The stolen base has quietly been making a comeback in recent seasons. Teams might not be running like they did three decades ago in the world of cookie-cutter stadiums and artificial turf, but managers have been showing more of a willingness to press the issue on the bases.
Stealing ideas never goes out of style, though, and that's where the On The Beat All-Major League Baseball Team comes in. Two years ago, I was listening to the great Jeff Joyce on Sirius/XM's MLB Network Radio channel when he opined that Major League Baseball should have an All-Pro team that would be akin to what the NFL does by recognizing the best player at each position at the end of each season.
Well, we swiped that idea and ran with it, and today we unveil our third OTBAMLBT. Try as we might, we haven't been able to convince MLB Network to turn the announcement of the team into a television special. However, because you're a loyal BP reader, you get to see it first, while the rest of the world breathlessly awaits its release.
First baseman: Joey Votto, Reds (.337/.474/.567). Votto did not hit a home run after he missed 49 games from July 16-September 4 while recovering from two arthroscopic knee surgeries, but he was still the best first baseman in the game. Now, that's impressive. Votto led the major leagues in on-base percentage, and his 94 walks tied Atlanta's Dan Uggla for the National League lead in 155 fewer plate appearances.
Second baseman: Robinson Cano, Yankees (.313/.379/.550). OK, he had an awful postseason, but that doesn't erase six months of fine work in the regular season. Cano's 6.4 WARP was second in the American League and third in the major leagues, and his 52.5 BVORP was third in the AL and ninth in the majors.
Third baseman: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (.330/.393/.606). We can argue the merits of winning the Triple Crown all day, but I'm old school on this subject—I believe it's a heck of an achievement, especially since no one had done it in 45 years. And few know how to spell Carl Yastrzemski's name without looking it up. When you lead the AL in batting average, home runs (44), and RBI (139), you are allowed to disappear in the playoffs. In addition to leading the majors in homers and RBI, Cabrera was also tops with 377 total bases, a .606 slugging percentage, and .999 OPS.
Shortstop: Ian Desmond, Nationals (.292/.335/.511). No shortstop had a tremendous season this year—sorry, Derek Jeter fans, but your man was 96th in the majors with his 2.5 WARP—and you can argue that Desmond's OBP was too low. However, he hit 25 home runs and stole bases for the team with the most regular-season victories.
Catcher: Buster Posey, Giants (.336/.408/.549). Posey not only made a full recovery from the broken leg that caused him to miss the last four months of the 2011, he came back to lead to the major leagues in batting average and the NL with 7.0 WARP and 68.6 BVORP. Oh, he also helped his team win its second World Series in three years.
Left fielder: Ryan Braun, Brewers (.319/.391/.595). Regardless of whether he used PEDs in the past—the positive test was overturned—he had a better season in 2012 than when he won the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 2011. He paced the NL with 41 home runs, 108 runs scored, 356 total bases, and a .987 OPS. His 6.1 WARP was second in the NL and fifth in the major leagues, while his 54.9 VORP was fourth in the league and sixth in the majors.
Center fielder: Mike Trout, Angels (.326/.399/564). He had one of the greatest rookie seasons in major-league history. His 9.1 WARP not only led the major leagues, but it was also more than two full wins better than anyone else. Trout also led the majors with 76.6 BVORP, 129 runs scored, and 49 stolen bases, all despite being stuck at Triple-A Salt Lake until April 28 while the Angels got off to a 6-14 start.
Right fielder: Jason Heyward, Braves (.269/.335/.479). Heyward bounced back from a rough sophomore season and looked more like the player who took the big leagues by storm as a rookie in 2010. Much of Heyward's value was in his defense, as his 14.6 FRAA led all major-league outfielders and was fifth overall. The 23-year-old also had 27 homers and 21 steals.
Designated hitter: Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays (.280/.384/.557). He had what was easily the best season of his eight-year career, setting career bests in each of the triple-slash categories as well as home runs (42). His 39.9 BVORP was ninth in the AL.
Right-handed starting pitcher: Justin Verlander, Tigers (17-8, 2.64 ERA, 2.90 FIP). He would be hard-pressed to ever repeat his amazing 2011, but Verlander had a strong follow-up campaign and pitched Detroit to the World Series. He topped all major-league pitchers with 4.8 WARP and 44.6 PVORP, and his FIP ranked third in the big leagues and second in the AL. His 239 strikeouts and 238 1/3 innings also led the majors.
Left-handed starting pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (14-9, 2.53, 2.93). Kershaw had the best ERA in the major leagues. and his FIP ranked fourth. His 3.8 WARP led NL pitchers and was third overall, and his 28.9 PVORP was third in the leagues and ninth in the bigs. Additionally, Kershaw’s 6.7 hits allowed per nine innings was the best mark in the major leagues, and he won the Roberto Clemente Award for his charitable work.
Right-handed relief pitcher: Craig Kimbrel, Braves (3-1, 42 of 45 saves, 1.01, 0.82). Kimbrel pitched 62 2/3 innings and allowed 27 hits and 14 walks while striking out 116. If you're looking for averages and ratios, here you go—3.9 hits per nine innings, 2.0 strikeouts per nine innings, 16.7 strikeouts per nine innings, 8.29 SO/BB ratio. And he led the NL in saves for a second straight season.
Left-handed relief pitcher: Aroldis Chapman, Reds (5-5, 38 of 43, 1.51, 1.59). Chapman wasn't quite as dominant as Kimbrel in his first season as a closer, but he was awfully good, giving up just 35 hits and 23 walks in 71 2/3 innings with 122 strikeouts. That's 4.4 hits per nine innings, 2.9 walks per nine innings, 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings, and a 5.30 SO/BB ratio.
A few minutes with Orioles vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette:
On the Orioles qualifying for the postseason in his first year on the job after 14 straight losing seasons: "The team really seemed to come together early on, and we were able to make some improvements during the year that resulted in it being a really good season. It worked out really well. The fans in Baltimore connected with the team. They can see we have a young ballclub, and we're in a position where we can sustain a competitive team for some time to come."
On why he was attracted to the job when others turned it done: "We made some significant improvements over the winter and during the season, but the core of the team was already pretty solid. Looking at last fall when I was preparing to interview for the job, I thought if we added some pitching that we definitely could be an improved team, and we did that. Then we helped the pitching by improving our defense during the season by calling up Manny Machado to play third base, moving Mark Reynolds from third to first, and adding Nate McLouth to play left field."
On why the Orioles brought Machado up from Double-A Bowie as a 20-year-old and switched him from shortstop to third base: "He has a lot of talent, first of all. He did well at Double-A, he did well in spring training, and he did well at the Futures Game. When he hit for the cycle about a week after he came home from the Futures Game, that's when it became apparent that he was ready to make the jump to the major leagues. It's like Earl Weaver said, “Sign all the shortstops you can and see where they fit when they get to the big leagues.” We took Earl's advice when it came to Manny Machado."
On having the chance to be in a GM-type role again after being out of the major leagues for 10 years following his firing by the Red Sox during spring training in 2003: "I really appreciate the opportunity to be back and (Orioles owner Peter Angelos) giving me that opportunity. I enjoy working with Buck Showalter, and a lot of the real satisfaction comes from working with young people and seeing them improve and succeed. It's worked out well. We had a really good year, and I believe we're in position to build on it and have even more success."
Front-office types' takes
Free-agent outfielder Jason Bay: "I don't know if he has anything left, but he had to get out of New York. He was there three years with the Mets, and it just never worked out. His skills have diminished, but it's hard to say how much of that has to do with the concussions he's had. If I was a club with a tight budget that needed some power, I'd take a flier on him on a low-salary, high-incentive type contract and take a look at him in spring training just to see if he has anything left."
Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal: "I know he's just a 23-year-old kid and everyone that age does dumb stuff, but I don't understand why in the world he was messing around with PEDs. He's a gifted player, not a journeyman who needs that little extra push to get to the big leagues. What he did was stupid, and all you can do is hope he learns from it."
Free agent right-hander Zack Greinke: "I know some people think asking for six years and $150 million is outrageous, but I wouldn't be surprised if somebody meets that price. A lot more money is coming into the game when the new television contracts kick in 2014, and everybody always needs pitching, even if I'm not so sure Greinke is an elite guy anymore."
Free-agent center fielder Josh Hamilton: "There is no way he gets a seven-year contract. Even the craziest teams aren't going to commit to a contract that long because of his history. I don't think he'll get the $175 million that he's looking for, either, but I could see him getting $100 million to $125 million for four years. Teams will pay him, but they don't want him being a sunk cost when his body breaks down."
Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire: "It's a great hire for the Dodgers. They give too many at-bats away, and his St. Louis teams didn't give away at-bats."