MLB’s Best Team on Paper

Are Albert Pujols and the Angels the "best team on paper"? (Credit)

Fans are continuously told that what a team has on paper means nothing once it takes the field. There is too much luck and uncontrollable forces for a team to be named “king” based solely on how it looks on a lineup card.

Although that may be true, what is to stop us from having some fun and determining who deserves the “best team on paper” crown? Nothing! So, I have picked four teams that I feel are the best contenders for the paper crown. Some honorable mentions include the New York Yankees, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Texas Rangers. But top paper champions have bigger names in both their lineup and rotation.

Another way to put this question is, “Which team would you most want to use in a video game if your life depended on winning the game?”

Triple Play Baseball 2001 was the first baseball video game I ever owned. Triple Play gave way to MVP Baseball, and I stand by MVP Baseball 2005 being the best baseball video game of all time. MLB 13: The Show is the most popular game now, so I will use its player ratings for the projected opening day lineups to help me put some statistical evidence into my decision.

Now, these ratings are not perfect — they are obviously opinionated — but they at least give you someone else’s opinion other than my own. Also, these ratings are based on projected opening day lineups, so some players may not be on the team anymore or just don’t start. Also, injuries and slumps do not factor into this whatsoever. Josh Hamilton is a “99” in MLB 13: The Show, but he is batting .202 as of April 30. We are thinking of Josh Hamilton as the “99” rated guy, not the .228 batting average guy.

First, I am going to break down my case for each team for wearing the crown, and then I will make my decision. Take it away, Fergie.

Detroit Tigers

Starting lineup average player rating: 85

Starting rotation average player rating: 86

The Tigers are an automatic candidate based on three players alone. Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Justin Verlander are three of the best players in the league and to have them all on one team is scary.

Based on MLB 13: The Show, Detroit has a safe lineup. Other than Cabrera and Fielder, they have five 80s and two 70s. This is important because you can trust anyone in this lineup to either start a rally or keep one going. And with a 3-4-5 that consists of Cabrera, Fielder and Victor Martinez, it is going to be hard for opposing pitchers to get through the heart of the order without relinquishing at least one run.

When they signed Torii Hunter this offseason, it definitely helped their case. The 37-year-old proved that he still has some left in the tank last year and fits perfectly into the second hole. Another aspect that is important in this conversation is that they get production from their middle infielders at the plate. Some teams just hope they can get dependable fielders at the middle infield positions and sacrifice hitting, but the Tigers get both from their shortstop and second baseman. Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante can both contribute at the bottom of the lineup and the same goes for catcher Alex Avila.

From top to bottom, this lineup is going to score runs and that is certainly going to help them.

The argument for the Tigers’ rotation being the best starts with Justin Verlander. In my opinion, he is the best pitcher in baseball, and that is obviously important in this argument. Behind Verlander are three fantastic pitchers. Doug Fister, one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, and Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, who have both really come into their own, are helpful in giving the Tigers a chance in this argument.

Sanchez and Fister are both 87’s in The Show, while Scherzer is an 85. When any of these four guys take the hill, you can pretty much expect a win and that is important. What hurts this rotation is they really don’t have a fifth guy. Rick Porcello has struggled for the majority of his career and The Show has noted that, ranking him a measly 75. This hurts this rotation that is otherwise near spotless.

Something else that hurts this team is the bullpen. They don’t have a clear closer. Detroit recently signed Jose Valverde to take his old job as closer, but he was shaky at points last season, especially in the playoffs.  A solid bullpen is important to me and Detroit’s scares me a lot. 

Los Angeles Angels:

Starting lineup average player rating: 87

Starting rotation average player rating: 85

The highlight of this Angels team is that in The Show, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton are all ranked 99. Their 1-6 is arguably the best in baseball. Who are you getting out from this order: Trout, Erick Aybar, Pujols, Hamilton, Mark Trumbo, and Howie Kendrick? Every one of those guys strikes fear in pitchers and will produce a boatload of runs. The bottom of their lineup is a bit suspect, though.

Alberto Callaspo, Chris Iannetta, and Peter Bourjos will give pitchers a bit of a break from the first six. I feel that the average rating for their starting lineup based on The Show should be higher. They rated Mark Trumbo an 83, which I don’t see. Brandon Moss is an 84, for God’s sake, and we all would take Mark Trumbo over Moss, especially when you put him in the five hole behind Pujols and Hamilton. This is one of the best lineups in the game, which certainly helps them in this contest.

The starting rotation is also very interesting. I am personally mesmerized every time I watch Jered Weaver pitch. His approach is unique and his various arm angles can confuse any hitter. His movement is disgusting and I would rank him as the second best pitcher in baseball. The Show, however, only ranked him as a 93, which I think should be a bit higher.

On the other end, The Show certainly overrated C.J. Wilson, giving him an 89. I know this comparison is supposed to be on paper only and Wilson did have some good seasons in Texas, but I have never been much of a believer. He’s definitely a solid number two, but an 89? I don’t think so. Behind them, the Halos have Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas, and Joe Blanton. You can trust all of these guys to have solid outings, which is important because every game, it is safe to assume that the Angels will have a good chance to win.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Starting lineup average player rating: 83

Starting rotation average player rating: 88

Like all of these teams, the Dodgers have a strong 3-4 combination. Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez — a 99 and a 93, respectively, in The Show — are both RBI machines. But otherwise, this lineup does not match the luster of the other teams in this argument. Their 1-6 has some big names, though, including Carl Crawford, Mark Ellis, Kemp, Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, and Andre Ethier. By general standards, this 1-6 is deadly, but by “best team on paper” standards, I’m not too impressed. There’s a lot of age issues and specifically, Han-Ram remains my biggest problem. He is definitely a talented hitter at his best, but there are much better 5-hole options than him.

This team is built around Kemp and Gonzalez accounting for the majority of the runs, and that is not going to cut it for me. Moreover, their bottom three are Luis Cruz, A.J. Ellis, and the pitcher. Those sound like three fairly easy outs. Not having a DH certainly hurts the Dodgers, but that’s just how this game goes. By this argument’s standards, the Dodgers have only a decent top and bottom of the order, which is certainly going to affect them in the final decision.

For what they lack in the lineup, however, they make up for in the rotation. Clayton Kershaw may be the real second best pitcher in baseball (I’m sticking with Weaver) and they paired him up with Zach Greinke. In The Show, these guys have a 99 and a 94 ranking, respectively, and that is the best 1-2 punch out of these four teams.

Behind these two, the Dodgers boast Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley. Beckett, an 85 in the game, is a former ace and a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame. To have him as your number three pitcher is impressive. Billingsley, an 86, is definitely a dependable pitcher who will keep you in any game he pitches. Now, their number five spot in the rotation can go many different ways.

The Show has Aaron Harang as Los Angeles’ number five starter, but he is no longer on the team, so we will have to name a new one. I’m going to go with rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu who is having a pretty good season so far. A rookie makes this argument difficult because we do not have much to base anything on, but Ryu has been a strikeout machine so far and based on his small sample size, I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s an upgrade from Harang. Harang was rated a 77 in the game and the way Ryu is pitching, he deserves at least an 80. This gives the Dodgers the best rotation by far and that alone keeps them in the argument.

Toronto Blue Jays

Starting lineup average player rating: 85

Starting rotation average player rating: 88

Like the other contenders, the Blue Jays have a scary duo in the 3-4 slots. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are both strong guys and liable to hit 35+ home runs in a season. In front of these guys, Toronto has Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera. Say what you want about Reyes, but he is still a great player and, most importantly, hitter. Having him set the table for Bautista and Encarnacion is key.

I’m not as high on Cabrera, though. He had one outstanding season and it was cut short after he was caught taking performance-enhancing drugs. I’m just not sure if he needs the PEDs to produce at that same high level. So, they have a pretty good 1-4, but after that, it’s nothing to write home about. The 5-9 goes like this: Colby Rasmus, Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind, J.P. Arencibia, Emilio Bonifacio. There is simply not enough run production from that group and on top of that, the Blue Jays’ 3-4 duo is probably the worst out of these four teams. Toronto definitely has some big names in the lineup, but they don’t have enough other dependable guys to surround them.

It appears that the creators of The Show ratings have a thing for some Toronto pitching. They rated R.A. Dickey a 93 after his breakout season last year, which I don’t really have a problem with. But they gave Josh Johnson a 94, which makes no sense to me. Last season, he went 8-14 with a 3.81 ERA. How does that equate to a 94? In comparison, Matt Cain is a 95 and honestly, there is no comparison between the two pitchers. In addition, Brandon Morrow is a 90. He had a solid season last year, but he has not logged enough quality games to deserve a 90. These two pitchers have definitely skewed the Jays’ averages a bit.

After these three guys, Toronto has Mark Buehrle and J.A. Happ, although The Show has Ricky Romero as their fifth starter. The problem with this rotation is that I’m simply not sure if I can trust any of these pitchers on any given day. They all seem to be inconsistent and the fact that they lack a legitimate ace, unlike the other three teams, definitely hurts them.

The Ruling

In the end, it came down to the Angels and the Tigers. Both teams are very similar. They have two of the best power hitters in their 3 and 4 slots and have one of the best pitchers in baseball heading their staff. I feel that this decision would be very close to 50-50 if it were put up to a vote, but I am going to have to go with the Angels for a couple reasons:

  1. On top of having Hamilton and Pujols, they have Mike Trout, who is, in reality, their best hitter and player. The Tigers cannot package three hitters that can compete with the Angels’ trio.
  2. The Angels’ rotation is dependable from top to bottom. Although Detroit’s rotation is probably better 1-4, Porcello scares me too much. There is too much of a disparity between him and the rest of the Tiger pitchers.
  3. The Tigers do not have a reliable closer. Valverde’s shakiness makes winning close games always questionable and the same can’t be said for the Angels.

The Angels are the most complete team in the league (on paper) and can rightfully wear the crown. And although none of this matters in real life, at least we now know which team to use in case we are playing MLB 13: The Show for the right to continue living. So, you’re welcome.

By: Matt Levine
Twitter: @Matt_TFJ 

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