Selecting the Perfect 2016 MLB Starting Lineup, 1 Through 9
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to create baseball's ultimate lineup, one that will play in the biggest game ever played. The pitchers you'll face remain a mystery—chances are they'll be the best of the best—and you can only pick from current players.
Who do you choose?
It's not as easy as it seems, as there are any number of ways to approach such a task. We kept with tradition by putting a speedy hitter atop the order, a solid contact hitter in the two-hole and a slugger hitting cleanup, while trying to create a balance of bats from both sides of the plate throughout.
Two things to keep in mind when constructing your lineup:
- We are not concerned with defensive ability, any injuries a player may be dealing with or salaries. Offensive production is the only thing that matters.
- The game will be played under American League rules, so there is a designated hitter. Any position player was deemed eligible for the DH spot.
It's ultimately a matter of opinion, as there's no right or wrong answer in this exercise.
Feel free to fill out your lineup card in the comments section below, but we're confident enough in our squad to say with certainty that we'd outhit, outslug and outperform your starting nine.
1. CF A.J. Pollock, Arizona Diamondbacks
2015 Stats: .315/.367/.498, 65 XBH (20 HR), 76 RBI, 111 R, 39-of-46 SB
Dubbed "the best player you don't know" by the Washington Post's Barry Svrluga, A.J. Pollock boasts a mix of power, speed and athleticism that makes him a perfect choice to serve as our lineup's table-setter.
The only player in baseball to hit at least 20 home runs, collect 30 doubles, steal 30 bases and score 100 runs last season, Pollock is aggressive at the plate but patient enough to draw a walk, with a 7.9 percent walk rate that was right around league average.
His contact rate (85.1 percent) and hard-contact rate (33.8 percent) are above average, however, and he has the speed to challenge opposing outfielders as they chase down the line drives he sprays around the field.
"His legs have got electricity," Arizona's chief baseball officer Tony La Russa said, per Svrluga. "The ball jumps off his bat. His arm is outstanding. Everything about A.J. has got life. Everything about him."
Pollock might not be the fastest runner or the most patient hitter in baseball, but his overall game and ability to get things going as a leadoff hitter are tough to beat.
2. LF Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians
2015 Stats: .310/.379/.480, 60 XBH (15 HR), 84 RBI, 68 R, 15-of-16 SB
No one makes more consistent contact than Michael Brantley, which makes him an ideal No. 2 hitter. Well, that, and his power...and his speed...and his batting eye.
Since 2012, Brantley has walked nearly as often as he's struck out (205 BB/230 SO), and last season, for the first time, he walked more than he whiffed (60/51). A career .292 hitter, his ability to get on base and cause problems when he does—he's gone 38-of-40 in stolen-base attempts since 2014—only adds to his appeal.
3. DH Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
2015 Stats: .299/.402/.590, 79 XBH (41 HR), 90 RBI, 104 R, 11-of-18 SB
There's a case to be made for any of the next four players to get the nod as our No. 3 hitter—a spot typically reserved for a team's best all-around offensive threat. But can you really go wrong with Mike Trout, the best player on the planet?
Going by FanGraphs' wRC+ metric, Trout has been baseball's most productive hitter since his 2012 rookie campaign, producing 71 percent more runs than a league-average hitter would have with the same number of plate appearances. Think about how ridiculous that is for a second.
Trout's bat plays anywhere in a lineup.
4. RF Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
2015 Stats: .330/.460/.649, 81 XBH (42 HR), 99 RBI, 118 R, 6-of-10 SB
Giancarlo Stanton might have more natural power, but Bryce Harper's bat speed—which we dug into earlier this year when we built baseball's perfect hitter—makes him the game's premier slugger and a perfect fit in the cleanup spot.
Harper nearly won a batting title on his way to being named National League MVP last season. He led baseball in on-base percentage (.460), slugging percentage (.649), OPS (1.109) and wRC+ (197) while pacing the NL in home runs and runs scored.
While there's plenty of swing-and-miss in his game, as tends to be the case with most sluggers, Harper drew a career-high 124 walks in 2015—nearly identical to the 131 strikeouts he had on the season.
5. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
2015 Stats: .321/.435/.570, 73 XBH (33 HR), 110 RBI, 103 R, 21-of-26 SB
Some would say a No. 5 hitter is a wannabe cleanup hitter, but Paul Goldschmidt is no wannabe.
He's one of only two first basemen in baseball history to hit at least .300 with 30-plus home runs and 20-plus stolen bases in a season. The other is Jeff Bagwell, who belongs in the Hall of Fame and accomplished the feat twice, in 1996 and 1999.
Goldschmidt does everything you'd want from a No. 3 hitter, much less someone hitting fifth in the order.
6. C Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
2015 Stats: .318/.379/.470, 47 XBH (19 HR), 95 RBI, 74 R, 2-of-2 SB
Slotting Buster Posey sixth in the order, behind Paul Goldschmidt, brings an end to our alternating between righties and lefties. But the former NL MVP produces against all pitchers, regardless of throwing arm, so it's not that big of a deal.
There's really not another catcher who's Posey's equal offensively, which makes this an incredibly easy selection. Since defense isn't a concern, a case could be made for the Chicago Cubs' Kyle Schwarber, but Posey's experience and track record of success win out over the Cubs' young slugger.
7. 3B Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
2015 Stats: .272/.365/.505, 75 XBH (28 HR), 84 RBI, 101 R, 4-of-7 SB
You couldn't go wrong with Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson or Manny Machado at the hot corner, but they're all right-handed hitters—and we needed a left-handed bat to bring some balance back to the lineup.
Enter Matt Carpenter, who got serious consideration to hit in the two-hole despite striking out more and walking less than he has in the past. Ultimately, putting Michael Brantley's speed ahead of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt was simply too tempting to pass up.
That said, Carpenter's newfound power—he hit a career-high 28 home runs in 2015—won't go to waste this low in the order, not with Goldschmidt and Buster Posey, a pair of on-base machines, hitting ahead of him.
8. SS Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
2015 Stats: .313/.353/.482, 38 XBH (12 HR), 51 RBI, 50 R, 12-of-14 SB
Francisco Lindor isn't the best right-handed-hitting shortstop in baseball—Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa and Troy Tulowitzki are all ahead of him in that regard—and the power he flashed during his rookie season was an aberration.
After hitting 21 home runs over more than 1,800 plate appearances in the minors, the 12 bombs he smacked in fewer than 450 trips to the plate in the majors seem unsustainable.
That's not to say the 22-year-old's not capable of hitting for average and getting on base consistently—he is. But Lindor also led all position players with 13 sacrifice hits, and that unselfish ability to move runners over fits with what we're looking for this low in the lineup.
9. 2B Dee Gordon, Miami Marlins
2015 Stats: .333/.359/.418, 36 XBH (4 HR), 46 RBI, 88 R, 58-of-78 SB
There's an argument to be made that Dee Gordon's speed should be at the top of the lineup, not the bottom. But his inability to draw a walk and penchant for striking out make him too great a liability to serve as this squad's table-setter.
In fact, those tendencies nearly forced him from our lineup altogether—replaced by Jose Altuve, who makes more consistent contact, has more power and is nearly as quick on the basepaths. But in keeping with the balance we've tried to create, we preferred a left-handed bat in the No. 9 hole.
That gave Gordon the nod, and he essentially serves as a second leadoff hitter at the bottom of the order.
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