About a decade ago, Bill James wrote an essay called "Baseball's Best Player," where he attempted to answer the question ...
Who is the best player in baseball? I don't mean who had the best year or who is having the best year, but just ... who is the best player? Who was the best player in 1972? Who was the best player in 1935?
It is the most basic of baseball debates, the simplest and the most pervasive—and, I suppose because of that, it is a question rarely faced squarely in sabermetrics. It seems too simple to discuss. We are more interested in the shadings of value between Garrett Anderson and Mike Cameron, between Jacques Jones and Juan Pierre, between Quinton McCracken and Bobby Estalella, than in bringing our analytical arms to bear on the fairly obvious.
To find the best player in a particular year, Bill used the formula ".40 times his Win Shares in the most recent season, plus .30 times his Win Shares in the previous season, plus .20 times his Win Shares in the season before that, plus .10 times his Win Shares in the season before that."
Anyway, I'm not going to tell you who's the best player in baseball today. You can figure that out for yourself, if you want. Maybe you'd modify Bill's method, maybe give more weight to last season, or maybe you'd use three seasons instead of four. Maybe you'd use WAR instead of Win Shares. None of that is the point. The point is to show you this:
Player WAR (Baseball-Reference) 2009-12
Albert Pujols 26.4
Ryan Braun 25.9
Robinson Cano 25.3
Miguel Cabrera 25.0
Evan Longoria 24.0
Joey Votto 23.1
Player WAR (FanGraphs) 2009-12
Miguel Cabrera 25.9
Albert Pujols 25.4
Ryan Braun 24.8
Joey Votto 24.7
Robinson Cano 24.3
Evan Longoria 23.8
Player Total Runs* 2009-12
Robinson Cano 607
Ryan Braun 589
Albert Pujols 573
Miguel Cabrera 558
Michael Bourn 528
Adrian Gonzalez 526
* Total Runs is Bill James' Runs Created, plus John Dewan's Defensive Runs Saved, plus Baserunning Runs, plus a positional adjustment. Total Runs is the bomb.
I didn't weight any seasons, I just combined the last four seasons for each statistic.
So who is our mystery man? Who, over the last four seasons...
- led all of baseball in rWAR (!!!)
- was 3rd in fWAR,
- was 5th in Total Runs?
Is it Josh Hamilton? Jose Bautista? David Wright? Matt Holliday? Troy Tulowitzki? Andrew McCutchen? Dustin Pedroia? No, no, no, no, no, no, and no.
If I tell you he's from Eureka, Illinois, college home of President Ronald Reagan, would that help? What if I told you he played for the Wisconsin Woodchucks of the Northwoods League? Have you figured it out yet?
This is starting to turn into a Paul Harvey story, so I'll just tell you. It's Ben Zobrist. First in WAR, first in peace, last in the Google searches of his countrymen.
And now you know ... the rest ... of the story.