A simple axiom bears repeating in our current world of baseball analysis so emphasizing value: Good players make a good team. Good young players make a good team that’s likely to be good (and cheap) for a while. That’s why team’s covet prospects like they do.
In real life, teams look for a balance of both good, young, team controlled players, and older productive veterans. The best teams have a solid mixture of both; just look at the Dodgers. LA’s middle infield is made up of odds-on rookie of the year favorite Corey Seager and 37 year old Chase Utley.
But what if you had a team of just good young players? In fact, what if those players were so young that they had never played in Major League Baseball before? What would happen if you took all the best rookies from the 2016 season and put them on a team together to make an All-Rookie Team similar to All Star Teams?
How would that team stack up to other big league teams? Let’s find out.
First, we need to assemble our top notch collection of rookies. Let’s make a lineup.
Here are the rookies with the highest bWAR by position in 2016:
C: Gary Sanchez, NYY, 3.0 WAR
1B: Jefry Marte, LAA, 1.2
2B: Ryan Schimpf, SDP, 1.8
SS: Corey Seager, LAD, 6.1
3B: Ryon Healy, OAK, 2.2
LF: Willson Contreras, CHC, 1.8
CF: Trea Turner, WSH, 3.6
RF: Max Kepler, MIN, 2.4
Notes: Adam Duvall of the Reds missed the cutoff for rookie status in left field by just 7 at bats. Duvall and his 3.2 WAR would have helped a lot. Nomar Mazara had a .4 bWAR this season even though he had a 1.2 fWAR. I think Mazara had a great season and I’m curious as to why Baseball Reference is so down on him. Baseball Reference also gave Andrew Toles and his 48 games played a 1.4 WAR. Color me suspicious.
More Notes: Aledmys Diaz and Trevor Story were great in their rookie seasons for the Cardinals and Rockies, respectively. Diaz had a 3.5 WAR and Story had 3.1 despite missing much of the second half with an injury. In addition, White Sox rookie Tim Anderson had a .283 average an a 2.8 WAR as well. Shortstop was stacked with rookies this year, and we could possibly slide one of those guys over to second base in a real-world lineup.
The outfield was plenty deep, as well. While Left Field looks pretty weak on our list above, Andrew Benintendi posted a .6 WAR in just 105 at bats and other outfielders with stellar rookie seasons that didn’t get the starting nod in left field include: Keon Broxton of the Brewers (2.1 WAR), Byron Buxton of the Twins (1.9) and Alex Dickerson of the Padres (1.6)..
Let’s take a look at pitching before we try and make some anecdotal comparisons.
SP: Michael Fulmer, DET, 4.9 WAR
SP: Junior Guerra, MIL, 4.0
SP: Tyler Anderson, COL, 3.5
SP: Steven Matz, NYM, 2.7
SP: Kenta Maeda, LAD 2.4
RP: Seung Hwan Oh, STL, 2.8 WAR
RP: Chris Devenski, HOU, 2.8
RP: Alex Reyes, STL, 2.2
RP: Ryan Dull, OAK, 2.1
Ok, so how does this team stack up? First, let’s look just at the numbers.
The Kansas City Royals, last year’s World Champs, finished 2016 at an even 81-81. I figure they’re a decent team to judge the Rookies against. If the Royals are numerically superior to our team, it’s probably fair to say that our rookie team is a sub .500 team, and vice versa if the Royals are worse.
So let’s just add up the WAR of the starting lineups and see where that gets us. The Royals starting 9 accounted for just 12.4 wins over replacement this season. Not great.
The Rookies? 22.1. That’s a lot more. We’re off to a good start.
The same thing happens in the starting rotation. The Royals accounted for 10.5 WAR in among their top 5 starters. Our team has 17.5.
A little arithmetic and we find that the Rookies could be a 97 win team. Ok, that’s fun and all, but let’s take a closer look.
I’m pretty sure that the 8 guys listed above wouldn’t formulate a strict everyday starting lineup. As if the Rookie team weren’t fun enough, I would probably run out more lineups than Joe Maddon just to keep everyone on their toes. For instance, I think I’d try to get Mazara in there and probably Benintendi, too. I’d also see if one of my guys was willing to play first base because I know I have more talent on the roster than Marte. It’s certainly not a bad group.
Corey Seager was the best shortstop in baseball this season, rookie or otherwise and that’s a big help on the Rookies. Likewise, Gary Sanchez might end up as one of the best offensive catchers in the game, too. If you were making any all star lineup, those two would have a good chance of making the cut.
Same can be said of Trea Turner. If Center Field were stacked the way shortstop is on this team and short had a dearth of talent, Turner could just as easily play there. He’s arguably the most important player on the division winning Nationals and he, Sanchez, and Seager make a very, very solid top of the order.
The rest of the team feels a little below average on a position by position basis. 2016 Marte is not a starting caliber first basemen on a playoff team, though he played well this season. Neither are our second and third basemen, Healy and Schimpf. Both are valuable and even exciting, but if I would expect that one of our backup shortstops would wind up winning out over these guys by Game 162.
In the outfield, Contreras is really good, but probably only viable defensively in left field when he’s not my backup catcher. He doesn’t bring enough power to justify a starting slot in left all season, but pairing him with Gary Sanchez is loads of fun behind the plate. In addition, Kepler is good, as are all the other rookie outfielders I named, but none are great yet. They’ll certainly hold their own or even be above average, but that’s all.
On balance, I think this lineup is pretty good with three excellent guys at the top followed by average or slightly better players in the outfield and average or slightly worse guys in the infield. It’s a lineup that I would confidently consider as better than the Royals and probably better than most big league teams.
Pitching wise, it is pretty much the same story. Michael Fulmer might be a special pitcher and he’s a capable number one. Maeda is a veteran in rookie’s clothing after pitching so much in Japan and I’d trust him to take the ball every 5th day. Matz has a ton of talent and our imaginary Rookies team is not concerned with his shoulder/elbow woes. Tyler Anderson was much better than you probably realize for the Colorado Rockies this season. He might be the best Rockies’ pitcher in a while and, coupled with fellow rookie Jon Gray, Colorado fans should be pretty excited.
Junior Guerra is 31 but he had a great season and I hope he had a blast.
The bullpen is pretty weak behind Oh, who was legitimately great this season, and that might cost us some wins, but I feel confident.
The position players might have lacked a veteran presence that front offices covet. That group of Millennials may be more susceptible to a team-wide addiction to, say, Clash of Clans than the average lineup. Still, the All Rookie Team gets its necessary share of over-30 guys to remind everyone that Will Smith was a rapper before he was an actor from the pitching staff.
Overall, the squad is plenty deep, very talented, and ready to take on the MLB.