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WBC 2017: How good would these rosters be in MLB?

There are a lot of major-league players participating in the WBC, and it’s made for some great baseball. How good would these lineups be, if they were matched up against MLB teams?

World Baseball Classic - Pool F - Game 3 - Venezuela v Dominican Republic Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

As I wrote last week, I’ve been converted from a WBC skeptic to a believer. The tournament has been a lot of fun, in a month where baseball is usually pretty depressing/nonexistent, and the caliber of play has been high.

It’s that last point I want to touch on today. When I was watching the game between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela on Thursday night, I was struck by the caliber of the lineups the two countries had put on the field; the same thing happened when I was viewing the United States and Puerto Rico on Friday. Given that the news in the weeks leading up to the WBC seemed to be filled mostly with reports about who had chosen not to play for their national team, this was a pleasant surprise. Of course, the rosters could be much better if everyone from a given country would participate, but especially in this second round grouping, all four countries seemed like pretty good teams, even by MLB’s standards.

But here at Beyond the Box Score, we do not stop at “seemed like.” If these four WBC teams — the Domincan Republic, Puerto Rico, the United States, and Venezuela — were staffed by perfect clones of the players on their roster, so that all the players could still play for their MLB teams as well, how would they stack up to those MLB teams? To try to get at an answer to this entirely frivolous question, I’ll be using FanGraphs’ depth chart projections, as a measure of what kind of production at a given position each team can expect this year. I’m also not going to consider WBC backups, because that would be more complicated than it needs to be, or pitchers, because the WBC rules around pitch counts make that complicated, too. In other words, this is not the most rigorous of analyses, but it should let us estimate roughly how good each of these teams would be in a full-season of MLB play.



Z-SCORE: 2.2

Dominican Republic Lineup

Player Position Full-Season Proj. WAR z-score
Player Position Full-Season Proj. WAR z-score
Jose Reyes SS 0.9 -1.1
Manny Machado 3B 6.6 2.6
Robinson Cano 2B 4.0 1.9
Jose Bautista RF 3.5 1.1
Nelson Cruz DH 2.7 0.1
Carlos Santana 1B 2.8 0.6
Starling Marte C 4.0 0.9
Gregory Polanco LF 2.7 1.6
Welington Castillo C 2.3 0.0

This is a pretty outstanding lineup, from almost-top to bottom. The one exception is the leadoff hitter from Thursday, Jose Reyes, who has not been good and is not projected to be very good, down for an estimated 0.6 fWAR in 463 PAs.

Welington Castillo also is only technically not an exception, since FanGraphs’ WAR doesn’t include framing, and Castillo is pretty poor at that aspect of catching. The overall package is not a terrible one, however, which is why he shows up as league-average by the WAR version that only considers offense, blocking, and throwing.

Those two drags, however, are more than made up for by the rest of this high-octane lineup. Manny Machado leads the way, a legitimate superstar at third base and one of the best players in the league even before it’s limited to an individual country. And behind him is a swath of talented players, none of whom can quite match Machado but also none of whom fall below the level of “probable All-Star.” Offensively, Jose Bautista, Carlos Santana, and Nelson Cruz possess some serious power, while Robinson Cano, Gregory Polanco, and Starling Marte add more all-around value through excellence in the field as well as at the plate.

The end result is an excellent lineup, over two standard deviations above the mean of MLB teams. Their 29.5 projected WAR over a full season would be the highest of any MLB team, beating the Cubs (27.8), Astros (26.4), and Dodgers (25.4) for the title of best position players. This doesn’t just look like a great lineup; it very much is a great lineup.



Z-SCORE: 0.6

Puerto Rico Lineup

Player Position Full-Season Proj. WAR z-score
Player Position Full-Season Proj. WAR z-score
Angel Pagan LF 0.3 -1.2
Francisco Lindor SS 5.7 2.4
Carlos Correa 3B 5.5 1.9
Carlos Beltran DH 1.3 0.0
Yadier Molina cf 3.2 1.0
Javier Baez 2B 2.4 0.3
Eddie Rosario RF 0.9 -0.9
T.J. Rivera 1B 1.1 -0.8
Enrique Hernandez CF 1.3 -0.9

Even if you just scan the Puerto Rican lineup, it’s clear that it’s not quite at the level of the others on this list. Some of the names — T.J. Rivera, Eddie Rosario, and Enrique Hernandez — aren’t as easily recognizable as those in the Dominican Republic’s lineup, and even if you do recognize them, they aren’t particularly impressive.

Still, there are some pockets of real talent here. As with Castillo above, Yadier Molina’s actual value to his team isn’t perfectly reflected by this version of WAR, but unlike Castillo, the more accurate version would bump Molina up a substantial amount. Nonetheless, on the back of his throwing, blocking, and hitting alone, Molina grades out as a very good catcher.

The other truly exciting names are those of the two wunderkind shortstops, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa, who will probably be competing for the top spot at the position for most of the next decade (unless one of them moves to the hot corner). Amusingly, the projections they get are almost identical — Lindor, 5.1 WAR in 630 PAs; Correa, 5.1 WAR in 644 PAs — but because they can’t both play shortstop, and because Edwin Rodriguez chose to slot Correa in at third, the Astros shortstop looks a little less impressive in the scope of this analysis, thanks to the higher caliber of MLB third basemen at this time. Still, it’s been a lot of fun to watch the two of them share a lineup and half of the infield, and they are the primary reason this team is so good.

There are certainly other reasons to watch this team; Javier Baez and Carlos Beltran both have the capacity to do some extremely exciting things, although in very different ways. Still, this lineup is not the parade of stars that the Dominican Republic’s is. The cumulative WAR of the Puerto Rican lineup is 21.7, less than a full standard deviation above the MLB mean and good enough to slot them in between the Angels (9th, 21.9 WAR) and the Mariners (10th, 21.1 WAR) when it comes to position player talent.



Z-SCORE: 3.0

United States Lineup

Player Position Full-Season Proj. WAR z-score
Player Position Full-Season Proj. WAR z-score
Ian Kinsler 2B 3.4 1.2
Adam Jones CF 2.5 -0.1
Christian Yelich LF 4.4 3.6
Nolan Arenado 3B 4.9 1.4
Eric Hosmer 1B 1.5 -0.4
Paul Goldschmidt DH 4.7 0.3
Andrew McCutchen RF 4.0 1.5
Jonathan Lucroy CF 4.3 2.2
Alex Bregman SS 3.7 1.0

My colleague Rob Rogacki wrote before the WBC began that the United States lineup could be much better. Which, true, but that’s burying the lede a bit, because holy cow, this lineup is extremely good! And Rob did say that in the article itself, since there’s no way you can look at this collection of players and come to any other conclusion. The only two players who aren’t standouts are Adam Jones and Eric Hosmer, both of whom… were also the heroes of Thursday’s game against Venezuela. And it’s not as if that’s shocking; while neither of them are absurdly talented (spoiler alert: as the rest of this lineup is), they’re quite fine.

But, my goodness, the rest of this lineup. Behind the plate, Jonathan Lucroy is the best catcher in the league, non-Buster Posey division, and similarly, Nolan Arenado is one of the top third basemen, overshadowed only by Josh Donaldson, Kris Bryant, and Machado. Andrew McCutchen’s future is cloudy after his disappointing 2016, but the projections still think he’s an outstanding player, and I happen to agree. Paul Goldschmidt’s outstanding first base defense is wasted at DH, but he hits more than enough to fill the spot admirably.

Alex Bregman is another one of the talented young infielders MLB has been blessed with recently, and Christian Yelich remains one of the most underrated young players in the league. Finally, Ian Kinsler has always been a excellent defender at second base, and last year he added serious power to that profile, making himself into a superstar at the age of 34. I would set the over/under for the number of 2017 All-Stars in this lineup at 6.5, and that might be too low.

So yes, this lineup could plausibly be better, but it’s incredible, by the standards of the WBC or the standards of MLB. With 33.3 combined WAR, Team USA’s collection of projection players is 3.0 standard deviations above the mean, and it would be the best in MLB by a whopping 5.5 WAR, equal to the gap between the Cubs in first place and the Nationals in eighth. This group looks better than the bottom three teams — the White Sox (9.1 WAR), the A’s (10.9 WAR), and the Brewers (11.9 WAR) — combined. Team USA: pretty good!



Z-SCORE: 1.0

Venezuela Lineup

Player Position Full-Season Proj. WAR z-score
Player Position Full-Season Proj. WAR z-score
Ender Inciarte CF 3.0 0.2
Rougned Odor 2B 2.8 0.6
Miguel Cabrera 1B 4.5 1.9
Victor Martinez DH 0.3 -0.1
Carlos Gonzalez RF 2.1 0.1
Jose Altuve 3B 4.7 1.3
Odubel Herrera LF 2.9 1.9
Alcides Escobar SS 1.0 -1.1
Robinson Chirinos C 2.2 0.0

I’m going in alphabetical order, in an attempt to be fair, but it’s a bit of a shame to not put the U.S. last, because anything after that team feels like a bit of a let-down. Nevertheless, Team Venezuela — like all of the teams in this pod — is full of MLB starters, and grades out quite well.

The pair of superstars leading the lineup, in the sense of possessing both name recognition and elite talent, is Miguel Cabrera at first base and Jose Altuve at third base. The diminutive Altuve is normally a second baseman, but after Rougned Odor, who is also normally a second baseman, struggled seriously at the hot corner in Venezuela’s game against the U.S., Altuve shifted over on Thursday night against the Dominican Republic, and looked quite competent. Altuve and Cabrera get their value in totally different ways — the former via outstanding contact skills, a smattering of power, and solid defense; the latter with exceptional on-base and power abilities — but they’re similarly great players.

The rest of the lineup is a combination of intriguing youngsters and veterans whose best years are behind them, both of whom are fun to watch for different reasons. In the former group, Odubel Herrera and Ender Inciarte are both excellent defenders and speedy runners with some surprising pop, a profile that tends to be underrated but is extremely fun to watch (and also quite valuable, in their cases). In the latter group, Victor Martinez has had a rocky few years recently, struggling with injury and aging. But even at age 38, he’s a talented and smart hitter, and while his projection isn’t good, I might be inclined to take the over (or at least hope for it). While Carlos Gonzalez’s decline hasn’t been as steep as he’s moved into his 30s, he’s lost some from both aspects of the speed/power combination that made him such a thrilling player. He’s still quite good, just not excellent.

Still, all that combines to make a lineup that, like Puerto Rico’s, would very definitely make some waves in MLB if given the opportunity. At 23.5 WAR, Venezuela’s position players would reside solidly within the top tier of MLB teams, sandwiched between the Blue Jays (23.6 WAR, fifth) and the Red Sox (23.4 WAR, sixth).

Like I wrote last week, it was easy for me to dismiss the WBC as a novelty, closer to spring training than the regular season in its entertainment value and quality of play. But I talked about the passion and engagement that both fans and players are bringing to these games, and when that’s combined with lineups that have as much talent as these four do, the result is some excellent baseball. What the above shows is that the WBC games, by caliber of play, are basically All-Star games — just happening in March and staffed by players who actually care if they win. These are some great rosters, and they make for some incredible games.