Obtaining elite players is crucial for baseball teams, especially in highly competitive environments.Â These are players who are almost impossible to replace, even if the financial willpower is there.Â In this article, we will crown the teams who have done the best job at standing heads and shoulders over their peers at certain position areas. In my follow-up article (which should appear on AHP next week), we will laugh at the teams who have failed miserably to do so.Â Admittedly, writing that second article is way more fun, but the teams who are taking care of business are really the ones who deserve our attention.
Before I start this, you should know that it was done without the aid of PECOTA and its lovely WxRLs, WARP3â€™s, VORPs and all of that other mumbo-jumbo.Â I would love to have used those statistics as a crutch, as it makes my job easier, but that didnâ€™t turn out to be a convenient option.Â I decided to let my Baseball Prospectus account expire after they lost two of their best analysts (Keith Woolner and Dan Fox) to major league front offices.Â If you subscribe to Baseball Prospectus, I wonâ€™t encourage you to do the same, but be aware of the quality of content you are paying for.Â With that said, I used Baseball-Reference as a crutch instead!Â Hopefully the added effort on my part will give the article a unique perspective.
The Team that Doesnâ€™t Stink
Catcher - Dodgers
Middle Infield - Phillies
Corner Infield - Braves
Outfield - Angels
Starting Rotation - Red Sox
Bullpen - Red Sox
(They would be the team most deserving of their consolation trophy in Little League)
Catcher - Twins
Middle Infield - Yankees
Corner Infield - Tigers
Outfield - Yankees
Starting Rotation - Diamondbacks
Bullpen - Dodgers
Filling the blank in with â€śDodgersâ€ť isnâ€™t much of a disguise to the real point being made: Martin is the most valuable catcher in baseball.Â Heâ€™s become the offensive equal of Joe Mauer, with more power but less on-base ability.Â The crucial aspect here, and the difference between them, is Martinâ€™s durability.Â Durability counts for something, and it means your team doesnâ€™t have to haul out the anemic back-up catcher while the regular catcher sits or DHâ€™s; itâ€™s just intuitive that having a DH in a lineup is more desirable than a back-up catcher.Â McCann didnâ€™t quite make the cut because of a disappointing 2007, but heâ€™s still the youngest of the three at twenty-four, and tearing it up so far in â€™08.Â Thereâ€™s a very real possibility that he becomes the most valuable player down the line.
I spent a lot of time pouring over the numbers for the middle infield position.Â The first reaction I think most of us have is that the Yankees, with Cano and Jeter, are the best in the game.Â The conclusion I reached, however, is that despite having the weaker offensive output, the Phillies actually have the best middle-infield because of their superior defense.Â Though I never really considered the Marlins (they are both weaker defensively and offensively than the Yankees), I threw them in there for comparison.Â Here are the average OPS+ of the three teams, over the last three years:
Jeter - 126
Cano - 117.3
Total - 243.3Â Â
Rollins - 105.3
Utley - 134
Total - 239.3
Ramirez - 130.5
Uggla - 110
Total - 240.5
If youâ€™re not familiar with OPS+, itâ€™s basically just a playerâ€™s OPS (on base + slugging) compared to league average.Â Some guy way smarter than me calculated a formula for it, and used 100 as a base.Â So, a player with a 100 OPS+ can be said to be an average offensive performer. Obviously, all of the guys on our list are above average.
As you can see, itâ€™s extremely close on offense; the next time Tim McCarverâ€™s eyes glaze over as he professes his love for Jeter, you might want to remind him of Utley and Ramirez. And I say this knowing a good chunk of my audience is in regular contact with Tim McCarver (Iâ€™m assuming that the one person still reading this is Joe Buck).
Defense is a little bit tricky here, but despite what the popular media might have to say about it, I have a hard time believing Jeter is even an average defensive shortstop, as almost every objective method has showed him to be quite awful.Â Hanley, possibly even more so than Jeter, is a butcher.Â Heâ€™s so bad that itâ€™s probably in the Marlinsâ€™ best interest to move him to the outfield, ala Justin Upton, but I doubt weâ€™ll see that happening any time soon.Â Rollins, on the other hand, is fairly good, at least according to Dewanâ€™s +/- system, ESPNâ€™s Zone Rating and Range Factor, and the limited amount of times I have really studied him in the field.
As far as second base goes, Uggla is pretty horrible defensively by all accounts.Â There is less certainty when evaluating Cano and Utley, but the fact that Rollins is quite a bit better defensively than Jeter- even when taking all defensive measures with a sizeable grain of salt- turns the tide in favor of the Phillies.
1B/3B (Corner Infield)
There are so many excellent tandems; itâ€™s difficult to know what direction to go in.Â In preparing for this particular list, I had to crunch the numbers of six different teams before coming up with a satisfactory answer.Â What I found was that both Mark Teixeira and Chipper Jones are very consistent (and consistently good) offensive performers.Â Weâ€™ll use the same offensive evaluation here that we used with the middle-infielders, though I wonâ€™t get into defense as much, because itâ€™s not as important for these guys.
3-year OPS+ averages
Mark Teixeira - 140
Chipper Jones - 157
Total - 297
Miguel Cabrera - 153.3
Carlos Guillen - 124.6
Total - 277.9
Derek Lee - 139
Aramis Ramirez - 130
Total - 269
Jason Giambi - 139
Alex Rodriguez - 161.3
Total - 300.3
Albert Pujols - 167.6
Troy Glaus - 122.6
Total - 290.2
Todd Helton - 131.3
Garrett Atkins - 113.6
Total - 244.9
While the Yankees have performed the best over the last three years, Giambi is hitting the twilight of his career, and his numbers have dipped significantly.Â His is a case where a three year average is misleading, and a one year sample (his OPS+ was 108 in 2007) is really more telling.Â The Braves, because they rank second after the Yankees, need no further explanation for the number one ranking.Â The Tigers as runner-ups, however, may.
Glaus, an underrated rate-stats performer, is also notoriously injury prone.Â He does just enough to complement Albertâ€™s monster numbers as far as OBP and SLG go, but he doesnâ€™t stay on the field enough to be more valuable than Cabrera and Guillen.Â Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee are both capable of a lot.Â They are being weighed downÂ Â heavily by Derrek Leeâ€™s injury-plagued season in 2006.Â However, Leeâ€™s MVP year in 2005 was every bit the statistical aberration â€™06 was, the main (and large) difference being that he played in roughly 100 more games in his MVP season.Â Iâ€™m still sticking with Cabrera and Guillen, but there is a real argument to be made for Lee and Ramirez.
There are many, many teams in baseball that can claim to have two premium outfielders, but very few can claim to have three.Â I watched a Royals team that, for a short time, started Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, and Carlos Beltran in the same outfield.Â It has taken some time to really truly appreciate how special something like that is, and looking around baseball today has only enhanced my appreciation of it.
For the outfielders, I wanted to continue the OPS+ break down, but for a variety of reasons, I just wasnâ€™t getting the kind of definitive answers that I had hoped.Â Instead, Iâ€™m afraid weâ€™re going to have rely a bit more on conventional wisdom for this one.Â The Yankees and Angels both start, with the exception of Melky Cabrera, very proven players, and both have an incredible fourth outfielder; the Yankees rotate between Damon and Matsui and the Angels have Gary Matthews Jr. just lying around. Other excellent outfields include Toronto, Detroit, Boston, Houston, New York (N), Tampa Bay, Colorado, and Milwaukee.Â Milwaukee, especially, has the chance to be very good.Â If Braun and Hart replicate 2007 numbers, they need only a decent centerfielder to be devastating.Â The talent level for the outfield is much more even than it is at other positions, and selecting just the top two really just came down to experience (i.e. a larger sample size of performance) and the ridiculous fourth outfielder both have, though it should be noted that Boston shares the same luxury.
SP 1-5 (Starting Rotation)
There are many teams with a great one-two punch.Â The Phillies have that with Myers and Hamels, the Mariners with Bedard and Hernandez.Â The Brewers have Sheets and Gallardo, the Giants Lincecum and Cain, the Mets Santana and Maineâ€¦ the list goes on (Peavy and Young!Â Greinke and Bannister?).Â Only a few teams, however, can claim to have that and more.Â The Red Sox are loaded from top to bottom; Clay Buchholz as a number five should embarrass teams like the Nationals, though itâ€™s true heâ€™s still young and has much to prove.Â The team has so much depth in starting pitching that, even after losing Curt Schilling, theyâ€™re still the best.
Though I fully expect most of my readership has nodded off by now (it was Joe Buck, right?), I would likely get crucified for listing the Diamondbacks at number two without giving consideration to the Mariners.Â Really, the Dodgers deserve consideration too, for they have very impressive depth and are generally an underrated staff.Â I chose the snakes, however, because of Micah Owings and Randy Johnson.Â Although Owings got almost zero attention, he was very good in his rookie season, and he should improve in â€™08.Â I may be in the minority on Randy Johnson, but I still believe heâ€™s a dominant force, if in slightly less innings than weâ€™re used to seeing him pitch.Â Need evidence?Â Johnson struck out 72 batters in 56 2/3 innings last year, and posted a 5.54 K/BB ratio.Â Those numbers certainly suggest he has something left in the tank.
Relief Pitchers (Bullpen)
The Sox are just a good team from top to bottom.Â Their bullpen, serving as a microcosm to their team as a whole, is good from top to bottom.Â The incredible Papelbon serves as the anchor, with several outstanding pitchers (Okajima, Timlin, Delcarmen, etc.) lining up behind him.Â One thing I found interesting when looking at the Red Soxâ€™ pen is that many of them were fringe major league starters- guys like Tavarez and Snyder- that most teams would be looking to either use as starters or sell other teams on their ability to start.Â What the Red Sox have chosen to do is use these starters in an easier role, allowing them to thrive.
Kuo, Broxton, and Saito are all beasts for the Dodgers.Â If you havenâ€™t heard of Hong-Chih Kuo yet, check out his minor league strikeout numbers and prepare to be amazed (to save you the effort, heâ€™s got 211 in 150.1 innings).Â He had a bad ERA in 2007, but donâ€™t be fooled by that.Â It often happens that a reliever will have a very bad year out of nowhere, yet still put up good peripherals.Â The strikeouts per 9, K/BB, and home runs allowed give you a better idea about how a reliever is performing.Â Kuo aside, some of the other guys on the Dodgers like (ahem, Chan Ho Park) are questionable, but the Dodgers have such a productive minor league system that slotting a few pitchers into bullpen roles should be no problem at all, should guys at the major league level fail.
Some other fantastic bullpens are being overlooked, such as the Angels, Indians, and Aâ€™s, but the truth about bullpens is that they never stay still long enough to evaluate very well.Â When I started this list, I had the Royals in mind.Â As you may know, several of its members have since imploded or regressed significantly.
And there we have it.Â Not surprisingly, the Red Sox and the Yankees were both mentioned several times; much to my dismay, they are very good baseball teams.Â I hope you will have found that the article is, if not good, at least long-winded, and an effective way of wasting some time you might otherwise have been using productively.Â Next up, Iâ€™ll cover the few bases that Justin Zeth didnâ€™t hit in his article about the Pirates and Giants, when I construct an All-Loser team.
But really, with those two teams, he covered most of them.