This is the first in a series of articles that, in honour of the upcoming World Baseball Classic next month in cities all over the world, will attempt to create an all-time team of major league players who hail from some of the countries participating.
First of all, here are the ground rules to determine how these teams are going to be created. To simplify this process, career wins above replacement will be used to determine the teams, according to Baseball Reference. By using career WAR, there can be no bias on the part of the general manager (me) as I create these teams as some of them consist of players I have never heard of. Unfortunately, this will penalize current MLB players who have not had time to accumulate their total career WAR. Nevertheless, this is the way these teams will be constructed.
The players will be selected based on the country they are born, according to Baseball Reference. Unfortunately, this will exclude players like Freddie Freeman, who although he was born in California, will be playing for Canada at this year’s World Baseball Classic. Positions will also be assigned based on the primary positions listed on their baseball reference player page. I will reserve the right to move players around their primary positions in order to field the best team possible. As for a pitching staff, I chose to go with 4 starting pitchers and two relievers. Without further delay, here is the first team in the series, Canada:
The Canadian team is an important one to me as it is the inspiration that got me to start this series. It is also where I, like Jonah Keri and Celine Dion, hail from. Coincidentally, I think we are all Expos fans. Well, I guess I’m not sure about Celine Dion. Anyway, Canada is led by some outstanding baseball players, but also has some holes at key positions.
We will start off behind the plate with the first of three active major leaguers who were selected to the squad. Russell Martin is far and away the best Canadian catcher in history holding a lead of almost 20 WAR on second place, George Gibson, who played from 1905-1918. Although Martin’s best years are probably behind him, he should still be able to add to his lead through the twilight of his career.
At first base, there was one of the tighter competitions as there were several Canadian first basemen who had respectable careers. But it was an another active player who gets the nod, one who is already second in career batting WAR over his first 10 seasons in the big leagues. Joey Votto of the Reds is showing no sign of slowing down after 10 MLB seasons as he raked for an OPS+ of 160 in 2016.
By contrast, second base was a struggle to find a star player, and it came down to an active player with only 15.2 career WAR to make the squad. Brett Lawrie, now of the Chicago White Sox, at 26 is still young and could go on to have a long successful career to build on his total. However, he has not managed to match the production he put up in his first 3 years in Toronto.
At third base we have Corey Koskie who put up 24.6 WAR over his 9 seasons of Major League Baseball. Koskie was still playing some good baseball in his final season as evident by his OPS+ of 110 in 2006. Sadly, his career was cut short by a concussion at the age of 33. He attempted a comeback in 2009, but decided to hang it up after getting shaken up diving for a ground ball. Nevertheless, he will be good to go for Team Canada on the All-Time WAR team.
So now we come to shortstop. Apparently, Canada doesn’t know how to develop MLB-calibre shortstops. Maybe our hands are too broken from hockey fights or our legs are too seized from the cold to have enough range. Since 1901, Canada has not been able to produce even a part-time shortstop who accumulated more than 0.2 WAR. Luckily, for team Canada, from 1880 to 1894, Arthur Irwin managed to scrape together 15.1 WAR to fill the final spot on the infield.
For left field and center field, we have Jeff Heath and Terry Puhl respectively. Jeff Heath, whose career spanned from 1936-1949, managed to amass 37 WAR, good for 3rd all-time among all batters. Terry Puhl, who played all but one season of his career with the Houston Astros, earned 28.3 wins above replacement, including 6.2 in 1980 as a 23-year-old.
Finally, for the last position player on the team, we have the greatest Canadian hitter of all time. In right field, we have Larry Walker, who has a significant lead in career WAR over second place, Joey Votto. Depending on how the last years of Votto’s career go, catching Walker is not out of the question. Looking at the rate stats between the top two players, they are remarkably similar. Their batting averages are identical at .313 while their OPS ratings are only off by .004 points.
By looking at their counting stats, it is easy to see at this point that Votto walks more frequently but strikes out more often than Walker. The major difference between the two players is in the stolen bases category in which Votto will not be able to catch Walker, unless he starts running in his thirties like Otis Nixon did. It is interesting to note that Votto is considered a future Hall of Famer by many contemporary writers, though Walker seems unlikely to make it at this stage of the voting process. His stats on their own should be enough for the Hall, but if his importance to an entire country is to be taken into consideration, he’s a no-brainer.
When it comes to the pitching staff, there’s Fergie Jenkins, and then there’s everybody else. He is Canada’s lone Hall of Famer and he holds a lead of more than 50 WAR over all other pitchers on the staff. His 82.8 career WAR is well ahead of Russ Ford, who comes in second place. Jenkins career was highlighted by a Cy Young award win in 1971. Ford, who had a great career in his own right, managed 31.3 over only 7 seasons from 1909-1915.
The pitching rotation is rounded out by two relatively modern players: Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden come in at 22.6 and 17.7 respectively. Although Dempster played a good portion of his career out of the bullpen, his career starts and 132 wins slide him into the starting rotation. Harden was an outstanding pitcher, and had some great statistics over his career, averaging more than a strikeout per inning pitched. Unfortunately, shoulder problems plagued him throughout his career and he was never able to live up to his tremendous potential.
Rich Harden‘s career stats
The bullpen is manned by John Hiller and Paul Quantrill with 31.2 and 18.0 WAR respectively. Notably absent from this list is Eric Gagne, who was the most dominant closer in the game over a 3 year stretch that translated into a Cy Young award in 2003. However, the nature of the closer position as well as the fact that he was not able to sustain his peak performance for long enough left him behind Hiller and Quantrill in career WAR.
So, there you have it. The All-Time Team Canada roster as chosen by career WAR. Some good players on the list, but I have a feeling it will look feeble compared to some of the other rosters in the series. Below is the final roster list with each player’s career WAR.
C Russell Martin – 35.0
1B Joey Votto – 47.3
2B Brett Lawrie – 15.2
3B Corey Koskie – 24.6
SS Arthur Irwin – 15.1
LF Jeff Heath – 37.0
CF Terry Puhl – 28.3
RF Larry Walker – 72.6
SP1 Fergie Jenkins – 82.8
SP2 Russ Ford – 31.3
SP3 Ryan Dempster – 22.6
SP4 Rich Harden – 17.7
RP1 John Hiller – 31.2
RP2 Paul Quantrill – 18.0
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