you have to wonder if Wainwright will fall into that group. Poor guy has finished Top 3 four time and lost to Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw twice.
5. Detroit: Miguel Cabrera and David Price.
— The Tigers should probably be higher on the list but Cabrera began to show just a hint of age and while I love Price, I just don’t see him quite in the Top 5 category. But that’s just my opinion. At the end of the year, I could admit that I was dead wrong.
6. Cleveland: Michael Brantley and Corey Kluber.
— There’s no telling if they can repeat, but they were both pretty close to Top 5 players in 2014. Kluber definitely was a Top 5 pitcher, and Brantley, well, he had a sensational season. He was the only player in the American League to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases. That’s probably not the most telling statistic about Brantley’s amazing season, but I’ve always liked those power/speed numbers. Brantley is a great story because of the way he just gets better every season.
7. Florida: Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez
— This is a little bit of a reach because Fernandez is coming off Tommy John surgery, and you just don’t ever know how that will work out. But he was so good ridiculously before the injury.
8. Washington: Anthony Rendon and Max Scherzer.
— The thing about Washington is that they have multiple candidates at hitter and pitcher. It’s possible that Rendon won’t be a Top 5 player but Bryce Harper will step up into that realm. It’s possible that Max Scherzer will have a down year but Stephen Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann could emerge as Top 5 pitchers instead. The Nationals are absurdly deep. So far, though, that hasn’t meant much in October.
9. Texas: Adrian Beltre and Yu Darvish
— OK, so when Adrian Beltre finished his Age 30 season, his career batting average was .270. He’d hit .300 one time in his career, and that was his crazy 2004 Dodgers season that everyone was writing off as a fluke. His batting average the last five seasons? Yeah: .316. He’s slugging .535. A huge part of the dramatic improvement involves the ballparks where he’s playing, but the point is that Adrian Beltre iis still a tremendous player. It’s obviously a stretch to call Darvish a Top 5 pitcher, but he does strike out 11 per nine innings and when right he’s just about unhittable.
10. Dodgers: Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw.
— Love Puig. Can’t see him as a Top 5 player but love the guy.]
Also receiving votes: Cincinnati (Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto); Pittsburgh (Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole — I thought I had this on the list originally but did not); Chicago Cubs (Kris Bryant and Jon Lester … and yes, I’m jumping the gun on Bryant, I don’t care); New York Yankees (Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia — but only if you can get a hot tub time machine).