Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Predicting the Next "Team of the Decade"

Yesterday, the illustrious Rob Neyer, after reading Matt Water's take, decided to take a stab at naming his "All Decade Team" for the '00s (are we officially calling it the "oughts" yet?). In his post, Rob takes a critical look at Matt's list and concludes that it's a pretty solid list, save for a couple of mistakes.

The team that he seems to land on is a good team, and one with little room for debate. Some might wonder, for example, about Roger Clemens (he's as worthy as Pedro, I suspect) and whether Barry played enough in the decade to warrant inclusion, but that's all pretty minor. When you break it down position-by-position like that, the choices become pretty obvious.

Are the choices as obvious looking forward, though? As you can imagine, these "Team of the Decade" articles are pretty common every ten years (the most amazing thing about Rob's and Matt's pieces are that they remind us that it's already time for us to come up with yet another one... not that I'm complaining!). I remember it happening in 1999 (when we also had the "All Century Team"), and I know for a fact it was happening in 1989-90 and even earlier. We've all heard it countless times in reference to Jack Morris and his HOF candidacy, after all.

What's more rare than the retrospective "All Decade Team", though, is the predictive "All Decade Team". In the 1990 Sporting News Baseball Yearbook, the editors do both. After coming up with their own "All 1980s Team", they take it a step further and try to predict who will be the "All 1990s Team". The article was published in January/February of 1990, so it's impossible for them to be spot on. Neither of the two catchers of the decade, Ivan Rodriguez or Mike Piazza, for example, were even in professional baseball yet. Plus, the editors seemed to be a little too impressed by the 1989 rookie class. Still, there's enough there worth looking at, so here we go:
TSN's Predicted Team of the '90s

SP: Bret Saberhagen
What They Said: "He's poised to add to his Cy Young collection."
What Happened: Saberhagen was never really able to put together consecutive strong innings, and spent much of the '90s injured or recovering from injuries. He did finish third in the 1994 Cy Young voting. Overall, he went 74-54 with a 124 ERA+ in 192 games in the 1990s.

C: Sandy Alomar Jr, Todd Zeile
What They Said: "These two know all about catching, from A to Z. They can hit, too."
What Happened: Sandy won the 1990 Rookie of the Year award, but was rarely healthy throughout the '90s. He did put together a memorable 1997, but that was probably the highlight of his career. Zeile had a solid career, but as a third-baseman. He only caught in 2 games after 1990.

1B: Will Clark
What They Said: "The Thrill continues to amaze."
What Happened: The Thrill put up a few more great seasons, but his status as the best first-baseman in baseball was over by 1993. From 1990-99, Clark played in only 1264 games. He did hit .302/.382/.480 (129 OPS+) in that time, though. If he had been able to put up 3 or 4 more good, healthy seasons, he might be in the Hall of Fame today.

2B: Roberto Alomar
What They Said: "Power, speed and offense - the Sandberg of the '90s?"
What Happened: Robbie had a great career in the 1990s, winning two World Series and appearing in 3 other postseasons. He had nearly 1700 hits and a 122 OPS+ in 1400 games during the decade. Along with Craig Biggio and Jeff Kent, the best second-basemen of their generation.

3B: Robin Ventura/Matt Williams
What They Said: "Williams reminds some of Mike Schmidt; Ventura is a hitting machine."
What Happened: Two very good players who put up solid numbers year after year. From 1990-99, Ventura played in 1399 games and batted .278/367/.452 (119 OPS+) with 203 HRs. In the same time, Williams played in 1340 games and batted .278/.326/.508 (122 OPS+) with 300 HRs.

SS: Barry Larkin
What They Said: "Just keep him away from the All Star Game skills competition."
What Happened: The bulk of Larkin's HOF career was spent in the 1990s, when he won an MVP award and was named to 8 All-Star games. Despite injuries, Larkin batted .303/.388/.466 (126 OPS+) in nearly 1300 games in the '90s

LF: Bo Jackson
What They Said: "Until he shows otherwise, there's no limit to what Bo knows - or what he can do."
What Happened: Bo, of course, suffered a major hip injury in a January 1991 Raiders game. It didn't technically end his career, but it may as well have. Between 1990 and 1994, Bo played in only 294 games, hitting 60 home runs and stealing only 16 bases. He did have a 119 OPS+ in that time, though.

CF: Ken Griffey Jr/Kirby Puckett/Eric Davis
What They Said: "Pick a star, any star."
What Happened: Puckett's career was a cut short early due to his glaucoma, but he did end up in the Hall of Fame. Griffey dominated the 1990s, and was actually named to the "All Century Team" in 1999. Davis had a good career, but was injured much too often to reach the potential everyone saw. He retired in 2001.

RF: Ruben Sierra
What They Said: "He's ready to dominate the American League right now."
What Happened: Between 1990 and 1996, Sierra played in 1007 games, batting .269/.321/.438. He would only play in 67 more games before the end of the decade. He would somehow make his way back onto major league rosters and play all the way until 2006.

RP: Gregg Olson
What They Said: "His debut season in 1989 gave the Orioles glimpes of glory."
What Happened: Olson saved 133 games for the Orioles between 1990 and 1993, but didn't save more than 8 games in a season again until 1998, when he saved 30 for the Diamondbacks. Olson finished his career as a Dodger in 2001 with 217 career saves.
A mixed-bag, overall. Alomar, Larkin, Griffey, and (to a lesser degree) Williams/Ventura were all good picks, but the injury bug made some of the other picks (Alomar Jr, Saberhagen, Bo) come out rather poorly. It goes to show you that trying to predict a player's ten-year dominance is incredibly difficult. As always, though, it does provide a nice snapshot in time of what people were thinking about players at the time. It makes you wonder how well our current valuations are.

With that said, here's an off-the-cuff prediction about the "Team of the 2010s". It's obviously way too early to make these official, but it's something we can have fun with in the meantime:
Lar's Predicted Team of the '10s

C: Joe Mauer
1B: Albert Pujols
2B: Dustin Pedroia
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Hanley Ramirez
LF: Ryan Braun
CF: Grady Sizemore
RF: Nick Markakis
SP: Tim Lincecum
RP: Joakim Soria
I'm not necessarily thrilled with all of those choices, but there are a couple of positions where I just don't see any obvious picks. Of course, I'm not as up on young talent as a lot of people are, so I'm almost guaranteed to have missed someone. (And I think it's too early to pencil in Matt Wieters or Stephen Strasburg on a list like this) Thoughts?


Bill said...

Wow, great find. How did they pick five outfielders and miss Barry Bonds completely? He was 25, and he'd already stolen 30 bases three times and hit 20 HR twice. And Puckett, GRHS, was already 30. Just seems kind of lazy, you know?

I think your list is about as good a guess as one can make. Pujols will turn 30 (at least) before the 2010 season starts, though, and I think he'll still be great, but I wonder if Cabrera (27), Fielder (26--but he'll have to drop some pounds to last that long), Gonzalez (28), or someone even younger like Justin Smoak (or someone else we haven't even heard of yet) might be just a bit better.

Otherwise, I don't think I'd disagree with any of this. David Wright's got a decent shot to be as good from 27-36 as Longoria is from 24-33, I suppose.

tHeMARksMiTh said...

It's always difficult to peg these kinds of things, and I think your list exemplifies one reason. Where are the prospects? That's not a criticism, either. It's just hard to know who's coming up and will be those stars. You could easily put Carlos Santana (C), Lars Anderson (1B), Jason Heyward (OF), and Neftali Feliz (P) into that discussion. But we don't know how they'll perform and when. But you're definitely right about one thing, it's always fun to go back and look at what people thought versus what happened.

lar said...

Great points, guys. First, it is pretty crazy that they whiffed so much on Bonds. I wonder if its just because they wanted to put Bo in the list, or if they really just didn't like Bonds.

As for Pujols, I realize he's turning 30 soon enough, but I still think he has a chance at being the 1B of the decade. He's good enough that he could put up Bonds-like or ARod-like numbers until his age 37 or 38 year. And, as much as I love Prince, I don't think body type will let him have a long career like that (look at Mo Vaughn, Big Papi, his dad...)

And mark, you're right. Not too many prospects there, but it was a conscious effort. If I only have one pick to make per position, I can't risk it on a prospect. Of course, all that means is that I don't really have a chance at being even 75 or 80% correct here. Its the best I can do, though

tHeMARksMiTh said...

As I said, it wasn't a criticism. I understand where you were going, but yeah, you'll probably end up 80% wrong (I'm not sure anyone can do better). The only player I'll quibble with is Hanley, if only because I don't think he'll be at shortstop past 2012.

lar said...

Don't worry, I didn't take it as any kind of criticism. And, yeah, I had the same kind of reservations about Hanley when I put him down. But he was the best I could come up with. I thought about Jose Reyes, and he's not that much older than Hanley, but I don't see as much growth in Reyes as I do in Hanley.

My biggest issue with the list is Pedroia. I'm still not sure that I trust him as a legitimate, top-shelf player for a long time. He seems to flash-in-the-pan to me. But maybe I'm unfairly transferring my David Eckstein thoughts to Dustin...

tHeMARksMiTh said...

I think Pedroia is better than Eckstein, but who else is young and good enough? Utley is too old. Cano might be a decent choice. Go tell Mel Ott little guys can't play. ;)

As for short, I'd probably still go with Reyes based on the fact that he'll probably stay there. Maybe Gordon Beckham if he ends up playing short (moving Alexei Ramirez to center).

Jason B said...

It's interesting that they chose Saberhagen over Clemens for the 90's. Both dominated the key pitching categories in the AL in the latter half of the 80's, and both had two Cy Young awards to their credit. Probably a pretty close call, but Bret was two years yonger and had been more dominant more recently (in 1989 in particular) which may have contributed to his selection.

Surprising that Canseco wasn't mentioned, also, given his late 80's successes.

As Mark mentioned, a 20% success rate would be pretty trememdous, whether your selections for the next ten years are populated with stars who have already arrived or "can't miss" prospects.

Kinsler may be a 2B option; he and Pedroia were born just one year apart.