Yesterday, for fun, I looked up all the National League position players who have accumulated at least 6 WAR in a season since 2005, and I mapped them out on a chart. Nothing fancy, just what you see below.
I was going to start the time line at 2000, but that would have made this thing monstrously large, since all Barry Bonds did was rack up WARs over 10 and up to 12. The closest anyone has gotten to 10 WAR since 2005 is Albert Pujols in 2009, who got 8.7 WAR.
And since that year, only two other NL position players have even cleared 8 WAR. Matt Kemp in this context looks a little more like a flash-in-the-pan, whereas Andrew McCutchen is probably just getting started.
These men are the best the National League has had to offer since megaBonds stopped producing at megalevels. It’s been nine years now, so we’re basically looking at an era. Any player who played through the bulk of these seasons better show up on this list at least twice if he wants to be a serious Hall of Fame candidate. Let’s look at the one-timers above.
Derrek Lee was a good-hitting first baseman who put together a great year. I don’t think you can describe him as anything more than that. Jim Edmonds shows up here in the twilight of his career. This graph wouldn’t be very useful in evaluating him, you’d have to go back to the ’90s. Even without that graph, I feel confident saying he’s not a candidate.
Oops, seems like I skipped Morgan Ensberg.
Miguel Cabrera went to the American League and continued to mash.
Alfonso Soriano was always an exciting talent, but his flaws with the bat and in the field kept him from performing at elite levels consistently. Jimmy Rollins was the best shortstop in the NL for a time, but that’s not enough, especially since his double-play buddy Chase Utley was setting a higher example the entire time. The Big Puma Lance Berkman was once as feared as a big puma should be. He had some great seasons before 2005, and deserves consideration. One thing helping the case of Adrian Gonzalez is that he switched leagues soon after 2009 and posted 6.3 WAR for the Red Sox in 2011. Now that he’s with the Dodgers, he can add to this chart and to his resume.
Andres Torres is the least likely name here except for maybe Morgan Ensberg. Torres played out of his mind for the eventual champion Giants. He patrolled center better than anyone else that season, and his bat was hot for four months and cool for two. His speed and defense were so stellar he ranked as the fourth-best player in a weak NL. He wasn’t even a regular before that season, and he hasn’t been one since.
Justin Upton, Buster Posey, Jason Heyward, and Paul Goldschmidt are all quite young, and I think most of us would expect all of them to show up again. Matt Carpenter is more of a surprise, and an iffier bet to repeat, because his line drives came at Votto-esque levels. Could we really have two Vottos at once? What makes us so special?
Yadier Molina needed his best offensive season to climb over 6 WAR in 2012. (That’s the only time he’s hit 20+ dingers.) He will need one or two more seasons like that, or he will be remembered as merely the best defensive backstop of his time. I’m not sure if the defense alone will get him in. By the time he’s on the ballot, we might have new ways of quantifying catchers’ defensive contributions. They could ultimately temper or reinforce our belief in his defense
I think our last three guys–Chase Headley, Michael Bourn and Carlos Gomez–are not likely to return to this level of performance. All three could fit in the category “Guys who had great defense at important positions and who, in their prime years, put together a truly worthy offensive season to go alongside that defense.” Gomez is young, though, and exciting. Maybe the only reason he fit into the category is because I tried so hard to make him fit.
That leaves us with: Albert Pujols, Andruw Jones, Chase Utley, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Matt Holliday, Chipper Jones, Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman, Joey Votto, Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen as the cream of the NL from 2005 to 2013. When you think of the best players of this era, your thoughts should start with these guys. Some of them made their name before, some of them still have their best to come, but during these nine years there was no one better. Except maybe guys in the American League.