The 1990’s saw a lot of great first basemen battle for supremacy, with the position accounting for four of the top ten position players. Two starting pitchers dominated the league, and one outfielder far outpaced every other hitter. Only one Hall-of-Famer is on the team, but the next few years of ballots will increase that number dramatically. So here are the players who benefited the most from the exponential growth in salaries.
C- Mike Piazza
The greatest offensive catcher in MLB history, Piazza only used the last seven years of the decade to amass around 45 WAR. His .328/.391/.575 slashline (154 wRC+) far exceeded his only competitor Ivan Rodriguez and his 104 wRC+. While it is known that Piazza’s defense was subpar, the major drop off did not occur until 2001, making him the best catcher of the decade.
1B- Jeff Bagwell
In a tight race, Bagwell edges Frank Thomas, with Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire not too far behind. Bagwell’s versatile game, with his +45 defense and 158 steals, led to nearly 60 WAR in the time span. Thomas and McGwire had an advantage at the plate, but their lack of athleticism, along with McGwire’s injuries, led them to 55 and 50 WAR respectively. Palmeiro was the compiler of the group, getting nearly 6700 PA in the 90’s to just surpass 50 WAR.
2B- Craig Biggio
As with any list, you can’t have Bagwell without Biggio. With Ryne Sandberg and Lou Whitaker retiring mid-decade, Biggio took over as the top second baseman. After spending most of ’90 and ’91 behind the plate, Biggio used an Utley-like line to accumulate just over 50 WAR. Roberto Alomar and Chuck Knoblauch lagged 8-10 WAR behind Biggio.
SS- Barry Larkin
The only HOF inductee on the team, Larkin used above-average defense and great plate discipline to earn just over 50 WAR. Cal Ripken started the decade three years older than Larkin, leading him to fall behind and end up with just under 45 WAR. Jay Bell also had a nice decade, compiling a little over 35 WAR.
3B- Edgar Martinez
I know he spent most of the decade at DH, but Martinez did play 4000 innings of good defense at third base before injuries forced him off the field. His 155 wRC+ (.322/.430/.532) offset the DH penalty to the tune of just over 50 WAR. Robin Ventura used great defense to snag almost 50 WAR. Matt Williams was worth about 40 WAR, despite showing poor plate discipline.
LF- Barry Bonds
One of two players on the 2000’s team, Barry Bonds blew every other player away, amassing 85 WAR over the decade, nearly 20 more than anyone else. This is why I consider him a HOFer; he did enough before the suspicions arose to warrant induction. The only other two left fielders with at least 40 WAR were Albert Belle and age 31-40 Rickey Henderson.
CF- Ken Griffey Jr.
Another obvious choice, Griffey brought the first excitement and success to the Northwest. His combination of power and great CF defense accumulated nearly 70 WAR. Kenny Lofton scaled the walls for eight seasons to provide 45 WAR, the only other center fielder above 40 WAR during the decade.
RF- Larry Walker
In a fairly weak position, Walker avoided injuries enough to grab 45 WAR and the right field nod. He combined a 145 wRC+ and +61 defense to outpace Sammy Sosa, Paul O’Neill, Tony Gwynn, and David Justice by 10+ WAR.
SP- Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, David Cone, Kevin Brown
Much like Randy and Roy in the 2000’s, Clemens and Maddux are the clear frontrunners, both just around 65 WAR. Roger gets the ace designation for doing it in 200 fewer innings. Johnson struggled with his control until 1993, walking over 400 batters from ’90-’92. This limited him to about 50 WAR for the decade. For the last two spots, three pitchers were in contention: Cone, Brown, and Kevin Appier. Cone had the best results, giving him the #4 spot, and Kevin Brown had the best peripherals, giving him the last spot. Other pitchers to just miss the team were Maddux’s teammates Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, Chuck Finley, and Mike Mussina.
RP- John Wetteland, Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Roberto Hernandez
Wetteland maintained good performance in ninth inning duties during the decade, giving him the top spot. However, as the other player on the 2000’s team, Rivera only needed four seasons to make the roster. He had four three-WAR seasons, including a four and five win season. Hoffman also got a late start and managed to make it, and Hernandez did well enough in his save opportunities to grab the last spot in the bullpen. Rick Aguilera and Jeff Montgomery were a couple fringe candidates.
RF Larry Walker
1B Jeff Bagwell
LF Barry Bonds
C Mike Piazza
CF Ken Griffey Jr.
3B Edgar Martinez
SS Barry Larkin
2B Craig Biggio
That looks a lot like my perfect lineup in MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. for the Nintendo 64…
Filed under: All-Decade Teams