If we were to create a team based on birthdates which date of the year would produce the best all-around team? Last year we began investigating to find out. Our first step was to define the word “team.” To ensure that we would be able to produce some sort of team for each date of the year, we defined a “team” as being: one player at each defensive position, a designated hitter, four starting pitchers and a closer.
On January 1, 2021, we began the process of creating a team for each date of the year. Based on factors such as career games played and total career rWAR, we came up with a list of players for each date and then slotted them into positions which would produce the “strongest” line-up for that date, with some minor exceptions. Obviously for a player to be eligible at a position on a birthday team, the player had to have played said position at one point during their major league career. For a better understanding of the thought process that went into putting together these teams, we’ll use the February 25th team as an example.
The player with the highest career rWAR total born on February 25th is Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ron Santo. Obviously we placed Santo at third base. Santo did play a handful of games at other positions but to place Santo anywhere but third base would be wrong. We want the team to appear realistic and consistent with history. The players with the next five highest career rWAR totals were: Cesar Cedeno, Paul O’Neill, Andy Pafko, Monte Irvin and Shannon Stewart which meant that we had five outfielders for three positions, all of them having played left, center and right field during their careers. What to do?
Center field is usually the toughest of the three outfields to fill so we began there. Having started the most games in center field in his career (1,435), Cesar Cedeno, was the natural choice to be the team’s center fielder. The same could be said for Paul O’Neill in right field. During his career O’Neill played a bit of left field and started a handful of games in center. However, O’Neill started over 1,700 games in right field which obviously makes him a right fielder which is where we placed him.
That left us with just left field to fill and three candidates eligible for the position. To narrow down our options we began by eliminating Shannon Stewart. Stewart was a very good hitter in his day but at best an average defender. His lack of arm strength was his biggest weakness. Therefore, we placed Stewart at DH. That left us with the great Monte Irvin and Andy Pafko vying for left. Besides the outfield both players spent time in the infield. Irvin, who was a tremendous athlete, actually played all infield positions in his professional career which of course includes time spent in the Negro Leagues. Pafko was the Cubs’ starting third baseman in 1948 and part of ’49. In his career Pafko started 210 games at third.
With third base being occupied by Ron Santo and the center and right field positions filled by Cedeno and O’Neill, we assigned Pafko to play left field and saved the versatile Monte Irvin for a position in the infield. The outfield was now filled as was the DH position. February 25th is an outfield-rich date which meant that Bob Bescher, an early 20th century speedy left fielder and Roy Weatherly, a mid-30’s/early 40’s center fielder capable of playing all three outfield positions, did not make the team. A quality player such as Bescher or Weatherly not making a team does not occur often but it can happen as was the case here.
We then focused on the middle infield, starting with the shortstop position- another difficult position to fill. According to Baseball-Reference Irvin is listed as having started 15 games at short but undoubtedly that number is understated given the incomplete records of the Negro Leagues. However, even if we assumed the 15-game total was accurate, Irvin still has the most experience playing shortstop among the other candidates- Jack Lohrke and Jack Hannifin. Jack Lohrke was actually a teammate of Irvin’s with the Giants from ’49 thru ’51. Lohrke was a utility infielder but played primarily third base. He started 12 games at short in his big league career. He also started 55 games at second base. Jack Hannifin was a utility infielder who played in the early 20th century. The bulk of his brief playing career was also spent with the New York Giants. Hannifin is listed as having only started 15 games at short and appearing at the position in 15 other games for a total of 30 as opposed to Irvin’s total of 92.
With that said, clearly Monte Irvin was the logical choice to play shortstop. Irvin at short also checked the reality box given that he was reportedly a very good shortstop during his days in the Negro Leagues. With very limited options at second base, we placed his Giants’ teammate, Jack Lohrke, at the keystone position to form a mid-century Giants double play combination. That left us with just the first base and catcher positions to fill.
At catcher we went with yet another Giant, that being Bob Brenly. Brenly’s 12.7 total career rWAR ranks ninth among players born on February 25th making him clearly the best choice for catcher. At first base we went with Danny Cater. Cater, who also played the outfield during his career, started 615 games at the cold corner. His 10.6 career rWAR total was 11th highest among players born on February 25th.
Next we had to come up with a starting rotation and a closer. Going by the combination of career games started and rWAR, we named Denny LeMaster, Al Hollingsworth and Ed Lynch as the team’s one, two and three starters. We then rounded out the February 25th starting staff with Dana Kieker. Kiecher’s major league career consisted of only two seasons but his combination of games started (30) and career rWAR (1.5) made him the best option for the team’s number four starter out of a group weak candidates.
Based on career saves (39) and career rWAR (3.4), both highs for relievers born on February 25th, we settled on former St. Louis Cardinal, Ken Dayley, as the team’s closer.
With all of the positions filled, below is what the February 25th team looked like:
Catcher- Bob Brenley
First Baseman- Danny Cater
Second Baseman- Jack Lohrke
Third Baseman- Ron Santo
Shortstop- Monte Irvin
Left Field- Andy Pafko
Center Field- Cesar Cedeno
Right Field- Paul O’Neill
Designated Hitter- Shannon Stewart
Starting Rotation- Denny LeMaster, Al Hollingsworth, Ed Lynch, Dana Kieker
Closer- Ken Dayley
At first glance February 25th seems to be a pretty good team. It has a very good outfield in Pafko, Cedeno and O’Neill and a solid designated hitter in Shannon Stewart. The left side of the infield is made up of Hall of Famers Ron Santo and Monte Irvin. At first base the team has Danny Cater who had an ok playing career that spanned from the mid-60’s thru the mid-70’s. In fact it appears as though February 25th’s only glaring weakness in its starting line-up is Jack Lohrke at second base.
The same can’t be said of the team’s pitching. Obviously the pitching isn’t as strong as its line-up what with Denny LeMaster, a one-time all-star, leading the rotation. The other three starters, Hollingsworth, Lynch and Kieker all had below-average careers. The team’s closer, Ken Dayley, had a nice run in the mid to late-80’s with the Cardinals but his career came to an abrupt halt in the early 90’s due to an issue with vertigo.
Overall, February 25th has a very good line-up, a suspect rotation and an ok closer. The same could be said for many of the other 364 birthday teams that were created. Then again many teams were the exact opposite. That is they had excellent rotations and weak line-ups. Others had great infields and extremely weak outfields. Suffice it to say, we ended up with a very good variety of teams; no surprise there.
Once all 365 teams were created, our next step was to find a way to measure them and then rank them to ultimately determine which date of the year produced “the best all-around team.” Would that team happen to be February 25th? If not, which team is and where does the February 25th team rank among the 365? Moreover, how does the February 25th team compare with say, the September 9th team?
To answer these types of questions we had to come up with a measurement. We started by using individual player won/lost records as the base for our measurement. Individual won/lost records aka “Indis” are a Tom Tango creation which we have used in the past. To calculate player won/lost records, we use wins above average (WAA) and plate appearances or in a pitcher’s case, innings pitched. It’s a simple way of determining a player’s value to his team over the course of a year or an entire career, stated in actual wins and losses. For a more in-depth explanation of individual won/lost records and how they are calculated, refer to the links below.
We calculated a career individual won/lost record for every player named to a birthday team. We then added up the wins and losses to produce a team total. Below is a breakdown of the February 25th team as well as its total won/lost record:
The February 25th team has a record of 593 wins and 396 losses. Below is a breakdown of the September 9th team. That team has a record of 681 wins and 476 losses.
Is the February 25th’s record of 593-396 better than September 9th’s record of 681-476? To answer this question we relied on an old Bill James creation called Fibonacci Win Points. As James wrote in his 1994 classic book, The Politics of Glory, Fibonacci Win Points “are a way of putting won-lost records in a straight line.” To calculate Fibonacci Win Points, James simply multiplied wins with winning percentage and then added the amount of games over .500. We did the same. Below is a comparison between February 25th and September 9th including each team’s total Fibonacci Win Points:
Note- we calculated each player’s career Fibonacci Win Points and then added up those points to come up with a grand total rather than simply using the team’s overall record to calculate total Win Points. The former method assigns a greater weighing to negative points as opposed to the latter.
As we can see the September 9th team totaled 622 Fibonacci Win Points, good for 43rd overall whereas February 25th had a total of 567 Win Points which ranked 63rd overall. By this method, September 9th is the better team.
The average Win Point total for all 365 teams was 388 points. We had one team totaling exactly 388, that being April 29th led by Luis Aparicio. Interestingly April 29th ranked 171st overall which is almost the half-way point to 365.
So which date of the year produced the best all-around team? In this article we have listed the top 10 ranked teams. We also attempted to match each of the top 10 teams with an actual MLB team from the past. In finding potential matches, we went strictly by memory, performed countless Baseball-Reference searches and then used good old fashioned trial and error to finally settle on a match. The matches may not be perfect but they do provide a starting point for discussion and hopefully trigger some fond memories and/or serve as inspiration to read up on some of the more forgotten players/teams of the past.
Below are the Top 10 teams beginning with number 10:
Coming in at tenth with 818 points is August 23rd led by Hall of Fame shortstop George Davis. Davis was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998 by the Veteran’s Committee. The strength of this team is its infield. Along with Davis the team has fellow Hall of Famer George Kell as well as Lonny Frey and Julio Franco playing the infield. Despite not having a clear-cut ace, the starting pitching is solid with four pretty good pitchers in the rotation in Boddicker, Potter, Bush and Richie. The closer situation and the team’s outfield could be considered weaknesses but overall the team is very good.
In trying to match August 23rd with a historical team we needed to find one that was led by a terrific shortstop who was surrounded with a solid infield and a better than average rotation. We went with the 1938 Pittsburgh Pirates that were led by its own Hall of Fame shortstop, Arky Vaughan:
At number nine is the April 4th team which was a surprise given that it has almost no starting pitching to speak of, a testament as to how outstanding the starting line-up is. In fact, if April 4th even had an average amount of pitching it would be a top three team.
Leading the April 4th team is one of the most magnificent center fielders of all-time, Tris Speaker. Speaker’s 43.23% is the highest percentage of production attributed to one player among the top 10 teams. Second in terms of production is Scott Rolen. Rolen has plenty of Hall of Fame support and perhaps in the very near future he’ll be inducted; however, at the time of this writing, Rolen remains on the outside looking in. First baseman, Gil Hodges, is another player who had plenty of advocates campaigning for his entry into the Hall which finally occurred in December of 2021. Rounding out the infield are Jim Fregosi and Tommy Herr- solid players in their own right.
We matched April 4th with the 2006 New York Mets, a team that was also led by a superstar center fielder, Carlos Beltran, and had a good supporting cast in the infield. You’d think a rotation consisting of Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez would be considered one of the greatest of all-time but not in this case. All three pitchers were well past their prime in 2006 with their average age being 38. Nevertheless, the trio helped the ‘06 Mets win 97 games and come within one game of going to the World Series.
The number eight spot belongs to June 15th. This team is led by Hall of Famers Wade Boggs at third base and the “’Sweet-Swingin’” Billy Williams in left field. Along with Williams in the outfield are long-time Dodgers Brett Butler in center and Dusty Baker in right to form an impressive trio. With the exception of Boggs, the infield is average at best but Lance Parrish behind the plate picks up some of the infield slack.
The team has at least two big-game pitchers in the rotation in Andy Pettitte and Tim Lincecum, three if we include former Washington Senator Monte Weaver. Weaver fired 10.1 innings of one-run ball for the Sens in the 1933 World Series. Due to career longevity, Pettitte can be considered the staff ace with Lincecum and Weaver being numbers two and three in the rotation.
Interestingly the team we came up with that most resembled June 15th was the 1989 Boston Red Sox who were also led by Wade Boggs. The ’89 Red Sox had a terrific outfield in Greenwell, Burks and Evans and a fine rotation led by staff-ace Roger Clemens with Boddicker and Dopson being solid options in the second and third spots.
At number seven is November 26th with 859 points. This team doesn’t have any glaring weak spots. The outfield of Bob Johnson, Hugh Duffey and Bob Elliott make up 35.55% of the team’s total points.
The rotation led by the underrated Chuck Finley along with Hall Of Fame Yankee pitcher, Lefty Gomez, as well as Mike Moore and Larry Gura are responsible for 34.46% of the team’s points. The infield made up of Fred Tenney, Harold Reynolds, Richie Hebner and Eddie Miller combine for 20.43% of the total.
In short November 26th has a great outfield, led by its seven-time all-star left fielder, Bob Johnson, a great pitching staff with Chuck Finley at the head of the rotation and a sound infield. Which historical team is similar? We came up with the 1989 Oakland Athletics. The ’89 A’s outfield consists of Rickey Henderson, who joined the team in June of that year, Dave Henderson and Jose Canseco. Incidentally, Canseco missed over half of the season due to injury. The ’89 A’s outfield produced at a similar rate (36.06%) to the November 26th outfield as did its starting rotation led by coincidentally enough, Mike Moore (31.20%).
The two teams differ slightly in other areas but for the most part, they are very similar:
Next is August 31st with 864 points. More than half of this team’s points are attributed to two players, Frank Robinson (30.24%) and Eddie Plank (24.23%). Obviously due to the lack of reliable record-keeping in the Negro Leagues, Ray Dandridge’s numbers are understated, as are starting pitcher William Bell’s. If that were not the case, this team would easily be in the top five. Instead it is outside of the top five and sitting at number six.
The rotation is the team’s strength. Along with Plank the rotation consists of knuckle-baller Tom Candiotti, his one-time Dodger teammate, Hideo Nomo, and the aforementioned William Bell. The four starters make up almost one-half (49.37%) of the team’s 864 point total.
In searching for a match for August 31st, we looked at teams that had a superstar right fielder responsible for over 30% of the team’s production and a rotation that contributed to about one-half of the team’s output and were led by a true number one pitcher. We didn’t have to go too far back in time to find one. The 2015 Washington Nationals fit the bill. Basically the 2015 Nationals were NL MVP Bryce Harper and an outstanding rotation headlined by future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer.
Coming in fifth is September 19th with 888 points. Two-time MVP Award winner and Hall of Fame second baseman, Joe Morgan, accounts for over one-quarter of the team’s points. Fellow Hall of Famer, Duke Snider, who should have won at least one NL MVP Award in his caeer, is the next highest point-getter on the team with 145. In right field is current Toronto Blue Jay, George Springer, who very well may end up being September 19th’s third highest producer once his playing days are done.
The fine four-man rotation is led by Sadie McMahon and is also made up of Gio Gonzalez, Chris Short and Jim Abbott. The rotation accounts for just over 30% of the team’s points.
We matched September 19th with the 1944 New York Yankees. Similar to Morgan and September 19th, most of the Yankees’ production in ’44 came from its second baseman Snuffy Stirnweiss. Center fielder Johnny Lindell and right fielder Hersh Martin provided the Yanks with a nice one-two punch in the batting order. Their combined production in ’44 is similar to that of Snider and Springer.
At number four is July 27th. Clearly Alex Rodriguez is this team’s best player. It can be argued that if we were to divide Rodriguez’s career in two based on games played at third and games played at short, he’d be regarded as one of baseball’s true greats at both positions. For our purposes we placed Rodriguez at third given that the team had Hall of Famer Joe Tinker available to play shortstop. Ray Boone and Bump Wills rounded out the infield which made up 56.82% of the team’s points.
July 27th is also strong at the catcher position with Hall of Famer Biz Mackey behind the plate. The aforementioned Max Scherzer is the team’s ace.
Overall July 27th boasts a top notch infield, a superb Hall of Fame catcher and a solid rotation led by a three-time Cy Young Award winner. Which historical team resembles the July 27th entry? We went with the 1953 Milwaukee Braves who were led by third baseman Eddie Mathews and starting pitcher Warren Spahn. The ’53 Braves also had a dandy shortstop in Johnny Logan. The infield isn’t as good as the July 27th team’s infield but we see more similarities than we do differences.
At number three is August 30th. August 30th is clearly Ted Williams’ team. Responsible for 41% of August 30th’s point total, Williams dominates the team in terms of production. Williams’ 374 point total is the highest among players belonging to a top 10 team. Fellow Hall of Famer, Kiki Cuyler, whom we placed in center field, accounted for just under 11% of the team’s production. Long-time Philadelphia Athletic Bing Miller in right completes the outfield. The three players combined account for 55.71% of the team’s point total.
Starters Cliff Lee and Adam Wainwright contributed at almost the same rate. Early 20th century pitcher, Tom Seaton, and former Giant Pol Perritt are the number three and four pitchers. The four starters make the rotation a formidable one and account for one quarter of the team’s points.
In short the August 30th team has an outstanding outfield led by a legend in left field and a superb rotation that very well may be underrated. Any similar teams come to mind? How about the 1967 Red Sox who ironically were carried by Ted Williams’ replacement in the Boston outfield, Carl Yastrzemski. The ’67 Red Sox also had Reggie Smith and Tony Conigliaro (before his injury) in center and right to make up a terrific outfield. Going by wins above average, 22-game winner Jim Lonborg and hard-luck starter Lee Stange were the Sox’s best pitchers in ’67.
At number two is November 21st. This team has two all-time greats in the outfield in Stan Musial and Ken Griffey Jr. The two Hall of Famers, account for over one-half of the team’s 912 points. “The Man’s” individual 328 point-total trails only Ted Williams’ and Tris Speaker’s point-totals for players belonging to one of the top 10 teams. Third baseman, Freddie Lindstrom, is the team’s other Hall of Famer, although Lindstrom isn’t the team’s third highest point-getter. Instead that would be late 19th century starting pitcher Bobby Mathews.
For several years Mathews was one of the National Association’s (NA) better pitchers. A Hall of Fame case could be made for Mathews; however, many baseball historians regard the NA as an inferior league which hurts Mathew’s chances for induction. If Mathews were ever to be inducted into the Hall, November 21st would be the only team consisting of four Hall of Famers.
In trying to find a match for November 21st we had to identify a historical team that had tremendous production from their center and right field positions, a clear staff ace and an adequate infield led by a splendid third baseman. We settled on the 1930 Chicago Cubs. The ’30 Cubs received approximately 52% of its production from center fielder Hack Wilson and right fielder Kiki Cuyler. 20-game winner Pat Malone was clearly the team’s number one pitcher and Woody English at third made up for a below average infield.
Our number one birthday team is April 2nd and it isn’t very close. April 2nd’s 991 point-total is 79 points greater than second-place finisher November 21st. Interestingly, the team’s leader in points is shortstop Luke Appling with 182. Although Appling is a Hall of Famer it is somewhat surprising he’d be the top team’s leader in points. Appling leads a superb infield made up of Hughie Jennings, Bobby Avilla and Austin Riley.
Jennings, who played most of his career at shortstop, was placed at first base to accommodate Appling. When we first created the April 2nd team, Austin Riley did not make the cut. However, after his fine 2021 season, Riley is now April 2nd’s best option at third. Adding Riley to the team did not impact its overall standing. April 2nd would have finished as the top team regardless of whom we placed at third base.
As good as the infield is its April 2nd’s rotation that contributes the most to the team’s point total. Late 19th century pitcher and baseball’s first pitching triple-crown winner, Tommy Bond, leads the way with 153 points. Hall of Famer Don Sutton is next with 135 points with the under-appreciated Billy Pierce following with 123 points. Incidentally, Pierce was a teammate of Appling’s for one season in Chicago and both had their numbers retired by the White Sox. The trio, along with Jon Lieber combine for just under one-half (46.57%) of the team’s point total.
Identifying a match for April 2nd wasn’t an easy task. We needed to find a team that was strong up the middle at short and in center and that also had a deep four-man rotation responsible for about half of the team’s output. We came up with the 1917 Cleveland Indians led by Tris Speaker and Ray Chapman. Both players had fantastic seasons in ‘17 as did starters Stan Coveleski and Jim Bagby each of which posted sub-2.00 ERA’s. Oddly enough the ’17 Indians finished a distant 12 games behind the AL Pennant winning Chicago White Sox thanks in large part to their poor 8-14 record versus the Sox that season.
The same can’t be said of the April 2nd team. They are far and away the best all-around team by birth date and should remain so for many years to come.