As a reminder: 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: Albert Pujols was better than Ryan Howard in any category you want to name (fWAR isn’t even close – 8.1 for Pujols, 5.9 for Howard) except for two that remain very important to MVP voters: home runs and RBI. Howard tallied 58 dingers and 149 RBI, while Pujols managed only 49 and 137, so the Phillies gargantuan slugger dethrones Pujols from the First Team for the first time in his career (and also forces AL MVP Justin Morneau – 34 HR, 130 RBI, and a 3.8 fWAR that ranks below guys like Joe Crede and Reed Johnson – to third team status, the only time we’ll see an MVP not be a First Team pick). Pujols does get the second team nod and is now a six-time All-MLB player, as is A-Rod, who isn’t just third team at his position, but second team in his own city behind rising Mets star David Wright. Manny Ramirez misses the All-MLB team for the first time despite owning a 1.058 OPS, second best in the AL. His ‘Manny being Manny’ act is growing stale in Boston and with the MVP voters, though it will gain new life in a new location in a couple of years.
This is Derek Jeter’s fifth All-MLB selection, but his first on the First Team as the veteran edges out the new crop of star shortstops that have arisen as the likes of Tejada and Garciaparra decline. Guerrero, Oswalt, and Schilling make their fifth All-MLB teams, and it’s the fourth time around for Ortiz (First Team for a fourth straight year), Santana, Alfonso Soriano (a 40/40 player with the Nationals this season), Smoltz, and Rivera.
It’s also the fifth All-MLB nod for Lance Berkman, and his third on the First Team (second straight) as bouncing around between first base and the outfield has made him utility-eligible the past two years. This is the final season in a seven-year stretch in which the switch-hitting Berkman averages 32 homers and 105 RBI per season and posts an OPS of .990 for the Astros. Maybe you’ve been surprised to see him pop up so often, but you shouldn’t be.
THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: Two young AL Central stars make their first First Team All-MLB debuts. Joe Mauer’s .347 average wins him the batting title, and Justin Verlander’s 17 wins for the pennant-winning Tigers earn him Rookie of the Year honors and down-ballot nods on the Cy Young and MVP ballots.
It’s also an overdue first time on the All-MLB team for Jermaine Dye, who registers his finest season (1.008 OPS, 44 HR, 120 RBI) for the White Sox and makes the First Team. Jermaine Dye was involved in two of the worst trades of the decade on the very same day – July 25th, 2001. The Royals sent him to Colorado in exchange for the atrocious Neifi Perez, and the Rockies, in turn, shipped him to Oakland for three guys who were out of the major leagues after the very next season. Dye was massive in the A’s playoff push in 2001, and though injuries blunted his effectiveness the rest of his time in green and gold, he had plenty left in the tank by the time he got to the south side of Chicago in 2005.
THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: Today it feels like every major league team has at least one reliever you’ve never heard of who possesses a triple-digit fastball. But it was still a relative rarity in 2006, which is what made Detroit setup man Joel Zumaya so electrifying.
He routinely threw over 100 miles per hour and even touched 104 on the radar gun, and his 1.94 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 83.1 innings in his rookie campaign were instrumental in the Tigers’ rise to prominence. But he missed part of the ALCS due to an injury (which was famously blamed on the video game ‘Guitar Hero’, a theory Zumaya later debunked) and that would prove to be the start of a trend that wrecked his career. He appeared in just 109 games over the next four seasons, hampered by hand, shoulder and elbow injuries, and never pitched in the majors again after 2010.
MOST STACKED POSITION(S): All three designated hitters ended up top-10 in the AL MVP balloting, which left no room for Jason Giambi to continue to rack up All-MLB appearances. And third base is really strong in this era, as evidenced by another snub for a player widely considered to be one of the era’s best, Scott Rolen.
BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Vernon Wells, OF, TOR; Scott Rolen, 3B, STL; Garrett Atkins, 3B, COL; Jason Bay, OF, PIT; Jeremy Bonderman, P, DET; John Lackey, P, LAA; CC Sabathia, P, CLE;
ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (5): Vernon Wells, Mark Loretta, Jason Bay, Edgar Renteria, Paul Lo Duca
ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (16): Justin Verlander, Frank Thomas, Chien-Ming Wang, Scot Shields, Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau, Carlos Guillen, Johnny Damon, Travis Hafner, Nick Swisher, John Smoltz, Aaron Harang, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe, Aaron Heilman
All but one of the First Team was an All-Star, which is the smallest number in that category so far. On the flip side, the AL MVP didn’t make the All-Star Game. Morneau hit .342 in the second half of the season, but his OPS, HR and RBI totals were all higher in the first half. Because the game was played in an NL park and the DH was not used, the American League only ended up taking one true first baseman so that David Ortiz could start at first base, and Paul Konerko got the nod instead of Morneau. Defensible in the moment, but at year’s end, Konerko was buried on the MVP ballot and Morneau took home the hardware.
Despite winning only 83 games in the regular season, the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series, beating the Tigers in five ugly games that are best remembered for Tigers pitchers completely forgetting how to play the sport of baseball whenever a batted ball was hit to them. In a reflection of their regular season struggles, only two Cardinals made the All-MLB team – Pujols and Chris Carpenter. The Tigers had five All-MLB picks, with Verlander and Zumaya on the First Team. The Yankees led all of baseball with seven All-MLB selections, but lost to the Tigers in the ALDS. The Mets had four All-MLB players to lead the National League, but came up short against the Redbirds in a seven-game NLCS. The Twins also had four All-MLB players, their most of the decade so far, on a 96-win team that won the AL Central.
THE WHO’S WHO: Pujols makes his seventh straight All-MLB team, but for the second straight year he’s knocked off the First Team by a young slugger. 23 year-old Prince Fielder slugged 50 homers and compiled a 1.018 OPS in making his debut on the All-MLB squad. Though Pujols’ all-around excellence is not in question, with 32 homers, a .327 average, a .997 OPS, and 7.7 fWAR that ties for tops in the NL with Chase Utley and healthily ahead of Fielder’s 4.7, maybe voter fatigue is starting to set in.
A-Rod (baseball’s leader with 9.6 fWAR) and Guerrero both make their fifth First Teams, with A-Rod an All-MLB choice for the seventh time and Guerrero the sixth. It’s also the sixth All-MLB team for First Team catcher Posada and his Yankee teammate Jeter. Ortiz, Soriano, Santana and Smoltz make their fifth All-MLB appearances, with Ortiz falling off the First Team for the first time since he shipped up to Boston in 2003. Ichiro, Roy Halladay, and Frank Thomas are four-time All-MLB picks.
Utley continues his three-year run as the First Team second baseman, but he and Arizona ace Brandon Webb are the only repeat First Team players from the season prior.
THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: He’s already well-established as one of the game’s preeminent power pitchers, but after a rough 2006 in his first season in Boston, Josh Beckett finally cracks the All-MLB list with a First Team selection. The right-hander goes 20-7 for the eventual world champs with 194 strikeouts in 200.2 innings (5.7 fWAR), and burnishes his big game reputation with brilliant performances in the playoffs.
B.J. Upton’s first full big league season was a sign of things to come for his team, the Rays, if not for Upton himself. He bashed 24 homers and OPSed .894 as a 23 year-old and makes the First Team as a utility man with time split between center field and second base. B.J. sits on the precipice of stardom for a few years but never gets there, and never returns to an All-MLB team.
Eric Byrnes, a Tasmanian Devil of a player, posted an .813 OPS and stole 50 bases for the NL West champion Diamondbacks to earn his only All-MLB nod. I mention him only so that I may share my personal favorite photo of Eric Byrnes from 2007.
Hey, I never promised you a completely unbiased look at this era.
THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: Carlos Marmol is another example of the First Team reliever being chosen on the basis of a single, lonely MVP vote. But it’s hard to argue against the Cubs electric right-hander, who fanned 96 hitters in 69.1 innings and posted a 1.43 ERA for the NL Central-winning Northsiders.
MOST STACKED POSITION(S): It’s another great year for third baseman, with Chipper Jones, Aramis Ramirez and NL Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun of the Brewers falling short. Two closers – Arizona’s Jose Valverde and Seattle’s JJ Putz – finish in the top 15 of the MVP ballot in their respective leagues, and there’s no room for typically excellent seasons from All-MLB mainstays Rivera and Nathan, or Boston rookie Jonathan Papelbon. And for the first time, all the starting pitcher slots are filled with starters who earned Cy Young and/or MVP votes, with a crowded field of excellence, including our first Rockies starter, Jeff Francis (who by my estimation would have been the second ever, and first since Marvin Freeman in 1994, to make an All-MLB team as a starting pitcher a mile above sea level).
BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Chipper Jones, 3B, ATL; Aaron Rowand, OF, PHI; Joe Blanton, P, OAK; Erik Bedard, P, BAL
ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (4): Jose Reyes, Barry Bonds, Carlos Beltran, Ken Griffey Jr.
Bonds posted a .480 OBP and a 1.045 OPS in his age-42 season, and clearly the fans still wanted to see him in the Midsummer Classic, but the Giants stunk and the media had turned on him completely by this point, so he didn’t receive a single MVP vote and never played again after this season. He probably could have helped an AL team as a DH well into his forties.
ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (17): Jimmy Rollins, B.J. Upton, Carlos Marmol, Brandon Phillips, Hanley Ramirez, Curtis Granderson, Eric Byrnes, Nick Swisher, Roberto Hernandez, Carlos Zambrano, Heath Bell, Carlos Pena, Frank Thomas, Ryan Doumit, Roy Halladay, Jeff Francis, Rafael Betancourt
Another winner of a major postseason award who got snubbed when it came to the All-Star Game, NL MVP Jimmy Rollins had a historic year, hitting 38 doubles, 20 triples, 30 homers, and stealing 41 bases for the NL East champion Phillies. He’s one of only four players in MLB history to have 20+ doubles, triples, dingers and steals in a season. He was also in no way better in 2007 than Colorado’s Matt Holliday (a 1.012 OPS, the league lead in batting average and RBI, and a 6.9-6.5 advantage in fWAR), the MVP vote was wrong and unjust, and I will never stop being upset about it. They weren’t chanting ‘M-V-P!’ at Citizen’s Bank Park in the postseason, but we sure were doing it at Coors Field – here’s delightful Zapruder-esque proof:
I say we because I’m in that video. In case you missed it, here I am:
I’m the one in a gray Todd Helton jersey.
Only three members of the Red Sox made All-MLB this season, and only Josh Beckett was First Team, but Boston was the class of the major leagues this year, winning their second title in four years by sweeping the Rockies in the Fall Classic. The upstarts from the Mile High City, who won 13 of their final 14 games just to make the playoffs and swept through the Phillies and Diamondbacks to win their first ever pennant, had just two All-MLB picks. The team with the most All-MLB players was the Cleveland Indians, who took Boston to seven games in the ALCS. They claim five All-MLB picks, while the team they outlasted in the AL Central, the Tigers, have four. The Yankees, Phillies and Diamondbacks have three, including two First Team picks each, while the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Cubs also each have three.
THE WHO’S WHO: Pujols and A-Rod join the Eight-Timers club, with Albert returning to his First Team perch with an MVP season (.357 AVG, 1.114 OPS, 37 HR, 116 RBI, 8.7 fWAR) and Rodriguez garnering third team recognition at third. Vlad Guerrero, the only position player to repeat from the year prior, makes his seventh All-MLB team and sixth First Team as the DH. Then there’s the return of Manny Ramirez, who went absolutely nuclear after being traded from Boston to the Dodgers. Ramirez lit up Tinseltown to the tune of a .396 average and a 1.232 OPS, and was so impactful in just 53 games in the Senior Circuit that he ended up fourth in the NL MVP vote.
It’s a return engagement for three-fifths of the First Team rotation. CC Sabathia didn’t win a Cy Young this year, but he ended up sixth in NL MVP voting. After being dealt from Cleveland to Milwaukee, the big lefthander put the Brewers on his back, going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and hurling a complete game on short rest on the final day of the season to help the Crew reach the playoffs. It’s one of the great clutch pitching half-seasons of the era. Johan Santana and Roy Halladay make their third First Team appearances as well.
It’s Santana and Mike Mussina’s sixth time each on an All-MLB team, and it seems like a good year to point out just how difficult it is for pitchers to be on this list so consistently by pointing to one of Mussina’s teammates on the second team this year – Brandon Webb. Webb won the NL Cy Young in 2006, was a First Team selection that year and in 2007, and to this point, making three straight All-MLB teams is a feat only accomplished by eight other starters (Johnson, Maddux, Mussina, Schilling, Martinez, Hudson, Santana, Oswalt), half of whom are in the Hall of Fame. In this three-year stretch, Webb made 101 starts, pitched 698 innings, and posted a 3.13 ERA while posting a K/BB ratio of nearly 3/1. He finished first, second, and second in the Cy Young voting. On Opening Day of 2009, Webb lasted just four-plus innings against the Rockies, allowing six runs before departing with an injury. The initial reports suggested Webb was experiencing shoulder tightness and wouldn’t miss a start, but those reports proved far too optimistic. His arm was shot, and he never threw another pitch in the major leagues.
2008 is Mussina’s final season in the majors and he goes out in style with the first 20-win season of his career. Mussina ended up making six All-MLB teams in this exercise, which is six more than the number of All-Star appearances he made in the same time period. This makes him one of the poster children for what I was hoping this exercise might accomplish. Mussina is going into the Hall of Fame this summer, and deservedly so, but it took him six ballots to reach the 75 percent of the vote needed for induction, and only 20 percent of the same electorate thought he was Hall-worthy the first time he appeared on the ballot. If, instead of looking at Mussina’s resume and seeing only five All-Star appearances (and none after 1999), voters had seen at least 12 All-MLB appearances (a quick estimate on my part – he received Cy Young votes in six seasons before 2000 and would have been All-MLB in those years according to my process), would his long track record of success have been more readily understood and appreciated?
THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: Tim Lincecum, the diminutive Giants right-hander with a violent delivery and dynamite stuff, won his first Cy Young in 2008, going 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA (7.4 fWAR) and beating out Webb and Santana in the NL vote, starting a four-year run of dominance. Speaking of diminutive, the AL MVP went to Boston’s second base spark plug, Dustin Pedroia, who hit .326 with an .869 OPS and scored 118 runs (6.4 fWAR) at the top of the Red Sox lineup. He unseats Chase Utley as the First Team second sacker. Ryan Braun’s rookie season wasn’t enough for All-MLB honors at third base in 2007, but a move to the outfield, plus another 37-homer campaign, placed him on the First Team this year.
It’s the first time on the First Team for previous All-MLB honorees David Wright, Hanley Ramirez, Cliff Lee, and Francisco Rodriguez, who set the all-time major league record with 62 saves for the Angels.
THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: Carlos Quentin led the White Sox to the AL Central crown, mashing 36 homers and driving in 100 runs with a .965 OPS. He would hit 20+ home runs the next three seasons and made an All-Star team in 2011, but injuries limited his effectiveness and he finished his career largely forgotten as a Padre in 2014. Hong-Chi Kuo was a failed starter turned dynamic reliever for the Dodgers, who tallied 96 strikeouts in 80 innings with a 2.14 ERA to earn his first First Team selection.
MOST STACKED POSITION(S): The two best catchers in the league by fWAR in 2008, Atlanta’s Brian McCann and Russell Martin of the Dodgers, both miss the cut, as NL MVP voters were more enamored by the NL Central duo of Yadier Molina from St. Louis and rookie Geovany Soto from the Cubs. There’s no room for top-10 MVP finishers Lance Berkman and Carlos Delgado at first base beyond three former MVPs themselves. Third base is also loaded once again, and at closer, Jose Valverde misses out, despite earning MVP consideration in the NL, in favor of Rivera.
BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Brian McCann, C, ATL; Lance Berkman, 1B, HOU, Russell Martin, C, LAD; Chipper Jones, 3B, ATL; Mark Teixeira, 1B, 2TM; Nick Markakis, OF, BAL; Evan Longoria, 3B, TBR; Aaron Cook, P, COL; John Danks, P, CHW
ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (4): Lance Berkman, Chipper Jones, Kosuke Fukudome, Derek Jeter
Oh, gosh, Kosuke Fukudome. The Cubs were very good in 2008, winning the NL Central, and Fukudome made a big splash immediately upon coming to the north side of Chicago from Japan. In his first month in the bigs, the outfielder hit .327 with a .915 OPS. I attended a couple of Cubs games at Wrigley Field during the early part of that season and can recall Fukudome signs and merchandise appearing in the stands, much of which was, shall we say, deeply problematic. But his batting average tumbled every month after that April, and he never hit better than .263 in five big league seasons (though it should be noted he was an above average hitter, per OPS+, in 2009 and 2010 thanks to his keen batting eye) before heading back to Japan in 2012. If I could take you with me back in time to the left field bleachers in Wrigley in 2008 you’d think Fukudome was the biggest thing to come from Japan since Pocky. And you’d have been right, for that fleeting moment.
That was a lot of words about a player that wasn’t very good, but at the time I was finishing up college at a liberal arts school in the Midwest, which is code for ‘being surrounded by a lot of Cubs fans’.
ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (22): Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero, CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, Hong-Chi Kuo, Ryan Howard, Jose Reyes, Aubrey Huff, Marco Scutaro, Mike Mussina, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Grant Balfour, Yadier Molina, Jason Bartlett, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Beltran, Nick Punto, Cole Hamels, AJ Burnett, Chad Billingsley, Mark Buehrle, JP Howell
This is the most egalitarian All-MLB team to this point, as 11 teams have at least three All-MLB players. The co-leaders with four All-MLBers is the World Series winner, the Philadelphia Phillies, who defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in five games in a series most memorable for having a game suspended due to rain. The Mets also have four All-MLB players, but famously blew the NL East race in the final days. Three teams – the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Brewers, have two First Team picks, with the Dodgers and the Brewers adding theirs (Manny and Sabathia) at the trade deadline and benefitting from both moves to the tune of playoff berths. It pays to be active before July 31st.
THE WHO’S WHO: One decade into this exercise, the standard bearers are clearly Pujols and A-Rod, back on the All-MLB squad for a ninth time each. A-Rod, on the team for a fifth straight year, is bumped to the second team by San Francisco’s rotund switch-hitting sensation Pablo Sandoval, but Pujols earns the seventh First Team nod of his career as the voters tabbed him the unanimous NL MVP. With 47 homers and an MLB-best 1.101 OPS (8.4 fWAR), his dominion over the rest of baseball is unquestioned.
Derek Jeter is back on the All-MLB team for a seventh time, turning in a brilliant season for the World Champs (his 6.7 fWAR is the second-best single season mark of his career behind 1999’s 7.4). Roy Halladay’s second-team selection is his sixth. And Mariano Rivera is a six-time honoree as a reliever, the most by anyone at that position thus far, and a fourth-time First Team choice.
Repeat performers from the 2008 squad include AL MVP and batting champ Joe Mauer (whose .365 AVG and 1.031 OPS lead the AL with his 8.2 fWAR second behind Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist), Hanley Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis, and Lincecum, who repeats as the NL Cy Young winner (7.7 fWAR). Chase Utley makes his fifth All-MLB team and fourth First Team, and Chris Carpenter is back on the First Team for the first time since 2006 and second time overall.
THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: After an up-and-down start to his career, including a lengthy break away from the game to deal with anxiety issues, Zack Greinke becomes the best pitcher in the game in 2009, going 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA and 242 strikeouts in 229.1 innings for the otherwise moribund Royals.
The Royals won’t be good for a while yet, but it’s a fun coincidence that the two best players in all of baseball in 2009, according to fWAR, are two players who will affect the eventual 2015 World Champion Royals in very different ways – Greinke and Zobrist, a first time All-MLB pick as the second team utility man, both of whom post 8.7 fWAR.
It’s also a First Team and All-MLB debut for ‘King Felix’, Seattle ace Felix Hernandez. The 23 year-old went 19-5 for the Mariners with a 2.49 ERA (7.0 fWAR) and begins a seven-year stretch of excellence.
Two other first-timers are worth mentioning. Mark Teixeria had been a noteworthy omission at first base before, but in coming to New York, his contributions to a champion couldn’t be overlooked. He’s the second team All-MLB first baseman as his 39 homers and 122 RBI lead the AL. And after being overlooked earlier in his career because his brilliance occurred north of the border in front of empty seats in Montreal, Atlanta’s Javier Vazquez finally dents the All-MLB squad, as his 15 wins and 2.87 ERA for the NL East champs earns him a second-team honor.
Speaking of players who benefited from a new spotlight, Jason Bay makes the First Team for the first time thanks to 36 homers and a .921 OPS, a typically excellent season from him that just happened to happen in a Red Sox uniform. Unfortunately, concussions would mar the rest of Bay’s career.
THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: It’s an odd mix at the DH spot this year, with Toronto’s Adam Lind earning the first and only All-MLB and First Team distinction of his career thanks to 35 homers and a .932 OPS.
Had these teams existed in real life, Royals fans would have been dreaming of the day both Greinke and Jeremy Affeldt made the First Team together. The two came up as prospects together through the Kansas City farm, with Affeldt debuting in 2002 and Greinke the next year. But things never clicked for Affeldt as a Royal, and after finding himself as a reliever with the Rockies, the left-hander enjoyed his best years as a trusty late-inning option for Bruce Bochy and the Giants. Affeldt earned a tenth-place MVP vote – another Andrew Baggarly special, see Eyre, Scott – thanks to a 1.73 ERA in 74 appearances for a Giants team that was on the cusp of a title run.
MOST STACKED POSITION(S): Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were fourth in their respective leagues in MVP voting, but not good enough to make All-MLB at first base. Neither were Adrian Gonzalez, Derrek Lee and Todd Helton, to name three other top-15 MVP vote recipients who couldn’t crack the list in a deep year at the position.
BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Evan Longoria, 3B, TBR; Brian McCann, C, ATL; Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, WAS; Franklin Gutierrez, OF, SEA; Carl Crawford, OF, TBR; Prince Fielder, 1B, MIL; Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, SDP; Jason Bartlett, SS, TBR
If you haven’t noticed by now, defense is a significant part of any WAR calculation, so this list tends to be populated by players who might not have put up top-of-the-charts Triple Crown numbers but were such excellent glovemen that it boosted their value beyond that of their peers. The Rays in particular were a notoriously excellent defensive team at this team and it’s not a surprise to see three of their starters on this list. McCann and Zimmerman were also great defenders. Then there’s Franklin Gutierrez, who hit .285 with a .764 OPS but was so brilliant with the leather that he was worth 6.1 fWAR, more than any other outfielder in baseball in 2009. It was Gutierrez’s only season above even 2.5 fWAR, as he struggled with injuries, but he was one of the great defensive center fielders of his time, even though it was just a short time.
ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (4): Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Raul Ibanez, David Wright
ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (23): Pablo Sandoval, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Adam Lind, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jeremy Affeldt, Alex Rodriguez, Bobby Abreu, Jason Kubel, CC Sabathia, Javier Vasquez, Matt Thornton, Huston Street, Robinson Cano, Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Holliday, Hideki Matsui, Michael Cuddyer, Cliff Lee, Jon Lester, Jared Weaver, Michael Wuertz
After an eight-year drought, the Yankees earned ring number 27 in their storied history, and they were helped along by a league-high seven All-MLB picks – but only the great Rivera on the first team. They topped the Phillies, whose five All-MLB picks included mid-season trade acquisition Cliff Lee, in the Fall Classic. St. Louis and Boston also had five All-MLB selections, with the Cardinals and Giants each claiming three First Team nods. The Giants, however, missed the playoffs entirely in 2009, finishing third in the NL West behind the Dodgers (two All-MLB, both First Team) and Wild Card-winning Rockies (two All-MLB).
Ten years into this exercise, some trends are emerging. The All-MLB teams are much better at honoring pitchers than the All-Star rosters of the same year, I think. Players with terrific defensive metrics but less impressive batting numbers continue to suffer, in particular early in the decade when sluggers who manned the corners of the outfield outnumbered the graceful all-around greats in the middle. Maybe a positional specificity in the outfield selections would help lead to a better outcome for players like Jim Edmonds or Andruw Jones. But it’s a deficiency that can’t be so easily shored up at positions like third base or catcher, where great hitters who are subpar defenders easily outnumber great defenders with above-average hitting numbers.
THE WHO’S WHO: Pujols is back for the tenth time in as many seasons, but he’s relegated to the second team for the third time in four years thanks to an MVP performance at first base in the National League from Cincinnati’s Joey Votto (.324 AVG, 1.024 OPS, 37 HR, 113 OPS, and 6.9 fWAR to Pujols’ 6.7). Vlad Guerrero’s big bat earns him the First Team honor as the DH for the third time in four seasons, and he’s on his eighth All-MLB team.
NL Cy Young winner Roy Halladay becomes the most decorated pitcher thus far. This is his seventh All-MLB team and his fourth First Team, tying Randy Johnson for most First Team berths since 2000. In his first year pitching for a real contender after being traded from Toronto to Philadelphia in the offseason, the Colorado native rises to the occasion, going 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA and leading the league in innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts (5.9 fWAR). He would then twirl just the second no-hitter in MLB postseason history in the NLDS against Cincinnati.
David Ortiz and Roy Oswalt, both on the third team, make their sixth All-MLB squads, and First Team hurler CC Sabathia joins second teamers Matt Holliday and Tim Hudson in the five-timers club.
Forty percent of the First Team rotation repeats from 2009 – Felix Hernandez and Adam Wainwright. Joe Mauer makes his third straight First Team and fourth in five seasons. And Hong-Chi Kuo becomes the first player to earn two First Team selections as the relief pitcher.
THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: After a nomadic start to his big league career, Jose Bautista finally finds a home in Toronto and explodes with a 54 homer, .995 OPS season (6.6 fWAR), which lands him on the First Team as a utility player. It’s the start of a six-year stretch in which he averages 38 homers a season with an OPS of .945. The term ‘launch angle’ wasn’t yet in vogue, but Bautista was among the first players to reshape their careers by simply trying to hit the ball in the air as far as they could, as often as they could.
Three young Tampa Bay stars debut as All-MLB picks on the First Team – third baseman Evan Longoria (.294 AVG, 22 HR, 15 SB, 7.6 fWAR), center fielder Carl Crawford (.307 AVG, 19 HR, 47 SB, 7.8 fWAR) and pitcher David Price (19-6, 2.72 ERA, 4.3 fWAR).
THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: We’re entering the social media age in earnest by the time 2010 rolls around, and one of the first players to leverage ‘viral’ stardom was eccentric Giants closer Brian Wilson. Wilson’s electric fastball helped him save 48 games for the world champions that season, but his outlandish personality to say nothing of his equally outlandish facial hair, was what made him one of the game’s more recognizable characters. Wilson even ended up with a national TV campaign for Taco Bell.
Man, I miss exactly one of the things from that video, and it’s that chalupa. Anyway, before James Harden, Wilson had the most famous beard in sports, and though he only had one more good season after this before arm injuries derailed his career, he’ll be long remembered as one of the faces of the unlikely Giants dynasty.
Writing all those nice things about Brian Wilson and the Giants made me a little bit ill, so to cleanse my palate, let me talk about Carlos Gonzalez for a second. This is CarGo’s only All-MLB nod – I would say ‘to date’ as he’s still an active player, but his best days are clearly behind him. In 2010, the Rockies right fielder was a supernova. He hit .336 to win the NL batting crown, socked 34 homers, drove in 117 runs, stole 26 bases, and won a Gold Glove (5.7 fWAR). He also hit one of the most awesome home runs I have ever witnessed – a walk-off homer to complete a cycle against the Cubs.
Swagger on a hundred thousand trillion.
Though Gonzalez made three other All-Star games with the Rockies, he never again reached these heights, but if I could go back and relive watching any one Rockies player’s single season, it might be CarGo in 2010.
MOST STACKED POSITION(S): Three straight years, Brian McCann has been one of the game’s best catchers, and three straight years he can’t get on this list due to the emergence of rookie Buster Posey in San Francisco and an excellent season for Carlos Ruiz in Philadelphia. Third base is again excellent, with Ryan Zimmerman and David Wright both missing out. And the starting pitching crop is so good that despite 19 wins, a 2.88 ERA, and one of the greatest first halves (15-1, 2.20 ERA) in modern memory, AND the extra credit that comes with doing all of that in Denver, Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez falls short of the first team, as does fellow 19-game winner Jon Lester of the Red Sox. And there were pitchers who received Cy votes that didn’t even make All-MLB at all – I took a bit of a liberty with this one, placing Lincecum on the third team ahead of San Diego’s Mat Latos, despite Latos having two more Cy votes than Lincecum, because I think the voters would not have snubbed the two-time defending Cy Young winner in an All-MLB vote.
BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Brian McCann, C, ATL; Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, WAS; Andres Torres, OF, SFG; Brett Gardner, OF, NYY; Francisco Liriano, P, MIN
If you’ve been paying attention, you read this list and thought to yourself ‘huh, I guess Andres Torres was one heck of a defensive player this season’. And you’d be right! But he did OPS .822, hit 16 homers, and swipe 22 bags, so he wasn’t a cipher at the plate by any means. Randomly good seasons by random dudes were a constant in San Francisco’s title runs of this decade.
ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (8): Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Howard, David Wright, Andre Ethier, Corey Hart, Yadier Molina, Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter
2010 marks the tenth consecutive All-Star appearance for Ichiro, who hit .315 and led the league with 214 hits. It’s also his last All-Star Game, and his 2009 All-MLB nod is his last of those, meaning that Ichiro appears on precisely half as many All-MLB teams (5) as All-Star teams (10). It’s the second-biggest such discrepancy of this time frame.
Ichiro finished his career with a .311 average and 3,089 hits. He’s a no-doubt Hall of Famer and one of the most memorable, beloved, and unique players in baseball history. But because he never put up loud numbers beyond the batting average category (his career highs in HR and RBI were 13 and 69, respectively) and played on teams that were lousy more often than not, he didn’t get a ton of love in MVP voting. Of course, massive support from his home country of Japan helped him a great deal in the All-Star balloting, and he started the game twice in years in which he didn’t merit All-MLB status. His star isn’t diminished by missing out on more All-MLB plaudits, and I wonder, were voters more inclined to ignore team success (or lack thereof) in an actual All-MLB vote, if Ichiro’s high batting averages and phenomenal defense would have put him on a few more of these teams in his career.
ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (14): Felix Hernandez, Buster Posey, Dan Uggla, Stephen Drew, Jayson Werth, Delmon Young, Jim Thome, Aubrey Huff, Carlos Ruiz, Rickie Weeks, Alexei Ramirez, Shin-Soo Choo, Roy Oswalt, Matt Belisle
Only one member of the First Team didn’t make the All-Star Game in 2010, and it was the AL Cy Young Award winner. Felix Hernandez posted just 13 wins for the lousy Mariners, which in past years his 13-12 record would have gotten him overlooked entirely for the Cy Young. But by any other metric, he was clearly the league’s best pitcher. His 2.27 ERA led the league, as did his 249.2 innings, and he struck out 232 batters. He allowed the fewest hits per nine innings (7.0) of any AL starter. And in the end, not only did he win the Cy over two 19-game winners (Price and Lester) and a 21-game winner (Sabathia), the vote was not close. (fWAR had Cliff Lee as the only pitcher better than Hernandez, but because he went 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA down the stretch for the Rangers, he finished just seventh in AL Cy Young voting.) It was not a resoundingly popular decision – writers and players were openly critical – but Hall of Fame baseball writer Ross Newhan spoke for an expanding portion of the BBWAA when he wrote this:
Times change, however, and I do not mean to imply that this dinosaur baseball writer is suddenly a sabermetric seamhead. I have simply come to accept that the daily collection of statistics in this new millennium features a wide range of metrics that should play a part in determining the best pitcher.
As a former national baseball columnist at The Los Angeles Times, much of this change in my thinking developed through the gradual inclusion of these metrics — for pitchers and hitters — in my writing. There was not one defining moment but simply an acceptance that a pitcher’s record alone or a hitter’s home run total or batting average did not equate to a postseason award. There was a need — as my son knew as a player and saw before me — to incorporate the total package in any judgment.
Moving forward, when filling roster slots on the All-MLB teams, particularly in the pitching slots, I’ll be more reliant on rate stats and fWAR than on the traditional counting numbers, as I believe the voters have been since Hernandez’s Cy Young victory.
As I mentioned before, the Giants won the World Series in 2010, their first of three titles over the next five years. They are represented by four All-MLB players, with Wilson their only First Team pick. The Texas Rangers won their first ever AL pennant and have three All-MLB players, including AL MVP Josh Hamilton. The most represented team is the Rays, who won 96 games but lost in the ALDS to Texas. They have five All-MLB picks and three on the First Team. Philadelphia, who lost to the Giants in the NLCS, and Colorado and Boston, who missed the playoffs entirely, each had four players selected.
THE WHO’S WHO: Pujols is back, but now behind two of his first base peers as Miguel Cabrera enters his prime just as Pujols is departing his. It’s the first time on the third team for Pujols, but his 11th All-MLB selection overall. Roy Halladay turns in another brilliant season, and though he loses out on the NL Cy Young he’s back on the First Team for a fifth time, and on the All-MLB roster for the eighth time.
Mariano Rivera becomes the first reliever to make seven All-MLB teams. CC Sabathia earns his sixth All-MLB nod, as does Lance Berkman, back on the squad for the first time since 2006 as he enjoyed a late-career renaissance in St. Louis. The aforementioned Cabrera and Cliff Lee, both on the First Team, make their fifth All-MLB squads.
Lee is the third most valuable pitcher and seventh most valuable player in all of baseball in 2011, per fWAR. After a wild two seasons in which he is a mid-season trade acquisition by the Phillies in 2009 (who he helps win a pennant), an off-season trade acquisition by the Mariners in 2010 (the Phillies traded Lee to Seattle on the SAME DAY they traded FOR Roy Halladay), and a mid-season trade acquisition by the Rangers in 2010 (who he helps win a pennant), Lee signs back with the Phillies in 2011 and goes 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA and a league-leading six shutouts. Lee’s first All-MLB appearance came in 2005 with the Indians, but the southpaw took steps backwards after that year and was sent to the minors during a disappointing 2007. Whatever he learned there stuck, as he won the AL Cy Young Award in 2008 and kickstarted a stretch from that season to the end of his career in which he went 89-55 with a 2.93 ERA in 199 starts. Had his arm not gone bad on him at the age of 35, I feel like Lee could have pitched capably into his late-30s and maybe his 40s if he’d wanted. He was a craftsman and a forgotten great of his era.
Three-quarters of the infield are first-team repeaters from 2010 – Yankee second sacker Robinson Cano, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, and Longoria. Jose Bautista repeats as the First Team utility man. Braun, Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, and Tigers closer Jose Valverde make the second First Teams of their careers, as does Verlander, who sweeps the AL MVP and Cy Young votes.
THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: The best left-handed pitcher to enter the league since Randy Johnson, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw snatches the NL Cy Young away from Halladay with a 21 win, 2.28 ERA, 248 strikeout campaign, leading the league in all three categories (his 7.9 fWAR is behind Halladay’s 8.4, however). The 23 year-old is about to make a whole bunch of these teams in a row thanks to mid-90s heat, a disappearing slider, and a curveball memorably called ‘Public Enemy #1’ by no less an authority than Vin Scully. Watch Kershaw make a whole bunch of dudes look really silly.
Boston center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury absolutely erupted in 2011, hitting .321 with a .928 OPS, 32 homers, 39 steals, and Gold Glove defense. By fWAR, he’s baseball’s best player, and not by a little, either, as his 9.5 fWAR is over a full win better than anybody else in the game. He will never be remotely this good again, accumulating just 13.4 fWAR total over the next six seasons, and he hasn’t appeared in a major league game since 2017. At 35, with a history of injuries, it won’t be a shock if he never plays again.
THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: Alex Avila backstopped the Tigers to a division crown in 2011 and had a career year at the plate, slashing .295/.389/.506 with 19 homers and 82 RBI. By fWAR, he’s only the seventh best catcher in the league, but with a 12th-place finish in the AL MVP vote, he’s the First Team choice.
I’ll note here that this is the fewest players I had to fill out rosters with in the course of this exercise, with only the second team and third team reliever spots needing my intervention. The MVP and Cy Young ballots were varied this season so I didn’t have to go digging for an extra catcher or utility man.
MOST STACKED POSITION(S): As noted above, it was a strong year for catchers, with Brian McCann, Matt Wieters and Jonathan Lucroy among those who turned in excellent seasons but missed the cut. The closer spots were tough as well, with Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel edging Milwaukee’s John Axford for the final spot by virtue of earning the NL Rookie of the Year award.
BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Brian McCann, C, ATL; Alex Gordon, OF, KC; Joey Votto, 1B, CIN; Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, BOS; Jonathan Lucroy, C, MIL; Doug Fister, P, 2TM; Felix Hernandez, P, SEA
OK, I’m starting to feel bad for McCann, who has been the best player to not make an All-MLB team in each of the last four seasons. He’s bopped over 20 homers in each of these years, but where he has really shone, according to fWAR, is with his defense. Quantifying catcher defense, particularly the value of ‘framing’ pitches, is a matter that’s still being debated, but clearly McCann was not just excellent at it, but significantly better than his peers. He’s a very good player whose best skill went completely unnoticed and unaccounted for in award voting, mostly because nobody was, or is to this day, able to agree just how to quantify that skill.
ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (6): Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, David Ortiz, Rickie Weeks, Brian McCann, Scott Rolen
ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (12): Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Ben Zobrist, Ian Kennedy, Sergio Romo, Albert Pujols, Ian Kinsler, Mike Morse, Dan Haren, Yovanni Gallardo, Mike Adams
For the second year in a row, only one First Team All-MLB player wasn’t an All-Star. That’s Longoria, who hit just .239 with a .781 OPS in the first half before finishing with a .249 average and a .907 OPS in the second half. The fans voted for Adrian Beltre and the league took Kevin Youkilis and A-Rod at third base instead. This is also the fewest number of players who were All-MLB but not All-Stars since we started this exercise.
The Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants, and Philadelphia Phillies all tallied five All-MLB players, with the Rangers acquiring Mike Adams, the Giants picking up Carlos Beltran, and the Phillies trading for Hunter Pence midway through the season. Four of those five teams made the playoffs, with the defending champion Giants just missing. But the World Championship flag from 2011 flew in St. Louis, as the Cardinals topped the Rangers in seven games in one of the three best Fall Classics of the century so far. St. Louis had just three All-MLB players, and none on the First Team.