The B-Squad of the A-Teamby Brandon Isleib
April 03, 2008
The All-Star team is a veritable jambalaya of oddities: The starting lineup is picked by fans, every team must be represented, every position needs a backup... an odd mix, to be sure, but it's all in good fun, and it's still fun to watch for its best moments. Clearly, if you made a lineup of the best All-Stars, it would throttle handily any team it came across, a Dream Team of awesomeness that would pillage the league in good Viking fashion. (Maybe if they substituted Viking helmets for batting helmets... charging the mound would be quite the gory incident.)
But what about the Dregs Team? We know what the best All-Stars would do, but what would the worst ones do? In order to answer this, I've taken the All-Star team every five years, starting with 1937 and going to 2007, compiled the worst lineup that I could make from both combined leagues (usually by OPS+/ERA+), and guesstimated their chances of winning. (Note that I used 1963 instead of 1962 because they were still playing two All-Star games in 1962.)
An All-Star team is dragged down by four types of players:
1) The undeserving popular guy. Cal Ripken in his later years, Paul Lo Duca in 2006, Ozzie Smith over Barry Larkin in several seasons—you can put fans in the seats with these guys, but not home runs. This category also contains a lot of stars elected in years when they're injured or slumping.
2) The defense-first guy. Jim Hegan, Don Kessinger, Royce Clayton—a player who plays a position where offense isn't expected so much might make the All-Star team for leadership/defense/etc. These attributes are great, but I'd rather have the offense.
3) The fast starter guy. The guy who comes out of nowhere and goes back there right after the game. I used overall season totals rather than first-half totals, since we're comparing each team to the best teams on the year. Plus, it was a lot easier to look up quickly.
4) The mandatory selection guy. Mark Redman, Lance Carter, Jose Hernandez—somebody has to represent their team, and it's often not the best player but the player who's somewhat decent at a position the All-Star roster needs as backup (third catcher, fifteenth infielder, and so forth).
Most of the players on a Dregs Team are in at least one of the above categories. With that in mind, to the rosters... (Parenthetical stats are OPS+/ERA+.)
1937C: Luke Sewell (76)
IF: Ripper Collins, 1B (103); Burgess Whitehead, 2B (84); Billy Jurges, SS (102); Red Rolfe, 3B (87)
OF: Doc Cramer (82); Jo-Jo Moore (116); Pepper Martin (125)
P: Lee Grissom (114) relieved by Johnny Murphy (106)
Average OPS+: 97
A pitching staff of all Lee Grissoms wouldn't be too bad, but this team would face an uphill battle for a pennant considering that Pepper Martin is its best hitter. On the plus side, Rolfe drew 90 walks and scored 143 runs for the Yankees that year, and most of the team has a solid batting average, so you might wind up with an Angels-type offense overall. On the other hand, it's still below average, and the Yankees were sporting Gehrig, DiMaggio and Dickey, who by themselves could nearly score more runs than our lineup combined. This team would be decent, but nothing more than that.
1942C: Hal Wagner (74)
IF: George McQuinn, 1B (106); Jimmy Brown, 2B (80); Eddie Miller, SS (81); Arky Vaughan, 3B (100)
OF: Willard Marshall (97); Danny Litwhiler (109); Terry Moore (114)
P: Eddie Smith (91) and Sid Hudson (84)
Average OPS+: 95
With only three players even above-average, this is definitely one of the worst teams of the bunch. Most of these guys were normally fine, particularly Vaughan, but this was not the year. Smith and Hudson, pitching for the White Sox and Senators respectively, combined for a record of 17-37 this year; they'd have more runs to work with on this team than on their real ones, but Vaughan would have to be his normal self to keep this team from the second division.
1947C: Jim Hegan (88)
IF: Rudy York, 1B (94); Emil Verban, 2B (77); Marty Marion, SS (79); Frankie Gustine, 3B (102)
OF: Buddy Lewis (89); Bert Haas (91); Pat Mullin (127)
P: Jack Kramer (78) and Red Munger (123)
Average OPS+: 93
Well, at least you have a legitimate masher in Mullin, solid defense in Marion, and a fine pitcher in Munger. But the non-Ms are pretty bad. This was the first of 11 years that the fans voted on the starting lineup, and Verban and Lewis were two of the fan choices. Verban's year was patently strange: In 540 at-bats, he hit .285 and managed only 22 extra-base hits and drew only 23 walks, but he had an alarmingly low eight strikeouts, the post-war NL record for most plate appearances with fewer than 10 strikeouts. Rudy York had been a fine hitter up to this point, but he had hit the wall; he would play only 31 more games after this year, with no more extra-base hits. Really, I don't feel many extra-base hits from this team, or wins for that matter. Good luck pitching shutouts every game, Munger.
1952C: Jim Hegan (74)
IF: Whitey Lockman, 1B (109); Grady Hatton, 2B (76); Granny Hamner, SS (102); Gil McDougald, 3B (101)
OF: Carl Furillo (80); Jackie Jensen (114); Monte Irvin (120)
P: Jim Hearn (97) and Jerry Staley (113)
Average OPS+: 97
This team isn't horrible—just about every player has his use on defense or offense, and the pitching staff isn't a letdown—but it's not so great I'd give them a pennant. Pitchers and Hatton aside, this team was probably better in 1953 than it was in 1952. Still, it's not embarrassing in 1952, and so far that's saying something.
1957C: Hal R. Smith (78)
IF: Bill Skowron, 1B (124); Johnny Temple, 2B (94); Joe DeMaestri, SS (74); George Kell, 3B (116)
OF: Gino Cimoli (95); Charlie Maxwell (131); Wally Moon (131)
P: Early Wynn (87) and Johnny Antonelli (104)
Average OPS+: 105
This was the last year of fan voting for a while, due to the infamous Cincinnati ballot-stuffing. Ironically, given that only one of the Redlegs made this team, they weren't bad picks per se. Maxwell, Moon, Skowron and Kell make for a pretty good heart of the lineup, though what Joe DeMaestri is doing here is anybody's guess. (In his defense, he was hitting .288 in the first half, and he was playing for Kansas City; in his not-defense, he was Joe DeMaestri and very clearly over his head. He hit .204 the rest of the way.) Beating the Braves would be a challenge for this team, but they could probably hit the first division without much trouble.
1963C: Don Leppert (90)
IF: Norm Siebern, 1B (110); Nellie Fox, 2B (72); Luis Aparicio, SS (78); Brooks Robinson, 3B (91)
OF: Duke Snider (101); Stan Musial (115); Albie Pearson (132)
P: Jim Bunning (96) and Mudcat Grant (98)
Average OPS+: 99
Sort of the reverse of 1952: Turn back the clock on Fox, Aparicio, Snider and Musial, and you've got a much better team. With the 99 OPS+ and the league-average pitchers (though they're clearly in off-years here), this team should be right around .500. Easiest one in here.
There are two other things worth mentioning. First, who is Don Leppert? Leppert played all of 190 games in the major leagues over four seasons, starting at age 29. In the first half of 1963, his numbers were very respectable for a catcher, even if achieved in only 144 plate appearances: .262/.326/.431 including seven doubles and five home runs. In the second half, he hit .195, followed by .156 the next year; he was out of the majors afterward. His most similar batter is Humberto Cota. Still, in a glorious moment on a putrid team, here was his chance to shine.
Second, Albie Pearson's 132 OPS+ is, believe it or not, the second-highest figure in all these teams. I'm not so sure that I believe it.
1967C: Paul Casanova (84)
IF: Ernie Banks, 1B (113); Tommy Helms, 2B (80); Jim Fregosi, SS (125); Max Alvis, 3B (105)
OF: Ken Berry (96); Tommie Agee (105); Pete Rose (120)
P: Denny Lemaster (100) and Jim McGlothlin (105)
Average OPS+: 104
If 1963's team would break even, this one has at least a few wins on it, due in good part to the lack of a Hegan-style sinkhole in the lineup. This would be one of those teams that goes 85-77 and is "a player or two" away from contending seriously.
Just for kicks and giggles, this team has the Leppert Torch passed on; Casanova was the Senators' lone All-Star in 1967. Neither Leppert nor Casanova played in their respective games.
1972C: Manny Sanguillen (107)
IF: Norm Cash, 1B (129); Glenn Beckert, 2B (77); Don Kessinger, SS (89); Sal Bando, 3B (116)
OF: Lou Brock (115); Carl Yastrzemski (118); Al Oliver (125)
P: Pat Dobson (117) and Bill Stoneman (118)
Average OPS+: 110
At last we actually have a good team, winning at least one of the weaker divisions and probably a lot more than that. We're not catching any of these players in their best years, but put them all together and you've got quite a showing. This is also the third team since the fans got to elect starting lineups again; of this team, only Yaz and Kessinger were elected, so maybe the fans weren't too bad this time around.
1977C: John Stearns (111)
IF: Willie Montanez, 1B (99); Don Money, 2B (122); Bert Campaneris, SS (78); Wayne Gross, 3B (112)
OF: Jerry Morales (103); Ruppert Jones (111); Ellis Valentine (124)
P: Jim Slaton (114) relieved by Dave LaRoche (112)
Average OPS+: 108
Basically the 1972 team with a few points docked off everyone and some numbers shifted around in the infield; a few wins worse, but probably still good enough to head to the playoffs. The most interesting players here are Wayne Gross, a rookie who was hitting only .235 at the time (though with home runs and walks) and who didn't need to be representing the 63-98 A's, as they were already sending Vida Blue; and John Stearns, a good Met at a time when they were rare and a catcher who could push his OBP 100 points north of his average. He was definitely a useful player, overshadowed by Bench, Carter and Simmons and by the malaise that was the Mets. Had fantasy baseball existed at this point, Stearns would have been one of those sleeper picks drafted in the 11th round after all the high-profile catchers had gone.
1982C: John Stearns (116)
IF: Pete Rose, 1B (90); Manny Trillo, 2B (76); Ozzie Smith, SS (84); Buddy Bell, 3B (126)
OF: Ben Oglivie (118); Ruppert Jones (128); Dusty Baker (130)
P: Ron Guidry (104) relieved by Tom Hume (118)
Average OPS+: 109
Worse pitching, about the same hitting, better in the middle of the lineup but worse at the end, and you have a good team that might not have the pitching to go all the way. Oddly enough, we have Stearns and Jones returning, as well as Rose from 1967, though not quite as the same player. Stearns would get an elbow injury after the break that would kill his career; he played in only 36 more career games. Ozzie Smith was not the fans' choice this year—Dave Concepcion was—but Smith would be for the next 10.
By the way, Dusty Baker in his rookie year was eighth in the NL in OBP. I wonder how that makes him feel...
1987C: Bo Diaz (86)
IF: Pat Tabler, 1B (114); Juan Samuel, 2B (116); Hubie Brooks, SS (88); Tim Wallach, 3B (121)
OF: Jeff Leonard (106); Harold Baines (115); Dave Winfield (116)
P: Mike Witt (108) relieved by Jay Howell (71)
Average OPS+: 108
A very deceiving offense, as good as the last one overall but with no obvious studs. The bullpen could drag this operation down—Howell entered the All-Star game with a 4.86 ERA (and didn't need to show up just to represent the A's, since they had also sent Mark McGwire). Howell had to pitch in the game because it went to 13 innings, and he gave up the game's only runs for the loss. I sense many more late-inning heartbreaks for this team.
1992C: Sandy Alomar (74)
IF: John Kruk, 1B (150); Mike Sharperson, 2B (124); Cal Ripken, SS (92); Wade Boggs, 3B (96)
OF: Roberto Kelly (98); Ruben Sierra (117); Joe Carter (119)
P: Mark Langston (109) relieved by Lee Smith (109)
Average OPS+: 109
A solid team made worse by the fans (as they always did, they elected Alomar, Ripken and Boggs, but it wasn't a good idea this year) but made vastly better by Kruk's being the worst first baseman to choose from (other choices were McGwire, Will Clark and Fred McGriff). These hitters would hold their own without much trouble, though who would have thought that Mike Sharperson would be their second-best hitter?
1997C: Charles Johnson (113)
IF: Mark Grace, 1B (127); Tony Womack, 2B (81); Royce Clayton, SS (84); Cal Ripken, 3B (93)
OF: Steve Finley (110); Albert Belle (116); Kenny Lofton (119)
P: Jason Dickson (109) relieved by Rod Beck (119)
Average OPS+: 105
Better pitching, but a little bit of a hitting slump caused by the ever-popular Ripken and the dyspeptic duo of Womack and Clayton evens it out. Even though the numbers look like a good team, I still don't feel confident sending Jason Dickson and his 1.43 WHIP to the mound. Rod Beck's coming in a lot...
2002C: Damian Miller (94)
IF: Paul Konerko, 1B (124); Luis Castillo, 2B (95); Jose Hernandez, SS (120); Shea Hillenbrand, 3B (105)
OF: Robert Fick (109); Johnny Damon (109); Randy Winn (120)
P: Freddy Garcia (97) and Vicente Padilla (118)
Average OPS+: 110
Would you peg this team as having the best OPS+ so far? Me neither. From 1971 to 2001, only five different third basemen were elected to start for the AL: Brooks Robinson, Graig Nettles, George Brett, Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken. Hillenbrand was the fans' choice in 2002; is that as jarring to you as it is to me? If this game were a Friends episode, it would be "The One With the Tie Score," but at least the teams weren't bad. Seriously, though... Jose Hernandez and Robert Fick? It's amazing how competent a team can be if it doesn't have a gaping void at any position.
2007C: Brian McCann (100)
IF: Dmitri Young, 1B (129); Orlando Hudson, 2B (106); J.J. Hardy, SS (100); Mike Lowell, 3B (124)
OF: Carl Crawford (117); Ken Griffey (119); Alex Rios (122)
P: Ben Sheets (117) and Gil Meche (128)
Average OPS+: 115
No doubt a championship-caliber team, even if the offense is led by Dmitri Young. Not much to say here, since it was just last year, but this team would thoroughly whip any of the others on this list.
ConclusionThe evolution of Dregs Teams from pretty bad to championship quality happened for a few reasons:
1) Expansion upped the number of above-average players, so it was more likely that a bad team still had a decent player to send.
2) An increasing number of relievers were selected, which not only permits an array of dominant relievers from which to choose but also takes out most of the iffy starting pitchers.
3) Depth at catcher—i.e., more than just three who could hit in a given year.
4) As batting average became less overrated, players with empty batting averages were selected less often. A player like Wayne Gross was highly unlikely to make an All-Star team in the '30s or '40s, but at least he was a better player than Emil Verban, and it's those differences that make a better team.
As odd as some of these teams look, the later ones have some very nice OPS+ figures overall that most teams would love to get. It's very hard, of course, to construct a team that's 10-15% above average at every position, but you'd have a sneakily good team if you could pull it off.
I constructed teams only for the years listed above, but there's obviously a number of other interesting teams you could make. Regardless, it appears that the quality of the All-Star team has been improving for some time now, and last year was one of the best. Maybe the quirky roster restrictions aren't doing too much harm after all.
References and Resources
Baseball Reference was handy, as usual.
Baseball Almanac had the actual election results in its All-Star listings, so that I could tell which players were elected but were replaced in the starting lineup due to injury.
Brandon Isleib is a lawyer and writes about stuff sometimes. He can be reached via the electronic mails.