If It Really Counted: AL Edition

Yesterday, Major League Baseball announced the rosters for the 83rd annual all-star game. I gave my picks for both the AL and NL last week under the current everyone-gets-a-rep-and-half-the-league-gets-in format, but when putting together the roster, I realized that this isn’t at all the kind of team I’d send to win a game that actually counted for something. And, since it’s supposed to count – what with the winner getting home field advantage in the World Series and all – we thought it’d be worth exploring what rosters for next week’s All-Star Game would look like if winning was truly the priority.

So, today, we’re answering that question – what teams would the AL and NL put together to face off next week in a one game winner-take-all showdown? We dispatched with the 34 man rosters and the need for every franchise to have a representative, and simply set out to build a roster that would give each league the best chance to win one game against the other league. I’ve got the AL and Wendy Thurm has the NL, which will be released here in the next couple of hours.

AL vs NL – this time it really counts. Who’s in? Here’s my take on the 25 guys I’d bring to Kansas City to walk away with more than just bragging rights.

Starting Line-Up:

1. Joe Mauer (L) – Catcher
2. Miguel Cabrera (R) – First Base
3. Josh Hamilton (L) – Left Field
4. Jose Bautista (R) – Right Field
5. David Ortiz (L) – Designated Hitter
6. Adrian Beltre (R) – Third Base
7. Robinson Cano (L) – Second Base
8. Mike Trout (R) – Center Field
9. Asdrubal Cabrera (S) – Shortstop

With 25 guys coming to win one game, I’m pretty sure Wendy’s going to exercise an empty-the-bullpen philosophy on me, and even if the starter pitches a few innings, she’s going to have a never-ending series of match-up relievers to combat any rallies I might try to get going. So, I’m basically ignoring the fact that a right-handed pitcher is starting for the NL and am setting the batting order in a way that will force any situational reliever to face the platoon disadvantage after their first batter.

For me, the 1-5 and 6-9 division was pretty easy, and from there it was just aligning the bats so that we had good balance and the order made sense. I was pretty sure I wanted Mauer’s OBP at the top of the line-up, which meant the right-handed hitters would bat 2-4-6-8. I thought about flipping Bautista and Cabrera in order to get the higher on base guy in the #2 spot, but I eventually decided I’d rather have Bautista’s power at #4, though you can’t really go wrong either way. The #3/#5 decision between Hamilton and Ortiz essentially came down to the fact that I thought I might want to pinch-run for Ortiz at some point, and using a PR for the guy in the fifth spot makes it slightly less likely that Ortiz’s replacement would have to bat.

Bench:

Matt Wieters (S) – Backup Catcher
Albert Pujols (R) – Pinch Hitter/Defensive Replacement
Ben Zobrist (S) – Utility Wizard
Prince Fielder (L) – Pinch Hitter
Elvis Andrus (R) – Defensive Replacement
Peter Bourjos (R) – Pinch-Runner/Defensive Replacement

Based on the starters I’ve chosen, the strategic options I want to have available are:

Pinch-run for Ortiz
Pinch-hit for A. Cabrera
Pinch-hit for Beltre
Remove Hamilton for defense

To do that, I’d need a good bat from each side of the plate to pinch hit, a speedster who can steal bases (who can also serve as a defensive replacement if no PR opportunity ever arises), and a reserve shortstop who I’m planning on playing after I pinch-hit for Cabrera. That’s four separate guys, plus I need a backup catcher in case Mauer gets hurt, and then I want a guy who can play anywhere and cover essentially the rest of the diamond by himself.

Because Evan Longoria is hurt and there’s a pretty weak class of AL third baseman right now, I realized that I probably had to carry a left-handed first baseman if I wanted to pinch-hit for Adrian Beltre against a tough right-hander. As much as its not an ideal situation, pinch-hitting for Beltre means that Miguel Cabrera is shifting to third base for the remainder of the game, so it’s not something I’d do lightly, but if a critical at-bat called for it, I’d want to have the option of sending Fielder up there to hit.

The rest of the moves are pretty self explanatory. I’d likely hit Pujols for Cabrera the first time he was up to hit in a high leverage situation, and I want Andrus to play the last three innings at minimum for defensive reasons anyway. Bourjos is around to either run for Ortiz or replace Hamilton on defense late in the game depending on whether I find myself winning or losing. Zobrist would likely hit for Bourjos if the game went long and he came up in a critical situation, and other than that, he’d simply be a super-sub who could also pinch-run if I found myself in a situation where the tying/go-ahead run was on third with less than two out in the eighth inning or later. Wieters would probably the least likely guy to play, since he’s basically Mauer’s health insurance, but would also give me a position player with a great arm and some history as a pitcher if the game went a crazy amount of innings.

Starting Pitcher

Justin Verlander, RHP

The AL has some good starting pitchers, but none as good as Verlander, and since I’m carrying a couple extra position players and only going with a 10 man pitching staff, I want a traditional starter to begin the game and attempt to get through the batting order twice. And that’s all I’m asking from Verlander — face 18 batters and get as many outs as you can. Even as good as he is, he’s no better than a good reliever once a hitter is getting his third crack at him, so even if he’s perfect through six, that’s all he’ll be asked to do. In reality, I’m hoping for four innings, as I think a line-up as good as what the NL can run out there should be expected to get 1.5 baserunners per inning, I’d be happy with 12 outs from Verlander.

High Leverage Lefty #1

David Price, LHP

If Verlander runs into trouble, this is the first guy out of the bullpen, as I’d probably let Verlander try to work his own way out of a jam against a right-handed batter. If there’s a threat that needs to be put down and an elite LHB coming to the plate, though, I’m going to Price, who has just destroyed lefties throughout his career. Since the start of the 2010 season, lefties have hit just .190/.242/.297 against him, so he’s basically an elite situational lefty who is also perfectly capable of getting right-handers out. Price not only gives me a great chance of squelching a rally with a good lefty coming up, but he’s capable of going through the order once himself, and I’d probably hope to get another three to six outs from Price depending on where in the game he entered. If he comes in early because Verlander got chased, I might even ask him for nine outs. If Verlander got him into the 5th or 6th inning, then its probably only a couple of outs before I start playing the match-up game.

High Leverage Righty #1

Rafael Soriano, RHP

As soon as Price went in the game, I’d have Soriano warming. He’s just ridiculous against right-handed batters, and I’d want him available to replace Price in case he got into trouble and a guy like Giancarlo Stanton was coming to the plate. While the NL has some really great hitters, they also have a few RHBs that can be matched up against, and Soriano would be warmed and ready for if any of those guys came up against Price in a situation where I absolutely had to get an out. I probably wouldn’t let him face any lefties with long ball potential, so he’d probably function as a righty specialist, but he’d be the first guy I’d turn to if I absolutely had to get an RHB out.

Situational Experts

Charlie Furbush, LHP
Brayan Villarreal, RHP
Francisco Liriano, LHP
Octavio Dotel, RHP
Chris Sale, LHP
David Robertson, RHP

Between Verlander, Price, and Soriano, I’m hopeful that I got through six innings, which leaves me six pitchers to cover the final nine outs, so I can go batter-to-batter with match-ups and try to get the platoon advantage as often as I can. So, to that end, I want three guys who are nails against RHBs and three guys who can act as lefty-one-out-guys. These are my six, and I’d use them to get one or two batters each, with guys like Liriano and Dotel only facing same-handed batters, no exceptions. Having Sale in the mix allows me an extra guy who can go longer as well in case both Verlander and Price were horrible early and we end up in some kind of crazy slugfest.

Last Guy Standing

Felix Hernandez, RHP

I’ve allocated most of the first nine innings to nine pitchers, so I’ve got one guy left to hand the ball to in case I need a final match-up right-hander and a guy who can then pitch until it ends. For me, that guy is King Felix. His velocity is down and his two-seamer isn’t what it used to be, but the secondary stuff is still top shelf and he can rack up strikeouts facing either lefties or righties. He’s also the kind of guy that you could ask to give you 130 pitches without flinching, so you could bring him in as early as the 7th or 8th inning if the game had gotten high scoring and still be confident that you’d have a pitcher capable of getting you into the 12th or 13th, and given these offenses, you’d think the game wouldn’t go too far beyond that.

So, that’s my team. I’m putting a premium on base guy in front of four of the very best hitters in baseball, then filling out the bottom of the order with guys who are elite players for their position. I’m planning on mixing and matching after Verlander gives me some innings at the start, and have a nice enough mix of starters and relievers that I think I’m covered no matter what kind of game breaks out. I have some crazy good match-up guys even if they aren’t household names yet, and then I get to hand the ball to The King to close it out and finish the job. The team misses injured guys like Longoria like CC Sabathia, but I’d feel confident running this roster out there. It is not only talented but strategically strong, and is a roster I think could beat the best the NL has to offer more times than not.




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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


67 Responses to “If It Really Counted: AL Edition”

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  1. AJP says:

    Cabrera and or Fielder over Konerko? I think not.

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    • This guy says says:

      I think so..

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    • Dave Cameron says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Konerko had a really nice April and May, but he’s just not as good of a hitter as either Cabrera or Pujols. Since we’re not rewarding anyone for 2012 performance, all we care about is actual talent levels, and Konerko is a clear step behind the others.

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      • AJP says:

        He did tail off in June, mainly due in part to his wrist. However if we’re basing it off talent as a whole rather than just 2012, since 2010 (a 3 year sample size seems fair) Konerko ranks between Cabrera and Pujols in wOBA and ahead of Fielder. I’ll give you Cabrera because of the 3 he’s the only one that’s clearly ahead of Konerko. But I don’t see how it’s a valid statement to say he’s behind the others despite being ahead of both Pujols and Fielder.

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    • Nik says:

      Fielder is lefthanded and a pinch hitter, so your only case is Cabrera, and he is better than Konerko.

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  2. Wes says:

    Pujols can also play 3rd in a bind.

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    • Uh Oh Cordero says:

      Or Jose Bautista. I think he’s far superior defensively at 3B over Miggy and Pujols.

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      • bada bing says:

        Cabrera has a better UZR/150 for his career at 3rd than Bautista. Not to mention Bautista hasn’t played 3rd in a few years. I don’t think that it is fair to say that Bautista is “far superior defensively at 3B over Miggy.”

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    • Dave Cameron says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      True, but not much more effectively than Cabrera. And, if I’m pinch hitting for a right-handed Beltre, I’m going to to use a left-handed pinch-hitter, which means Fielder instead of Pujols, so Cabrera’s the guy making the move across the diamond.

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    • MikeS says:

      But Cabrera can not.

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  3. Aaron (UK) says:

    Wendy should just throw 9 innings of R.A. Dickey at this lot, and use her 24 position players to negate all your carefully-prepared platoon advantages…

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  4. Jason says:

    Peter Bourgos off the bench over Austin Jackson?

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    • Dave Cameron says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Bourjos is faster and a better defender, and given the limited role he’s going to play as a pinch runner/defensive specialist, those differences win out.

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      • Tom B says:

        So is Curtis Granderson.

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      • Daniel says:

        What about Craig Gentry. Easily as fast and as good defensively as Bourjos, and is killing the ball in limited playing time this year. Yes, BABIP and platoon hitting benefit him a ton, but the way he’s getting hit after hit after hit I would want him in there against any pitcher, over Bourjos.

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  5. Nate says:

    You need “a lefty to hand the ball to in case I need a final match-up right-hander”, so you pick Felix? ‘splain…

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  6. CabreraDeath says:

    I find it very hard to believe that you couldn’t find a better RHP specialist than Dotel. As a Pirates fan, yes, I’m aware that he has been great against RHB’s his whole career; however, there just has to be better options considering his age and velo. Like Pestano or Holland, or a myriad of others.

    Agree on your lineup, though I’d lead w/ Trout. But, your relief staff strikes me as trying to be too cute and too strategic and too-off-the-wall.

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    • Dave Cameron says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Dotel has a 26/2 K/BB ratio against RHBs this year, and one of those walks was intentional. Last year, righties hit .151/.198/.211 against him. I know you might have bad memories of Dotel trying to close out games against lefties, but as a right-on-right match-up guy, there aren’t many better in baseball.

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  7. _Adam says:

    I think the middle relief is going to be done in by pinch hitters and switch hitters (like Beltran, Sandoval, and Reyes). The strength of the NL team, especially its bench, won’t allow the manager to deploy his bullpen as written up here. Do you really want to try to matchup Octavio Dotel knowing the other team can pinch hit a lefty like Jay Bruce?

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    • Dave Cameron says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      They aren’t going to send Bruce up there to pinch hit for Ryan Braun. You use him to match-up against a righty that you know is going to hit. You save guys like Robertson, Sale, and Felix for the stretches where you expect that there will be pinch-hitting going on.

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      • Anon says:

        I’d pinch hit Bruce for Braun in most situations if Dotel just came into the game. Look at the NLCS last year (and all the stats you’ve posted about Dotel vs RHB).

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  8. Athame says:

    Any chance you and Wendy will
    play the result with a good sim?

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  9. pudieron89 says:

    look i know closing is mostly psychological but to not include either Nathan or Rodney is ridiculous.

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    • diegosanchez says:

      Agree. Those two have been lights out and are #’s 1 & 2 in WAR among AL relievers. Rodney has wOBA’s of .175 against leftys and .207 against rightys. When you’ve been that good, a platoon advantage doesn’t matter.

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    • Dave Cameron says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Their success is because they are also able to get left-handed batters out. I don’t see many situations where I’d want to have a right-on-left match-up, especially with the ability to mix and match specialists instead. They’re having great years, but in this format, I’d rather go left-left and right-right than let a guy like Votto have the platoon advantage in a critical situation.

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  10. GoToWarMissAgnes says:

    Liriano was good not great against lefties last year. If you’re going LOOGY (which appears to be the case since Sale is on board for a full inning lefty if need be), Troy Patton has a pretty good case.

    Out of curiosity, any consideration to going with an extreme groundball bullpen arm? Or is that too specific (and even the best guys around only get them ~60% of the time) to look for in one game? Tight game, late innings, runners on 1st and 3rd with one out do you go with a strikeout guy or a groundball guy?

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    • CabreraDeath says:

      Good point concerning the 1/3rd, one out scenario and the need for an extreme groundball thrower. I’d be interest to hear Dave’s thoughts (or anyone’s for that matter) regarding the same.

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    • Dave Cameron says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Liriano’s fastball was 91.8 last year. It’s 93.3 this year. When he was 94.2 in 2010, he was insanely awesome against them. The broken version of Liriano wouldn’t make this team, but that’s not the version of Liriano that’s throwing right now.

      In a tight game with a runner at third and less than two out, I want a strikeout, not a groundball. Too many variables around a grounder turning into a double play. I’d be much more comfortable going with a guy who can avoid contact, which gives me a better chance to strand the runner without scoring.

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  11. wrinklebump says:

    nice to see brayan villarreal getting some love. he’s been something else to watch this year, especially against righties, where he has struck out 30 batters in 19.1 IP.

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  12. wrinklebump says:

    also it speaks worlds to the tigers’ problems that they send 5 players to this game that really matters (more than any other AL team) and yet manage to sport a record under .500 and are generally speaking an assault on the eyeballs on most nights.

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  13. amoc21 says:

    David Price over Chris Sale as your high leverage lefty? I don’t know about that.

    Sale has simply been better than Price this season and if you’re using this spot as coming out of the bullpen, Sale has Price trumped there too, considering the success he had coming out of the ‘pen last season.

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  14. Dylan says:

    Too many situational pitchers. If it’s for one game, this could easily be countered by just taking 5 or 6 pitchers. Then guys like Liriano and Dotel would be forced to face opposite handed players.

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    • Dave Cameron says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      They’re going to pinch hit for Joey Votto when I bring in Liriano to face him? Great. Then they lose Joey Votto for the rest of the game. That’s a trade-off I’ll happily make.

      Same with Dotel/Braun. If they want to take him out in the 6th or 7th inning to get the match-up advantage once, go for it. I’m happy to have Braun out of the game.

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  15. Sam says:

    Those are some tiny platoon samples you’re trusting for Furbush and Villarreal. Thornton and Pestano seem like reliable upgrades.

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    • Yinka Double Dare says:

      Thornton’s K/9 is down again this year, he’s not the demon he was a couple of years ago. There’s some bad luck involved this year but he didn’t used to have to worry about luck when he was striking out nearly every other guy faced.

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    • Dave Cameron says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Have you seen Furbush pitch? His delivery is absurd, but he basically manages to fall off the mound towards first base and release the ball from nearly behind left-handed batters. Here’s a good image of what he looks like after he lets it go:

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/wordofmouth/7474231876/

      There’s a reason he has a 2.25 career FIP against lefties. He’s crazy deceptive and throws a big wipeout slider that dives away from lefties and is basically unhittable.

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      • Sam says:

        If you’re basing it just off of 2011-2012 platoon splits, Thornton still comes out ahead.

        2011-2012 vs. LHB
        Furbush: 2.25 FIP, 2.55 xFIP
        Thornton: 1.94 FIP, 2.33 xFIP

        And, of course, Thornton has been doing this for years. From 2008-2012: 1.88 FIP, 2.02 xFIP.

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      • whatever says:

        Yeah Furbush is a little cutsie Dave. So are a couple of the others. Even without knowing Wendy’s dream team, you know the vast majority of the best hitters in the National league are Right handed. As a matter of fact the only lefty that really ought to be starting is Votto as she shoved CarGo and his garbage home road splits in as the DH in the 5 hole. I’m from Portland Maine and saw Furbush long before he ever came onto your radar. He’s doing a real good job with the Mariners this year obviously but he should not be on this team. The way Votto is going right now, I’d let him face the situational lefty anyways. What is it with the Mariners and pitchers from the Pine Tree state. Bill Swift and now Furbush. Mainers don’t set foot on MLB diamonds often.

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    • Tom says:

      Furbush is the typical let me get a Mariner in (he had the same thing last year with a reliever I can’t remember). And then cherrypick a small data sample to justify it.

      If you look at Furbush’s 2011 #’s against lefties, they are decent but not as shiny as the 2012 #’s.

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      • Shawn says:

        Furbush also was a starter/longman for the Tigers/Mariners last year which would mess with the numbers since he’s now the main setup guy. I can find lefty/righty splits and I can find starter/reliever splits but I can’t find lefty as a starter/lefty as a reliever splits but I would think he was more effective against lefties as a reliever.

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  16. mcawesome says:

    Dave, I can understand your reasonings for everyone on your list, but shouldn’t this team have actual All-Stars? Sure, Bourjos is a superior defensive outfielder and has blazing speed, but if he ever needed to hit, you might as well send me up to the plate. Austin Jackson or Adam Jones would be better choices, as they play above average defense and can also swing the bat and run.

    Also, I’d move Trout to leadoff or 2nd and move everyone else down a spot. That guy needs as many ABs as possible to give this squadron a better chance to win.

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    • Dave Cameron says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Bourjos would never need to hit. If his line-up spot ever came up, Zobrist would pinch hit for him.

      And, look, I love Mike Trout as much as the next guy, but he’s not as good a hitter as any of the top five guys in the line-up. Taking at-bats away from guys like Mauer, Cabrera, and Ortiz to give them to Trout isn’t a good use of resources.

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  17. Omar says:

    Cabrera is a third basemen and Granderson should be on the team.

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    • Dave Cameron says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Why? To pinch hit for Bautista or Trout? No thanks. He’s not a defensive upgrade over Hamilton, so he’s useless in that role. He might be a better player than Bourjos, but the goal is to build the best team, not the best collection of individual players.

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      • Tom B says:

        Granderson is not a defensive upgrade over Hamilton? Really?

        That could the the funniest thing I’ve read all day.

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      • Matt says:

        Agreed. Granderson is pretty clearly a defensive upgrade over Hamilton.

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      • Radivel says:

        If that’s the case, you need to possibly read other more humorous things.

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      • diegosanchez says:

        But guys, we have to use UZR from the last 2 seasons because it’s the most reliable advanced metric and completely describes who is better at defense right now. Which means Granderson is actually the worst defensive outfielder in baseball this season. Riiiight…..

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      • Tom B says:

        Going on their own premise of “trying to win this one game” you would pretty much never ever put a player as green as Trout anywhere near the field. I don’t care how talented you think he his, he simply has not played enough baseball.

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  18. Marver says:

    Not sure why Villarreal is on this roster. He’s thrown 26 good innings so far this season; so what? Last year he struggled in 16 in MLB and 66 in AAA, and ZIPS projects a 5.03 FIP for the remainder of the season.

    Perhaps the situational righty you want there is Frieri. But I don’t see how anyone can be sure on what Villarreal is at this point; certainly not sure enough to put him on the All-Star team over other certainties.

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    • Dave Cameron says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Villarreal through 94 last year. He’s throwing 97 this year. A three MPH jump in velocity makes the improvement a lot easier to believe, and as a right-on-right guy, his struggles against left-handers in full innings of work don’t really matter.

      Stuff matters. Villarreal has top shelf stuff.

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      • Marver says:

        I think it’s a little fickle to compare velocities from early 2011 to early 2012 to justify such a small sample of improved performance. For all we know, Villarreal was throwing this hard at the end of 2011 while pitching poorly in AAA. Even Ernesto Frieri himself is throwing >3 MPH faster than he was at the beginning of THIS current season, and that is in-line with his historical trend of increasing velocity over the course of the season. Do you have any idea if Villarreal has a cyclical effect that could be playing a factor?

        Additionally, 56.5% of Villarreal’s IP have been during low leverage plate appearances. Frieri’s figure there is 10% lower (absolute), with the bulk of those back with San Diego.

        Basically, you’re selecting a guy with 4.2 high leverage innings in his entire career to pitch in a high leverage situation based upon a 3 MPH difference in a 26 inning sample when you haven’t quantified the statistical significance of that difference, while entirely discounting the computer projections for Villarreal. Sounds like a much better route would be selecting someone whose value is much more certain.

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  19. Eminor3rd says:

    All looks good except Liriano. I know he’s been hot, but there’s gotta be somebody better than him for that slot.

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    • Dave Cameron says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      For his career, lefties are .220/.296/.287 against him, and that includes those crappy years where he was rehabbing and throwing 92. When he’s throwing 95 (like he is right now), he’s absolute death to left-handers. Put him in a relief role and tell him to crank it up to 97 and they wouldn’t have a chance.

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  20. Daniel says:

    Great article, great roster, great. Why sub Hamilton for defense and not Bautista? Surely you don’t think Bautista is a better fielder than Hamilton.

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  21. Matt says:

    Why would you use a defensive replacement for Hamilton instead of Bautista?

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  22. Matt says:

    Also beltre has reverse platoon splits. He’s hitting 354/386/592 against righties which is better than fielders 298/401/530 and especially not worth giving up his defense

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  23. whatever says:

    Bottom line, it’s just an excercise meant to be fun. None of us would put the same team on the field completely. Good job Dave both putting the team together and defending your choices. One of the bigger surprises to me was you sticking with Hamilton after his recent struggles and your recent examples of how easy he is to get out. Given all this, are you a little concerned that he would struggle against elite National league pitching?

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