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Improving on the U.S. World Baseball Classic roster

ICYMI, the U.S. baseball team just won the World Baseball Classic. However, they did it without many of the best American players. What if they did have all of them at their disposal? What would that team look like?

Baseball: World Baseball Classic-Final-USA at Puerto Rico Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

To celebrate the American victory in the World Baseball Classic this past week, I thought I would have some fun and see how much better we can make the roster. I know it’s crazy because they won anyway, but indulge me. Many of the best baseball players in the country did not participate, either due to health concerns, disinterest, or other reasons. But what if we could pick from every American-born player and build the roster from there? What would the roster look like? How would the two teams compare in terms of total WAR?

First, let’s look at what the roster did look like.

U.S. WBC 2017 Roster

Player Pos. Team
Player Pos. Team
Chris Archer SP Tampa Bay Rays
Brett Cecil RP St. Louis Cardinals
Tyler Clippard RP New York Yankees
Danny Duffy SP Kansas City Royals
Sam Dyson RP Texas Rangers
Michael Fulmer SP Detroit Tigers
Mychal Givens RP Baltimore Orioles
Luke Gregerson RP Houston Astros
J. A. Happ SP Toronto Blue Jays
Nate Jones RP Chicago White Sox
Jake McGee RP Colorado Rockies
Andrew Miller RP Cleveland Indians
Pat Neshek RP Philadelphia Phillies
Tanner Roark SP Washington Nationals
David Robertson RP Chicago White Sox
Drew Smyly SP Seattle Mariners
Marcus Stroman SP Toronto Blue Jays
Alex Wilson RP Detroit Tigers
Jonathan Lucroy C Texas Rangers
Buster Posey C San Francisco Giants
Nolan Arenado 3B Colorado Rockies
Alex Bregman 3B Houston Astros
Brandon Crawford SS San Francisco Giants
Paul Goldschmidt 1B Arizona Diamondbacks
Josh Harrison 2B/3B/OF Pittsburgh Pirates
Eric Hosmer 1B Kansas City Royals
Ian Kinsler 2B Detroit Tigers
Daniel Murphy 2B Washington Nationals
Adam Jones OF Baltimore Orioles
Andrew McCutchen OF Pittsburgh Pirates
Giancarlo Stanton OF Miami Marlins
Christian Yelich OF Miami Marlins
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_World_Baseball_Classic_rosters#.C2.A0United_States

Obviously, there is a lot of talent on that roster and there are some positions we won’t be able to improve upon (catcher), but there are some of the very best baseball players on the planet missing. Let’s go position-by-position and make this team into a juggernaut.

Catcher

Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy

Welp, nothing we can do here. Posey and Lucroy are basically the two best catchers in the world. Some may quibble with Lucroy and go with the offense of Gary Sanchez or Kyle Schwarber, but for now, these two are the best.

First Base

Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo

Again, it’s tough to improve on Goldschmidt. He’s definitely among the best first basemen in baseball, if not the best. However, Hosmer is not even close to that same league and there are much better options. Sure, Cabrera (Venezuela) and Votto (Canada) aren’t options, but Anthony Rizzo would be a great fit. If I wanted to cheat, I would say Kris Bryant, but since he isn’t a regular first baseman, I’m leaving him out. Freddie Freeman would be another option, especially since he has a patriotic last name, but I prefer Rizzo for his lower strikeout rate and longer history of power.

Second Base

Ian Kinsler, Daniel Murphy

This exercise is turning out to be harder than I thought. The infield is pretty much maxed out already. Kinsler and Murphy are the best American second basemen, unless you prefer Brian Dozier. Jose Altuve and Robinson Cano are off the table. Dozier could be considered an upgrade over both of them (higher WAR in 2016 by a few tenths), but it’s so small I’m going to ignore it.

Shortstop

Corey Seager, Brandon Crawford

Now we’re getting somewhere. Brandon Crawford is a fine shortstop. He just put up a 5.8 WAR season. That’s good for fourth best in baseball. He was behind Manny Machado and Francisco Lindor, two players that can’t play for the U.S. team. Oh, and there’s one more name I’m forgetting. A guy that just put up 7.5 WAR in his first full season. Corey something...Sager....Samson...Seager! Yeah, Seager should have been the primary shortstop. Crawford can stay on as a backup, though.

Third Base

Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson

So, I went into this experiment thinking Nolan Arenado is way too good to remove from the roster. Then, I glanced over at the 2016 WAR tables at Fangraphs and saw that Arenado finished in 7th place! What!? If I want to build a team that maximizes WAR in all parks (not just Coors), then I have to go with the top two names on that leaderboard, Kris Bryant and Josh Donaldson. Sorry Arenado and Bregman, you just aren’t good enough to beat out the crazy depth of this position in the U.S.

Oh, and I should mention that because I’m carrying two shortstops and the actual roster only had one (Bregman was probably covering both third and short), I’m eliminating Josh Harrison’s position completely. I assume he was some sort of utility infield bat, but Bryant can play first and Seager can play third, so I think we will be fine.

Outfield

Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Bryce Harper, Kevin Kiermaier

Cutch, Yelich, Stanton, and Adam Jones are all very good. They are certainly among the best at their position. That being said, they are all going to be pushed off this roster in a heartbeat. See, the problem is they aren’t Mike Trout. Nor are they Mookie Betts. Bryce Harper and Kevin Kiermaier (for his defense) also say hello. So, we will have the two best players in baseball, a third who was the best in 2015, and the best defensive centerfielder there is. Not too shabby.

Starting Pitcher

Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Noah Syndergaard, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner

No offense to Stroman, Roark, Smyly, Archer, Duffy, Fulmer, and Happ, but I think we can do much better. We are missing most of the best starting pitchers on the planet, that just happen to be American. Let’s start with Kershaw, for obvious reasons. We’ll throw in Scherzer (he was going to play, but injury kept him out), Noah Syndergaard, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, and Madison Bumgarner.

For the final spot, I considered several options, including the injured David Price and the resurgent Justin Verlander, but I think Jon Lester is the best fit. How’s that for a rotation? Between this and outfield, the roster received a huge boost. This is where the no-shows really took talent off the roster. Imagine Corey Kluber being a seventh starter.

Relief Pitcher

Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, Nate Jones, Brad Brach, Mark Melancon, Wade Davis, Ken Giles, David Robertson, Craig Kimbrel, Addison Reed, Cody Allen

Andrew Miller can hang around. That’s just fine with me. We’ve still got 10 other spots we can improve upon (maybe), though. Dellin Betances, although born in New York, represented the Dominican in the WBC, so he’s out. Zach Britton would be a great addition, so he’s in with that devastating sinker. Looking at the WAR leaderboard for relievers, it looks like Nate Jones is going to stay after all. So many of the best relievers are non-American, so it becomes a challenge. Let’s take Brad Brach and Mark Melancon. They’re both elite relievers. How could I forget Wade Davis? He’s not as dominant as he used to be, but still a great addition to this roster.

Ken Giles deserves a spot as well. Now that I’m diving into this, I see David Robertson should probably stay on the roster and join his White Sox teammate, Jones. Although his stuff is way down from his peak, I think we can all agree Craig Kimbrel belongs on this roster. And, based on a huge bounceback season last year, Addison Reed should be here. That leaves one more hole to fill. I think I’ll give that spot to Cody Allen over Greg Holland (who looks rejuvenated) and Sam Dyson. In the end, we kept three of the original roster guys.

Summary

Before I show you the updated table comparing the two rosters and their projected 2017 WAR totals, I just wanted to say something quick. The biggest upgrades we could make were at outfield and starting pitcher. Adding historically-great players will have that effect. Many of the other positions were already maxed out, which explains why the team was so good this year in the WBC. The actual roster turned out to be better than I thought it would be, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see a massive increase in WAR in the table below. If you’re on mobile, the actual roster players will be right above the guy replacing them on my proposed roster.

Comparing the Actual WBC Roster (Left) With My Version (Right)

Player Pos. 2017 Proj WAR Player Pos. 2017 Proj WAR
Player Pos. 2017 Proj WAR Player Pos. 2017 Proj WAR
Paul Goldschmidt 1B 4.4 Paul Goldschmidt 1B 4.4
Eric Hosmer 1B 1.4 Anthony Rizzo 1B 4.6
Ian Kinsler 2B 3 Ian Kinsler 2B 3
Daniel Murphy 2B 2.8 Daniel Murphy 2B 2.8
Josh Harrison 2B/3B/OF 1.8 Kris Bryant 3B 5.6
Nolan Arenado 3B 4.6 Josh Donaldson 3B 6.1
Alex Bregman 3B 3.2 Corey Seager SS 4.5
Brandon Crawford SS 3.5 Brandon Crawford SS 3.5
Jonathan Lucroy C 3.4 Jonathan Lucroy C 3.4
Buster Posey C 4.8 Buster Posey C 4.8
Adam Jones OF 2.2 Mike Trout OF 8.2
Andrew McCutchen OF 3.9 Mookie Betts OF 5.4
Giancarlo Stanton OF 3.9 Bryce Harper OF 5.2
Christian Yelich OF 4 Kevin Kiermaier OF 4.4
Brett Cecil RP 1 Andrew Miller RP 2.6
Tyler Clippard RP 0.3 Zach Britton RP 2
Sam Dyson RP 0.9 Nate Jones RP 1.3
Mychal Givens RP 0.8 Brad Brach RP 0.6
Luke Gregerson RP 0.9 Mark Melancon RP 1.3
Nate Jones RP 1.3 Wade Davis RP 1.8
Jake McGee RP 0.5 Ken Giles RP 1.7
Andrew Miller RP 2.6 David Robertson RP 1.4
Pat Neshek RP 0.5 Craig Kimbrel RP 1.4
David Robertson RP 1.4 Addison Reed RP 1.1
Alex Wilson RP 0.2 Cody Allen RP 1.3
Chris Archer SP 4.2 Clayton Kershaw SP 7.4
Danny Duffy SP 2.9 Max Scherzer SP 5.7
Michael Fulmer SP 2.7 Noah Syndergaard SP 5.6
J. A. Happ SP 2.6 Chris Sale SP 5.5
Tanner Roark SP 1.9 Madison Bumgarner SP 5.1
Drew Smyly SP 2.8 Jon Lester SP 4.5
Marcus Stroman SP 3.2 Corey Kluber SP 5.2
Total WAR For Team 77.6 Total WAR For Team 121.4
Projected WAR from Fangraphs

My new, optimized team is much better and would crush the actual team, IMHO. That 43.8 increase in WAR is almost equal to the team WAR of the Mets in 2016. For reference, the 2016 Cubs had a team WAR of 58.7 on Fangraphs, so even the original WBC roster would be the best team in baseball by a long shot. But my roster would be able to beat the ‘27 Yankees (66.3 WAR) without breaking a sweat. You can even give them prime Barry Bonds and Pedro Martinez, and my team will still win in a series.

I hope you enjoyed this ultimately pointless but fun exercise. Tschus!