Before we get started, a couple of quick notes. Each graphic will show the All-MLB First Team, second team and third team for each given season. Players in bold were award winners that year, and if a pitcher swept the MVP and the Cy Young they are bold and underlined. Players in italics are players that I myself chose to fill out the rosters – they did not receive Cy Young or MVP votes that season. Players highlighted in gold have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The fourth column will name the players in each season that produced the highest fWAR that season, for the sake of posterity. Again, fWAR is the Wins Above Replacement calculation used by Fangraphs, an explanation of which can be found here.
THE WHO’S WHO: Had the All-MLB teams existed before the turn of the century, it’s easy to imagine this wouldn’t have been the first time on the First Team for A-Rod, Bonds, Vlad, Big Hurt, Pedro, Maddux, Glavine, or the Big Unit – so, basically, any of the guys on here that are so great that they don’t need more than a last name or a nickname to identify them. By its nature, this exercise can’t be a full accounting of the career of any player who began his career before 2000. As you’ll see, however, the all-time greats have a way of making their way onto these teams well after their prime years. We’re not done with any of the guys listed above, nor are we done with guys like Clemens, Jeter, and Manny either.
Randy Johnson is the most valuable player in baseball, per his 9.6 fWAR, as he wins 19 games and strikes out a league best 347 batters for the Diamondbacks. Pedro Martinez (9.4 fWAR) isn’t far behind, posting a 1.74 ERA that would be the lowest of his career and racking up 284 punchouts. Between the two on the fWAR leaderboard is Alex Rodriguez, who hit .316 with 41 homers in his final season in Seattle. Barry Bonds is the best player on the Giants (7.6 fWAR, 1.127 OPS, 49 HR, 106 RBI) but doesn’t win the NL MVP, losing out to teammate Jeff Kent (7.4 fWAR, 1.021 OPS, 33 HR, 125 RBI). Both guys were jerks, but the media liked Kent better than they liked Bonds, so there you have it.
THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: This would have been the first First Team selection for Jim Edmonds, who celebrated being dealt from the lowly Angels to the Cardinals by blasting 42 homers, compiling a .994 OPS, and winning his third Gold Glove (6.5 fWAR).
The Oakland A’s were surprise winners of the AL West, and two of their players burst onto the scene to make the First Team. Jason Giambi’s 43 homers, 137 RBI, and 1.123 OPS (7.7 fWAR) led him to MVP honors. Tim Hudson anchored the Oakland rotation and posted his only 20-win season in 2000. That win total allowed him to finish second in AL Cy Young voting despite a 4.14 ERA and less-than-impressive peripheral stats.
THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: John Vander Wal had a monster year as a corner outfield/first base/pinch hitter for the Pirates, blasting 24 homers, driving in 94 runs, and OPSing .972. It was one of only two times in his 14-year career he earned more than 400 plate appearances in a season.
Gabe White was traded from the Reds to the Rockies in mid-April, sentenced to pitch in the most extreme offensive environment in the sport, and proceeded to post an 11-2 record with a 2.17 ERA in 67 appearances.
This is our first example of the relief pitcher and utility positions having to be entirely backfilled with no MVP or Cy Young votes tallied at either position. That a Rockie and a former Rockie ended up with first-team honors is a coincidence, I swear.
MOST STACKED POSITION(S): This was considered a golden era for shortstops at the time, and I think the order here – Rodriguez, Garciaparra, Jeter – reflects how most fans outside of New England or the five boroughs would have ranked them at the time. (A-Rod’s 9.5 fWAR was tops among all position players, Nomar’s 7.6 fWAR was eighth, and Jeter’s 3.7 fWAR was actually fourth among shortstops, behind Jose Valentin of the White Sox.) At first base, Todd Helton’s monster year (.372 AVG, 42 HR, 147 RBI, 8.3 fWAR – best among NL position players) is only good enough for third team while future Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell misses out entirely.
BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Richard Hidalgo, OF, HOU; Bobby Abreu, OF, PHI; Brian Giles, OF, PIT; Jeff Bagwell, 1B, HOU; Javier Vazquez, P, MON; Mike Hampton, P, NYM
I will be curious to see if there are commonalities about players who appear on this list – players whose value was very high but in ways that MVP and Cy Young voters would have overlooked. Vazquez, for example, was just 11-9 on the season with a 4.05 ERA for a lousy Expos team, but his strikeout, walk, and home run rates were all well above average. The counting stats didn’t warrant Cy Young votes, however, and I don’t believe he would have received consideration for All-MLB, either, so he’s not one of the four starters I picked to backfill the list.
ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (6): Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Larkin, Jermaine Dye, Ivan Rodriguez, Cal Ripken Jr., Bernie Williams
Larkin, Ripken and Griffey are all deserving Hall of Famers, and the latter two will start one more All-Star Game each, but none of them will make an All-MLB team in this exercise.
ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (14): John Vander Wal, Frank Thomas, Gabe White, Robb Nen, Delino De Shields, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Jim Mecir, Placido Polanco, Bartolo Colon, Livan Hernandez, Chan-Ho Park, Matt Herges, Antonio Alfonseca
My reason for including the previous two categories is two-fold – first, to separate players who might have been more ‘popular’ than ‘good’, and thus All-Star starters in a season where their performance wouldn’t have merited an All-MLB nod. There are other reasons a player might start an All-Star Game and not make All-MLB – maybe an injury, maybe a positional scarcity in their particular league – but I suspect the most common explanation for an All-Star starter not making an All-MLB team is that said player’s reputation among the fans outpaces their current level of performance. Secondly, I am hypothesizing that as the understanding of advanced stats becomes more mainstream and infiltrates clubhouses, the All-Star rosters will trend closer to the All-MLB teams. My guess is that there are fewer players who are not All-Stars from our All-MLB teams as we go along.
The Yankees won their fourth title in five seasons in 2000, and four players from the pinstripes are honored as All-MLB. That tied for the most with the Indians, who went 90-72 and just missed the postseason; the Braves, who were in the middle of their 15-year reign over the National League East; the Giants, who won 97 games and placed three players on the First Team; and the Dodgers, who went 86-76 and missed the playoffs. The National League champion Mets claimed three, as do the White Sox and A’s.
Also, this is only the first of these teams we’re going through, but I doubt we’re going to see a better First Team rotation than this. Johnson, Maddux, Glavine, and Pedro? Holy smokes.
2000 was also the final year of the Associated Press All-Star Squad, the closest thing to a collaborative All-MLB team voted on by media that I could find records for http://www.baseball-almanac.com/awards/aw_apas.shtml. The AP and this All-MLB team agree at catcher, second base, shortstop, DH, and all three outfield positions, and all three AP All-Star pitchers (Martinez, Johnson, Nen) are First Team as well. Helton and Anaheim third baseman Troy Glaus are the only differences in opinion. Granted, this is 19 years ago, but I can’t remember the AP All-Star team being a significant part of the baseball discourse. The fact that these opinions, verifiably those of the baseball media, hews so closely to the All-MLB results makes me feel pretty good about the methodology I’m using moving forward.
THE WHO’S WHO: Mike Piazza, Jason Giambi, Chipper Jones, A-Rod and Bonds all return to the First Team, and a switch of teams and position elevates Manny Ramirez to that status as well. On the mound, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens keep collecting Cy Youngs and First Team honors, and Mariano Rivera is a First Team pick after missing out entirely in 2000. Derek Jeter and Greg Maddux are All-MLB as usual, though neither make the first team.
This is the 73 homer season for Bonds, of course, and he’s preposterously great by any measure (his 12.5 fWAR laps the field). Johnson is the game’s best pitcher (9.9 fWAR), going 21-6 with a 2.49 ERA and a career-high 372 strikeouts. Clemens goes 20-3 with a 3.51 ERA to win the AL Cy Young, but by fWAR, he’s only the third best starter on his own team (Mike Mussina’s 6.9 fWAR and Andy Pettitte’s 5.7 fWAR outpace Clemens’ 5.6). Neither of his teammates won 20 games, however, and none of them have the Rocket’s Hall of Fame reputation.
THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: Ichiro came over from Japan to take the MLB by storm and won the AL MVP for the 116-win Mariners (.350 AVG, 56 SB, 6.0 fWAR), joining Bonds and Sammy Sosa in a ‘one of these things is not like the others’ First Team outfield. He’s one of just two players to win the MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season as his wizardry at the plate and afield sparks the Mariners to their historic season. The simplest way I can describe the impact of Ichrio’s debut is this – we’d never seen anything quite like him before.
It was also the debut season for Albert Pujols, who played all over the diamond for Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals and earned First Team honors as the utility player (1.013 OPS, 37 HR, 7.2 fWAR).
Two rookie starting pitchers appear on this year’s list – Houston’s Roy Oswalt makes the second team, Cleveland’s CC Sabathia on the third team. Sabathia’s still cooking into 2019, of course, and I firmly believe we’ll see him in Cooperstown one day, as the hefty lefty has racked up over 3,000 strikeouts and 250 career wins. But of these two, Oswalt was probably the most fun to watch. Listed (generously) at six feet tall and 190 pounds, the 23 year-old went 14-3 with a 2.73 ERA for the Astros in 2001 and enjoyed ten fabulous years in Houston, going 143-82 with a 3.24 ERA in 303 games (291 starts). He employed a mid-90s fastball and a filthy breaking ball and was reminiscent of Pedro Martinez in that you wouldn’t have expected that kind of power to be generated by such a slight frame. Oswalt retired after an unsightly nine-game cameo with the Rockies in 2013 (0-6, 8.63 ERA) at the age of 35. He collected 163 wins and 1,852 strikeouts in his 13 seasons, and immediately fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after just one appearance, failing to register the five percent of the vote a player needs to remain in consideration.
THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: After a promising start to his big league career, Matt Morris got hurt in 1998 and the injury cost him parts of that season and the next two. Finally healthy, he won 22 games for the Redbirds in 2001 and was third in the NL Cy Young and 14th in the NL MVP ballot. He won double-digit games in seven straight seasons, but was only really good this season and the next two.
Mark Mulder had a rocky rookie season for the A’s in 2000 but went 21-8 with a 3.45 ERA in 2001, the start of a five-year stretch where the lefty won 88 games with a 3.65 ERA and pitched at least 186.2 innings each season. He appeared in just 23 games the three seasons after that and was out of the bigs by the age of 30.
Not one, but two non-closing relief pitchers received NL MVP votes this year. San Francisco’s Felix Rodriguez was 9-1 in 80 appearances with a 1.68 ERA and 91 Ks in 80.1 innings. St. Louis southpaw Steve Kline and his disgustingly dirty cap appeared in 89 games, winning three and saving nine while posting a 1.80 ERA. Seriously, look at that thing on his head.
MOST STACKED POSITION(S): Luis Gonzalez hit 57 dingers for the World Champion Diamondbacks but couldn’t crack the First Team outfield. Todd Helton’s 49 homers and 1.116 OPS weren’t enough for an All-MLB spot at first base. Both outfield and first base are typically loaded, but in this era, there were so many eye-popping offensive performances that it was impossible to honor them all, and outfielders who were all-around excellent but lacked the counting stats of their slugging peers tended to get overlooked.
BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Larry Walker, OF, COL; Cliff Floyd, OF, FLA; Corey Koskie, 3B, MIN; Javier Vasquez, P, MON; Pedro Martinez, P, BOS
It’s hard to get MVP or Cy Young votes in a season interrupted by injury, but even though he only made 18 starts in 2001, Pedro Martinez was still one of the game’s most valuable pitchers. He went 7-3 with a 2.39 ERA and 163 K in 116.2 innings, and would have finished first in all of baseball in ERA and second in strikeouts per nine innings had he pitched enough innings to qualify.
I had to back-fill three starting pitcher slots on the third team because not enough pitchers received Cy Young votes this season. I went with Maddux, who went 17-11 with a 3.05 ERA for the Braves (and whose 6.3 fWAR was 4th best among qualifying pitchers); White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle (16-8, 3.29); and Giants right-hander Russ Ortiz (17-9, 3.29). Martinez not receiving a single Cy Young vote tells me the voters at the time valued availability, and were maybe dinging Pedro for his absence having led to a disappointing second-place finish for the Red Sox. I stuck with that in filling out the All-MLB roster, but I do feel like Pedro got robbed here, even as I’m partially to blame.
ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (5): Todd Helton, Larry Walker, John Olerud, Ivan Rodriguez, Cal Ripken Jr.
This is Ripken’s final season, which he caps with a memorable Midsummer Classic home run, but he’s well past the stage where he’s truly one of the best players in baseball. I’m gutted that Larry Walker never again merits mention in this article – the Rockies’ star hit .350 with 38 dingers this season but doesn’t make the outfield cut. Walker probably would have made six All-MLB teams in the 90s, though.
ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (21): Mark Mulder, Felix Rodriguez, Paul Lo Duca, Jeff Bagwell, Placido Polanco, Roy Oswalt, Jamie Moyer, Mike Mussina, Steve Kline, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, Shawn Green, Bobby Abreu, Craig Counsell, CC Sabathia, Greg Maddux, Mark Buehrle, Barry Zito, Russ Ortiz, Arthur Rhodes, Robb Nen
The Mariners won 116 games this year, an AL record, and placed seven players on All-MLB teams. They couldn’t win it all, though, as they were upended by the Yankees in the ALCS, who then fell to Arizona in a memorable Fall Classic. The D-Backs had just four All-MLB picks, but two of them were First Team pitchers. The Yankees claimed five All-MLB players. San Francisco placed six, but missed the playoffs despite winning 90 games and despite Bonds hitting 73 home runs. Houston, St. Louis and Cleveland had four All-MLB players each, and the A’s wound up with three.
THE WHO’S WHO: Bonds, Giambi, Pujols, Johnson and Schilling are the repeat First Team picks, with Bonds winning yet another MVP and Johnson another Cy Young. Giambi changed teams and positions but remained one of the game’s premier hitters in his first year as the Yankees DH.
Bonds (.370 AVG, 1.381 OPS, 46 HR, 110 RBI, 198 BB, 12.7 fWAR) and A-Rod (.300 AVG, 1.015 OPS, 57 HR, 142 RBI, 10.0 fWAR) are on their own planet this season, with only two position players (Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome) coming within even three fWAR of Rodriguez. Johnson’s third straight Cy comes with a caveat – fWAR has the Big Unit (7.9 fWAR) as the second best pitcher on his own team (Curt Schilling’s 9.3 fWAR is best of any pitcher in baseball).
Now that we’re three years in, we can start to look at streaks of All-MLB appearances. It’s three straight years on the first team for Bonds, Giambi, and Johnson. Piazza, Jorge Posada, Jeff Kent, A-Rod, Chipper Jones (who moved to left field for the Braves this year, going from a first-team 3B to a third-team OF), Manny Ramirez, Sosa, Mike Mussina, and Maddux are the three-time All-MLB picks so far.
THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: Hello, Oakland! The ‘Moneyball’ A’s won 103 games and had four First Team picks, three of whom were making their All-MLB debuts. Miguel Tejada won the AL MVP with a 34 HR, 131 RBI season back when shortstops not named A-Rod didn’t post run production numbers like that (his 4.5 fWAR is tied for fifth among shortstops, however), and Eric Chavez blasted 34 homers of his own and won the second of his five straight Gold Gloves at third base. Lefty Barry Zito, a third-team pick the year prior, helped Oakland hog all the AL hardware, claiming the Cy Young with a 23-5, 2.75 ERA season. And submarine-throwing righty Chad Bradford was the league’s most trusted set-up reliever. This is one of the most famous non-champion teams in baseball history, owed in large part to the very good movie about them, and their success represented the beginning of a major paradigm shift in the evaluation of baseball talent.
He certainly wouldn’t have been new to earning All-MLB recognition, not with a Cy Young to his credit in 1996, but this was John Smoltz’s first full season, and first All-MLB appearance, as a reliever, as his 55 saves led the league.
THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: How did Benito Santiago, a 37 year-old journeyman who hadn’t appeared on an MVP ballot since 1990, beat out All-MLB mainstays Piazza and Posada for First Team honors? He was somehow the only catcher in all of baseball to earn an MVP vote in 2002. Santiago hit 16 homers and had an OPS of .765 for the eventual National League champions, and always maintained a good defensive reputation, but there’s no planet on which he was a better player than Piazza or Posada this season. In fact, of the 15 catchers who accumulated at least 400 at bats in 2002, Santiago’s 2.2 fWAR ranks 8th, not just behind Piazza and Posada but behind guys like Mike Lieberthal of the Phillies and Pittsburgh’s Jason Kendall. But with the methodology chosen and the data we have, here stands Benito Santiago, recognized as the game’s best catcher in 2002.
MOST STACKED POSITION(S): Five closers got MVP votes this season, with Minnesota’s Eddie Guardado and Oakland’s Billy Koch left on the outside looking in. Guardado got as much of a share of the MVP vote as Anaheim’s Troy Percival, but I gave the tiebreaker to Percival on account of his team having won the World Series. (Percival also has the fWAR edge, 1.6 to 1.2.) Also, Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra get squeezed out at shortstop in favor of David Eckstein, which doesn’t look or feel right, but people REALLY loved David Eckstein in 2002. (Eckstein’s 4.5 fWAR – equal to AL MVP Tejada! – is outpaced by both Jeter’s 5.2 and Nomar’s 4.8.)
Also, as you’ll see in the next section, there were a lot of really outstanding outfielders who missed out, mostly because nobody knows quite how to factor in the defensive prowess of the game’s best glovemen. Players whose primary value is their defense tend to be overlooked in MVP balloting in favor of guys with big numbers in the Triple Crown categories. I suspect that might change as we go along, as defensive metrics become more widely distributed and understood.
BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Brian Giles, OF, PIT; Jim Edmonds, OF, STL; Andruw Jones, OF, ATL; Mike Cameron, OF, SEA; Carlos Beltran, OF, KCR; Larry Walker, OF, COL; Edgardo Alfonzo, 3B, NYM; AJ Burnett, P, FLA
ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (4): Ichiro, Shea Hillenbrand, Jose Vidro, Jimmy Rollins
Shea Hillenbrand started an All-Star Game. Huh.
ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (21): Albert Pujols, Eric Chavez, Chad Bradford, Jeff Kent, Rafael Palmeiro, Roy Oswalt, Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Washburn, Tim Hudson, Junior Spivey, Troy Glaus, David Eckstein, Magglio Ordonez, Chipper Jones, Jose Valentin, Kevin Millwood, Greg Maddux, David Wells, Mike Mussina, Octavio Dotel, Troy Percival
After having six All-MLB players in 2001 and missing the playoffs, the Giants have just three All-MLB picks in a year that saw them win the National League. They lost the World Series to the Angels, who have five All-MLB players but none on the first team. Oakland’s five All-MLB picks and four First Teamers are just good enough to get them beaten by the Twins in the ALDS. The Yankees also had five All-MLB picks. The Braves have four on the All-MLB team, with three of them future Hall of Famers. Boston, Houston and the Dodgers have three apiece.
A trend that’s beginning to emerge through three years is that the All-Star Game pitching staffs and the All-MLB team pitching staffs don’t much resemble each other. Mike Mussina, the Hall of Famer, has been on the first three All-MLB teams despite not being an All-Star yet in the new millennium. Greg Maddux has also missed the last two All-Star games but has remained on the All-MLB teams. There are fewer roster spots for starting pitchers on the All-Star Team than there are on the All-MLB teams, which is a main reason for this discrepancy. And it’s worth noting that through three years, only one First Team All-MLB starting pitcher was not an All-Star (Mark Mulder in 2001). Still, this will warrant some attention moving forward.
THE WHO’S WHO: Make it four straight First Team picks for Bonds (.341 AVG, 1.278 OPS, 45 HR, a league-high 10.2 fWAR), who posts his third straight on base percentage over .500. I just want you to go back and read that last sentence again. Barry Bonds has, at this point, gotten on base more often than he has made an out for three straight years. Spoiler: he’ll do it again next year. If you’re reading this and you’re older than 22 years old, Barry Bonds is the greatest baseball player you’ve ever seen, and it isn’t even close.
It’s the third straight First Team nod for Pujols (NL-best .359 AVG, 1.106 OPS, 43 HR, 9.2 fWAR), who still hasn’t found a full-time defensive home yet, and second in a row for the brilliant Pedro Martinez (14-4, 2.22 ERA, 7.4 fWAR). Martinez and A-Rod are on the first team for the third time in four seasons. Posada, Sosa, Manny, and Mussina join those two and Bonds as our four-timers so far.
THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: Get used to seeing Big Papi among the DH crowd. David Ortiz was plucked from the waiver wire by the Red Sox and rewarded them with 31 homers, 101 RBI and a .961 OPS, good enough for the First Team.
A pair of really fun rookies helped the Florida Marlins win the World Series and both earned their first All-MLB honors. Dontrelle Willis high-kicked his way to 14 wins, a 3.30 ERA, the NL Rookie of the Year, and a second team nod. 20 year-old Miguel Cabrera posted an OPS of .793 while splitting time between third base and the outfield and is the third-team utility man, the first of what are going to be a lot of All-MLB picks.
This is the first, and only, All-MLB and First Team selection for Mark Prior. The brilliant righthander went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts, leading all pitchers in baseball with 8.4 fWAR and helping pitch the Cubs to within one win of their first NL pennant in eons. If anybody felt like a safe bet for long-term stardom, it was Prior. But injuries limited him to just three more seasons in the majors, never cracking 30 starts or 200 innings again, and he was done at age 25.
THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: There are some really goofy one-offs on the First Team this year. Gritty Bill Mueller hit .326 (4.7 fWAR) to win the AL batting crown for the Red Sox. Shannon Stewart was traded mid-season from Toronto to Minnesota and was viewed as being so influential in his 65 games with the AL Central-winning Twins (.322 average, .854 OPS) that he wound up fourth in the AL MVP voting (his 3.0 fWAR, tied for 134th best in the majors, would have suggested otherwise). Then there’s Esteban Loaiza, the surprise runner-up in the AL Cy Young voting, who went 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA (6.9 fWAR) for the White Sox. The 31 year-old righty had never been that good before, would never be that good again, and is now serving a three-year prison term after pleading guilty to federal drug charges in 2018. Life comes at you fast.
Guillermo Mota wasn’t the most valuable relief pitcher per fWAR this season, and in fact there are a host of good ones that got left off this list that I put together – guys like Minnesota’s LaTroy Hawkins and Damaso Marte of the White Sox. I put Mota on the First Team because I felt like his 105 innings in 76 appearances for the Dodgers, plus a 6-3 record and a 1.97 ERA, would have swayed the voters. Houston’s Brad Lidge earned some down-ballot Rookie of the Year votes, so he’s on the second team. And Anaheim’s Brendan Donnely carried a 1.58 ERA for the defending champions as their relief workhorse. There’s no real obvious way to retroactively recognize setup relievers if they weren’t recognized for their efforts at the time, so for now I’m looking at workload, ERA, and reputation, as I believe the voters would have.
MOST STACKED POSITION(S): Shortstop is once again loaded, with no room for Jeter or anyone from the National League like St. Louis’s Edgar Renteria or Atlanta’s Rafael Furcal. Slugging outfielders box out Ichiro and Andruw Jones. Billy Wagner and Mariano Rivera both miss out as closers. And this was a really good year for starting pitching, with the third team starters as impressive on paper as the First Team.
BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Jim Edmonds, OF, STL; Scott Rolen, 3B, STL; Lance Berkman, OF, HOU; Richard Hidalgo, OF, HOU; Ichiro, OF, SEA; Bobby Abreu, OF, PHI; Woody Williams, P, STL
Geez, did nobody watch the National League Central this year, or what?
ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (5): Scott Rolen, Edgar Renteria, Troy Glaus, Edgar Martinez, Hideki Matsui
ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (22): Bill Mueller, Shannon Stewart, David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Guillermo Mota, Jim Thome, Carlos Beltran, Frank Thomas, Aubrey Huff, Tim Hudson, Andy Pettitte, Johan Santana, Brad Lidge, Jason Varitek, Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada, Sammy Sosa, Juan Pierre, Miguel Cabrera, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Brendan Donnelly
The upstart Florida Marlins stunned the New York Yankees to win the World Series, but didn’t place any players on the First Team, though I’d argue Juan Pierre deserved First Team on the strength of his dope rhyme skills alone.
The man rhymed ‘Wrigley Field’ with ‘wiggly feel’. Your favorite rapper could NEVER.
Four Marlins total made it, not including World Series hero Josh Beckett or star first baseman Derrek Lee. The Yankees have five All-MLB picks, with Jorge Posada the lone First Teamer. Tops among all teams on the All-MLB chart are the Boston Red Sox, hard luck losers to New York in the ALCS. They have seven All-MLB players, three on the First Team. Atlanta claims five All-MLB picks, and the Dodgers, A’s and Blue Jays each have three.
I do want to stop here and note one player we’re not going to see again from here forward. Greg Maddux would pitch through the 2008 season, but after making the first three All-MLB teams of the new millennium, 2002 was his last one. Somehow, the brilliant Maddux, winner of 355 games and considered one of the two best right-handed pitchers of his generation, only appeared in eight All-Star games. But my guess is he would have made at least a dozen All-MLB teams, with at least half of those on the First Team. Count Maddux as one unimpeachable great whose legacy could have been even further bolstered by the existence of these honors.
THE WHO’S WHO: In 2004, the entire baseball world decided it was no longer worth it to pitch to Barry Bonds. He walked 232 times, 120 of them intentional, and posted an on base percentage of .609. I can’t even look at that sentence without giggling. On the odd occasion that Bonds did get a pitch to hit, all he did was blast 45 homers and win the batting title with a .362 average. His 11.9 fWAR leads baseball by more than two full wins. Barry Bonds broke baseball in 2004.
Yeah, yeah, I know. There’s that asterisk next to those numbers the size of Bonds’ gargantuan head. But if it were only steroids that made Barry Bonds a great player, then we’d have seen a lot more players hit 73 home runs, or OPS over 1.250 in four straight years, or be so menacing that a whole season’s worth of pitchers just refused to challenge him. Only Bonds did that, because there was only one of him, because there’s only one greatest baseball player ever, and he’s it.
Here’s a Barry Bonds at-bat from 2004 in which he’s batting against fellow All-MLB selection Eric Gagne. If you don’t enjoy this, you don’t enjoy baseball very much. In this century, the game has come to be defined by power. And here we have two of the era’s best, who went to some questionable (both legally and ethically) lengths to achieve their power, battling each other. If somebody years from now asked me to define what has come to be known as baseball’s Steroid Era, I’d just show them this at-bat. Not only did it represent what baseball was, it served unwittingly as a preview of where the game was headed a decade and a half later.
Bonds is a First Team All-MLB pick for a fifth straight year – and as it turns out, the final time in his career. He and Manny Ramirez, a second-teamer this year, are the only players who have appeared on this list five consecutive times, with A-Rod tumbling off the list after his trade to the Yankees and position switch to third base. Pujols finally has a positional home at first base, but he stays on the First Team for a fourth straight year, and Gary Sheffield and David Ortiz are also First Team repeaters. Vladimir Guerrero makes his third First Team, Miguel Tejada his second.
On the mound, Johnson, Schilling, Clemens and Rivera return to the First Team. It’s Johnson’s fourth such honor, Schilling’s third, and Clemens and Rivera’s second each. It’s worth noting that all five First Team starting pitchers had previously earned the honor. We won’t see that happen again for a while.
THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: Somehow it’s taken this long to get Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez on an All-MLB team. His career renaissance started the year before when he sparked the Marlins to a title in his lone year in Florida, but in 2004 he signed with the Tigers and helped a team that had won just 43 games the year prior win 72 games, hitting .334 and winning a Gold Glove in the process (4.7 fWAR).
It’s the first First Team nod for AL Cy Young winner Johan Santana, who arguably wrestles away the ‘Best Pitcher Alive’ title belt this season thanks to a 13-0, 1.21 ERA second half of his season (his 6.9 fWAR ranks behind only Johnson and Milwaukee’s Ben Sheets). Santana didn’t make the All-Star Game this year, but that wrong is righted with his First Team selection.
In his seventh big league season, Adrian Beltre broke out in a big way for the Dodgers, blasting 48 home runs with a 1.017 OPS and playing a brilliant third base (9.7 fWAR) to finish as the runner-up in the MVP balloting.
THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: Mark Loretta had been a steady if unspectacular up the middle presence for a decade before he broke out in his early 30s, and 2004 was his finest season, as he hit .335 with an .886 OPS and set career highs in homers (16) and RBI (76) for the Padres (5.8 fWAR). There are a lot of early 30s breakouts and players in their mid-to-late 30s making appearances on this list in this era, come to think of it. I wonder if anything was made illegal in the next few years that might change that in the 2010s.
Chone Figgins was never a great player, but he was a good one for about half a decade, and as a Swiss army knife kind of player on some good teams, he tended to show up down-ballot in the MVP races each year. Figgins had a .703 OPS, stole 34 bases and played six different positions this year for the Halos.
Jorge Posada didn’t make his fifth straight All-MLB team because he was displaced by Atlanta’s Johnny Estrada, who I must admit I had totally forgotten existed. Estrada hit .314 with an .828 OPS in 134 games for the division-winning Braves. It was his only season as an above-average offensive contributor, and after 23 games with the Nationals in 2008, he was out of the bigs.
MOST STACKED POSITION(S): So many great closers this year didn’t leave room for Lidge, who saved 29 games and fanned an astounding 157 batters in 94.2 innings for the Astros, or two others who received MVP votes – Texas’s Francisco Cordero and Florida’s Armando Benitez. Third base was really good, too, as the debuts of Beltre and the Cubs’ Aramis Ramirez edged out A-Rod, Chavez, and strong seasons from Texas’ Hank Blalock and Baltimore’s Melvin Mora, among others.
BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Alex Rodriguez, 3B, NYY; Melvin Mora, 3B, BAL; Moises Alou, OF, CHC; Aaron Rowand, OF, CHW; Bobby Abreu, OF, PHI; Carlos Lee, OF, CHW; Carlos Guillen, SS, DET; Livan Hernandez, P, MON
Hernandez is the third Expos pitcher in five years to get the shaft according to fWAR, with Javier Vazquez missing out twice in 2000 and 2001. Also, this is the third time making this particular list for Bobby Abreu, who was a lot better than anyone remembers.
ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (5): Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Edgar Renteria, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza
Back-to-back years on this list for Renteria, a fine player who benefited from being one of the more recognizable names on the ballot at shortstop in the National League when all the star power at that position was concentrated in the other league. (Through 2004, only one All-MLB shortstop – Rich Aurilla in 2001 – was a National League player.) Renteria had a career year in 2003 and just missed the All-MLB team that year, but was a below average hitter in 2004 (.287 AVG, .728 OPS) and his 2.0 fWAR ranked behind the likes of Adam Everett, Bobby Crosby, Cesar Izturis and Jack Wilson at the position.
ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (20): Adrian Beltre, Chone Figgins, Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt, Jim Edmonds, JD Drew, Erubiel Durazo, Brad Wilkerson, Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, Paul Konerko, Aramis Ramirez, Travis Hafner, Ryan Freel, Odalis Perez, Jaret Wright, Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy, Scot Shields
With the help of their five All-MLB picks, including First Team members Ortiz and Schilling, the Red Sox won their first championship since 1918, beating the Cardinals, who continue to be chronically underrepresented on these teams with just three total All-MLB players. The National League runner-up Astros had five players if you add Carlos Beltran to the total, who was acquired mid-season in a trade with the Royals. The Yankees, who blew a 3-0 series lead and fell to the Red Sox in an ALCS for the ages, had five All-MLB players, the Angels four, and the Braves three. Twenty-five of the thirty MLB teams are represented on the All-MLB team, the most so far. Only the Royals, Mets, Phillies, Rays and Blue Jays are unrepresented.
Beltran ended up finishing 12th in NL MVP voting, because those voters were only allowed to consider his time in that league. His 38 HR, .915 OPS and 104 RBI, plus a strong defensive reputation, might have nudged him up to the second team had voters considered his full season. That’s another flaw in this method, and we’ll address it further when it comes to players like CC Sabathia, Manny Ramirez, and Yoenis Cespedes and some of the huge half-seasons they posted.
THE WHO’S WHO: Bonds played just 14 games this season due to injury, leaving Manny Ramirez, who returned to the First Team thanks to 45 homers and 144 RBI for the defending champion Red Sox, as our only player to have appeared on all six of our All-MLB teams so far. Five-timers thus far are Pujols, A-Rod, Pedro, Giambi, and Posada.
This was Pujols’ fifth straight All-MLB First Team pick in as many seasons in the bigs. It was also his first MVP season (.330 AVG, 41 HR, 117 RBI, 7.7 fWAR), despite the fact that he was better by OPS and by fWAR in the previous two campaigns, because, well, Barry Bonds existed. He was second in all of baseball with a 1.039 OPS – we’ll meet the overall and NL leader in the next section. Though his Cardinals fell short of a return to the World Series, the only thing anybody outside of Houston remembers about their NLCS loss to the Astros is what he did in Game 5, with the Cardinals down to their final out in the series. It’s one of the greatest home runs I’ve ever seen. For me, it’s the defining memory of the greatest right-handed hitter of his generation.
Guerrero, Ortiz, Clemens, Oswalt and Rivera all repeat on the First Team. It’s the third straight honor for Big Papi, the fourth such honor for Guerrero, the third apiece for Clemens and Rivera, and the second for Oswalt. Lance Berkman is on the First Team for the second time in his career, as well.
THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: The Philadelphia Phillies didn’t make the playoffs in 2005, but they did complete their third straight winning season, and their young up-the-middle core was just starting to hit its prime together. Jimmy Rollins (.290 AVG, .770 OPS, 41 SB) and Chase Utley (.291 AVG, .915 OBP, 28 HR, 7.2 fWAR) make their first appearance on the All-MLB team as the First Team choices at shortstop and second base.
Derrek Lee was a superb all-around first baseman who hit 331 career dingers with a career OPS of .859 and won three Gold Gloves in fifteen seasons. 2005 was his finest hour as he led all of baseball with a 1.080 OPS, roping 50 doubles and 46 homers with a .335 batting average for the Cubs (7.0 fWAR). But despite a ten-year stretch in which he averaged an .899 OPS, this is the first and the only time he makes an All-MLB team, and he has to settle for the second team behind Pujols. Lots of guys who make one All-MLB team and then disappear are truly one-year wonders – see fellow second-team pick, Houston third baseman Morgan Ensberg, for example – but Derrek Lee wasn’t that. He just had the misfortune of being ‘very, very good’ at a position where it takes ‘great’ to get an All-MLB nod.
THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: Andrew Baggarly is a beat writer who covers the San Francisco Giants. Andrew Baggarly possesses a National League MVP vote. And Andrew Baggarly will, on occasion, toss a down-ballot vote to a Giants relief pitcher. In 2005, he voted for Scott Eyre, a left-handed specialist who appeared in a league-high 86 games and owned a 2.63 ERA, with 65 strikeouts in 68.1 innings. The Giants weren’t particularly good that year (75-87) and Eyre wasn’t especially dominant, but thanks to Andrew Baggarly’s prerogative, Scott Eyre is the First Team reliever on the All-MLB team in 2005.
I don’t say all this to pick on Baggarly – it’s his MVP ballot and he can do with it as he pleases. But this is an instance where, given the nature of this exercise, one writer’s ballot ends up being very influential. If the BBWAA had to choose relievers for this honor at the time, I’m not sure Eyre would have been an All-MLB pick – my guess is the voters would have gone with who I selected as the second team reliever, San Diego’s Scott Linebrink, who won eight games with a 1.83 ERA in 73 appearances as the top setup man for second team closer Trevor Hoffman, and might have gone with Minnesota’s Jesse Crain (who won 12 games in 75 appearances and got Rookie of the Year votes), Neal Cotts of the White Sox, or the Mets’ Aaron Heilman over Eyre.
MOST STACKED POSITION(S): Rollins is just the second NL shortstop to make an All-MLB team in our sixth year, and the position is so strong that two-time First Team pick Miguel Tejada is bounced. Twelve different starting pitchers got Cy Young or MVP votes – the tightly packed NL Cy Young race bumped Johan Santana off the First Team.
BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Jim Edmonds, OF, STL; Mark Teixeira, 1B, NYY; Placido Polanco, 2B, 2TM; Grady Sizemore, OF, CLE; Coco Crisp, OF, CLE; Eric Chavez, 3B, OAK; Marcus Giles, 2B, ATL; Carlos Zambrano, P, CHC
Third time on this list for Edmonds, whose fWAR was boosted by his defensive brilliance. He was fourth on his own team in MVP voting this year, behind David Eckstein, and got less of the MVP vote than did guys like Scott Podsednik and Hideki Matsui.
ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (7): Jim Edmonds, Aramis Ramirez, David Eckstein, Mike Piazza, Johnny Damon, Miguel Tejada, Mark Teixeira
David Eckstein started the 2005 All-Star Game for the NL. The runner-up in voting at short that year was the immortal Cesar Izturis. Third was the shell of a player that Nomar Garciaparra had become. Jimmy Rollins was sixth!
Sometimes the fans get it right – Tejada in particular was the standout shortstop in baseball in 2005, and we’ve discussed Edmonds already – but some guys coast into All-Star Games on reputation, and that’s the point of his career that Mike Piazza has reached by 2005. He’s made his last All-MLB roster.
ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (19): Chase Utley, Lance Berkman, Scott Eyre, Victor Martinez, Derek Jeter, Pat Burrell, Travis Hafner, Chone Figgins, Jose Contreras, Andy Pettitte, Cliff Lee, Scott Linebrink, Trevor Hoffman, Jorge Posada, Brian Giles, Jason Giambi, Jorge Cantu, Kevin Millwood, Jesse Crain
Thanks to the efforts of their three All-MLB starting pitchers (four All-MLB players total, though none on the First Team), the Chicago White Sox won their first World Series since 1917, sweeping the Houston Astros in one of the most forgettable Fall Classics of the century so far. Houston’s six All-MLB players, including three starting pitchers of their own, leads all NL teams. The Yankees had six All-MLB picks to lead the AL, while the Indians, Phillies and Padres each claimed four and the Red Sox and Angels had three apiece.