A few months ago I asked, "Who's the best player in baseball?" I tried to come up with an objective method to answer the question, but when it came time to vote in the accompanying poll, a plurality of you ignored the evidence and went with your gut, like they do on the MLB Network.
Ha ha ha! No, what happened was, my method spit out the name of a pitcher, and we all had a nice laugh over that. A pitcher as the best player in baseball?! They don't even hit! Well, some of them do, but not very well. Well, Travis Wood seems like a pretty decent hitter, but that's not the point. The point is, we're not looking for the player who, when you add up all the little run elements in his stat line, is at the top of the ledger. We do that all the time. That's what WAR is good for. Hey, I just made that up!
No, we want to measure the breadth of a player's skills. We're not looking for the all-hit no-field base-clogger. We're looking for the guy who does everything well. We want the baseball equivalent of Dr. Christmas Jones, the brilliant nuclear physicist who also happens to be one of the most beautiful women in the world. Man, those Pierce Brosnan-era Bond movies sure hold up, don't they?
Anyway, my first idea was to simply multiply a player's batting, fielding, and baserunning runs above average, all of which you can find at Baseball-Reference.
Rk Player Rbat Rbaser Rfield All-Around
1 A. McCutchen 24 5 9 1080
2 C. Gonzalez 23 4 10 920
3 C. Gomez 19 1 25 475
4 J. Ellsbury 8 7 8 448
5 S. Marte 11 2 18 396
6 P. Goldschmidt 30 1 12 360
7 D. Wright 30 2 5 300
You can probably spot the critical flaw in my methodology. The baserunning numbers are so low that a single run over the course of the season can double a player's all-around total. I suppose we could weigh each run element differently, but ... why would we do that? A run is a run, whether it's created on the basepaths or saved in the field, is it not? Or, we could use runs above replacement rather than runs above average. The problem there is that we're really not interested in anyone who's below average in the field or on the bases. The whole point is to identify players who excel in all aspects of the game.
And we really should make some sort of positional adjustment, no? Intuitively, it seems wrong that Goldschmidt, a first baseman, is above, say, Manny Machado or Mike Trout.
Still, it's not a terrible list. It falls off quickly after Wright (Shane Victorino is next!), but Andrew McCutchen seems like a reasonable answer to our original question. Let's think about this some more and get back to each other.