Home > Uncategorized > The Best of the Aughts – Catchers, Infielders and the ARod Quandary…

The Best of the Aughts – Catchers, Infielders and the ARod Quandary…

On Wednesday, I introduced the concept of my best of the Aughts, taking on the aliens in an inter-dimensional battle for for our world. If you didn’t see it and want to know my groundrules, well, click here or scroll down. Otherwise, lets cut the chit chat and get to the action.

Let me say first that this project could not have been done (well, it could have but it would’ve involved far more work than I’m willing to devote) without two absurdly useful and amazing websites. The content at Fangraphs is intelligent and well written, but even if you aren’t interested in what Dave Cameron and his peops have to say, you should at the very least go there to look at their WAR Graphs and WAR Grid. Want to compare Honus Wagner to Derek Jeter? Or maybe Roy Campanella to Yogi Berra, or perhaps you just want to know who had the largest WAR amongst second basemen from 1946-1960 (Jackie Robinson, of course) WAR Graphs are the kind of tool that I can easily loose an entire afternoon to…

The other site is the incomparable Baseball Reference. Databases are dangerous places for simple minded boys with wandering attention spans. Our endless curiosity allows us to get lost in a never ending morass of information. And, when it comes to getting trapped, Sean Forman’s site is like falling down the Rabbit hole and emerging five hours later, bedraggled, drool pooled by the side of your mouth, and that hazed, slightly crazed look in your eyes. My wife loves it…

Anyhow, those sites rock and they made this task not just possible, but riveting. That said, lets get on with the show…

Catcher:

Without the wine cellar concept, Jorge Posada was fairly easily the best catcher of the decade, but this is a great example of the Mark Grace Corollary. He wasn’t as good as Pudge Rodriguez or Mike Piazza were and his isn’t as good as Joe Mauer and Brian McCaan will be, but the former were on the decline for this decade, while the later were barely past puberty when the decade began. Posada, a borderline hall of famer, was the only top flight catcher to really have the brunt of his career during the aughts.

I want two types of catchers on my roster. First, I want the Johnny Bench total package; good with the stick, good with the glove, able to throw out runners with a mere stare. For the bench I just want a no nonsense, catch anything, solid as oak defender. We’ll get to the bench player later, but the starter’s pretty easy. You see, there’s this catcher you might have heard of. He won the 2009 MVP. He should have won the 2006 MVP, and possibly the 2008 as well. In his six full years in baseball Joe Mauer has built a WAR of 33, holds an OBP of .407, and an OPS+ of 136. So, we know the boy can hit.

Catcher defense is, of course, hard to quantify, but nobody thinks of Mauer as Mike Piazza back there. Basically, what I’m saying is, that Joe Mauer’s the man, and while Brian McCaan’s been very good, Posada certainly will make a case for the Hall of Fame and Jason Varitek was so integral to the Sox’s dominance, none of them can do what that icon of Minnesota baseball can. Joe Mauer? Well, he’s the man.

Joe Mauer (2009): .365, .444, .587, 28 HR, 30 2B, 94 R, 96 RBI, 170 OPS+, 7.9 WAR.

First Base:

Really the easiest position to fill out in the entire lineup – except possibly for Mr. Rivera at the back end of the rotation. Albert Pujols’ career has been perfectly framed within our 2001-2010 timeline. When he debuted in 2001 he was playing thirdbase, but over the decade he would play almost 1200 games at first, so I’m pretty sure he qualifies as a first baseman.

In that first season King Albert won the rookie of the year, finished fourth in the MVP voting, and had an OPS+ of 157. In only one other year that decade did his MVP position and OPS+ dip to such pedestrian levels (2007, when he finished a ghastly 9th in the vote, perhaps because his 157 OPS+ was so boring). The other years, he’s won three MVPs, finished second four times and third once. Obviously, we could quibble over a couple of those seconds (cough-ryanhowardin2006-cough), but I’d rather point out that over the decade he hit 408 home runs, which even a math neophyte like I can tell you is an average of 40 per year. He also dominated the decade amongst 1st basemen in WAR. His 81 stands not so much head and shoulders above everyone else’s, as mountains above. Staring up at him is Lance Berkman with 53, a difference of 28, or three hall of fame quality years.

Finally, Pujols isn’t just a bat, he’s also the best fielding first baseman of his generation. He’s won every Fielding Bible Award for first baseman until this year’s. From the 2009 award,

What’s left to say? Four Fielding Bible Awards in four years. When Pujols first came up I envisioned him as what Miguel Cabrera is now: a great hitter struggling to find a position he can play well defensively. Albert played left field (not so well). He played right field (not so well). He played third base (not so well). Then he discovered first base and has been the best in baseball, both offensively and defensively, ever since.

Albert Pujols (2003) .359, .439, .667, 43 HR, 52 2B, 137 R, 124 RBI, 187 OPS+, 10.9 WAR.

Second Base:

Another easy one, which is good, because we’re coming up to some epic decisions. One of the wierdest things to observe over the past couple seasons is the way Phillie fans go nuts any time anyone points out that Ryan Howard isn’t the second coming of Babe Ruth, but they fail to realise that they have the modern version of Joe Morgan manning second base. Somehow over the last five years two Phillies have won MVPs and neither time was it their most valuable player. Go figure… it’s beyond my limited intellectual capacity to determine. Anyhow, despite not really getting a chance until he was 26, Chase Utley has an 8 WAR lead on Placido Polanco amongst second basemen and he’s also the only two bagger to have multiple seasons with a WAR of 8. Actually, only former Victoria Seals manager Bret Boone even had one season with a WAR of 8. Nobody else even had multiple seasons of 7. So yeah.

On top of that, while the Gold Glove voters (more on them in a minute) refuse to acknowledge him, Utley has the best +/- amongst all infielders over the last five years, won this year’s Fielding Bible Award and has finished in the top three four other times, so we know he can pick it at second.

Chase Utley (2009) .282, .397, .508, 31 HR, 28 2B, 112, R, 93 RBI, 23 SB, 0 CS, 137 OPS+, 7.7 WAR.

Short Stop:

Probably the trickiest position to determine, because the wealth of players who starred here from about 1995 until 2010 make the field messier than the streets of Dallas during Super Bowl week. Lets run through the candidates: You have the Captain, who for all his great leadership and intangibles only played for one World Series winner during the selected time span. You have two, perhaps less than deserving, MVP winners in Jimmy Rollins and Miguel Tejada. You have two defensive stars who played pivotal roles on World Series winners (Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria). You have Omar Vizquel who might be the best defensive shortstop since Ozzie Smith, but also might be the most overrated shortstop of the time period. You have two young studs (Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki) who only played half the decade, but did enough to qualify. And, oh yeah, you have a self flagellating, popcorn loving, mirror kissing, payroll abusing, massochist who moved to third three years in, but put up WARs of 8, 10, 9 before moving.*

*(And it should be said, after that long list of negatives, that he never really gets enough credit for changing positions. I mean by all rights he was the better defender and better player than Jeter, but the Captain wasn’t moving. Not sure what that means, but I’m just sayin’)

So, where to begin? Well, lets start by dropping Omar, because by this decade, his best defensive years were, if ever so slightly, behind him and my Grandmother swung a bigger stick. Next lets drop the MVP winners, both were very good, but neither were great. Then, lets knock off Cabrera and Renteria, because if Rollins and Tejada were very good, not great, then Cabrera and Renteria were good, not very good. Although before dropping him completely, I must admit that Renteria’s postseason resume gave me a good long pause. Three World Series appearances and more big hits than a 90s Boy Band. If I’d included 1997, he might just have jumped the que entirely.

So, by my count that leaves us with the two Yankees and the two kids. ARod has a massive, Pujolsian lead on the other three of WAR for the decade, but again he moved to third in 2004 and, well, he’s kind of a wanker. If I’m discounting Bonds’ accomplishments because he was an arse, then ARod has to go too. Gulp… ok, exhale slowly and scratch his 71 WAR from the roster… that might be dumb, but… Whew. ARod’s gone.

Then there were three. For all of his offensive gifts, Ramirez has been abysmal with the glove and while I know he’s getting better, that’s just not quite good enough for me. I know what you’re thinking, if I drop Hanley for his glove, how can I keep the Captain? Well, Jeter has (cough) won (cough) FIVE gold gloves, which is, ahhh… shit you have me in a bit of a logical quagmire. LOOK over there, it’s something shiny…

Anyhow, I’m left with two guys, probably my favourite position player when the decade began and probably my favourite position player when the decade concluded. Tulo’s a little injury prone, but Jeter can only field to one side. Jeter did it longer and probably peaked higher, but again Tulo can actually field in both directions. Jeter will bring Minka Kelly to the park, but then I heard her in an interview the other day and it made my head hurt. It’s a toss up.

Of course, if anything changed over the course of this past decade, it was how teams came to understand and appreciate the value of youth. Not just the hoarding of prospects, but giving jobs to young players, with fresh legs and fast hands. It was the decade of the kids. So, with that in mind, Troy Tulowitzki is my shortstop.

Troy Tulowitzki (2009) .297, .377, .930, 32 HR, 25 2B, 101 R, 92 RBI, 131 OPS+, 6.8 WAR.

Third Base:

Besides being the year that the Red Sox got the Yankee off their Back and finally won a world Series, 2004 should really be known as the year of the third bagger. It was the first season that ARod played third and he hit .286, .375, .512 while smacking 36 home runs. That only made him the third best third bagger in baseball. Scott Rolen arguably outplayed teammate King Albert as the pair of sluggers took the Cards to that fated Red Soxian World Series. When you combine Rolen’s work with the bat (.314, .409, .598) with his superlative defense, you could argue that he had the best season of any third baseman since George Brett and Mike Schmidt were terrorizing pitchers in the late seventies and early eighties. Except, of course, that Rolen wasn’t even the best third baseman of that year. That would be… wait for it… no, don’t rush it. Focus, you know this… Yup, Adrian Beltre. Beltre, whose defense is on par with Rolen’s* had the contract season of contract seasons. He hit .334, .388, .629 with 48 home runs. It was a massive offensive explosion and easily the best season amongst those talented third baggers.

* (and yet, he only has two gold gloves, or one less than Rafael “I won a Gold Glove for my outstanding fielding as the DH” Palmeiro. Just another shinning example of why the GG are to baseball awards what the Golden Globes are to Entertainment awards)

Still, I’m taking Rolen… why? Oh, I don’t know. It’s hard to quantify. Sure, he was a little more injury prone than Beltre, although he was also a little more consistent. But mostly, I just liked his intensity. Yes, he was an ass and he had blowouts with almost every manager he ever had, but he also brought the Thunder every night. I want a little of that brooding, barely subdued we better win or I’m going to castrate every one of you sons of b**ches with a bottle opener and the spoon from the buffet table.

Scott Rolen (2004) .314, .409, .598, 34 HR, 32 2B, 109 R, 124 RBI, 157 OPS +, 9.2 WAR.

Two thousand words on five positions… How Simmonsian of me. Oh well, if the internet’s good for anything, it’s allowing any blowhoards with a keyboard to wax not so poetic for an eternity about whatever quaint little concept interests him (or her). With that in mind, return soon to find out about the outfielders, bench, and pitching staff!

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