By Anthony Castrovince
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, MLB.com will present a series of roundtables debating the best players from various Latin American countries. First up: the Dominican Republic.
Alyson Footer, editor/moderator: Today, we’re debating who’s the best player from the Dominican Republic. This includes everyone — past and present. This is almost an unfair assignment, given the incredible talent that has emerged from the D.R. over time. There are four Hall of Famers — David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Juan Marichal and Vladimir Guerrero.
And of course there’s one likely future Hall of Famer, Albert Pujols, that has to be in the conversation, if not lead it. It’s hard to even know where to start. I guess I’ll just throw my opinion out there — I think I have to lean toward Pedro, with Pujols just a smidge behind him.
Anthony Castrovince, reporter/columnist: I lean toward Pedro, too. Only because of his dominance in such a high-offense era. His league- and context-adjusted numbers are just hilarious (in a good way). From 1997-2003, when offense was at its peak, he had a 213 ERA+ — or 113 percent better than the league average! I definitely think it’s either him or Pujols for the title of best ever from the D.R.
Mark Feinsand, executive reporter: We’re talking about some of the best players in the history of the game, but to me, it comes down to Pedro and Pujols. Pedro’s dominance was unmatched during his era, but I think I have to go with Pujols. Even with some mediocre years in Anaheim, he’s approaching 700 career home runs. And if you can find me someone with a better 10-year run than his first 10 years in St. Louis, I’m all ears.
People talk about Mike Trout’s first decade and put him in the conversation for the best player ever. Pujols’ first 10 years were better than Trout’s.
Footer: And maybe more meaningful given how pivotal he was to the Cardinals’ pennant chases. Trout hasn’t had a chance to chase a lot of pennants.
Feinsand: Also, Pujols played in an era where there was PED suspicion around every slugger. Yet we never heard any of it connected to Pujols.
Castrovince: A fun thing about Pujols (that doesn’t really matter but strikes me as interesting): He’s at 1.6 Baseball Reference WAR this season. That puts him at a career bWAR of 101. This magic farewell season put him in the 100-WAR Club, which only has 32 members.
Feinsand: Pedro’s impact on the Red Sox in undeniable. I don’t want this to sound like I’m discounting just how good Pedro was. He’s incredible. I have him as the clear-cut No. 2, just a hair behind Pujols. I also give credit to players who are on the field every day versus starting pitchers. I would almost break this up into best pitcher and best position player, in which case there is no argument against these two.
David Venn, executive editor, LasMayores.com: This is a tough assignment. Pujols is the clear leader in WAR (Baseball-Reference) by more than 7.0 over his closest competitor, Adrián Beltré. But that aside, I’m going with Pujols because he’s the all-time leader in home runs, RBIs and a host of other offensive numbers, in some cases by a hefty margin. Pedro is a close second. With what he did in the teeth of the PED era (three Cy Youngs, five ERA titles, five ERA+ titles … with five of those above 200!) and a host of others, between 1997 and 2000.
It was tough, but I’m going to give Albert the slightest of edges.
Castrovince: Pujols had not been worth more than 0.3 WAR in any season since 2016.
Feinsand: Pujols’ OPS during his first 10 years was 1.050. He was above 1.000 in eight of those seasons, and the two times he didn’t reach that mark, he was at .955 and .997. A machine.
Venn: Yes, finishing with this flourish is definitely giving him a boost in this discussion.
Footer: I guess my argument for Pedro stems from how nearly unhittable he was in close to every start. It wasn’t a guaranteed win every time, but close. It’s impossible, really, to compare a pitcher and a position player. It would be an easier exercise if we split the categories and named best pitcher and best position player, but at MLB.com we never take the easy way out.
Castrovince: I know some readers are rolling their eyes at things like ERA+ and WAR, but these are really just ways of demonstrating the historical heft of these guys’ careers. Pujols is 30th all-time in WAR, and the only pitcher with at least 2,500 innings and a better career ERA+ than Pedro’s 154 mark is Clayton Kershaw (156).
Feinsand: Let’s give some love to Beltré, too. He doesn’t match Pujols (or even come close), but if we really broke this down, he gets the nod as the best infielder from the D.R.
Venn: Beltré is criminally underrated in general, and is easily lost in the shuffle. He’s at No. 4 for me.
Castrovince: Beltré was the anti-Pujols in terms of how his legacy was truly built in the back half of his career. All four of his All-Star selections came after he turned 30. Now he’s a surefire Hall of Famer, and you could not have dreamed that up prior to his season in Boston in 2010. That’s where his trajectory shot upward.
Footer: I’m just wondering if Albert had continued what has been a years-long decline, stayed with the Angels and not done what he’s doing this year — which has been amazing — would we think he’s that far ahead of Pedro?
Castrovince: Yes, absolutely. Those lost years in Anaheim hurt him. But it’s an impossible choice, even with those years taken into account.
Feinsand: I would still have Pujols slightly above Pedro.
Feinsand: The final six years of Pedro’s career were good, but not great. A 3.87 ERA, a 114 ERA+ and fewer than one strikeout per inning. It’s not even close to the guy we saw during the prior decade.
Pedro’s first decade as a starter was insane. 156-61, 2.58 ERA, 2,299 strikeouts in 1,964 innings, a 177 ERA+. Silly.
Venn: The interesting argument over the years, especially in the D.R., is Pedro vs. Marichal, the first Dominican HOFer.
Castrovince: What I appreciate most about these guys is the influence they have had on the current crop of stars from the Dominican Republic. You won’t find a Dominican-born pitcher who grew up in the 1990s who doesn’t worship Pedro.
Feinsand: Marichal was great, but it’s hard for me to compare him to Pedro based solely on the eras in which they played. Pedro was pitching in the heart of an offensive boom, many of those years coming before PED testing.
I think we also have to give some props to Guerrero and Ortiz, two Hall of Famers who don’t quite measure up to Pujols, but had incredible careers.
Venn: And that goes to the almost impossible task of comparing players from different eras. Marichal had 244 complete games (more than his 243 wins!), six 20-win seasons and three 300-plus-inning seasons. It was the times, but in those times, he was one of the three or four best in a golden era of pitching. But Pedro has the edge for me there too.
Castrovince: Yeah, totally different eras. But Pedro had this to say about Marichal when he went into the Hall of Fame: “I was too young to have ever seen Marichal pitch, but I heard so much, it was like he was higher than the human race. I mean, if you ask me who was the greatest Dominican pitcher of all-time, I would say: Marichal. There is no question in my mind. Marichal.”
Feinsand: Here’s a question for the group: Who was the most exciting player you have watched from the D.R.? Maybe he didn’t have the same type of career, but for one, two or three years, he was must-see-TV when he was at the plate? My vote goes to Alfonso Soriano. That guy was electric during his first three to four years. I loved watching him play.
Castrovince: You mean other than Bartolo Colón batting?
Venn: For me, it was Sammy Sosa. He was must-see TV of course in the late ’90s into the early 2000s. But people tend to forget that before the big home run explosion, he was a two-time 30-30 guy in the mid ’90s and finished his career with 234 steals.
Castrovince: I grew up with Julio Franco here in Cleveland. Great production, speed, incredible longevity and most importantly one of the all-time great batting stances.
Feinsand: I hate that we don’t even mention Manny Ramirez in this conversation. His PED history pretty much eliminates him from this argument, but at the time he played, I thought he was every bit the hitter that Pujols was. Maybe even better. Those are the two best right-handed hitters I have ever seen with my own eyes.
Castrovince: Yes, I hate that Manny tarnished his legacy, because he was an absolutely thrilling (and terrifying) offensive player. And he was exciting in other ways in the outfield.
Venn: I think Manny was a “Machine” before “The Machine.” Year after year, 555 home runs, 158 OPS+ over an 11-year stretch (1995-2005) over 1,800 RBIs.
Feinsand: To a lesser extent, I feel the same way about Robinson Canó. I covered him for the first nine years of his career, and he was a wonder to watch. His arm at second base was fantastic, and you felt like there wasn’t a pitch he couldn’t hit. The game looked so easy for him.
Castrovince: Watching the elder Guerrero hit was always a treat. You could throw a pitch to the press box, and he’d somehow make contact with it.
Venn: Not to mention Guerrero Sr.’s outfield arm, which always brings us to the debate of value, between someone like him (or even Manny) vs. Ortiz, mostly a designated hitter.
Feinsand: Talk about a guy who could hit any pitch. I loved when Vlad would swing at balls in the dirt and rope them down the line or hit them to the wall. He was amazing.
Venn: He could hit any pitch, and did it without batting gloves!
Feinsand: And you almost rooted for a ball to get hit to him with a runner at first or second, just to see if he was going to unleash that cannon arm.
Footer: Let’s end this by ranking the top five players from the Dominican Republic. Mine: 1. Pedro 2. Pujols 3. Ortiz 4. Vlad 5. Marichal.
Venn: 1. Pujols 2. Pedro 3. Big Papi 4. Beltré 5. Marichal.
There’s an emotional element for Ortiz, the impact he had on a franchise like the Red Sox, the three World Series, especially the 2013 championship coming off #BostonStrong and the way he absolutely dominated that series.
Castrovince: Absolutely true that Ortiz’s DH standing hurts his overall value. But find me a more clutch performer (and yes, some guys truly are better than others in the clutch). He had a .289/.404/.543 slash line in 369 plate appearances in the postseason. An amazing October career with so many legendary moments.
Feinsand: Ortiz enters the must-see conversation, too. For a lengthy period, there probably wasn’t a player you would have wanted up in a big spot more than Big Papi.
Castrovince: 1. Pedro 2. Pujols 3. Ortiz 4. Vlad 5. Marichal.
Feinsand: It’s amazing to think that the 2004 curse-busting Red Sox had THREE of the players we have talked about: Pedro, Manny, Ortiz.
Venn: It kills me to leave Vladimir Sr. off the list. But to Alyson’s point at the beginning, a separation of hitters/pitchers and how many great names are in play show the talent level coming from the D.R.
Feinsand: My top five would be: 1. Pujols 2. Pedro 3. Ortiz 4. Beltré 5. Marichal (I almost put Vlad at 5, but I think Marichal has to be on this list. I wish I had seen him pitch.)
Castrovince: The D.R. is 18,700 square miles. And when you look at the list of players from there, it’s an absolutely absurd amount of talent.
I would add that one guy who doesn’t get as much credit he deserves is Felipe Alou. He had 2,000 hits, 200 home runs and 1,000 managerial wins. The only others are Joe Torre and Frank Robinson. To me, Alou belongs in the Hall of Fame for the totality of his baseball life.
Feinsand: Let’s do this again in 20 years and see if Julio Rodríguez, Wander Franco, Oneil Cruz or Juan Soto have joined the discussion. Soto is 23 and is already 48th on the list of WAR for all-time Dominican players.