The all-month team: Best of the best

Here we are at last. 12 months later and we have teams for each month, as unveiled through the year. As you can see, I’ve provided a convenient table with a listing of all the teams but if you would like to see each team outlined, the links are at the end of the article. Without any further ado, we will begin finding the “best of the best” for several categories, culminating in the unveiling of the best team.

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Worst Player: Lonny Frey

I suppose it is unkind to do a Worst Player section, particularly since I’m not doing a Best Player one. But the best player individually is rather boring to write about, and—regardless of whom I choose from the likes of Barry Bonds, Walter Johnson or Willie Mays—someone you have already heard about extensively. And of course, the Worst Player on an All-Month team is still, by any standard, a very good Major League Player.

Nonetheless, someone has to be worst and that unfortunate honor falls to Lonny Frey. As I said, Frey is still a very good player—a three-time All-Star and comfortably one of the best 40 or 50 second baseman to ever play the game. When compared to the game’s all-time greats, though, Frey comes up short.

(Incidentally, I excluded the closers from this conversation; their role is so specialized it doesn’t really do to compare them to anyone else. It probably goes without saying, but just in case, Frey is, at least in value terms, a superior player to the likes of Francisco Cordero or Doug Johns.)

Best Infield: September

The other serious contender here is May, which has four players who have Hall of Fame credentials, plus a one-time Most Valuable Player. That’s not enough to overtake September though. You could make a very good argument that with Mike Piazza, Joe Morgan and Mike Schmidt, September saw the birth of the best player at three of the five infield positions. (I’m aware that a catcher is not usually characterized as an “infielder,” but for the sake of argument, I’m including them here.)

Piazza is probably the most questionable of the group, but at the very least he is certainly the greatest offensive force to ever play catcher. Morgan and Schmidt, meanwhile, have a combined five MVP and 15 Gold Glove awards between them.

Of course, that alone would not be enough to give September the spot were those three positions the only strength of the infield. Instead, September sees Hall of Fame level talent at first base with Rafael Palmeiro (carrying the PED-burden of course, but still just one of four players—along with Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Eddie Murray—to have 3,000 hits and 500 home runs) and shortstop where Robin Yount is himself a Hall of Famer, two-time MVP and a Gold Glove winning shortstop. No month can top that.

Best Outfield: December

The three best outfields, in ascending order belong to September (Tim Raines, Duke Snider, Roger Maris), May—(Al Simmons, Willie Mays, Reggie Jackson) and, at the top, December. It is a very, very close thing between May and December, but ultimately the final month of the year took it.

It seems almost odd for Rickey Henderson, a man so famous for leading off, to be born in the last month of the year. Nonetheless, you don’t need me to tell you about Henderson’s greatness (the all-time SB leader, 1990 AL MVP, all-time runs scored leader, etc. etc.) but suffice it to say that it takes a special player to be better than Al Simmons in left field—Rickey is such a player.

On the subject of special players, there are few who could lay any claim to being Rickey’s superior at running the bases, but Ty Cobb is one of them. Cobb’s own greatness needs no repeating, so we can move on to Al Kaline. There aren’t many outfields where he could be called the weak link, but such is the greatness of December. Of course, as weak links go, there are few stronger than Kaline, who won 10 Gold Glove Awards, the 1955 AL batting title and was named to 18 All-Star games.

Best Pitching Staff: November

There’s a lot of great pitching staffs to be had on these teams. March has the winningest pitcher in baseball history along with Lefty Grove, arguably the greatest ever. And that’s just two arms on a staff that includes two future Hall of Famers and Kevin Brown, one of the great underrated pitchers in baseball history.

April, meanwhile, can counter with a starting rotation consisting entirely of Hall of Famers and those soon to be inducted, who averaged more than 325 wins in their careers. The April starting rotation features a ridiculous 36 All-Star appearances, with another one from closer John Hiller for good measure.

Despite all that, it is November which reigns supreme. November’s ace is Walter Johnson, twice voted MVP, and a man who surely would have won several Cy Young awards had they been giving them out when he played. Meanwhile, the number two is Tom Seaver, a man who does have several Cy Young awards. Add in the likes of Bob Feller and Gibson and you have an incredible rotation before even considering Curt Schilling.

What pushes November over the top, however, is that in addition to the amazing starting rotation, they have Mariano Rivera as the closer. Being able to start and end games with the greatest pitcher to ever fill those roles makes November a clear choice for best staff.

Second Best Team: May

By the standards of the All-Month teams (but only by those standards), May has something of an ordinary pitching staff. As a rule, their pitchers have a brilliant peak, but a relatively undistinguished career otherwise. Ed Walsh did win 40 games in a season and almost single-handedly drag the White Sox to a pennant, but he was finished as a pitcher after age 31. Other May starters—John Smoltz, Roy Halladay—extended their careers slightly longer, but none are among the ultra-elite that character the great rotations.

On the other hand, May’s offense is plenty elite to make up for the relative failings of its pitching staff. As described above, May features the second-best infield of all the months. Its outfield is nothing to be ashamed though, featuring the likes of Willie Mays in center, with Hall of Famers Al Simmons (a lifetime .334 hitter) and Reggie Jackson (almost as good as he thinks he is) in the corners.

Without an easy out in the line-up, and pitching that is good enough, May takes the title of second-best month.

Best Team: September

Well, yes. I know I already ruined this surprise back when I wrote the September column but you only need check out the September team to see that they are the best. Of course, any of these teams would easily win a league in any given season, but September is a world apart. In addition to having Hall of Fame talent at eight of nine positions, they have arguably the greatest player ever at three positions. Add to that a pitching staff with two 300-game winners, and the man with the fourth most saves in baseball history, all managed by a man with two World Series and two pennants, and you’ve got an easy choice for the best team.

The Teams, Month-by-Month

January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December

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Comments

  1. David said...

    First of all, thanks for this article.  I’ve been looking forward to it for… well… a year now, I guess.

    As for best outfields, there is NO WAY that Raines-Snider-Maris is a better outfield than Williams-Pinson-Clemente.  Not even close.  Obviously, the latter has a weakness in center field, but big advantages at the corners.

    Also, I second Chris’s question.

    Thanks again for a really fun series!

  2. Richard Barbieri said...

    Worst month? Huh, I didn’t even consider that. Perhaps I’m going soft in my old age. Probably June, which has only one truly ultra-elite player—Gehrig—a bunch of very good ones and a really underwhelming pitching staff.

    July isn’t great either, but having A-Rod and Bonds covers a lot of sins.

  3. hopbitters said...

    Great stuff. Now you need to simulate the games to truly determine the best team. I’d love to see November’s pitching staff meet up with February.

  4. Richard Barbieri said...

    Like a handful of other guys, Ruth did not play 50% of his games at any one position and therefore did qualify. I set the cut off to ensure that everyone who was slotted in somewhere could actually play there.

  5. Richard Barbieri said...

    That’s correct, Paul. Allen has about 46% of his career games at 1B, which isn’t enough.

    Ruth, incidentally, doesn’t qualify at either OF corner, even if you cut out his time as a pitcher. (He needed just five more games in RF, although that would “force” February to bench Hank Aaron, so not the huge gain you might expect.)

  6. Menthol said...

    Can’t someone run a computer-simulated regular season comprising these 12 teams and let us know who finishes first? Make it so!

  7. Ted M said...

    Great series and I enjoyed it very much, but I still think the 50% cutoff was somewhat ill conceived. 

    It’s a pretty safe bet that someone who played even as little as 25-30% of his games at a position could actually play there, and a player who split his time among three or more positions is being penalized for his versatility in your system.

    Excluding Ruth, Musial, Rose, Allen, and Killebrew based on that arbitrary cutoff would seem to hurt what you were trying to do more than help it.

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