May 28, 2017 by jessepell
(Courtesy of Harry How/Getty Images North America)
Written by Jesse Pelletier
Some people like baseball to be all about the numbers. Some people think too many numbers make the game more complex than it should be. I tend to fall somewhere in between, and today I’ll do exactly that.
This look at baseball is all about the numbers, but specifically one number: uniform number. I like this kind of stuff because it plays totally to chance. Reigning Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello isn’t the best player wearing his number, but someone I’ve never heard of might be the best in their number. It’s a fun way to take a lot of the baseball out of baseball while still talking about baseball. After a long day of talking baseball, who doesn’t like some not-so-baseball baseball?
There are plenty of lists out there ranking the best player wearing each number. Here, we’re taking that one step further and looking at the best teams that can be assembled with every player wearing the same number.
When I first started this, I expected only three or four numbers to yield full teams. It turns out there are ten same-number teams that can be assembled, and there were plenty of surprises. For one, I only found four active players who wear #1, so you won’t see Carlos Correa on this list. In fact, only three single-digit jersey numbers yield full teams. Secondly, very few pitchers wear a jersey number less than 30. This kept some otherwise solid teams from qualifying, but there are still plenty of viable teams to rank. I’ve ranked every qualifying jersey number, listed below from worst to first.
OK, so Dylan Floro of the Cubs doesn’t have a start in his Major League career. He’s had one in the minors, so he gets the call for Team 15 with no other pitcher available. The team actually has a few All-Stars, highlighted by Pedroia and Beltran. This is the type of team I expected to put together from this experiment; as we shall see from the rest of the list, I had low standards.
Snubs: Chris Taylor
I know what you’re thinking: Patrick Who? That’s right: Patrick Kivlehan. The 27-year-old is hitting .233 on the year for the Cincinnati Reds and has played four games at first base in his career. All of those games were this season, and he’s never started a game at first base. But hey, in this experiment, anything can happen. And check out the rest of that infield! Certainly not bad, especially on the defensive side.
Curtis Granderson is having a poor year at the plate this season, but overall a decent outfield. I haven’t seen enough of Chris Taylor to tell if he’s for real, but he played in center field Wednesday so he’s pretty versatile. Perhaps he could play first base…? Either way, the team is good enough for ninth place.
Snubs: Rougned Odor, 2B
Juan Nicasio hasn’t started a game in 2017 but started 12 last season and had a record of 10-7. The outfield has a peculiarly low batting average this season, but the names are better on paper than the #3 outfield. Great up-the-middle defense that provides a bit more power than the last infield, I give this team only a slight edge to take eighth place, and if anything was going to change my mind it would be Jedd Gyorko.
Pitchers: Matt Cain, Kenta Maeda, Hisashi Iwakuma
Snubs: Darwin Barney, INF
Carlos Martinez is the first great pitcher that this list has seen, and the other pitchers rocking #18 are no scrubs either. Chad Pinder is having a breakout year at second base, Luis Valbuena is slumping after a recent 0-for-23 skid, plus he missed all of April so his batting average can still recover quickly. The power and pitching in this team make it good enough for seventh on the list, with the relatively weak outfield keeping this team outside the top five.
Pitchers: Jumbo Diaz, Pat Neshek
This is a team I think could really compete at the big league level. Jose Berrios is only 22 years old but started the season with back-to-back 7.2 IP, 2H, 1 BB performances. He only let up four hits in 6.1 IP on Wednesday against the Orioles, but three of them were solo home runs. 21-year-old Allen Cordoba is hitting .288 for the Padres and 26-year-old Mitch Haniger is hitting .342. We’ll be seeing both of them in some All-Star games in the future, and perhaps even this year.
Deven Marrero gets the call at second as the only qualified player wearing #17. He’s played great defense at third base for the Red Sox this season but the offense hasn’t quite been there. He has experience at second base in the past, including nine games at the major league level. Second base and shortstop are the weak links in this team, but it is otherwise very solid all around. It’s a very young team that will be much higher on this list in a couple of years (as long as a catcher and DH are wearing #17 by then).
This team looks very similar to the previous one: solid pitching, great corner infielders, strong outfield, and weaker up the middle. But, the improvement up the middle here is noticeable as Jed Lowrie is really making a name for himself. I see a little improvement at the catching position as well, and the performance of this team is a bit more reliable than the #17 team. Mike Leake is having a great year for the Cardinals with a WHIP just under 1. The sample size with him is a bit small to convince me he’s for real, especially coming off a terrible 2016.
And to think there are four teams better than this!
This is the final single-digit jersey number on the list, and man is it impressive. There’s just one drawback: the pitcher. Matt Belisle was a full-time starter in 2007 and has since only started seven games, the last being in 2014. He’s got a FIP of 4.7 this season and an ERA over 7. Not exactly great.
So why is this team ranked fourth? The teams are ranked weighting each position equally. So, while I probably wouldn’t prefer this team to many of the other squads on the list if I was actually a manager, the weak pitcher spot doesn’t hurt the rankings as much here. Plus, this is the best infield on the list in my opinion, even with Javy Baez playing out of position. Except not really, since he’s started 60 games at shortstop in his career. And the fact that LeMahieu is the DH of this team speaks to the offensive firepower here.
Side note: Marwin Gonzalez has played every position in his career except pitcher and catcher. I’m sure he’d be willing to pitch if you really didn’t want Belisle on the hill.
Pitchers: Rick Porcello, Chris Archer, Matt Garza, Nick Martinez, Dustin McGowan
Snubs: Jacoby Ellsbury
For the first and last time on this list, there is a full pitching rotation. Kershaw gets the nod, but there’s a reigning AL Cy Young winner in that mix and plenty of other talent. And that outfield? I couldn’t even squeeze in Jacoby Ellsbury. I know 90% of you would start him over McCutchen, and if this team played tomorrow I probably would too. Quite frankly, he gets the start in center because he’s Andrew McCutchen and I can’t get myself to pull him.
Miguel Sano is the only questionable item on the defense. He’s played first base three times this year and his OPS is over 1, so I feel great about the move. Luke Maile is certainly a below-average hitter, but that’s the only downside I see on the offensive end. The full rotation helps this team secure a spot in the top three.
Pitchers: Jordan Zimmermann, Zach Davies, Brandon Kintzler, Bryan Shaw, Shawn Kelley
I was really hoping Mike Trout was going to have a decent enough supporting cast to make the list. Needless to say, this cast is more than decent. It’s the best outfield on the list and there are only three question marks: Drury playing out of position, a back-up catcher behind the plate, and Jhonny Peralta at first base. Drury is the Diamondbacks’ regular second baseman but played 29 games at third last season. A .295 batting average isn’t bad either. Romine was hitting .316 before Gary Sanchez returned from injury on May 3rd. Since then, Romine has yet to record a hit as the back-up. Peralta has played first base a total of three times in his career, most recently in 2011, but he’s the only #27 qualified to do so. He finds his way onto an otherwise All-Star roster.
Snubs: Evan Gattis, C; Ender Inciarte, OF
The only thing this team doesn’t have is pitching depth, and that has no impact on these rankings. The only players out of position are the corner outfielders and that’s nowhere near as worrisome as out-of-position infielders. This is the most complete team on the list with tons of All-Stars and Gold Gloves, making this team the best same-jersey team in baseball.