December 09, 2009
All-Decade Team: MLB
By Joe Posnanski,
Starting Lineup
Albert Pujols
Team in 2000s: Cardinals
Seasons in 2000s: 9
Look at these numbers for the Player of the Decade: .314 batting average, 40 doubles, 34 homers, 127 RBIs, 118 runs. Those numbers make up Pujols' worst season this decade. Pujols' story is already legend. He was a 13th-round pick of the Cardinals in 1999 ... meaning he was even passed over 17 times by his hometown Kansas City Royals. Eighteen months later, he began one of the great rookie seasons in baseball history (.329, 37 homers, 130 RBIs, 129 runs). He has found something to improve every season -- he cut down his strikeouts, he honed his home run swing, he improved his defense, he worked on his baserunning. In 2009, Pujols stole 16 bases, walked 115 times and hit 47 homers -- all career highs. It seems impossible, but he's getting better.
Chase Utley
Team in 2000s: Phillies
Seasons in 2000s: 7
The Phillies thought so little of Utley's defense at second base that they actually moved him to third for a time in the minor leagues. He has become one of the better defensive second basemen in baseball -- his advanced defensive numbers are spectacular -- but what makes him unique is that remarkably short swing. That swing allows him to wait an instant longer than almost anyone else on a pitch. Since 2005, he has hit .301 with a .388 on-base percentage and he has averaged 29 homers, 110 runs, 101 RBIs and 20 hit-by-pitches a season. In 2009, he stole 23 bases without getting caught -- the most stolen bases ever in a season without getting caught -- and he put on a Reggie Jackson-like homer display in the World Series.
Derek Jeter
Team in 2000s: Yankees
Seasons in 2000s: 10
He was the most argued about baseball player of the decade, the way Cal Ripken was in the 1990s. Jeter just inspires overwrought praise and unfair criticism. He won three Gold Gloves in the middle of the decade when defensive numbers suggested he was much closer to the worst defensive shortstop in the game than the best. He twice won the Hank Aaron award as the league's best offensive player when there seemed to be clearly better hitters out there. But such is the curse/blessing of being the most famous baseball player in New York City. Jeter hit .317 for the entire decade, hit double-digit homers and stole double-digit bases every year, averaged more than 100 runs per season and he played in 95 postseason games. He was inescapable, and he was also great.
Alex Rodriguez
Teams in 2000s: Mariners, Rangers, Yankees
Seasons in 2000s: 10
So much ink has been spilled trying to psychoanalyze A-Rod, maybe it's just best to look at the raw numbers. He led the American League in home runs five times this decade. He became the first Yankees right-handed batter to hit 50 home runs in a season. He led the league in runs scored four times and in RBIs twice and in slugging four times. Impressive. A-Rod came to New York as a player with a selfish tag, but even after winning the shortstop Gold Glove in 2003, he moved mostly without complaint to third base. He developed a reputation as a player who could not hit in the clutch, and then he carried the Yankees to the World Series title with a brilliant postseason in 2009. In 2009, he was also revealed to be a steroid user, and after giving one of the fuller mea culpas of the decade, he hit 30 homers and drove in 100 RBIs in only 124 games -- meaning he reached the 30-100 plateau every year of the decade, the only player to do so.
Barry Bonds
Team in 2000s: Giants
Seasons in 2000s: 8
Manny Ramirez played the whole decade and perhaps deserves this spot, but how can you deny Bonds' place as the most dominant force of the decade -- and the decade's biggest villain? The numbers will look like optical illusions. Everyone, of course, knows about the 73 home runs he hit 2001. Many want to slap an asterisk on that record, but that won't happen and that record will stand for a long, long time. What's remarkable is that it probably was not Bonds' best season of the decade or even his second-best. In 2004, Bonds had a ridiculous .609 on-base percentage and was intentionally walked 120 times. He literally was too good for the league that year. In 2002, he hit .370 to lead the league and he punched up a 268 OPS+, the all-time record. Bonds stuck around for the 2006 and 2007 seasons, and while he wasn't the same, he did lead the league in on-base percentage both seasons. The career is tainted, but it's also remarkable.
Carlos Beltran
Teams in 2000s: Royals, Astros, Mets
Seasons in 2000s: 10
Six times this decade, Beltran scored 100 runs and drove in 100; only Pujols and A-Rod did it more. He stole 256 bases in 286 attempts, a remarkable 90 percent. He won three Gold Gloves as a center fielder and was perhaps the best defensive center fielder of the decade. He hit 41 home runs for the Mets in 2006, tying the team record. He became only the second switch-hitter to hit 35 homers and steal 35 bases in a season. In 2004, he had perhaps the greatest playoff performance in baseball history, hitting .435 with 21 runs scored, eight home runs and six stolen bases in just 12 games. And yet, for much of the decade Beltran has been considered an underachiever. Sometimes, you can't win.
Vladimir Guerrero
Teams in 2000s: Expos, Angels
Seasons in 2000s: 10
An incredible hitting talent. A better on-base percentage and superior slugging percentage give him the edge over Ichiro here. Everyone knows that Guerrero is a notorious free swinger, but he has never struck out 100 times in a season, and he is the first right-handed hitter since Rogers Hornsby to hit .300 for 12 consecutive seasons. For the decade, Guerrero hit .323, behind only Todd Helton among players who played every season of the 2000s. He was one home run away from a 40-40 season in 2002, he won the MVP in 2004 and only Bonds was intentionally walked more. During the 2009 playoffs, the Red Sox intentionally walked Torii Hunter to face Guerrero, because the feeling was that Guerrero's bat had slowed. Maybe so. But Guerrero lined the first pitch up the middle for a game-winning single.
Joe Mauer
Team in 2000s: Twins
Seasons in 2000s: 6
The Yankees' Jorge Posada had the more complete body of work, but how can you deny Mauer? He became the first American League catcher to win a batting title, and then became the second, and then became the third. In Mauer's MVP 2009 year, he became the first catcher to lead the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He also won back-to-back Gold Gloves in 2008 and 2009. Mauer will not turn 27 until after Opening Day 2010, so the feeling is that even with the injuries he has endured, his best years could still be ahead. He's the early favorite to be the catcher of the next decade, too. And to think that the Twins took a beating around baseball for taking the hometown Mauer over Mark Prior in the 2001 amateur draft.
David Ortiz
Teams in 2000s: Twins, Red Sox
Seasons in 2000s: 10
The Twins non-tendered Ortiz after the 2002 season instead of giving him the rather sizable pay increase he would have received in arbitration. And the Red Sox signed him even though they were not sure where he fit in. When spring training ended, there was quite an argument among the Red Sox brass about whether to keep him. They kept him. Ortiz banged 31 home runs in 128 games and finished fifth in the MVP balloting. And it only got better from there. His remarkable ability to drive the ball the other way made him a natural for Fenway Park. From 2004-2008, he hit .304, slugging an amazing .616 and averaging 42 doubles and 44 homers a year. Steroid accusations at the end of the decade dimmed somewhat one of the great stories and characters of the 2000s.
Starting Pitchers
Pedro Martinez
Teams in 2000s: Red Sox, Mets, Phillies
Seasons in 2000s: 10
His 2000 season alone is good enough to get him on the list. That year he went 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA, 284 strikeouts and 32 walks. His WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) was an unheard of .737. That's the lowest WHIP in baseball history, and that includes Walter Johnson's 1913, Greg Maddux's 1995 and Bob Gibson's 1968 seasons. The rest of the decade was a mix of dominance (he had two more remarkable seasons) and injuries. By the end of the decade, he was pitching for the Phillies and trying to get by on guile. When Pedro was right, he might have been the best pitcher in baseball history.
Johan Santana
Teams in 2000s: Twins, Mets
Seasons in 2000s: 10
People tend to forget that Santana was actually a Rule 5 pick of the Marlins and was traded to Minnesota for a minor league pitcher named Jared Camp. Santana emerged in 2002 as a swing man who could be a starter or a reliever, and that was his role in 2003 as well. In 2004, his first year as a starter, he won the Cy Young Award. He probably should have won the Cy Young again in 2005, he did win it again in 2006 and he could have won it his first year with the Mets in 2008. He has the most devastating changeup in baseball. Since he became a full-time starter in 2004, he is 99-48 with a 2.86 ERA, 1,335 strikeouts vs. 307 walks.
Roy Halladay
Team in 2000s: Blue Jays
Seasons in 2000s: 10
Some talk about how amazing it is that Mariano Rivera is so successful basically throwing one pitch, a cutter. Well, Halladay throws his cutter more than 40 percent of the time, and to the same effect as Rivera. He has remarkable control, is an extreme ground-ball pitcher and can get the strikeout when he needs it -- all of it built around his amazing cutter. He won the Cy Young in 2003, and for the decade he was 135-62 with a 3.13 ERA.
Randy Johnson
Teams in 2000s: Diamondbacks, Yankees, Giants
Seasons in 2000s: 10
He won three Cy Young Awards in the decade and probably should have won a fourth, in 2004. He struck out 330 or more batters each of the first three years of the decade -- that's something even Nolan Ryan never did. He has not been the same dominant pitcher since 2004, but he has been pretty good and his 47 victories after age 41 rank fifth all time. People spent a lot of time during Johnson's career talking about Maddux, Roger Clemens and Pedro -- rightfully so -- but at the end of the day, Johnson has his own case as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.
Curt Schilling
Teams in 2000s: Phillies, Diamondbacks, Red Sox
Seasons in 2000s: 8
There are others -- Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Brandon Webb -- who have strong cases to be the fifth starter, but Schilling's Zelig-like ability to be at the center of things gets him the nod. He started Game 7 of the 2001 World Series -- the greatest game of the decade -- he pitched the bloody sock game, and was an SI Sportsman of the Year. In addition, he was an awfully good pitcher. He won 20 three times, led the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio five times and played a big role for three World Series champs.
Setup Man
Scot Shields
Team in 2000s: Angels
Seasons in 2000s: 9
Nobody pitched so well with so little recognition as Shields. He pitched as a starter, middle reliever, setup man, mop-up man -- everything but closer -- and he posted a 3.03 ERA for the decade. He never had more than seven saves in any season, but he pitched in 60 games just about every season, setting up Francisco Rodriguez for the save.
Mariano Rivera
Team in 2000s: Yankees
Seasons in 2000s: 10
Well, who else? So much has been said about Rivera that there seems nothing left to say. He averaged 40 saves a season for the decade, posted a 2.08 ERA. One season he walked six batters. Here is how many earned runs he gave up from 2002 to 2009: 14, 13, 17, 12, 15, 25 (off year!), 11, 13. And, of course, he was even better in the postseason. The Yankees were loaded with stars, but when you ask the players who was their most valuable player, they inevitably point to Rivera.
Joe Torre
Teams in 2000s: Yankees, Dodgers
Seasons in 2000s: 10
He is the only manager to take his team to the playoffs every year this decade, and he did it with two different teams. After all his success in New York, he led the Dodgers to consecutive division titles. The Dodgers had won the division only once before in the decade. Torre's strengths seem to be his ability to balance egos and keep distractions out of the clubhouse. He did lose some of his postseason magic, though, ending up on the losing side of the great 2001 World Series, the 2003 World Series and the remarkable 2004 ALCS.
General Manager
Theo Epstein
Team in 2000s: Red Sox
Seasons in 2000s: 7
It was a decade in which the White Sox won their first World Series since 1917, the Angels won their first World Series and the Rays reached the World Series the year after finishing with the worst record in baseball. But the decade's big moment was the Red Sox -- after 80-plus years of angst and drama -- finally winning the World Series and then, just three years later, winning it again. Epstein was at the heart of things, blending various talents (including author Bill James and former Royals GM and scout Allard Baird), making bold moves when they felt right and hiring Terry Francona as manager.

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