Over the past decade, fans have witnessed some astonishing offensive performances. We’ve been spoiled by Joe Mauer’s 2009, which was one of the best seasons by a catcher ever. Alex Rodriguez hit more than 50 home runs as a shortstop — twice. We’ve seen the crowning of a new home run king. Historic stuff. You could assemble a dream lineup from some of these single-season achievements, so why not indulge in a little fantasy?
There are plenty of stats we could look at to determine who had the best season at each position, but a good catch-all number is weighted Batting Runs above Average. It’s based on a FanGraphs stat called wOBA, which sums up a player’s production in a single number.
One thing to be aware of before we get started with the actual lineup: All these guys are, for the most part, middle-of-the-order hitters. Don’t get too hung up on actual batting order. Most studies of batting order show that even using the optimal 1-9 slotting, you’re going to gain only one or two wins.
Here we go now with the ultimate all-decade, all-value, all-production lineup. In case you doubt its value before we begin, consider this: If we plug this lineup into David Pinto’s lineup analysis tool, we learn the dream team you’ll discover below would score an average of nine runs per game. That means a team with this lineup could have the woeful 2003 Detroit Tigers as its pitching staff and still win 115 games.
Ready? Let’s go.
Batting first: Carlos Delgado, 2000, 1B
Whew. This was a close one. Delgado’s greatest competition, surprisingly, was not Albert Pujols — it was Jason Giambi. Giambi won the MVP in 2000 and was slightly better in 2001, hitting for an insane .342/.477/.660 line. Giambi’s 2001 is just a sliver better than Delgado’s in terms of batting runs above replacement — 102.8 BRAR to 102.6 — but the edge goes to Delgado because he started every game at first base. Giambi played 17 games as the A’s DH. Delgado hit .344, drew 123 walks and slugged for an absurd .664; he would hardly be your prototypical leadoff hitter, but in 2000 he did have a healthy .470 on-base percentage.
Batting second: Sammy Sosa, 2001, RF
While Slammin’ Sammy is remembered best for the summer of ’98, this was Sosa’s finest season. Unfortunately, no one outside of Chicago seemed to notice, because of what Barry Bonds was doing in San Francisco. Not only did Sosa top 60 home runs for the third time, but he also enjoyed career highs in batting average (.328) and walks (116).
Batting third: David Ortiz, 2007, DH
When you think Ortiz, you probably think “clutch” first. This wasn’t his most clutch season, but it was arguably his most productive; he hit 54 homers in 2006, but in 2007 he hit .332 instead of .287 and posted a similar slugging percentage.
Batting fourth: Barry Bonds, 2001, LF
His single-season slugging, on-base percentage, walks and home runs from ’01 are simply untouchable, barring an unforeseen superhero coming onto the scene.
Batting fifth: Alex Rodriguez, 2007, 3B
A-Rod hit .314/.422/.645 with 54 homers and ran away with the MVP; he enjoys the distinction of setting single-season home run records for two different positions (shortstop and third base).
Batting sixth: Alex Rodriguez, 2001, SS
This certainly might pose a logistical challenge, as human cloning hasn’t yet reached this level of sophistication. Seriously, though, the only competition for A-Rod was A-Rod. 2002 Rodriguez and 2001 Rodriguez were very close. He hit more homers in ’02 (57) but hit for a higher average with more doubles in 2001. He had 82 batting runs above replacement in 2001, 80 in ’02.
Batting seventh: Joe Mauer, 2009, C
Mauer was like vintage Mike Piazza with the bat — and he won a Gold Glove to boot. Mauer finally had his long-anticipated power breakout (28 homers) and hit for an astounding .365 batting average. Babe Phelps is the only catcher to qualify for a batting title with a higher average, and he only had 319 at-bats back in 1936 for the Dodgers. One can only wonder what Mauer would have done had he not missed the entire month of April.
Batting eighth: Jeff Kent, 2000, 2B
Kent won the MVP, edging out his teammate Barry Bonds even though Bonds actually had the better season. Bonds had more wins above replacement, 8.7 to 7.9. Kent set personal bests in a number of different categories, including slugging (.596) and on-base percentage (.424). Even in this age of offense, you do not often see this type of production from a middle infielder. You could argue he was more of a first baseman posing as a second baseman, but regardless, this was quite a remarkable season.
Batting ninth: Jim Edmonds, 2004, CF
Edmonds, Scott Rolen and Pujols formed “MV3” in this year — each player had an MVP-caliber performance in 2004 and the Cardinals won 105 games, only to be swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Edmonds hit .301 despite striking out 150 times, but he slugged .643, drew 101 walks and won his fifth consecutive Gold Glove.
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