Here’s a quote you never see: “I play in the toughest darn division in baseball and boy, am I ever proud of that!” For whatever reason, players just don’t have any divisional pride. We are now in the 11th year of three-division baseball, and we still don’t see our ballplayers identifying themselves with the division in which they play. Sure, there’s team loyalty and, come All-Star Game time, a sense of league identification, but where’s the regional élan? Where’s the us-against-the-rest-of-the-world spirit?
And yet, can you blame players for not bragging on their division? No, we can’t, because we have never proven once and for all which division is the best. Sure, we can do it the obvious way, which is to calculate which division has the best records of all the teams therein against everyone outside the division. Here they are, through the All-Star break:
W L PCT. NLC 137 106 0.564 ALE 141 131 0.518 ALW 123 118 0.510 ALC 128 142 0.474 NLE 122 136 0.473 NLW 119 137 0.465
This doesn’t take into account the matter of strength of schedule, so I’m thinking there must be a better way to determine which division is the roughest and toughest of them all. Here’s a thought:
Tuesday night, 32 men from each league (selected by 64 separate and distinct methods), will battle it out for supremacy and the right to host the weekend World Series games and, in the process, get more traffic in bars with big screen televisions in the host city because people don’t have go get up early the next morning to work the night after Games 1 and 6. What I think would be much more interesting would be a tournament featuring All-Star teams from the six different divisions.
Knowing that this is a crazy idea (and having to belay the idea of them wearing uniforms identifying their divisional allegiance a la the Little League World Series), I have instead taken the liberty of selecting these six best-of teams. I’ve done it primarily using VORP, but with a touch of subjectivity thrown in here and there (but not too much, since analytical types such as we are, we’re conditioned to breaking out in rashes whenever we get too subjective). Some guidelines:
- The rosters are capped at 20 players. Figure that if a full 25-man roster were assembled, that means one-in-five men around the league would be on the team. That kind of undercuts the honor a bit, doesn’t it? As it is, 20% of the American League West players made the team. Overall, 16% of all players are on the squads.
- There is no tokenism. Not every team is required to have a representative. As it happens, every team does have a rep, though. Ken Harvey barely snuck in. Yes, Ken Harvey. I warn you: you are going to see some names on here that will surprise and alarm you. That’s understandable given that the teams are being drawn from very small universes. Harvey makes it because I assigned each team one backup middle infielder and one backup corner infielder and he’s the best available for that task in a division weak on decent corner men.
- Outfield positions are strictly assigned. Only left fielders can qualify for left field, center fielders for center field and right fielders for right field.
- The 20-man rosters are as follows: eight starting position players, a DH for the three American League teams, four starting pitchers, two middle relievers, a closer, a backup catcher, backup outfielder, backup middle infielder and backup corner infielder.
- So that each team would have the same number of players, each NL divisional squad was also assigned a utility player. What this turned out to be was the best-available player not yet selected. Having this position made it possible for a player like Miguel Cabrera to qualify, since he was stacked up behind the two best right fielders in the league: Bobby Abreu and J.D. Drew. What I thought it also might to do would be to tip the balance to the National League squads, since this position in the A.L. was limited to only designated hitters. As it turns out though, it’s a wash. The three American League DHs total 102.6 worth of VORP, while the three National utility guys total 103.7.
- Injured players are eligible for the teams.
Before we get going, note that a number of real life All-Stars did not make these squads. They are:
So here then are the divisional All-Star teams:
American League East
Mgr Joe Torre, NYY VORP C Javy Lopez, BAL 32.0 1B Tino Martinez, TB 19.4 2B Mark Bellhorn, BOS 26.0 3B Melvin Mora, BAL 40.0 SS Miguel Tejada, BAL 36.6 LF Manny Ramirez, BOS 54.0 CF Johnny Damon, BOS 33.4 RF Gary Sheffield, NYY 30.1 DH David Ortiz, BOS 36.7 SP Curt Schilling, BOS 40.4 SP Pedro Martinez, BOS 30.1 SP Miguel Batista, TOR 29.6 SP Javier Vazquez, NYY 28.8 RP Tom Gordon, NYY 24.2 RP B.J. Ryan, BAL 22.1 CL Mariano Rivera, NYY 26.5 CINF Alex Rodriguez, NYY 35.1 MINF Derek Jeter, NYY 25.1 OF Hideki Matsui, NYY 27.0 C Jorge Posada, NYY 28.3 Totals Lineup 271.5 Lineup & Pitchers 473.2 Starting Pitchers 128.9 All 625.4
Weak link: First base. Tino makes it by default owing to a weak field and, therefore, becomes the only Devil Rays representative.
Strength: Relief pitching. Three of the top four relief VORPs in the game come out of this division.
Player having the best season not to make it: Vernon Wells of the Blue Jays, but he’s not close to the leaders due to his lengthy DL stint, so nobody can complain they got robbed in this division. The Orioles’ Daniel Cabrera also rates just south of the starting rotation.
American League Central
Mgr Ron Gardenhire, MIN VORP C Ivan Rodriguez, DET 50.3 1B Paul Konerko, CWS 34.8 2B Ron Belliard, CLE 29.4 3B Casey Blake, CLE 18.0 SS Carlos Guillen, DET 48.0 LF Matt Lawton, CLE 26.6 CF Aaron Rowand, CWS 18.4 RF Magglio Ordonez, CWS 14.6 DH Travis Hafner, CLE 38.6 SP Brad Radke, MIN 32.7 SP C.C. Sabathia, CLE 30.6 SP Johan Santana, MIN 28.7 SP Jake Westbrook, CLE 27.6 RP Juan Rincon, MIN 20.5 RP Shingo Takatsu, CWS 18.4 CL Joe Nathan, MIN 21.8 CINF Ken Harvey, KC 18.5 MINF Omar Vizquel, CLE 22.7 OF Lew Ford, MIN 24.8 C Victor Martinez, CLE 28.4 Totals Lineup 240.1 Lineup & Pitchers 420.4 Starting Pitchers 119.6 All 553.4
Weak link: Outfield. With Magglio Ordonez hurting for most of the year, the departure of Carlos Beltran to the NL and all those Twins guys doing whatever the hell it is they’re doing these days, there’s not a lot of to offer at this point. The corner infielders are a problem, too. After Konerko, the talent falls off the table.
Player having the best season not to make it: Frank Thomas. The Possessor of Big Hurts was the top man at DH a few days ago but was aced out by Travis Hafner‘s big weekend. Also, Freddy Garcia. To be honest, I didn’t know what to do with Garcia and Beltran, since they have accumulated the bulk of their value playing for teams in other divisions. In the end, I left them out. You can fault me for this if you like. Just don’t hold a grudge. When I come to borrow your hedge clippers a year or two from now, please don’t bring it up.
American League West
Mgr Ken Macha, OAK VORP C Damian Miller, OAK 18.7 1B Mark Teixeira, TX 25.7 2B Alfonso Soriano, TX 20.2 3B Hank Blalock, TX 39.1 SS Michael Young, TX 41.0 LF Jose Guillen, ANA 27.4 CF Mark Kotsay, OAK 23.4 RF Vladimir Guerrero, ANA 53.5 DH Erubiel Durazo, OAK 27.3 SP Mark Mulder, OAK 40.7 SP Tim Hudson, OAK 34.9 SP Kelvim Escobar, ANA 26.4 SP Ryan Drese, TX 24.7 RP Frankie Rodriguez, ANA 21.9 RP Scott Shields, ANA 17.8 CL Eddie Guardado, SEA 18.3 CINF Chone Figgins, ANA 26.0 MINF Bobby Crosby, OAK 20.4 OF Jermaine Dye, OAK 24.3 C Rod Barajas, TX 11.0 Totals Lineup 249.0 Lineup & Pitchers 433.7 Starting Pitchers 126.7 All 542.7
Weak Link: Catching. Among divisional All-Stars, AL West backup Rod Barajas has easily been the least valuable.
Strength: Right field.
National League East
Mgr Bobby Cox, ATL VORP C Mike Piazza, NYM 33.3 1B Jim Thome, PHI 45.7 2B Jose Vidro, MTL 18.7 3B Mike Lowell, FLA 42.8 SS Rafael Furcal, ATL 19.4 LF Pat Burrell, PHI 21.9 CF Andruw Jones, ATL 20.8 RF Bobby Abreu, PHI 49.0 SP Tom Glavine, NYM 38.4 SP Carl Pavano, FLA 35.9 SP Al Leiter, NYM 33.7 SP Livan Hernandez, MTL 32.7 RP Ryan Madson, PHI 17.7 RP Chad Cordero, MTL 13.7 CL Armando Benitez, FLA 22.1 CINF Hee Seop Choi, FLA 27.5 MINF Kaz Matsui, NYM 18.8 OF J.D. Drew, ATL 22.5 UT Miguel Cabrera, FLA 34.9 C Johnny Estrada, ATL 26.9 Totals Lineup 251.6 Lineup & Pitchers 445.8 Starting Pitchers 140.7 All 576.4
Weak Link: Middle infield. No second baseman or shortstop has had an outstanding first half, though Rafael Furcal is coming on strong.
Strength: Right field. Stacked three-deep at the position.
Player having the best season not to make it: In two of the other divisions, Brad Penny would have made it. Not so here.
National League Central
Mgr Dusty Baker, CHC VORP C Michael Barrett, CHC 18.1 1B Sean Casey, CIN 44.0 2B Tony Womack, STL 24.3 3B Scott Rolen, STL 49.0 SS Jack Wilson, PIT 36.2 LF Lance Berkman, HOU 38.2 CF Jim Edmonds, STL 35.5 RF Craig Wilson, PIT 31.3 SP Ben Sheets, MIL 42.1 SP Roger Clemens, HOU 37.8 SP Carlos Zambrano, CHC 36.2 SP Matt Clement, CHC 33.3 RP LaTroy Hawkins, CHC 16.9 RP Ray King, STL 14.6 CL Danny Kolb, MIL 17.6 CINF Albert Pujols, STL 43.8 MINF Jeff Kent, HOU 23.8 OF Adam Dunn, CIN 34.4 UT Lyle Overbay, MIL 39.9 C Jason Kendall, PIT 14.7 Totals Lineup 276.6 Lineup & Pitchers 475.1 Starting Pitchers 149.4 All 631.7
Weak Link: Catching.
Strength: Starting pitching. It’s no surprise that the best four-man rotation comes out of the National League Central. It is a surprise, however, who comprises that four-man rotation. Roger Clemens is no shock, but Ben Sheets, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement aren’t exactly household names–though they may be soon, especially Sheets and Zambrano.
National League West
Mgr Felipe Alou, SF VORP C Paul LoDuca, LA 19.5 1B Todd Helton, COL 53.8 2B Mark Loretta, SD 34.4 3B Adrian Beltre, LA 37.2 SS Royce Clayton, COL 19.7 LF Barry Bonds, SF 75.6 CF Steve Finley, AZ 26.9 RF Brian Giles, SD 30.6 SP Jason Schmidt, SF 38.3 SP Odalis Perez, LA 31.3 SP Randy Johnson, AZ 30.9 SP David Wells, SD 26.8 RP Guillermo Mota, LA 23.5 RP Scott Linebrink, SD 17.1 CL Eric Gagne, LA 16.3 CINF Vinny Castilla, COL 21.0 MINF Joey Cora, LA 16.4 OF Luis Gonzalez, AZ 24.5 UT Phil Nevin, SD 28.9 C Charles Johnson, COL 17.8 Totals Lineup 297.7 Lineup & Pitchers 481.9 Starting Pitchers 127.3 All 590.5
Weak Link: Shortstop. If it’s down to Royce Clayton, there must be some deprivation going on.
Strength: Left field. The replacement value for this group of 120 divisional all-stars is about 29. That means that Barry Bonds‘ VODASRP (Value Over Divisional All-Star Replacement) is an astonishing 46.
In all, it appears that the National League Central has the strongest squad, but that comes with an asterisk in that they are drawing from the largest field: 150 men. The American League West, on the other hand, is drawing from only 100 players and a quarter of them are Seattle Mariners, so it’s actually even fewer. Not surprisingly, the American League East also rates highly. In fact, the one-two teams in total VORP are also one-two in non-intra division matchups as shown above. Cause and effect, or coincidence?
Since postseason barnstorming went out with the hand-cranked telephone, it seems unlikely that we’ll have anything like a divisional tournament in November. So, if you’re of a mind to, you can play some simulations with these squads, maybe run a double-elimination tournament of some sort and figure out which division has the right to call itself the best. Sound like fun?