I already covered the all-time two-first-names team as well as a wrap-around team in which each last name was the first name of another player. Now let’s look at a roster of active players sharing this distinction.
When it comes to what last names count as first names, the “rules”—if you want to call them that—are flexible and applied a bit haphazardly. And judging which two-first-name player is the best at his position certainly can be debatable. Heck, half the fun of an article like this is the conversation it initiates (and hopefully some of the links).
Generally, I’m going for career value here, so while some Boston fans no doubt think Jackie Bradley is going to be the next Fred Lynn, for now let’s evaluate the players on what they’ve actually done.
With those preliminaries out of the way, let’s get to the team.
Catcher: Russell Martin
Martin burst on the scene in 2006 with the Dodgers, reaching double digits in homers and steals and batting .282/.355/.436, good enough to garner some Rookie of the Year votes. After two more strong, All-Star-quality seasons, Martin’s performance began to slip, eventually leading to his departure from LA.
Penning a pact with the Yankees, Martin regained his power, but the batting average did not return, though he still maintained solid plate discipline. When New York couldn’t afford to re-sign him (?!?!?), Martin took his talents to Pittsburgh, where’s he’s keeping up his late-20s performance.
First base: Allen Craig
Craig hasn’t had a very long career, but he wins this spot by default. Not that his performance is anything to complain about. Craig doesn’t walk much, but his .311 career average and .508 slugging percentage help make up for that. His home run production is a bit down this season, but he’s still posting a 140 OPS+ and is in the National League’s top five in RBIs, easily on his way to a career-best mark in that category.
Craig made his first All-Star team this year, and with a long-term pact signed, he looks to be plying his trade in St. Louis for another five seasons at least. And his price tag is much lower than the guy he replaced for similar production.
Honorable mention: None. Seriously, I couldn’t find another first baseman, though there are a few guys who have played some games there.
Second base: Mark Ellis
The steady-but-unspectacular Ellis was a fixture in Oakland for most of a decade, vacillating between a slightly above-average stick and one that played well for a second sacker. Between his defense and position expectations, Ellis compiled over 25 WAR for the A’s, reaching 4.0 or more three different times.
A bit of a late bloomer who entered the majors at the age of 25, Ellis may be starting to slow down, but he’s still good enough to hold down a starting gig on a team with a payroll over $200 million. He may not be the type of player who puts a team over the top and into the postseason, but he’s also not going to be someone to hold his team back.
Shortstop: Stephen Drew
What looked like a breakout year for Drew in 2008—during which he hit .291/.333/.502 with 21 homers—now seems more like his peak. He had another strong year in 2010, but then came the mid-2011 knee injury that felled Drew for roughly one year.
He returned to action the next season long enough to intrigue the A’s, who didn’t see enough to outbid the Red Sox last offseason. In a winter with few free agent shortstops, Boston gave Drew a guaranteed $9.5 million. Not bad for mediocrity.
Brendan Ryan, who has a higher rWAR than Drew but a lower fWAR, could have been the choice here. However, Ryan derives much of his value from his defense. And while he’s terrific with the glove, quantifying that value is less certain, so I’m going with the greater certainty of the better bat.
Honorable mention: Ryan was the only other option.
Third base: Juan Francisco
Slim pickings here, with Francisco and his southpaw-fearing bat taking the prize. However, if you can find a good hot-corner bat to face lefties, Francisco is a very solid platoon option.
While he has “hit” .115/.148/.154 (yes, that’s a .302 OPS!) against lefties, Francisco’s bat comes alive when there’s a right-hander on the bump, with his triple-slash line surging to .272/.337/.495.
The total packing works out to an rWAR of 1.2 and fWAR of 1.8. That’s not impressive, but it’s the best there is at third base on this team.
Honorable mention: Chris Nelson can’t even match Francisco’s low standard, as Nelson has a below-replacement-level performance for his career.
Left field: Alex Gordon
Several solid choices here—the most of any position—but the winner is Gordon, who started his career slowly after a ton of hype but has cranked up his performance the last three seasons.
After failing to top a .260 average his first four years, he’s been above .280 each of the last three seasons. Gordon has upped his power and patience, too, though much more than 20 long balls probably will remain beyond his reach.
Since he’s now in his age-29 season and somewhat off his 2011-12 pace, we many have just witnessed Gordon’s best years, but his contract is going to keep him in KC for at least a few more years. Gold Gloves and All-Star Games are starting to share sentences with his name, so while he’s unlikely to become the superstar he initially was forecast to be, Gordon is a very solid player for the Royals to continue building around.
Center field: Austin Jackson
It’s kind of easy to be overlooked when you play with a Triple Crown-winning hitter monster, a Cy Young-winning flamethrower and a vegetarian, second-generation masher. However, Jackson has held his own among his Tigers teammates.
He generally hits for a good average, takes a decent number of walks, bops some homers, and swipes some bags. He’s never won a Gold Glove, but he’s held down the fort in Detroit’s center field and is still young enough to chase down plenty of fly balls.
His low salaries to this point have helped Detroit sign their Big Three, though Jackson certainly is looking to get paid as he plays through his arbitration years. When Victor Martinez‘s deal is over after the 2014 campaign, it would be reasonable to reallocate those funds to keeping Jackson around.
Right field: Torii Hunter
Flanking Jackson on his left is former center fielder Hunter, who has been a strong, steady performer for the last 15 years. Hunter has topped 20 homers 10 times and over 300 total in his career, and he has swiped double-digit bases on eight occasions. His OPS+ has been above 100 each of the past 10 seasons and 12 of 13, with the exception being a 98 mark in 2003.
In addition to his objective accomplishments, Hunter has receive nine Gold Gloves, five All-Star selections and a Silver Slugger and has collected MVP votes in two seasons.
Designated hitter: Luke Scott
This is another victory by acclamation. With no competition, Scott claims a roster spot with decent offensive output that fits into Tampa Bay’s budget.
After consecutive seasons with batting averages in the .220s, Scott is hitting .273/.360/.479 so far in 2013. That’s rather bland, fitting for a guy who hits in the Rays’ stark ballpark.
Honorable mention: Unless parents started naming their children Ortiz, there’s nobody.
Our five-man rotation is highlighted by Cliff Lee, a strong anchor on just about any squad. Lee is a classic late bloomer. He was a middling starter for the Indians for several seasons before having things fall apart in 2007, when his ERA skyrocketed to 6.29.
Somehow, Lee rebounded the next year to lead the league in wins (going 22-3), ERA (2.54), ERA+ (167), and walks-per-nine (1.4). This stellar performance earned him a Cy Young award and put him in a price bracket that led to his departure from Cleveland.
Oddly, one of the game’s best pitchers would begin a journey that had him pitch for four teams—Cleveland, Philadelphia, Seattle and Texas—in two seasons. Perhaps even more amazingly, virtually none of the players Lee was dealt for has amounted to much of anything.
Lee returned to the Phillies on a long-term deal, finally giving him a sense of stability, where he has continued to pitch consistently well, even if his win totals—17 in 2011, six in 2012, 10 so far in 2013—belie that fact.
Jon Lester has been around longer than I realized, breaking into the bigs in 2006 as a 22-year-old. It took him a couple of partial seasons to settle in, but then he really took off, winning 15 or more games in four consecutive seasons with an ERA under 3.50 every year.
Whether those innings took their toll or he’s just having a bad stretch, Lester’s ERA has been more than a run higher in 2012 and ’13. Boston is succeeding this year despite his midseason slump, but I’m sure Red Sox fans are hoping the Lester of years past will re-emerge.
There’s a tightly bunched group of hurlers in the 14-15 rWAR range, though fWAR sees a significantly larger spread. Using both values to select the No. 3-5 starters, we have this trio:
Ervin Santana has had what we might call an eclectic career. He was terrific in 2008, decent in 2006 and 2010-11, and is having another nice season this year. Mixed in with that are some stinker seasons, including last year’s 75 ERA+ campaign. Still, he’s won over 100 games with that 99 career ERA+.
Gavin Floyd is out for the year, but his utterly average 100 ERA+ shows that he’s been serviceable over the last decade, primarily between 2008 and 2012. It will be interesting to see what kind of contract he signs as a free agent this winter.
Most of his value was accumulated in 2010 and 2011, but at least C.J. Wilson sports a career 120 ERA+. He’s reached double-digit victories for the fourth straight year, and his hefty contract will keep him in the Angels’ rotation through at least 2016.
Honorable mention: Along with a few veterans, there are several young pitchers who fit on this team and may lead it in a few years, particularly members of the St. Louis Cardinals. The next-generation staff includes Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Matt Harvey, Gerrit Cole, Edwin Jackson, Homer Bailey and Clayton Richard.
Relief pitcher: Joe Nathan
Nathan was a solid setup man in San Francisco for a few years before being dealt to Minnesota as part of the (in)famous A.J. Pierzynski deal. He immediately was thrust into the closer role and thrived. Before faltering in 2011, Nathan’s worst ERA+ was 166, and his best was 316.
Relievers generally can have only so much impact during the season, but Nathan’s excellent performances and the leverage of the situations he was put in led to him repeatedly having seasonal rWAR values around 3.0. After another “down” year (159 ERA+) in 2012, he’s back to his usual excellence this season.
References & Resources
Thanks, as is often the case, to Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.