Home > Baseball > The Best of the Aughts – Outfielders, Bench and Intangibles

The Best of the Aughts – Outfielders, Bench and Intangibles

As you know, I began the construction of my Best Alien Destroying Baseball team of the aughts last week, by compiling the infielders.  Today I continue the process by mixing in some outfielders and a sprinkling of bench, before icing on the pitchers next week.   Since I’m going to, once again, ramble on beyond the 2000 word mark, I think it prudent to avoid a lengthy preamble, so… its go time.

Left Field:

Did you know that Barry Bonds has the greatest WAR amongst left fielders over the last decade, even though he basically only only played in five seasons. Roids or no roids, that’s impressive. On the other hand, he was an ass and I’ve committed to the dubious concept that chemistry matters. So Bonds, with his exclusive corner of the locker room, lounge chair and private TV, is out.

The next two names on the list essentially played other positions. Chipper Jones amassed a very impressive 51 WAR for the decade and should probably have a place on the team somewhere, but he only played left field in 356 of his 2200 games. Lance Berkman had an even more impressive 53 WAR and spent a considerable amount of time in left field, but if we’re honest with ourselves, he was a first baseman waiting for icon Jeff Bagwell to retire, and as a one bagger, we all know how he lines up against Pujols.

The fourth name is somewhat surprising for how low he is: Manny Ramirez. Honestly, when I started this, I really thought that Manny being Manny would be an automatic distraction worth having. His quaint, spacey routine would be more than made up for by his massive production, yet during the decade his peak WAR was 6. Good, really good in fact, but Bonds’ peak WAR was 13, so suddenly Barry’s lounge chair routine is looking a little more quaint.

The only other name on the list worth considering is Carl Crawford, but despite being a big name for most of the decade, he wasn’t really great until the last couple of seasons. Before then his OBP spent a little too much time hovering around .333 for my tastes. However, if I am relenting on Mr Flax Seed, then I’m going to need a bench guy who can field for him in the late innings and maybe occasionally run. So Bonds* is my man and Crawford’s in as a late inning defensive substitution and pinch runner. I know what you’re saying, doesn’t that violate my rule of having stars on the bench, but I’ll go with one of Crawford’s younger years, say 2004, and that way he’s not a star, just a youngster bidding his time, while the elephant in the room rumbles his way towards the door.

*(What’s that? Does including Bonds mean that I have to go back and reconsider my exclusion of ARod? Well, if I’m being honest, I wrote this paragraph before I wrote the shortstop paragraph, which is, I guess, my way of saying… No.)

The big question for Bonds is what season we want to select. Our 2001 timeframe perfectly coincides with his explosion from top 30 player, to in the discussion as the greatest of all time. And yes, I think there’s no doubt that those years were, ahhh… enhanced, but as I noted in my introduction… YAWN.

2001 was the year that Bonds crushed 73 home runs and he also had an absurd .863 slugging percentage. After that season, nobody pitched to Bonds again and so by 2004 his OBP had surged to .609. Each of those numbers are the highest in baseball history, but lets put that .609 OBP in perspective: in the last 50 years, the closest OBP to Bonds’ .609, put up by a player other than Barry, was Frank Thomas’ 1994 season when he posted a .487. I don’t really know how to do math, but 609 minus 487 seems like a big difference… That year Bonds was intentionally walked 120 times. That’s more walks – of any kind – than Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez have had in any single season. Honestly, I don’t think it matters which of Barry’s seasons you select, but I just cannot get past that .609 OBP, so 2004 is my year.

Barry Bonds (2004) .362, .609, .812, 45 HR, 27 2B, 232 BB, 120 IBB, 41 SO, 129 R, 101 RBI, 263 OPS+, 12.4 WAR.

Center Field:

In the 90s this would have been a relatively easy decision, Ken Griffey Jr. led all center fielders by 21 WAR. Unfortunately, in the aughts the decision was not as straight forward. Nobody really stood out above the fray. Carlos Beltran was probably the best over the course of the decade and certainly he had some great years, but he also had some average seasons and he spent much of the last two years on the medics table.  After exploding onto baseball’s biggest stage in the 1996 World Series, Andruw Jones seemed like he was climbing the Hall of Fame ladder, but then he stepped on a faulty rung and tumbled to the cellar. Nobody was a bigger Grady Sizemore fan than me, and at some point it looked like he was making a serious bid as baseball’s best all around player, but sadly his career has been derailed by injuries and unlike either of the previous two guys, Grady had yet to peak. There were guys like Mike Cameron and Torii Hunter who fielded like Willie Mays, but then they hit like Willie Mays Hays. And, finally, there was Johnny Damon, who looked like Jesus, but threw like Mary. I might have picked him if he’d only ever been a capital “I” Idiot, but then he went to the Yanks, which I guess just makes him a small “i” idiot…

Really this is a two horse race, with everyone else looking up at Jones and Beltran. Neither inspires immense confidence in me, in part because neither had great control of the strike zone. Both were outstanding fielders, with Beltran winning two Fielding Bible Awards and Jones one. Of course, the Fielding Bible didn’t start putting out their awards until 2006 and I think that at his best Jones was a better fielder than Beltran. Granted, that’s largely anecdotal, but… yeah. Jones also had a little more power, but Beltran did almost everything else better. He ran extremely well; he had better plate discipline; he stole bases with an 88% success rate, while Jones stole with only 72% success rate. Clinching the decision for Beltran is that he’s a switch hitter. There’s nothing wrong with a little extra versatility.

Carlos Beltran (2006) .275, .388, .594, 41 HR, 38 2B, 18 SB, 3 CS, 127 R, 116 RBI, 150 OPS+, 8.0 WAR.

Right Field:

I sort of always assumed that I would select Ichiro here, because he’s such a dynamic, fascinating player to watch, but I thought that Vlad Guerrero would at least give me pause… nope, not really. Vlad the Impaler was the closest right fielder to Ichiro, but he trailed him by a pretty wide margin over the course of the decade. 8 Wins Above Replacement isn’t insurmountable, but when I factor in the extra gate receipts and jersey sales that including Ichiro on my alien destroying team will get me in Japan, it becomes an insurmountable cleavage (what, just because the world could possibly end, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned with jersey sales…). Plus, over the course of Ichiro’s career, when I’ve gone to watch my beloved Jays lose their seasonal two of three in Seattle (I don’t know what it is, but they always seem to lose two of three when I go watch them play the M’s), there’s just something dynamically fascinating about this small (comparatively) man who does not to run in the outfield so much as glide and whose arm is actually Thor’s hammer. Ichiro’s just a truly magical player to watch and so while he was overrated for a time there in the middle of the decade, there’s nobody I’d rather have laying down that little slap hit/bunt to start off our games.

Ichiro Suzuki (2004) .372, .414, .455, 8 HR, 24 2B, 262 H, 101 R, 60 RBI, 130 OPS+, 8.1 WAR.

Bench:

For the bench you already know that I want a catcher whose hands have been caked with so much spit and dirt over the years that they look like a Walrus’s doink, and to that aim, I think there’s only one house to look towards. Down in Puerto Rico, there’s a little house where they do nothing but grow catchers. One they grew to hit the ball hard and run like that Walrus. Another they grew to catch everything, but not hit at all, and the third they grew such that Goldilocks would want a piece of him: just right. The Molina brothers are to catching what the Jackson family is to crazy (what, you thought I was going to say music?) and while Bengie might be the biggest of them, Yadier’s the best. He’s Bengie’s equal (well, not really, but close enough) with the stick and he’s Jose’s equal (and then some) with the glove. Yadier is the best fielding catcher in baseball and has been since 2006 or so.  Before that Pudge Rodriguez was the best, but somehow – even in his late 30s – I don’t feel like Pudge is a positive presence on the pine. Yadier however would be a dutiful and productive player behind Mauer.

Next I need a couple infielders: one a big presence with the stick, the other capable of manning multiple positions. The first is essentially my DH, so he can be someone of significant stature. I don’t know if the intergalactic aliens use a DH, but I don’t want to be like the Phillies DHing Chris Coste in the 2008 World Series, so I’m going prepared with a significant bench bat (that’s what she said…). With that in mind lets look over the candidates.

I must admit that at the outset, much like I assumed that Manny would make the team, I assumed that Big Papi would have to be here, but… that’s just not the case. If we look at War Grid for the 2001-2010 seasons for DHs, Papi comes in third behind Vlad and Jim Thome. Now, Thome was mostly a first baseman and Vlad was mostly a right fielder, but there’s really nothing wrong with my DH being capable of manning a position. As I said with Carlos Beltran, flexibility isn’t just for gymnasts and politicians. Of course, if I open it up to guys who can actually field occasionally, then two familiar names emerge as contenders, pushing Papi further away from the prize: Lance Berkman and Chipper Jones. I did write about a thousand words ago that there should be a place for Chipper on the team and the same could just as easily be said for Lance. With 51 and 53 WARs respectively, they put a fair bit of distance between themselves and the other DH contenders, so lets drop Papi, Thome, and Vlad as too one dimensional (although I would recommend that you look at Thome’s last year in Cleveland… WaWa WeWa!) and focus on Chipper and Berkman.

Both are switch hitters. Both have excellent control of the strike zone. Berkman probably had slightly more power, although Chipper was a better base runner. Chipper can play all the positions that Berkman can, plus he can play third. Berkman has better nicknames: Fat Elvis and BIg Puma. Tough, tough call. I guess with Scott Rolen as my starting third baseman, having a second guy on the squad who can play the hot corner is sort of necessary, but it’s a wrench leaving a guy with the nickname Fat Elvis off the squad.

For my utility infielder, there’s only one option. He might have had the career year of career years, but in 2009, Ben Zobrist played in 91 games at second, 59 in right field, 13 at short, 9 in left, 7 in center, 3 at first, and – just for good measure – 1 at third. If that isn’t a utility infielder, I don’t really know what is. Add in that he did all of that while posting a .297, .405, .543 batting line and well, we have ourselves a grease-man.

I’ve already told you that Crawford will be on the team. Barry wasn’t a terrible defender in his last few years, Fangraphs pegged his Ultimate Zone Rating at 1.7 in 2004, which isn’t the Barry of his youth, but also isn’t Adam Dunn either. Still, Crawford’s a phenomenal fielder and obviously bobble-head Barry wasn’t the fleetest of men, so having Crawford to catch and run is an easy decision.

All of which brings us to our final spot on the bench. The flexibility provided by Zobrist and Chipper means that I have the freedom to use this final roster spot on a pure bat. Now, obviously I’d love to just pick Berkman, but that would seem to contradict my rule about using players who are actually bench guys instead of just stacking the team all star style. This means that once again I have to say goodbye to Fat Elvis. There is however another big time slugger who could reasonably serve as the last bat on this team’s bench. He’s widely regarded as one of the nicest men in baseball.  He’s a grizzled veteran, who once was one of the ten or so best players in the majors, but last year was a backup and just happened to post an OPS+ of 178 in that role. Yes, Jim Thome ended up starting for much of last year, but he began the season as Justin Morneau’s backup and was a beast once called upon. He’s the perfect compliment to the other guys on my squad and thus the final piece of the proverbial puzzle.

Y. Molina C (2009) .262, .366, .383, 6 HR, 23 2B, 45 R, 54 RBI, 100 OPS+, 2.8 WAR.
J. Thome (2010) .283, .412, .627, 25 HR, 29 2B, 48 R, 59 RBI, 178 OPS+, 3.5 WAR.
B. Zobrist Utl (2009) .297, .405, .543, 27 HR, 28 2B, 91 R, 91 RBI, 149 OPS+, 7.1 WAR.
C. Jones, 3B/OF (2007) .337, .425, .604, 29 HR, 42 2B, 108 R, 102 RBI, 165 OPS+, 7.9.
C. Crawford OF (2004) .296, .331, .781, 11 HR, 19 3B, 26 2B, 104 R, 55 RBI, 59 SB, 15 CS, 105 OPS+, 20.9 UZR, 4.4 WAR.

So, we know the starters and we now know the bench, all we need are some pitchers…

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