Spring is in the air, and the start of the 2021 Major League Baseball Season is not far behind.
As with any preseason, this year’s Spring Training is full of storylines. New faces in strange places, teams entering rebuilds, others going all in. We could break down the new-look Blue Jays or the imminent dogfight in the NL West, but those topics have been beaten to death.
Spring Training also means it’s rankings season. Media folks all over baseball are unveiling their top tens, twenties, fifties, and hundreds. Baseball is, after all, a game centered around individuality. I could follow a similar path, but I’m going to change it up. Instead of giving my opinion on who the best players are, I’m going to construct a team – one player at each position on the diamond – that reflects what I as a baseball fan love to watch (Bonus points if they regularly piss off your A-Rods and Mad Dog-type people).
So here it is, my 2021 Major League Baseball All-Fun Team
Starting Pitcher: Shohei Ohtani
Honourable Mention(s): Jacob deGrom, Tyler Glasnow
This is probably the most obvious pick on the list. How can you not root for the first two-way player the game has seen in nearly a century? It’s not like he’s mediocre on both sides of the ball either. We’re talking about a guy that had a 127 ERA+ in his first year in the big leagues, and was in the 96th percentile for Hard Hit Ball % (Baseball Savant). In the last week, Ohtani has crushed a baseball over the batter’s eye and hit 100 mph with the fastball. Injuries have held him back in his young career, but if he ever puts it all together, he is what scouts refer to has a “dynamic talent.”
Relief Pitcher: Josh Hader
Honourable Mention(s): Liam Hendriks
Josh has stuff. He pairs a 94.5 mph fastball with a slider that breaks 7.5 inches on average. He is elite when it comes to missing barrels, and leads all relievers over the pas two seasons with 16.07 K/9. I’m going to say that again. Josh Hader strikes out more than a batter and a half per inning. What makes Hader super-duper fun is that if by some miracle an opponent does make contact, it’s leaving the yard. Over the past two seasons, Hader has surrendered 1.71 home runs per nine innings, which is 23rd among all qualified relievers and way more than you would expect for a guy with 50 saves in that span. Normally, I’m not a big fan of three true outcome baseball, but Hader simply fascinates me.
Catcher: J.T. Realmuto
Honourable Mention(s): Jeff Mathis, Yadier Molina
You could very easily make an argument that J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher in professional baseball. But what’s not to admire here? J.T. is a plus-hitter on top of being elite defensively at the hardest (and most important) position in the game. In 2020, Realmuto was the second-best framing catcher in the league (+3 runs), had the quickest throwing time to second base (1.89 seconds), led the league in caught stealing and was second among catchers with a .825 OPS. The dude can frame, block, throw and mash. What’s not to love?
First Base: Freddie Freeman
Honourable Mention(s): Joey Votto, Anthony Rizzo
If a Canadian wins NL MVP, you better believe he’s going on the list. In 2020, Freeman ranked in the 90th percentile or higher in almost every major offensive category tracked by Baseball Savant. He hit the ball hard, and hit it often. So it’s really no surprise that Freddie wrapped up the season with a 187 wRC+. This means that when you total up the value of all of Freddie’s plate appearances in 2020 and adjust for the ballpark and era in which he played, he was 87% better than the average MLB player throughout history. This number was second in baseball, trailing another member of the list that we will get to shortly.
Second Base: Cavan Biggio
Honourable Mention(s): DJ LeMahieu, Cesar Hernandez
I know, this is a boring pick. You might not even think Cavan Biggio is that fun. But this is my list, and Cav makes it for two reasons:
- I wasn’t not going to put a Jay on this list
- Cavan is my kind of ballplayer.
What’s my kind of ballplayer? Cerebral. I love guys that think the game well. Let’s start in the field. Analytically, Biggio is not a good defender. In fact, he’s below replacement. But what he lacks there can be made up for in the fact that he is a super-utility man. In his 166 game MLB career, Biggio has played at least nine innings at every spot on the diamond except pitcher, catcher, and shortstop. No one knows where he’ll play this year, just that he’ll play. At the plate, Biggio is as smart as they come. Need a bunt double? He’s your guy. Hit for the cycle? Been there, done that. Biggio posted a .375 OBP despite only batting .250. His 15.5% walk rate led all second basemen.
Third Baseman: Matt Chapman
Honourable Mention(s): Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson
“But Nolan Arenado!” I hear you yell at your monitor/phone/whathaveyou. Hear me out: Matt Chapman is the best defensive player in all of baseball. Not just at third base, but among players at all positions. Matt Chapman has played two full major league seasons. In those two seasons he has led baseball in Defensive Runs Saved twice and Ultimate Zone Rating once. Think about it: a third baseman (who gets a +2.5 positional adjustment) is beating Andrelton Simmons and Francisco Lindor (who get a +7.5 boost). And when you watch some highlights, it makes sense. Matt Chapman is to third base what Tom Hanks is to acting.
Shortstop: Fernando Tatis, Jr.
Honourable Mention(s): Javier Baez, Bo Bichette
Duh. This guy is the undisputable face of baseball. He’s on the cover of MLB the Show. He’s the king of bat flips and breaking your precious, archaic unwritten rules. Fernando Tatis might just save baseball, that’s how freaking cool he is. Plus, he is a true 40-40 threat. According to Baseball Savant, Tatis hits the ball harder than anyone (95.9 mph, 1st in MLB) and runs faster than almost anyone (29.4 ft./sec, 10th in MLB). Super. Star.
Left Field: Juan Soto
Honourable Mention(s): Tim Locastro
Remember when I said Freddie Freeman had the second highest wRC+ in 2020? Juan Soto was the only qualified hitter ahead of him. In fact, he was roughly 14% better, with a 201 wRC+. That’s right, in 2020 Juan Soto was twice as valuable as an average major league hitter. If there is any player in baseball that has a chance to top what Mike Trout has done with the bat, it’s Soto. His Baseball Reference comparables feature the likes of Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey, Jr. And don’t even get me started with the Soto Shuffle. Juan Soto might just be my favourite non-Canadian, non-Blue Jays player in the game today.
Centre Field: Mike Trout
Honourable Mention(s): Ronald Acuna, Jr.
Mike Trout is one of the bet five baseball players to ever walk the earth. Depending on how the rest of his career progresses, he could finish on top. No player in the history of this game has been able to contribute like he has on both sides of the ball. Don’t believe me? Babe Ruth is the all-time leader in Wins Above Replacement at 182.5 over 22 major league seasons. Let’s say (for sake of argument) that Trout matches Ruth and plays 12 more seasons in the show. To catch Ruth’s WAR total, Trout would need to average 9 WAR per season, well within his career high of 10.5 (which he’s done twice). Improbable? Yes. Impossible? Not a chance.
Right Field: Mookie Betts
Honourable Mention(s): Max Kepler
If there is a player that can even come close to Mike Trout’s talent, it’s Mookie. He’ll never be equal to Trout, but he can get close. We all saw what he did in the World Series. The dude has tools. Elite hitter, best defensive right fielder in the game, deadly speed and incredible baseball IQ. I don’t know what else to say other than the Red Sox should be banned from baseball if they can’t keep a talent like this. That’s not even mentioning David Price.
Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz
Honourable Mention(s): J.D. Martinez
What can I say? Home Runs are fun. Nelson Cruz hits lots of home runs.
Since you’ve been so good and lasted this long, I’ll reward you by making a lineup for this team. Let me know what you think. Any players I missed? Go yell at me on Twitter: @BayduzaEthan
- Tatis, Jr. SS
- Soto LF
- Freeman 1B
- Trout CF
- Cruz DH
- Betts RF
- Realmuto C
- Chapman 3B
- Biggio 2B