As it turns out, the final regular season game of 2009 would not take place until Oct. 6, 2009—and what a game it was. But that hasn’t been enough to change Richard’s All-Decade team; today he completes the roster started last week.
And we’re back, resuming my rolling out the players I believe make up the “All-Decade” squad. In a couple of weeks, once the postseason ends, I will be doing the column for the franchise of the decade, so you can all look forward to that as well. Recapping from last week, here’s the infield and starting pitcher for the team:
There remain no specific statistical requirements, except that position players must have played 800 games and relievers must have appeared in 600 games. So without further ado, let’s continue:
Left Field: Manny Ramirez
Or Barry Bonds. I feel confident saying this is the toughest spot on the team by far. On the one hand, in terms of actual performance, Bonds was simply the most dominant force in baseball since at least Babe Ruth, and possibly just ever. He entirely redefined strategy, drawing more than 1100 walks in the decade, more than a third of them intentional. Albeit almost certainly with the help of performance-enhancing drugs, Bonds was a hitter like no other.
But, while his raw statistics are impressive, Bonds played just 986 games in the decade. Owing to knee surgery, Bonds played just a handful of games in 2005 and, due to a (possibly collusive) inability to find a team, none at all in 2008 and 2009. I simply cannot select as the best left fielder of a decade a player who was effectively only active in seven years of the decade, and only played in more than 150 games in one of those years.
So it has to be Manny. Now with his own PED issues, Ramirez is one of the great right-handed hitters to ever live. This decade, only the corner infielders on this team hit more home runs and drove in more runs from the right side of the plate, and only Pujols has a higher OPS+. Seven times this decade Ramirez had an OPS over 1.000, and with offensive production like that, we can overlook his “Manny Being Manny” defense.
Center Field: Jim Edmonds
I’m not going to lie; this one surprised me a little bit. I don’t really know who I was expecting to end up here—Carlos Beltran, maybe—but somehow I didn’t think Edmonds was the guy. As it turns out, I should have. He was a strong defender, though one who hit his late 30s and the decline that entails as the decade wound down.
Nonetheless, Edmonds was a center fielder and he hit like a first baseman. Three times he appeared in the top ten in the league in OPS, over 1.000 two of those years. After some relative fragility in his early seasons, Edmonds averaged more than 145 games a year until he hit age 36.
Incidentally, while not a comment on Edmonds directly, center field—along with catcher—is probably the weakest position of the decade in general. Bernie Williams, who didn’t play center field regularly after 2005 and not capably after 2002— and didn’t played at all after 2006— is easily in the top ten. It might be, although I haven’t checked, the first decade for which shortstop is not one of the weakest two places.
|Coffee is for closers, and All-Decade Right Fielders (Icon/SMI)|
Right Field: Vladimir Guerrero
One of my friends is a salesman, and sometimes—usually when he’s had a few drinks—he mistakes himself for a character in Glengarry Glen Ross and starts talking about the nature of sales. One of his favorite lines is “I only eat what I kill,” that is, unlike those drawing a salary, he needs to sell to thrive.
That, in essence, is Vladimir Guerrero’s approach at the plate. A great hitter, he is essentially the anti-Bonds. He was going to get on base his way, with a hit, no short cuts from the pitcher.
Guerrero had 569 walks for the decade; only 12 players played in as many games and drew fewer walks. But of course, it is more than that, because as a feared slugger, pitchers often were instructed to give him a pass. Of his 569 walks, 213—almost 40 percent—were intentional.
None of which is to take anything away from Vlad as a hitter. No right fielder had more home runs or RBIs, only Ichiro had more hits, and only Bobby Abreu more runs. Toiling in relative obscurity in Montreal until 2003 and never a media personality even after his move to Los Angeles, Guerrero is almost unquestionably the quietest superstar of the decade.
Relief Pitcher: Mariano Rivera
We end with a profoundly easy choice. The greatest short reliever to ever live, Rivera is the decade’s leader in saves, but that only begins to cover it. Among those with at least 100 saves and 300 innings this decade, Rivera has thrown more innings than everyone except now-starter Braden Looper.
He leads in ERA by more than a quarter of a run. He is the only pitcher in that category to walk less than 2 per nine innings, and did so while striking out nearly 8.5 per nine. Not surprisingly, he crushes the field in strikeout-to-walk ratio. He is one of two, along with Billy Wagner, to have a WHIP less than 1.
Eventually, one runs out of ways to talk about how great Mariano Rivera is. But let’s just say he’s stunning, and leave it at that.
When I was telling someone—my father, actually—about this team, he did observe that it is something of a weak defensive squad. And this is true; while Pujols and Edmonds are strong defenders, and Guerrero has a cannon arm in right field, on the whole there aren’t many Gold Gloves on this team.
On the other hand, with hitters of this quality, and pitchers like Santana and Rivera, I think the team of whatever we’re calling this decade would like its chances against the best that any other decade could throw at it.