On Sept. 27, the final week of the games for the 2009 season began. This is also, of course, the last week of games for the decade that began in 2000. Richard looks back and presents the first half of his team of the decade.
Other writers across a variety of fields have touched on this point, but has anyone decided what we’re calling this decade yet? The 00’s—pronounced, I guess, “the oh-ohs”—seems like what Elmo might call it, whereas the other best option—the Aughts—sounds like something Mr. Burns might say.
Whatever we’re calling it, this is the final week of regular-season games (barring a one-game playoff for either the NL Wild Card or AL Central), which gives me a chance to look back at the best players from the decade at each position. In a few weeks, at the conclusion of the playoffs, I will look back at the best franchise of the decade as well.
I do not intend for this to be a strictly objective list, most Win Shares or highest OPS+, etc., although such things will obviously be considered.
My only requirement is that a position player must have played in at least 800 games during the decade, and played two-thirds of his games at his assigned position. For starting pitchers, the requirement is 150 starts.
Since this is a rather extensive list, we’ll reveal the infield and starting pitching today, and cover the outfield and relief pitching next week.
So whatever you call this decade, here’s my best-of:
Catcher: Jorge Posada
A five-time All-Star and two-time MVP top-six finisher this decade, it is perhaps no surprise Jorge Posada comes out on top. He played every year of the decade, averaging 142 games played for the first eight years until injuries began to catch up to him this season.
Never a strong defensive catcher—he’s a converted infielder—Posada’s offensive abilities more than make up for those shortcomings. He is the decade’s catcher leader in home runs, RBIs, walks and OPS+ while being second in runs and third in hits.
Posada’s main competition comes from Mike Piazza, who was a superior hitter at his best but caught 100 games only once after 2002 and retired after 2007, and Ivan Rodriguez. Pudge would be good enough to lead most decades—he was an excellent defensive catcher and Posada’s equal as an offensive player at his best.
But Rodriguez did not age well after the 2004 season, while Posada has continued to excel.
First Base: Albert Pujols
This past decade has seen the careers of a number of hugely talented first basemen. Men who will or could be Hall of Famers include Carlos Delgado, Todd Helton, Jeff Bagwell and PED-tainted Rafael Palmeiro. It has also seen the rise of players like Mark Teixeira, Carlos Pena and Justin Morneau. Any team would be lucky to have one of those players manning first base.
But none hold a candle to Pujols. El Hombre is simply in a class by himself as a hitter. Since his debut in 2001 he has led the league in virtually every meaningful offensive statistic, often repeatedly, while playing a Gold Glove-caliber first base. This is the easiest selection of the bunch.
Second Base: Jeff Kent
If first base is the easiest choice, second base might be the most difficult. On one hand, you have Jeff Kent. Despite being in his age-32 season at the start of the decade, Kent put up fantastic offensive numbers during stops in San Francisco, Houston and Los Angeles. He hit .300 for the decade with 216 home runs.
On the other hand, though he was not a full-time player until 2004, Chase Utley has slugged 161 home runs of his own, stolen more than 80 bases at a nearly 90 percent success rate and played an excellent defensive second base—which the aging Kent (never a strong defender) often struggled to do.
Given a couple more seasons, Utley would probably be the choice, but Kent’s longevity wins out for me.
Third Base: Alex Rodriguez
Meanwhile in Ohio, the steam is coming out of Craig Calcaterra’s ears at Chipper Jones being denied this place. And truthfully, Chipper has a strong, strong case. A third baseman the entire decade, Jones hit .312, with a .963 OPS, and hit more than 270 home runs.
|Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez celebrate their selection to the All-Decade team (Icon/SMI)|
Rodriguez, meanwhile, has only been a third baseman since his move to the Yankees before the 2004 season. But A-Rod has legitimate claim to best player of the decade, as he hit more than 400 home runs, batted over. 300 and won three MVP Awards. He simply has to be on the team somewhere, and since he played more third than short, this is where he goes.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter
With the man who plays to his right in the real world now to his right on the All-Decade team, this is at last another easy choice. Jeter has played fewer than 150 games just twice this decade, one of those coming in at 148. Among all players—not just shortstops—Jeter is second in hits and third in runs.
Among his fellow shortstops, he leads in runs, hits, walks, times on base and both OPS and OPS+. He is also in the top five in doubles, home runs, stolen bases and RBIs. His defensive shortcomings are well-known (if much debated), but while Miguel Tejada has also been a fine player at short this decade, ultimately no one compares to Jeter.
Starting Pitcher: Johan Santana
How good was Pedro Martinez during the first part of his decade? Good enough that despite a collective 22-16 record and 4.55 ERA in 310 innings (as of Wednesday afternoon) for the years 2006-09, I almost picked him as the decade’s best starting pitcher. Ultimately, that is just too many years of poor performance in few innings to give him the award.
The selection then is Santana. After a slow start—he won just three games total in 2001-02—Santana has gone 119-57. Only a handful of pitchers threw more innings, and among those only Roy Halladay constitutes a serious challenger to Santana. But Santana’s brilliance—he led his league in ERA three times, a feat Halladay has never managed—gives him the edge.