January’s Dream Team (kinda)

January’s Dream Team (kinda)

I had high hopes for myself when I started this whole process. I made a few goals. Personal goals. Goals designed to help me make it through 2017 (and subsequent years) with more sanity that I had leaving 2016. I didn’t care about who read any of this. I didn’t care about trying to have some sort of 80s sitcom life lesson for each post. I just wanted to spend more time thinking about something that I love, and less time on everything else.

Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all the stuff going on in the world. I’ve gotten very stressed. I’ve gotten angry. I’ve cried. I’ve punched things (nothing living, promise).

BUT, you don’t give up on something after missing the mark a few times. Especially when you’re trying to stay sane. Gotta keep moving.

I read an article last week in which the author put together the best 25-man roster than he could using only current free agents. It was an enjoyable article. Nothing mind-blowing. The type of post you find on all sorts of baseball websites during the post-Winter meeting, pre-Spring Training purgatory of the baseball calendar.

The idea of building a team out of a specific pool of players was fun one. It provides a nearly bottomless supply of thought experiment ideas. As long as you keep finding ways to redraw the guidelines for the player pool, you can keep making teams.

So, I stole the idea.

Basically what I am going to do is create a 25-man roster from the cards that I catalog each month.

I will pick the players based on the season from the year the card was printed. So, if I have a 1978 Gaylord Perry card, then I’m adding 1978 Gaylord Perry to my team (which I did). Only one season of each player can be used at a time. When I come to my page of Ichiro cards, I won’t be able to assemble an outfield of only Ichiros.

The goal is to create a coherent roster, not simply a list of the 25 best players. Each month I will fill in the following positions:

  • Six starting pitchers (5-man rotation + a long reliever/spot starter guy)
  • Six relief pitchers (no designated closer because closers are so 2002)
  • A starter for each of the other eight positions.
  • One designated hitter.
  • Four bench players (logical positions, not just 4 extra slugging catchers)

I’ll use various metrics for deciding on the players. I won’t go into each of those right now. That would probably bore most people, and the metrics may change. I will include the players’ wins-above-replacement (click here for an explanation of WAR).

I’m going to try and compose a team that plays to the strengths of the players I have available. If I don’t have any power bats, then it’ll be a scrappier team. If all of the pitchers are high contact guys, then I’ll try to focus on defense more. You get the idea.
Anywho. I’m going through all of this when I know few people will make it this far. Let’s get to the players.


Starting Pitchers

Position Player Year WAR
Starter 1 Fernando Valenzuela 1982 5.0
Starter 2 Tim Hudson 2002 6.9
Starter 3 Gaylord Perry 1978 4.3
Starter 4 Steve Avery 1993 3.8
Starter 5 Jerry Reuss 1983 3.4
Spot Starter Kevin Tapani 1996 3.2

Full disclosure: I’m not an expert on advanced pitching statistics. I know what the numbers are supposed to represent, but I’m not fluent. Take fielding independent pitching (FIP). The stat is designed to quantify a pitchers performance by taking into account things that he can control: strikeouts, walks, home runs. I know that a lower FIP is better than a higher one, but I’m not 100% certain just how much better Steve Avery’s 3.26 in 1993 is than Tim Hudson’s 3.60 in 2002.

I bring all of this up to ask for your patience as I figure things out. If I say that one season is better than another because of x, y and z, and my understanding of y is completely wrong, let me know (just try to be nice about it)

What I’ve done with the starting pitchers is build a solid rotation, not rank the players 1-6. It may be outdated, but I’m a big fan of rotating between left-handed and right-handed starters as much as possible. The stats may not show any advantage to that, but I don’t really care. Ultimately, I would be just fine with having either of my top three starters plugged in as the “ace.”

When I first made my rotation, I put far too much weight on the players WAR. I gave Kevin Tapani much too much credit. His 1996 season wasn’t great. He had a FIP of 4.85 with 34 home runs allowed and 76 walks.

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Relief Pitchers

Position Player Year WAR
Reliever Doug Jones 1992  2.8
Reliever Lee Smith 1996 0.2
Reliever Mel Rojas 1995 0.6
Reliever Gene Garber 1978 3.9
Reliever Duane Ward 1992 3.1
Reliever Pete Redfern 1979 2.3

Finding relief pitchers was the absolute worst part of this exercise. I wish baseball cards would always indicate whether a player is a starter or reliever, not just “pitcher.”


Lineup

Position Player Year WAR
2B Davey Lopes 1978 4.8
1B Albert Pujols 2003 8.6
SS Nomar Garciaparra 1999 6.6
RF Bobby Higginson 1996 3.6
LF Marty Cordova 1996 2.6
3B Buddy Bell 1979 6.9
DH Dave Winfield 1992 4.1
C Gene Tenace 1978 5.2
CF Devon White 1993 6.2

If finding six relievers was the worst part of this exercise, creating a lineup was the best. Picking the starters was relatively easy, but crafting the batting order was a little challenging. To start with, I assumed that Devon dsc_3489White would lead off. He is a fast center fielder. Fast center fielders lead off. He stole 34 bases in 1993. But, he strikes out a lot. That season Devon White struck out in nearly 20% of his plate appearances. You can’t strike out 1 out 5 times and bat lead off. Davey Lopes had very, very similar numbers to White in 1978 except in two areas: strikeouts, and steals. He only struck out in 10% of his plate appearances, and stole 45 bases. Lopes seems like the better table-setter for the rest of the lineup. Even though he had a pretty good season at the plate in 1993, I had to move White to the bottom of the lineup. There just wasn’t many other places to put him.

2003 Albert Puljos is second because he is hands-down the best hitter on this team. Some would argue that a slugger of his ilk has to hit third or fourth in order to rack up the RBI. In my mind, I want my best hitter to get as many at bats as possible. Plus, Puljos had more doubles than home runs that year, leading the league with 51 (he only had 43 HR).

American League shortstops were something else in the late 90s. Nomar’s 1999 season was great. He won the AL batting title hitting .357. He hit for power slugging .609 with 27 HR and 42 doubles. But he still only finished 7th in MVP voting. He wasn’t even the shortstop with the highest vote (Derek Jeter finished ahead of him).

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The rest of the lineup is pretty good. I was surprised to look into Buddy Bell’s 1979 season. I knew he managed, and that he played in the majors, but he was really, really good that year.

 


Bench

Position Player Year WAR
C Mickey Tettleton 1992 4.9
SS Cal Ripken Jr 1996 3.8
3B Ron Cey 1979 5.1
OF Dante Bichette 1993 2.9

The bench is strong. Some may recoil at seeing Cal Ripken Jr’s name here, but I don’t think anyone could honestly argue that his 1996 season came close to Nomar in 1999. I assumed Ron Cey would be my starting third basemen, but as I said above, I was surprised by Buddy Bell.


The team assembled was pretty good. It has a total WAR of 104.8. That’s about twice the total WAR of the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs.

In all, this exercise served its purpose well. It helped me spend a few hours diving into player statistics, and trying to compare across generations, and all that fun stuff. I look forward to doing it again. I hope that the posts become more enjoyable to read as I become more fluent in the various statistics used.

Feel free to share any constructive feedback that you have!