The all-decade team: the ‘00s

So you might be wondering why I’m breaking my rule of doing one of these teams per month and having a second consecutive all-decade team column. Well, the answer is that I was planning to do another “Throwback Thursday” yearbook column, but I’m having a bit of trouble obtaining the necessary yearbook. Instead, the best players of the decade just passed are stepping in.

This is the first decade, of course, for which I can well and truly remember all the time period that is being discussed. While I’d like to claim that my youth allowed me to remain free of any biases towards the earlier teams—though that’s probably impossible for anyone—I can assure you I’ve applied the same standards here.

Speaking of which, since this is the last column before the wrap-up, we’ll review those standards here, for old time’s sake. To qualify for any non-pitching position, a player must have played at least 500 games there during his career—though not necessarily during the decade in question. For starting pitchers, to appear on the team requires at least 200 starts in a given decade, for relievers, they have to appear in at least 400 games while starting no more than 30.
Having done that for the last time, let’s check out final squad:

Catcher: Jorge Posada
Coming into this decade, it might have seemed hard to believe Posada would end up as the all-decade catcher. The first year of the decade represented his age-28 season (by contrast, Mike Piazza had his age-21 season in 1990 and Gary Carter was 26 in 1980). In 1999, he hit just .245 and posted a worse-than-average OPS.

Posada overcame all of that to make himself a relatively easy choice for the position. He led all catchers in doubles and home runs, and had more than 700 walks—no other catcher topped 520. Among catchers with at least 700 games, no one had a better OPS+. He earned his value not just with consistency, but also reaching a strong peak, putting up three seasons with a WAR of 5.4 or better.

It is true that Posada was not a strong defensive catcher and—I say this as a Yankee fan—his base running was truly appalling. None of that, however, can outweigh what he did overall.

image
The man at the keystone for the ’00s (US Presswire)

(Incidentally, you know who is a really great, probably underappreciated catcher? Joe Mauer. Despite not debuting until 2004—and playing fewer than 700 games in the decade—Mauer accumulated more value than anyone save Posada and Ivan Rodriguez. If one is a strong believer in peak performance, there’s a case to be made for him having this spot.)

First Base: Albert Pujols
I know, can you believe it? Albert Pujols? Crazy, right?

Though there are a number of excellent players—Todd Helton, Lance Berkman, etc.—who qualify at this position, there’s no question that Pujols is the man. A brilliant hitter and strong defender from the moment he arrived in St. Louis, Pujols won three MVP awards, four Silver Sluggers, eight trips to the All-Star game, a Gold Glove and the Rookie of the Year award during this decade.

Writing these columns has presented some hard choices, but this is not one.

Second Base: Chase Utley
Among those players who qualify at second base and played in more games in the decade than Utley—who saw time in fewer than 900 games—are the likes Marlon Anderson, Adam Kennedy, and Ronnie Belliard. So how does a man who saw, relatively speaking, little action in the decade end up at the top of the list?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is that when he was on the field, Utley was excellent. He was the only second baseman to post a better than .900 OPS, and the only hitter within 65 points of OPS was Jeff Kent. For his part, Kent was generally regarded as, at best, a serviceable second baseman, while Utley’s defense was at the level that John Dewan—author of all three volumes of The Fielding Bible—once wrote an article for this very site about Utley’s defense titled “What Makes Chase Utley So Good?”

It is not easy to make a team without having played at least 1,000 games in the decade, but Utley’s combination of offense and defense lets him do it.

Third Base: Chipper Jones
Like Posada, Jones was 28 as the decade began, meaning that time was not on his side to earn this spot. As the decade went on, Chipper’s health did begin to betray him: after 2003 he never played more than 143 games and averaged just 111 in his final three seasons.

Nonetheless, when Jones was on the field, he could flat out hit. His OPS+ for the decade was 147, and he led the league in OPS and OPS+ in 2007. In fact, Jones had four seasons with an OPS of 1.000 or higher. Perhaps more impressively, he won the batting title in 2008 at age 36.

It is true that Chipper was never a great defensive player—he spent two seasons in left field in the early part of the decade—but not so much as overwhelm his greatness at the plate.

Shortstop: Alex Rodriguez
I suppose there’s no more controversial player—not even the man next on this list—than A-Rod. He started the decade signing the richest contract in sports history, and ended it being widely hailed for having finally come through in the clutch in New York. In between, he moved to third base, was involved in a PED controversy, signed the new biggest contract in sports history, and dated—if the tabloid press is to be believed—Madonna, Kate Hudson and notorious madam Kristin Davis.

Of course, none of that is why he takes this spot. A-Rod is here because he led all players in home runs, runs, and RBI. Among non-1B infielders, Rodriguez had the highest OPS and SLG, and was second in walks.

No one generates more controversy than Alex Rodriguez. But he’s here because few players generated more offense than Alex Rodriguez and none did it playing premium defensive positions.

Left Field: Barry Bonds
As I mentioned last time, I’m not interested in rehashing Bonds’ (or anyone’s) PED issues here and while I could rattle off his statistics, I really only need one number: 270. That’s the number of games Bonds played from 2005-2009, including none the last two years of the decade. In other words, Bonds was so good when he was on the field during the first half of the decade (and, to be fair, during the 2006 and 2007 seasons) that he won this position—and easily—over names like Manny Ramirez, Carl Crawford and Alfonso Soriano despite being a non-entity for three full seasons.

Finally, on what might be loosely termed a “housekeeping” note, Bonds joins elite company, as one of four position players to hold down the same position for two consecutive decades. The others: Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, and Hank Aaron. Pete Rose and Stan Musial also made consecutive teams, but did it at different position each time, which is arguably more impressive.

Center Field: Carlos Beltran
Several members of this team—Bonds, Utley, and some pitchers yet to come—earned this spot based on greatness in a handful of seasons. Beltran, though certainly the owner of some outstanding seasons, is here more for his consistency and ability to do many things very well. Case in point, Beltran is not the decade’s leader in hits, runs, doubles, triples, walks, or stolen bases among center fielders. But Beltran is the only center fielder to appear in the top five for each of those statistics.

Of course, Beltran was not just manning center field in order to get his bat in the line-up. He was widely regarded as a superior defender, winning two Fielding Bible Awards to go along with three Gold Gloves in the decade.

Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki
These days, as Ichiro enters the twilight of his career, is the owner of nearly 2,750 career hits, two batting titles, the single season hit record and a MVP Award, it’s hard to remember that his coming to the United States was widely seen as a risky move for Ichiro and the Mariners. ESPN’s Rob Dibble famously promised to run naked through Times Square if Ichiro won the batting title. (To his credit, he did so, perhaps giving to meaning to Dibble’s status as a member of the “Nasty Boys.”) Others claimed Ichiro was “kind of weak.”

image
Ichiro about to have one of his 4000 career hits (US Presswire)

Of course, Ichiro was none of those things, instead leading the league in hits six times in the nine seasons he played in the Majors. It should be no surprise that he was the decade’s leader in hits, second in average, and third in steals.

Starting Pitchers: Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Johan Santana, Pedro Martinez, Roy Halladay
The decade started pretty well for Johnson, who won the last three of four straight Cy Young Awards to open it, along with a World Series MVP trophy. He had some rough seasons, including a collective 4.37 ERA during two years in New York, but overall he was the decade’s leader in WAR and strikeouts, second in wins and third in ERA. Before we move on to Schilling, a quick note: Johnson is one of just three pitchers to appear on a team in multiple decades. The others are Pete Alexander and Bert Blyleven. That’s an eclectic list.

Like many of the players on this team, Schilling—a better pitcher than a video game company owner, obviously—earned his spot on the list thanks to his peak performance. From 2001 through 2004 Schilling averaged 18 wins, more than 250 strikeouts and a 150 ERA+. Collectively those numbers gave him nearly 8 WAR per season. Sxhilling was no slouch in other seasons through the decade (his 2006, for one, was All-Star caliber) but it is his four-year peak that allowed him to make the team despite not playing at all after 2007.

Among those pitchers who threw the majority of their innings in the American League, only one had more strikeouts per nine innings than Santana. For good measure, the Venezuelan left-hander also posted the second best ERA+ (and ERA) of the decade, among pitchers in any league. Of course, this should be no surprise from a man who won two Cy Young Awards in the decade and probably should have won a third.

I mentioned before that only one American League pitcher struck out more strikeouts per nine than Santana, and that just one pitcher had a better ERA and ERA+. That was the same pitcher, and as you might guess, it was Pedro Martinez. In addition to striking out more hitters per inning than anyone but Johnson, and leading the league in ERA, Martinez also had the decade’s best winning percentage. He was also among the league’s best in home runs and walks per nine.

After the 1999 season, it seemed reasonable to believe Roy Halladay’s name would be on this list. Entering his age 23 season, he had thrown more than 150 innings in the Majors with a 130 ERA+ and a 9-7 record. After 2000, it seemed he might not make it to 2001. Halladay’s 2000 was famously horrible—he posted a 10.64 ERA—but he rebounded by the end of the decade to be its leader in complete games and shutouts while finishing fourth in the league in wins.

Relief Pitcher: Mariano Rivera
I suppose this one is no more surprising than was Pujols. For the record, Rivera is the leader among qualifiers in ERA, ERA+, saves, BB/9, and HR/9. Put another way, on a per inning basis, no reliever in the decade allowed fewer runs, walks and or home runs and less than 20 struck out more batters while doing it. And for good measure, only David Weathers pitched more innings.

Of course, all this talk of Rivera’s dominance—and make no mistake, he was dominant—misses what was probably his greatest gift: consistency. Billy Wagner, Joe Nathan, Francisco Rodriguez and Keith Foulke, are, in descending order, the four men who follow Rivera on the ERA+ leader board for the decade. Collectively they had six seasons in the decade during which they threw 45 or fewer innings or posted an ERA+ below 140. Rivera never did.

Plying a trade in which pitchers burn brightly and then flame out, Rivera was a model of reliability. His dominance in any single year is worthy of praise, but Rivera has this spot because he could do it every season for a decade. No other pitcher could do that.

Manager: Joe Torre
The obvious contender for this spot would be Terry Francona, the only manager in the decade to win multiple World Series. But it is also true that Francona only managed for seven seasons during the decade, missed the playoffs in two of those and won just one division title. Torre, meanwhile, managed every year of the decade, won nine division titles and missed the playoffs just once. For good measure, he did win three pennants and had three seasons of 100 or more wins. And, of course, Torre continued to win even after moving to the Dodgers, averaging nearly 90 wins a season in LA.

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Comments

  1. Carl said...

    Richard,

    Wonderful article, as always.

    How do Jeter and Chipper Jones compare?  Would move Rodriguez to third and Jeter @ SS, but that leaves Jones vs Jeter as to who gets to play and wonder what there head-to-head comparison would be.

    Also – Manny Ramirez for DH?

    PS – Still Schmidt for 80s 3B.

  2. Anon said...

    Seems odd that LaRussa didn’t get a mention for the manager position. Won a WS, made it to another, 100+ wins twice, another 4 90+ wins, only one season with a losing record. He didn’t have a small payroll, but it was nothing near the Torre/Francona level.

  3. Barney Coolio said...

    I am surprised to see Alex Rodriguez at SS since he moved to 3b in 2004.  He does satisfy your “500 game” requirement. 

    You require position players to play 500 games at a given position, that works out to 3.1 full seasons.  Starting pitchers must have 200 starts in a decade to qualify.  That works out to 6.1 full seasons at 33 starts a season.  Seems inconsistent.

  4. Richard Barbieri said...

    Barney: A-Rod did actually play 500+ (actually, 600+) games at SS in this decade, but the rules say only that a player needs to have 500 games at the position in his career to qualify, not in the decade in the question.

    Both the 500 game and 200 start rule are designed to make sure that the player being selected for a position was well and truly having that skill. 200 starts is an average of 20 per season for a decade and if a guy played 500 games at a position he had to be, at least, passable.

    Being that I favor career length over peak performance, I would guess everyone who made these teams cleared those numbers with room to spare.

    Carl: My original version of this team had Jeter at SS and A-Rod at 3B, but Chipper just edges out Jeter to shift A-Rod over to SS. It’s really close though, you could go the other way without much complaint from me.

  5. Barney Coolio said...

    I guess I just misinterpreted these lists.  I thought you were naming the best players at each position for each decade.  In this case, players who are merely “passable” defensively at a position should not be considered. 

    But it looks like offense is the main criteria here.  To qualify at a position, a player only needs 500 games at the position, and not necessarily in the decade in question.  Chipper Jones played 707 games at 3b in the 1990’s.  He could have played 0 games at 3b in the 2000’s and still qualify at 3b for this list.  I think that is lame and I think that A-Rod should not be the SS for this decade.

  6. Bill Rubinstein said...

    The choices are good, as always. Glavine is notable by his absence from this or the previous list, also Jeter, and McGwire in the previous list. The obvious problem with decade by decade lists is the player whose career was good in half of one decade and good in half of another, like say Ralph Kiner. These columns should get a lot of readers interested in baseball history. You might go back and do the nineteenth century by decade, instead of combining them into one group; also the Negro League would be interesting. Best wishes.

  7. dennis Bedard said...

    A Rod at ss is very defensible.  He played third not because he was not able to play his former position but as a concession to the team.  He was perfectly capable of playing ss.  I always considered him a ss anyway and his move to third an aberration that allowed him to be a Yankee.  This choice is in stark contrast to putting Yaz at first on the all 60’s team. a choice that should be re-examined.

  8. dennis Bedard said...

    Can’t argue with these but Francona, unlike Torre, tangled with the existential and came out on top.

  9. Carl said...

    Hi Richard,

    Sounds like folks are demanding it.  Are you ready to repeat your series using mid-decades?  ie) 1975-1985?  Would help younger folks appreciate guys like Kiner.  Plus, I wont blame you when you put Boggs on 3rd for the 1985 – 1994 decade.

    Also, perhaps amend rules for the DH in the post 1975 decades?

  10. dennis Bedard said...

    Putting players and events in neat decade defining categories has a nice efficiency but it is misleading.  The habit is most pronounced in politics. But thinking of a decade means more than the numbers defining it.  Politically speaking, the 30’s started in 1929 and ended on December 7, 1941.  The 50’s started when Elvis and cars that looked like WWII fighter jets ran off the assembly line and ended on November 22, 1963.  The 60’s ended on August 8, 1974 and the 80’s began the day Reagan was elected and ended the day he left office. The 00’s began on 9/11/01.  For sports, I would say the 50’s started in ‘49 and ended when Koufax put the kibosh on the declining Yankees in ‘63.  The 60’s ended in 1972 when the A’s and their mustaches went on to win 3 in a row.  I would say the 70’s ended in 1983, when two teams, the O’s and Phils, so emblematic of the previous decade, met in the WS. We think of decades in terms of teams and personalities, at least I do.

  11. Barney Coolio said...

    Carl, cool idea.  And we are almost at the point to name a 2005-2014 team.  I was about to post my ideas for 2005-2014, but I’ll leave that to this feature’s author.

  12. R.CLYDE said...

    Seriously? Arod over Jeter as best shortstop of the decade?
    (At Shortstop)
    Games: DJ-1500 AR-633
    PA: DJ-6923 AR-2844
    Runs: DJ-1088 AR-516
    Hits: DJ-1940 AR-744
    2B: DJ-316 AR-125
    3B: DJ-27 AR-11
    HR: DJ-161 AR-197
    RBI: DJ-727 AR-527
    SB/CS: DJ-219/47 AR-59/14
    You may favor Alex Rodriguez as the best player of the decade but Derek Jeter was the best shortstop of the decade.

  13. Herb Smith said...

    Great articles. BTW, the idea of doing the Kiner-esque decade teams would be a fascinating one. Prolly the two biggest winners would be Mickey Mantle (1955-1964), Grove (late 20’s-early 30’s), and Lou Gehrig (who’s already well-represented.)

  14. R.Clyde said...

    Quoting you from your All 90’s Decade Team, where you justified Barry Larkin as your choice:

    “There are a number of shortstops who played at some point in the decade who were, candidly, better players than Larkin. This includes Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken, and Alex Rodriguez. Still, when it comes to the actual decade, Larkin is the man.”

    Thirty years from now objective baseball historians will be astonished at the level of bias against Jeter in his time.

    And they will wonder how (and why) on earth a baseball writer/analyst compared Jeter and Rodriguez as shortstops in the ‘00 decade and manipulated a decision in favor of the third baseman.

    They say time heals all wounds;and the judgement of history lasts a long time.

  15. Barney Coolio said...

    I’m a Padres fan and including “straddler” decades might help the Padres.  I think for the decade of 1985-1994, Benito Santiago would be the catcher.  And Tony Gwynn has a great chance at right field. 

    Gwynn failed to make the 80’s and 90’s teams.  For 85-94, he had 4 batting titles, 46.6 WAR, 5 gold gloves, 220 stolen bases, and 1842 hits despite the strike in 1994.

  16. Barney Coolio said...

    R. Clyde,  For the ‘90’s shortstop, the author should have just listed Larkin and not even mention Jeter, or Rodriguez.  They debuted way too late to even be considered.  Ripken has a case, but he really was bested by Larkin.  It’s not like Larkin won it by default. 

    I agree that Jeter should be the 00’s shortstop.  Choosing A-Rod is like naming Paul McCartney the best drummer of the 60’s.  Even if Paul’s better than Ringo, Paul didn’t do it, so you can’t pick him.

  17. Dennis Bedard said...

    He would be better than Buddy Rich, the best drummer of the 60’s, not Ringo.  But I love the analogy.

  18. bubba said...

    Arod was the best shortstop of the decade. It’s called rate stats gentlemen. We didn’t buerhle over halladay in the rotation. Arod is simply SO much better. As has already been mentioned, he moved to 3b as a concession to Jeter and the Yankees. He was a better SS than Jeter.

  19. Todd said...

    Say what you will about Jeter vs. A-Rod, but the author is a Yankees’ fan, he’s hardly likely to be biased *against* Jeter.

    The bias against Tony LaRussa, the true manager of the decade, shines right through, though =P

  20. R. Clyde said...

    I agree that Larkin was the best 90’s shortstop – apparently the considerations applied to the author’s Larkin selection of the 90’s did not apply to Jeter in the 00 decade. To me, Rodriguez was the best third baseman of the decade.

    Love the Buddy Rich analogy-although I personally love Nick Mason’s drumming, I’ll concede that Buddy Rich’s technical ability surpasses everybody in the 60’s.

  21. Barney Coolio said...

    Nick Mason of Pink Floyd?  He was probably good in the early days, but he is famous for not giving a crap in his later days.  Even if he was good as a youngster, he debuted too late for ‘60’s consideration.

  22. Barney Coolio said...

    Dennis- What?  Don’t worry about bringing Buddy Rich into the conversation. 

    The reason I brought up the Paul/Ringo thing is because way back in the mid 1960’s a journalist asked Paul, “Do you think Ringo is the best drummer in the world?”  Paul answered, “He’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles, I am.”  In this story, I think that both Paul and the journalist are being douchebags. 

    Are you saying that Hendricks is Ringo and Bench is Buddy Rich?  Honestly, who cares?  I am sure Buddy Rich was a better drummer than both Paul and Ringo.

  23. hopbitters said...

    (apologies for hijacking a baseball discussion, but I’m listening to The Roar of ‘74 as I read this and can’t let it pass…)

    If there were sabermetrics for drummers, Buddy Rich would be untouchable. He was a technical genius. Now, we’re talking about an art form here, so there’s a lot of subjectivity involved and pure technique isn’t the only consideration, but he wins hands down in that category. Rich = Ruth.

    Back to baseball. I’d give manager to Francona. And yes, I say that as a Yankee fan. He deserves it. And much more.

  24. Ian R. said...

    Alex Rodriguez played four full seasons as a shortstop in the decade. His total bWAR for those years was 35.9

    Derek Jeter was a full-time shortstop for the entire decade. His total bWAR for those years was 43.9. In more than twice as many games, he accumulated just 8 more WAR.

    A-Rod was so mind-blowingly awesome during his shortstop years that there’s a strong case to be made he deserves the spot over Jeter, and that’s without even touching his many excellent years as a third baseman that also happened during the decade in question.

    (It’s worth noting that the gap is significantly wider if you use fWAR instead of bWAR, but still, Jeter never came close to touching A-Rod on a rate basis.)

  25. Dennis Bedard said...

    Hey, I am sorry I brought up Buddy Rich vs Ringo Starr.  It is sort of like saying that because the Orioles beat the Reds in 1970, Elrod Hendricks and Andy Etchebarren were better catchers than Johnny Bench.  Somewhere in the netherworld, Buddy Rich is giving a big thumbs up.

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