Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

AL All-Star Thoughts

It's that time of year again -- we're about a month away from the Midsummer Classic, and it's time to start thinking about who is deserving of the title of All-Star. As a part of this process, I'm going to spend some time talking about who is going to get into the game, who should get into the game, and who is likely to be snubbed.

First, a minor refresher on the rules. Each league starts off with 32 players on their respective roster. Of course, there are always injuries and other problems that prevent some guys from attending -- and when that happens, the non-participating player keeps the title of All-Star, but another player is selected to take the non-participant's place on the 32-man roster. Every team must have at least one All-Star, which can make for some awfully interesting decisions, and some awfully tough snubs.

The selection of players is rather convoluted. First, fans vote the starting position players, which takes up 8 of the roster spots. Players then vote for pitchers and one backup at each position, which fills up the majority of the rest of the roster. A mysterious collective of the 30 Manager's and the Commissioner's office then fill the roster up to 31 players, ensuring that every team is represented and that the roster is balanced. That leaves one spot in each league for the "Final Vote," which again belongs to the fans. Got that? Good.

So, without further ado, here's my AL All-Star team, as of June 13 (all stats current through Monday night):

First, you have to begin with the fan vote. At this point, the AL position starters would be as follows, with the second-place vote getters in brackets:

C - Ivan Rodriguez - DET (679,403) [Jorge Posada - NYY (567,153)]
1B - David Ortiz - BOS (1,055,260) [Justin Morneau - MIN (519,432)]
2B - Placido Polanco - DET (572,238) [Robinson Cano - NYY (520,506)]
3B - Alex Rodriguez - NYY (1,404,001) [Mike Lowell - BOS (528,895)]
SS - Derek Jeter - NYY (1,161,162) [Carlos Guillen - DET (409,813)]
OF - Vladimir Guerrero - LAA (1,118,951)
OF - Manny Ramirez - BOS (823,269)
OF - Ichiro Suzuki - SEA (757,275) [Magglio Ordonez (644,183)]

Normally, I would take the time to offer some criticism of these choices (positive AND negative) -- but since I'm telling who what my roster would be, I'm just going to accept the results of the fan voting as is. When I discuss who my backups would be, there will some discussion of players who I think should have been at the top of the fan voting, however.

Now, onto my reserves -- by position:

My ideal All-Star roster would include three catchers, so I need two more guys to join Ivan Rodriguez. One of the choices is an absolute no-brainer -- Jorge Posada (NYY) is having a brilliant year, with a .358 batting average and .980 OPS to go along with 7 homers and 40 RBI's. If ever there was a deserving All-Star, he is it. There are several deserving guys for the third spot behind the plate. First, as much as I love Joe Mauer (MIN), I have to disqualify him because he's missed a month of the season -- and there are other very good catchers who have played the whole year. The choice really comes down to Kenji Johjima of the Mariners (.330/.878/7/27) and Victor Martinez of the Indians (.325/.931/12/54). Looking at those numbers, there's really no choice -- Kenji Johjima would be deserving in most years, but Victor Martinez is having a great year for a 1st place team, and so gets the call.

First Base
With David Ortiz already occupying the starting slot, there's room for two more (real) first basemen on the roster. There aren't a lot of guys putting up huge numbers at 1B this year, with former All-Stars like Paul Konerko (CHW) (.244/.757) and Richie Sexson (SEA) (.200/.693) struggling mightily. It's fairly obvious, though, that Kevin Youkilis (BOS) is deserving of a spot on the team, what with his .336 batting average and .947 OPS, along with 8 homers and 32 RBI's. That would mean, of course, that he'd be backing up a teammate -- a very rare situation in an All-Star game. It makes too much sense not to happen here, though. The second spot is a bit tougher -- Casey Kotchman (.323/.944/7/32) is having a great season for the Angels, Carlos Pena (.306/1.029/13/33) is playing great for the D0-Rays, and Mark Teixeira (.302/.959/12/41) has solid numbers for the Rangers. Who gets the call, then, if these guys don't? Considering the rest of my roster, the answer has to be the Twins own Justin Morneau, who leads all AL first basemen with 17 HR's and 46 RBI's. His .273 average and .888 are lower than the other guys on this list, but he's still getting the job done (based on run production -- 40 runs scored, 46 driven in -- no one else is anywhere near that), so he gets the call.

Second Base
Placido Polanco deserves to win this spot, so kudos to the fans for recognizing that a guy with a .348/.830 should be in the Classic. More interesting is who comes next. There are actually a number of second basement with excellent arguments for deserving a spot. One of them is the Twins own Luis Castillo, who has a .330 average. However, his OPS is only .740, and he's scored fewer runs than the other major competitors, so it's hard to justify including him. If he makes it in, it will be on the strength of his average and the fact that he is now the Major League record-holder for errorless games at 2B. There are other, better candidates, however -- and Robinson Cano (NYY), in second-place in the voting, is not amongst them (he's hitting just .269, with 28 runs). For one, Boston's Dustin Pedroia is hitting .316/.840 -- but that's not quite good enough. Instead, I would take Tampa's B.J. Upton, who has great numbers this year (.320/.941/9/31), and Baltimore's Brian Roberts, who also is having a very solid season (.324/.839/2/17).

Third Base
Alex Rodriguez absolutely deserves to be leading this category, because he's having a great year. Last year, the AL took just one reserve third baseman -- and that might be a viable option again this year, with some poor performances throughout the league. However, I would still go with two backups, because I think it can be justified. Numerous players deserve at least consideration, starting with Tampa's Akinori Iwamura, who is hitting .341/.925 -- but his long injury has left him with just 88 AB's this year, so I have to skip him. Also meriting serious attention are Texas' Hank Blalock (.285/.828/5/16) -- but the RBI numbers are problematic -- and Cleveland's Casey Blake (.283/.868/9/34). However, I think Boston's Mike Lowell (.312/.921/11/47) is an absolute shoo-in for a spot on the roster. He should be joined by Toronto's Troy Glaus (.292/.946/10/28), who has also been limited by injury this year (to just 144 AB's), but who fills a spot for the Blue Jays and overall deserves to be in the game.

Derek Jeter, as always, is a worthy pick to start the game (.329/.858/4/31). His primary backup, without question, should be the Angels Orlando Cabrera, who has pumped out a .335/.831/3/35 that has been at least the equal of Jeter's season. A number of players could legitimately make the roster as a third shortstop, including Tampa's Brendan Harris (yes, really!) who has a .316 average and .835 OPS with 6 homers and 28 RBI's. Also on the short list would be Carlos Guillen (DET) (.305/.903/8/41), Miguel Tejada (BAL) (.302/.769/6/33), and Jhonny Peralta (CLE) (.288/.864/12/37). However, my pick for the final spot would actually belong to the slightly under-achieving Michael Young (TEX) (.284/.744/4/36), who has at least scored a lot and driven in a lot of runs despite having a low OPS. More importantly -- he plays for the Rangers, who need a representative. Since none of the guys that I would snub are having amazing seasons, I feel that taking Young here can be justified.

With Manny Ramirez, Vlad Guerrero, and Ichiro already on the roster, I would take three more outfielders. One of them is absolutely obvious: Magglio Ordonez (DET) is easily having the best season of his career, with a .367 batting average and ridiculous 1.108 OPS with 13 homers and 56 RBI. It doesn't hurt that he's on a first place team, and his manager will be in charge of things on game day. He'll be there, without question. That leaves two slots, and there are a number of solid candidates -- including Angels rookie phenom Reggie Willits (.311/.769 in 161 AB's) and Tampa's Carl Crawford (.304/.863/6/38). However, I think the last two spots have to go to the Twins Torii Hunter (.308/.908/13/49) and Cleveland's Grady Sizemore (.289/.889/11/32/54 runs/18 steals). Sizemore's average is lower than some of the other serious candidates, but his overall production is so high, and he's on such a good team, that he has to make it in. Torii, meanwhile, is having a great year, tying for 2nd amongst AL Outfielders in homeruns and alone in third for RBI's. With a solid average, that's enough for me.

Starting Pitchers
This spot includes the single biggest question -- who would I hand the ball to at the beginning of the game? First, it should be known that I would take just 10 pitchers -- fewer than is usually the case. Of those, I would take 6 starters, 3 closers, and 1 other relief pitcher. First, it should be recognized that there are some truly brilliant performances out there on the mound in the AL, and a lot of guys deserve recognition. Those who I would take to the Classic include: Josh Beckett (BOS) (9-0/2.88/1.00 WHIP/67-16 K-BB/72 innings). It's hard to argue with a guy who has a sub-3.00 ERA and is undefeated on the season. Beckett could have even better numbers if he didn't have that darned blister. Next up: John Lackey (LAA) (9-4/2.60/1.19 WHIP/67-23 K-BB/86.2 innings), who has been the clear ace of the Angels staff. Also making my cut -- Justin Verlander (DET) (6-2/2.84/1.21 WHIP/66-29 K-BB/82.1 innings). The no-hitter against the Brewers is a nice-touch that puts him over the top and onto the All-Star team. Chad Gaudin (OAK) (6-1/2.43/1.33 WHIP/51-32 K-BB/77.2 innings) came close to not making the cut for a number of reasons, but in the end I can't look away from a sub-2.50 ERA, so he makes the team. I'd also include Jon Garland (CHW) (4-3/3.42/1.17 WHIP/33-26 K-BB), because his numbers aren't bad and the White Sox need to have a representative. That leaves one more starter spot to go, and it goes to the overall starter. There really can be no question here -- by far the most dominant pitcher in the AL this season has been Oakland's Dan Haren (7-2/1.58/0.86 WHIP/76-21 K-BB/97 innings). He just blows everyone else out of the water, and has to get the nod to start the game. Of course, this leaves off a number of deserving candidates: guys like Fausto Carmona (CLE) (7-1/2.88/1.26 WHIP/39-18 K-BB), James Shields (TB) (6-0/3.04/0.96 WHIP/83-18 K-BB/97.2 innings), C.C. Sabathia (CLE) (9-1/3.09/1.12 WHIP/89-15 K-BB/99 innings), and of course, Johan Santana (6-6/3.24/1.10 WHIP/96-23 K-BB/86 innings), any of whom could make the team. I just don't have room for them on my roster.

This one is actually fairly easy for me. With three closer spots to give out, there are two guys who I think are shoo-ins, and one guy who I need to include to fulfill the "one-guy-per-team" requirement. The two deserving candidates are Francisco Rodriguez (LAA) (19 saves/2.36 ERA/37-11 K-BB) and J.J. Putz (SEA) (18 saves/1.23 ERA/31-5 K-BB), who simply can't not be selected. The third choice is Kansas City's Joakim Soria (10 saves/3.28 ERA/28-12 K-BB), who's having a very nice season. It's him or Gil Meche, who would also be a worthy choice. I'd rather take 3 closers than 7 starters, though, so I'll arbitrarily make the decision to go with Soria over Meche here. This leaves off a few guys who are having really nice seasons -- Jonathan Papelbon (BOS) (14 saves/2.01 ERA/32-10 K-BB), Joe Nathan (MIN) (14 saves/1.98 ERA/28-9 K-BB), and Al Reyes (15 saves/1.95 ERA/33-7 K-BB) most notable among them. That's just how it goes. Finally, I want to include a middle reliever on the team, and for me the best choice is Rafael Betancourt (CLE) (12 holds/1.32 ERA/25-2 K-BB ratio). Those numbers speak for themselves, so he gets the nod from me.

Final Vote
So, there's my roster. That's 31 players, if you counted, because remember -- one spot will be filled by the winner of the final vote contest. If I were the commish, and I were confronted with this roster, who would I include in that list? Well, the five man ballot I would put out would probably look like this:

RP - Jonathan Papelbon
SP - James Shields
1B - Casey Kotchman
SP - C.C. Sabathia
OF - Carl Crawford

And of the guys on that list, I'd have a hard time not going with C.C. Sabathia, even if it's painfully obvious that Jonathan Papbelbon would actually win if this were the ballot.



  • At Wed Jun 13, 07:49:00 AM , Anonymous anon said...

    wow no Neshek, I'm done taking this site seriously

  • At Wed Jun 13, 09:34:00 AM , Blogger JST said...

    Not sure if you're serious or not, but I'll offer one defense. Yes, Neshek merits consideration. I've already included two Twins from a .500 team, however. Betancourt has put up equally solid numbers, and is on a better team. That's my justification -- your choice whether you want to take me seriously. However, I caution you -- it's always a bad idea to take me seriously.

  • At Wed Jun 13, 09:58:00 AM , Blogger Marty said...

    I just don't see Morneau making the team this year. I'd hate to have Morneau end up like Kirk Gibson and be an MVP winner w/o and All Star appearance but RBIs and RS alone won't push him in.

    (Cool bit of trivia, Morneau and Gibson are the only MVP winners to ever not make an all star team, going all the way back to the first all star game)

  • At Wed Jun 13, 10:08:00 AM , Blogger JST said...

    For the record (and to mollify my angry anon reader), I would actually be just fine with a switch of Morneau and Neshek. Neshek is the more deserving player. I just have a visceral dislike of taking multiple middle relievers, and so went with Betancourt.

    And Marty, that is a nice bit of trivia.

  • At Sat Jun 16, 08:44:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    In regards to Neshek and Bentecourt- yes they are both having great years, but Neshek's stats are clearly much better. And to say that Bentencourt should make it over Neshek just bc he's on a better team seems a little silly, when he has ZERO of that team's wins (Neshek has a 3-0 record!) Neshek has 10 more K's and has given up only 12 hits in comparison to Bentencourt's 18. Chances are neither will make the all star team, but Neshek clearly has better numbers!

  • At Sun Jun 17, 10:46:00 AM , Blogger JST said...

    Alright, last time I'm going to address this issue. I want to comment on the last anon's statements that Neshek's stats are clearly better.

    I dug through all of the stats that could possibly be relevant. Here's what I found:

    First, throw out wins. They simply don't matter to relievers, because it's completely luck as to whether you happen to get called into a game right before the offense comes through. It's a useless stat for relievers.

    Far more important are the performance stats. It should be noted up front that Nehsek has pitched 3 more innings (32.2 to 29.2) and 4 more games (31 to 27) than does Betancourt, so advantage to Neshek on that front.

    Next, hits allows also goes to Neshek, 13-18. Runs allowed are even, at 4 apiece (all earned). Sounds like Neshek is running away with this thing, right? After all, that translates to a 1.10 ERA for Neshek and a 1.21 ERA for Betancourt -- so again, advantage Neshek.

    But then things start to turn. Neshek has struck out 38, but walked 11 -- along with his hits allowed, that translates to a 0.73 WHIP. Betancourt, however, has struck out 28 and walked just 3 -- a WHIP of 0.71 and a slight advantage to Betancourt overall. The fact that he's walked so few also was a big factor for me.

    Elsewhere? If you value holds at all (and I'm up in the air on that one), Betancourt has 14 to Neshek's 7. A lot of the reason is that Betancourt has been pitching more with the lead -- and that's obviously not Neshek's fault. However, it does bolster Betancourt's portfolio, because it means he's been pitching under pressure more often than Neshek, and has handled it just fine.

    To me, I look at those stats and don't see either one being "clearly" better than the other. Neshek has a slight lead, but it's not enough for me to say, flat out, that Neshek should get the position -- especially because of the fact that in All-Star Games, the team really does matter. A 1st place team deserves more representation than a 3rd place team, and when there are close calls like this one, my instinct is to go with the player from the better team.

    So, there it is. Neshek probably deserves a spot in the All-Star Game -- but so does Betancourt.

    That's it! I'm done! If you want to criticize my thought process, go ahead.


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