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Brantley's All-Time MLB Team Part 1: Position Players

This three-part series is inspired by Bill Simmons, who in Book of Basketball, described a great way to evaluate all-time teams. Let's say aliens invade and threaten to blow up the Earth, but they're going to play us in a seven-game baseball series to give us a chance to win back our planet. They give us a time machine and tell us to get whoever we want to fill out a 25-man roster (because I like 25 more than 26 as a number) as we see fit, with a group of players from across eras.

Of course, not only would we have to pick the player, but we'd also have to pick the specific season from which to pull him; a two-pronged dilemma that focuses more on players at the peak of their talents vs. their careers. The more savvy amongst you might think, "Wouldn't you just pick the best players from our current era and some steroid guys?" Yeah, if that scenario played out, that would probably be our strategy. But let's set aside the idea of human evolution, meaning players today are far more talented than the players of the past, and assume the aliens perform drug tests before this Universal Series, so to speak, begins.

So, without further ado and with those parameters in place, here's that team, beginning with the starting catcher position, and moving our way through the lineup from there.

All-Time MLB Starting Lineup

Catcher: Johnny Bench, 1972

Allow me to apologize to 1997 Mike Piazza for not putting him in the starting lineup, but we'll get to him eventually, as I feel our roster should have a backup backstop. So, let's focus on Bench's remarkable '72 season. Arguably the key cog in the Big Red Machines of the '70s, Bench had his best season without a doubt in '72. He won his 2nd (and final) MVP, 5th of 10 Gold Gloves, and was named to his 5th of 14 All-Star teams. His 166 OPS+ was ridiculous, and his 40 home runs and .370 OBP are nasty too.

Bench not only was a tremendous hitter but, as his 10 Gold Gloves might suggest, he was considered the top of the catching position defensively, too. He can also hold, like, 100 baseballs in his hand at one time, so that's pretty cool.

First Base: Dick Allen, 1972

What, two players from '72? I know, crazy right? But by golly, Allen had a good one. His OPS+ was a whopping 199 on the season, leading the AL in walks, RBI, homers, OBP, slugging, and (of course) OPS. I mean, the fact that this guy has been snubbed from the HOF is ridiculous (and in no way shaping my bias in including him here to push that agenda).

Defensively he's a bit of a question mark, as defensive metrics from back then are a bit tough to rely upon, and he didn't win any Gold Gloves throughout his career. But in '72, he was two runs below average at the first base position (they had him play a couple of games at third because that was where he came up playing, but he was pretty rough there, explaining their decision to keep him at first for most of the season).

Of course, you're not really picking a first baseman because of his defense, so we can excuse the late Mr. Allen for any shortcomings at the position because we know he'll be an absolute masher at the plate.

Second Base: Joe Morgan, 1976

I know what you're thinking; "Come on man, Rogers Hornsby had so many amazing seasons," and that's true and all well and good, but Hornsby seemed like an asshole, a real Ty Cobb-like figure, and that might be bad for team chemistry.

So, despite Morgan's dismay for advanced analytics (he'd have a hard time reading what I'm about to say about him, as complimentary as it might be), he'd be my choice for second base. Morgan in '76 was his usual self in many ways, providing solid value on the base paths, and being a competent fielder, and will draw a boatload of walks, sporting a whopping .444 OBP.

Morgan's big step forward came the way of power. He hammered 26 homers and led the NL in slugging and OPS+ with a 187 mark. For any position, that'd be remarkable, but for second base, it's simply unheard of in the modern era. Go get 'em Joe.

Third Base: Miguel Cabrera, 2013

Brooks Robinson, Miguel Cabrera is not. But Miggy's offensive output in 2013 was undeniable, not even looking at that silly little "Triple Crown" thing he won the year before. No, Miggy didn't get that honor in 2013, but goodness gracious, was he efficient in 2013? His 193 wRC+ and 8.6 WAR were both career highs, and despite not being nearly as good as MVP runner-up Mike Trout on the base paths or in the field, Miggy was a phenomenal hitter who'll be an incredibly valuable masher in the middle of this lineup.

Shortstop: Cal Ripken, Jr. 1991

Oh, Ernie Banks, how I so wanted to include you, but at least it's a departure from the '70s, in the form of Iron Man himself, Mr. Cal Ripken Jr. Ripken might be known as that dude who played a bunch of games in a row, but that's doing a disservice to what was one of the greatest careers any shortstop has ever produced, and '92 was his masterpiece.

He won the second of his MVPs that season, posting a 162 OPS+ and securing a Gold Glove for his usual stellar play up the middle (he was 23 runs above average at short). He wasn't a major threat on the basepaths, but his bat, glove, and arm played up so much that it didn't matter.

He also (if you're a believer in this kind of thing) held a bit of a "clutch" factor that year, with a 4.4 Win Probability Added, meaning he was responsible for adding 4.4 wins to Baltimore's season. Overall, Ripken accumulated a bWAR of 11.5 that year, good for 10th all-time and first amongst shortstops.

Left Field: Carl Yastrzemski, 1967

Couldn't go a while lineup without including one actual Triple Crown winner (as silly and meaningless as it is). Yaz is by far my favorite Red Sox player ever (I'm sure I'm not alone in this), and he'd provide some much-needed balance to what has been an unfortunately right-handed heavy lineup thus far. '67 was a magical run for a magical player, as Yaz put up some gaudy numbers in line with several other all-time great seasons.

His 193 OPS+ led all of baseball, won his third Gold Glove (the most accurate reading statistically for his defense had him 23 runs above average, although he could certainly be better/worse than the number would suggest due to the data being from the '60s), and his 8.5 Win Probability Added is filthy, most of it probably coming in September when he hit .523 (I know, batting average, yuck, but it's still a fun stat) for the last half of September, leading the Sox to an AL pennant.

To put a nice little bow on it, his 12.4 bWAR for the year is 4th all-time for a single season (first amongst left fielders, depending on what you call Babe Ruth), with Ruth holding the first three spots.

Center Field: Mickey Mantle, 1957

Oh, I desperately wanted to put Willie Mays'... well, take your pick season. Mays is my GOAT for position players in baseball, and if this were simply an all-time team based on careers, he'd be in this spot without question. But Mantle. Oh, man.

A switch-hitting bopper who was speedy, slick-fielding, and had a 221 OPS+ that year (which still trailed Ted Williams, who we'll get to in a second). Mantle mashed from both sides of the plate his whole career, and it's hard to fathom how good he could've been if he'd played just a bit more in terms of games and years played.

Without all that, just focusing on '57, Mantle appeared in 144 games, posted a .512 OBP (WHAT), and played his usual solid centerfield, ranking above-average for the season. Also, 9.7 Win Probability Added. No biggie.

Right Field: Stan Musial, 1948

Stan the Man was so remarkably consistent that it's hard to pick out a single season where he was better than the rest, but '48 was his best in many categories. From the 200 OPS+ to the as-always acceptable right field that he played for the season to the 8.7 WPA, Musial was just the Man. Again. Not much else to say.

Designated Hitter: Ted Williams, 1941

Boo, DH in an all-time team, boo. Yeah, I get it, but I couldn't exclude this season, but I also couldn't justify putting him in left, because good gracious, would he be a liability. And I care deeply about outfield defense.

But misgivings about his defense aside, Teddy Ballgame was robbed of an MVP in '41, but not in the "he should have won" way, more so in the "got damn was there some legendary stuff going on that year" way. DiMaggio won it, fair and square; he was one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game, he was an elite baserunner, plus that captivating hitting streak that no one will ever touch.

No arguments from me. But Williams had a historic season, with most people gravitating (understandably) to the .400 batting average. Perfectly acceptable, because that's mystical stuff. But my goodness, he had a .553 OBP. That means 55% of the time Williams came up to bat, he reached base. That's unheard of for anyone, but throw in his .735 slug and 147:27 strikeout-to-walk ratio (like what the heck), and you might forget about his batting average entirely.

Undoubtedly, the best non-MVP season anyone has ever had (and likely ever will have), but Williams is making this roster, not DiMaggio.

Starting 9:

  1. Ted Williams, DH

  2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B

  3. Stan Musial, RF

  4. Dick Allen, 1B

  5. Mickey Mantle, CF

  6. Carl Yastrzemski, LF

  7. Cal Ripken, Jr. SS

  8. Joe Morgan, 2B

  9. Johnny Bench, C

Some explanation here; Teddy Ballgame in the leadoff spot might be a bit controversial, but he's the best OBP guy on the roster and maybe of all time, so I just couldn't resist the temptation of having him up there.

Miggy in the two-hole might be a bit strange, and I genuinely contemplated having Mickey up there instead because the double plays Cabrera and Teddy could cause would be brutal. But I love Miggy's mix of extra-base power and his ability to drive in runs (that's a very anti-analytics way of looking at it, but getting Cabrera the most at-bats possible while not wasting his power with no one on makes sense, too).

From then on, the lineup is pretty self-explanatory; I attempted to limit the same-handedness hitting back-to-back to avoid allowing the alien pitching staff to settle into too much of a groove. If Cabrera proves to be a liability, we can always swap him with Mantle or be weird and put Joe Morgan up there (because Morgan is such a traditionalist, he could be a great bunt guy to get Williams over... just kidding).

Bench Players

Jackie Robinson, 1949

Two things I'm looking for for the bench: speed and versatility. Now, Robinson got caught stealing far more than my liking, even in his MVP year, but his defensive versatility across the diamond and ability to push the envelope with his athleticism is second to none.

Robinson also had a 152 OPS+ this season and had a whopping 17 sacrifice hits (I know bunting is a sin, and I'm not saying he'd be doing a whole lot of it, but it's still nice to have that skill set in your back pocket when the fate of the world is on the line).

Rickey Henderson, 1990

The fun part of me wanted to include Henderson's '83 season when he was a ridiculous 14 runs above average on the base paths (despite stealing his record-setting 130 bags the year before, he was also caught 42 times as opposed to 19 in '83), but why get too cute?

Henderson was not only a threat on the bases in '90, as always, but he had one of the best seasons ever when you factor in his bat. The 190 wRC+, 8.8 base running runs above average, and 9.3 fielding rate helped him toward a 10.2 win season.

Sure, his base stealing wasn't as otherworldly as in previous seasons, but he still nabbed 65 bags, and why pass on the ridiculous hitting he was putting up, allowing us to be more aggressive in deploying Henderson as a pinch runner due to his bat not being as big of a fall off as in previous Henderson years.

Tim Raines, 1985

Raines and Henderson off the bench is simply phenomenal. Raines was every bit of the base stealer Henderson was, and some might argue he was even better due to his efficiency numbers (AKA he didn't get caught nearly as much).

The now-Hall of Famer was at his best in '85, with his usual eye-popping 70 stolen bases and 149 wRC+, a career-high, making him a 7.2-win player for the season. Raines also played a really good left field that year and could potentially slide to second in a pinch.

Joe Mauer, 2009

Sure, accuse me of recency bias with this pick since Mauer was just elected into the hall, but he solves multiple problems: a great left-handed bat off the bench, another defensive stalwart behind the plate, and someone who could even platoon with Bench if things get weird and intense.

Mauer was not only the batting champ, the MVP, and a Gold Glove winner, but he was an elite player this year, accolades aside.

His .444 OBP will be incredibly valuable coming off the bench if we need a guy to get on and get pinch run for by any of the other three bench guys. I love the balance Mauer would bring to this bench, and the team as a whole.

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