Ken Davidoff's baseball insider

Yankees, Mets, trade rumors, free agents, off-the-wall predictions and other MLB musings.

The most reliably excellent players, 2011

The Cardinals' Albert Pujols has set a noon

The Cardinals' Albert Pujols has set a noon Wednesday deadline to sign a contract extension, or else he says he will become a free agent this winter. (Credit: AP, 2009)

This has become an annual tradition that I enjoy doing, as it reminds us just how difficult it is to be one of the game's best players year after year after year. Here's last year's entry, and here's the initial one, from 2009.

The premise is simple: If you've ranked among the top 30 players or pitchers in VORP each of the last three years, that makes you a pretty special player. All the more so if you can take that back even further. Every 10 "runs" of VORP constitutes a win, so for instance, Albert Pujols has accounted for about 85 wins (above a replacement-level first baseman) over his 10-year career 

We'll start with the players who have reached this rare air the most consecutive years and then work our way down to the three-year group. The "dropouts" are the players who had been part of that group until they fell short in 2010.

For some reason, I began this venture by going back only back to 2004, even though that was shortchanging Pujols and, until this year, Alex Rodriguez. So this year, I've gone back as far as it is relevant, which impacts only Pujols and A-Rod.

"Dropouts" are players or pitchers who brought a streak of three years or more of excellence into 2010, only to fail to maintain the streak.

Anyway, here we go:

Top 30 VORP, 2001-10

Players (1): Albert Pujols (853.8). Dropout: Alex Rodriguez.

Pitchers (0)

Top 30 VORP, 2002-10

Players (1): Pujols (778.4). Dropout: Rodriguez.

Pitchers (0)

Top 30 VORP, 2003-10

Players (1): Pujols (717.2). Dropout: Rodriguez.

Pitchers (0)

Top 30 VORP, 2004-10

Players (1): Pujols (618.5). Dropout: Rodriguez.

Pitchers (0)

Top 30 VORP, 2005-10

Players (1): Pujols (527.2). Dropouts: Rodriguez, Chase Utley.

Pitchers (1): Roy Halladay (391.7)

Top 30 VORP, 2006-2010

Players (3): Pujols (439), Hanley Ramirez (355.7), Matt Holliday (313.4)  Dropouts: Rodriguez, Utley

Note: I somehow missed Holliday in my initial computations, two years ago. Sorry, Matt.

Pitchers (2): Halladay (338.5), CC Sabathia (299). Dropout: Dan Haren

Top 30 VORP, 2007-10

Players (4): Pujols (352.4), Ramirez (301.9), Holliday (256), Ryan Braun (221). Dropouts: Rodriguez, Utley.

Pitchers (3): Halladay (270.9), Sabathia (251.7), Matt Cain (200.7). Dropout: Haren.

Top 30 VORP, 2008-10

Players (6): Pujols (278.5), Ramirez (214.8), Joe Mauer (197.4), Holliday (179.6), Braun (162.7), Adrian Gonzalez (162.5). Dropouts: Rodriguez, Utley.

Pitchers (8): Halladay (220.9), Felix Hernandez (188.3), Tim Lincecum (185), Sabathia (183.1), Cliff Lee (181.5), Jon Lester (161.8) Cain (153.4), John Danks (136.1). Dropout: Haren.

I found it interesting that, of these 14 players, no team employs more than two, despite the industry's huge disparity between big-market and small-market teams. Boston (Gonzalez, Lester) Philadelphia (Halladay, Lee), St. Louis (Holliday, Pujols) and San Francisco (Cain, Lincecum) have two apiece, with six other teams (the White Sox, Florida, Milwaukee, Minnesota, the Yankees and Seattle) employing one apiece.

Here's another tidbit that interested me: Of these 14 players, eight (Braun, Cain, Danks, Gonzalez, Hernandez, Lester and Ramirez) haven't yet accrued six years of service time. They haven't been eligible yet for free agency. Which teams that their teams have them for pretty good bargains, given their consistent production.

None of those eight, by the way, will enter free agency next winter. Gonzalez is technically eligible to do so, but he is widely expected to sign an extension with the Red Sox after Opening Day. Of the veteran six, two players - Pujols and Sabathia - are eligible for free agency.

The oldest player on the list? Halladay, who turns 34 in May. The only other players 30 or older are Holliday (31), Lee (32), Pujols (31) and Sabathia (30).

More than ever, it's a young man's game, it seems. And this list also serves as a sobering reminder: Most of the time, when you're paying top dollar for free agents, the salary more often reflects what the player has done than what he'll do.

But the biggest lesson of all is probably that you never know when a player's run will stop. A-Rod, after all, had a remarkable run of 14 straight seasons, 1996 through 2009, before placing 45th (tied with Utley, who is starting to look like an old 32) in 2010.

--If it's March, as Erik Boland writes, then Phil Hughes must be trying to use his changeup more. Hughes pitched pretty well against lefties in 2010, although he slipped against righties compared to 2009.

--Jesus Montero impressed defensively, although there's still widespread skepticism throughout the industry that he can ever be a full-time catcher.

--Mike Pelfrey, along with many other players, is mourning the loss of Harvey Dorfman, a legendary sports psychologist. May he rest in peace.

--Francisco Rodriguez missed some spring-training time to update the Queens County courts of his anger-management classes. I had a good chat Sunday with Dodgers catcher Rod Barajas, who wanted to talk Mets with me. For what it's worth, Barajas - a Met for the bulk of last year - believes that K-Rod really was humbed by his arrest and wants to change. Now it's just a matter of still being that ultra-competitive guy on the mound but winding down off the field.

--Great story on longtime Mets PR guru Jay Horwitz, by Jeff Pearlman for The Wall Street Journal. And to think, I found this story on Twitter.

--Omar Vizquel, who managed to defy Father Time's rules for shortstops, offers some perspective on Derek Jeter. Good story by Tyler Kepner.

--Chris Carpenter left his Cardinals start early with what the team is calling a strained left hamstring. Of course, the Cardinals aren't the only team rooting for Carpenter to be all right. The Yankees, looking ahead to possible July trades, are, as well.

Meanwhile, Adam Wainwright expressed optimism about his future.

--Good column by Tom Verducci on why the Rangers should use Neftali Feliz as a starting pitcher, rather than as a closer.

--Garret Anderson retired.

--Former Brave (and Yankee) Mark Wohlers and his family escaped a house fire.

--This afternoon? Another giveaway contest.

Tags: Omar Vizquel , Mark Wohlers , Garret Anderson , Adam Wainwright , Chris Carpenter , Jay Horwitz , Albert Pujols , Alex Rodriguez , Chase Utley , Ryan Braun , Roy Halladay , CC Sabathia , Cliff Lee , Matt Cain

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