Saturday, September 19, 2009

Team of the Decade(s)

Well, with the 2009 baseball season nearing an end, pundits everywhere are proposing their "Team of the Decade". So here's mine:

C: Jorge Posada
1B: Todd Helton
2B: Jeff Kent
3B: Chipper Jones
SS: Derek Jeter
OF: Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Vlad Guerrero
DH: David Ortiz
SP: Roy Halladay, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana
RP: Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan

Before the bickering starts over who should be on the team instead, let me say that I computed these players. I went over to FanGraphs and grabbed the wRAA (Runs Above Average) for batters and WPA/LI (Situational Wins) for pitchers (see FanGraphs for more info). I chose those because:
  1. I wanted something I could quantify for each year
  2. I wanted a counting stat (like HR) not a rate stat (like AVG) so it would measure overall impact and not require a threshold like the best player with 2000+ at bats.
  3. I wanted it to be a comparison of above average performance to measure the stellar nature, not just their usefulness.
  4. And, as you'll see later, I wanted it to span quite a number of years, so I could look back at previous decades.
The downsides of these stats are:
  1. They don't count fielding prowess.
  2. They only go back to 1974.
So, the kicker in this was I didn't just calculate the best players of the 2000's, or just the best players of the 80's and 90's. I calculated the best players of every decade. In other words, I can show you who the best first baseman in the 10-year-span of 1992-2001 (hint: it's not the 1B of the 90's: Frank Thomas).

And here are the pitchers:

First, a few notes:
  • The year on the left represents the first year of the decade in which these players were the best. For example, Gooden was the best pitcher in the 1978-1987 decade.
  • From 2001 on, the player listed represents the best performance from that year to the present day. For example, Lincecum was the best pitcher from 2008 to present.
  • I chose to list the outfielders as the top 3 instead of listing LF, CF, and RF individually for this chart, as I felt that was more representative. I computed both, and as a point of comparison, in that version Manny Ramirez only showed up in 2003, 2004, and 2008, simply because he was competing with Bonds and Holliday for best left fielder.
  • For the pitchers graph, I listed the top starter, then expanded it to the top 5. These top 5 aren't in order of 1-5, but are grouped so as to show each pitcher's range of dominance. I did the same with relievers (showing the best, then the top 2).
  • Because it was impossible to keep pitchers in the same column, I color-coded all the pitchers that had multiple stints in the top 5, so as to make it easier to find them. For example, Mike Mussina is one of the top 5 in the decades starting in 1988, 1992, 1994, and 1998.
Now for the interesting tidbits:
  • I was so struck by the occurrence of hall-of-famers that I shaded all of them orange. Understandably, there aren't many who played their best ball in decades starting in the 90s, as most likely they're not even eligible for the Hall yet. But there is a WHOLE LOT of orange in the top of the graph. Which makes players like Evans and Raines stand out all that more. (What happened to the outfielders in the late 80s / early 90s? There's Henderson and Puckett, and that's it. Hello! Anyone out there?)
  • The only two hall-of-famers covered by this era that didn't make the chart are Tony Gwynn and Ozzie Smith. Gwynn had three decade entries as the top right fielder (85-87), but was effectively outdone by a second left fielder named Rickey Henderson. Ozzie Smith didn't make it at all... in fact, he never finished higher than 4th in any decade, behind Cal, Barry Larkin, and Alan Trammell. Of course, as mentioned above, this stat doesn't count fielding, which is what makes the Wizard so dominant of a shortstop.
  • In a similar fashion, looking down the list on both sides, it's easy to pick out the future hall of famers (steroids scandals not-withstanding): Piazza, Thomas, Kent, Chipper, A. Rod, Bonds, Manny, Clemens, Maddux, Pedro, Rivera, etc.
  • The vast ranges of dominance stood out to me, too. Bonds, Manny, Chipper, Boggs, Henderson, Murray, A Rod (at 2 positions), Clemens, Johnson, Schilling, Maddux, Pedro, and Rivera(!) all had such a longevity of being at the top of their game.
  • One interesting side-effect of this is that a player's decade of dominance can start even before they started playing. Cal Ripken was the best shortstop in the 1979-1988 decade, though he didn't start playing until 1981. Gooden and Clemens each pitched their first Major League game in 1984, yet they were the best starter in the decades starting 1978-1983.
  • I wonder if the most common Jim Rice argument (a decade+ of dominance) will translate to other borderline players, such as Blyleven: the best pitcher from 1977-1986.
Some unsung heroes:
SP: Saberhagen, Stieb, Cone, Kevin Brown, Halladay, Oswalt
RP: Henke, Foulke (remember how dominant he was)
C: Tettleton?!
IF: Bagwell, Biggio, Larkin
OF: Dwight Evans, Raines, Larry Walker, Matt Holliday, Adam Dunn

This was a lot of fun for me to do (yes, you should know by now I'm weird). Now, the next time someone argues that Beltran is the CF of the 2000's, I can say that if it were 2001-2009, I'd agree, but 2000 puts Jim Edmonds over the top.

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