Tuesday, July 10, 2007

All-Star Fever: Catch It?

With homefield-advantage in the World Series still on the line, the Yankees below .500, surging runs being made in Seattle & Milwaukee, Anaheim dominating the standings, the craziness of the NL West getting deeper and deeper, and our “old friend” friend Barry still chasing 755…the All-Star game, conveniently taking place in San Francisco this season, appears to have as much momentum as possible.

That is, until they announced the teams.

Remember, that it’s the fans – mainly through the Internet and voting at the ballparks themselves – who select 8 of the 9 starters for the game. [The starting pitcher is selected by the respective managers of the game, Jim Leyland of Detroit for the AL and Tony LaRussa of St. Louis for the NL. They also have a few extra selections they personally make.]

Note: It was recently announced that the AL will send out Oakland’s Dan Haren while the NL Jake Peavy of San Diego. Also, the Internet vote brought along San Diego pitcher Chris Young and Boston reliever Hideki Okajima.

Also remember that each MLB team must have at least one representative, regardless if those players have earned it or not. Tony Batista made an All-Star living off of this fact for a few seasons. Players are the ones, or so we are told, who vote on the majority of reserves.

So without further adieu, here are the All-Star starters for the AL and NL teams, respectively…

American League Starters
C – Ivan Rodriguez [Detroit]
1B – David Ortiz [
Boston]
2B – Placido Polanco [
Detroit]
SS – Derek Jeter [
New York]
3B – Alex Rodriguez [
New York]
OF – Vladimir Guerrero [
Anaheim]
OF – Ichiro Suzuki [
Seattle]
OF – Maglio Ordonez [
Detroit]

There’s no use critiquing who the fans should have picked. Most of the ballparks have their own techniques and tactics, shady or not, in aiding their players, for better or worse. Predicting how Internet users vote is beyond impossible as well.

What can be critiqued though is twofold:
1) Why on Earth each team needs to be represented? So for the argument for fairness and clarity, and not naively-based diplomatic equality, I’ll assume each teams DOES NOT NEED a representative throughout my critique of the squads.
2) Who the players and the manager chose. And keep in mind; I’m not thinking about whether I want a guy like Santana on the mound or Manny at the bat late in the game. Instead, I’m thinking about who deserved the right to be honored as an All-Star for their performance thus far for THIS CURRENT SEASON.
3) I hate the last-second “Internet Vote” and won’t speak of it again.
4) I’m not talking replacements for injuries either. It’s too clouded an issue to discuss.

Now that the legal stuff is out of the way…let’s roll!

American League Reserves
C – Jorge Posada [New York]
In/Out: The players definitely got it right here. Posada leads all AL catchers with a .333 batting average. If that isn’t enough alone, his defense has been absolutely superb and he’s tacked on 9 HRs, 45 RBIs, and an impressive 23 doubles (also leading AL catchers).

C – Victor Martinez [Cleveland]
In/Out: While Pudge’s defense wins out, the best hitting catcher in the AL Central is this Indian. Martinez is quietly hitting .323 with 14 home runs, 63 RBIs, and 20 doubles for the Indians. In fact, only he and Jorge are hitting above .300 at this point in the season. Another spot-on, deserving selection.

1B – Justin Morneau [Minnesota]
In/Out: First off, David Ortiz (the starter) is not a first basement. However, the game is in San Francisco, thus there is no DH. Morneau, last season’s AL MVP, is worthy of this spot, and perhaps the starting spot, though. While only hitting .280, he’s clubbed 20 homers, knocked in 61 runs, and his slugging and OPS percentages grade out quite highly. The only other first basement deserving of a spot, who was not even on the ballot, is Boston’s Kevin Youklis (.326, 9 HRs, 93 hits).

2B – Brian Roberts [Baltimore]
In/Out: Polanco is a no-brainer pick to start. However, Roberts has had a solid enough year to earn this spot (even if he was Baltimore’s only viable option). Roberts has rebounded this season to hit .326, 17 doubles, and steal 25 bases. His glove is more than worthy as well of this spot in the lineup.

SS – Michael Young [Texas]
In/Out: Yet another team-based selection, Young’s past All-Star game heroics must’ve made this an even easier pick for Leyland. Hitting .291, Young’s stats grade below those of fellow All-Stars Jeter & Guillen, the real travesty is that Anaheim’s Miguel Cabrera, hitting .342 with 110 hits and only 26 Ks, has been on an amazing tear lately and, as of now, isn’t heading to San Francisco.

SS – Carlos Guillen [Detroit]
In/Out: While not known to the majority of the public, Guillen is clearly the third best performing shortstop, currently as least, in the AL. He’s hitting an impressive .323, 12 homers, 59 runs batted in, and has avoided the strike out better than most at the position.

3B – Mike Lowell [Boston]
In/Out: We all know who the starter in the AL is and why, but you might not know that Mike Lowell is completely deserving of this selection. While he has cooled off as of late (as he did last year completely), Lowell is hitting .297 and has 12 homers and 55 RBIs. He was the top performing Red Sox hitter for the first 2 ½ months of the season and has delivered numerous clutch hits. His glove is always steady as well. There clearly isn’t a better option out of the AL to replace him.

OF – Carl Crawford [Tampa Bay]
In/Out: Whereas in years past Crawford may have earned his Devil Ray nomination, this year he doesn’t appear completely worthy of the all-star selection. Finally overcoming a horrific middle of May, Crawford is still only hitting .288 with only 22 runs batted in. However, his 8 triples are second for AL outfielders and he has managed to steal 20 bases. However, there are plenty of deserving names much higher on the list than Crawford (Anaheim’s Reggie Wilts being the primary culprit).

OF – Alex Rios [Toronto]
In/Out: The lone selection from Toronto, Rios’s power numbers seem to do the trick (17 homers, 20 doubles, 58 runs), but he also seems like a guy who should be replaced by Detroit’s ever-improving centerfielder Curtis Granderson (who’s 15 triples are an astounding statistic thus far). Must’ve been tough for Leyland not to see the young kid on the squad. Rios’s homerun derby was quite impressive though.

OF – Tori Hunter [Minnesota]
In/Out: If only so he can attempt to rob Bonds of another All-Star Game homerun, Hunter seems a clear cut pick this season. Tori has been performing at great levels the majority of the season (a walk one in his contract). Hunter’s .302 average stacks up nicely with 17 homers, 63 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases. Combine that with his gold glove fielding ability and you have a more than worthy All-Star reserve selection.

OF – Manny Ramirez [Boston]
In/Out: Sammy Sosa, Jack Cust, Matt Stairs, and even the putrid (this season) Jermaine Dye have more homers than Man Ram (11). We all know his glove is, at best, weak. However, his .280 average and 43 runs batted in (4th on his own team) were enough to apparently deserve the nod. While his plate ability may be the best in the American League, Manny has no right to accept this nomination. And for you Sox fans who want to hate on the Yankees, there isn’t a spot reserve for Mariano Rivera this season…as there was for Manny. Sloppy, indeed with this pathetic selection. Detroit’s Gary Sheffield is a head and toes better selection for the AL outfield.

OF – Grady Sizemore [Cleveland]
In/Out: I love the kid’s ability, but Sports Illustrated is out of its mind in projecting where this talented kid will stand in history. In fact, his numbers aren’t all that eye-popping this season either. He is a leadoff hitter; yet hitting .285 with 13 homers, 41 RBIs, 67 runs, and 23 stolen bases aren’t earth shattering. While the two aforementioned Tigers aren’t mortal locks when compared to Sizemore, I’m still on the fence with this selection. Or maybe just all the hype.

American League Pitchers
P – C.C. Sabathia [Cleveland]
In/Out: He’s obviously in and would be my selection for starter. The lefty is 12-2 with a 3.20 ERA on one of baseball’s best teams. His 116 strikeouts are nothing to dismiss either.

P – Josh Beckett [Boston]
In/Out: Just win baby. While Schilling gets all the glory and Dice K the majority of the media hype, Beckett is Boston’s best bet most days. After a so-so debut in Beantown, Beckett’s 11-2 mark, combined with a 3.38 ERA and 83 Ks, have shown he’s become a much more affective pitcher in the American League. He no longer relies on piling up strikeouts and his health has been much more consistent this season than in years before.

P – Dan Haren [Oakland]
In/Out: The clubhouse leader for the Cy Young, Haren’s microscopic 2.20 ERA tops all of baseball while his 10-2 record puts the Pepperdine graduate at the top of the young stud pitching staff out in Oakland.

P – John Lackey [Anaheim]
In/Out: Ugly jokes aside, Lackey is about as good as a front of the rotation fireballer as there is in all of baseball. He’s 11-5 with a 3.04 ERA and has several wins against the
AL’s best. An easy selection to say the least.

P – Johan Santana [Minnesota]
In/Out: Admittedly a second-half pitcher, Santana appears, at least at first, as a reputation based selection. Yet, it’s nearly impossible to dismiss his 2.76 ERA and 120 Ks. While he may be 9-6, he’s lost a ton of close games in which he pitched more than well enough to win. If you want to throw out a few snubs who have a legit beef, I’d start with perhaps Daisuke Matsuzaka of Boston front and center. [But I’d still take Santana in the end.] Detroit’s Jeremy Bonderman has the best case though, at 9-1 with enough Ks and an ERA under 3.50. So close…

P – Gil Meche [Kansas City]
In/Out: If you haven’t realized he’s the Royals pick by now, than you’re more out of the loop than Royal phenom Alex Gordon. His fat contract in the off-season astounded a few; yet, despite the Royals stinking as expected, Meche is only 5-6 and has a reputable 3.28 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. His 29 walks aren’t horrendous either, considering its Kansas City. There have been worse selections due to the team format. That’s for darn sure. Although losing out on Toronto’s Roy Halladay may really hurt the AL squad before the night ends.

P – Justin Verlander [Detroit]
In/Out: We all know about the no-hitter, but Verlander would be a worthy selection outside of it. He’s 9-3, 3.18 ERA, 90 Ks, and 1.17 WHIP are pretty phenomenal for last season’s rookie of the year. Enough said.

CP – JJ Putz [Seattle]
In/Out: Perhaps the best closer in all of baseball this season, Putz has 23 saves and a remarkable 0.92 ERA. I could go on and on, but Putz deserves to have the ball in his hand if the game is on the line. Oh yeah, he’s only given up 4, count em 4, earned runs. Twin pitchers Joe Nathan, and especially, Pat Neshek are fun choices...who will fall shorts due to the before relatively unknown Putz.

CP – Jonathan Papelbon [Boston]
In/Out: While not as super-fantastic as last season, Papelbon’s numbers stack up more than well enough to earn his spot. His 1.50 ERA is spot-on as usual and his 19 saves and 42 Ks and 10 BBs easily allow him to pass Cleveland’s Joe Borowski and Detroit’s Todd Jones. Ditto for Okajima, despite an amazing season, as he is the #2 reliever from a talented Boston bullpen.

CP – Francisco Rodriguez [Anaheim]
In/Out: If Putz is 1A, consider K-Rod to be 1-B. His 24 saves are tied for the lead in the AL, his 2.27 ERA is impressive, and he leads all AL closers with 49 Ks. He’s seen 35 innings and onl surrendered 9 earned runs. This guy is all but an automatic selection as of late.

CP – Bobby Jenks [Chicago]
In/Out: Easily the only White Sox player, pitcher or batter, worthy of the selection, Jenks has 22 saves a 2.76 ERA and a 3-1 ratio of Ks to BBs. However, it would be interesting to consider, that without team’s needed a spot each, if Tampa’s Al Reyes matches up better (17 saves and a 3.06 ERA), especially considering his team, than that of Jenks. Perhaps Crawford vs. Reyes was the Tampa Bay argument.

Since we enjoyed our critique of the AL All-Star squad so much, I figured we’d give the senior circuit, aka the NL, its go-round as well. It’s only fair.

National League Starters
C – Russel Martin [Los Angeles]
1B – Prince Fielder [
Milwaukee]
2B – Chase Utley [
Philadelphia]
SS – Jose Reyes [
New York]
3B – David Wright [
New York]
OF – Carlos Beltran [
New York]
OF – Barry Bonds [
San Francisco]
OF – Ken Griffey Jr. [
Cincinnati]

National League Reserves
C – Brian McCann [Atlanta]
In/Out: Props to voters for making the easy selection for Russell Martin (who has 15 stolen bases as a catcher!). As for his reserve, McCann [.261, 7 homers, 41 RBIs, 38 Ks] seems to stack up quite poorly to San Francisco’s own Bengie Molina [.289, 8 homers, 44 RBIs, and 28 Ks]. While McCann has walked 20 times, compared to Molina’s 8, I can’t agree with this selection.

1B – Derek Lee [Chicago]
In/Out: While his .346 average is ridiculous to look past, I’m glad Prince Fielder was chosen as the starter. Lee, whose homers are only at 6, does everything ridiculously well…especially fielding and getting hits. He’s an easy pick and an easier play for LaRussa.

1B – Albert Pujols [St. Louis]
In/Out: A little under the radar at times this season, Pujols is quietly putting together another rock solid season (.307, 16 homers, 49 RBIs, 16 2Bs). While some people might be calling for Colorado’s comeback kid Todd Helton or San Diego’s power-guy Adrian Gonzalez, I won’t kick and scream over Pujols’s inclusion. I would have for Ryan Howard though, recent tear or not (he’s hitting .248).

1B – Dmitri Young [Washington]
In/Out: A definite feel-good story for the season, Young is clearly the top Nat deserving to make the trip across the country. While his 7 homers and 37 RBIs seem pedestrian, remember who he plays for. Also realize he’s hitting a phenomenal .340 and slugging mere fractions o a point below Derek Lee and Howard. I won’t even try and argue with his inclusion, team-based merit or not.

2B – Orlando Hudson [Arizona]
In/Out: Utley was another easy starter to peg; yet, his two backups might’ve even been easier. First up, Hudson has hit over .300 all season, worked plenty of walks (45), been solid in the field, and only seems to suffer in scoring runs.

2B – Freddy Sanchez [Pittsburgh]
In/Out: Next up, the lone Pirate to join the squad, Sanchez also has impressive numbers at his position. Okay, so his 1 homerun and 28 runs batted in won’t blow you away. But he strikes out a lot less often than any other NL second basement (34 Ks) and is hitting .301. Pile that on with 17 doubles and 10 games less played, and he is the only Pirate I’ll even consider. Although one may argue that Brandon Phillips of Cincy has enough power to overcome other statistical defects. No-go on an argument for Jeff Kent, Dan Uggla, or Craig Biggio though.

SS – J.J. Hardy [Milwaukee]
In/Out: A firecracker early in the year, Hardy is clearly guilty of riding that momentum into this selection. Despite his NL leading, at short, 18 homers and 51 runs batted in, Hardy isn’t a better selection than Atlanta’s Edgar Renteria (who’s hitting the casing off of the ball) or maybe even Florida’s Henlay Ramirez (despite less than 30 RBIs). There, I said it. Sorry Jimmy Rollins, but you just miss the cut bro.

3B – Miguel Cabrera [Florida]
In/Out: Please put down that extra serving at dessert, big guy. While David Wright gets all the pub, here’s the first NL-case where a clear-cut mistake was made by voters (shocker, I know). Cabrera is smacking the ball all over the place while batting .329 with 17 homers, 57 RBIs, 31 BBs, and closing in on 100 hits. A no-brainer selection, to say the very least.

OF – Matt Holliday [Colorado]
In/Out: You may have never heard of Holliday, but you better believe he’s as sure of a bet as any to be an All-Star. Just check out his performance: .349 batting average (34 points higher than any other NL outfielder), 13 homers, 62 RBIs, and 11 more hits/5 more doubles than any other NL outfielder. Honestly, he’s a top 5 MVP candidate in the National League. Yeah, I said it.

OF – Carlos Lee [Houston]
In/Out: Okay, so let’s talk Barry Bonds before Lee. Bonds is hitting .304 now, with 16 homers, 40 RBIs, and even 5 stolen bases. What really sticks out though? His 84 walks. Pat Burrell is next…at 56. His 32 Ks are lowest among most reputable players in all of baseball (Adam Dunn has 99, by the way). Bonds is also at an OPS of 1.119. Next up? Mr. Holliday at .975. Barry should be in. As for that Lee-guy…yeah, him too. Despite Houston living in the basement, Lee is still hitting .293 with 15 homers, 68 RBIs, and has played better than most expected him to in the field. The only Astro worthy of All-Star merit, Lee hasn’t disappointed nearly as much as Biggio (who did get to 3,000) and Fat Elvis (aka Lance Berkman). I can live with this selection, I suppose.

OF – Aaron Rowand [Philadelphia]
In/Out: Always remembered for that amazing broken-nose catch, Rowand is now a legit All-Star player. Hitting .312, Rowand has excelled on the base passes and in the field. He’s nearing 100 hits, 20 doubles, and even has 11 homers and 42 runs batted in. He may even slug over .500 and push an OPS near the .900s. Yeah, count him in too.

OF – Alfonso Soriano [Chicag0]
In/Out: After the majority of April, this selection seemed to be a joke. One of two Cubbies on the squad, Soriano is climbing into the middle of the home run pack with 15. However, his 30 RBIs and 10 steals are far from extraordinary. Ditto with batting .304 and his 53 runs. Take away two or three big games (especially a Friday night against the Braves), and you really have to doubt this nomination. Why? How about Arizona’s Eric Byrnes (.315, 13 homers, 46 RBIs, 15 steals, and 105 hits). Or maybe Cincinnati’s Adam Dunn’s .263 average and 99 Ks can be forgotten due to his 23 homers and massive slugging/OPS percentages. The real thief is Carlos Beltran’; especially in the case for another Colorado outfielder Brad Hawpe (.296, 13 homers, 55 RBIs, 39 runs, .905 slugging percentage). Call me a softy, but the first timer would be a welcome addition to the NL All-Star outfield. If only…

National League Pitchers
P – Cole Hamels [Philadelphia]
In/Out: The young fireballer is the best thing going in Philly these days. Despite pitching in a hitter’s park, Hamels is sporting an impressive 10-4 record with a 3.72 ERA and 124 K/29 BB ratio. He throws lefty and is one of the up-and-coming aces in baseball. Of course he’s in.

P – Jake Peavy [San Diego]
In/Out: Edging out last year’s starter, Penny, to get the ball first this season, Peavy has been as good as it gets in baseball this season. Despite a recent hiccup or two, he’s still 9-3, sporting a 2.19 ERA, and his 125 Ks put him near the leaderboard (as usual, for him). The American-born fireballer seems to be getting better and better every year. He’s a regular All-Star shoe-in these days.

P – Brad Penny [Los Angeles]
In/Out: Perhaps only because he started last year, Penny didn’t get the ball first this year. However, he seems, at least to me, the NL’s most deserving recipient. Why is that you ask? Despite injury after injury to their starting rotation, Penny has carried the Dodgers on his back to the dogfight at the top of the standings in the NL West. While his 82 Ks are 2-3 a game behind some of the other NL fireballers, it’s nearly impossible to match his 10-1 record and 1.19 WHIP.

P – Ben Sheets [Milwaukee]
In/Out: The Ks aren’t over the century mark yet; however, Sheets is putting together his most impressive first-half of his career. The Brewers are in the first place and their ace should be in
San Francisco this Tuesday night.

P – John Smoltz [Atlanta]
In/Out: On the DL (and improperly replaced by Roy Oswalt, mind you), Smoltz is having another banner year in
Atlanta. Getting better with age, he’s 9-5 with a 3.07 ERA and plenty of big-time performances against top teams this season. It’ll feel real weird to not see Smoltz on an All-Star team. Fortunately, we won’t have to deal with that problem this season.

CP – Brian Fuentes [Colorado]
In/Out: I might’ve lost my mind if Chris Young has lost out on his spot in the game (okay, the fans did vote him in, I said it), because Fuentes is the weakest link in the NL rotation. To be honest, the pick is somewhat of a head scratcher. While a highly successful reliever, in
Colorado of all places, Fuentes is 0-4 and his ERA of 4.06 isn’t close to perfection. He does have a 3-1 K/BB ratio (and 20 saves), but I still doubt this pick a little. While a reliever was needed, I wonder if New York’s John Maine might’ve been a better selection. Even if he is a starter.

CP – Francisco Cordero [Milwaukee]
In/Out: Let’s not kid ourselves, he was a lock after April. A 2.8 ERA and an NL-best 27 saves. Not to mention he’s probably going to strike out over 100 guys this season. No brainer. Next?

CP – Trevor Hoffman [San Diego]
In/Out: I’m going to just let his name and his performance this season speak for itself. Next?

CP – Takashi Saito [Los Angeles]
In/Out: You may not have heard of him yet; but trust me…you will. Eric Gagne is a thing of the distant past in LaLa land as Saito has an anemic 1.47 ERA and 23 saves. What is even more striking? How about 47 Ks to 4 walks. Yeah, only 4 walks. Next?

CP – Bill Wagner [New York]
In/Out: Under the radar a bit, Wagner’s ERA is sub-2 and he’s only blown a handful of games. He’ll close in on 20 within a week after the All-Star game and is likely the back-end of the NL East’s eventual champs. The fall-off occurs after Wagner/Fuentes, so Billy the Kid is a deserving selection.

CP – Jose Valverde [Arizona]
In/Out: You could see this type of effort coming the last two seasons. Valverde’s got 26 saves, while still unknown to even some baseball experts, and is perhaps the next young Dominican pitcher who just throws gas. He might see the ball in the 8th inning against some huge
AL bats. I can’t wait to see how the young kid performs.

(Deep breaths) And there you have it. The All-Star team analysis is finally complete. That is, unless you feel somebody else was snubbed. And of course, who wouldn’t?

Until next time…

2 comments:

Paymon said...

Great post. To your thought about the ridiculousness of every team being represented, I have two points. First, the All-Star break is about celebrating baseball in its entirety - small-market and large. That means that even the Royals get a player. Second, when this was originally instituted, there were not 30 MLB teams.

The last second Internet vote is such crap as you said. Ever since the 1994 strike, baseball has tried very hard to show the fans that they care about them [after they alienated one of the best seasons I've ever seen]. Unfortunately, baseball still struggles to market its stars. Such a foreign concept. I think the NBA would've folded years ago had it not marketed its stars effectively.

Chris Clement said...

I was also reminded today the amazing letdown that might occur if a team were to actually host the game and not have one representative player.

I can live with the one per team, in the end I suppose.

As for the Internet...bah. Enough said.

Except that THANK GOODNESS Chris Young got in.

-Clement