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 √©lan? 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:

American League

Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
Jason Giambi, Yankees
Francisco Cordero, Rangers
Ted Lilly, Blue Jays
Esteban Loaiza, White Sox
Carl Crawford, Devil Rays

National League

Sammy Sosa, Cubs
Ken Griffey Jr., Reds
Barry Larkin, Reds
Edgar Renteria, Cardinals
Danny Graves, Reds
Moises Alou, Cubs

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.

Strength: Catching

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.

Player having the best season not to make it: Scott Hatteberg of the A’s is having a season comparable to Mark Teixeira‘s to this point.

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.

Player having the best season not to make it: Aramis Ramirez has been squeezed out on the corners by the depth at first base and the presence of the dominant Scott Rolen at his own position.

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.

Player having the best season not to make it: It’s either Jake Peavy of the Padres or Jeromy Burnitz of the Rockies, but neither got jobbed.

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?

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