Creating MLB's Perfect 25-Man Superteam
Having gone all Dr. Frankenstein to put together the perfect hitter and perfect pitcher by taking certain attributes of various sluggers and hurlers across Major League Baseball to form such a specimen, we've decided it's now time to do the same for an entire team.
That's right: The goal here is to concoct the perfect 25-man roster.
This isn't about cherry-picking the 25 best players in the sport at their respective positions, lumping them together in the same dugout and calling it a day. This ain't the All-Star Game, folks.
No, this is about finesse, nuance and strategy to come up with a full—and at least somewhat realistic—roster based on certain players and their specific traits, skills and tools.
Taking that into account, how does one assemble the ideal MLB roster from all active players?
There's obviously more than one approach, but that's why this is such a fun exercise.
That said, what follows is pretty darn near perfect.
There will be All-Stars and MVP candidates on this roster—that's the nature of the beast when selecting a super squad—but the goal isn't simply to put together a dream team that makes everyone drool.
Rather, this is about building a cohesive, coherent, consistent group of players, from one to 25, with 13 position players and 12 pitchers. As such, there needs to be some semblance of reality and legitimacy both in terms of the team's overall budget and the individual players' abilities (i.e. strengths and weaknesses).
To that end, the bench will be filled out with actual backup players rather than really good starting position players, and the bullpen is comprised of real-life relief pitchers as opposed to starters allowed to air it out and make use of their full repertoires one inning at a time.
There's also an aim to piece together some variety and diversity, as well as consider players who excel in very specific aspects or roles.
For position players, that means, say, hitting with power, producing against left-handed pitching, making contact or showing a knack for getting on base and bringing speed and/or defense, among other traits and skills.
For pitchers, that includes mixing right-handers and left-handers, strikeout artists and ground-ballers, along with other factors.
Also? Youth and upside should be balanced out with some veteran experience, and elements like age and injury history need to be taken into account too.
Because even on the perfect 25-man roster, no player is actually perfect.
Catcher: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
An elite all-around catcher as the backbone of a roster is a good way to start.
Although he did win his seventh straight Gold Glove last year, Yadier Molina wasn't his usual self in 2014, due to suffering a torn thumb ligament mid-summer. Then his postseason ended early too when he hurt his oblique. But he's back to full health, and at age 32, Molina still has a couple strong seasons ahead of him.
Besides, his work with the pitching staff will be invaluable, and his defense is so good and so few baserunners try to run on his arm that it almost won't matter if his offensive decline continues.
First Baseman: Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
First base is where the sluggers are, and Anthony Rizzo is quickly turning into one of baseball's most dangerous power hitters
Still only 25, Rizzo's home run total has increased in each of his four big league campaigns, from 1 to 15 to 23 to 32 in 2014, his true breakout season.
And if he wants to go ahead and proclaim that this 25-man roster is going to win its division, well, that's perfectly fine here.
Second Baseman: Ben Zobrist, Oakland Athletics
A player as patient at the plate (.362 OBP from 2012 to '14) and as versatile in the field as Ben Zobrist is makes him a bit of a luxury. Or a must-have, in this case. Just ask the Oakland Athletics, who traded for him in early January.
The 33-year-old is getting up there in age, but Zobrist is a switch-hitter whose durability is unquestioned and whose ability to play second base—his spot on this club—corner outfield and even a little shortstop in a pinch gives this roster all sorts of flexibility.
That will come in more than a little handy on more than a few occasions.
Third Baseman: Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
Anthony Rendon was better last year than most people realize, finishing third among all position players with 6.6 wins above replacement (WAR, per FanGraphs)—in what was his first full major league season.
It's easy to find a spot for that kind of player.
Shortstop: Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals pitching staff gets a lot of love, and the signing of Max Scherzer just made the rotation even better—if that's even possible—but the left side of their infield is pretty great also, which is why Ian Desmond is the shortstop here.
Sure, he strikes out way too much (a career-high 183 times in 2014), but Desmond is still 29 years old and is coming off a third straight season with 20 homers and 20 steals, all while playing solid defense. That gives this club a leg up at a shallow position.
Oh, and he has played at least 154 games in four of the past five years (and 130 in 2012). Durable and productive? Yes, please.
Left Field: Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians
Michael Brantley had been a solid player for years, but in 2014, he became a great one.
Now, there's a chance he could regress some from his .327/.385/.506 line, especially that slugging percentage, but the 27-year-old makes all kinds of contact and walks almost as much as he whiffs (145 to 179 since 2012).
Brantley also has a good glove, a strong arm and above-average speed and athleticism, making him a legitimate do-it-all.
Center Field: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
This is the easy, no-duh choice. It has to be Mike Trout.
To be honest, Andrew McCutchen or Carlos Gomez would be just about perfect candidates for this too, but when building the perfect roster, it always helps to just go with the game's best player, right?
That's not to say, though, that Trout himself is perfect, although he's close. After his strikeouts jumped from 136 to 184—most in the AL, by the way—it's time for him to make an adjustment.
"It's not like he's not aware of it," Angels bench coach Dino Ebel told Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com in November after Trout won the AL MVP. "This guy's got a great eye, this guy's got lightning hands to the ball, and I really believe he's going to make adjustments and you're going to see a guy who's going to put the ball in play more."
"We're still talking about a young player who can improve," Angels hitting coach Don Baylor said. "Even though he won an MVP, he's not a 10-year vet where a guy has kind of established his strike zone. Mike, he can still improve his strike zone."
Trout, remember, is entering his age-23 campaign and already has put his career on a Hall of Fame track while also showing the ability to adjust and get better when he needs to.
Let's stop nitpicking and move on already.
Right Field: Jason Heyward, St. Louis Cardinals
Jason Heyward isn't your prototypical right fielder—that power-hitting corner guy who might lumber a little. In fact, he's quite the opposite as an athletic, lithe player who has excelled more on defense than offense to this point in his career.
But Heyward, who won his second Gold Glove last year, has shown the ability to hit the ball with authority and even out of the park at times too. Considering he's only 25, the hope—and it's a realistic one—is that he can get back to the 20-20 performer he was in 2012.
But even if not, Heyward's forte on offense is getting on base, and his OBP has improved each of the past four seasons and sits at .351 for his career.
Now that he's a St. Louis Cardinal, would it be so surprising if he had his best year yet in 2015?
Designated Hitter: Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
Sure, you could go with David Ortiz, but Victor Martinez is three full years younger and a switch-hitter, to boot.
While it's unlikely Martinez is going to repeat his career campaign from 2014, particularly those career-high 32 home runs, the 35-year-old has arguably the best approach in baseball, which makes him as tough an out as anybody else with a bat in his hands (.373 career OBP).
To wit, he has never struck out more than 78 times in a single season, which is the kind of bat-to-ball ability that is evaporating from the game more and more each year. Even in this stacked lineup, Martinez makes for an ideal three-hole hitter.
No. 1 Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Mike Trout of pitchers, Clayton Kershaw is the best of the best, so he heads the rotation.
Even with the postseason bugaboo, the 26-year-old is just too outstanding to ignore, having won four consecutive ERA titles—across both leagues, which had never been done before.
This club will worry about Kershaw in October when it gets there.
No. 2 Starting Pitcher: Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants
And if Clayton Kershaw still struggles in that month, well, then we should be covered because playoff hero Madison Bumgarner can go in Game 2.
As a 25-year-old who hasn't made fewer than 31 starts in a full season and sports a career 3.06 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 8.5 strikeout-per-nine rate, Bumgarner somehow always seemed to get overlooked or underrated—until this past October.
His postseason-record 52.2 innings that month were a remarkable feat, but they only furthered the reputation of what has become one of the great playoff-performing players of this era.
As great as Bumgarner's career numbers in the regular season are, they're that much better when it counts most: 2.14 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 7.8 K/9.
This team is making it to October, so why not have that month's best pitcher on the roster for when it gets there?
No. 3 Starting Pitcher: Jeff Samardzija, RHP, Chicago White Sox
With Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner one-two atop the rotation, it's time for a right-hander. That's where Jeff Samardzija comes in.
Now that he's figured it out as he embarks upon his age-30 season, Samardzija has shown both excellent stuff and an increasing ability to command it.
His 8.5 career K/9 rate is sexy, but that ground-ball percentage, which has climbed each of the past four years to a career-high 50.2 percent in 2014? Just as much so.
Add it up and one gets the sense we may not have seen the absolute best of Samardzija just yet.
No. 4 Starting Pitcher: Carlos Carrasco, RHP, Cleveland Indians
As mentioned early on, even though this is supposed to be the perfect roster, it can't be filled entirely with proven All-Star players, and Carlos Carrasco certainly hasn't been that. In fact, the 27-year-old might best be described as enigmatic to this stage of his career. Through parts of five extremely inconsistent seasons, Carrasco owns a 4.30 ERA and 1.33 WHIP.
But something clicked for him in the middle of 2014. After he rejoined the Cleveland Indians rotation in the second half, no pitcher put up a better ERA than Carrasco's 1.72.
Having one occasionally erratic, potentially still brilliant wild-card starter in a rotation is the kind of gamble that makes this fun.
No. 5 Starting Pitcher: Kyle Lohse, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Kyle Lohse is listed as the Milwaukee Brewers' No. 1 starting pitcher, so perhaps this is bending the rules a bit by wedging him in as the fifth arm in this rotation. But Lohse just as easily could be considered the No. 3 or 4 starter for the Brewers (or even No. 5 before they traded Yovani Gallardo Jan. 19), because their staff is rather interchangeable.
That said, the 36-year-old is the steady, consistent, reliable veteran presence at the back of the five-man who can be counted on to make 30 starts and throw around 200 innings. Oh, and the fact that Lohse doesn't walk, like, anybody, with a 1.8 per-nine rate that is eighth-best the past three years? That's a big factor here too.
Lefty Specialist: Javier Lopez, LHP, San Francisco Giants
With 113 innings across 204 appearances since 2012, Javier Lopez is the very definition of lefty specialist.
And he's darn good at his gig, having allowed same-sided batters to get on base just 23.2 percent of the time the past three years, fifth-best in all of baseball.
Apologies to Randy Choate, but Lopez is the lefty here.
Swing/Long Man: Yusmeiro Petit, RHP, San Francisco Giants
The second straight Giants pitcher and third overall, Yusmeiro Petit gets the nod as the long/swing man for the staff.
Maybe there's a little recency bias slipping in—remember how great he was during San Francisco's World Series run?—but Petit, 30, has proved the past two seasons that he can legitimately handle both starting and relieving, depending on the team's need.
Heck, Petit started almost as many games (12) as he finished (14) in 2014. That's an extremely valuable commodity.
Middle-Inning Reliever: Darren O'Day, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
As a submarining right-hander, Darren O'Day provides a very different look from the rest of the staff. Plus, his motion allows him to be used frequently, which is why the 32-year-old ranks 19th in baseball in appearances since 2012.
O'Day also can be used often in back-to-back games or with just one day of rest, something he did 34 times out of his 68 games pitched—exactly half—in 2014.
And while he's obviously death to righties (.497 OPS last year), O'Day handles lefty swingers really well too (.633). That explains his 2.05 ERA and 0.94 WHIP the last three years.
Middle-Inning Reliever: Tony Watson, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Tony Watson doesn't have the same wacky delivery Darren O'Day does, but the Pittsburgh Pirates reliever is similar to the O's righty in a lot of ways—only from the left side.
Watson, 29, has been lights-out against left-handed hitters (.531 OPS against in 2014), but his three-quarters arm slot is effective against righties too (.646). Hence his 2.36 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 8.4 K/9 since 2012.
Also like O'Day, the team can pitch Watson frequently. He made an NL-high 78 appearances last year and went without any rest on 21 occasions, needing just one day another 28 times.
Setup Man: Wade Davis, RHP, Kansas City Royals
If you watched the playoffs, you witnessed how impressive Wade Davis is now that he's found his role as a late-inning arm.
Davis, 29, failed miserably as a starter, but that opportunity gave him the chance to build a deeper repertoire than most relievers possess. And because he's going just an inning a pop now, he can pump 97 mph heaters with the best of 'em.
No wonder Davis gave up just 38 hits—and only five for extra-bases!—in his 72 frames, all while whiffing 109.
Setup Man: Brett Cecil, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Again, this may be cheating (slightly), because Brett Cecil currently is in line to close for the Toronto Blue Jays, but he's never done it before on a regular basis, as his six career saves indicate.
As we continue rounding out the bullpen with a strong mix of quality arms from both sides, Cecil will be the primary setup man from the left side.
Since making the transition to reliever full time in 2013, the former first-rounder has posted a 2.76 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and a whopping 11.5 K/9. That'll play in the seventh or eighth—or even the ninth, if need be.
Closer: Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Atlanta Braves
While almost any of the other arms in this bullpen could get the last three outs, they won't have to with Craig Kimbrel around.
Really, there's nothing more that needs to be said about why the 26-year-old gets the ninth than this: 1.43 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 14.8 K/9.
Those are his career rate statistics. Oh, and he's successfully converted 186 of 205 career save opportunities—or 91 percent.
Backup Catcher: Andrew Susac, San Francisco Giants
Although still technically a rookie entering 2015, Andrew Susac rates well with prospect folks—he placed third on the Giants' top 10, per Baseball Prospectus—and showed enough in six weeks in San Francisco that he's ready for the majors.
The 24-year-old hit .273/.326/.466 in 95 plate appearances (35 games) and started behind the plate in place of Buster Posey on 20 occasions too.
Eventually, Susac may prove worthy of being a starting backstop, but for now, he's a young, up-and-coming backup.
Backup Infielder: Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
Admit it: You didn't realize Justin Turner hit .340 last year, right? And he did so over a not-insignificant 322 trips to the plate—and all while playing at first, second, third and shortstop over the course of 2014.
The average is going to come down, but the 30-year-old can swing it some, with a .281/.344/.395 career triple-slash line. And the ability to handle all four infield positions? That's just icing.
Backup Outfielder: Jarrod Dyson, Kansas City Royals
What's great about having Jarrod Dyson on this team is that he's a backup who brings two elite tools to the role: speed and defense. Both were on display throughout the 2014 postseason.
Dyson, 30, doesn't offer any pop at the plate, but he's here because he's the ideal late-inning pinch-running specialist and defensive replacement at any of the three outfield spots. He's swiped 30 or more bases while getting nabbed seven times or fewer each of the past three years.
If he had to start for a stretch while one of the other outfielders was on the disabled list, Dyson could hold things down too.
Utility Man (Infielder/Outfielder): Danny Santana, Minnesota Twins
Danny Santana is projected to be the starting shortstop for the Minnesota Twins, but he profiles better in this sort of super-utility man role.
The 24-year-old surprised everyone by hitting .319 as an out-of-nowhere rookie last year, but much of that was fueled by an unsustainable .405 batting average on balls in play, easily the highest in the sport.
Still, Santana offers a little bit of everything as a switch-hitter, with speed and ability to play short and center field, two premium up-the-middle positions.
Even with some regression in 2015, Santana makes for a great bench option to round out this just-about-perfect 25-man roster.
Who would you choose for your perfect 25-man roster? Which players mentioned don't belong, and tell us some names that should be in there instead.
To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.