If you ask somebody with only a very peripheral level of knowledge about Major League Baseball which franchise’s greatest players would create the best all-time team, most would say the New York Yankees. If you asked a casual fan the same question, most would say the New York Yankees. Most of you are probably saying the New York Yankees. I would like to speculate that you are wrong.

Without question, the New York Yankees are the most accomplished team in the history of major American professional baseball. The Yankees have won 27 World Series championships–the next three teams in the rankings have won a combined 29. They’ve also lost the second-most World Series championships, a staggering accomplishment given how often they won titles once they reached the Fall Classic. Their lore and the list of amazing players to have donned their legendary pinstripes is unprecedented. But this is the answer to a different question, though I may have been unclear about my question. My question is if you pitted all-time teams together, who would have the best chance of winning a single game.

The New York Yankees can field a staggering lineup of all-time greats: their all-time Wins Above Replacement leaders at six of the eight positions on the diamond are inner-circle Hall of Famers (Lou Gehrig, Derek Jeter, Mickey Mantle, and Babe Ruth made it to Cooperstown on their first ballots; inexplicably, Yogi Berra had to wait until his second time and Joe DiMaggio had to wait until his fourth), and a seventh would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer if not for factors not related to his production (Alex Rodriguez). The eighth is Willie Randolph, a clear step down from the rest of the group, but a five-time All-Star over thirteen very productive seasons in the Bronx. But the key term here is single game.

The Yankees, for all of their many, many strengths, have relatively pedestrian high-end starting pitchers. To be clear, any team in Major League history would die to have their five best all-time pitchers as its rotation, but if we’re talking about the greatest pitchers in the history of a franchise, the Yankees are somewhere mediocre, especially since for one game, we’re functionally talking about one great starter. By FanGraphs WAR accumulated with one team, the highest ranking Yankee is Andy Pettitte, who ranks 24th. Don’t get me wrong–Andy Pettitte was a terrific pitcher, one I believe should be in the Hall of Fame (he received 11.3% of the vote last year, though this is at least somewhat informed by his admission of steroid use), but he is not an all-time great among all-time greats. Which provoked my hypothesis that the St. Louis Cardinals might be the best all-time team.

The entire argument for this falls on the right arm of Bob Gibson, undisputably a more accomplished pitcher than the likes of Andy Pettitte, Whitey Ford, or any other Yankee starter (I’m not including Roger Clemens, who was a Yankee and who was great as a Yankee but whose greatness was found primarily elsewhere). The Cardinals arguably only have advantages at two positions–pitcher and second base–but pitcher is of massive importance in baseball, particularly if we are talking about one game in which you get to throw your ace. The Cardinals also have a neatly assembled group of players–by FanGraphs WAR, you can construct a nine-man lineup out of the franchise’s ten greatest players, and by Baseball Reference, you can do it with the top nine exactly.

Perhaps the most entertaining thing to me about this hypothetical is that, since baseball is incredibly weird, I don’t know that any all-time team would be an overwhelming favorite against any other. The Yankees, who have been to the World Series 40 times, would certainly be single-game favorites over the Seattle Mariners, who have been to the World Series zero times, but the Mariners would still be able to throw Felix Hernandez and fit the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, and Ichiro Suzuki into their lineup. The Miami Marlins have a largely lackluster history, but they could still put Hanley Ramirez at shortstop and Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield.

Every single all-time team in the history of the sport would be the best team in Major League Baseball today. Think of it this way–the Houston Astros have been bad more times than good throughout their history and have a losing record as a franchise. They are also arguably the best team in baseball today. They could functionally take their current-day lineup but then also sprinkle in Jeff Bagwell. They could have to choose between Craig Biggio or Jose Altuve. I wouldn’t pick this team to beat the Yankees, but it wouldn’t be astonishing either.

This thought exercise was heavily influenced by Matt Snyder at CBS Sports, who is unveiling his all-time teams for every MLB franchise. They’re a fun read and I recommend them. And truthfully, I think his teams capture the spirit of a franchise’s all-time team better than what I am about to unveil. He also definitely put more work into it, because I kept my all-time teams strictly mathematical. Somewhat inspired by the JAWS system of evaluating Hall of Fame candidates, I looked at a player’s (FanGraphs, primarily because it’s easier to sort) WAR with a team and supplemented that by re-adding his best five years (JAWS uses seven) with that team. The second step doesn’t impact as many results as you might think, but it does allow some bonus for higher peaks. I stuck by positionality allowed by the FanGraphs leaderboards and was strict about this, with the exception of the outfield, where I required each team to have at least one true center fielder. If there had been a case where there were two center fielders, both of whom were defensive wizards, and thus putting one in a corner spot would severely diminish their value, I might have had to re-think allowing multiple center fielders in certain cases. Luckily, this never came to pass.

These team does not allow for duplicates, hence why Alex Rodriguez isn’t the shortstop on the all-time Mariners team–in cases where a player would qualify for multiple teams, he went to the franchise where he accumulated more fWAR (there are a few cases–see “Mariners shortstop” again–where a player was more successful with another franchise, but he didn’t qualify for that franchise’s team, so he went to the lesser team). Franchises include previous incarnations (the Twins get the 1901-1960 Washington Senators, the Nationals get the Montreal Expos, etc.). Because this is a mathematical exercise, I will not be explaining my picks below–I arranged batting orders mostly for my own amusement and based on sabermetric lineup construction. Each lineup includes the eight non-pitcher positions, three starting pitchers (while one will be the “true” starting pitcher, I am at least granting them a bullpen), and a reliever. No designated hitters are included here, though DHs are permitted to play at positions where they did play in the field–my approach functionally assumes they would have been terrible fielders (which is probably a fair assumption), but if they had the bat to make up for it, God bless them (see “Red Sox first baseman”).

Atlanta Braves

2B Ross Barnes
3B Eddie Mathews
LF Dale Murphy
RF Hank Aaron
C Brian McCann
CF Andruw Jones
1B Fred Tenney
SS Herman Long
SP Greg Maddux
SP2 Kid Nichols
SP3 John Smoltz
RP Craig Kimbrel

Miami Marlins

CF Christian Yelich
LF Miguel Cabrera
3B Mike Lowell
RF Giancarlo Stanton
SS Hanley Ramirez
1B Jeff Conine
2B Luis Castillo
C Charles Johnson
SP Josh Johnson
SP2 Ricky Nolasco
SP3 Dontrelle Willis
RP Steve Cishek

New York Mets

RF Darryl Strawberry
3B David Wright
CF Carlos Beltran
C Mike Piazza
1B Keith Hernandez
LF Cleon Jones
2B Edgardo Alfonzo
SS Jose Reyes
SP Tom Seaver
SP2 Dwight Gooden
SP3 Jerry Koosman
RP John Franco

Philadelphia Phillies

RF Ed Delahanty
1B Dick Allen
2B Chase Utley
3B Mike Schmidt
LF Sherry Magee
C Darren Daulton
CF Richie Ashburn
SS Jimmy Rollins
SP Steve Carlton
SP2 Robin Roberts
SP3 Pete Alexander
RP Ron Reed

Washington Nationals

LF Tim Raines
3B Anthony Rendon
CF Andre Dawson
RF Vladimir Guerrero
C Gary Carter
1B Ryan Zimmerman
2B Jose Vidro
SS Ian Desmond
SP Steve Rogers
SP2 Max Scherzer
SP3 Stephen Strasburg
RP Ugueth Urbina

Chicago Cubs

1B Cap Anson
RF Sammy Sosa
LF Billy Williams
CF Hack Wilson
3B Ron Santo
C Gabby Hartnett
SS Ernie Banks
2B Ryne Sandberg
SP Fergie Jenkins
SP2 Bill Hutchison
SP3 Rick Reuschel
RP Bruce Sutter

Cincinnati Reds

2B Joe Morgan
1B Joey Votto
3B Tony Perez
RF Frank Robinson
LF Pete Rose
C Johnny Bench
CF Vada Pinson
SS Barry Larkin
SP Paul Derringer
SP2 Noodles Hahn
SP3 Eppa Rixey
RP Rob Dibble

Milwaukee Brewers

3B Paul Molitor
1B Cecil Cooper
CF Gorman Thomas
LF Ryan Braun
SS Robin Yount
RF Geoff Jenkins
C Jonathan Lucroy
2B Rickie Weeks
SP Ben Sheets
SP2 Teddy Higuera
SP3 Chris Bosio
RP Dan Plesac

Pittsburgh Pirates

LF Paul Waner
SS Honus Wagner
RF Roberto Clemente
1B Willie Stargell
CF Max Carey
C Jason Kendall
3B Tommy Leach
2B Bill Mazeroski
SP Bob Friend
SP2 Babe Adams
SP3 Wilbur Cooper
RP Kent Tekulve

St. Louis Cardinals

2B Rogers Hornsby
1B Albert Pujols
CF Jim Edmonds
LF Stan Musial
RF Enos Slaughter
3B Ken Boyer
C Yadier Molina
SS Ozzie Smith
SP Bob Gibson
SP2 Adam Wainwright
SP3 Dizzy Dean
RP Lindy McDaniel

Arizona Diamondbacks

2B Ketel Marte
1B Paul Goldschmidt
RF Steve Finley
LF Luis Gonzalez
CF A.J. Pollock
C Miguel Montero
SS Stephen Drew
3B Craig Counsell
SP Randy Johnson
SP2 Brandon Webb
SP3 Curt Schilling
RP Byung-Hyun Kim

Colorado Rockies

RF Larry Walker
1B Todd Helton
SS Troy Tulowitzki
3B Nolan Arenado
CF Charlie Blackmon
LF Carlos Gonzalez
2B D.J. LeMahieu
C Jeff Reed
SP Ubaldo Jimenez
SP2 Aaron Cook
SP3 Jeff Francis
RP Brian Fuentes

Los Angeles Dodgers

2B Jackie Robinson
RF Dixie Walker
3B Ron Cey
CF Duke Snider
LF Zack Wheat
C Roy Campanella
1B Gil Hodges
SS Pee Wee Reese
SP Clayton Kershaw
SP2 Sandy Koufax
SP3 Don Sutton
RP Kenley Jansen

San Diego Padres

C Gene Tenace
RF Tony Gwynn
CF Dave Winfield
1B Adrian Gonzalez
LF Brian Giles
3B Chase Headley
2B Bip Roberts
SS Khalil Greene
SP Jake Peavy
SP2 Randy Jones
SP3 Andy Benes
RP Trevor Hoffman

San Francisco Giants

RF Mel Ott
CF Willie Mays
1B Willie McCovey
LF Barry Bonds
C Buster Posey
3B George Davis
2B Larry Doyle
SS Travis Jackson
SP Christy Mathewson
SP2 Juan Marichal
SP3 Carl Hubbell
RP Robb Nen

Baltimore Orioles

RF Ken Williams
1B George Sisler
SS Cal Ripken
LF Boog Powell
C Chris Hoiles
3B Brooks Robinson
2B Brian Roberts
CF Paul Blair
SP Jim Palmer
SP2 Mike Mussina
SP3 Urban Shocker
RP Gregg Olson

Boston Red Sox

3B Wade Boggs
LF Ted Williams
SS Nomar Garciaparra
1B David Ortiz
CF Fred Lynn
RF Carl Yastrzemski
C Carlton Fisk
2B Bobby Doerr
SP Roger Clemens
SP2 Pedro Martinez
SP3 Cy Young
RP Jonathan Papelbon

New York Yankees

LF Mickey Mantle
1B Lou Gehrig
3B Alex Rodriguez
RF Babe Ruth
CF Joe DiMaggio
C Yogi Berra
SS Derek Jeter
2B Willie Randolph
SP Andy Pettitte
SP2 Whitey Ford
SP3 Ron Guidry
RP Mariano Rivera

Tampa Bay Rays

2B Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
RF B.J. Upton
1B Carlos Pena
LF Carl Crawford
SS Julio Lugo
CF Kevin Kiermaier
C Jose Molina
SP James Shields
SP2 David Price
SP3 Chris Archer
RP Jake McGee

Toronto Blue Jays

RF Jose Bautista
3B Josh Donaldson
LF Jesse Barfield
1B Carlos Delgado
2B Roberto Alomar
SS Tony Fernandez
CF Lloyd Moseby
C Ernie Whitt
SP Roy Halladay
SP2 Dave Stieb
SP3 Jimmy Key
RP Tom Henke

Chicago White Sox

2B Eddie Collins
RF Joe Jackson
LF Minnie Minoso
1B Frank Thomas
CF Fielder Jones
3B Robin Ventura
SS Luke Appling
C Sherm Lollar
SP Ed Walsh
SP2 Red Faber
SP3 Billy Pierce
RP Keith Foulke

Cleveland Indians

2B Nap Lajoie
RF Tris Speaker
3B Al Rosen
1B Jim Thome
CF Larry Doby
LF Earl Averill
SS Lou Boudreau
C Victor Martinez
SP Bob Feller
SP2 Sam McDowell
SP3 Mel Harder
RP Doug Jones

Detroit Tigers

CF Ty Cobb
LF Harry Heilmann
RF Al Kaline
1B Hank Greenberg
2B Charlie Gehringer
3B George Kell
C Bill Freehan
SS Alan Trammell
SP Hal Newhouser
SP2 Mickey Lolich
SP3 Justin Verlander
RP John Hiller

Kansas City Royals

RF Amos Otis
3B George Brett
C Darrell Porter
1B John Mayberry
LF Alex Gordon
CF Willie Wilson
2B Frank White
SS Freddie Patek
SP Kevin Appier
SP2 Bret Saberhagen
SP3 Mark Gubicza
RP Dan Quisenberry

Minnesota Twins

2B Rod Carew
LF Goose Goslin
RF Kirby Puckett
3B Harmon Killebrew
C Joe Mauer
SS Joe Cronin
1B Joe Judge
CF Sam Rice
SP Walter Johnson
SP2 Bert Blyleven
SP3 Jim Kaat
RP Joe Nathan

Houston Astros

RF Lance Berkman
3B Alex Bregman
SS Carlos Correa
1B Jeff Bagwell
CF Cesar Cedeno
LF Jose Cruz
2B Craig Biggio
C Jason Castro
SP Roy Oswalt
SP2 J.R. Richard
SP3 Shane Reynolds
RP Billy Wagner

Los Angeles Angels

LF Brian Downing
CF Mike Trout
2B Bobby Grich
RF Tim Salmon
SS Jim Fregosi
3B Chone Figgins
1B Darin Erstad
C Bob Boone
SP Nolan Ryan
SP2 Chuck Finley
SP3 Mike Witt
RP Francisco Rodriguez

Oakland Athletics

LF Rickey Henderson
CF Al Simmons
RF Reggie Jackson
1B Jimmie Foxx
C Mickey Cochrane
3B Sal Bando
2B Max Bishop
SS Bert Campaneris
SP Lefty Grove
SP2 Eddie Plank
SP3 Rube Waddell
RP Dennis Eckersley

Seattle Mariners

1B Alvin Davis
3B Edgar Martinez
2B Robinson Cano
CF Ken Griffey Jr.
LF Mike Cameron
RF Ichiro Suzuki
C Dan Wilson
SS Omar Vizquel
SP Felix Hernandez
SP2 Jamie Moyer
SP3 Mike Moore
RP Arthur Rhodes

Texas Rangers

LF Frank Howard
CF Josh Hamilton
RF Juan Gonzalez
1B Rafael Palmeiro
3B Buddy Bell
SS Toby Harrah
2B Ian Kinsler
C Ivan Rodriguez
SP Kenny Rogers
SP2 Kevin Brown
SP3 Charlie Hough
RP Francisco Cordero

So now the question is what to make of all of this information. Do we pick a lineup that sounds good and just roll with it? Is there a mathematical approach? You could do the former. I chose to do the latter…to a certain point. But also, with a lack of baseball season to occupy my time, my imagination is starting to run wild. I want to find a mathematical answer. But I want to use that mathematical answer to envision chaos.

Check back at STLbullpen.com for “Which MLB franchise has the greatest all-time team? (Part 2)”.

2 thoughts on “Which MLB franchise has the greatest all-time team? (Part 1)

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