Is it possible to go 162-0 with any version of any player ever? Let's try it.
The "All-Time Starting Lineup" debate is a staple in sports bars across the globe. You pick the very best at each position in order to create the ultimate super-team, then yell at people who disagree with your infallible opinions. If Twitter was a place, it would be a bar, and this classic debate is one that is probably being revisited right this very moment at a watering hole near you.
Naturally, the self-proclaimed experts at The Peanut Gallery would also like to enter the "All-Time Starting Lineup" discussion, first on the baseball diamond.
There's a twist, however. This is not your everyday set of superstars. See, the problem with the typical All-Time Lineup in *insert sport* is that it probably isn't feasible in today's game and by today's standards. If you were trying to form an unstoppable football team and you also had a time machine, would you pluck Jim Brown, arguably the greatest player of all time, out of his era and insert him as your starting fullback? Are you certain Jim Brown would be as dominant in this day and age? Would you even use a fullback? The answer to all of these questions is, most likely, no. Sports change, humans change, technology changes, and the athletic measurables of yesterday's stars lose their luster.
With these facts in mind, we added a little spin to the argument; build a team that would go undefeated in 2019.
There were a TON of things to consider here. Players change throughout the course of their careers. Some reinvent themselves, some fizzle out, some have singularly brilliant seasons, only to regress back towards the mean. In the end, we decided to take our best shot at creating the perfect team by following these three rules...
We touched upon it already, but the goal is to build a team that would go 162-0 in 2019. SPOILER ALERT; Babe Ruth might be the GOAT, but we do not trust his untested ability to turn on a 100-MPH fastball. We think Ottavino is right. Sorry, Babe.
You must choose a three-year sample of a player. Three is a trend, as they say. So no, you can't scoop up the 50-home run version of Brady Anderson in your DeLorean. You must choose a player in a consistent three-year form. If this, 2019, is the third year of his run, that counts.
Players must play their natural positions. This includes bench guys and relievers. If he was an everyday starter at the same position, he can't be on your bench. If he played short, you can’t stick him at second. We're looking for the perfectly-constructed team, not necessarily an All-Star team. No matter how much you want to, you can't stick Bonds at DH.
NOTE: There just aren’t many elite middle relievers or bench players that don’t get promoted after a year or two. For these positions, we think two seasons of non-closing or starting every day at one position is enough. Think of your bench as a place for your utility players.
Got it? Good. This took us quite a bit of time and caused quite a bit of debate, but the Peanut Gallery's own Matthew Novak and I finally came up with our best shot at going 162-0.
C- Buster Posey, 2012-2014
From 2012 to 2014, Posey put up 18.3 bWAR and 25.4 fWAR. He won a batting title, an MVP, was one of the game's elite defenders, and managed a stellar pitching staff that helped the Giants win two World Series titles. This wasn't too long ago, so you can reasonably say he'd put up similar numbers, give or take a few extra strikeouts and a few more long balls.
Also Considered: Ivan Rodriguez ('97-'99), Mike Piazza ('95-'97), Yadier Molina ('12-'14)
1B- Albert Pujols, 2007-2009
If you look at the back of Albert Pujols's baseball card, 2007 to 2009 might not jump out as being the clear-cut peak of The Machine's storied career. You could make a very good case that '08-'10 was slightly better, but we decided we couldn't leave out what was the best defensive season of his career; 2007. Overall, he won two MVP awards over this stretch, twice leading the league in OPS and OPS+. Prime Albert Pujols was probably the greatest first baseman in the history of the sport. This one wasn't too difficult.
Also Considered: Paul Goldschmidt ('13-'15), Todd Helton ('00-'02), Miguel Cabrera ('11-'13)
2B- Jose Altuve, 2016-2018
This was tough. There is such a huge range of second basemen, making it difficult to judge who would be the very best to play with right now. We decided to go with a guy who could do it all and has been elite in the present day. From 2016-2018, the diminutive dynamo that is Jose Altuve was worth 21 wins on Baseball Reference and 19.3 wins on FanGraphs. He won two batting titles, an MVP, and hit seven playoff home runs for the Astros during their 2017 World Series run. He's 5'6" (allegedly), he's fun, he's a stud, he plays hard, and he's our starting second baseman.
Also Considered: Chase Utley ('07-'09), Jeff Kent ('00-'02), Dustin Pedroia ('11-'13)
SS- Alex Rodriguez, 2000-2002
This was also difficult, but only because we had to pick three A-Rod years that were the very best. In the end, we concluded that his last year in Seattle, followed by his first two years with the Rangers, was absolute peak Alex Rodriguez. Somehow, he did not win an MVP during any of these seasons. Make no mistake though, he was an absolute offensive and defensive force during this three-year stretch that resulted in a whopping 27.5 bWAR and 27.3 fWAR. We considered whether he'd be able to adjust to today's pitching, and we considered a few other guys as well. But just for fun.
Also Considered: Troy Tulowitzki ('09-'11), Francisco Lindor ('16-'18), Nomar Garciaparra ('98-'00)
3B- Nolan Arenado, 2015-2017
There were a lot of good candidates here, particularly with the dearth of future-Hall of Fame third basemen in their primes right now. We felt that 'Nado's defensive brilliance and prodigious power and hitting ability was just a smidge better though, and the numbers are hard to argue. Over this three-year span, he was the best defensive third baseman in the game, while twice leading the league in homers. The sabermetric revolution has devalued RBI, but hitting .373, .356, and .385 with RISP in consecutive years indicates a legitimate skill in these situations that has real value to it. That's how you knock in over 130 men for three seasons, and that is part of the reason why he is manning the hot corner for the Peanut Gallery.
Also Considered: Alex Bregman ('17-present), Chipper Jones ('98-'00), Alex Rodriguez ('05-'07)
RF- Mookie Betts, 2016-2018
Out in right we have Mookie Betts. From 2016 up to last season, Betts played at an all-around level rivaled only by Mike Trout. Fittingly, Betts would finish 2nd to Trout in the 2016 AL MVP vote, then beat him out two years later after he won a batting title, Gold Glove, and Silver Slugger Award. Betts has gone from being the very best last season to simply being excellent in 2019, which is why we went with his '16-'18 version. This is Christian Yelich's second season of superiority, and his first playing RF every day, so he didn't really compare to Betts when you consider their three-year samples. Betts, and his 27 bWAR from '16 to '18, is our right fielder.
Also Considered: Larry Walker ('97-'99), Ichiro Suzuki ('04-'06), Sammy Sosa, ('99-'01)
CF- Mike Trout, 2017-present
Duh. Mike Trout has consistently been no worse than the 2nd or 3rd best player in baseball since he was 20 years old. Now 28, he just set new career highs in home runs and SLG and is likely on his way to his 3rd MVP award (he should really have a few more than that). There are no superlatives that we can use to describe the Millville Meteor that haven't been used already. Our only guess is that he himself is on his way becoming a superlative, much like Babe Ruth before him. Troutian exploits might one day become synonymous with an all-out assault on an opposing team, whether it is at the plate, on the base paths, or on defense. That is what Mike Trout has done since 2012. This decision was, as the kids say, cake.
Also Considered: Ken Griffey Jr. ('96-'98), Andruw Jones ('98-'00), Carlos Beltran ('06-'08)
LF- Barry Bonds, 2001-2003
Save for prime Babe Ruth (and that's debatable), Barry Bonds became the most dominant player the game has ever seen in the early 2000s. Bonds made a mockery of Major League pitching throughout this historic run, which saw him post an OPS of 1.379, 1.381, and 1.278 in consecutive seasons. It climbed all the way up to 1.422 in 2004, but we decided to include his 73-home run 2001 campaign. Bonds was simply an unstoppable force feasting on some very-movable objects. It is a level of performance that we will likely never see again.
Also Considered (however briefly): Ryan Braun ('10-'12), Albert Belle, ('94-'96), Manny Ramirez ('01-'03)
DH- David Ortiz, 2005-2007
Our DH decision might cause a few arguments, considering the patron saint of the DH, Edgar Martinez, just got inducted into the HOF, and guys like J.D. Martinez have been tearing the cover off the ball lately. We went with Big Papi though, for his incredible knack for timely hitting and his consistent run of production. Ortiz produced an OPS over 1.000 every year from '05 to '07, finishing in the top five in MVP voting each season as well, quite a feat for a DH. Despite zero contributions in the field or on the base paths, he still managed to be worth 17.4 bWAR and 16.9 fWAR, a testament to his legendary hit and power tools. Sorry, Edgar, David Ortiz is our man.
Also Considered: Edgar Martinez ('95-'97), J.D. Martinez ('17-present), Nelson Cruz ('15-'17)
1. Betts (9)
2. Trout (8)
3. Bonds (7)
4. Pujols (3)
5. Rodriguez (6)
6. Ortiz (DH)
7. Arenado (5)
8. Posey (2)
9. Altuve (4)
Bench (Utility Players)
1B, 2B, 3B, OF- Howie Kendrick, 2017-present
Over the last three seasons, Howie Kendrick has averaged just under 300 at bats per year. He has been sure to make them count. Kendrick is slashing .325/.373/.888 over that period, playing a mixture of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and the outfield. Though he’s now 36, he has plenty of juice left in him when they manage his workload properly, as the Dodgers recently discovered.
1B, 2B, SS, OF- Ben Zobrist, 2011-2013
Joe Maddon’s favorite Swiss Army Knife, Zobrist made a living out of playing great defense all over the infield and outfield, while also providing some power, speed, and an excellent eye at the plate. He sported an OPS+ of 126 from ’11 to ’13, giving Maddon and the Rays a versatile asset that few other teams had the luxury of having.
1B, 2B, SS, 3B- Justin Turner, 2013-2015
Before Justin Turner became a mainstay in the Dodger lineup, he was a productive utility man playing wherever he was needed around the infield. From 2013 to 2015, Turner averaged 325 plate appearances per year, but put up a 136 OPS+ and .306/.370/.467 slash line. He mixed in at every infield position, before ultimately becoming the Dodgers’ regular 3B. That type of bat needed to be in the lineup every day.
C- Austin Barnes, 2017-present
Every team needs a backup catcher. Austin Barnes has never been a regular at the big-league level, but has made his presence felt anyway. Consistently ranked as one of the best framers in the game, Barnes is a guy pitchers love throwing too, while also not being a slouch with the bat. Over roughly 250 plate appearances per season since 2017, he has slashed .233/.345/.375, even showing off some athleticism in the form of 11 steals. Backup catcher is not a sexy position. The Dodgers have a gem in Barnes, though.
Also Considered: Chris Taylor (’17-present), Austin Hedges (’17-present), Brock Holt (’14-’16), Marwin Gonzalez (’15-’17), Tyler Flowers (’16-’18)
SP1- Pedro Martinez, 1998-2000
When Pedro was on the mound during the late-90's and early 2000's, he made the steroid era look like the dead ball era. At the peak of his powers (2000), his ERA+ reached a nearly-unheard-of level of 291, the second highest single-season mark for a starter, behind Tim Keefe in...1880. He also had a laughably-low 0.737 WHIP that season. Ridiculous. Pedro featured a fastball that could climb into the upper 90's, a Bugs Bunny change-up, and a wipeout curveball, all of which were considered among the best in the sport. It might be a bit risky to plug in a guy who pitched two decades ago as the ace, but we are confident Pedro would still turn hitters into mush in today's game.
SP2- Clayton Kershaw, 2013-2015
It was not easy to pick a three-year sample out of Kershaw's career. He's the best pitcher of his generation, the modern-day Sandy Koufax, and a future 1st-ballot Hall of Famer. We decided to go with MVP-level Kershaw, who went 53-19 with a 1.92 ERA and 0.886 WHIP over this stretch of utter dominance. His fastball velocity has abandoned him over the last few seasons, but Kershaw was still throwing plenty hard back then, averaging 94.1 MPH in 2015. The curve and the slider were also elite, as usual. He did have some well-documented mishaps in the playoffs around this time, as he has had for much of his career, but there is no denying that Kershaw reached rarefied air when he was at his best.
SP3- Randy Johnson, 2000-2002
Would a 6'10" lefty throwing mid to high 90's across his body still play in 2019? Yeah, we think it would. Arguably the most intimidating mound presence in the history of the game, Randy Johnson reached his pinnacle in the early 2000's. Over this three-year stretch, the Big Unit's average season meant going 21-6 with a 2.48 ERA, punching out 351 batters in 253 innings. He would win three of his five Cy Young Awards during this period, as his power fastball and wipeout slider put him on a completely different level than his peers. Imagine taking this form of Randy Johnson, plugging him into a modern rotation, and telling him he only has to go six or seven innings, so empty the tank. Yikes. We imagine he would be a Chris Sale-type guy (but better), who doesn't fizzle out down the stretch. That's good. Very good.
SP4- Max Scherzer, 2017-present
No one competes like "Mad Max" Scherzer. He has been elite for quite some time now, but he has set new standards for himself since 2017. Scherzer has maintained a sub-1 WHIP over the last three seasons, while also striking out an astounding 12.3 batters per nine innings. He is one of the few remaining workhorses, or guys you can count on to go deep into every game they start. Scherzer is an absolute bulldog on the mound, fearlessly challenging hitters primarily with his mid-90's fastball, devastating slider, and disappearing changeup. Unfortunately, his back has been barking a bit lately. As a whole though, Scherzer has had few equals over the past few years.
SP5- Justin Verlander, 2010-2012
This version of Justin Verlander was fuuuun to watch. This is not to say that present-day Verlander isn't a sight to behold; he is. He is still pumping heat, he still has his wicked off-speed pitches, and he still goes deep into games. He doesn't quite have the same max velo though, which used to climb into the 101-102 MPH range when he was really feeling it. What's more, he would only uncork these unhittable fastballs late in games, oftentimes after he had already surpassed 100 pitches on the day. This was one of the many reasons he became one of the ten pitchers to have ever won a Cy Young and MVP in the same season, which he did in 2011. He may be the fifth starting pitcher on this team, but averaging an incredible 238 innings, a .206 opponent batting average, 7 bWAR, and 6.7 fWAR over a three-year period more than warrants placement on our 162-0 team.
Also Considered: Roy Halladay (’09-’11), Johan Santana (’04-’06), Roger Clemens (‘96-’98), Jacob deGrom (’17-present), Corey Kluber (’16-’18), Greg Maddux (’93-’95)
RP- Darren O’Day, 2013-2015
Remember, we can’t just load up on closers. From 2013 to 2015, Darren O’Day had a 1.79 ERA, a 226 ERA+, and a 0.939 WHIP. He used his deceptive delivery and heavy sink to get hitters to beat his pitches into the ground. Nevertheless, he was not simply a pitch-to-contact groundball specialist. He struck out 9.8 batters per nine innings over this span, which is even more impressive for a sidearmer without elite velocity. He was an absolute rock for Buck Showalter in his prime.
RP- David Robertson, 2011-2013
The man who used to hand it off to Mariano Rivera for the save, David Robertson was lights-out from 2011 to 2013, when he averaged a 1.91 ERA, 220 ERA+, and 2.31 FIP. In 2011, his best of those three seasons, he gave up one home run in 66.2 innings. His lethal mix of a cutter (he spent every day with Mo, after all), and a big knuckle-curve shortened Yankee games from eight innings to seven innings. He would become a full-time closer after 2013, but not before he had established himself as one of the premier relievers in all of baseball.
RP- Dellin Betances, 2014-2016
Since 2017, Dellin Betances has had his share of consistency issues, with control that can abandon him at times. From 2014 to 2016 however, when his walk rates were manageable, there were few men in MLB that were more difficult to hit. The 6’8” Betances struck out 14.3 men per 9 innings over those three years, averaging an absurd 131 punchouts per season. His ERA sat at 1.93 and it was well-earned, for his FIP came in at 1.97. Betances’s enormous 265-lb frame came hurtling towards the plate, producing 100 MPH fastballs and big, sharp curveballs. This man was untouchable, and he deserves a spot on the Peanut Gallery All-Star team.
RP- Francisco Rodriguez, 2002-2004
Oh yeah. This is pre-closer K-Rod comin’ atcha. Although he only threw 5 innings for the Halos when he was called up as a flame-throwing 20-year-old in 2002 (he struck out 13 men in those 5 innings, for what it’s worth), Mike Scioscia trotted him out there for a whopping 18.2 innings in the playoffs. All he did was turn in a 1.93 ERA, 0.8 WHIP, and strike out 28, as the Angels won it all. As a whole, Rodriguez pitched to a 2.36 ERA and 11.8 K/9 from ’02 to ‘04. The fastball could get into the high-90s, the slider was a plus-plus offering, and the change-up appeared to stop in mid-air. He would soon be leading the league in saves with regularity, but K-Rod was nasty from the moment he set foot on a big league mound.
RP- Andrew Miller, 2015-2017
Andrew Miller made the “fireman” role cool again. He wasn’t a closer in ’16 or ‘17, but there were few relievers, if any, that were more valuable than Miller. “Miller Time” could mean getting one big out or getting six, but the common denominator was that when he was in the game, the inning was over. He compiled a 1.63 ERA and 267 ERA+ during this three-year stint, using his 6’7” body to create uncomfortable at bats for hitters. They knew his slider was coming. They couldn’t hit it anyway.
RP- Wade Davis, 2014-2016
Where to begin? In 2014, Wade Davis had a 1.00 ERA, a 1.19 FIP, an ERA+ of 396, and he gave up as many home runs as Miles Davis (no relation). Seriously, no one went deep off of him. Then 2015 came along and Davis somehow got…better? His ERA got down to 0.94, while his ERA+ improved to 448 (!). He saved 17 games that season, though Derek Holland saved 32 so we felt he still qualified as a non-closer. By next season, the Royals could not keep Davis out of the closer role, where he continued to absolutely deal. Over these three years, Wade Davis and his high 90’s fastball, sharp cutter, and biting power curveball put up a 1.18 ERA and 349 ERA+. Just ludicrous.
RP- Josh Hader, 2017-present
Josh Hader’s on-field performance to this point in his career has been nothing short of remarkable. The lanky, shaggy-haired, left-handed Brewers pitcher has compiled a 2.42 ERA, 178 ERA+, and an ungodly 15.3 K/9. His velocity, deceptive delivery, and high spin rate make his fastball one of the game’s best, though his sharp, sweeping slider offers yet another video game-level offering. He was Milwaukee’s closer for the first time this season, though he has excelled in every role they have assigned him to since he was called up.
CL- Eric Gagne, 2002-2004
Game. Over. When Eric Gagne, the hulking, bespectacled, Dodger closer, entered the game from 2002 to 2004, opposing teams knew that the game was over. He threw exactly 82.1 innings in each of these seasons, averaging 122 strikeouts, a 1.79 ERA, 223 ERA+, 1.57 FIP, 0.822 WHIP, and 51 saves. Armed with a 100 MPH fastball, pinpoint control, a ruthless split-change, and a mound presence unlike any other, Gagne’s peak may be higher than any other closer. His stuff would still humiliate hitters in 2019. If this version of Gagne is in the game against your team, you might want to beat the traffic and head home early.
Also Considered: Craig Kimbrel (’12-’14), John Smoltz (’02-’04), Mariano Rivera (’04-’06), Jeff Nelson (’95-’97), Joaquin Benoit (’13-’15), Billy Wagner (’03-’05), Trevor Hoffman (’98-’00)
Manager- A.J. Hinch, 2017-present
Over the last three seasons, Hinch’s teams have averaged an astounding 103 wins. An even-keel tactician, Hinch’s Astros have embraced the new age of analytics, which helped them win the 2017 World Series. They aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, as they continue to get the most out of previously unheralded players (see: Morton, Charlie), while collecting a treasure trove of current and future talent. Hinch and his staff has kept this group ahead of the curve, not simply relying on the pure ability of his players. He might be sporting a couple more rings on his fingers when all is said and done.
Also Considered- Kevin Cash (’17-present), Tony La Russa (’04-’06), Joe Torre (’96-’98), Joe Maddon (’15-’17), Terry Francona (’16-’18), Bruce Bochy (’10-’12), Bob Melvin (’17-present)
Pitching Coach- Jim Hickey, (’08-’10)
Nowadays, we have become accustomed to the Rays having an excellent pitching staff. That culture of dominance on the mound was created by Jim Hickey when he took over in 2007, after a successful stint with the Astros. The Rays as we know them were largely constructed through the minds of Joe Maddon and his right-hand man in Hickey, something that Maddon clearly understood when he added him to his Cubs staff in 2018. Now helping the Dodgers with their player development, Hickey’s keen eye for talent, strategy, and minuscule adjustments has made him one of the best in the business.
Also Considered- Dave Duncan (’04-’06), Dave Righetti (’10-’12), Leo Mazzone (’95-’97), Dan Warthen (’14-’16), Brent Strom (’17-’19), Rick Peterson (’01-’03)
Hitting Coach- Kevin Long, 2017-present
You can’t knock his track record. As a hitting coach, Long has held a position with the Yankees, Mets, and Nationals, his current team. All three of them have gone to the World Series within three seasons of him taking over. This year, the Nationals scored the 6th most runs in all of baseball, after losing one of the game’s best sluggers in Bryce Harper. The World Series is up next for them, and Kevin Long is no small reason for that.
Also Considered- James Rowson (‘17-present), Clint Hurdle (’97-’99), Charlie Manuel (’94-’96), Dave Hudgens (’16-’18)
Whew. That took a lot of research. There could easily be a “Considered for Also Considered” category. You just can’t fit everyone in there when you are not only talking about every player, but every version of every player. Nevertheless, we are fairly confident that this team would go 162-0 in 2019 and that there will be zero disagreements by anyone who reads this…Right?...RIGHT?!
Of course there will be. We’re here for all of the debates. Come at us on Twitter or in the comment section below and tell us where you think we made the wrong choice.