Midseason All-Star Picks

I couldn’t be much more excited to participate in my first Baseball Bloggers Alliance election. A lot has changed since I picked my my Quarter Season All-Stars. Russell Martin has faded into irrelevance, Andre Ethier stopped getting a hit every day, and Josh Johnson just stopped pitching. I’m still learning about the Alliance’s protocol for voting, so I’ll mimic Bill’s post over at The Platoon Advantage.

I’ll start by explaining my voting standards. I think the number one factor that makes a player an All-Star is his first half performance. While fairness dictates that we consider last year’s second half (and I will give some weight to that), I see this ballot as an opportunity to talk about the first half of this season and the players who have defined it. I have no problem with fans and managers using career accomplishments to honor, say, Chipper Jones over Chase Headley, but I have written and will write enough about Chipper Jones’s career accomplishments. I’ll focus on 2011 here.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know I prefer value stats like WAR (I’ll use both fangraphs and baseball-reference WAR, as I believe the truth lies somewhere between their interpretations of pitchers’ and fielders’ contributions in turning batted balls into outs) and weighted Runs Created+ to traditional stats like wins and RBI. I understand the shortcomings of the defensive metrics baked into the both WAR formulas, but I believe defense should count in selecting All-Stars. If you don’t like modern metrics, I’m sure Murray Chass has an All-Star ballot somewhere, probably with CC Sabathia and his ten wins (and more baserunners allowed than any AL pitcher) starting for the AL.

Without further ado, my 2011 All-Stars:

Catcher: NL, Brian McCann, Braves; AL, Alex Avila, Tigers

McCann has been the best catcher in the NL since Russell Martin lost his groove. Buster Posey was threatening that title when Scott Cousins knocked him out for the season, possibly giving McCann a few more years at the top. Miguel Montero’s defense has been better, and bWAR actually prefers him to McCann overall (2.0 to 1.9), but fWAR, history, and just about every hitting stat prefers McCann, so he’s my choice.

Avila is an easy pick. Since Martin faded back to 2009-2010 form and Matt Wieters stopped hitting (98 wRC+), Avila (.303/.373/.545) has been by far the best catcher in the AL.

First base: NL, Joey Votto, Reds; AL, Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox

So it took me two picks to contradict what I said above about voting standards. Prince Fielder has hit better than Votto this year (184 wRC+ to 161), and both keepers of WAR list Fielder on top, but I’ve got three reasons for preferring Votto. First, the man gets himself on base. His .441 OBP leads the National League and he’s failed to reach base in just four of the 77 games he’s played. That’s just absurd. Second, he’s a far superior fielder to Prince. Even if WAR suggests that the difference in their fielding is less pronounced than the difference in their hitting this year, Votto is a star player on both sides of the ball. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Votto was the best player in the NL last year. He was arguably the best player in the first half, but was passed over by the fans, players, and Charlie Manuel for an All-Star spot. Then he was even better in the second half and gets no All-Star love for his accomplishments. With all due respect to Prince Fielder and his ridiculous offensive numbers (.306/.428/.616), Votto is the best hitter in the NL right now and should start the All-Star game.

In the AL, Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera have almost identical hitting stats (Cabrera’s 40-point OBP edge is nearly canceled by Gonzalez’s 36-point advantage in slugging), but fielding makes all the difference. Gonzalez has been one of the most effective fielders at any position, saving 7.4 runs above average, while Cabrera has saved 2.3 fewer runs than he should. That adds up to a win, which would be hard to ignore even if Cabrera’s offensive edge was as big as it was earlier in the season.

Second base: NL, Rickie Weeks, Brewers; AL, Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox

Weeks has hit like a corner outfielder, slugging .505 with 14 home runs, and his adequate defense is enough to hold off superior fielders Brandon Phillips and Danny Espinosa.

I initially chose Ben Zobrist for the AL spot, and wrote a paragraph trying to justify the pick, all in the name of (1) my assumption that Zobrist had been better before checking the updated numbers and (2) not wanting to look like a homer. Pedroia now leads the AL in both fWAR and bWAR among second basemen, so I really shouldn’t feel so awkward about this pick. Zobrist’s offensive edge (129 wRC+ to 127) is negligible, and Pedroia’s been the better fielder (8.6 RSAA to 7.2) and has stolen more bases (14 to 7, though fangraph’s prefers Zobrist’s overall baserunning). Zobrist’s 2009 proved that this season is not a fluke, but Pedroia’s been nothing but stellar since winning Rookie of the Year in 2007. Some great players will suffer from the depth of the position, as Howie Kendrick (3.4 fWAR) and Ian Kinsler (2.7) likely won’t even be selected as reserves.

Third base: NL, Chase Headley, Padres; AL, Alex Rodriguez, Yankees

Since Gonzalez’s departure, the Padres have been nearly devoid of offense, but Headley has been the lone bright spot, hitting .295/.389/.402. Ryan Roberts has the same fWAR (2.0) and a higher bWAR (2.0 vs. Headley’s 1.6), but I can’t reward a guy with a .337 OBP, and Roberts doesn’t have Headley’s track record of past success. Placido Polanco has continued his defensive and baserunning success, but has lost the bat that made him my quarter-season pick, regressing to a wRC+ of 97, below league average.

In the American League, Rodriguez and Kevin Youkilis stand out above all other hitters at third base, and Rodriguez and Adrian Beltre have been the best fielders. It all adds up to ARod, whose 3.8 fWAR lead Youk and Beltre by a full win.

Shortstop: NL, Jose Reyes, Mets; AL, Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians

Reyes and Matt Kemp are the leading contenders for NL MVP (or at least they would be in a world where a players’ teammates’ performance doesn’t factor into MVP discussions). Batting .340/.380/.503 with 27 stolen bases and adequate defense, Reyes’s 4.3 fWAR is tops in the NL. I’d love to reward Troy Tulowitzki for his success over the last full year, but Reyes’s first half can’t be ignored.

In the AL, shortstop is probably the best All-Star positional debate this season. If you want all-around success, Alexei Ramirez is your man, with above-average hitting (107 wRC+), stellar defense (5.9 RSAA), and excellent baserunning (2.7 runs above average). However, if you don’t trust the defensive metrics that give Ramirez the edge in fWAR (2.9 to 2.7), you can’t go wrong with Cabrera and his .290/.342/.489 line, powered by 12 home runs and 38 doubles. bWAR agrees, with Cabrera (2.5) a full win ahead of Ramirez (1.5). Jhonny Peralta is a reasonable alternative no matter which side of the argument you fall on.

Outfield: NL, Matt Kemp, Dodgers, Andrew McCutcheon, Pirates, Ryan Braun, Brewers; AL, Jose Bautista, Blue Jays, Curtis Granderson, Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox

Kemp, despite his ugly fielding numbers, is the easiest pick here, as his .453 wOBA leads all NL players. McCutcheon is doing it all, slashing .285/.390/.466, stealing 15 bases, and saving 6.5 runs above the average defensive center fielder. Braun has hit like Lance Berkman without fielding quite as poorly, narrowly edging out the more rounded Shane Victorino.

Since I wrote this, it’s become apparent that “Ted Williams with more power” might overstate Jose Bautista’s newfound batting prowess, but he’s still been the best hitter in the game this year, leading all of baseball in home runs, OBP, slugging, and wRC+ (208). His defense has regressed to the point where it’s conceivable that someone will finish with a higher WAR (Kemp has already caught him, according to baseball-reference). Granderson and Ellsbury have taken very different routes to similarly great results, Granderson hitting 21 home runs and slugging .578 while playing slightly-above-average defense, and Ellsbury getting on base 124 times and stealing 24 bases (he’d be an easier pick if he hadn’t been caught ten times). If we were looking for a true left fielder, Alex Gordon would be the pick, but Gordon’s offense has been a hair behind Ellsbury’s and he doesn’t bring quite the same value playing left as Ellsbury does in center. Brett Gardner and Denard Span could make the team as defensive replacements, but neither has hit enough to start an All-Star game.

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz, Red Sox

I would prefer to let Miguel Cabrera start the All-Star game as the AL’s designated hitter. I understand, however, why MLB requires that we vote in an actual DH, and there’s no viable pick except Ortiz, whose 17 homers and .581 slugging percentage far outpace any other candidate.

Here’s where I’ll diverge from Bill’s format and round out the rosters with pitchers and reserves. We’ll go with 25-man rosters, rather than the thirty-whatever who will actually play in the game.

Starting Pitchers: NL, Roy Halladay, Phillies; AL, Justin Verlander, Tigers

Halladay’s strikeout/walk ratio (119 to 16, for a 2.16 FIP) overcomes teammate Cole Hamels’s superior ERA. Hamels joins Halladay on the staff along with teammate Cliff Lee, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, Atlanta’s Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, Colorado’s Jhoulys Chacin, and Arizona’s Ian Kennedy. I’ll take two relievers to round out the staff, and they’ll both be Braves, as Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel have been the best relievers in the National League all year.

Verlander recently overtook Jered Weaver for the major league lead in Season Score, and has clearly been the league’s most dominant pitcher in June. He’ll start over Weaver and Angels teammate Dan Haren, Tampa’s James Shields and David Price, Boston’s Josh Beckett, and Seattle’s Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez.. The best relievers have been Angels rookie Jordan Walden (1.3 fWAR), and Mariano Rivera, who uses his lifetime achievement bonus to edge out teammate David Robertson.

Reserves
The NL needs a designated hitter, and Prince Fielder’s .442 wOBA fits the bill. That leaves five spots on the bench, one of which has to be a catcher. Miguel Montero has been the most valuable catcher after McCann, so he’s in. Shane Victorino would have been a defensible choice as a starting center fielder, so we’ll take him as a fourth outfielder. Tulowitzki is among the game’s best fielders and could probably back up just about any spot on the diamond (he can hit a little too). Lance Berkman has been the best hitter we’ve left off, so he’s in. Justin Upton of the West-leading Diamondbacks and Danny Espinosa of the surprising Nationals will finish out the roster.

In the AL, our backup catcher is Cleveland’s Carlos Santana. Miguel Cabrera’s bat demands a spot, as does Zobrist’s all around play. Denard Span and his 10.2 fielding runs saved will be our defensive replacement in the outfield. That leaves three wild card spots, which we’ll fill with two more outfielders, Alex Gordon and Matt Joyce, and an infielder, Boston’s Kevin Youkilis (there’s my homer pick, although he leads the next guy out, Brett Gardner, in both versions of WAR. Apologies to Howie Kendrick.)

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One Response to Midseason All-Star Picks

  1. Nick says:

    I agree on you Phillies selections. Their team is all pitching right now, and Polanco’s sinking BA is a bit worrisome. He’s the only guy on the team who might win the fan vote anyway, but his full-season-to-date doesn’t deserve it now. And Shane has surprised me that he leads the team in average.

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