Everyone knows that the Philadelphia Phillies have one of the best rotations in the history of the game. Their rotation is so sound that it's a no-brainer they're going to be just about everyone's pick to win the World Series in 2012.
Such predictions tend to get old. Where's the fun in them?
I wanted to make a power ranking that had teams you'd never expect to be ranked low (the Phillies ain't first), and likewise for teams that no one would consider to be ranked so high...
Basically, I decided to go back to gym class—minus the awful stench and creepy instructor—and pick each team's two best players.
How did I choose these two players?
Well, there's a great statistic called WAR (wins above replacement) that is essentially tailor-made for determining which player has the biggest impact on a team's propensity for wins.
That being said, I've picked each team's best hitter and pitcher based largely on WAR (there were a few instances—such as Longoria over Zobrist, for example—where I chose a player with a slightly lower WAR).
So here we go, each team's two best players, hand-picked and pitted against every other team's two finest players.
Welcome to a little experiment I like to call the first-ever "WARld Series."
Note: I used WAR based on the data from www.fangraphs.com. If you aren't familiar with that site, it's high time you check it out...it's the site where I gathered all of my statistics, including FIP (fielding independent pitching).
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 4.9
Best Hitter: Ben Revere—.267/.310/.309, 34 SBs
Best Pitcher: Carl Pavano—9-13, 4.30 ERA (3.45 FIP), K/9: 4.14
Houston Astros fans, this one is for you. Every list on the planet has your Astros last.
Well, thanks to the "powers" on display by the WAR of the Twins' two best players, you are no longer bottom-feeders.
Naturally, the Twins are a completely different team if Scott Baker stays healthy, Pavano doesn't suck and Joe Mauer as well as Justin Morneau actually play some.
For Special Consideration: There are 42 players (27 batters, 15 pitchers) that have a WAR higher than the Twins' two "stars" here on this list.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 5.0
Best Hitter: Carlos Lee—.275/.342/.446, 18 HRs
Best Pitcher: Bud Norris—6-1, 3.77 ERA (4.02 FIP), K/9: 8.52
They say you have to get worse before you can better. The question for the Houston Astros is: just how much worse?
For special consideration: The Houston Astros hope to be improved by 2013, as they are moving to a very competitive American League West.
Although it's extremely doubtful that any of us can hit as well as Carlos Lee, it's quite possible that we can all play the outfield just as well, if not better.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 5.7
Best Hitter: Cameron Maybin—.264/.323/.393, 40 SBs
Best Pitcher: Tim Stauffer—9-12, 3.73 ERA (4.03 FIP), K/9: 6.20
Cameron Maybin has the potential to be an elite defender as well as an excellent threat on the basepaths. Tim Stauffer is a good example of a pitcher that benefits from pitching at Petco Park.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 5.9
Best Hitter: Daniel Murphy—.320/.362/.448, 6 HRs
Best Pitcher: Jonathon Niese—11-11, 4.40 ERA (3.36 FIP), K/9: 7.89
Jonathon Niese is a nice pitcher to nab for your fantasy league. Notice that his FIP (fielding independent pitching) is over a full run below his ERA—indicating that he suffered from some bad luck and should improve in 2012.
For special consideration: It felt weird having any hitter other than David Wright in here. Look for Wright to improve with Citi Field's fences moved in this offseason.
Johann Santana in all likelihood will be back—healthy and raring to go.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 6.8
Best Hitter: Michael Morse—.303/.360/.550, 31 HRs
Best Pitcher: Jordan Zimmermann—8-11, 3.18 ERA (3.16 FIP), K/9: 6.92
The Washington Nationals are the team that is most likely to improve its chances of a "WARld Series" championship a year from now. Strasburg will be healthy; Gio Gonzalez comes into the fray, and Bryce Harper might just get a taste of big league action.
It's also a good bet that Jayson Werth will improve over his decidedly "meh" season of 2011.
For special consideration: Jordan Zimmermann is a good example of why so many scouts feel that the Nats will be serious contenders by 2013; he has top-of-the-rotation stuff but will likely be pushed down to the third slot.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 6.9
Best Hitter: Coco Crisp—.264/.3.13/.379, 49 SBs
Best Pitcher: Brandon McCarthy—9-9, 3.32 ERA (2.86 FIP), K/9: 6.49
Aside from throwing in the towel for this year and possibly 2013 by dumping two front-end pitchers (Cahill and Gonzalez), the Athletics really haven't done anything at all. One thing they did do, though, is re-sign the perennially underrated Coco Crisp.
McCarthy is finally starting to reach the potential that the Rangers saw in him when they traded John Danks to the White Sox for his rights back in 2006. If he can stay healthy, which he has never really done, he could be very solid as a No. 2.
For special consideration: For 2012 and a few years beyond, the AL West is a two-team league, as the Athletics rebuild (once again) and the Mariners watch those who have money spend and improve, while they check their collective open guitar cases for spare change.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 7.3
Best Hitter: J.J. Hardy—.262/.328/.450, 30 HRs
Best Pitcher: Zach Britton—11-11, 4.61 ERA (4.00 FIP), K/9: 5.66
For special consideration: The Baltimore Orioles continue to snatch up Texas Rangers prospects of the past (as well as wily veterans) like Chris Davis, Tommy Hunter, Darren O'Day, Endy Chavez and Taylor Teagarden.
Here's hoping they can put it all together.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 7.4
Best Hitter: Brian McCann—.270/.351/.466, 24 HRs
Best Pitcher: Tim Hudson—16-10, 3.22 ERA (3.39 FIP), K/9: 6.61
This is the lowest you'll find the Braves ranked on any list anywhere. It just goes to show that because you might not have the the best hitter or pitcher (or both) on the same team, it doesn't mean your team sucks.
For special consideration: Look for Jason Heyward to return to his 2010 rookie form, and watch out for the rise of the man with the immediate-impact arm—Julio Teheran.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 7.9
Best Hitter: Andrew McCutchen—.259/.364/.456, 23 HRs, 23 SBs
Best Pitcher: Charlie Morton—10-10, 3.83 ERA (3.77 FIP), K/9: 5.77
The Pirates are still a few years from contention. But there is a light at the end of their no-playoffs-in-20-years tunnel...
For special consideration: The Pirates have had some outstanding drafts over the last few years. They have what is largely considered the deepest farm system in the bigs.
With Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Luis Heredia, they have three arms that are each projectable as future aces.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 8.2
Best Hitter: Dustin Ackley—.273/.348/.417, 6 HRs
Best Pitcher: Felix Hernandez—14-14, 3.47 ERA (3.13 FIP) K/9: 8.55
It's going to be fun to see what kind of numbers Ackley can put up over a full season.
For special consideration: How long will it be before "King" Felix bids adieu to Seattle?
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 8.4
Best Hitter: Starlin Castro—.307/.341/.432, 22 SBs
Best Pitcher: Matt Garza—10-10, 3.32 ERA (2.95 FIP), K/9: 8.95
It's going to be a tough and arduous "rebuild" for the Cubbies. However, there is no doubt in my mind that Theo Epstein will have them back and better than ever in the next two to four years.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 8.5
Best Hitter: Alexi Ramirez—.269/.328/.399, 15 HRs
Best Pitcher: Gavin Floyd—12-13, 4.37 ERA (3.81 FIP), K/9: 7.02
Adam Dunn was an absolute disaster for the White Sox last season. If he can put up some semblance of his former numbers, the White Sox might just be an AL Central surprise contender.
For special consideration: Alexi Ramirez is the real deal at shortstop. There are few with a stronger arm or more range. His offense is just starting to reach the tipping point...look for him to have a huge 2012.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 8.7
Best Hitter: Carlos Santana—.239/.351/.457, 27 HRs
Best Pitcher: Justin Masterson—12-10, 3.21 ERA (3.28 FIP) K/9: 6.58
The Indians surprised more than a few with their early-season surge in 2011. They fell back to Earth right around the time the Tigers hit their stride. The Indians won't likely contend for the AL Central in 2012, but with the additional Wild Card coming in to play, they might be able to earn a playoff spot.
For special consideration: It will be interesting to see if Grady Sizemore can have an impact on the Indians in 2012. Before being shelved by injury, he was one of the finest young center fielders in the game.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 8.8
Best Hitter: Troy Tulowitzki—.302/.372/.544, 30 HRs
Best Pitcher: Jhoulys Chacin—11-14, 3.62 ERA (4.23 FIP), K/9: 6.96
The Colorado Rockies have a very decent team—one that could compete in the near future, especially if it can get a quality arm to replace Ubaldo Jimenez.
For special consideration: Chris Ianetta is a considerable offensive loss for the Rockies. However, they'll be able to put up runs aplenty even in his absence. The question for Colorado is if they can keep the opposition from outscoring them.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 9.5
Best Hitter: Alex Gordon—.303/.376/.502, 23 HRs
Best Pitcher: Felipe Paulino—4-6, 4.11 ERA (3.51 FIP), K/9: 8.59
For the past several years, the Royals' farm system has been considered the cream of the big league crop. Now most of those key pieces are up on the parent team; it will be fun to watch how that pans out.
For special consideration: The KC Royals are a team on the rise. If all goes as planned, it won't be too long before they are AL Central contenders, laughing when they reminisce about the years when Bruce Chen was their ace.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 10.0
Best Hitter: Jose Reyes—.337/.384/.493, 39 SBs
Best Pitcher: Anibal Sanchez—8-9, 3.67 ERA (3.35 FIP), K/9: 9.26
The Marlins improved greatly this offseason with the additions of Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle.
For special consideration: The addition of Mark Buehrle is nice, but there's no question that Josh Johnson is the ace of this staff. The only obstacle to Johnson becoming an elite-level pitcher is simply his ability to stay on the field for a full season.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 10.1
Best Hitter: Joey Votto—.309/.416/.531, 29 HRs
Best Pitcher: Mat Latos—9-14, 3.47 ERA (3.16 FIP), K/9: 8.57
I think that Latos is a true ace. He should do just fine in Cincinnati. The Reds, with Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey—not to mention Mike Leake—have some excellent complementary pieces in their young rotation.
For special consideration: Only time will tell, but it looks like the Reds might have gotten the best of their deal with the Padres.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 10.7
Best Hitter: Pablo Sandoval—.315/.357/.552, 23 HRs
Best Pitcher: Madison Bumgarner—13-13, 3.21 ERA (2.67 FIP), K/9: 8.40
The Giants staff is still top-notch after the loss of Jonathan Sanchez and is arguably the finest in the NL. If Brandon Belt can fulfill his offensive potential, the Giants could easily make the postseason.
For special consideration: Buster Posey will be back and (hopefully) better than ever. Sandoval re-established himself as the best pure hitter on the team.
Look for Tim Lincecum to rebound from an un-Lincecum 2011 season.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 11.1
Best Hitter: Lance Berkman—.301/.412/.547, 31 HRs
Best Pitcher: Adam Wainwright (2010 statistics)—20-11, 2.42 ERA (2.56 FIP), K/9: 8.32
The St. Louis Cardinals are going to be fine without Albert Pujols. After all, they got the best 10 years of his career and have two shiny World Series trophies to show for it.
For special consideration: If Wainwright can put up similar numbers to his '09 and '10 campaigns, he can effectively neutralize the loss of Pujols in terms of WAR.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 11
Best Hitter: Evan Longoria—.244/.355/.495, 31 HRs
Best Pitcher: James Shields—16-12, 2.82 ERA (3.42 FIP), K/9: 8.12
The Rays proved that you can never count them out when it comes to "clutch wins"—especially down the stretch.
For special consideration: The Rays have the best group of young arms in Major League Baseball. Matt Moore, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson almost make James Shields expendable...and there's plenty of teams that covet the right-hander's services.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 11.4
Best Hitter: Justin Upton—.289/.369/.529, 31 HRs, 21 SBs
Best Pitcher: Ian Kennedy—21-4, 2.88 ERA (3.22 FIP), K/9: 8.03
The Diamondbacks are an extremely talented ball club. Look for Paul Goldschmidt to put up monster power numbers over a full season.
Justin Upton might just have a "Matt Kemp 2011" type of year.
For special consideration: Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson were a nasty one-two punch in 2011. The addition of Trevor Cahill might just make the Diamondbacks' rotation one of the finest in the major leagues in 2012.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 11.5
Best Hitter: Albert Pujols—.299/.366/.541, 37 HRs
Best Pitcher: Dan Haren—16-10, 3.17 ERA (2.98 FIP), K/9: 7.25, BB/9: 1.25
No team improved itself any better than the Angels did this offseason. But did they improve enough to catch the Rangers?
For special consideration: Jered Weaver is a fine pitcher. However, when you look at the advanced statistics, it's pretty clear that Dan Haren is the true ace in Anaheim.
Also, look for C.J. Wilson to have his best season as a starter yet, as he does battle in the pitcher-friendly confines of the "Big A."
Combined WAR of two best players: 11.7
Best Hitter: Ryan Braun—.332/.397/.597, 33 HRs, 33 SBs
Best Pitcher: Zach Greinke—16-6, 3.83 ERA (2.98 FIP), K/9: 10.54
The Milwaukee Brewers have one of the finest rotations in the National League—one that should keep them competitive for years to come, should it stay intact.
For special consideration: Who knows what will befall Ryan Braun? If he gets popped for the PEDs, he'll miss 50 games. No matter how excellent their pitching, missing Braun for 50 (and Fielder for 162) might be too much to overcome.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 11.7
Best Hitterr: Jose Bautista—.302/.447/.608, 43 HRs
Best Pitcher: Brandon Morrow—11-11, 4.72 ERA (3.64 FIP), K/9: 10.19
The tides might be turning in the AL East, as the Blue Jays are good and getting better.
For special consideration: It was difficult for me to choose between Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero. Especially considering that Romero's traditional statistics (ERA, W/L, etc.) are so enticing—2.92, 15-11—and Morrow's ERA is somewhat frightening at 4.72.
But once you look at the fielding independent statistics (FIP), the mystery becomes an easy one to solve. Morrow's ERA drops to 3.64, whereas Romero's rises (alarmingly so) to 4.20.
And if that wasn't enough to sway me, just look at Morrow's K/9 rates. Whoa. His 10.19 would be amazing for a reliever, much less for a starter that goes 170-plus innings per season.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 11.9
Best Hitter: Ian Kinsler—.255/.355/.477 32 HRs, 30 SBs
Best Pitcher: Matt Harrison—14-9, ERA 3.39 (3.52 FIP), K/9: 6.11
With the departure of C.J. Wilson and the regular-season inconsistencies of Derek Holland, Matt Harrison becomes their best pitcher from last year.
It's amazing that Ian Kinsler is the Rangers' best hitter—they just have so many weapons. He might have put up the world's quietest 7.7 WAR of all time.
The Rangers offense is so talented that eight of the starting nine have potential of putting up a 4 or higher WAR. And if they sign Fielder, watch out...
For special consideration: The Rangers are still in negotiations with Japanese stud Yu Darvish. Should they be able to sign him, they might have one of the better starting rotations in the league in terms of youth and upside.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 13.7
Best Hitter: Jacoby Ellsbury—.321/.376/.552, 32 HRs, 39 SBs
Best Pitcher: Josh Beckett—13-7, 2.89 ERA (3.57 FIP), K/9: 8.16
The Red Sox were overcome by injuries for the better part of last season. When healthy, they're a slam-dunk for a top-three team in the big leagues.
For special consideration: I have no doubt that Ellsbury is an elite lead-off hitter and a fine center fielder. However, I don't feel that he'll put up the same power numbers that he did a year ago. It was almost as if he put up the exact numbers that everyone expected from Carl Crawford.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 14.1
Best Hitter: Shane Victorino—.279/.355/.491,17 HRs
Best Pitcher: Roy Halladay—19-6, 2.35 ERA (2.20 FIP), K/9: 8.47
The Phillies are an excellent team. You could move in Cliff Lee instead of Halladay, and replace Victorino with Utley, and they'd still be contenders for the "WARld Series."
For special consideration: In terms of drive, the Phillies' first-round loss last season might be the best thing that could have happened to them.
Don't think that won't motivate them in 2012.
I'm sure no one would be surprised if they hauled off multiple World Series titles in the next four or five years.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 14.1
Best Hitter: Curtis Granderson—.262/.364/.552, 41 HRs
Best Pitcher: C.C. Sabathia—19-8, 3.00 ERA (2.88 FIP), K/9: 8.72
I was surprised that Curtis Granderson didn't get more consideration for AL MVP. If Ellsbury's case was hurt by the fact that the Red Sox failed to make the postseason, why wasn't Granderson's campaign aided by the fact that the Yankees did?
For special consideration: Sabathia is arguably the best pitcher in the game and a definite "ace." There is no room for argument, however, that Sabathia is the fattest pitcher on the planet.
Sabathia is listed at 6' 7" and 290 pounds, whereas Prince Fielder is listed as being 5'11" and 275. This is cause for much laughter. Sabathia weighs 350, minimum.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 14.3
Best Hitter: Miguel Cabrera—.344/.448/.586, 30 HRs
Best Pitcher: Justin Verlander—24-5, 2.45 ERA (2.99 FIP), K/9: 8.96
Miguel Cabrera is underrated. The dude can flat-out rake. If he played in a slightly smaller park, he'd hit 40 HRs a year easy.
For special consideration: As anyone who has read my stuff before knows, I'm a diehard Rangers fan. That being said, I've always thought (and always will) that the Rangers got reasonably lucky in last year's ALCS against the Tigers.
In many ways, it seemed as though the baseball gods were upset with the Tigers for whatever reason. Verlander kind of got screwed around by bad weather both in the ALDS and the ALCS. So the talk about Verlander not being a "postseason pitcher" is wholly without merit.
Combined WAR of Two Best Players: 15.5
Best Hitter: Matt Kemp—.324/.399/.586, 39 HRs, 40 SBs
Best Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw—21-5, 2.28 ERA (2.47 FIP), K/9: 9.57
I felt that Matt Kemp should have been the NL's MVP. He certainly put up the numbers that make a case for his candidacy on their own.
Clayton Kershaw, for my money, is the best in the business, and he could get even better.
For special consideration: The Los Angeles Dodgers are "WARld Series" champions, and deservedly so. If you could take any batter/pitcher combination from any team and match it up against any other team's, you've got to think you'd win nine out of 10 times with Kemp and Kershaw.