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The All-Time MLB team: Handling the outfield, and the Active version

What do about the outfield spots? And who’s be on the “All Time” team if we just look at currently active players?

MLB: Rockies vs Cardinals Photo by Albert Dickson/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

As mentioned yesterday, I’m heading out for a couple of weeks, so we will be putting this series in the fridge for a couple of weeks. But that’s not a bad thing, as I wanted to talk about what we should do with the outfield. Previous entries in this series have been solidly position-based, with the criteria that a player needs to have spent at least 50% of his time at the position in question. That’s reasonable enough on the infield, where most players - especially those of the very highest level - do tend to have a single, set position. That is not the case for the outfield, and in particular the corner outfield positions.

Here’s the most glaringly obvious of examples, to illustrate the potential problem. Babe Ruth would not qualify at an outfield position under these rules. Of his 2,436 career games, his biggest single location was RF, with 1,128 appearances - ninety short of making the grade for that position. LF adds on another 1,047, but there were also his games as a pitcher, center fielder and at first base to consider. He’s obviously an outfielder, and certainly deserves consideration for the all-time greatest. But how do we parse the numbers in a way that is fair and reasonable? I’m open to suggestions. A couple of ideas have been floated previously, so I’ll offer these up as possibilities.

Combine LF and RF into one position for qualification purposes. We’d keep CF separate, since that does seem to require a different skill-set. Once we have our list of candidates (maybe 10 instead of 5), we’d have a pair of polls with the same players, to choose the two who will fill the corner outfield on the All-Time team.

Keep the 50% level to qualify as an outfielder, but a player then goes into the slot at which he appeared most. For example, Babe Ruth would then easily meet the 50% measure, having played far more than that as an outfielder. But with RF his most common position, that’s the category into which he would go.

Drop the requirement for any one outfield spot to 25%. This would open the door for Ruth, though might be a little too broad. Under that qualification level, Robin Yount would be the 7th-best center fielder of all time by bWAR, sitting between Joe DiMaggio and Mike Trout.

I’m keen to hear what people think, so feel free to brainstorm thoughts in the comments.

One of the rules about the players we’ve been looking at for the team, is that the players are not allowed to be active ones. There has probably only been one so far who would have made the final ballot, with another perhaps in the conversation among outfielders. But I thought it might be fun to get people’s suggestions for the ACTIVE team. Note that this is based on career performance, rather than 2022 expectations - though now you mention it, the latter would actually be an interesting discussion as well. So, below is the team based on career WAR. Players qualify only at the position at which they spent most time.

Career Active Team

  • C. Yadier Molina (42.1 bWAR)
  • 1B. Albert Pujols (99.6)
  • 2B. Robinson Cano (69.6)
  • SS. Andrelton Simmons (37.3)
  • 3B. Evan Longoria (57.4)
  • LF. Brett Gardner (44.3)
  • CF. Mike Trout (76.1)
  • RF. Mookie Betts (50.0)
  • LHSP. Clayton Kershaw (69.1)
  • RHSP: Justin Verlander (72.2)
  • RP: Craig Kimbrel (21.9)

But in terms of picking the BEST team for the season (hopefully at some point) ahead, I’ve gone with the 2022 ZIPS projections, not least because they are easily filterable by position, etc. Look, I’ve got other things to do, y’know...

2022 ZIPS projection team

  • C. Will Smith (4.7 fWAR)
  • 1B. Vlad Guererro Jr (5.7)
  • 2B. Marcus Semien (5.5)
  • SS. Fernando Tatis Jr. (7.5)
  • 3B. Jose Ramirez (5.9)
  • LF. Juan Soto (7.7)
  • CF. Mike Trout (5.5)
  • RF. Aaron Judge* (5.5)
  • LHSP: Julio Urias (3.8)
  • RHSP: Gerrit Cole (4.8)
  • RP: Emmanuel Clase (1.6)

* = Fangraphs lists Soto at #! in both LF and RF, so I picked the best second-place player, Judge in RF being ahead of LF’s Joey Gallo (4.0)

If you were to assume a dream roster with the above 11 players (and, let’s assume filling out the rest of the spots with replacement-level ones), it would be worth 58.2 wins above replacement level. With that replacement level set at a .297 W%, the team would be projected to win 106.3 games. But you’d need to pay for such a high projection. Despite having two pre-arbitration players (Smith and Clase), and a couple of other (the Jr’s) on team-friendly contracts, the total cost of just those 11, using MLB Trade Rumors arbitration estimates, would be 167 million dollars for 2022.

So, what do you reckon. What changes would you make to the two teams above?