By Connor Pignatello
Sports always allow us to ask what if?
What if a baseball lineup -- complete with all nine positions and a designated hitter -- was composed of all-time greats in their best seasons.
I have composed a lineup filled with the very best active players who I think will make the Hall of Fame.
These players will not be judged on their performance this year, they will be chosen based on how well they performed during their primes.
I have designated a player’s "prime" as the best seven years of their career -- not necessarily consecutive -- and these selections are based on the player’s likelihood to make the Hall of Fame. Some members of the team will be inducted on the first ballot, and some will take years to make it to the Hall, but ultimately I think that every player on this list has a great shot at being immortalized in Cooperstown.
This article is part one of a two part set in which I show my Dream Team. Part two will be released tomorrow.
Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, is the most commonly used advanced metric in baseball. It is a measure of how many wins a team gained by playing a specific player instead of a replacement player, who would have a WAR of 0. If a player records 2 WAR in a season, he is considered starting material, 4 or 5 WAR is acknowledged to be All-Star value, and 8 WAR is MVP-level production.
The Jaffe WAR score system, or JAWS, is simply the average of a player’s 7 year peak WAR and career WAR. For example, if a player had 100 career WAR and 50 7-year peak WAR, his JAWS would be 75. This metric gives us perspective on how likely it is for a player to make the Hall of Fame compared to those who played their position.
Fielding Percentage is a measure off how often a player commits an error. For example, a fielding percentage of 97% means the player committed an error on 3% of the plays he made.
Note: This list favors older players because:
- They have more career WAR
- They have more years from which to choose their 7-year peak WAR
- They are closer to entering the Hall of Fame than younger players.
Batting leadoff and playing right field…
59.4 career WAR / 43.6 7yr-peak WAR / 51.5 JAWS
Average HOF RF:
73.2 career WAR / 43.0 7yr-peak WAR / 58.1 JAWS
17th in JAWS out of 24 Hall of Fame Right Fielders
Accolades: MVP (2001), Rookie of the Year (2001), 10x All-Star, 10x Gold glove, 3x Silver Slugger
Ichiro was one of the easiest selections for this Hall of Fame Dream Team. He was a trendsetter -- the first Asian position player to debut in the Major Leagues.
In his rookie season Ichiro set the baseball world ablaze, winning MVP and Rookie of the Year, and leading the league in hits, stolen bases, and batting average.
Ichiro was a revelation in the big leagues, and his game was predicated on speed not power, completely opposite to the direction baseball was trending. According to FanGraphs, Ichiro occupies the first seven spots on the list of highest single-season infield hit totals.
Ichiro was the hit king. He holds the records for most hits in a season (262) and most consecutive 200-hit seasons (10). He also tied the record for most 200-hit seasons (10), and led the league in hits seven times.
Recently, Ichiro reached the 3,000 hit plateau, and if you count his hits from his time in Japan, he broke Pete Rose’s record for most hits across all of baseball’s professional leagues.
In his prime, Ichiro was one of the best players in the world. Only Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez accumulated more WAR than Ichiro from 2001 to 2010. On top of being one of the greatest to ever play in the outfield, Ichiro was a cultural icon, and many of the recent advances that Asian players have made are attributable to him.
Batting second and playing left field…
52.0 career WAR / 52.0 7yr-peak WAR / 52.0 JAWS
Average HOF CF (out of 19):
71.2 career WAR / 44.6 7yr-peak WAR / 57.9 JAWS
14th out of 19 Hall of Fame Center Fielders
Accolades: 2x MVP (2014, 2016), Rookie of the Year (2012), 6x All-Star, 5x Silver Slugger
Trout usually plays center field, but I had to move him over to left in order to accommodate him in the lineup.
Mike Trout is hands-down the best player in baseball right now, and is surely destined for Cooperstown.
Trout has only played five full seasons, but his numbers stack up well next to other center fielders who are enshrined in the Hall. And at just 25 years old, Trout is only entering his prime, meaning that his best years are ahead of him.
Now that’s a stunning thought.
Trout also has the sixth-best 7 year-peak WAR out of the 24 center fielders in Cooperstown, in only five seasons!
Here I am talking about how Trout is a generational talent, and I haven’t even mentioned the countless honors that he has collected. Trout has made the All-Star team (for which he has won MVP twice), taken home a Silver Slugger, and been either MVP winner (twice) or runner-up (three times) in every season of his career.
That level of dominance is mind-boggling and completely unprecedented.
Batting third as the designated hitter…
70.0 career WAR / 44.6 7yr-peak WAR / 57.3 JAWS
Average HOF 1B:
66.4 career WAR / 42.7 7yr-peak WAR / 54.6 JAWS
10th in JAWS out of 20 Hall of Fame First Basemen
Accolades: Triple Crown (2013), 2x MVP (2012, 2013), 11x All-Star, 7x Silver Slugger, World Series Champion (2003)
Miguel Cabrera, still one of the best players in baseball, is a generational talent and already a surefire Hall of Famer. The Venezuelan has been tearing up the big leagues ever since debuting in 2003, and has brought a cheerful smile and a love of the game to wherever he plays.
In the beginning of his career, Cabrera was a young star on the Florida Marlins, one of the youngest teams in baseball. He experienced success early on when the Marlins won the World Series in his rookie year. Then, after a blockbuster trade to the Detroit Tigers in 2007, he continued to amaze in the American League.
From 2011 to 2015 Cabrera was the most feared hitter in all of baseball. During that time, he won 4 batting titles, took home 2 MVPs, and racked up 5 All-Star selections. In 2013, Cabrera captured the Triple Crown (leading the league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs), a feat that had not been accomplished since 1967.
Cabrera already has 2,598 hits and 458 home runs as of July 22nd, so he has a good chance to join Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Alex Rodriguez as the fourth member of the 3,000 hit and 600 home run club. Cabrera’s near-incomparable match of hitting for both power and average have vaulted him into the conversation as one of the best hitters of all time.
Batting cleanup and playing first base…
100.1 career WAR / 61.6 7yr-peak WAR / 80.8 JAWS
Average HOF 1B:
66.4 career WAR / 42.7 7yr-peak WAR / 54.6 JAWS
2nd in JAWS out of 20 Hall of Fame First Basemen
Accolades: 3x MVP (2005, 2008, 2009), Rookie of the Year (2001), 10x All-Star, 2x Gold Glove, 6x Silver Slugger, World Series Champion (2006, 2011)
The easiest choice on the roster, Albert Pujols should make the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Much like Pujols’ overflowing trophy cabinet, I don’t have room enough to praise Pujols, truly one of the greatest players ever.
Pujols has faded since he signed with the Angels on a 10 year $240 million contract in 2012, but don’t let his struggles of late affect your judgement on his case for the Hall of Fame. He trails only Lou Gehrig in career WAR among first basemen, and is one of only 21 position players to record 100 career WAR.
Pujols’ nickname "The Machine" was an apt description of his time as a Cardinal. His 162-game average stats for his 11 years in St. Louis were: .328/.420/.617 with 127 RBIs, 123 runs, and 43 home runs. Pujols finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting all 11 years, ending up in the top five in ten seasons, and winning the award three times. But Pujols isn’t just a slugging first basemen, he is a very capable defender and has won two Gold Gloves.
Pujols became the ninth member of the 600 home run club earlier this year, and next year he should join the 3,000 hit club (as of July 22nd he has 2,908 hits). Pujols leaves a legacy as one of the best ever, and he deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Batting fifth and manning the hot corner…
91.5 career WAR / 49.7 7yr-peak WAR / 70.6 JAWS
Average HOF 3B:
67.5 career WAR / 42.8 7yr-peak WAR / 55.2 JAWS
5th in JAWS out of 13 Hall of Fame Third Basemen
Accolades: 4x All-Star, 5x Gold Glove, 4x Silver Slugger
Adrian Beltre, still chugging along at the ripe age of 38, has graced baseball with his presence for 20 seasons. From hitting home runs off one knee, to his aversion of people touching his head, Beltre is one of the true characters of the game.
Beltre is third all-time in WAR among third basemen, trailing only Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews. He also figures to be the next member of the 3,000 hit club, needing only fifteen more hits as of July 22nd. And if he decides to come back and play next year, he has a great chance of overtaking Brooks Robinson for most games played at third base.
Those are just some of the records that Beltre is approaching, and he does not seem to be slowing down.
There is just no debate on Beltre’s Hall of Fame candidacy. Among all third basemen, he ranks in the top five in games played, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, and WAR.
Beltre’s legacy will be as one of the best defensive third basemen of all time, and he trails only Brooks Robinson in Defensive WAR among players who have manned the hot corner. His highlight reel of diving stabs, barehanded picks, and throws from all the way across the diamond make him one of the best ever to play third base.
Special thanks to baseball-reference.com for all of these helpful stats. I could not have written this article without them.
Thanks for reading Part I. Part II will be released tomorrow and it will include spots 6-9 in the batting order as well as the starting pitcher.
To be continued...