All-Star Game Thoughts #3 - First Base
Sad to say this isn't much of a race. The top 5 as of 6/20 looks like this:
1.) David Ortiz - 1,257,595 (.264/21/64)
2.) Jason Giambi - 796,146 (.271/20/56)
3.) Paul Konerko - 579,666 (.320/18/59)
4.) Travis Hafner - 520,853 (.304/19/58)
5.) Chris Shelton - 350,707 (.272/14/34)
It's pretty clear that David Ortiz will be the starting first baseman for the American League in Pittsburgh. I'm going to save the whole DH position eligibility thing for the end of this post, and just say that there could be worse picks. Nevertheless, David Ortiz is not the guy who SHOULD be starting for the American League.
Instead, the answer is pretty clearly Paul Konerko. A batting average nearly 60 points higher, with only slightly fewer HR's and RBI's, playing for another very, very good team. Paul Konerko should get the nod, and in my idealized world would have. There aren't a lot of mistakes in that top-5; as much as I dislike Jason Giambi, his numbers are the equal of Ortiz's. Hafner has had a better season than both. In fact, only Chris Shelton doesn't belong, and there are a couple of guys more deserving in the AL that should be occupying one of those top-5 spots.
For starters, and I can't quite believe I'm saying this, the Twins own Justin Morneau belongs on the list. His .282/19/58 stacks up favorably with just about everybody else on the list, and that's saying something. But the Oakland Athletics' Nick Swisher also deserves some love, with his .289/19/48. Morneau edges him out for my top-5 because of the extra RBI's.
So, who should join Ortiz in Pittsburgh? Konerko has to be on that list, and with Ozzie Guillen making the selections he certainly will be. After that it gets a little tougher, if you figure that only one more 1B will be selected. Giambi, Hafner, and Morneau all deserve some consideration, and it will be interesting to see what direction Guillen goes. Of the three, I would have to give the edge to Hafner because he is about equal in HR and RBI with the other two, but has a much higher batting average. So my three AL 1B would be David Ortiz, Paul Konerko, and Travis Hafner.
Now, I promised to get into the DH eligibility thing in this post, and I forgot to do that when I originally posted, so here goes. I think David Ortiz probably belongs in the All-Star game. He drives in a lot of runs, and is usually an MVP-caliber player. This year, he might not quite belong. But the conundrum with DH's is yet another reason that I believe the fans should only select the last five players on the team, AFTER all of the important decisions on who gets to start and who the backups will be are made by others. Ortiz is not a first baseman. He is a designated hitter who, if pressed, can play at 1B. If not for interleague play, he would never get a start in the field. This applies to any player who is primary a DH; they just don't belong on the ballot when the game is being played in a National League park and there isn't going to be a DH. That doesn't mean they shouldn't get to go to the game; it just means they shouldn't be eligible to win the starting slot for a position that they don't really play. That said, this isn't something that irks me a whole lot. It's just yet another goofy aspect of playing with a DH in AL parks and not in NL parks. Why not have a DH in the All-Star game no matter where you play, by the way? Does anyone really want to see Dontrelle Willis or Johan Santana or Curt Schilling hit in an All-Star game? Interleague play provides us with that novelty for the AL pitchers, and you get to see it all the time in the NL. Why not give an extra position player a few at-bats for both leagues no matter which park the All-Star game is played in? Just a thought.
As in the American League, there is no surprise in the voting here:
1.) Albert Pujols - 1,777,968 (.302/25/65)
2.) Carlos Delgado - 700,771 (.264/20/52)
3.) Nomar Garciaparra - 497,585 (.357/8/43)
4.) Lance Berkman - 486,581 (.311/20/64)
5.) Ryan Howard - 459,677 (.293/25/66)
Clearly, Albert Pujols will win the starting job, and when you consider where his numbers would have been if he hadn't missed a couple weeks of the season with that freak injury, it just makes you shake your head. As a result, I can't really disagree with this selection, and will say that Pujols not only will, but should be the starter for the NL.
I also can't quibble with any of the other names on this top 5. All of them have been very good, and the names not on the list (Todd Helton, Prince Fielder, Nick Johnson) have been pretty good, but just don't stack up to that top 5. More challenging is figuring out which 2 of the 4 extras deserve a shot to play in the game.
All of them have something going for them. Delgado is playing 1B for the best team in the National League, and is putting up very solid numbers. Garciaparra leads the National League in batting average. Berkman is solid across the board with his average, homers, and RBI. Howard took the league lead in RBI away from Pujols, and has tied him in HR. His batting average isn't bad either. So who gets the nod?
With the Dodgers having no other really obvious All-Star picks (although strong cases can be made for both Brad Penny and Derek Lowe, with their 3.00 ERA's), and with his very very solid batting average, I have to give Nomar Garciaparra one of the spots. While I would normally be inclined to reward the Mets by giving Delgado a spot, I think with Berkman and Howard both playing so well, one of them deserves it more. The answer, I think, is to pick Ryan Howard. But wait...with Berkman's ability to play in the outfield if necessary, and with Garciaparra's ability to play at short or third if necessary, I see no reason why the Astros shouldn't take Lance Berkman as well. If ever there were a position with four worthy players, this is it. Of course, there's another thing to consider here; Phil Garner will be managing the National League. If it comes down to Berkman or Howard, and there isn't room for four 1B, then it will be Berkman, even if Howard is more deserving. Let's hope they can find room for all four of these guys, because they all deserve to go.