Selecting the 2010s MLB All-Decade Team

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 23, 2019

Selecting the 2010s MLB All-Decade Team

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    You might have missed it if you blinked, but another decade of Major League Baseball has passed us by.

    To honor the occasion, we've selected a team of the top players of the 2010s. These are the guys who put up huge numbers and generally ingrained themselves in the hearts and minds of baseball fans for many decades to come.

    Instead of compiling a 25-man roster, we kept it simple and pinpointed the most essential players at each position: catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, outfield and one each for right-handed and left-handed starting pitchers and relief pitchers.

    To ensure that various runners-up also get their due credit, each slide offers praise for the chosen winner and a minority report for other noteworthy standouts.

Catcher: Buster Posey

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Key Stats: 1,251 G, 5,136 PA, .302 AVG, .371 OBP, .458 SLG, 128 OPS+, 140 HR

    WAR (Pos. Rank): 42.2 (1st)


    Zachary D. Rymer's Take

    It wasn't that long ago that Buster Posey was being heralded as baseball's heir to Derek Jeter. The San Francisco Giants great certainly earned that distinction by collecting a Rookie of the Year, an MVP and three World Series rings between just 2010 and 2014.

    Though Posey has slowed down as he's gotten older, he was an All-Star as recently as 2018 and his career batting average is going strong at .302. He was easily the top catcher of the 2010s, and his ascent up the ranks of the greatest ever at the position is ongoing.


    Joel Reuter's Take

    Posey was a pretty easy choice. The only other serious contender was Yadier Molina, who won seven Gold Glove Awards and caught 10,947 of 14,549.1 innings for the St. Louis Cardinals during the decade. He added a 106 OPS+ and finished in the top five in NL MVP voting twice, en route to 31.9 WAR overall. 

    Russell Martin (23.9 WAR) and Salvador Perez (22.3 WAR) also deserve a mention for their two-way skills, while Brian McCann (17.6 WAR) paced all catchers with 191 home runs.

First Base: Miguel Cabrera

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 1,360 G, 5,795 PA, .317 AVG, .399 OBP, .544 SLG, 153 OPS+, 268 HR

    WAR (Pos. Rank): 43.5 (2nd)


    Joel's Take

    Despite a middling 99 OPS+ the past three seasons, Miguel Cabrera earns the nod at first base thanks to his peak performance. Over the first seven years of the decade, he hit .330/.414/.582 for a 169 OPS+ while averaging 34 home runs and 6.2 WAR per season.

    Along the way, he won four batting titles and two AL MVP awards, one of which came in 2012 when he became the first player since 1967 to win the Triple Crown. The All-Decade team would not be complete without one of the most well-rounded offensive players of this generation.


    Zach's Take

    There's simply no excluding Cabrera from a celebration of the great players of the 2010s. Nevertheless, proper homage must be paid to the Canadian cult hero who is Joey Votto.

    Votto kicked the decade off by winning the NL MVP in 2010, and he was ultimately the decade's toughest out by way of his MLB-best .428 on-base percentage. And while this next part is probably best said with a whisper, he had a better all-around decade than Cabrera.

Second Base: Robinson Cano

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 1,451 G, 6,228 PA, .300 AVG, .359 OBP, .496 SLG, 132 OPS+, 237 HR

    WAR (Pos. Rank): 54.2 (1st)


    Zach's Take

    The legend of Robinson Cano has taken a hit over the last two seasons. In 2018, he was suspended for 80 games after getting caught using performance-enhancing drugs. Perhaps not so coincidentally, he very much looked his age as a 36-year-old for the New York Mets in 2019.

    Before all this, however, Cano was an All-Star in seven of the decade's first eight seasons. His powerful and oh-so-sweet swing generated a .303 average and 214 home runs, and his defense even netted him a couple of Gold Gloves in that span. And for all we know, he did it clean.


    Joel's Take

    With a .315 average and three AL batting titles, Jose Altuve was the runner-up at second base. Over the past six seasons, he's hit .327/.380/.497 for a 140 OPS+ and averaged 19 home runs, 30 stolen bases and 5.9 WAR. He won AL MVP honors in 2017 while leading the Astros to the first World Series title in franchise history. 

    Ian Kinsler actually finished second to Cano in total WAR (40.5), thanks to his mix of power (174 HR), speed (152 SB) and defense (105 DRS).

Third Base: Adrian Beltre

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 1,252 G, 5,253 PA, .307 AVG, .358 OBP, .514 SLG, 130 OPS+, 227 HR

    WAR (Pos. Rank): 51.0 (1st)


    Joel's Take

    Remember when Adrian Beltre was on the Boston Red Sox? After a mediocre finish to his time with the Seattle Mariners, he settled for a one-year, $9 million contract in 2010 and proceeded to post a 141 OPS+ with 79 extra-base hits in a 7.8-WAR season.

    From there, he signed a lucrative deal with the Texas Rangers and settled in as one of the best players in baseball. Despite retiring after the 2018 season, he still finished fourth among all position players in WAR for the decade, posting terrific offensive numbers while also playing terrific defense (97 DRS) at the hot corner.


    Zach's Take

    There's little question that the 2010s made Beltre a Hall of Famer. It was also, however, the decade in which superstar third basemen suddenly sprung up all over the place.

    Josh Donaldson, in particular, came seemingly out of nowhere to average a .901 OPS, 33 home runs and 7.3 WAR between 2013 and 2017. We'd be remiss if we didn't also shout-out Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado and Evan Longoria, who delighted on both sides of the ball for much of the decade.

Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 1,030 G, 4,153 PA, .268 AVG, .316 OBP, .380 SLG, 91 OPS+, 67 HR, 65 SB

    WAR (Pos. Rank): 36.9 (1st)


    Zach's Take

    Shortstop was the toughest position to size up for this little project. Most of the decade's greats either fizzled out too soon or started too late. Yet ultimately, there was Andrelton Simmons hiding in plain sight. 

    He was only occasionally an above-average hitter, but he was categorically the decade's best defensive player. His four Gold Gloves and even more so his 198 defensive runs saved—a whopping 120 more than the next-best guy—can attest to that.


    Joel's Take

    Each of the leading candidates had clear flaws, so there's no obvious "right answer" here. Francisco Lindor has quickly developed into a superstar, but he didn't make his MLB debut until 2015. Troy Tulowitzki was elite when healthy, but rarely upright for long, averaging just 95 games per season.

    In the end, Simmons got the nod for being the decade's top overall defensive player, which offset his slightly below-average offensive game.

Outfielders: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Giancarlo Stanton

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Mike Trout's Key Stats: 1,199 G, 5,273 PA, .305 AVG, .419 OBP, .581 SLG, 176 OPS+, 285 HR, 200 SB

    WAR (Pos. Rank): 72.5 (1st)


    Mookie Betts' Key Stats: 794 G, 3,629 PA, .301 AVG, .374 OBP, .519 SLG, 134 OPS+, 139 HR, 126 SB

    WAR (Pos. Rank): 42.0 (2nd)


    Giancarlo Stanton's Key Stats: 1,162 G, 4,897 PA, .268 AVG, .358 OBP, .547 SLG, 144 OPS+, 308 HR

    WAR (Pos. Rank): 39.9 (4th)


    Joel's Take

    Mike Trout is Mike Trout. No further explanation needed. Mookie Betts had the best single-season WAR (10.9) of any player during the decade when he won AL MVP in 2018, and his total WAR trailed only Trout among outfielders. Plus, his 113 DRS made him one of just four outfielders to eclipse the 100 mark in the 2010s. Another no-brainer.

    The tough decision was Giancarlo Stanton vs. Andrew McCutchen. Both players won an MVP award and posted nearly identical WAR totals. The nod ultimately went to Stanton, thanks to his sizable edge in OPS+ (144 to 135).


    Zach's Take

    It would feel weird to discuss the top outfielders of the 2010s without at least name-dropping Bryce Harper. From the moment he was chosen No. 1 overall in the 2010 draft, there was perhaps no baseball player who was more frequently in the spotlight. And in 2015, at least, he was the best of them all.

    Likewise, McCutchen and Jose Bautista made their marks on the decade. The former by being a five-tool wonder between 2011 and 2015. The latter by launching 227 homers between 2010 and 2015, as well as popularizing the "Elevate and Celebrate" style of hitting that's all over baseball today.

Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Key Stats: 1,385 G, 5,813 PA, .281 AVG, .350 OBP, .538 SLG, 138 OPS+, 346 HR

    WAR (Pos. Rank): 34.3 (1st)


    Zach's Take

    That 2010s was an odd decade that was marked first by an extremely pitcher-friendly environment and then by an extremely hitter-friendly environment. But through it all, Nelson Cruz was, well, Nelson Cruz.

    Despite frequent injuries and a PED suspension, Cruz was a consistent slugger who amassed 102 homers between 2010 and 2013. But in averaging a .916 OPS and 41 homers, the decade's final six seasons were Cruz's masterpiece. All told, he hit more home runs than anyone else throughout the decade.


    Joel's Take

    Slugger Edwin Encarnacion finished second during the decade with 335 home runs, including eight straight seasons with at least 30 home runs. Future Hall of Famer David Ortiz retired after the 2016 season yet still managed 224 home runs while hitting .292/.383/.562 for a 151 OPS+ playing through his age-40 season. 

    Kendrys Morales deserves a mention for his role on the 2015 World Series-winning Kansas City Royals, and Victor Martinez was runner-up in AL MVP voting in 2014.

Right-Handed Starter: Max Scherzer

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    Susan Walsh/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 319 GS, 2,063.2 IP, 2,452 K, 534 BB, 3.12 ERA, 135 ERA+

    WAR (Pos. Rank): 56.1 (2nd)


    Joel's Take

    It was awfully close between Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, and Verlander actually had a slight edge in WAR (56.2 to 56.1), ERA+ (136 to 134) and ERA (3.10 to 3.12).

    However, Scherzer held a significant advantage in strikeouts (2,452 to 2,260) and strikeout rate (10.7 to 9.5 K/9), and he took home three Cy Young Awards to Verlander's two, which was enough to make Scherzer the pick. But really, they can be considered 1 and 1a among right-handed starters.


    Zach's Take

    Scherzer's sheer dominance throughout the 2010s is difficult to deny, yet Verlander was indeed his only true peer among right-handed starters. Though he briefly struggled in the middle of the decade, he still averaged a 3.10 ERA, 226 strikeouts and 214 innings per season.

    Albeit over "only" 198 innings per year, Zack Greinke posted a 3.18 ERA throughout the 2010s. Those numbers underscore his successful transition from pure power pitcher to more of a Maddux-ian craftsman. Plus, his six Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers deserve some bonus points.

Left-Handed Starter: Clayton Kershaw

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 293 GS, 1,996.0 IP, 2,179 K, 434 BB, 2.31 ERA, 164 ERA+

    WAR (Pos. Rank): 59.3 (1st)


    Zach's Take

    Clayton Kershaw wasn't yet Clayton Kershaw when the 2010s began. But with the help of a wicked fastball and slider and the knee-buckling-est of curveballs, he led the majors in ERA four times and the NL in strikeouts three times between 2011 and 2015. His efforts earned him three Cy Young Awards and an MVP.

    Kershaw hasn't been the same guy as he's battled injuries and the typical effects of age over the last four seasons. And broadly speaking, his postseason track record is, well, not good. But until further notice, his career 157 ERA+ suggests that watching him has meant watching the best starting pitcher in history.


    Joel's Take

    Chris Sale spent the first two seasons of the decade pitching out of the bullpen before emerging as one of baseball's best pitchers. His 140 ERA+ trailed only Kershaw (164) and Jacob deGrom (147) among pitchers who recorded at least 1,000 innings during the decade. 

    Madison Bumgarner and Jon Lester both served as the staff ace for teams that won World Series titles, while Cole Hamels (46.2) finished second to Kershaw in WAR among lefty starters.

Right-Handed Reliever: Craig Kimbrel

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 565 G, 553.1 IP, 898 K, 217 BB, 2.08 ERA, 195 ERA+

    WAR (Pos. Rank): 19.6 (1st)


    Joel's Take

    Craig Kimbrel was the decade leader in saves (346) by a fairly wide margin over Kenley Jansen (301), and he backed that impressive total with a pristine 2.08 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. His 41.1 percent strikeout rate trailed only Josh Hader (44.6 percent) among pitchers with at least 100 relief appearances and amounted to a staggering 14.6 K/9.

    Armed with a lethal fastball-curveball combination, Kimbrel is simply one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball history.


    Zach's Take

    Kimbrel gave too many hitters too many nightmares throughout the 2010s. But if we were going on FanGraphs WAR, it would be hard to deny Jansen. Through the use of the best cutter this side of Mariano Rivera, he put together a 2.35 ERA and struck out 5.7 times as many batters as he walked.

    Though it took him a while to escape Rivera's shadow while both were on the New York Yankees, David Robertson also had a dandy of a decade. He was especially at his best between 2011 and 2017, when he authored a 2.49 ERA with 450 more strikeouts than walks.

Left-Handed Reliever: Aroldis Chapman

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 550 G, 535.2 IP, 883 K, 248 BB, 2.23 ERA, 184 ERA+

    WAR (Pos. Rank): 17.5 (1st)


    Zach's Take

    One thing that made the 2010s especially interesting for baseball fans was the rise in popularity of pitch tracking data. Into this environment walked Aroldis Chapman in 2010, and he spent the decade pumping out—and this is no joke—in excess of 2,000 more 100-plus mph fastballs than the next guy.

    With a top speed of 105 mph, the Cuba native matched Kimbrel in holding opposing hitters to just a 41 OPS+. He also compiled a rate of 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings, which stands as the highest mark in history for any reliever who's appeared in no fewer than 500 games.


    Joel's Take

    Sinkerballer Zack Britton used a 66.5 percent ground-ball rate to tally 145 saves, with most of them coming during a three-year span from 2014 to 2016 when he was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.

    The only other lefty relievers to top 100 saves during the decade were Glen Perkins (120) and Sean Doolittle (111), while setup men Tony Watson (11.9) and Andrew Miller (10.3) joined Chapman and Britton in eclipsing the 10-WAR mark. Josh Hader has only been in the league for three years, but he's been next-level dominant.


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.