This post is the short version of the post we just wrote, so if you don't feel like reading our analysis (shame on you), you can just refer to this.
C Joe Mauer, Jorge Posada, Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Piazza
1B Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Lance Berkman, Ryan Howard
2B Jeff Kent, Chase Utley, Ray Durham, Jose Vidro
SS Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, Michael Young, Jimmy Rollins
3B Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen, Adrian Beltre
LF Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Luis Gonzalez
CF Jim Edmonds, Carlos Beltran, Mike Cameron, Andruw Jones
RF Ichiro Suzuki, Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez
It's that time of...decade! Which is to say, it's the end of a ten-year period, which means it's the perfect time for retrospectives! And one of our personal favorite ways to do so is to create the all-decade team. It's going to be especially fun for us with the '00s since we weren't, you know, really making memories at the beginning of the last decade. But this time we've come prepared! So let's get to our choices for the best players of the decade at each position, which is the end-all be-all of teams and will in no way cause discussion or disagreement.
Some notes: Players considered for spots will be considered only on the body of their work this decade. They need not have played for the entirety of 2000-2009, but obviously, the more years the better. When we say MVP candidate, we mean that they placed in the top 20 of MVP voting. Other candidates are presented in order of finish. Also: due to some confusion, we'd like to point out that all stats that are referenced have been accumulated during the current decade. So e.g. Andruw Jones' 308 HRs are the HRs that he hit from 2000-present.
C: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins. 2004-09 stats: .327/.408/.483, 136 OPS+, 3 batting titles, winner of '09 slash-stat triple crown.
Mauer played the least among the candidates here - accruing only 3000 PA - but his numbers have been so impressive that he wins anyway. Plus, if you cherry pick each candidate's best 5-year stretch, none of them are as good as Mauer. 2000-04 was the best such stretch for each catcher; Posada went .277/.391/.494, Rodriguez was .319/.366/.539 (132 OPS+), and Piazza tied Mauer's 136 OPS+ with a .292/.376/.539 line, but loses on the tiebreak due to Mauer's superior defensive ability. If you want to choose a candidate that played the full 10 years, that's fine with us, but for our money, Mauer's the best.
Jorge Posada, New York Yankees. Decade stats: .283/.386/.492, 129 OPS+, 208 HR.
Ivan Rodriguez, Texas Rangers/Florida Marlins/Detroit Tigers/New York Yankees/Houston Astros. Decade stats: .298/.345/.477, 110 OPS+, 161 HR, 65 SB.
Mike Piazza, New York Mets/San Diego Padres (we'd forgotten!)/Oakland Athletics. Decade stats: .285/.360/.512, 127 OPS+, 3 Silver Slugger awards, 3rd-place '00 MVP voting.
1B: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals. This is the easiest choice on the list. Allow us to remind you of his transcendent greatness: .334/.427/.628 career line. 172 OPS+, which is 6th all-time. Top-10 in MVP voting every year of his career, top-5 in 8 of 9 years, 3-time winner (including this season), and robbed of a 4th. Not counting his rookie year, he's never struck out more than 69 times in a season, and has walked more than he's struck out every season. And ohbytheway, he's done all this with an elbow that has probably needed Tommy John surgery for several years now. The guy's an all-timer.
Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies. Decade stats: .331/.436/.569, 145 OPS+, 260 HR, 1.36 BB:K.
Lance Berkman, Houston Astros. Decade stats: .300/.413/.559, 148 OPS+, 309 HR, 74 SB, 6-time MVP candidate.
Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies. Decade stats: .279/.376/.586, 142 OPS+, 12.1 AB/HR (3rd all-time; 1st among actives)
And also Miguel Cabrera is really good. Didn't play enough to really qualify among the giants, but...he's really good.
2B: Jeff Kent, San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers. Decade stats: .300/.371/.518, 130 OPS+. MVP award, 4 Silver Sluggers. We're not considering his dubious clubhouse presence or Barry Bonds-alleged racism. We ARE considering, however, one of the best all-time seasons by a second baseman in 2000, and general excellence for the rest of the decade. His worst season was his last; as a 40-year old in 2008, he posted a 96 OPS+. Which, when you consider the fact that other candidates for this list are right around 100 OPS+ for their careers, is very impressive. That's ultimately what gives him the award over Chase Utley, who's been not quite as good with the bat but vastly superior with the glove. So we won't quibble if you choose Chutley.
Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies. Decade stats: .295/.379/.523, 129 OPS+, 3x Silver Slugger (probably 4 with this year), 5-time MVP candidate, superb defender.
Ray Durham, Chicago White Sox/Oakland Athletics/San Francisco Giants/Milwaukee Brewers. Decade stats: .277/.354/.450, 107 OPS+, 132 HR, 122 SB.
Jose Vidro, Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals/Seattle Mariners. Decade stats: .303/.366/.452, 111 OPS+, '02 MVP candidate, Silver Slugger award, played for the Expos.
Yeah, second base is a weak group.
SS: David Eckstein just kidding
SS: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees. Decade stats: .317/.387/.456, 121 OPS+, 8-time MVP candidate, 3 Silver Sluggers, 219 SB. Yeah, yeah, yeah, intangibles, the Captain, calm eyes, whatever. That counts for nothing. What does count is that the dude can hit and run, and as of this past season, apparently learned how to use his glove. There's not really much more you could ask for from your shortstop.
Miguel Tejada, Oakland Athletics/Baltimore Orioles/Houston Astros. Decade stats: .297/.347/.481, 116 OPS+, 7-time MVP candidate (1 win), 2x Silver Sluggers.
Michael Young, Texas Rangers. Decade stats: .302/.349/.449, 105 OPS+. 3-time MVP candidate, used to be a great, great fielder. Probably underrated, and yet that's all we can think to say about him.
Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies. Decade stats: .274/.329/.439, 97 OPS+, 326 SB (83% success), 5-time MVP candidate (1 win), Silver Slugger award. Is almost certainly overrated, but, well, there's little offense to be had at shortstop, and Rollins' speed and somewhat valuable defense pushes him above the pack.
3B: Alex Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners/Texas Rangers/New York Yankees. Decade stats: .304/.401/.587, 154 OPS+, 9-time MVP candidate (3-time winner), 7x Silver Sluggers, 434 HR, 179 SB (83% success). Another all-timer here, even if he did take steroids. In this decade, he's never posted less than a 130 OPS+, has hit 30+ HR each year, and done all of that while switching positions. Had he been a shortstop, he's probably the best shortstop to ever play; as a third basegentleman, he's merely one of the best ever.
Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves. .311/.415/.545, 148 OPS+, 6-time MVP candidate, 1.12 BB:K, our favorite player. If he stayed healthy, he'd be number one here.
Scott Rolen, Philadelphia Phillies/St. Louis Cardinals/Toronto Blue Jays/Cincinnati Reds. Decade stats: .285/.368/.497, 124 OPS+, averages 15.5 UZR/150, 1-time MVP candidate.
Adrian Beltre, Los Angeles Dodgers/Seattle Mariners. Decade stats: .272/.324/.459, 106 OPS+, great fielder, very durable (valuable considering the rest of the list), 1-time MVP candidate/Silver Slugger winner.
LF: Barry Bonds, San francisco Giants. Decade stats: .322/.517/.724, 221 OPS+. We're going to repeat those, because they are positively cartoonish. .322/.517/.724, 221 OPS+. That 221 OPS+ from 2000-2007 would be the 17th-best single season of all-time. His 2002, 2004, and 2001 seasons are the three-best of all-time, respectively. He set the single season record for home runs, with 73. His walk:strikeout ratio was a ridiculous 2.64. He set single season and career records for walks, both intentional and unintentional. After his 73-homer 2001, in which he struck out 93 times, he never again struck out more than 58 times. Discount it for steroids all you want, and he still dwarfs any challengers. But he did stop stealing bases, so, you know, there's that. The funny thing is, he'd be the starting LF for the 1990's team as well.
Other candidates, inasmuch as there are any:
Manny Ramirez, Boston Red Sox/Los Angeles Dodgers. Decade stats: .317/.419/.599, 160 OPS+, 7-time MVP candidate and Silver Slugger.
Gary Sheffield, Los Angeles Dodgers/Atlanta Braves/New York Yankees/Detroit Tigers/New York Mets. Decade stats: .294/.394/.527, 140 OPS+, 273 HR, 97 SB, 1.16 BB:K, 5-time MVP candidate, 3x Silver Slugger.
Luis Gonzalez, Arizona Diamondbacks/Los Angeles Dodgers/Florida Marlins. Decade stats: .288/.382/.508, 124 OPS+, 2-time MVP candidate, Silver Slugger, 1.1 BB:K.
CF: Jim Edmonds, St. Louis Cardinals/San Diego Padres/Chicago Cubs. Decade stats: .280/.389/.548, 140 OPS+, 5-time MVP candidate, Silver Slugger, 261 HR. Edmonds is a guy who would've had a backup role on the '9os team, but he shines here. He had more power than most players in the game, which is remarkable for a center fielder. He shone defensively, and could work a walk. Like Jeter at short, there's nothing else you could ask for from a center fielder.
Carlos Beltran, Kansas City Royals/Houston Astros/New York Mets. Decade stats: .282/.363/.502, 121 OPS+, 5-time MVP candidate, 2x Silver Sluggers, excellent fielder.
Mike Cameron, Seattle Mariners/New York Mets/San Diego Padres/Milwaukee Brewers. Decade stats: .253/.342/.457, 111 OPS+, 221 HR, 208 SB (79% success), 2-time MVP candidate.
Andruw Jones, Atlanta Braves/Los Angeles Dodgers/Texas Rangers. Decade stats: .257/.339/.492, 112 OPS+, 5-time MVP candidate (2nd place in '06), Silver Slugger, 308 HR.
I know that leaving out Torii Hunter will be an unpopular choice, but he's just not as good as Cameron or Jones. Hunter doesn't get on base nearly as well as Cameron, doesn't approach Jones in power, has a lower OPS+ than both Cameron and Jones, and has gotten by on a defensive reputation that focuses on his SportsCenter highlights and not his actual negative defensive value since 2002 (-15 UZR).
RF: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners. Decade stats: .333/.378/434, 118 OPS+, '01 Rookie of the Year/MVP, 7-time MVP candidate, 2x Silver Sluggers, best defensive right fielder in MLB. This was a surprisingly difficult field. In terms of Wins Above Replacement, Ichiro is the clear leader, with 38.8 to Vlad's 32.2, mostly because of Ichiro's vast defensive advantage. It's still hard to give the honor to a guy with a 118 OPS+, But he's stolen 341 bases with an incredible 90% success rate. He's got the single season record for hits, and has led the league in hits 6 times, including 4 straight years. He may yet get 3,000 in America, which is shocking considering that he came here at age 27. His OBP and SLG don't shine, but everything else is as good as it gets - and you get the feeling that if he wanted to draw more walks or hit more dongers, he could.
Vladimir Guerrero, Montreal Expos/Los Angeles Angels. Decade stats: .323/.392/.569, 147 OPS+, 9-time MVP candidate (1 win), 6x Silver Slugger, 315 HR, 147 SB.
Bobby Abreu, Philadelphia Phillies/New York Yankees/Los Angeles Angels. Decade stats: .297/.402/.497, 132 OPS+, 216 HR, 295 SB, 5-time MVP candidate, 1-time Silver Slugger.
Magglio Ordonez, Chicago White Sox/Detroit Tigers. Decade stats: .316/.379/.523, 132 OPS+, 5-time MVP candidate, 3x Silver Slugger.
We've been doing some research on baseball throughout the last two decades, and 1994 in particular. Part of this research has led to our compiling various and sundry stats and numbers for all teams in those last 20 years. Well, as we were looking through my (rather headache-inducing) spreadsheets, we were consistently shocked by one thing: the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Today, the Diamondbacks are sort of an afterthought. They've got three franchise-type players in Dan Haren, Brandon Webb (if he comes back healthy), and Justin Upton, but other than that, it's a fairly nameless collection of guys. We'd estimate that beyond those three, the only notable player on the team is Chris Young, and that's as much for his precipitous fall from a near-30/30 rookie year to being demoted to the minors last season as because of any skills. In terms of baseball news, the only truly notable thing we can recall happening to them is when catcher Chris Snyder suffered a rather horrific injury. And we say 'rather horrific' in a British-style understatement. You can read about it here, if you need a grisly reminder.
But at about the turn of the decade, the D-backs were just the bee's knees. They came into the league as an expansion team in 1998, performed about as you'd expect from an expansion team (65-97; only two games better than their fellow expansioneers in Tampa). And then...well, then they sort of lit the world on fire. What changed? Time for a history lesson, folks!
In 1998, their best-hitting regular was Devon White, with a whopping .792 OPS. Catcher Kelly Stinnett actually lead the team in OPS+ with a 107 mark that just topped white's 106, but in about half the plate appearances. The young Tony Batista (which is a weird phrase to type) was a productive bench bat, punching up a .519 slugging percentage, and...well, that's about it. As for pitchers, only Andy Benes and Brian Anderson made more than 30 starts, though Benes was slightly above-average (106 ERA+) in his appearances. Omar Daal rather improbably had 23 starts for the team, and was actually the best hurler of the bunch, posting a 2.88 ERA. Gregg Olson was serviceable as the closer, but the bullpen was certainly nothing to write home about. Like we said, they were an expansion team.
In 1999, we saw a revamped D-back squad. Damian Miller replaced Stinnett at catcher, Andy Fox and Jay Bell swapped positions up the middle, and Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley, and Tony Womack replaced the former outfield of David Dellucci, Devon White, and Karim Garcia. Jay Bell, Luis Gonzalez, and Steve Finley hit like men possessed by the spirits of better hitters, and Tony Womack stole 72 bases at a sublime 85% clip. They brought in a man you may have heard of by the name of Randy Johnson to head the rotation, and he did so admirably, striking out 364 in 271 innings, and allowing an excellent 1.02 baserunners per inning. Omar Daal regressed a bit, but was still a good number 2, and the rest of the rotation ranged from barely below average (Andy Benes' 96 ERA+) to playoff-caliber starter (Todd Stottlemyre's 113 ERA+). The bullpen was excellent this year, with no member that threw more than 10 innings having an ERA+ less than Byung-Hyung Kim's 100.
To quantify this change, consider the following: they went from 65-97 to 100-62, a 35-win turnaround. They went from being outscored by 147 runs, which was third-worst in the league, to outscoring opponents by 232 runs, the best mark in the majors by almost 60 runs and a turnaround of 379 runs. They increased their weighted On-Base Average by 39 points, and decreased their QuikERA by 76 points. Essentially, they improved dramatically in all facets of the game. How did they do it? By orchestrating a downright masterful offseason. Take a look:
Free agent signees: Randy Johnson, Steve Finley, Byung-Hyung Kim, Erubiel Durazo, Todd Stottlemyre, Greg Colbrunn, and other useful parts.
Trades: Traded Karim Garcia to the Tigers for Luis Gonzalez (which is still one of the more lopsided trades ever executed). Traded Jason Boyd and Paul Weichard to the Pirates for thief-extraordinaire Tony Womack.
And as if building a 100-win core through free agency and trades wasn't enough, they even drafted future useful players (albeit for other organizations) Lyle Overbay and Chris Capuano. Essentially what they did was to lay out the template for a team looking to get better in a hurry by making the right free agent signings and smart trades, and everything panned out for them – probably better than even they expected, for that matter. And of course they would then trade for Curt Schilling in the middle of 2000, giving them 3 ½ years of ace-level pitching and a two-headed rotation monster that would see them lead the league in QERA in 2 straight years and bring home the 2001 World Series.
To put this all in more modern terms, let's revisit the story of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. As mentioned, they entered the league with the Diamondbacks, and then did a great job of being terrible their first year and somehow managing to not get any better for 10 years. Which is really sort of impressive, when you think about it. They made bad free agent signings, short-sighted trades, and did a terrible job of player development...but it all changed in 2008, when they went from winning 66 games the year before to a league-leading 97 victories. Now, that 31-game swing was – and is, I guess – the largest of the decade. But it's less than than Arizona's 35. The Rays improved greatly on defense, and went from being outscored by 103 runs to outscoring opponents by 212 – a shocking 315-run swing. But it's less than Arizona's 379. And the only place they really improved was on defense; their wOBA went up by one (1) point, and their QERA went down by one (1) point.
If anything, the Rays' remarkable 2008 season should serve to highlight what was an incredible year by their expansion counterparts – a year that seems to go largely unnoticed today. Which is a real shame; the Diamondbacks of 1999 are perhaps the best single manifestation of the proverbial hope that springs eternal come March. Pirates fans should have this team's poster up on their walls; the Nationals should be worshiping at the altar of Joe Garagiola, Jr. The Diamondbacks came into the league a laughingstock, went home, tooled up, and beat up on everyone who'd mocked them the year before. And, really, isn't that what America is all about? You heard it hear first (and probably last): the 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks are America's Team!