- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

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.