As of today, teams have played 38 to 41 games, which means the 2011 baseball season is about one quarter over. Let’s look at the players who have had the most success over the last six weeks. I’ll build a 25-man roster in each league, with ten pitchers and fifteen hitters. There will be no rule about representing every team and, best of all, no fan voting, so players will only be selected on merit.
We’ll start in the National League. We’ll need two catchers, and we’ve got three to five solid contenders. I’ll go with Arizona’s Miguel Montero, whose .339 weighted on base average (wOBA) leads all NL catchers, and San Francisco’s Buster Posey, whose .256/.347/.368 batting line may be nothing to write home about, but whose defense has been so good that fangraphs and baseball reference both have him leading all NL catchers in WAR. Apologies to Brian McCann of the Braves.
At first base, it has to be Cincinnati’s Joey Votto, especially after last year’s snub. Votto leads all National Leaguers with 2.7 fWAR and 2.6 bWAR, getting on base at an absurd .471 clip and slugging .566. Gaby Sanchez of the Marlins is hitting .331/.410/.538, good for 1.9 bWAR and a few at-bats off the bench in an All-Star game. Apologies to Prince Fielder and Ike Davis.
At second, Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips narrowly edges out Milwaukee’s Rickie Weeks, whose identical .381 wOBA isn’t enough to overcome Phillips’ 12-point OBP advantage or his far superior defense. We’ll keep Weeks on as a reserve.
Our starting third baseman is certainly Philadelphia’s Placido Polanco, who is batting .347/.389/.447 with three stolen bases in three tries for the NL’s best team. Apologies to Chipper Jones and Pablo Sandoval, who’s been phenomenal in limited playing time.
At shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki has slowed down enough after his hot start to hand the starting gig over to Jose Reyes, who’s passing his Giants audition with flying colors, leading all shortstops in runs created while stealing 12 bases in 15 attempts. Tulowitzki, probably the National League’s best player since last summer, certainly warrants a spot on the bench. Apologies to Alex Gonzalez and Jimmy Rollins.
The NL’s starting left fielder is Matt Holliday of the Cardinals. If not for Votto, Holliday would be the frontrunner for NL MVP with his .394 batting average and .614 slugging percentage. The Dodgers’ Matt Kemp has been the best center fielder, combining power and speed with seven home runs and 12 stolen bases. In right, we’ll take Kemp’s teammate Andre Ethier, whose 30-game hitting streak boosted his batting average to .355 and his slugging percentage to an even .500. We’ll take another outfielder, St. Louis’s Lance Berkman, as our starting designated hitter, since Berkman has earned all of his 1.7 fWAR (or his 1.6 bWAR, if you’d prefer), and then some with his bat, as his defense has been well below replacement level. We’ve got room for two more position players on our team, so we’ll take Philly’s Shane Victorino, a defensive replacement who can hit a little (.503 slugging percentage and eight steals), and Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, who leads the league with 11 homers. Apologies to Drew Stubbs, Colby Rasmus, and Carlos Beltran.
On the mound, our starter has to be Florida’s Josh Johnson. While Roy Halladay has accumulated more WAR according to both keepers of the stat, he’s had two more starts in which to do so. Johnson, who leads the league with a 1.63 ERA and a 177 Season Score, has more bWAR than Halladay per start, despite a FIP more than a run higher. Halladay, whose 1.49 FIP suggests he’ll pitch even better than his 2.05 ERA going forward, is certainly on our team, as is teammate Cole Hamels. I’ll use Season Score to choose the rest of my starting pitchers. Tim Lincecum of the Giants actually leads Halladay with a 166 Season Score, 11 points behind Johnson. Cardinals Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia are fourth and fifth. Atlanta’s Jair Jurrjens is a few spots down the list in 13th, but he missed more than two weeks with an injury to start the season and has returned 5-0 with an incredible 1.66 ERA. The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the Diamondbacks’ Ian Kennedy round out the starter portion of the staff. Apologies to Shaun Marcum and Jhoulys Chacin.
Since starters provide much more value than relievers, I’ll stick with one reliever per league, and in the NL it has to be the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel, who has a ridiculous 31 strikeouts in less than 20 innings. Apologies to Kimbrel’s teammate Johnny Venters, as well as Ryan Madson of the Phillies.
In the American League, our starting catcher is Yankees reclamation project Russell Martin, the best catcher in the National League in 2007 and 2008. It appeared as though Martin may have been finished after two ugly seasons in LA, but he’s hit more homers (seven) in his first 33 games at the Bandbox in the Bronx than he did in either of the last two seasons at Chavez Ravine. We’ll take Baltimore’s Matt Wieters as our other catcher. Wieters’ .336 wOBA can’t match Alex Avila’s .367, but both keepers of WAR love Wieters’s defense, each ranking him first among AL catchers.
At first base, Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, and Paul Konerko have all put up similarly impressive offensive numbers (all wOBAs between .407 and .412), but it’s Gonzalez’s defense that sets him apart (the five homers in his last five games don’t hurt either). We’ll keep Cabrera and his .980 OPS on as a designated hitter. Apologies to Konerko and Justin Smoak of the Mariners.
Either of the two best second basemen in the American League could play multiple positions or serve as a utilityman off the bench. We’ll give the second base nod to Tampa’s second baseman/outfielder Ben Zobrist and his .568 slugging percentage, while rewarding Angels first/second baseman Howie Kendrick’s phenomenal offensive and defensive play (2.3 fWAR) with the utility spot.
At third, it’s all Texas’s Adrian Beltre, whose ten home runs and stellar defense cancel out his .304 on base percentage. Kevin Youkilis, our backup, has hit better than Beltre (.246/.385/.484), but has struggled defensively in his return to the hot corner. Apologies to Alex Rodriguez, who has cooled off after a hot start, and Jack Hannahan, who has helped buoy the Indians with strong offensive and defensive play.
We’ll take another Angel who has played multiple positions as our shortstop. Maicer Izturis has hit .319/.366/.467 while playing second base, third base, and shortstop. We’ll take a pure shortstop, Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera as a defensive replacement (though his .484 slugging percentage might warrant an at-bat or two as well). Apologies to Detroit’s Jhonny Peralta.
Toronto’s Jose Bautista, who leads all of baseball in virtually every meaningful category, most notably home runs (16) and OPS (1.388), probably deserves to play center field and shortstop and pitch a few innings, but he’ll have to settle for the starting right field gig. In addition to his Bondsian hitting display, Bautista has fielded his position well, accumulating 3.9 WAR in 40 games, establishing a pace that could net him 15.8 WAR in a full season (Babe Ruth’s 14.7 WAR in 1923 is the best season ever for a position player). New York’s Curtis Granderson brings his 13 homers to our starting center field assignment, and we’ll throw Tampa’s Matt Joyce and his .615 slugging percentage in left. We’ve got two spots left, and one has to go to Kansas City’s Jeff Francoeur and his .550 slugging percentage and excellent defense. Our defensive replacement will be Twins center fielder Denard Span. Apologies to the league’s best true designated hitters, Jason Kubel, David Ortiz, and Travis Hafner, who haven’t hit quite enough to be more valuable than any of these 15 guys.
Our American League starter could be any of five pitchers. LA’s Jered Weaver made a strong case by winning his first six starts and striking out 61 batters to-date. Tampa’s James Shields leads the league in average game score at 71.3 and has been a model of consistency. Boston’s Josh Beckett is just a tick behind at 71 and leads the league with a 1.75 ERA. Oakland’s Trevor Cahill leads the league with 2.5 bWAR, again delivering an ERA under 2 despite a FIP over 3. The best pick, though, is the Angels’ Dan Haren, whose 186 Season Score is the best in the majors. Haren’s 1.93 ERA is backed up by a 2.08 FIP, and his 7.63 strikeouts per walk are the best in the league. Texas’s Alexi Ogando is another easy choice with his 0.869 WHIP, as is current strikeout leader (and co-leader in no-hitters) Justin Verlander of Detroit. Finally, Baltimore’s Zach Britton may be succeeding with smoke and mirrors, carrying a 2.42 ERA despite striking out just over five batters per nine, but he’s getting batters out, which is what counts (at least according to bWAR, where he’s fifth in the AL). Our last pick could go several different ways, but we’ll take Tampa’s David Price, whose 2.89 FIP supports a 3.12 ERA and a 5-3 record. Apologies to Boston’s Jon Lester and Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin.
Our one relief pitching spot comes down to the classic Mariano Rivera-Jonathan Papelbon duel, so we’ll pick… neither. While Rivera and his 1.45 ERA and Papelbon and his 11.34 K/9 lead AL relievers with .8 fWAR, the guy in third place, Chicago’s Sergio Santos, has yet to surrender an earned run in 19 innings and carries a nifty 10.42 K/9 of his own.
Let’s summarize by lining our teams up for battle:
1. Jose Reyes, ss, Mets
2. Matt Kemp, cf, Dodgers
3. Matt Holliday, lf, Cardinals
4. Joey Votto, 1b, Reds
5. Lance Berkman, dh, Cardinals
6. Andre Ethier, rf, Dodgers
7. Brandon Phillips, 2b, Reds
8. Placido Polanco, 3b, Phillies
9. Miguel Montero, c, Diamondbacks
p. Josh Johnson, Marlins
Ryan Braun, Brewers
Jaime Garcia, Cardinals
Roy Halladay, Phillies
Cole Hamels, Phillies
Jair Jurrjens, Braves
Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Craig Kimbrel, Braves
Tim Lincecum, Giants
Kyle Lohse, Cardinals
Buster Posey, Giants
Gaby Sanchez, Marlins
Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
Shane Victorino, Phillies
Rickie Weeks, Brewers
1. Curtis Granderson, cf, Yankees
2. Ben Zobrist, 2b, Rays
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1b, Red Sox
4. Jose Bautista, rf, Blue Jays
5. Miguel Cabrera, dh, Tigers
6. Adrian Beltre, 3b, Rangers
7. Matt Joyce, lf, Rays
8. Russel Martin, c, Yankees
9. Maicer Izturis, ss, Angels
p. Dan Haren, Angels
Josh Beckett, Red Sox
Zack Britton, Orioles
Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
Trevor Cahill, A’s
Jeff Francoeur, Royals
Howie Kendrick, Angels
Alexi Ogando, Rangers
David Price, Rays
Sergio Santos, White Sox
James Shields, Rays
Denard Span, Twins
Justin Verlander, Tigers
Jered Weaver, Angels
Matt Wieters, Orioles
Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
There are a lot of superstars among these 50 names- guys we would expect to make just about every quarter’s All-Star team. There are a few budding stars- Jose Bautista is making a case as baseball’s best player and Matt Wieters may finally be cashing in on all the promise he brought to Baltimore as a hot prospect a few years ago. But there are also some surprises here- Miguel Montero and Alexi Ogando would surprise more people by continuing to play this well than they would by fading into the background in the remaining three quarters.
We’ve got four Cardinals without Albert Pujols, four Phillies without Chase Utley, and four Rays without Evan Longoria. We’ve got more Angels (four) than Red Sox (three) or Yankees (two). Every AL team is represented except the Mariners, and Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda were two of the last four or five pitchers out. In contrast, five NL teams- Washington, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Houston, and San Diego, don’t have a player on the team nor one I found deserving of an apology (though fWAR loves the way Matt Garza got himself to 2-4, 4/17). I suspect the majority of these guys will make the actual All-Star team, at least after the injury replacements are named and the fans vote for the 45th man on each team. Those that don’t will never forget these first 40 or so games, when they relived some old magic or started some water cooler talk about their future promise.
Now let’s turn it over to the fans and watch Derek Jeter get elected.