What if you could draft a full roster of all time great professional baseball players? That was the question posed to 16 owners on the baseball forum over at footballsfuture.com. 16 users were invited to participate in this draft. They would select a full 25 man roster, along with 1 manager, and then be split up into two divisions. The two divisions would compete in a sweet 16 style tourney, and then the final 2 teams would compete in the World Series. So I was pretty excited about this at first, as you could imagine. I mean vie been thinking about doing a top 50 all time-players article for weeks so this was pretty great. I made a few comments on some picks, and eventually decided I wanted to get in on this. So I contacted the GM of the Braves to offer my statistical expertise and to ask for a job. I’ve was offer the job of co-gm, and as you can imagine I took it. So over this multy-part article I’m going to run down the activities of our front office in determining which players to pick in a “Moneyball” or “Fantasyland” style. I’m also going to use many sabermetric terms, including a few adjustments vie made myself, which I will explain when I present them.
When I joined the Atlanta front office, we already had our biggest star and cleanup hitter on board. Ted Williams. Now I love this pick for a few reasons. With Babe Ruth already off the board this was easily the best player available. This pick, an extremely intelligent decision, was probably the reason I chose to get involved with the Braves. So why Is Ted a great pick? Well, let’s look at his numbers. He is the all-time leader in OBP, getting on base nearly half the time during his career. He also is second all-tome in OPS to Babe Ruth, and second all time wOBA also to Ruth (I'll explain this latter). Williams is the perfect first round pick, an offensive force that makes your lineup better from the second he joins your team. I obviously can’t take any credit for this, and don’t really have any info about the thought process that went into this pick, I can just say this is a great pick.
A few hours after the pick I joined the front office and began discussing the next pick. The first two names that came up I absolutely loved. Sandy Koufax and Albert Pujols. Two of my favorite players and easily one of the best hitters and pitchers of all time. Koufax was a dominate force for a few years, striking guys out and not walking to many batters either. He was just flat out the best pitcher of his era, and possibly all time. With Williams on the team already he appeared to be the best pick. I also love Albert Pujols. He’s my perfect kind of player. Similar to Williams he is patient and feared. He gets on base and hits the ball really, really far. We wanted a pitcher a lot so Koufax seemed like the pick, however on the way back we did want to get Pujols.
We also discussed a few other bats. I suggested we take a look at Hank Greenberg, easily one of the top first basemen of all time. I liked his numbers, but I thought that Pujols bat was just a bit better. A team scout suggested Ernie Banks; however that idea was shot down pretty quickly. Yes, Banks was one of the top 5 shortstops of all time. However he was highly overrated when it came to his overall offensive contributions and would most likely be picked way to high. When looking at potential centerfield candidates, one name that came to mind was Ken Griffey Jr. He was easily one of the top centerfielders, and outfielders, however there were a few better options out there both offensively and defensively that we thought (and still think) were going to be available down the road. I’m not going to get into much detail as the draft is still going on, however I will tell you we decided we didn’t really need junior.
Now we needed to come up with some backup options at the starting pitching spot. I didn’t like the idea of going after Bob Gibson or Jim Palmer, 2 guys high on the wins list but relatively average in the defensive independent pitching statistics (or DIPS, see Voros McCracken). We did however really like Pedro Martinez. He has some pretty impressive strikeout and walk numbers, along with and dominant ERA during the steroid era giving him the best ERA plus is league history. He went on our pitching list right behind Koufax. What Martinez was to the AL for a few years, Randy Johnson was to the NL. He had some of the best strikeout numbers of all time and was pretty much unhittable in the early part of this decade. It was between him, and flamethrower Nolan Ryan for the next spot on the list. We chose RJ followed by Ryan.
With all of that settled we waited, and waited for our pick, confident that with Williams hitting in the middle of our lineup, and Koufax as the ace of our staff, we would be unbeatable. As it came up to our pick in the second round the Brave front office got thrown off guard. Mr. Sandy Koufax was taken, and then Pedro. We had no idea what to do. I quickly sent a PM to my co-gm. “What do we do?” We knew we needed some pitching but with Koufax and Pedro off the boar we weren’t sure whether to go with pitching or wait it out and take the second guy overall on our board, Albert Pujols. The decision was quickly made, we were going with the BPA. It was actually quite a while before this pick came up. The GM in front of us was on the clock and had taken a while. He was online and not making a pick. So we PMed him. He responded:
“I don’t think I’ll be making it tonight, sorry if it's an inconvenience but it's 2AM here in the east and I have a dentist appointment at 7 AM, this was on short notice so I don't have a pick lined up. Sorry.”
Since GM’s have a 3 hour window in which to make their picks, and it was obvious he wasn’t going to be able to, we asked the guy running the draft to let us make a pick and go to bed. The other GM would make one when he woke up in the morning. We got the ok, “just this once”, and made our pick. Welcome to the team Phat Albert! My co-gm made the post and I posted the explanation, along with a picture, right below.
“Since he entered the league in 2001 Pujols has been one of the most feared hitters in the game (actually most feared in 08 according to MLB managers). Now that Barry Bonds is (seemingly) retired Pujols is easily the best hitter in baseball. He has the second highest OBP among active players and the highest SLG (even better than Bonds!) making him the active leader in OPS and OPS+. He’s already fourth all-time in SLG and fifth in OPS. The Braves think that Pujols has already proven to be one of the greatest hitters in baseball history and will be considered the greatest first basemen sense Lou Gehrig when it’s all said and done. Atlanta will add him to a lineup that already includes Ted Williams, with Pujols batting third and Williams in the cleanup spot.”
So with Albert batting third and Williams cleaning up we felt very great about our lineup. Next stop – pitching. We talked about the top couple of guys on our board, Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan. Both were pretty good, however we thought we could get similar options later on. A name came up that both of us really liked. Manny Ramirez. Again, continuing with patient and powerful theme, we thought our lineup would become indestructible. But there were still some questions. Do we really want to wait until round 4 for a pitcher? Should we take the offensively superior Ramirez over the gold glover Ken Griffey Jr.? When facing teams that are throwing out the likes of Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson you kind of have to have a great lineup and the idea of Pujols, Williams, and Ramirez batting 3-4-5 was just too good to pass up. Our pick came up and with my co-gm away I had to make my first official post! Here’s what I wrote:
Manny is quite possibly the greatest right handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio and is without a doubt one of the most patient and feared hitters in the game. Ramirez currently has the 8 highest SLG and 10 highest OPS of all time and he’s still got plenty left in the tank. Braves management feels they have compiled the greatest 3-4-5 of all time in Pujols, Williams, and Ramirez.
(This was written after initial drafting of this part of the article based on the reaction of fellow GM’s) There was substantial pounding over this pick that I just found unjust. The Braves used a thoroughly objective sabermetric method to indentify players we wanted on our team. Manny Ramirez was a top 20 hitter in OPS, OPS+, and wOBA (A measure of value per plate appearance, Manny was 11th all-time). Other GM’s have posted that Manny “kills our defense.” My response: Prove it. Show me evidence that the difference between Manny Ramirez, and say Willie Mays, has a significant impact on a team throughout a year. There just isn’t any. So we went with what there is evidence for. Offense. And offensively they don’t get much better than Manny. So this serves as both a commentary on the draft and an argument for our team. Manny Ramirez was the steal of the draft.
Our lineup was just so good. That’s where our hardcore statistical analysis had to start. The first thing we did was try to find a pitcher! We looked at each pitchers k/bb rate, versus the k/bb rate of all the players in his league the years he played and league adjusted it. So like for example someone who was league average would get a 100 (or 100% of the league average). Someone who was amazingly superior would come out with a 200 score. Most good pitchers were around 175. This worked well in indentifying good pitchers. Some famous names near the top were Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Cy Young. There were also some less famous names. Enter Dizzy Dean.
Dean is an extremely interesting pitcher. For a while Dean was one of the top pitchers in the league, just flat out dominating like no one else. Then in the 1937 all-star game Dean was struck in the foot by a batted ball by Earl Averill of the Cleveland Indians. His big toe was fractured. However determined to come back as soon as possible, he changed his delivery to keep weight off his big toe. He ended up hurting his arm, and losing his fastball. He was never the same. He officially retired 4 years latter at the age of 31. The reason he is so underappreciated is his lack of wins, something that is so frustrating to someone like me who considers them useless. If he had pitched another 10 years he would be up there with the likes of Mathewson and Johnson, easily the best pitcher of the 30’s and 40’s, however after 1937 he just wasn’t good. He made a short comeback (and I mean really short) in 1947, then was inducted into the hall of fame in 1953. His broadcasting career with the Browns may be just as famous.
Either way, Dean was the highest ranked pitcher in adjusted K/BB rate to pitch a significant amount of time post 1900 (there was one guy higher, he pitched in the 19th century and his name will be revealed latter), making him an extremely attractive option sabermetricly. He became our main target for round 4. We knew we needed a pitcher, we also knew Dean was our guy.
Now of course we needed more than one pitcher. With Dean on or roster we started to look at other pitchers to draft in round 5. A name that came up in these discussions that both of us really liked was Juan Marichal. The Dominican righty with a well known high leg kick was also high on our list for adjusted K/BB ratio, landing in the top 20 of all modern pitchers.
Marichal was only the second Dominican pitcher to make it into the big leagues. In his first start he threw a one hit shutout while striking out 12 batters. He never looked back since posting a 2303/709 K/BB rate and 2.89 ERA. He was the perfect “second ace” on our team, a guy who could help to shut down. These were the 2 guys we wanted in the next two rounds. And we got them too. So were pretty comfertable with our team, and we have a good plan for the next few rounds. But your going to have to tune into parts 2, 3, 4, and however many there are going to be to find out how this turns.
Here’s the draft discussion: http://www.footballsfuture.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=247025
Alex Geshwind is a sabermetric baseball analyst for fantasybullpen.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.