ESPN's panel of 34 experts thinks Brian Roberts will be the 472nd-best MLB player in 2013. - USA TODAY Sports
With 25-man rosters across 30 teams, there are 750 active MLB players on any given pre-September day of the season. Does it really matter who are the top 500 of those players? The answer is no. It does not matter. What does matter is that it's still slightly less than two weeks before Opening Day and spring training is boring, especially when those games are not broadcast on either TV or radio in the Baltimore market. Yesterday was one of those boring days and so is today.
ESPN gives us a nice conversation piece as it begins unveiling its top 500 players for the 2013 season today, with 401-500. How did they come up with 500 players and how did they decide who brought up the rear at 500 rather than being left off at 501? In their own words, 34 ESPN experts evaluated players on a 0-100 scale based on how they thought those players would perform in 2013.
As Dan Duquette might say, "Where did they pick us last year?"
These were the Orioles on the ESPN 500 released prior to the 2012 season: Tommy Hunter (493), Kevin Gregg (439), Jason Hammel (434), Zach Britton (318), Jim Johnson (311), Mark Reynolds (292), Brian Roberts (284), J.J. Hardy (169), Nick Markakis (149), Adam Jones (131), Matt Wieters (69).
The #1 player, they guessed, was Albert Pujols, with the actual 2012 best player, Mike Trout, ranking 162nd. 2nd-best player Miguel Cabrera was 3rd, behind Roy Halladay, the latter of whom had a 4.49 ERA. So in some ways it's just throwing darts blindfolded.
And as for last year's Orioles on the list, Johnson, the MLB saves leader, was 311th, Hammel, the best starter on a playoff team, was 434th, Gregg was ranked despite being Gregg, Roberts was 284th despite being injured Roberts, and Jones, the 6th-place AL MVP finisher, was 131st. Notable full-season contributors who were not ranked at all include: Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, Pedro Strop, Darren O'Day, Luis Ayala, and Troy Patton. That's just among players who were on the O's the whole year. You know the other names, and one imagines that the team might get a little more respect in the predictions this year. Or not.
The 2013 edition of the list features two Orioles ranked 401-500:
The McLouth who played 55 games for the O's in 2012 had a Fangraphs WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 1.3 - which was tied for 204th among position players in all of MLB. A full season's performance at that rate would put him in the top 60 or so hitters. He will probably not play that much, or hit that well, in 2013, which is probably why he ranks just ahead of Smoak, a guy with a .223/.306/.377 slash line in 1,421 PA. McLouth could once again make all of these guys look silly, or he could look like the guy who was designated for assignment by Pittsburgh.
Roberts ranking at 284th last year was one big sign that the people who voted on the list collectively were not paying close attention to the Orioles, because it didn't take much reading between the lines to see that he was not going to be any kind of productive player. The shared hallucination that Roberts could be good again continues this spring in the Baltimore sports media. He does, at least, look like he will be healthy enough to play. ESPN's panel has sobered somewhat, because the 401-500 portion of a top 500 list all consists of players who are in the bottom half of MLB at a given moment.
This is probably still too optimistic for Roberts, for whom league average would be something of a miracle, in my opinion. But, as the Orioles beat writers would be happy to tell you, Roberts is 12-for-34 this spring, which is a sure sign he's ready to be a productive player again. Never mind that he hasn't displayed a lot of range at second base in any of the televised games. I still think that the O's are in for some tough decisions to be made on Roberts' status with the team.
FORMER ORIOLES APPEARING THUS FAR
Mike Olt (412) a 24-year-old Rangers corner infield prospect with all of 40 big league plate appearances, ranks ahead of both of the Orioles listed thus far, as well as whatever Orioles don't end up making the cut at all. Also in this category is Joe Blanton (428), who is Joe Blanton. And let's not forget Francisco Liriano (439), a Pirates reclamation project, who has one season out of the last four where he has posted a sub-5.00 ERA.
The experts could well be right that these three guys will be better than Roberts and McLouth in 2013, which would be unfortunate. This low in the rankings, it's wild guesses all around. ESPN will unveil 301-400 on Thursday, and you can be sure that if there's any righteous Baltimore indignation to be mustered, I'll be back to share it with you.