Friday, June 29, 2012

AL All Star Ballot

So I’ve put up my NL All Star ballot, and wanted to continue with my AL Ballot.  You can click here to read my NL ballot, which includes a rundown of my feelings on the All Star game as well as a breakdown on the way I chose my players.  The short story is that I look at WAR (wins above replacement) and then use the stats after that to make a decision.  Interestingly, when I look at the overall WAR rankings in all of baseball, NL players hold the top 5 spots and 6 of the top 10 spots.  I’m not sure why that is.  Maybe the teams in the AL are better overall (the interleague record supports that) so each player’s individual importance to the team is lessened.  Or maybe I’m completely wrong.  But let’s get back to my ballot.  I’ll pick one player for each position as well as 5 bench spots.  In addition, I’ll go with 3 starters (including the one I think should start the game) and 2 relievers.  So let’s jump right into my picks for the junior circuit.

American League

C:                        A.J. Pierzynski CHW- So this one was tough.  The top 3 WAR players in the catching position are all in the NL.  Pierzynski only has the third best WAR among AL catchers, behind Joe Mauer and Matt Wieters.  And it’s fairly average at 2.0.  Mauer has a better batting AVG (322).  But Pierzynski’s is the second best in the AL this season at 284.  In addition, he’s first in the AL with 12 HR, first with 41 RBI, and second with 33 R.  The current vote leader is Mike Napoli, who is tied with Pierzynski for the AL catcher HR lead.  He’s also tied with Joe Mauer, the average leader, with 34 R.  But Napoli has fewer RBI and is not nearly as good defensively as Pierzynski.  If Mauer and Napoli combined to have Napoli’s power and Mauer’s average and defense then maybe they would overtake Pierzynski in my opinion.  But as it is, he’s either first or second in every offensive category.  I’m picking him, over Mauer, Napoli, and the other guy with a higher WAR, Matt Wieters.  Pierzynski is having a great season.  Maybe he’s trying to make people notice something about him other than being one of the least liked players in baseball.  Either way, I think he’s my starter.

1B:                        Paul Konerko CHW- I promise I’m not a White Sox fan.  But Pauly K (no one calls him that) is having a great season this year.  He continues to ignore the summons of father time and is putting up great numbers at 36 years old.  His 2.2 WAR is tied for the second best WAR among all first basemen, first in the AL.  (He’s tied with Edwin Encarnacion, who is mainly a DH).  But he’s hitting 333 with 13 HR, 39 RBI and 37 R.  The AVG is the best among AL first basemen.  The HR, RBI and R numbers are in the top 10 in the AL.  And he is hitting cleanup in a surprisingly good White Sox lineup that is currently in first in the AL Central.  Konerko is currently second in the AL vote totals behind Prince Fielder.  And while Fielder is playing well at 306, that’s 27 points behind Konerko.  He also has one fewer HR and only one more RBI and R.  Fielder is known for his power, and Konerko has more HR.  Konerko is also a superior defender.  I like Fielder, but I think Konerko should start this game.

2B:                        Robinson Cano NYY- This one was tough.  I was looking at three guys, Cano, Ian Kinsler and Jason Kipnis.  A closer look showed that Kipnis was slightly ahead of Kinsler with a higher AVG (273 to 270) as well as a few more HR, RBI and steals.  Those numbers gave him the nod over Kinsler, despite his higher numbers in the Hit and R categories.  So that narrowed it down to Cano and Kipnis.  And in the end it’s got to be Cano.  His 3.6 WAR is the best out of all MLB second basemen.  His 301 AVG is better and he leads AL second basemen with 17 HR.  He has fewer RBI and SBs than Kipnis, but the power is very impressive and he’s a better defender.  There has been a lot made about his struggles with runners in scoring position, but all the Yankees are struggling there.  For the purposes of comparing AL second basemen, he’s got the most HR and R, a good number of RBI, the best AVG and is very good with the leather.  He leads Ian Kinsler in the voting, but it’s very close.  Both of them will likely make the team, but I think Cano should certainly get the nod to start.

SS:                        Elvis Andrus TEX- Andrus has to be the winner here.  His 2.9 WAR is the best among all MLB shortstops.  He’s got the third best AVG for AL shortstops and leads them all in R and SBs.  For me it was really between Andrus and Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians.  Cabrera’s got the second best WAR for AL shortstops.  He’s hitting 291 with 9 HR, 33 RBI and 36 R.  They are very different types of hitters, as Andrus hits near the top of the order and scores R, while Cabrera helps drive them in.  But calling them equal at the plate, which I’m not sure about, we look to the glove-work, where Andrus is superior.  Right now Derek Jeter is running away with the voting, which is a prime example of why the fan vote shouldn’t count for much.  He’s hitting a few points better than Andrus, but trails in every other category other than HR.  Both are leadoff hitters, but Andrus has more R, SB and a better wRC (weighted Runs Created) score.  In addition, defensive metrics rate Jeter as one of the worst defenders at the shortstop position way behind Andrus.  I don’t buy into the defensive metrics a lot, as they are flawed, but clearly he doesn’t nearly have the range of Andrus.  And since both hit leadoff, we can see that Andrus’ numbers are superior to Jeter’s in all the areas that leadoff men are supposed to excel in.  Andrus has fallen to third in the voting, but doesn’t play in nearly as big of a market or have the name recognition of the great Jeter or the very good Cabrera.  Perhaps all three belong in the game (I’d pick other the other two before Jeter) but Andrus certainly deserves to start.  As it is, it’s starting to look like he’ll be watching from home.

3B:                        Miguel Cabrera DET- Another instance where WAR has failed us.  According to Fangraphs’ WAR rankings, Cabrera is 4th in the AL with a 2.1 WAR.  He’s .4 behind Adrian Beltre in third and .6 behind Brett Lawrie and Mike Moustakas, the leaders of the category in the AL.  However it’s Cabrera who leads all MLB third basemen in HR and RBI.  He’s in a tie for third in R in the AL.  The only thing not to like about Cabrera is his defense, where metrics have him rated as the worst.  But once again defensive metrics are not great, and while he’s certainly not going to be winning any Gold Gloves at the hot corner, he’s not as bad as people make him out to be.  Adrian Beltre currently leads in the fan vote, and he’s a good choice.  He’s got a higher AVG and WAR than Cabrera and plays a much better defense.  But I just love watching Cabrera hit.  He’s got the second most RBI in baseball, and he can still play first and DH for a Detroit club that is struggling.  Both will make the team.  Beltre deserves to be there, and if you think he deserves to start I’d understand.  But I’m going with Cabrera.

OF:                        Josh Hamilton TEX-  This one was also pretty easy.  Josh Hamilton has been the best player in baseball this season, hands down.  His WAR is second among AL outfielders, 4th among all outfielders and 8th in all of baseball.  And that’s after a slight slump.  Hamilton is hitting 317 with 24 HR, 67 RBI, 48 R and 6 SB.  He’s on pace to hit 50 HR, 140 RBI, 100 R and 15 SB.  Those are video game numbers.  He’s also on pace to set the record of fan votes in one season.  The former MVP is healthy and playing as well as we knew he could.  His HR and RBI numbers lead all AL outfielders and his AVG is very good.  He’s even able to steal bases, though they limit him because they are afraid he’ll get hurt.  But he can play center and left, and is a monster at the plate this season.  Hamilton will be a starter in the All Star game.  And no one could be more deserving.

OF:                        Mike Trout LAA- The only outfielder in the AL with a higher WAR than Hamilton is the rookie Trout.  In addition, he leads all AL players in WAR and has only played in 52 games this season after starting the year in the minors.  But he is being credited with turning the Angels season around after joining the big league club.  He leads all AL outfielders with a 335 AVG.  In only 52 games, he already has a league leading 21 SB, one behind Dee Gordon for the MLB lead.  He’s got 7 HR, 29 RBI and 44 R.  Once again, that’s 44 R in 52 games.  He should absolutely be in the All Star game this year.  I’ve heard some people complaining that he hasn’t had a full season yet.  But that only makes his numbers all the more impressive in my opinion.  Unfortunately Trout is not on the ballot this year.  The only chance he has to make the team would be as the result of the players’ ballot.  I hope he makes it, because after Josh Hamilton I can think of no one who deserves to be in the Mid-Summer classic more than Mike Trout. 

OF:                        Adam Jones BAL- For my third pick I once again just moved down the list of WAR for AL outfielders.  Adam Jones is having a great season, hitting 298 with 19 HR, 40 RBI, 49 R and 10 SB.  He’s playing solid defense for a team in Baltimore that has stayed in the thick of the AL East race the entire first half of the season.  Jones has had good seasons before, but has also been known to be fairly streaky.  But this season he’s been consistently good, hitting in the middle of that Oriole order.  He can play center and right field, has good speed, good power and is improving his contact.  There are other good outfielders out there to consider including the number 2 and 3 vote getters Jose Bautista and Curtis Granderson (Josh Hamilton is, of course, number 1) or even Mark Trumbo who has played all over the diamond.  But despite Bautista and Granderson’s great power, I’m going with Jones who has a ton of homers himself, in addition to a superior AVG and better speed.

DH:                        Adam Dunn CHW- Dunn said he was eying the comeback player of the year award.  I think being an AL All Star would be even better, and keep him right on track to get that first award he covets.  There are other DHs with higher WARs than Dunn (David Ortiz, Edwin Encarnacion).  Both also have higher AVGs.  But Dunn leads all true DHs (some guys like Joe Mauer and Alex Rodriguez are listed as DHs in addition to their actual position) in HR and RBI.  You either like Dunn as a player, or you don’t.  He’s a king of the three true outcomes (HR, BB, and Ks).  He’s on pace to set the single season K record this season.  But he’s got a good 357 OBP and crushes the ball, driving in runs for the White Sox who are in the thick of the AL Central race.  I’m a big fan of what he does.  And when you look at how bad he was last season, that just makes his performance this year all the more impressive.  If you don’t like his AVG and think he Ks too much I’d understand.  If you think Encarnacion or Ortiz is more deserving, I couldn’t argue with you.  But I think Dunn is a pure power hitter, and is having a great year.

Bench:                        So here are my bench players for the AL squad.

1.              Jose Bautista TOR- The Home Run King of the past few years certainly deserves to make it to Kansas City this year.  He had a slow start, and is still only hitting 237, but has returned to his perch atop the major league leader board in HR with 25.  He’s also got strong RBI and R numbers.  He plays a solid right field, and is another true slugger.  It looks like he’s going to make the team due to the fan vote, and I’m okay with that.
2.              Mark Trumbo LAA- Lost to all the excitement of Mike Trout is the great year Trumbo is having.  After being asked to move to third to make room for Pujols and then asked to play third and outfield, Trumbo has continued to hit.  They do all they can to keep his bat in the lineup, whether he’s at third, in left or DHing.  But at 313 with 18 HR, 50 RBI, 35 R and 4 SB, I don’t think there are many more deserving than him. 
3.              Jason Kipnis CLE- This young man has played his heart out this season.  If only he didn’t play the same position as Cano, one of the best hitters in baseball who has the voting well in hand even in a season where he struggles to hit with men in scoring position.  But I still think he should be a part of the Mid Summer festivities, even if he doesn’t start.  He’s hitting 276 with 11 HR, 43 RBI, 47 R and 18 SB.  He gets on base and scores for the Indians who are right behind the White Sox in the AL Central race.  He’s a good young player who should be at his first all star game this year.  Unfortuantely it looks like he’ll be the odd man out behind Cano (deserving) and Kinsler (I like him…but I think Kipnis deserves to be there more).
4.              Adrian Beltre TEX- I like this pick a lot.  I was really close between Beltre and Cabrera for my third base starter, so it only made sense to put him on my All Star bench.  In fact, I originally chose Beltre, but went back and adjusted it.  But the fact is, Beltre has a better AVG than Cabrera, has a superior WAR, plays Gold Glove defense and has the same number of R.  I feel good about getting both of them in on my ballot.
5.              Edwin Encarnacion TOR- I looked at a lot of guys here.  Austin Jackson, Josh Willingham, Josh Reddick, David Ortiz, Curtis Granderson.  But I went with Encarnacion because he is really playing well.  He’s hitting 286 with 22 HR, 54 RBI, 45 R and 6 SB.  He’s mainly a DH for the Blue Jays, but can also play first, third and left field.  I love his power and think his AVG is setting him up for the best year of his career.  Ortiz has great power and a better AVG, but Encarnacion is outslugging him.  He’s hit for more power than Granderson, Reddick and Willingham.  And Jackson is hitting over 300 and scoring runs.  But he’s only got a handful of steals and still strikes out too much.  The AL is loaded with good hitters, like the NL is loaded with pitching.  A lot of these guys will get to join the team.  But these are my five that I have to add to the starting group.

SP:                        Justin Verlander DET- The season after winning both the MVP and Cy Young, Verlander is having another strong year for a struggling Tigers team.  He’s got the best ERA of all AL pitchers and is also leading in IP.  His 8-4 record isn’t as good as his 2.52 ERA.  He’s the best pitcher in baseball, and he’s still striking out a ton of guys while throwing gas and keeping his ERA down.  He deserves the start, if for no other reason than the great starts he puts out should be turned into wins by some team, even if it’s a team of All Stars.

SP:                        Jered Weaver LAA- Once again he’s the best pitcher in the AL not named Verlander.  If it weren’t for that master in Detroit, we’d be talking about Weaver looking at another Cy Young.  He’s got great stuff, strikes out a ton of guys and has a miniscule ERA.  Only one pitcher does it better.  But this season, Weaver looks like the stronger of the two, going 8-1 with a 2.31 ERA.  Even when the Angels were struggling, he was not.  And now that they are winning, he’s at the forefront.  Weaver is a fantastic pitcher, often overlooked due to the talent around him.  But he’s a star and if Verlander doesn’t start, Weaver should.

SP:                        David Price TB- The best of the trio of pitchers with 10 Wins.  The number is the top in the AL.  He shares it with Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish.  But Price has the best ERA (2.95) of all of them and great K numbers.  He also has more IP.  This lefty is going to win some Cy Young’s soon, especially if Verlander gets traded to an NL team (unlikely).  Price can strike you out and keep you from touching the ball.  He’s got great stuff and great command and plays in the tough AL East.  I like the two Rangers guys, but they have similar numbers and arguably less competition.  All should be on this team, and I bet they will be.  So will C.J. Wilson and Jake Peavy.  But if I only get three starters, this lefty is my third guy.

RP:                        Jim Johnson BAL- When it comes to great players we didn’t know about last season, this guy has to be near the top.  I didn’t know who he was a few months ago.  But with 22 Saves for an upstart Oriole team, Jim Johnson sits in second in the AL Saves department.  He’s got a stunning 1.10 ERA.  There’s nothing not to like about him.  He may not be a big name, but he’s earned a spot on this team with his great control and miniscule BAA.  He’s my number one reliever.

RP:                        Fernando Rodney TB- Another Ray who should make this team.  Fernando Rodney is third in the AL with 21 Saves.  He and Johnson trail Chris Perez who is the league leader with 23 Saves.  But Rodney’s ERA is even better than Johnson’s 1.07.  He strikes out more guys and walks fewer.  But hitters are hitting better against him.  That’s the difference to me.  I bet Chris Perez and possibly Joe Nathan will make the team too, but I think Rodney has to be my second reliever if I only get two.  We should see him at the game this season.

Okay so that’s my AL Ballot.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Or your picks.  And I can’t wait to see the game and see which of my picks will be a part of it.  After the voting gets announced, I’ll put together my team of All Star snubs.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

NL All Star Ballot

So when it comes to making an All Star ballot I like to go with the best option THIS SEASON at each individual position.  I don’t like to reward past achievement and don’t care about how popular a player is.  I’m certainly not the only person to feel this way, but can still lament the popularity contest that is the fan vote each season.  I’m also not crazy about the way the game is designed, but for more about the issues with the game and how to fix it you can click on the link in my previous article, or read Jeff Passan’s 2012 article about how to fix the All Star Game.  As I see it, major league baseball is one of the few professional sports franchises that actually has an All Star game that people want to watch.  The Pro Bowl was almost cancelled due to the apathy football fans felt towards it.  The NBA All Star game has had low ratings the past few years and the NHL requires their guys to show up and play or risk a one game suspension for not being there.  So the Mid-Summer classic is one of the few All Star Games left that has any clout. 

However the All Star game hasn’t been immune to fan disinterest, suffering a drop in ratings the last few years.  It’s doing better than the other All Star games, but it is in no way completely safe from cancellation.  Part of the issues the All Star game faces are purely of baseball’s own creation.  The novelty of seeing NL players facing AL players was weakened with the introduction of inter-league play.  In my opinion the biggest obstacle facing the All Star Game’s relevance is that, but interleague play is Bud Selig’s baby and is also fairly popular with the fans.  My distaste for it puts me squarely in the minority and so that obstacle is likely going nowhere anytime soon.  That means the Mid Summer Classic will have to find a way to subsist in the midst of losing it’s biggest draw, the novelty of seeing Justin Verlander face Matt Kemp or Clayton Kershaw pitching to Josh Hamilton. 

Bud Selig tried to bring some importance back to the game after the 2002 debacle where the game ended in a tie.  He came up with the asinine idea that the winner of the All Star game would get home field advantage in the World Series.  The player’s union agreed with little coaxing, because the former concept of rotating between leagues each season was also fairly arbitrary.  (I guess rewarding it to the team with the best record makes too much sense to work).   But the added weight of home field advantage has done little to bring in more fans, and all the fans that watch the game regularly know that it’s a dumb idea.  Perhaps back in the day when players stayed with one team their whole careers that could have worked.  But I doubt Jose Reyes, the Mets representative last season, had much incentive to win the game because he thought that he could be helping out the Phillies, the presumptive NL rep for the World Series last season.  And with the way players move between teams and leagues each season, there’s little reason to believe that they would really care who got home field advantage.  And even back in the time I earlier referenced where players spent the majority of their careers with one team, the true rivalries were inter-league.  So if the Cardinals were likely going to the playoffs, why would the rival Cubs want to do anything to help them out, even if they were facing the Yankees or Orioles of another league?  But the home field advantage rule is here for a while, and there’s nothing we can do about it.  So with those issues firmly in place, I still try to do my best to put together a good ballot of players so that at least part of the game is entertaining and worth my watching.

Each year I take a lot of time to work on my All Star ballot.  It doesn’t matter as the fan vote holds little sway (and it shouldn’t) and the managers are pigeonholed into making certain decisions due to roster requirements and picking a player from each team.  I agree that you should have to have a player from each team (otherwise we’d see a team of Red Sox and Yankees play the Phillies) but I don’t try to fill out the bloated lineups that the MLB actually requires.  So for this post, I’m listing one player at each position for each league, and a couple alternates. 

So that brings us to the way I try to elect my team.  I look at the stats, but that’s not always the best way to compare.  Some guys have lower AVG, but hit a ton of HR and drive in lots of runs for their team, which makes them more valuable than another player at the same position who hits for a higher AVG.  However, that’s not always better, as some don’t hit for a lot of power but can still get on base and score runs.  In addition, you can’t compare all stats as equal.  For example, some second basemen hit for a low AVG but help out in other categories such as HR and RBI (Dan Uggla).  To overlook them because of their low AVG isn’t fair.  However, some guys get lots of votes because they hit lots of home runs and drive in a ton of guys, but have low average and bad defense (Dan Uggla).  To elect them based on that and ignore the other aspects of their game is also unfair.  I'll call it the Dan Uggla rule because it seems appropriate for this paragraph.  So the question is, is there a stat out there that compares players at the same position taking into account their AVG, power, speed, defense and other important aspects of the game?

The answer is….yes( of course it is…otherwise this article would be on a long road to nowhere).  That stat is Wins Above Replacement, commonly referred to by WAR (as far as the concept of commonality can refer to anything having to do with sabermetrics).  The idea behind WAR (what is it good for?) is to try to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one numbered statistic.  WAR is a stat used to show how many more wins a player in a certain position would give a team verses a replacement level player, generally categorized as a minor leaguer or bench player.  So the replacement level player is valued at 0, and a good player brings in a positive WAR as opposed to someone who is not great at their position and would bring in a negative WAR.  It’s considered a non-standardized statistic because there are multiple ways to calculate it.  Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs (in my opinion two of the best sabermetric websites out there) both measure it differently.  

Essentially, you add up all a players’ offensive stats, factor in his defensive metrics, give different weights to different positions (it’s harder to play shortstop than first base), and convert runs to Wins.  10 runs equal 1 win.  You factor the runs and then what you know about a player’s defense and his other offensive stats to get his WAR number.  0 is what a replacement level is worth and good players are worth more while bad ones are worth less.  Here’s an example of different levels 2011 WAR measurements according to Baseball Prospectus:

Excellent:            Jose Bautista  10.3
Great:                  Hunter Pence  5.2
Average:             Gaby Sanchez  2.0
Poor:                   Adam Lind  0.5
Horrendous:        Adam Dunn  -1.7

It’s not a perfect stat, as pitcher’s measurements are based on IP, not games played.  In addition, people use different equations to measure defensive metrics and no one has a good way to quantify the production of the replacement players.  However for All Star selection, it’s probably one of the best stats you can use, as it’s one of the only ones that compare players in the same position.  So using that stat in addition to a look at each player’s stats is a good way to pick the players you think should go to the Mid-Summer classic.  And that’s what I’ve done below. 

(For a look at one of the equations used to measure WAR [they are all different] you can click here.  For a more in depth look at WAR, check out the breakdown on Big League Stew.)

National League

C:                        Yadier Molina STL- This one was tough for me.  He’s got a 2.9 WAR, the second best amongst catchers.  The best WAR is 3.4 for backstops, and that belongs to Carlos Ruiz, the other guy I considered.  Ruiz leads all MLB catchers with a 351 AVG.  His WAR is the best and he’s a great defensive catcher.  He’s first in RBI in the league and tied for first in R.  He’s tied with the guy I chose, Yadier Molina.  Molina is second in RBI, one behind Ruiz.  They have the same number of HR.  And he’s second in the league in AVG.  Even though his WAR is second to Ruiz, I went with him because he’s a better defensive catcher, who can completely shut down the running game.  While Ruiz has a good arm, no one compares with Molina right now.  And, ironically, Molina is first among all catchers in the MLB with 7 SB.  So the speed (which came out of nowhere) and the superior defense (though Ruiz is a good defensive catcher) is the difference for me here.  The current vote leader in the NL is Buster Posey.  But Posey’s WAR is 5th in the league (amongst catchers).  He has the same number of HR and is right behind these two guys in RBI and R.  But he has fewer hits (Molina leads with 76), and a lower AVG.  He’s not as good a defender.  He’s more popular because he recently won a Rookie of the Year award and his numbers aren’t bad.  But I think Ruiz and Molina are better choices, and this vote looks like it’ll go down to the wire.

1B:                        Joey Votto CIN- This one was easy.  Votto has the highest WAR in baseball.  He leads the majors in AVG (360), OBP% and is second in SLG%.  He’s slugged 13 HR, has 45 RBI and 46 R.  He’s quickly overtaking Josh Hamilton for the title of best hitter in baseball this year.  With one MVP already under his belt, he’s signed a long-term deal with the Reds and hopes to continue anchoring that club with plenty of talent for years to come.  I think he’s got a legitimate shot to win another MVP and should absolutely be the National League’s representative in the All Star game this season.  Luckily he’s the current leader in votes (as of 6/21) and should be a lock to start the game in Kauffman Stadium this July.

2B:                        Aaron Hill ARI- The Diamondbacks second baseman is tied with Dan Uggla with the second highest WAR out of all second basemen (2.4), but first in the NL.  He’s tied with Brandon Phillips for the third highest AVG at 287 (the Astros Jose Altuve leads, hitting 311), and is second in the league in HR with 10, one behind league leader (for second basemen) Dan Uggla.  Uggla is the current vote leader in the NL, and he wouldn’t be a bad choice with the same WAR.  But with Hill having more hits, better defense and 6 SB to Uggla’s 0, I think he’s got to be the winner here (and that’s coming from a Braves fan).

SS:                        Starlin Castro CHC- I think he’s the obvious choice at a weak position.  He’s got the second highest positional WAR in the league, behind Jed Lowrie of the Astros.  This is an example of how WAR sometimes doesn’t work.  I have no idea why Lowrie’s WAR is higher than Castro’s.  Maybe it has something to do with his defense.  And Lowrie is certainly playing well.  But Castro has the highest AVG of all NL shortstops and is second in the NL in stolen bases with 16 (Dee Gordon’s 22 is fairly ludicrous and is obviously the tops in the senior circuit).  He’s also first among NL shortstops in RBI and Hits.  He trails Rafael Furcal who recently overtook Troy Tulowitzki for first in the fan voting.  And that’s a perfect example of why the fan vote shouldn’t count for much because Tulo has played in only 47 games.  Furcal is playing pretty well, but outside of leading all shortstops in R, his numbers are inferior to Castro’s in all areas.  He’s probably a better defender, but those two stats aren’t enough for him to be the leader in my opinion.  Castro is young and makes some bonehead plays in the field, but he’s got more power, hits for a higher AVG and is stealing more bases than his counterpart in St. Louis.  He could still make the team, but he might be a backup, when I think he should start. 

3B:                        David Wright NYM- Another easy one, as Wright has the second highest WAR in the MLB at 4.3.  He’s having a monster season, leading the NL hot corner in AVG (357), R (47) and is third in RBI and SB.  He’s anchoring a young, overachieving team in New York and is playing lights out defense.  He contributes in every single category at the plate and is a strong defender.  He’s the vote leader, and should be.  Wright will be the starter for the NL, and is on track to have one of the best seasons of his life.

OF:                        Matt Kemp LAD- Kemp was the best player in baseball not named Josh Hamilton before he got hurt.  He was easily the hottest hitter in the national league and was trying to make good on his promise to be the first 50-50 player in baseball (that’s 50 HR and 50 steals in one season).  He was on a good pace for most of it with 12 HR, 28 RBI and 30 R in only 36 games.  He was off on the SBs with only 2, but when you forecast that you’re trying to swipe 50, pitchers make it pretty tough to run on them.  However an injury and then a setback has kept him out of the running for a very long time.  But unlike other players who haven’t played much this season (Troy Tulowitzki) Kemp was so hot before he went down that he has to be considered in the running.  His 2.3 WAR at this point is still 16th best, and he’s missed the majority of the season (yes that number goes down as you play less).  It is currently the 9th best in the league.  So if he’s healthy he has to be put in the game.  He’s currently the lead vote getter in the NL amongst outfielders, and I think that’s justified.

OF:                        Ryan Braun MIL- The reigning MVP is having a fantastic follow up season.  He’s hoping to make people forget his newsworthy offseason, where he got out of an MLB suspension for PEDS on what looks like a technicality.  He was the first player to win an appeal against MLB, but it looks like it may have hurt his popularity even more (although in an attempt to win the title for most petulant, MLB fired the arbitrator who heard the case which has rankled some fans, this one included).  But you can’t argue with the way he’s played this year.  His 4.3 WAR is the best amongst all outfielders in the major leagues.  He’s hitting 320 with 20 HR, 52 RBI and 47 R.  He’s also stolen 13 bases, while playing a very solid defense.  Braun has been one of the best hitters in baseball the last few years and is keeping it going this season.  He’s currently fourth in the voting behind the guy I just wrote about, the guy I’m about to write about and Carlos Beltran.  No offense to Beltran, but I think Braun belongs in this game more.

OF:                        Melky Cabrera SF- Melky is having an out of control season.  He leads the majors with 102 hits playing the corner outfield positions for the Giants.  He can play all three positions, though he’s played no games in center this year and 62 games in left.  Still, he’s a valuable piece for an All Star team based on his outfield flexibility.  But that’s not how a vote for players.  I look at the numbers.  His 2.9 WAR is 5th best amongst NL outfielders.  He leads all outfielders in the MLB with a 355 AVG while chipping in 6 HR, 35 RBI, 49 R and 10 SB.  He can hit anywhere in the order and has a very strong 13% K rating.  (He only strikes out 13% of his at bats).  A lot of people think it’s a fluke (though after a career year for the Royals last season I think that’s unlikely) and they don’t like his defense.  But as far as left fielders go he’s pretty solid, even above average.  You can’t fault him for his bad play in center in the past, as he hasn’t played center field at all this season.  And since this is the only season that matters to me (as far as All Star voting) the MLB hits leader pretty much has to be in the game.  He’s just jumped into third place in the NL OF voting, and it looks like those spots will be close till the end.

Bench:            I’m going to add 5 bench spots to each team.  This is based purely on numbers, not on positions.  But if it’s a tie between two hitters, I’ll likely take a second catcher before a 6th outfielder.

1.            Michael Bourn ATL:            The man with the 4th best WAR in the majors deserves to go to Kauffman Stadium.  The Braves speedy center fielder has played in every game this year and is one of the best leadoff men in the game.  He’s 4th in the league in R, second in SB (20) and is hitting 313 with a 359 OBP.  He plays a very good centerfield and is probably the best base stealer in the game.  In a year with weaker outfielders, he’d be a shoo-in to start.  As it is, I think he should be a reserve player.

2.            Carlos Ruiz PHI:                        I already gave a strong rundown of the Phillies’ catcher’s year and why I almost picked him to start.  He should certainly be on the club as a reserve.

3.            Martin Prado ATL:                        Yeah I know, this is getting a little Braves heavy.  But try as I might, I couldn’t get around this pick.  He’s got the 6th best WAR in the league and is one of the best number 2 hitters in the game.  He is the Braves’ starting left fielder, but can also play 2B, 3B, 1B and (in a pinch) SS.  He’s likely going to get the nod from Tony LaRussa anyway due to his position eligibility and the fact that he’s hitting 316 with 5 HR, 28 RBI, 42 R and 8 SB.  Unlike the Commissioner’s office, if it makes too much sense, I don’t run from it. 

4.            Carlos Beltran STL:                        The current number two man in the NL OF fan vote, Beltran is having a fantastic year.  He’s second in the NL with 19 HR (Braun has 20…. interestingly second in the NL only has the buying power of 8th overall).  He’s also second in the league with 53 RBI not to mention a 310 AVG with 43 R and 7 SB.  His 2.8 WAR is solid, and he belongs in the game, though I not as a starter in my opinion.

5.            Andrew McCutchen PIT:            Well what do you know I picked 7 outfielders.  It’s a very strong year in the NL grass this season.  And now that Martin Prado pick looks a lot better since he backs up the entire infield.  I’m not too worried about this roster actually working, as the real roster will have another 74 players on it.  Were I to keep going, I’d be looking at A.J Ellis (catcher), Dan Uggla (second baseman…and another Brave….FYI as far as WAR goes all three Atlanta outfielders have WARs in the top 10 of the league), Jed Lowrie (SS), Chase Headley (3B) and more outfielders (Andre Ethier, Matt Holliday, Carlos Gonzalez).  But for now, let’s focus on McCutchen.  Andrew has a WAR of 3.0, 8th in the league.  He’s hitting 500 over his last 6 games and can do anything you need on a baseball field.  He’s hitting an incredible 345 with a 404 OBP.  He’s got 13 HR, 45 RBI, 39 R and 14 SB for a Pittsburgh team that is in the middle of the NL Central race.  He’s a fantastic, exciting player that is going to be the nucleus for a young Pirates team that is coming closer and closer to competing (last year at this time they were first in the NL Central).  The crazy thing is, last week I leave him off this ballot.  But after the week he had, it would be insane not to list him.  And that’s the trick with this game.  Things can change so quickly.  Right now, this is my team.  But in the next few weeks before the game A.J Ellis could hit his way into the catcher conversation, or Paul Goldschmidt could slug his way into a reserve spot backing up Joey Votto or maybe Adam LaRoche or Bryan LaHair makes some noise.  Things can change before the game happens.  And with the size of these rosters, you’ll likely see all these guys in the game, though not all of them will play.

SP:                        R.A. Dickey NYM- Yeah I figured I may as well throw in 3 starters and 2 relievers.  Dickey’s 2.5 WAR is tied for 6th in the NL.  I’m not sure what else he’d have to do to be first, but he’s had a fantastic season.  He’s got the best record in baseball at 11-1 (the 11 Wins are best in the majors).  His 2.31 ERA is among the top 10 in the league.  He’s third in the league in strikeouts, had back to back one hitters and is the best pitcher in the NL right now.  You can make arguments for other guys, but I think he deserves to start the All Star game.

SP:                        Matt Cain SF- Cain’s 2.8 WAR is the 4th highest in the NL.  He leads the league in IP, has a 2.27 ERA and a perfect game.  His 9-2 record is great, especially on a team that can’t score runs.  I think there are a ton of good pitchers in the NL this season.  It’s hard to decide who should start.  But if it’s not Dickey, it’s this guy who is often overlooked playing out west and living in the shadow of teammate Tim Lincecum.  For years scouts have said Cain has better stuff.  We are seeing it this season.

SP:                        Stephen Strasburg WAS- The most heralded pitching prospect of all time is already a star in D.C.  He’s 9-1 with a 2.46 ERA this season.  He also leads the league with 110 Ks in only 84 IP.  He’s got a tidy 1.04 WHIP and a 214 BAA.  His 2.9 WAR is third in the league behind teammate Gio Gonzalez and Zach Greinke.  But Gonzalez still walks too many guys, has a higher ERA and has incredible luck on balls in play.  I’m not saying he’s not having a great season and shouldn’t be on the team, but I’m picking Strasburg over him.  And while Greinke is also great, he doesn’t have the strikeout numbers, ERA or dominance of hitters that Strasburg possesses.  There are a ton of good pitchers who should be in the game.  Among them the three I’ve listed, Gonzalez, Greinke, James McDonald, Johnny Cueto, Wade Miley and Cole Hamels.  And I bet they will all make it, since the rosters are enormous.  But if I can only pick three, these are my guys.

RP:                        Craig Kimbrel ATL- The other reason WAR is an iffy stat is that it hurts relievers.  It’s not wrong, a man who only throws an inning a game can only do so much to help his club.  But Craig Kimbrel of the Braves has the highest WAR of all relievers in baseball this year, and it’s only 1.5.  Still good, but for these guys I have to look at other numbers. Kimbrel has been lights out.  His 21 Saves lead the league.  He’s got a 1.33 ERA and 44 Ks in 27 IP.  His 129 BAA is infinitesimal and his 0.84 WHIP shows that he’s dominant. He’s easily the best reliever in the NL this season, and WAR says he’s the best reliever in baseball. 

RP:                        Joel Hanrahan PIT- This was a little tough, but I think this is the right answer.  According to WAR, Aroldis Chapman should have been my next choice.  But he just took over the reliever job and has 8 Saves.  In addition he blew 2 in a row last week.  We are rewarding the best seasons so far.  And that has to go to Hanrahan of the Pirates in my opinion.  His 19 Saves are third in the league, behind Kimbrel and Santiago Casilla of the Giants.  But his 2.25 ERA is better, as is his 163 BAA.  He really does shut people down at the end of games.  With 34 Ks in 28 IP, he has a bit of that unstoppable mentality to him and he’s kept the Pirates in the Central race.  I don’t understand why his WAR is 0.  In this case the WAR is good for absolutely nothing (you knew it was coming). He’s a great reliever, and belongs in the All Star game.

Up next…AL All Star Ballot

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Home Run Derby Wish List

                                                 Home Run Derby Wish List

With the announcement of Matt Kemp and Robinson Cano as captains of the 2012 Home Run Derby teams, I got to thinking about who I’d like to see in the Home Run Derby.  Kemp and Cano are obviously in.  And generally they go with some of the top Home Run hitters of the year in each league.  Cano will likely go with 3 of the following: Josh Hamilton, Curtis Granderson, Adam Dunn, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and possibly Mark Trumbo.  (I personally think he’ll pick teammate Granderson, Josh Hamilton and Jose Bautista with Mark Trumbo and David Ortiz as backups if they say no).  Kemp follow suit with likely 3 out of Carlos Beltran, Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Braun and Giancarlo Stanton.  It’ll be fun and what it generally is.  We see guys try their best to put 5-10 home runs over the fence, while someone may go crazy and slug 20.  All of them will be about 400 feet.  But, I’ve always wanted to see something more.

I’m not the first person to write about a change in the way we do the home run derby.  Jeff Passan has been pushing hard for a change to not just the Derby, but the All Star game as well.  He started a push on Twitter for one of the players I’m going to want to see in the derby.  But if I’m going to see a Home Run Derby, I don’t want to watch Carlos Beltran vs. Edwin Encarnacion.  I don’t want to watch Brandon Inge struggle to put one over the fence.  I want to watch two monsters slug tape measure shots into the waterfall at Kaufman Stadium.  I don’t care who has the most home runs this season.  I care about who has the ability to hit a 500 foot homer and can slug 25 of them in a round.  I don’t need guys who hit 320 in this contest.  They aren’t trying to take a curveball on the outside part of the plate to the opposite field.  They are taking lobs over the plate from a 60-year-old first base coach.  For that reason, I’m submitting my home run derby list for this season.

American League

Robinson Cano:            I’m not overly excited about this, but the captains are set and I’m going to leave them.  He won the derby last year, and that should at least mean he gets to play this year.  Plus he’s a Yankee and if he’s not in it New Yorkers won’t watch.  I’m a realist, and I know baseball needs their biggest market to tune in.  God knows I’m not putting any Mets on this list. 

Adam Dunn:                        One of the few players on this list (besides the captains) that might actually make the cut.  Dunn is a master of the three true outcomes.  (Those would be HRs, Ks and BBs).  He had an incredible streak of hitting 40+ HR each season for 6 years straight followed by 2 straight seasons of 38 HR.  He was abysmal last season, but has turned it around early on this year.  And he is country strong.  He used to drill them out of the Great American Ballpark and has picked it back up in Chicago this season.  He’s a big strong slugger, and the epitome of what a home run contest needs. 

Josh Hamilton:            Another player who will hopefully be on the team.  The only reason he might not play is because he doesn’t want to hurt himself in a game that essentially means nothing.  He had the most impressive single round in the history of the Derby back in 08.  He set the single round record with 28 HR, though he ended up losing to Justin Morneau.  And he’s off to a monster start this season, leading the league with 22 HR.  He’s an obvious choice and, if picked, I think has to be the prohibitive favorite. 

Yoenis Cespedes:              After hitting a couple of monster shots in the World Baseball Classic, the Cuban defector came to the U.S. and hit a 462 foot blast in his first series as a major leaguer.  After that series, injuries have spoiled his rookie season.  But he’s playing well hitting 275 with 6 HR, 26 RBI and 4 SB.  And he’s done all that in only 35 games.  So his stats aren’t going to get him in this game.  But his ability to hit mammoth home runs should be his ticket to this contest.  He and Dunn could put on quite a show, and he’s more likely to hang back and appreciate his homers than some others. 

National League

Matt Kemp:                        Once again, I’m okay with the captains.  And after the season Kemp’s been having, you have to be okay with this choice.  He was headed for a 50+ homer season until he got hurt.  His health is troublesome, but if he’s healthy he’ll be in this contest.  And he’ll be a good choice. 

Dan Uggla:                        The only middle infielder you will find on this list.  Uggla has had 5 straight seasons of 30 or more homers.  That’s a record among major league second baseman.  Uggla is a pure power hitter with the most monstrous forearms I’ve ever seen on a human being.  They are pretty big compared to the average bear if my research is accurate (it’s not).  But Dan’s got 11 HR so far this season, and while that’s not necessarily near the top of the leader board (tied for 13th) it’s tops among second baseman and on pace for another season of 30 HR.  He can slug with the best of them. 

Giancarlo Stanton:            The youngster is a big strong power hitter.  And what he does best is hit homers.  He’s only in his second full season, but he’s currently 4th in the league with 14 HR.  He matched Cespedes with a 462-foot shot of his own.  And hitting home runs in that new stadium in Miami is not an easy thing to do.  He hits them pretty deep.  In fact, last season his average home run was 417 feet, the best in the majors.  (For reference, Kemp was second and Uggla was third….I think my list criterion is pretty obvious). 

Willy Mo Pena:            This is the trickiest one to get in.  Pena is currently playing baseball in Japan.  So step one in getting him in this contest is to have a National League club sign him to a deal.  That is a pretty daunting step, as no one wanted him all winter, and it’s unlikely that someone has a huge need for someone who can hit, at best, 10 HR while chipping in a 150 AVG.  But big Willy Mo can hit some tape measure shots.  His most famous home run may be a 498-foot shot he hit for the Reds in 05.  It’s the second longest in the history of Great American Ballpark (the longest belongs to Adam Dunn at 535 feet!).  This would be an amazing spectacle.  I don’t know how to make it happen, but if you wanted to see a real remarkable show the night before the Summer Classic, this would be the biggest step in the right direction.