My Dream Team

I recently had a discussion with a friend about baseball and the fans’ love for home runs.  I am of the opinion that many fans have become so enamored with home runs and fantasy statistics that they have lost touch with what makes a great ballplayer.  I believe there is less appreciation for fundamentals in today’s game.

Sadly, I believe that many players have also fallen in love with home runs and it is affecting their hitting in a negative way.  More home runs amounts to more dollars during free agency; therefore, players try too hard at times to hit home runs when they should be focusing on moving the runners with a base hit.  I am not going to state that players always try to hit home runs; however, I do believe the lack of solid fundamental hitting at times is caused by the habit of trying to pull the ball and/or hit a home run.

At first, what appeared to be a conversation about home runs expanded into a conversation about how fans overlook great baseball players while admiring ballplayers who are great for their fantasy baseball teams.  I then thought of trying to list my own dream team, a dream team of baseball players (regardless of their value in fantasy baseball).  What type of lineup would give me the best chance at winning baseball games?  If I look past home runs, but  not ignore home runs entirely, what players would be ideal for my lineup?

I must admit this was not an easy task, as there are many variables in a game of baseball.  Making a dream team of such a small list inevitably means leaving many great players off the list.  I found it difficult to omit Brett Gardner, who is an excellent hitter and baserunner.  Gardner is a disciplined hitter who can draw walks, and he rarely swings and misses at a pitch.  Despite his ability to almost always connect with a pitch when he swings, I did not find the room to insert him into my dream lineup.

My 2011 dream lineup
Ichiro Suzuki (CF)
Carl Crawford (LF)
Albert Pujols (1B)
Ryan Zimmerman (3B)
Nick Markakis (RF)
Placido Polanco (2B)
Yadier Molina (C)
Jack Wilson (SS)
Pitcher (P)

Starting pitcher:  Roy Halladay

At first, I thought I definitely would have Brandon Phillips as my second baseman.  In my opinion, Phillips has excellent range and is the best defensive second baseman in the game today.  Phillips also has some power in his swing and has great speed when running the bases.  Despite all these wonderful abilities, Phillips failed to make my lineup.  Like Phillips, Placido Polanco also plays great defense at second base (yes, I’m aware he shifted to third base after signing with the Phillies).

What does Polanco have that many other hitters do not?  Polanco is an extremely tough out.  When people discuss Polanco’s excellent hitting, they likely mention his AVG only.  The overlooked stat in Polanco’s brilliance as a hitter is his AVG in two-strike counts.  Polanco led the NL in 2010 with a .272 AVG in two-strike counts!  Phillips hit .241 in two-strike counts last season.  Carl Crawford only hit .228 in two-strike counts.  The great Albert Pujols hit .255 in two-strike counts.

Although Polanco does not match Phillips in range, power or speed, his ability to hit for a high AVG and hit well with two strikes while also playing great defense makes him a valuable baseball player.

Molina has thrown out 47% of would-be stealers in his career.

Many fans may be puzzled by my selection of Yadier Molina at catcher.

Although Molina will never be mistaken for Joe Mauer or Buster Posey with the bat, he is the best catcher in baseball today.  Runners would be foolish to try to steal against Molina.

Since 2005, Molina has finished no lower than third in percentage of runners caught stealing.

Although Molina does not hit for power, he puts the ball in play and moves the runners.  For his career, Molina’s 162-game average is 51 strikeouts per 539 at-bats.  When you combine this respectable ability and the superb defensive game, Molina is my top choice for catcher.

I consider Nick Markakis to be one of the most overlooked players in baseball.  Fans in general raved about him in fantasy baseball for his combination of power and speed years ago; however, they were less excited about him when his home runs went on a decline.

Do not be fooled by Markakis and his declining home run totals.  Markakis has plenty of power:  since 2007, Markakis has hit no less than 43 doubles in any season.  Markakis is a career .298 hitter.  Markakis is also a good outfielder with an excellent arm.  Since 2004, Markakis has finished no lower than fourth among right fielders in assists, leading the league twice.

Although Jack Wilson is being moved to second base this season, he is still my choice at shorstop.  He is a superb defensive shorstop with excellent range and a natural ability to turn the double play.  There are other good shortstops in the game who are better hitters than Wilson; however, I think so highly of his defense that I select him over those other shortstops.

For me, starting pitcher was a no-brainer:  Roy Halladay.  Halladay is the best-conditioned pitcher in the game.  Although he is quite a good strikeout pitcher, Halladay is a ground ball pitcher first and foremost.  Being a ground ball pitcher negates the effects of hitter-friendly parks (as evidenced by Halladay’s 2.21 ERA at Citizens Bank Park in 2010).

Baseball is a game with so many factors.  If you were making a dream lineup, would Polanco’s excellent defensive play and ability to hit with two strikes override the power, speed and defensive playof Phillips?  Would Molina’s defensive abilities override the bats of Posey and Mauer?  I believe there is no one perfect lineup that can satisfy everybody’s preferences; however, I encourage fans to look beyond the fantasy stats and evaluate players based on their baseball abilities.  What would your dream lineup look like?

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

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