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The World Of Predictions: Where Fernando Tatis Was Better Than Scott Rolen

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Rob Neyer revisits some long-ago predictions and wonders if there were any lessons to be learned from his epic failure.

In the winter of 1999-2000, I was looking for a way to get through a gloomy Seattle January and hit upon the notion of picking the best players at each position for the next 10 years.

You probably know this was a fool's errand, but at least I picked the right man for the job.

This project occupied me for a month, but I'll spare you the gory details. Here's who I eventually came up with:

  • Catcher: Jason Kendall
  • First base: Nick Johnson
  • Second base: Edgardo Alfonzo
  • Shortstop: Nomar Garciaparra
  • Third base: Fernando Tatis
  • Left field: Ben Grieve
  • Center field: Andruw Jones
  • Right field: Vladimir Guerrero
  • Starting pitcher: Pedro Martinez
  • Closer: Billy Wagner

Yes, I know. Epic fail. Especially considering that the "users" did better than I did. Yes, they were foolish enough to agree with me about Jason Kendall, Edgardo Alfonzo, Ben Grieve, Pedro Martinez, and Billy Wagner. And they picked Sean Casey ahead of Nick Johnson (a wash) and Junior Griffey ahead of Andruw Jones. But they also chose Alex Rodriguez instead of Garciaparra, Scott Rolen instead of Tatis, and Mariano Rivera instead of Billy Wagner.

I didn't choose A-Rod at shortstop, because I thought (and wrote) that his size would eventually necessitate a position switch. Size or not, he did make the switch just a few years later. The correct answer, of course, was Derek Jeter rather than the (as it turned out) injury-prone Garciaparra. I hate to provide more ammunition to the Jeter-lovers who think I'm a Jeter-hater, but there it is.

Anyway, here's the complete list of correct-in-retrospect answers:

  • Jorge Posada
  • Todd Helton
  • Jeff Kent (or Chase Utley)
  • Derek Jeter
  • Scott Rolen
  • Barry Bonds
  • Carlos Beltran (or Jim Edmonds)
  • Ichiro Suzuki
  • Roy Halladay (among others)
  • Mariano Rivera

(Update: Yes, Albert Pujols probably deserves that first-base slot. Because he played third base and left field for the Cardinals before settling in at first base, he didn't show up when I was making my lists. But that's a technicality, obviously.)

That's an impressive score for yours truly: 0 for 10.

I was close in right field, where Guerrero would have been the decade's best if Ichiro hadn't come along in 2001, which I could hardly have forecast. Halladay's the close choice over Randy Johnson, with Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle and (yes) Pedro Martinez not far behind.

Overall, though, I did a thoroughly lousy job.

Is there a lesson here? Well, it's really hard to know who's going to get hurt, and nearly as hard to know who's going to get fat. I think I've also got a general tendency to overrate young players. I still don't understand what happened to Ben Grieve, but at the time he was 23 and hadn't yet enjoyed a big season in the majors. Fernando Tatis was 25, and had just one great season on his ledger.

The real lesson, though, is that this stuff is hard. If it was easy, there wouldn't be so many lousy long-term contracts out there.

So I'm giving up. I will never try to look 10 years into the future again.

Instead, I'll try nine. Later this week, beginning with catchers, I will try to predict the best players at each position from 2011 through 2019.

Wish me luck. I'll need plenty.