January 17, 2013
In A Pickle
The Disunited States of America
It's 2013, which, as you well know, means it's time for the World Baseball Classic, which in turn means that it's time to speculate about rosters and project results and ask just how much Italian blood you need to be eligible and complain about Team Canada's weird caps and be jealous of Team Mexico's sweet sweet sweet unis. More than all that, though, here's what I'm really interested in:
(Population is rounded to the nearest million and taken from the latest estimates on Wikipedia, the best source for all correct and honest information on the Internet.)
There are some big countries and there are some small countries. (Also territories.) The United States is one of the big ones. So big, in fact, that if you start adding from the smallest on up, it takes the population of 12 countries/territories to top the U.S.'s 315 million souls. (If you add all 15 non-China countries up, though, you still don't reach China's population. You don't even get particularly close. China is very large. Has anyone looked into this?)
For comparison to some of those countries/territories, here are some of the states that make up our little federation:
The task I have assigned myself, which you've possibly already figured out at this point: I am going to create a team of players born in each of those states. While it would be nice to limit myself only to active players, that's going to be impossible for the smaller states, so I will instead limit eligibility to players who are merely alive, with a preference for more recently active athletes, though not a hard-and-fast one. (If I'm choosing between Conor Jackson and Matt Young for a backup outfielder spot, I'll take Jackson even though Young played in 2012, for instance.)
I'll make standard 25-man teams with five starters, seven relievers (yurgh, but I guess it's the way of things and there's not likely any going back any time soon), the usual position men, and a bench as good as I can make it while still covering the basic bases (backup catcher, e.g., is a must—no throwing my hands up and shouting, "Cust! Bring your big mitt!"). I'll even put the guys in a preferred batting order for the hell of it. Trust me, that part is going to get hilarious come Oklahoma time.
You would expect this to be a great team, and it does not disappoint.
Dustin Pedroia, 2B (Woodland), .286
John Jaso is the least famous member of the starting lineup, and he's no slouch of a backstop. I thought about bringing Jonny Gomes (Petaluma) as platoon DH and cheerleader, but giving up Allen Craig's bat and flexibility wasn't worth it.
Ryan Cook (Clovis), 4.44
There's significant depth in the starting-pitcher pool here —even aside from the fact that I shoved Kris Medlen and C.J. Wilson back into relief roles, Doug Fister (Merced), Ian Kennedy (Huntington Beach), Brandon McCarthy (Glendale), Matt Garza (Selma), and Trevor Cahill (Oceanside) didn't crack the rotation (though I'd understand some controversy on that point vis a vis Shields). I could have built an entire bullpen from starters, but that felt boring. The relievers are in no particular order because my California team (which will be managed by Jason Giambi (West Covina)) is not going to have traditional bullpen roles.
Would you pick against this team in the real WBC? They would at least be co-favorites with Cuba and the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, right? I think they'd beat Canada, the country whose population is most similar. Which they should. Canada's a frozen wasteland of politeness. If I learned one thing from Dollar Sign on the Muscle, Kevin Kerrane's legendary book about baseball scouts, it's that the most important factor in picking a pitcher is whether he'll knock you on your ass. Canadians have selected out all their ass-knockers and put them on skates and taken their teeth away. The non-hockey players aren't mean enough to get Prince Fielder out or to do much more than wave politely at Sergio Romo's slider as it buzzes past into Jaso's mitt.
Adam Eaton, CF (Springfield), .272
Pete Rose (Cincinnati) is technically eligible for this team and is arguably a better option than David Lough or Matt Kata. Or either of the catchers for that matter. I just can't bring myself to do it, though. I'd take away from his hectic Las Vegas autographing schedule and, in any case, chemistry matters and Rose is weird.
I chose Payton over Angle as a starter even though Angle played in the bigs in 2011 and Payton hasn't since 2010 because otherwise the squad was just too depressing. Ohio was once a major, important state! Depending on how you count William Henry Harrison, six American presidents have been from there. That's tied with New York (not counting Grover Cleveland twice) and Ohio wins the tiebreaker because of Warren G. Harding.
Matt Guerrier (Cleveland), 3.47
Roger Clemens (Dayton) should be on this list, but starting pitching is actually the strength of this team, so if there's anywhere that I need to break the rules, it isn't there. I do apologize, by the way, for violating #notomkos.
This team is not quite as good as California's. Fair to say, right? Also fair to say they'd get eaten alive by the Cuban team that comes from the country closest to Ohio's population. Their only hope would be to convince the Cuban team to throw the game in exchange for defection for the entire squad and their families.
Dirk Hayhurst (Canton) is surely sad as hell about the state of this team. (That's a joke. The state.)
Derek Jeter, SS (Pequannock), .258
The Eric Youngs stunt isn't a stunt. Young, Sr. is sadly and undoubtedly the best utility infield option. Also, Bill Haselman hasn't played major-league ball since 2003, a season in which he had three plate appearances. He's 46 years old. His career True Average is .244. His photo looks like
and makes it entirely clear that he doesn't want to be here. Good freakin' job, New Jersey.
Anyway, this team has a very nice core of talent for such a small state, but once you get past the top four, or maybe five, or maaaaaaaaybe six in the lineup, you're into some really marginal dudes.
Andrew Bailey (Voorhees), 3.54
Overall, I like the New Jersey team because I could have slipped a random guy and a random town name in there and you'd have no idea. Did I make up "Joe Martinez" and "South Orange"? Probably! Very very likely! (Don't click his link to find out.)
New Jersey has a similar population to the Dominican Republic. New Jersey's best pitcher is a closer who, were the two teams to play a series, would never ever ever get to pitch with a lead. But hey, the outfield defense is real good so Vin Mazzaro might have a shot at keeping his earned runs under 12.
(Are you excited?)
Matt Kemp, RF (Midwest City), .302
Weird lineup, right? I'm just trying to get the Matts the most at-bats I can because the rest of the lineup might go a collective ohfer if they played against their analogue, Puerto Rico. Holliday and Kemp are two of the best players on the planet, just absolute beasts with the bat and no slouches in the outfield (or at least Kemp would be no slouch if he were in a corner), but the next best player born in the state is Koyie Hill? Really?
But hey, Oklahomans, be thankful for Hill. If he drops out, Stinnett, who hasn't played since 2007, would be the starter, and Charlie O'Brien (Tulsa), who last appeared over a decade ago, would be the backup. He's 52. Might be better off checking in on Mickey Tettleton, who's actually the same age despite retiring before O'Brien. Or, hell, if we're on Mickeys, how about Mantle? If Old Hoss Radbourn can tweet whilst corpsish, Mantle can probably outhit Cory Sullivan as long as he's motivated by braaaaaaaains. (That's his snack food. Sadly there's no PECOTA for Mantle.)
Jeremy Hefner (Perkins), 4.43
Fans hoping to see a Dylan Bundy/Brett Anderson top of the rotation, which actually could be formidable and give Holliday and Kemp a chance to hit a bomb to win a game or two 1-0, will be sad to learn that Anderson, despite graduating high school in Oklahoma and being the son of Frank Anderson, head coach at Oklahoma State from 2003 to 2012, was actually born in Midland, Texas, a city notable for its Bushes, Nixes, and Explosions in the Sky members as well as its decrepit downtown. Sorry. For so many things.
There you have it. California makes good ballplayers, even accounting for the fact that it's many times the size of most states. You are not surprised. That's okay. You don't have to always be surprised.