The 2000s were a hell of a decade for baseball.
We saw home run power, the walk become en vogue, the Red Sox win as many World Series as the Yankees, and the statistical revolution take over almost all MLB front offices.
When trying to craft an all-decade team, a number of considerations come up:
How well did a player play during his peak years? How well did he play in total? Is it fair to reward a player who accumulated 40 or so wins above replacement in a 2000-09 stretch, instead of one who reached, let us say, 37 from 2004-09? What about a star player who split time between two positions?
As best as I can, here is my all-decade team:
Catcher: Joe Mauer
Very easily could have been Jorge Posada. After all, Posada went .283/.386/.492 in the 2000s, good for a 129 OPS+, not to mention his 208 homers.
This is where the issue of "length vs. peak" came in. Mauer hit .327/.408/.483 from 2004 to 2009, ran away with the 2009 MVP, and had a case for it in 2006 and 2008.
If you cherry pick Posada's top five seasons of the decade from his baseball projection page , you come up with 26.6 WAR. Mauer , from 2005 to 2009, is at 31.6 WAR. He was just too good to penalize him for his age.
First Base: Albert Pujols
If you are a baseball fan and need this pick explained to you, well, I would just assume you have not been paying attention.
Pujols, in his career, has posted a .334/.427/.628 line, along with 366 homers, good for a 172 OPS+ (and a 173 wRC+). For reference sake, Stan Musial's OPS+ through age 29 was a 171.
Even without factoring in defense, Pujols is miles ahead of the next first baseman, which is saying something given the amount of good ones who were active this decade (Helton, Berkman, Howard, Teixeira, Lee, etc.).
Factoring in his glove, though, Pujols has a career 6.0 UZR/150 at first. While UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) has come under fire from some for first basemen, his defense is regarded highly enough that he's been the Cardinals' left fielder for a stretch, and even played some third base.
Second Base: Chase Utley
Possibly the most underrated player in the majors.
Yet to finish in the top five of an MVP vote, despite constantly finishing in the top five in WAR in the National League, Utley has finished second in the NL in WAR every year since 2007. For the plain numbers, he's hit .295/.379/.523, good for a 129 OPS+, and 161 homers.
His bat makes him elite, but his glove (+15.5 UZR/150 career at 2B) puts him way ahead of the pack at this position.
Third Base: Alex Rodriguez
This one was odd to me; in fact, it was downright frustrating.
Alex Rodriguez, steroids or not, was arguably the best player of the decade, but he split his time between two positions.
He had better seasons at shortstop but more time at third base. Under Bill James' player ranking system, one may be inclined to call him a shortstop, but he's only played eight innings at short since joining the Yankees.
Among the best pure third basemen, best pure shortstops, and A-Rod, someone had to be the odd man out, and I chose the best pure third baseman. Not even because I think said third baseman is worse than said shortstop; just because I think A-Rod is a third baseman, and the best one of the decade.
A-Rod, for the decade, went .304/.401/.587, good for a 154 OPS+. He cracked the 1.000 mark for OPS five times. He also was an accomplished base runner, with 179 steals and a 82.9 percent success rate. He also won three MVPs, two as a third baseman with the Yankees.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter
As stated before, I was tempted to odd-man-out him. If you talked to me in 2003, I would have told you without any doubt that Jeter was easily the third of the "Big Three" shortstops, and simply a third baseman posing as a shortstop (he posted a lot of bad seasons with the glove, Gold Glove awards be damned).
Now, though, he amazes me. He has been the Yankees' shortstop since 1996, and only once did he miss significant playing time (a freak base-running injury in 2003). He hits as well now as he did in his younger days, and while most shortstops his age are being turned into sorry excuses of second basemen or corner outfielders, Jeter actually has significantly improved in his fielding (from 2000 to 2003, his Total Zone score was -62, from 2004-09, it was -16, or close to average).
Average fielding is pretty good for a guy who's most likely the third best offensive shortstop of all time.
In the decade, Jeter hit .317/.386/.456, good for a 121 OPS+. On top of his skill at the dish, he also is an accomplished base runner, coming off a 30-steal 2009, and a decade success rate of 82.3 percent. The irony of all the people who talk about what Jeter cannot do is they tend to forget what he can do, which is a lot.
Left Field: Barry Bonds
Is there an answer for this one that would make everyone happy? Clearly not. If not Bonds, then who?
Manny Ramirez? Another prevalent steroid-power hitter. I am not out to crucify those who did use, but if I am going to pick a user, I will at least pick the better one.
Vlad Guerrero? Magglio Ordonez? Very good players, but in the discussion for all-decade team? Definitely not on board with that, especially given Bonds' 2000s.
Say what you would like about Bonds (and I am sure there is a lot), but if he was nothing but steroids, why did no one else equal his 221 OPS+, or his .517 OBP? Why was he able to hit 317 homers in 4,072 plate appearances? Bonds of course is not the nicest man ever, and he took a lot of " supplements," but he was a great player. Let's not forget that.
Center Field: Carlos Beltran
Beltran is the epitome of a five-tool player. He can hit for a decent average, walk and get on base. He had a solid power stroke. He's also a terrific base runner, which translates to his fielding, and can throw well, too. His baseball projection page rates him at exactly 50 WAR from 2000 to 2009.
His .282/.363/.502 with 251 homers on the decade is very impressive for a skilled defender, and he had an amazing 89.5-percent stolen base success rate. Some people will likely never let him forget his three-pitch strikeout in the NLCS (a series in which he hit .296/.387/.667), which is unfortunate, but I doubt it will hurt his legacy all that much.
Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki
Ichiro definitely gets a "value boost" from being able to lead off: He records upwards of 700 plate appearances a season, or more, while most of his right field competitors are around 600.
For this reason, I was tempted to be the contrarian and argue Bobby Abreu, or J.D. Drew. These would be incorrect, though; Ichiro is a better player than Abreu, and while Drew contributes more to winning per plate appearance than Ichiro (according to their WAR ratings), the reason Ichiro rates higher is not because Drew is a victim of batting order, it is because he's injured a lot, while Ichiro is not. Having Ichiro for 160 games, while not massively different from 130 of Drew and 32 of a replacement, is still a better option.
Ichiro's bat is indeed overrated, at least in some circles. He hits .333, which is enough to call him the Second Coming to some, but he's more like the second coming of George Sisler with the bat. He has walked in only 6.2 percent of his career plate appearances, and his ISO (isolated power stat) is barely north of .100. His overall line is .333/.378/434, good for a 118 OPS+.
This, however, does not tell the story of Ichiro. He is a good base runner, with 341 steals and an 81.2 percent success rate. His glove also is a huge plus, with a total zone rating rating of +93 (which more than makes up for his positional adjustment of -52).
Ichiro is a great player, just not for the reasons many "pundits" say.
Designated Hitter: Lance Berkman
"Wait, Lance Berkman is not a DH!"
Well, obviously he is not. But the purpose of this exercise is to build the best team possible, and for my DH, I wanted the best hitter who was not already on the team. One may argue David Ortiz, but Berkman has him beat in OPS+ on the decade, 148 to 136.
Manny Ramirez had a 160, but he had missed-time problems that Berkman just never had during the decade. That alone was not enough for me to say Berkman over Ramirez, but obviously, Ramirez also has the cloud of steroid use hanging over him. In this instance, I feel better rewarding the slightly less statistically-impressive player with the cleaner resume.
Left-handed starter: Johan Santana
Two Cy Youngs. 3.66 K/BB rate. 3.38 FIP in a hitter's era. 3.12 ERA (thanks to an amazing ability to strand runners, constantly over 75 percent), and a 143 ERA+. For anyone who cares, he also has a .670 win percentage. An argument can be made for the more durable CC Sabathia, but an ERA+ of 121 and FIP of 3.59 makes that a tough sell, in my opinion.
Right-handed starter: Roy Halladay
He might be better than his numbers say.
Despite pitching in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox (and for the last two seasons, Rays), Halladay has shown amazing durability and skill to obtain a 3.47 FIP, a 3.29 K/BB (3.74 in the decade), and a decade ERA+ of 134 to go along with a 1.171 WHIP in the decade.
Away from the unfriendly AL East for the first time in his career, I see no reason why he does not continue this impressive run. There really is not a right-handed pitcher near him outside of Tim Lincecum, and while Lincecum's peak was impressive (and obviously, more from him to come), Halladay was a decade-long machine. I could not give Lincecum the nod for just a quarter-decade of dominance.
Relief Ace: Mariano Rivera
Rivera, from 2000 to 2009, vs. Joe Nathan, from 2003 to 2009, are very similar in terms of their rate statistics.
Nathan posted a 216 ERA+, a 3.93 K/BB, and a 0.954 WHIP in that time.
Rivera posted a 215 ERA+, a 4.88 K/BB, and a 0.960 WHIP in his period.
Rivera, however, was doing that in 2000 to 2002 as well. Nathan was not. Rivera gets the nod in this last spot.
Honorable mentions: Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez, Bobby Abreu, Vlad Guerrero, David Wright, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Jim Thome, David Ortiz, Jim Edmonds, CC Sabathia, Roy Oswalt, Randy Johnson, Javier Vasquez, Joe Nathan, Mark Buerhle, Curt Schilling.