Sep. 26, 2016
Projecting Team USA's World Baseball Classic starting lineup
In less than a month meaningful baseball games will be played. Pitchers and catchers report next week for MLB Spring Training and exhibition games start this month, but March wets the appetite of hungry baseball fans. The World Baseball Classic begins on March 6.
In the three years that the event has taken place, Japan has won twice and the Dominican Republic claimed the most recent gold. The United States has never medaled.
On Wednesday, teams revealed their rosters for the battle for baseball supremacy. The Americans’ quest for gold has begun and it’s time to shape up the lineup. Manager Jim Leyland has tough decisions ahead of him, but here is who should start at each position.
Catcher: Buster Posey
Jonathan Lucroy, a career .284 hitter, would start on most teams, but not for the Americans when a three-time World Series-winning catcher with three Silver Sluggers, a Rookie of the Year and an MVP is also on the roster. Buster Posey is the standard for catchers in MLB and will start at catcher.
First Base: Paul Goldschmidt
Statistically, Eric Hosmer had a better 2016 than Paul Goldschmidt. However, since both joined MLB in 2011, Goldschmidt has had a better career.
Consider more than just Goldschmidt’s (.299, 140 HR, 507 RBI) edge in obvious career stats over Hosmer (.277, 102 HR, 472 RBI). Goldschmidt’s cumulative career WAR (29.0) and Offensive Runs Above Replacement (252) blow Hosmer’s (10.1, 114) out of the water.
Hosmer has a World Series title, but Goldschmidt is a two-time MVP runner-up. It is an easy pick at first.
Second Base: Ian Kinsler
On paper, Daniel Murphy is a better hitter than Ian Kinsler, but defensively, Murphy is a liability. In each of the past five season, Murphy has posted a negative Defensive WAR, while Kinsler has posted a negative Defensive WAR once in his 11-year career.
If Kinsler is in the field, Murphy is a potential designated hitter. It will be hard to keep a guy who finished second in the National League with a wRC+ (weighted runs created) of 156 and was the MVP runner-up in 2016 off the field.
Shortstop: Brandon Crawford
He’s the only true shortstop on the roster. *insert shrug emoji*
Third Base: Nolan Arenado
No team with Matt Carpenter at the hot corner is complaining, but Nolan Arenado is the best third baseman in the National League.
After back-to-back 40-plus home run seasons, Arenado is a fine middle of the order bat for the Americans. Yes, 25 of his 41 home runs in 2016 came at hitter-friendly Coors Field (61%), but it’s not as if Arenado is a homerun-or-strikeout hitter; he’s a .285 hitter in four seasons.
It’s not all about hitting for Arenado, he’s also the back-to-back Gold Glove winner at shortstop for the National League. Meanwhile, Carpenter has a six-year cumulative Defensive WAR of -2.3 and only has had one season with a positive Defensive WAR.
Left Field: Christian Yelich
He’s the only leftfielder on the roster, but he has earned his spot. Yelich saved 2.5 runs with his arm and won a silver slugger last season. He more than earns this spot.
Center Field: Andrew McCutchen
Center field and right field are interesting because of Andrew McCutchen. Every different website displaying Team USA’s roster has McCutchen listed as a centerfielder despite Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle moving McCutchen to right field last week.
Regardless, McCutchen should start ahead of Adam Jones. Yes, McCutchen struggled in 2016 and is a bad centerfielder, but Jones is not better offensively or defensively than McCutchen. For centerfielders that played at least 942 innings, Jones and McCutchen finished 15th and 17th out of 17 players in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which measures how many runs a player saves at his position. Jones and McCutchen both finished with negative UZR’s.
UZR is not the only stat that condemns Jones and McCutchen; both had negative, below average Outfield Arm Runs (ARM), which measures how many runs a fielder saves with his arm.
Offensively, despite a poor year, McCutchen (.336 OBP) still got on base more than Jones (.310). Sure, Jones (21.3 at bats per home run) hit more home runs than McCutchen (24.9 AB/HR) and Jones (17.1 K%) strikes out less than McCutchen (21.2 K%), but McCutchen (102 wRC+) creates more runs than Jones (96 wRC+) and McCutchen (.329 weighted on-base average) has better hits than Jones (.319 wOBA).
They’re both bad defensively and neither did enough offensively in 2016, but McCutchen should get the nod over Jones in center for the World Baseball Classic.
Right Field: Giancarlo Stanton
With McCutchen in center, there’s no reason to not play Giancarlo Stanton. For rightfielders with at least 450 plate appearances, Stanton hit baseballs harder than anyone else, finishing with a 42.9 HARD%. Stanton also finished fourth among rightfielders with 450 plate appearances with a 22.7% home runs per fly ball ratio. Can’t go wrong with a healthy Stanton in right field based on offense alone.
Designated Hitter: Daniel Murphy
With Kinsler edging him for the spot at second, Murphy will DH in the World Baseball Classic. His bat has to be in the lineup however possible.
Top to bottom, the Americans have a superstar starting lineup. Here’s what Leyland’s batting order should look like:
1) Ian Kinsler
2) Daniel Murphy
3) Buster Posey
4) Paul Goldschmidt
5) Giancarlo Stanton
6) Nolan Arenado
7) Christian Yelich
8) Brandon Crawford
9) Andrew McCutchen