Who is the person with the best power in the American League? If Baseball America's recently-unveiled Best Tools rankings are any indication, that person is none other than Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who leads the universe in home runs. The survey, in which big league managers voted on a variety of categories, was released Tuesday and also saw J.J. Hardy singled out as the best defensive shortstop in the AL and Adam Jones as having the best outfield arm in the AL.
Praise from MLB managers does not exactly add up to a hill of beans in this crazy, mixed-up world, but it's another indication that in these popularity contests, much like in All-Star voting, the Orioles now have some measure of popularity. It's amazing what one surprising winning season followed up by another winning season will do.
Does Adam Jones have the best outfield arm in the AL? Well, no, probably not, but he hit his 23rd home run Tuesday night, and that was awesome. Those inside the game do not always judge the players the same as those outside of it, as reflected in the Gold Glove awards, among other things. Jones being a two-time Gold Glove winner does not make him a great defender. I will now play the violin for whatever more deserving player was not named in this meaningless survey. It is a tiny violin.
Hardy's position as the best defensive shortstop in the survey is far more defensible. UZR or DRS quantify what our eyes already tell us, which is that he is great. As with his winning the Gold Glove last year, it's possible he is not the greatest, but he's close enough that it is not embarrassing for those voting that they named Hardy the best. He's not doing quite as well this year, but it beats the heck out of Freddie Bynum being out there.
The Baseball America survey listed the top three in each of its chosen categories, and while only the three above Orioles were named the best, others appeared in the top for the AL. Those include:
- Nick Markakis (best hit-and-run artist, 3rd)
- Davis (most exciting player, 3rd; best power, 1st)
- Matt Wieters (best defensive catcher, 2nd)
- Manny Machado (best defensive third baseman, 2nd; best infield arm, 2nd)
- Jones (best defensive outfielder, 2nd; best outfield arm, 1st)
- Hardy (best defensive shortstop, 1st)
- Buck Showalter (best manager, T-2nd)
What does best hit-and-run artist even mean? If it means best at hitting weak grounders to second base, then I can see how Markakis would qualify. Markakis is often cited as a "good bat control guy" - the old-school prototype of the #2 hitter who's going to bunt or hit-and-run over the leadoff hitter who has reached. The merit of this is up for debate. He is 68th in the AL among 85 qualified batters in slugging percentage.
Machado ranked behind Adrian Beltre in both categories. By UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating, which measures a player's range, arm, and errors against the average player), Beltre was worth +10 runs saved in the field last season. This year, he is worth +0.6, which means he is basically average, as you might expect to suddenly happen for a 34-year old corner infielder. Machado is worth +19.8 runs this season. So the same effect that inflates Jones keeps Machado from his due.
Who cares what these idiots think, anyway?