Chase Utley: One of the Best Ever

If you are reading this, there is a remarkably decent chance that you are a somewhat invested baseball fan. As a baseball fan, you probably ...

Listing Tier 1 MLB Players

 The goal here is simple: I have a system in which I used to evaluate baseball players. It isn't very well fleshed out, but I have generally figured out things towards the top of the pyramid. Most of the best players in MLB at the moment are tier 2 players: Bryce Harper, Francisco Lindor, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., etc. Aaron Judge was a guy that I'm pretty adamant about being tier 2; given his recent performance, that might be subject to change. A tier 2 guy is a bonafide annual MVP contender that could be the best player in the MLB if there is ever a lack of a tier 1 guy. Tier 1 guys are rare; if you read my Chase Utley article, think of the guys that I put him next to. Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Trout, those kinda guys. Yes, Chase Utley was a tier 1 player. Entering this year, I believed there was an unusual amount of tier one guys in the MLB. Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuna Jr., and Juan Soto. 

Given Trout's depressingly concerning injuries, I might have to drop him to tier 2 in the near future. For the moment, he falls to the bottom of tier 1. I can't let him drop any further. Ohtani can stay where he is, because he is awesome. Tatis also stays, as I'm not as concerned about his injury issues. The shoulder(s) are terrifying, but it's not like he has a "rare back condition". His broken wrist was a matter of him being a dumbass off the field, and should be completely fine pretty soon. Heading forward, Tatis is the best pure position player in the league. I believe that wholeheartedly. Ronald Acuna Jr. is a different story. He is still certainly a cream of the crop talent, but the struggles coming off of a torn ACL are enough of a red flag to drop him. Remember, tier 1 is reserved for all time great talent. I'm willing to excuse Acuna's struggles this year, and if he returns to form in the near future, I'm happy to move him back up to tier 1. For now, he slides to the top of tier 2. Juan Soto is interesting. His corner outfielderness combined with mediocre baserunning make it such that he can't have "slumps" like he had for much of the first half this year if he wants to remain in tier 1. He is easily the most magical hitter in recent memory, and I'm hoping that playing in a more competitive environment in Sunny San Diego will boost the "small stuff" (defense/baserunning) while allowing him to access his god tier power more often. It's a little strange that he doesn't hit better than he has (which is crazy, given his 150ish wRC+), but his ceiling as a hitter is unlimited. This leads me to a caveat about my tiers.

Here's the thing about three of those guys: Tatis, Soto, and Acuna had unprecedentedly good starts to their careers, but said starts happened to coincide with this silly little virus causing some issues. The lack of a full 2020 diminishes the historical dominance of their careers, and it sucks. They were all in the zone that year, and a full season of that performance would inspire more confidence. They all followed that up with incredible 2021 seasons, launching them into the historical stratosphere. Acuna might have been the best of the three(eh, maybe not), but he went and fucked up his knee, and now he is certainly the worst. Tatis' injuries have also lessened his accomplishments. Soto is the only individual with a relatively clean bill of health, and he has suffered through confusing power outages despite his obvious raw power and incredible plate control. My point is that I'm doing a little projecting on these guys, and there is a lot of uncertainty. They (outside of Tatis, who is) aren't necessarily better in the moment than a few of the tier 2 guys, but their potential is too good. 

Now it is time to go back in time, and identify who the tier 1 guys were. Let us begin. Not all of these guys are tier 1, but rather guys that deserve some discussion.

Mookie Betts (Yes, barely):

Entering 2018, Mookie was a high end tier 2 guy who did all of the small things phenomenally well while providing solid offense. He proceeded to have the most prolific (in terms of WAR) season since Barry Bonds, and followed that up with a slightly disappointing but still elite 2019. His 2020 with the Dodgers basically sealed the deal on his tier one status, just before injuries knocked him out of that tier for me. Betts might be making a bid to reenter tier 1 given his incredible performance so far in 2022. Given his injuries/worsening athleticism, it is my belief that we should be patient before adding him back to tier 1. He wasn't exactly a bonafide tier 1 guy when he was in tier 1.

Alex Bregman (No): 

Bregman's power outage is a modern tragedy. He never had great raw power, but he was able to leverage a juicier ball en route to a historic 2018-2019 stretch of dominance. Back to back 8 win seasons is nothing to scoff at. However, given that he might have been a beneficiary of something outside of his control, and that he only lasted for two years before regressing to being just an "excellent" player, I can say with a moderate amount of confidence that he wasn't as good of a baseball player as his production would indicate during the 2018-2019 sample. He deserves recognition for back to back MVP caliber seasons, but he isn't a tier 1 guy.

Aaron Judge (Yes): I've been an Aaron Judge skeptic. His career rate numbers are inflated by the fact that he debuted at age 24, a time in which many players are starting to enter their prime. His 2017 was obviously excellent, but it can be attributed to an unprecedented skillset being poorly handled by opposing pitchers. Pitchers "figured" him out, to an extent, and his performance from the 2017 all star break to 2020 was merely fantastic, and not otherworldly. Combine this with a smorgasbord of injuries, and there was no way in which one could confidently say this guy compares to the all time greats. In 2021, his production was on the level of his 2018-2020, but he was a little different. Judge came up as a super powerful, terrifying figure in the box. This hasn't changed. What has changed is the nuances in his hitting ability. Despite still being pretty erratic in 2021, Judge demonstrated some hope. Then, in 2022, he has done nothing short of blow the league out of the water. This will likely be his second straight fully healthy season, and his improved "hitterishness" has allowed him to incessantly terrorize opposing pitches with his greek godlike power. Combine that with the fact that he has effectively manned center field, and it's hard to not say that he has ascended to tier 1, at least for the moment. Will he age well? I have no idea. Where will he sign? If he ages well, hopefully not the Yankees. If he doesn't age well, hopefully the Yankees. The guy still has a lot of question marks, but that's more about the future. In the moment, he is a tier 1 player. Still not as good as Tatis, though.

Jose Altuve (No): I love Jose Altuve, and he deserved his 2017 MVP. He is one of the best second baseman of all time, and is currently the best second baseman in the league. However, he just isn't a tier one guy. He was a mid 6 win player that has dominated the postseason, he is a first ballot hall of famer, and he is one of the best players of his generation. I'm bringing him up because I am going to name every MVP winner that isn't an obvious no. 

Cody Bellinger (No): Cody's 2019 campaign was one of the most promising seasons in recent memory. After a great rookie season and a disappointing but solid sophomore campaign, Bellinger had one of the best age 23 seasons that you will ever see. He combined his incredible power with fantastic plate control, murdering pitchers with his violent swing. His plus defense and positional versatility didn't hurt. He followed that up with a weak, but still great looking shortened 2020. At that point in time, I was not particularly concerned for him. Then, just one year later, the dude had a negative WAR. His already noisy swing, which was an asset when it worked, was out of wack. Things have improved this year, but he is not exactly Tony Gwynn in the box. His 2019 was tier 1 worthy, but given his wacky mechanics and lack of supporting seasons, and I can't go out and say that he was ever among the best players ever. 

Christian Yelich (No): Yelich's mid 2018 breakout was a sight to behold, and he rode that wave until a broken kneecap cut his MVP worthy (yes, he should have won) 2019 short. His breakout was allegedly caused by a minor swing tweak, but I'm always skeptical of these massive power breakouts that fizzle out. Yet again, I can't say that he was ever one of the best players ever.

Buster Posey(Yes): Catchers are a little different.

This article will be finished later (maybe)

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