The Best Starting Lineup Major League Baseball Has to Offer in 2011

Kevin JackmanContributor IIIMay 3, 2011

The Best Starting Lineup Major League Baseball Has to Offer in 2011

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    PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 27:  Andre Ethier #16 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at bat during spring training at Camelback Ranch on February 27, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    The philosophy of putting together a lineup card is as old as the game itself. The number of ways to construct a starting nine are seemingly limitless with all the talent the big leagues has to offer.

    Some managers, like Tony La Rusa, hit the pitcher eighth, some like to alternate lefty and righty throughout the order, others simply go with a traditional, conventional lineup.

    Different teams have different systems, like the Yankees' focus on offense, or the Giants' stress on pitching, or the Angels' total team defense. While All-Star games are the closest thing we get to a perfect lineup, I like modeling my nine slot by slot, position by position.

    So here is how defensive efficiency, offense production and potential fit into my ideal lineup.

    For more on Major League Baseball go to Jackman Sports.

The Leadoff Man: Bobby Abreu, Angels OF/DH

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    PEORIA, AZ - MARCH 15:  Bobby Abreu #53 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim bats against the San Diego Padres during the fifth inning of the spring training game at Peoria Stadium on March 15, 2011 in Peoria, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Just because a player steals bases, it doesn't qualify you to be a major league leadoff man; yes, I am talking to you, Willy Taveras.

    The Job Description:

    • Ability to swipe 20-plus bases
    • OBP above .350
    • See at least 3.5 pitches/at-bat
    • Capable of 15 home runs
    • Average above .290
    • Aggressive baserunner

    My Man:

    Bobby Abreu fits this role perfectly, even in his later age. He has long been considered one of the most patient hitters in the league to go along with the rare combination of power and speed. His consistence in the on base department is remarkable. This guy belongs among the best outfielders in the game over the course of his career.

The No. 2 Hitter: Placido Polanco, Phillies 2B/3B

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    PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 27:  Placido Polanco #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies bats against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the Major League Baseball game at Chase Field on April 27, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Phillies defeated the Diamondbacks 8-4.  (Phot
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    This is where I don't like what a lot of managers do. They see the No. 2 slot as a place for someone with speed who won't clog the base paths but really doesn't produce.

    The Job Description:

    • High on base percentage, no matter how slow you are
    • Very few swing and misses
    • Ability to hit with two strikes
    • Willing to sacrifice his stats for the good of the team

    My Man:

    Placido Polanco is one of the best hitters with two strikes to ever play the game. His ability to make contact on nearly every swing of the bat is extremely rare. Not to mention, he is one of the most steady defensive players in the game. He may be playing third base this year, but the majority of his games have come at second, so that is where I pencil him in at.

The No. 3 Hitter: Andre Ethier, Dodgers of

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FL - APRIL 25:  Andre Ethier #16 of the Los Angeles Dodgers his a single during a game against the Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium on April 25, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    In the three spot I like a high average guy who won't miss out on RBIs with runners in scoring position, especially with two outs.

    The Job Description:

    • High average with RISP w/ two outs
    • Hits an above average amount of doubles
    • Has the ability to hit 20-30 home runs
    • Low number of strikeouts

    My Man:

    Andre Ethier is the new "Machine" in the early part of the 2011 season. If you take his numbers up until March 14th (the day he injured his pinkie), he had a .392 average and 11 homers through 33 games. Now, 27 games into this year, he is hitting .380 with an additional three home runs. Add it up and you get a very scary No. 3 hitter. The best part—he isn't even done getting better.

The Clean-Up Man: Albert Pujols, Cardinals 1B

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    ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 23: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a two-run home run against the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium on April 23, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The four spot is the easiest to explain. He is your second best overall hitter and requires the best combination between power and contact.

    The Job Description:

    • Must strike fear in the eyes of the opposing team
    • 30-40 homers is required
    • Good eye at the plate
    • Willing to take walks
    • Ability to hit to all fields

    My Man:

    Albert Pujols is, hands down, the best hitter in baseball since the moment he broke into the league. His ability to remain incredibly consistent is something that only comes by every 30 or 40 years. Just look at his CAREER stat line: .330/.424/.624 with an average of 40.8 homers and 123 RBI. Those are the kind of numbers that every player dreams of and he has done that for 10 years! Oh, and he has won Gold Glove awards at first base...no big deal.

The 5th Hitter: Adam Dunn, White Sox DH

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    CHICAGO, IL - MAY 01: Adam Dunn #32 of the Chicago White Sox hits a pinch-hit, two-run home run in the 8th inning against the Baltimore Orioles at U.S. Cellular Field on May 1, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Orioles defeated the White Sox 6-4. (Photo by J
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The five spot is the last remaining slot in the order where a certain offensive ability is crucial. In some respects, the fifth spot is the most important, often being presented with the most RBI chances.

    The Job Description:

    • Power
    • Power
    • More power

    My Man:

    Adam Dunn is the most prototypical fifth hitter you can find in today's game. He may never have led the league in runs, but he has an uncanny knack for finishing every season with exactly 40 home runs and right around 100 RBI. His brute strength is enough to give opposing pitchers nightmares, especially while he is in the midst of a hot streak. Thankfully he is now the DH for the Sox, saving him from further embarrassment on the Not Top 10.  

The 6th Hitter: Ryan Zimmerman, National 3B

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    WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 03:  Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman #11 of the Washington Nationals makes a play against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on April 3, 2011 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    At this point, defense amongst the remaining positions is the priority, and offense ability is more of a plus. The sixth spot in particular is that swing slot in which you would like to see some balance between production at the plate and efficiency in the field.

    The Job Description:

    • Plus-defender at his position
    • Preferably able to hit for power
    • Able to convert on most RBI chances

    My Man:

    Ryan Zimmerman is one of the top defensive third baseman in the game, while also being an excellent run producer for his Nats. As his generation's Scott Rolen, many consider him a fantastic fielder with a plus bat that drives in runs. Zimmerman may not be on the field for an extended time right now, but he is still my top all-around third baseman, beating out Evan Longoria and David Wright. 

The 7th Hitter: Jose Reyes, Mets SS

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    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 21: Jose Reyes #7 of the New York Mets turns a double play over the slide of Matt Downs #16 of the Houston Astros at Citi Field on April 21, 2011 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Lah
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Towards the end of the lineup, you like to see better and better defenders who will save you runs more so than produce them. 

    The Job Description:

    • Hit for average more so than power
    • Speed is preferable 
    • Excellent glove
    • Smart base running skills

    My Man:

    Jose Reyes is possibly the best overall shortstop in the game defensively (when he is on the field). He has maximum range and an arm comparable to that of a younger Rafael Furcal. Often considered an erratic shortstop, Reyes has become more consistent and mature with each passing year. Oh, and he has previously stolen 70 bases and hit almost 20 homers before. But that's not the important thing. 

The 8th Hitter: Yadier Molina, Cardinals C

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    ST. LOUIS - AUGUST 18: Yadier Molina #4 of the St. Louis Cardinals throws to first base against the Milwaukee Brewers  at Busch Stadium on August 18, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Brewers beat the Cardinals 3-2.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    In the eighth spot, I prefer to put my absolute worst hitter. So if it was a National League team, yes, my pitcher would be hitting here. This is the least important spot in the lineup and should be treated as such.

    The Job Description:

    • Gold Glove caliber defender

    My Man:

    Yadier Molina is simply the best. He is as good as Pudge Rodriguez in his prime defensively and just seems to get better. Don't be fooled by the quantitative numbers representing his defensive prowess; he is so feared by base runners they just don't go anymore. His bat isn't too bad, but it isn't great, either. He is played to catch and he is worth every dime. 

The 2nd Leadoff Man: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox of

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    ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 24:  Jacoby Ellsbury #2 of the Boston Red Sox slides into second with a leadoff double as shortstop Erick Aybar #2 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim takes the throw in the first inning on April 24, 2011 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim,
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The nine slot is very undervalued in today's power game. This guy is responsible for extending innings and providing RBI chances for the top of the order.

    The Job Description:

    • Fast, can steal bases
    • Hits for a high average (above .300)
    • Solid defensively
    • Sees a lot of pitches
    • Good contact rate

    My Man: 

    Jacoby Ellsbury is electric. Sidelined with a rib problem last year, a lot of people have forgotten about the fact that he stole 70 bases the year before. This is a guy who is an absolutely amazing table setter who plays a very good center field. His speed and jumps on balls allow him to cover an absurd amount of ground in Fenway. 

The Final Lineup

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    SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 26: Bench coach Trey Hillman of the Los Angeles Dodgers fills out the lineup card before a spring training game the San Francisco Giants at Scottsdale Stadium on February 26, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Ge
    Rob Tringali/Getty Images

    Here is what it looks like, folks:

    First Team All-Jackman (I know, corny)

    1. Bobby Abreu, LF
    2. Placido Polanco, 2B
    3. Andre Ethier, RF
    4. Albert Pujols, 1B
    5. Adam Dunn, DH
    6. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
    7. Jose Reyes, SS
    8. Yadier Molina, C
    9. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF

    Second Team All-Jackman

    1. Matt Kemp, CF
    2. Joe Mauer, C
    3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
    4. Evan Longoria, 3B
    5. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
    6. Robinson Cano, 2B
    7. Billy Butler, DH
    8. Shin-Soo Choo, LF
    9. Ichiro Suzuki, RF

    Let me know what you lineups would be! (And please refrain from just saying the Red Sox or Yankees.)