Monday, July 20, 2020

All-Time Lineups by Jersey Number

The other day, Mike Petriello at ran a fun article on the most productive uniform numbers ever. It’s pretty comprehensive, and I’d definitely recommend checking it out. And sure, it’s technically not Retired Numbers, but it’s still right up my alley. So I wanted to build off of Petriello’s idea: what’s the best lineup you could make just by picking players who wore the same number?

Generally, I tried to keep it simple: players should have worn a number of a plurality of their career, if not an outright majority. I also tried to keep things to a basic level, so we’ll be using just a starting nine with a designated hitter (to help account for some positional overlap). With that, let’s dive in:

Team #5
P: *
C: Johnny Bench
1B: Jeff Bagwell
2B: Ian Kinsler
3B: George Brett
SS: Lou Boudreau
LF: Brian Downing
CF: Joe DiMaggio
RF: Hank Greenberg
DH: Albert Pujols
Honorable Mentions: Brooks RobinsonDavid Wright, Nomar Garciaparra, Freddie Freeman, Ray Durham, Vern Stephens, George Scott, John Olerud (eight seasons on both #5 and #9).

Notes: There’s a reason #5 came in first in Petriello’s rankings. I immediately decided to add DHs in part because looking at the top #5s made me realize I would immediately have to cut one of Pujols or Jeff Bagwell, and I couldn’t do it. Even with that, I still had to decide between Brooks Robinson and Brett right after that.

Interestingly, there are some weak points. Corner outfield is weaker than many other teams’, which led to us playing Downing and Greenberg a little out of position (both had some seasons primarily in left field, at least, even if they were known mostly for other positions). Without that, we would have had to run with someone like Cecil Travis, Ron Gant, or B.J. Surhoff.

And as Petriello mentioned in his article, there just aren’t many single-digit pitchers. Some others snuck in with recent exceptions, but 5 was not so lucky. It’s hard to find any pitchers who have worn it; the best option here is probably Hall of Famer Billy Pierce, who wore it in 1945. That was his debut at the age of just 18; despite only throwing 10 innings that year, he wore three different jersey numbers in that time. This is a good enough lineup that it can probably handle a weak pitcher spot, but some other teams will be a lot more well-rounded.

Team #6
P: Marcus Stroman
C: Tony Peña
1B: Stan Musial
2B: Joe Gordon
3B: Sal Bando
SS: Rico Petrocelli
LF: Roy White
CF: Willie Wilson
RF: Al Kaline
DH: Tony Oliva
Honorable Mentions: Stan Hack, Tony Lazzeri, Steve Garvey, Johnny Callison, Paul Blair, Lorenzo Cain, Anthony Rendon, Melvin Mora

Notes: Musial and Kaline is a strong core, but the rest of things don't seem quite as strong as #5. 6 has a lot of really, really good players, but there aren’t quite as many all-timers here. Also, catcher is the weak spot here; I wouldn’t argue with Smoky Burgess or Ed Bailey, if you’d prefer them, and it’s definitely weaker than having to run Brian Downing or Ian Kinsler.

But while Team #5’s lineup runs away with things, at least #6 has Marcus Stroman on the mound.

Team #24
P: Early Wynn
C: Rick Dempsey
1B: Miguel Cabrera
2B: Ken Oberkfell
3B: Tony Perez
SS: Dick Groat
LF: Rickey Henderson
CF: Willie Mays
RF: Dwight Evans
DH: Ken Griffey, Jr.
Honorable Mentions: Manny Ramirez, Jim Wynn, Brian Giles, Travis Fryman, Grady Sizemore, Al Downing, Nels Potter

Notes: An outfield composed entirely of #24 snubs would probably beat most teams’ outfields. Maybe you could shuffle things around, and put Griffey in right, Manny at DH, and leave off Dwight Evans, but I don’t know that there’s a wrong answer here. Perez and Oberkfell are off their primary positions, but they did play some seasons at third and second, so they count. And hey, the 24s have an actual Hall of Famer on the mound!

Team #11
P: Carl Hubbell
C: Bill Freehan
1B: Ryan Zimmerman
2B: Chuck Knoblauch
3B: Toby Harrah
SS: Barry Larkin
LF: Brett Gardner
CF: Dixie Walker
RF: Paul Waner
DH: Edgar Martinez
Honorable Mentions: Luis Aparicio, Jim Fregosi, Jimmy Rollins, Lonny Frey, Doug DeCinces, Hal McRae, Dizzy Trout, Lefty Gomez, Jose Ramirez

Notes: We have our first case of one Hall of Fame middle infielder keeping another off. For one reason or another, #11 has really been good to shortstops, as I kept tallying them as other positions went unfilled. Eventually, I gave up on finding a first basemen and just went with Zimmerman there.

Also, we have another first, with DH going to an actual designated hitter. Not only was Edgar blocking other non-DH players like Aparicio, but he was blocking another primary-DH in Hal McRae.

Team #7P: Josh Towers
C: Iván Rodríguez
1B: Joe Mauer
2B: Craig Biggio
3B: Harlond Clift
SS: Mark Belanger
LF: Kenny Lofton
CF: Mickey Mantle
RF: Reggie Smith
DH: Al Simmons
Honorable Mentions: J.D. Drew, Matt Holliday, Jose Reyes, Dom DiMaggio, Rick Monday, Al Rosen, Hal Trosky, Kevin Mitchell

Notes: There are four retired 7s in baseball, and it seemed like a waste to leave one of them off for Hal Trosky, so we’ll play Mauer at first like he did in his later career. And it’s not quite Team #24, but Drew-Holliday-Dom DiMaggio is a solid back-up outfield.

Also, Team #7 almost ran into the pitching problem that #5 did, but they did have one who made the cut. As best as I can tell, Josh Towers is the only pitcher in history to play ten-plus seasons, wear #7 for a majority of them, and record more than 1 career bWAR (2.16, baby!). It’s a good thing too, because their fallback, 1-season options are nowhere near as good as Billy Pierce (Ken Raffensberger? Mike Garcia?).

Team #21
P: Roger Clemens
C: Andy Seminick
1B: Wally Joyner
2B: Eric Young Sr.
3B: George Kell
SS: Arky Vaughan
LF: PPaul O'Neill
CF: Curt Flood
RF: Roberto Clemente
DH: Sammy Sosa
Honorable Mentions: Warren Spahn, Zack Greinke, Bob Lemon, Nick Markakis, Mike Hargrove, Todd Frazier, Dwayne Murphy, Terry Puhl, Spud Chandler

Notes: #21 is the right fielder number, likely thanks at least in part to Roberto Clemente. In a weird twist, I really struggled to find an actual left fielder here, and it seemed like a waste to not just move over one of the many right fielders. There are a lot of other oddities here, too. I almost went with Jeff Kent at second, since 21 was his number in San Francisco, his best days. But he wore #12 in most other places. George Kell did have a plurality of seasons in #21, but he was from the early days of numbers, and switched often. Similarly, Joyner was a little better than Hargrove, but switched numbers a lot more, so he only wore it for a plurality of his seasons.

Outside of that? This is the strongest cast of pitchers yet. Spahn and Greinke are far and away the best second and third starters yet, if we were doing full rotations. Arky Vaughan is one of the better players in history with no chance of getting a retired number, since he wore #21 with the Pirates. And Curt Flood should probably have a retired number somewhere, if not a Hall of Fame plaque, thanks to his stature in the history of the game.

Team #15
P: Red Ruffing
C: Thurman Munson
1B: Dick Allen
2B: Dustin Pedroia
3B: Joe Torre
SS: Rafael Furcal
LF: George Foster
CF: Carlos Beltran
RF: Jim Edmonds
DH: Tim Salmon
Honorable Mentions: Tim Hudson, Doug Drabek, Ben Sheets, Darrell Porter, Cecil Cooper, Davey Lopes, Shawn Green, Kyle Seager

Notes: This was the easiest lineup to make yet. The worst player here is probably Furcal, who was still a 40-WAR player, former Rookie of the Year, three-time All-Star, and World Series winner. That’s still really good! Their peak isn’t quite what other teams have, but Beltran and Edmonds isn’t bad (relatedly, I guess I should have put Edmonds at DH and Salmon in left, but it seemed like a waste to not use both his and Beltran’s glove). There are a bunch of other decent #15s I didn’t even get around to listing, too; this team could have a solid bench that isn’t just one or two Hall of Famers getting stuck behind someone even better. Also, Torre is a fun case, since by my rules, he qualifies at both multiple positions (catcher, first, and third) and numbers (he wore #15 and #9 for nine seasons each, neither of which were the #6 he got retired by the Yankees). Remember that. Also, while this team is lacking in Hall of Famers (just Ruffing at the moment, with Beltran a strong possibility), I’d argue that Munson, Allen, Torre, and Edmonds were all snubbed by voters; maybe #15 is the number for underrated players?

Team #25
P: Tommy John
C: Tyler Flowers
1B: Mark McGwire
2B: David Bell
3B: Troy Glaus
SS: Alexi Casilla
LF: Barry Bonds
CF: Andruw Jones
RF: Jose Cruz
DH: Jim Thome
Honorable Mentions: Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Bonds, Norm Cash, Carlos Delgado, Derrek Lee, Frank Howard, Bobby Bonilla, George Hendrick, Don Baylor, Jason Giambi, Mike Garcia, Rich Dauer, Julian Javier, Steve Lake

Notes: This is the power hitter number, and especially first basemen. Like, you could make an entire lineup of just first basemen here, and you’d give up a ton of runs thanks to poor defense, but you also might bash everyone else into submission. Like, you’re already playing Bell at a secondary position. Given that you’re also running Tyler Flowers and Alexei Casilla, maybe it’s worth just going all-offense. Tommy John’s ability to limit homers might actually work against him, in that case though.

Technically, this team has the fewest Hall of Famers with just Jim Thome at the moment, but it’s also probably the number hardest hit by steroids at the moment, between McGwire, Bonds, and Palmeiro.

Team #4
P: Blake Snell
C: Yadier Molina
1B: Lou Gehrig
2B: Bobby Grich
3B: Paul Molitor
SS: Luke Appling
LF: Ralph Kiner
CF: Duke Snider
RF: Mel Ott
DH: Joe Cronin
Honorable Mentions: Goose Goslin, Rogers Hornsby(?), Lenny Dykstra, Carney Lansford, Bob Allison, Alex Gordon, Brandon Phillips, Rudy York, Marty Marion, George Springer

Notes: Like #6, a modern pitcher saves Team #4 from the single-digit teams’ pitcher problems. But Blake Snell is an even stronger option than Stroman was, and it makes Team #4 a dark horse contender for best team here, I think. Like, he’s the weakest link here, and he’s still really good! Maybe he doesn’t reach Furcal’s overall career (never trust a pitcher’s health), but he does already have a Cy Young in his first four seasons. If he does go on to a Hall of Fame career, though, the worst option here is…maybe Yadier Molina? Ralph Kiner? That’s really good.

And their core is also pretty fantastic. Gehrig and Ott is a great starting two, Appling-Molitor is a pair of 70-WAR players that some might underrate, and Snider-Grich are overlooked but arguably just as good. And this isn’t even counting Rogers Hornsby and Goose Goslin, Hall of Famers who mostly played pre-numbers; both changed numbers often, and in Hornsby case, his relation to the number relies on his St. Louis Browns career as a manager, with only 67 games (and two uniform numbers) over five years. If this was a weaker team, I might be compelled to try and force them in, but this lineup is already pretty good as is.

Team #19
P: Bob Feller
C: Tom Pagnozzi
1B: Joey Votto
2B: Jim Gilliam
3B: Al Dark
SS: Bert Campaneris
LF: Juan Gonzalez
CF: Robin Yount
RF: Tony Gwynn
DH: Fred Lynn
Honorable Mentions: Billy Pierce, Bob Friend, Josh Beckett, Jose Bautista, Jay Buhner, Greg Luzinski, Dave McNally, Aníbal Sánchez, Bill Doran, Scott Erickson, Bob Ojeda, Scott Kazmir

Notes: This team feels a little weaker than the last few. It’s not bad or anything, it’s just not overflowing with Hall of Famers or obvious snubs, like some of the others; even as a pretty big-Hall guy, I still probably wouldn’t make a case for any of the six players here who aren’t already in the Hall or still active. It’s kind of like a version of Team #6 without Stan Musial. Still, this is probably the deepest collection of pitchers anywhere. I don’t know if their hypothetical four man rotation would beat Team #21’s (Clemens versus Feller would be one hell of a matchup, though), but the rest of their staff looks better than 21’s subsequent options. I’m not sure that’s worth that much overall, but it’s something.

Team #10
P: Lefty Grove
C: Jim Sundberg
1B: Johnny Mize
2B: Michael Young
3B: Ron Santo
SS: Phil Rizzuto
LF: Chipper Jones
CF: Andre Dawson
RF: Rusty Staub
DH: Gary Sheffield
Honorable Mentions: Ron Cey, Tommy Bridges, Miguel Tejada, Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Upton, Adam Jones, Darren Daulton

Notes: Unlike many other stars who started pre-uniform numbers, once he started wearing #10, Lefty Grove never gave it up. That’s rare to see, and it means that 10 didn’t have to worry about pitchers at all, unlike the other lower numbers. Johnny Mize barely qualified by plurality; he only wore #10 for his six seasons with the Cardinals, then switched to #3 with the Giants, then to #15 partway through his tenure with them, then to #36 when he went to the Yankees.

It’s not as overwhelming as some other connections, but this seems kind of like the third base number? Thankfully, Chipper spent some seasons in left, allowing me to fit both him and Santo in, but Cey is still out in the cold, and even Gary Sheffield and Michael Young spent time there. Thankfully, we can put Gary at DH to make up for his lacking glove. This is a really good team, though! Jones is an obvious first ballot star, and Sheffield being able to focus on just his bat is nice, but Grove, Mize, and Santo are all also inner-circle types as well, even if they don’t get thought of that way.

Team #9
P: *
C: Joe Torre
1B: John Olerud
2B: Bill Mazeroski
3B: Graig Nettles
SS: Carlos Guillén
LF: Minnie Miñoso
CF: Brady Anderson
RF: Enos Slaughter
DH: Ted Williams
Honorable Mentions: Gabby Hartnett, Charlie Keller, Matt Williams, Roger Maris, Joe Adcock, Von Hayes, Marquis Grissom, Terry Pendleton

Notes: I thought #9 might be able to dodge the single-digit problem by virtue of pitchers batting ninth and the earliest versions of uniform numbers corresponding to lineup spot, but no such luck. It looks like no pitchers have worn 9 for multiple seasons, so their single-year option is Bob Feller, who wore it as a seventeen-year old in 1936 (or Bucky Walters, if you’d prefer a new face).

Outside of that, this is still a pretty strong team! Olerud and Torre both take advantage of their dual-numbership to show up (especially nice for Olerud, since he was so buried at #5). I’m not sure that it’s the strongest lineup, but it still pretty solid.

Team #3
P: *
C: Mickey Cochrane
1B: Jimmie Foxx
2B: Frankie Frisch
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Alan Trammell
LF: Harmon Killebrew
CF: Willie Davis
RF: Babe Ruth
DH: Bill Terry
Honorable Mentions: Earl Averill, Dale Murphy, Kiki Cuyler, Harold Baines, Eric Chavez, Dick McAuliffe, Edgar Rentería

Notes: Alex Rodriguez disqualified himself from this list by playing his last twelve seasons at #13 (after playing his first ten with #3), but can you imagine if he hadn’t? A middle of the order with Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and A-Rod, with Harmon Killebrew after that? Despite missing out on that, this is still a great lineup.

As an additional note, Cochrane, Frisch, Ruth, and Terry all played significant portion of their careers pre-numbers (Foxx also started without numbers, but had them by his age-23 season), but used #3 more than any other number (and Terry and Ruth had it retired in their honor in spite of that). Also, with no pitchers wearing the number for a majority of their careers, their one-year wonder is David Wells, who wore it for part of the 2005 season after signing with the Red Sox.

That’s thirteen of the top fifteen numbers, by total WAR. I left out #16 and #22 because I couldn’t make a lineup for either with multiple Hall of Famers, so it seemed like they just weren’t on the same level as the others. Both had multiple pitchers vying for the same spot (22 had Jim Palmer and Clayton Kershaw, who I’m counting as a lock for now, while 16 had Whitey Ford, Hal Newhouser, and Ted Lyons), but not much else around that (although Andrew McCutchen could still give #22 another option if he has a few more good years in him).


So with that, let’s go back to the original question: which of these lineups is the best? My gut is that Team #3 and Team #5 are impressive, but the lack of a real pitcher hurts. I like Team #15 as a well-rounded team with no real weak spots, but their relative lack of inner-circle Hall of Famers is a considerable detriment, considering the competition.

Overall, I think I’d come down between Team #4 and Team #10. The gap between pitchers right now is still pretty huge (even if Snell still has a lot of growth potential, Lefty Grove is still one of the ten or fifteen best pitchers ever), but Team #4 is a good enough lineup that it might offset the difference. Chipper Jones and Ron Santo are great stars, but they just aren’t Lou Gehrig and Mel Ott. Meanwhile, I’d much rather have the bottom of my lineup be Bobby Grich and Yadier Molina than Jim Sundberg and Michael Young; no offense to the latter two, but the former two will probably eventually wind up with Cooperstown plaques.

And of course, things will also change drastically depending on how the rules are this are tweaked. For example, how should we handle pitching? Will this be a tournament, or a full season of games? Should we involve benches? But just going by building the strongest lineups we can they way I have, I think Team #4 would have the edge.

1 comment:

  1. Cool article. It makes one wonder how these teams would do against one another!