...Keith Law BlogThe 'real' All-Star team
June, 28, 2012Jun 2811:25AM ETRecommend26Comments2KEmailPrint
Given the ability to pick 25 players to fill out a roster, which guys would you choose?
I've tackled that question here -- with the goal of building the optimal roster for a 162-game season -- picking the best starter at each of the nine lineup spots, as well as five starting pitchers for an insanely strong rotation. With the bench, I tried to think a little more tactically rather than just taking the best overall players who didn't make the starting nine. Each of the six players on the bench has most value in that specific, limited role. That doesn't mean I think those players should be All-Stars, or that they're better than every-day players who don't appear on the roster.
The pitching staff is composed of 10 pitchers because there's no justification for today's 12- and 13-man staffs; they are the product of extreme specialization and a profound lack of creativity. With the five starters I've chosen, I probably could get by with just 10 pitchers because I'm likely to get 1,000 innings from the starters, unless there's an injury, allowing me to sneak a specialist bat onto the bench.
Catcher: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Carlos Ruiz is having a slightly better season and is a better hitter overall, but Molina is a much better defender -- as a receiver and especially in his ability to shut down the running game.
First base: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
No-brainer. We didn't exactly need more evidence in Votto's favor, but right now FanGraphs has him leading baseball at 4.8 wins above replacement, which is more than double the total of any other first baseman in either league.
Second base: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
Also a no-brainer. A healthy Dustin Pedroia might have made this a tougher call, but no other second baseman can offer Cano's combination of power, contact and defensive value.
Shortstop: Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
Third base: David Wright, New York Me
Even if we boosted Miguel Cabrera based on his performance last year, he's such a disaster on defense at third that I wouldn't choose him over Wright for this exercise. The next-best option is Adrian Beltre, one of the best defensive third basemen in the game, but that's not enough to overcome Wright's advantage in ability to get on base.
Left field: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
It's a toss-up between Hamilton and Ryan Braun, but Hamilton is a better defender and has slightly more ability to change the game with one swing, even against the kind of elite pitching you would expect him to face in the All-Star Game.
Center field: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Trout would have been my choice in left field if he had played more games there, but the Angels have installed Trout in his rightful spot as their center fielder for the next, oh, say, 15 years or so. Trout's the rare player whose speed can make a significant difference on the scoreboard because he gets on base (the speed helps him do so) and because he's such a good baserunner.
Right field: Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals
Tough for me to pick Beltran over my longtime favorite Jason Heyward, but Heyward's advantage on defense isn't enough to overcome Beltran's lack of a significant platoon split and longer track record of performance.
Designated hitter: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
The reappearance of Ortiz's bat speed over the past two-plus years ranks up there with Madison Bumgarner's loss and rediscovery of his velocity two years ago among scouting questions I can't answer. But the new Ortiz is no fluke, and, what's more, he has been hitting left-handed pitching over that span, so there's less need for a right-handed caddie for him on the bench.
Backup catcher: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
Nice to have a former MVP as a backup. Mauer has substantial offensive value but can't catch every day at this point -- and hasn't been as good on defense this year as he was before injuries robbed him. Being a left-handed hitter helps his tactical value as Molina's backup.
Backup infielder: Jed Lowrie, Houston Astros
Lowrie can play three positions -- he's fringy at short but would be above average at second and is only deficient in arm strength at third -- and is a switch-hitter who crushes right-handers (.919 OPS from the left side).
Backup infielder: Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves
Lowrie's on the roster for flexibility and some bat; Simmons is here as the ultimate defensive replacement. He's the best defensive shortstop in the majors right now, easily could handle second or third in a pinch, and, given that he sat in the upper 90s as a pitcher in junior college, would make a great emergency reliever if we ever played a 16-inning game.
Fourth outfielder: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
He is one of the best players in baseball, squeezed out in center by Trout, so I'd be crazy to skip a disciplined hitter with power, speed and the ability to add value in all three outfield spots.
Backup outfielder: Michael Bourn, Atlanta Braves
He's a premium defender in center -- maybe the best defensive outfielder playing every day, now that Peter Bourjos seems to have slipped to fourth-outfielder duty -- who is an ideal pinch runner and has value with the bat even if this year's power spike is, as I suspect, mostly a fluke.
Extra bat: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
I don't see Goldschmidt as an All-Star, but, thinking tactically, he's an extremely useful guy at the end of a bench in a role that has largely disappeared with the advent of the Infinite Pitching Staff. Goldschmidt does one thing really well: He murders left-handed pitching, with a career line against southpaws of .299 AVG/.381 OBP/.607 SLG, and he would be a tremendous weapon as a pinch hitter off the bench in the late innings. Plus, if the opposing team runs Tim Lincecum out there, Goldschmidt would be handy to have around, as he's 7-for-15 in his career against "The Freak" with four homers.
No. 1: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
No. 2: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
No. 3: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
No. 4: Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
No. 5: Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
If you care about such things, those are in 1-5 order. Verlander has the longer track record, but Strasburg is just as dominant right now (even allowing for the gap in quality between their leagues), and, in this little exercise, I don't have to subscribe to innings caps. Cain was a tough call over Cole Hamels and CC Sabathia (now on the DL) for the final spot. If you saw Lee on this list and questioned it because you think he doesn't know how to win, you probably should go read this instead.
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
Sean Marshall, Cincinnati Reds
David Robertson, New York Yankees
Chapman and Kimbrel are the two relievers best able to miss bats -- they are 1-2 in the majors in reliever strikeout rate -- while also limiting free passes. Chapman has slightly better raw stuff, but Kimbrel has become a strong ground ball pitcher and always has been hard for hitters to elevate, with just three homers allowed in 124 major league innings. I don't know whether Rodney, who was a disaster last year with the Angels, is just another Tampa Bay wonder, but he has always had a plus changeup and, as a result, can get hitters out on both sides of the plate. I've never seen Marshall as a possible starter candidate, but I do think he could be used as a capable "long man," not as a mop-up guy necessarily but as someone capable of throwing two or three innings in an outing.
Robertson is criminally underrated, maybe because he never racked up saves in setup work or maybe because he plays for a team that gets so little attention from the national media. None of these five relievers would be limited to three-out duty; they're all capable of going six outs on occasion, with Marshall the closest thing I'd have to a long man. If this roster weren't an All-Star exercise but resembled a good major league team, I'd probably drop Robertson in favor of a true long or swingman, without which it would be hard to get through the season with just five relievers.