MLB: Power Ranking the All-Star Division Teams
While everybody loves to see their favorite teams fight it out on rankings for on-paper roster supremacy, only a handful of teams really have good enough rosters to satisfy their fans with a generous ranking. Constant squabbles about claims that Team X is better than Team Y make it a messy affair unable to satisfy everybody.
While I don't claim that this divisional power ranking will not offend anyone, I will say that it will be refreshingly amusing to see bitter rivals come together to boast the collective talent of their division and form teams nearly as elite as the real All-Star teams. Fans and players who are normally at each other's throats can come together to fight for their division's superiority in an inspiring display of collaboration... or something like that.
So here's how it's going to go down: I will be making 25-man rosters for every division in baseball and then painstakingly ranking them on offense, fielding, starting pitching and relief pitching. These four categories, despite not being weighed equally, will, for the most part, reflect the overall ranking of the teams despite how tightly decided the rankings were, i.e. all the teams are way too good to rank easily.
So without further ado, let the rosterbation begin!
6. AL Central
1. Alex Gordon (LF)
2. Shin-Soo Choo (RF)
3. Miguel Cabrera (3B)
4. Prince Fielder (1B)
5. Paul Konerko (DH)
6. Carlos Santana (C)
7. Asdrubal Cabrera (2B)
8. Austin Jackson (CF)
9. Alexi Ramirez (SS)
Bench: Joe Mauer, Johnny Peralta, Josh Willingham, Alcides Escobar
SP: Justin Verlander, Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, John Danks, Max Scherzer
RP: Greg Holland (R), Joaquin Benoit (R), Vinnie Pestano (R), Addison Reed (R), Chris Sale (L), Matt Thorton (L), Glen Perkins (L)
Offense Ranking: 6
Fielding Ranking: 6
Starting Pitching Ranking: 6
Relief Pitching Ranking: 5
With teams this good, it's a shame one of them has to come in last, but that team is the AL Central, and to be honest, it wasn't close. Like the division favorite, Detroit Tigers, this team is very top-heavy, as Miggy, Prince and Verlander are among the best in the game, while much of the other team is really good, but not quite elite.
This was also a team with a bit of bad luck, as the division has a lot of great catching, first base and shortstop talent, but relatively thin positions everywhere else. The offense definitely boasts a powerful center, but the top and bottom just can't compete with the other divisions' teams.
On the pitching side, things aren't terribly good either, as Verlander is really the only legitimate ace. Masterson is definitely another great starter who could prove he's the real deal if he continues the pace he set last year.
The other guys are a little more worrisome, as Jimenez and Scherzer are trying to turn things around after rough '11's, and Danks is just a solid, but far from spectacular innings-eater.
The bullpen is a bit better, however, as they feature some of the best left-handers in the game, and while their's no traditional closer, Holland, Reed and Thorton all have the ability to make it look easy. Still, some of the arms are relatively unproven, and another season could do wonders for the pen, especially if Soria can come back healthy and return to his 2007-2010 form.
5. AL West
1. Ian Kinsler (2B)
2. Ichiro Suzuki (CF)
3. Albert Pujols (1B)
4. Josh Hamilton (LF)
5. Adrian Beltre (3B)
6. Nelson Cruz (RF)
7. Mike Napoli (C)
8. Yoenis Cespedes (DH)
9. Elvis Andrus (SS)
Bench: Howie Kendrick, Kendrys Morales, Kurt Suzuki, Erick Aybar
SP: Felix Hernandez, Jared Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, Yu Darvish
RP: Mike Adams (R), Jordan Walden (R), Brandon League (R), Neftali Feliz (R), Koji Uehara (R), Brian Fuentes (L), Scott Downs (L)
Offense Ranking: 4
Fielding Ranking: 3
Starting Pitching Ranking: 3
Relief Pitching Ranking: 6
It's almost little bit surprising that a division featuring two of the best teams in baseball would finish fourth, but that is the mostly due to what is a huge disadvantage in a ranking like this: The division has only four teams. Considering that disadvantage, it's pretty impressive they did this well.
On the offensive side, the lineup is predominately Rangers, who, as a team, feature the best offense in the game, with their holes at first base and center being more than adequately filled by two of the greatest players we've ever seen in Pujols and Ichiro. The DH spot is probably the shakiest, as we still don't entirely know what to expect from Cespedes, but the alternatives were relatively thin, so I went with the risk, but potential upside of the Cuban Missile.
On the pitching side, the Angels make their mark as Weaver, Haren and Wilson's unquestionable inclusions reminds us why the Angels were the toast of the offseason (also some guy named Albert something). King Felix is one of the best in the game, and Darvish, like Cespedes, is still a question mark, albeit one with a potentially spectacular answer.
The relief corps is not so rosy, as none of the relievers really have that jump-out-of-page dominance of the other staffs. Fuentes in particular is just plain not very good anymore, but his splits show he can still destroy left-handers which is why he's here. Still, their low placement is more due to how ridiculously good the other teams are.
4. NL Central
1. Andrew McCutchen (CF)
2. Brandon Phillips (2B)
3. Ryan Braun (LF)
4. Joey Votto (1B)
5. Matt Holliday (RF)
6. Aramis Ramirez (3B)
7. Yadier Molina (C)
8. Starlin Castro (SS)
Bench: Rickie Weeks, Geovany Soto, Jay Bruce, Lance Berkman, Zach Cozart
SP: Zack Greinke, Adam Wainwright, Matt Garza, Yovani Gallardo, Mat Latos
RP: Sean Marshal (R), Joel Hanrahan (R), John Axford (R), Jason Motte (R), Carlos Marmol (R), Marc Rzepczynski (L), Aroldis Chapman (L)
Offense Ranking: 2
Fielding Ranking: 5
Starting Pitching Ranking: 5
Relief Pitching Ranking: 2
Similar to the AL West's situation of having a distinct disadvantage from having only four teams, the NL Central, in theory, should have a pretty good advantage from having the sixth team in their division. Unfortunately, that sixth team is the Houston Astros, waning away in their last few years in the division and in the league, who, unfortunately, don't have much to offer in the way All-Stars.
Still, the other teams, especially the Cards, Reds, and Brewers, who all look to seriously compete this year, have much to offer making this a surprisingly strong team. Despite losing Fielder and Pujols, the offense is some of the best in the game, as Yadier Molina represents the closest thing to an offensive hole, which says a lot about how good the offense really is.
The lineup, however deadly, wasn't enough on its own to rank the offense second-best in baseball, and that world-class bench has more than a little to do with their high ranking.
The pitching is surprisingly strong, as that five ranking for starting pitching is more due to the four teams in front of it than a lack of competence. Still, Zack Greinke is really the only tier-one starter in division, and while the other guys are all really good, they just don't have that level of dominance as the four other teams' 2-5 starters.
The bullpen, though, is pretty amazing, as nearly every team in the division (besides the Astros) has at a top-tier closer to offer. The first five guys are all more than capable of shutting the door in the ninth, and while Marc Rzepczynski doesn't quite live on that same level (yet?), he's about as dominant as you can get against lefties.
And then there's this guy, who might just be the most electric arm in the game; so far this year, he has an impossible pitching line (ERA/FIP/xFIP) of 0.00/-.84/-.32.
3. NL East
1. Jose Reyes (SS)
2. Hunter Pence (LF)
3. Hanley Ramirez (2B)
4. David Wright (1B)
5. Mike Stanton (RF)
6. Ryan Zimmerman (3B)
7. Brian McCann (C)
8. Shane Victorino (CF)
Bench: Michael Bourn, Jimmy Rollins, Dan Uggla, Carlos Ruiz, Jason Heyward
SP: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels, Tommy Hanson
RP: Jonathan Papelbon (R), Craig Kimbrel (R), Drew Storen (R), Heath Bell (R), Tyler Clippard (R), Johnny Venters (L), Eric O'Flaherty (L)
Offense Ranking: 5
Fielding Ranking: 4
Starting Pitching Ranking: 1
Relief Pitching Ranking: 1
If there's one villain in baseball that we can all unequivocally hate (besides the Yankees of course), it's injuries. Injuries are easily the most treacherous, cruel and downright ugly aspect of professional sports, and baseball is definitely no exception. The NL East takes more than their fair share of the injury bug, as elite players like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Josh Johnson and Johan Santana, who would have been shoe-ins on any All-Star team, miss out on the action due to serious injuries.
The offense features a wider spread than most, as HanRam and Wright definitely aren't in the same league as the other 3/4 hitters, but serve their purposes more than well enough. Their positional compromises help the defense, however, as they're definitely not as slick with the glove as they used to be. The bench players are really solid, though, which keeps the lukewarm offense hot enough to avoid last.
Ah, pitching, pitching, pitching...that's how to make up for a relatively lackluster starting nine, by featuring one of the most ridiculous pitching staffs every accumulated on paper. Roy Halladay is hands-down the best pitcher in the game, and Cliff Lee isn't too far behind (top five, no doubt), making the other three aces in the staff all look bad. Rest assured, they are not. Hamels is still one of the best in the business, and Strasburg is the most wicked starter in the game despite health concerns. Hanson is definitely a step down due to his injury-riddled 2011, but if early signs from 2012 are any indication, he's still on track to true acehood.
As much as you thought the starting staff was good (it's way beyond good), the relief staff is out of this world. Every one of these guys is about as dominant as you can get and rounds out what would be the scariest nightmare an opposing hitter could ever have.
2. NL West
1. Justin Upton (RF)
2. Carlos Gonzalez (LF)
3. Pablo Sandoval (3B)
4. Matt Kemp (CF)
5. Troy Tulowitzki (SS)
6. Buster Posey (C)
7. Paul Goldschmidt/Brandon Belt (1B)
8. Marco Scutaro/Orlando Hudson (2B)
Bench: Paul Goldschmidt/Brandon Belt, Marco Scutaro, Chris Young, Miguel Montero and Dee Gordon
SP: Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Ian Kennedy
RP: Sergio Romo (R), Kenley Jansen (R), J.J. Putz (R), Raphael Betancourt (R), Huston Street (R) Javier Lopez (L), Craig Breslow (L)
Offense Ranking: 3
Fielding Ranking: 2
Starting Pitching Ranking: 2
Relief Pitching Ranking: 4
Overall, a really solid team and one of the best pitching and fielding staffs around. The first six guys are all legitimate No. 3 hitters and MVP candidates, making the lineup almost as deadly as the real NL All-Star team despite lacking a traditional lead off hitter.
The biggest holes are obviously first and second base, where platoons should hopefully get the best out of the only two admittedly non-elite spots in the lineup. Both of these positions could have gone a lot of ways, as there's no clear best option, but I went with the young, powerful prospect platoon at first and the defensively inclined, average-batting, veteran platoon at second.
The pitching staff, especially combined with the elite defense, would be out of this world, as it features five young, legitimate aces who are all among the best in the game. The bullpen is overall pretty electric too, as Romo and Jansen are some of the nastiest pitchers in the game and veteran closers Putz, Betancourt and Street offer stability and assurance in the later innings, although Brian Wilson's injury does hurt, as he probably could/would have been one of the best closers in the game.
The bullpen is rounded out with the two lefties on the back end who are admittedly not on the same elite tier as the others, but are incredibly deadly to left-handed hitters, giving the staff plenty of reliable and unhittable options to shut the door in later innings.
1. AL East
1. Dustin Pedroia (2B)
2. Robinson Cano (DH)
3. Adrian Gonzalez (1B)
4. Jose Bautista (RF)
5. Evan Longoria (3B)
6. Curtis Granderson (CF)
7. Matt Wieters (C)
8. J.J. Hardy (SS)
9. Brett Gardner (LF)
Bench: Ben Zobrist, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Yunel Escobar
SP: C.C. Sabathia, James Shields, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, David Price
RP: Mariano Rivera (R), David Robertson (R), Daniel Bard (R), Sergio Santos (R), Jim Johnson (R) Darren Oliver (L), Matt Moore (L)
Offense Ranking: 1
Fielding Ranking: 1
Starting Pitching Ranking: 3
Relief Pitching Ranking: 3
Oh wow, what a surprise! Yeah I know, we all saw this one coming, but could it be anything else? The team has three of the best teams in the game, one of the better teams and then the Orioles. Still, all five teams had some really good pieces to offer, making this, as expected, a really easy choice. Even losing one of the best players in the game in Jacoby Ellsbury, the AL East doesn't even miss a beat, as they have another perennial All-Star waiting in the wings candidate in Curtis Granderson/Brett Gardner.
The lineup is solid all around, with the less offensively-inclined players (i.e. Wieters, Hardy and Gardner) all making up for merely good offense with superb defense, making them both the best offensive and the defensive team in the mix. The bench is just as good too, as super-utility WAR whore Ben Zobrist is still one of the most valuable players in the game.
The pitching staff is also pretty ridiculous; just not enough to beat some of the incredible pitching in the National League. Sabathia, Lester and Price are all legit aces capable of dominating the opposition, while the righties, Shields and Beckett, are some of the best No. 2s in the game.
The bullpen is as dominant as you'd expect, as the high-profile veteran arms (Rivera, Oliver, Johnson, Robrtson) are supported by even more electric young arms (Bard, Moore, Santos). Still, some of the starting and relieving pitchers are a little ways from elite, giving the edge to the even more ridiculous staffs in the NL.