About a week or so ago, FanSided came up with a cool idea to fill the time between the late offseason doldrums and the invigorating spirit of Spring Training. Each of the divisions’ various bloggers would collaborate on forming an All-Division team full of the best and brightest at each position from each division. The NL East was no different, and I honestly feel like the ballclub we came up with is a force to be reckoned with. Today, I introduce to you the All-NL East position players, complete with commentary on each player and an optimized batting lineup with rules from The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball.
1. 2B Chase Utley, PHI: Utley is the best second baseman in baseball in spite of his 2010 struggles. He is clearly in a different league compared to the other second basemen in the NL East for reasons that include his well-rounded, complete game. No second basemen in baseball is as perfectly suited for each aspect of the game of baseball as Utley. He bats leadoff for the team because he has a penchant for not only getting on base via the walk and hits but also via the hit-by-pitch; he leads all major leaguers with 69 HBP since 2008 (for reasons that are obvious whenever you see him stand at the plate).
2. SS Hanley Ramirez, FLO: Ramirez’s dominance of the shortstop position is generally challenged by Troy Tulowitzki, who is a very talented hitter who also happens to be a very good defender at the position. Ramirez isn’t the best glove at shortstop, but there’s reason to believe he has improved since he started at the position in his 2006 major league debut. Ramirez projects as the best hitter among the eight position players chosen, so he gets to occupy one of three important spots in the lineup.
3. CF Jayson Werth, WAS: We selected three outfielders instead of an outfielder at each individual position, so Werth got the nod as the center fielder. He has been a perenially underrated player playing for the Phildaelphia Phillies, where he was overshadowed by Utley and Ryan Howard. However, Werth was quite the valuable commodity; since 2008, he has been the 17th best qualifying hitter in baseball with a .387 wOBA that puts him on par with Lance Berkman and Adam Dunn. He received way too much money from the Washington Nationals, but he’ll deserve what he’ll be paid for the first few years of that deal.
4. 1B Ryan Howard, PHI: The big first baseman holds an equally odious contract like Werth, but that is not of our concern at the moment. Howard has impressed in the past with his home run power, and he’ll impress again in 2011. He’ll ultimately never live up to that extension he signed, but he is still the best first baseman in a weak NL East crop. His prodigious power, clearly the best on the assembled team, puts him in position to be the cleanup man for the NL Easterners.
5. 3B Ryan Zimmerman, WAS: Zimmerman is also quite the underrated commodity, and it was difficult to vote him ahead of another great star in David Wright, but ultimately it was his defense that put him over the top. He is more than a capable hitter, as his .370 wOBA the past three seasons, but it’s his Gold-Glove defense that puts him over the top.
6. C Brian McCann, ATL: McCann is still the second best catcher in baseball, and he continues to impress with his plus bat from the backstop. McCann cleans up for Atlanta, but since he does not project as one of the top five hitters on the team, he will bat sixth for them. That does not sound like a negative for the All-NL East team.
7. RF Jason Heyward, ATL: Heyward had a phenomenal rookie year that should have earned him Rookie of the Year honors were it not for an equally impressive debut by Buster Posey. Of course, Heyward was just 20 years old last season when he broke through in a big way, and that makes his future look quite bright.
8. LF Mike Stanton, FLO: The Marlins get their second team representative in Stanton, whose towering power has him batting cleanup this year for the Fish. The 2010 season was truly an amazing one for young talent, as both Stanton and Heyward impressed while still not being old enough to legally drink. The future of the Marlins and Atlanta Braves is going to reside on the shoulders of these two youngsters.