Taylor's Twins Talk

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

All-Star Game Thoughts

First, let me say that overall I enjoyed watching tonight's All-Star game quite a bit. The implosion of J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez (admittedly, Rodriguez's "implosion" was pretty minor) nearly resulted in an impressive NL comeback -- but alas, the AL picked up a 10th straight victory and once again earned home field advantage in the World Series. Since I didn't get any thoughts up before the game actually happened, I'm not going to give as detailed of a run-down as I normally would have (it's a little bit late for that). However, I did want to get my thoughts on the blog, so here goes nothing:

American League

Victor Martinez (CLE) should have been the starter in this game (.324/.936/16 HR/68 RBI/44 R), and Jorge Posada (NYY) belonged on the team as well (.326/.904/9 HR/48 RBI/46 R). Ivan Rodriguez (DET) actually won the right to be on the team by winning the fan vote, and I can't argue with his inclusion -- he beats out Kenji Johjima (SEA) because he has 46 RBI's to Johjima's 32, and 35 R's to Johjima's 28. Johjima has a slightly higher BA and a moderately higher OPS -- but the bottom line is run production, and Rodriguez has the advantage. He belonged on the team, but not in the starting lineup. Bottom line: Good choices for the AL behind the plate.

First Base
There are just two guys to talk about here, with David Ortiz (BOS) winning the fan vote and Justin Morneau (MIN) getting on through the player's ballot. I don't particularly like the idea of voting for a DH at a position that he doesn't really play, but that's the system so I'm not going to complain about it too much. However, let me say that this was not the year that Ortiz deserved to get a spot on the team. His numbers (.314/.990/14 HR/52 RBI/55 R) are fine, but Gary Sheffield (DET) didn't make the team despite overall better numbers (.303 BA and .970 OPS are lower, but 21 HR, 58 RBI, and especially 78 R are all higher, and Sheffield has also stolen 12 bases this year while striking out 24 fewer times than Ortiz). And, honestly, if Ortiz is a first baseman, then Sheffield is a first baseman. Jim Leyland also should have found a way to add another 1B to the team, because several other players -- Kevin Youkilis (BOS) and Carlos Pena (TBD) especially -- had at least colorable claims to a spot on the team. Bottom Line: The wrong DH made the squad thanks to fan voting, and Jim Leyland blew a chance to take another good hitter to San Fran.

Second Base
Statistically, Placido Polanco (DET) and Brian Roberts (BAL) are having the best season's amongst the AL second-sackers easily. There's really not much to analyze here -- only three second basemen in the AL have an OPS over .800 -- and Polanco (.815) and Roberts (.848) are two of them. The other is Dustin Pedroia (BOS), who actually has the highest OPS at .850. Nevertheless, Pedroia has about 90 fewer AB's than Polanco and 103 fewer than Roberts -- and he's also driven in fewer runs and scored way fewer -- 28 fewer than Polanco, and 22 fewer than Roberts -- so I don't think he's that strong of a candidate. Bottom Line: Good choices for the squad.

Third Base
Alex Rodriguez (NYY) dominated the fan vote -- and with a .317 average, 1.078 OPS, 30 HR's, a stunning 86 RBI's, and an equally ridiculous 79 R's scored (for a diminished Yankee team, remember), he's an absolutely obvious choice. Mike Lowell (BOS) is second amongst AL third basemen in average (.300), OPS (.869), HR's (14), and RBI (63) -- although his 39 runs rank just 7th. Still, it's clear that he's been the second best in the AL this season, and he deserves his place on the team. Adrian Beltre (SEA) and Casey Blake (CLE) get honorable mentions, but really don't come close. Bottom Line: Good choices all around.

Derek Jeter (NYY) won the fan vote, and he deserved to be on the team -- but as a backup. His .336 BA, .871 OPS, 44 RBI, and 57 R are solid, but overall they don't quite measure up to Carlos Guillen (DET), who has a .328 BA, .968 OPS, 67 RBI, and 51 R. It's the OPS and RBI categories that particularly get to me -- and the fact that Guillen plays for a better team (generally, I think with close decisions, the better team gets the edge). Here, though, I don't think you even have to go that far -- Guillen just has better numbers overall. At least he rightfully has a place on the team. Michael Young (TEX), unfortunately, did not deserve his spot. He ranks 6th in BA against shortstops, 7th in OPS, 5th in runs, and T-4th in RBI's. There had to be a better option available for the Rangers, right? Well . . . maybe not. Kenny Lofton (.301/.817/20 RBI/53 R) and Sammy Sosa (.245/.747/14 HR/63 RBI/35 R) are probably the other two legit options -- none of the pitchers are even remotely close -- and really, does a guy with just 20 RBI's or with just a .245 BA belong in the game? As much as I wouldn't have put in Michael Young normally, the every team is represented rule pretty much required his inclusion, so I have to agree. Bottom Line: Grudging acceptance of the choices.

Vladimir Guerrero (LAA), Magglio Ordonez (DET), and Ichiro Suzuki (SEA) -- a.k.a. Mr. All-Star MVP -- won the fan balloting, and all were exceptional choices. Ordonez has a stunning .367 BA and 1.050 OPS to go along with 70 Runs and 70 RBI's. Obvious, obvious choice. Suzuki has a .359 average, .870 OPS, 39 RBI's and 61 runs -- and 23 stolen bases -- and also clearly deserved his place. Guerrero was third in BA (.325), second in OPS (.962), first in RBI's (75), and has a reasonable, if somewhat low, number of runs scored (46). I agree with all of these picks. The backups all have something going for them as well -- Torii Hunter (MIN) has a .301 BA, but most importantly has a .900 OPS (third highest amongst AL OF's), 69 RBI and 55 Runs. Carl Crawford (TBD) is a D-Ray with good numbers (.285/.781/51 RBI/48 R/23 SB). Alex Rios (TOR) has a solid OPS, and high productivity (R+RBI) -- .870 and 115, respectively. Grady Sizemore (CLE) has scored more runs than anyone else in the AL and leads outfielders in SB's -- all while putting up solid numbers elsewhere (.280/.864/15 HR/46 RBI/73 R/24 SB). That leaves Manny Ramirez (BOS), and here I have to disagree with the pick. Ramirez has put up a .284/.851/11/45/45 -- but Curtis Granderson (DET) beats him clearly -- .283/.884/12/43/62. He's also hit 15 (!) triples and stolen 9 bases. His 82 K's are remarkably high, but Sizemore has 91 -- so that category certainly shouldn't have disqualified him (he's producing, after all). Granderson for Ramirez would have been a good, and smart switch. Bottom Line: 7 out of 8 isn't bad, but Manny should have stayed home this year in favor of Granderson.

Dan Haren (OAK) was the clear favorite to start this game, with an ERA nearly a half point higher than everyone else (2.30), 101 K's and just 32 walks, and a solid 10-3 record. Johan Santana (MIN) -- 2.75/125-30/10-6 -- also was clearly deserving, as was John Lackey (LAA) -- 2.91/98-32/11-5. I also can't complain with Gil Meche (KCR) -- the only Royal who belonged, and whose 3.54/88-36/5-6 (sorry about the record, big guy) should have earned him consideration even absent the every-team-gets-a-player rule (although they wouldn't have been enough to get him -- notice I just said he deserved "consideration"). C.C. Sabathia (CLE) has a fairly high ERA for an All-Star -- 3.58 -- but his 119-18 K-BB ratio is phenomenal, and his 12-3 record is great (record in and of itself doesn't mean a lot, but it's part of a nice, holistic approach). Justin Verlander (DET) has a low ERA and good numbers elsewhere (3.14/97-39/10-3), so he belongs. That leaves just Josh Beckett (BOS), who's numbers (3.44/92-21/12-2) are good enough that he, too, belongs on the team. With apologies to Jeremy Guthrie (BAL) (2.74/72-18/4-2), Chad Gaudin (OAK) (2.88/68-48/8-3), and Mark Buehrle (CHW) (3.03/98-32/11-5), everyone else belonged, and there just wasn't enough room.

As for the relievers, J.J. Putz (SEA) was an easy choice with his 0.88 ERA and 24 saves (and silly 44-7 K-BB ratio), and Francisco Rodriguez (LAA) has put together a good enough season to get on as well (2.33/24 saves/53-16). Jonathan Papelbon's (BOS) sub-2.00 ERA (1.93), 20 saves, and 46-10 K-BB -- along with his membership on the best team in baseball -- made him a must-take. Bobby Jenks (CHW) does not deserve to be on the team based on the merits -- 3.28 ERA/23 saves/33-12 K-BB -- and probably should have lost this spot to Mark Buehrle, who has better numbers. I guess Jim Leyland thought yet another closer was essential. The fans also got it right by voting in Hideki Okajima (BOS) with his 0.83 ERA and 37-12 K-BB ratio. Bottom Line: Bobby Jenks was the only mistake, with Mark Buehrle deserving to get the White Sox's reserved spot.

National League


Russell Martin (LAD) was an easy and deserving choice to start for the NL with his .306 BA, .865 OPS, 11 HR, 60 RBI, and 51 R -- not to mention his 16 steals (for a catcher!). He leads the league amongst catchers in each of those categories, so this is obvious. Far less deserving was backup Brian McCann (ATL), who clearly made it on by reputation alone, since he's hitting just .262/.752 this year. Johnny Estrada (MIL) has better numbers (.293/.762/34 RBI/31 R) -- although McCann has 15 more RBI's, to be fair -- so probably should have gotten the nod. I guess I just think that .262 is skirting a little too low for an All-Star when there are guys with higher averages available. Bottom Line: McCann was not an All-Star in the first half this year, and should not have been on the team.

First Base
The NL's most hog-wild position, Tony LaRussa ended up with 4 first basemen on his team. Prince Fielder (MIL) won the fan vote, and it's easy to see why -- his .284 average and .996 OPS were coupled with 29 HR's, 70 RBI's, and 62 R's -- he leads each of those categories except batting average amongst NL first basemen, and deserved the start. Dmitri Young (WAS) and Derek Lee (CHC) lead NL first basemen in batting average (.339 and .330, respectively) , and both have reasonable OPS's (.902 and .890) -- although in the NL, those are actually not great numbers. Still, the batting averages alone, coupled with the team issue (for Young), make them solid choices. Albert Pujols (STL) also deserved his spot, because his numbers were simply superior to those of his nearest competitors, Todd Helton (COL) and Ryan Howard (PHI). Somehow, 4 first basemen is starting to make sense to me, considering the numbers these guys put up this year. Bottom Line: Insanely, Tony got these picks right.

Second Base
Chase Utley (PHI) won the fan vote, and rightfully so -- his numbers are arguably MVP worthy through the first half (.325/.972/15 HR/68 RBI/64 R). Orlando Hudson (ARI) and Freddy Sanchez (PIT) also made it onto the team, and while Hudson is a solid choice with his .296/.834/47/40, Sanchez is not (.296/.708/32/33). These being the Pirates, however, there really was no other choice -- no, not even Jason Bay, who is hitting just .254 this year. While Kelly Johnson (ATL) was a more deserving choice (.287/.852/42/55), he wasn't so good that I can call him a legitimate stub. Bottom Line: I grudgingly accept the choices as the right ones.

Third Base
David Wright (NYM) won the voting, but shouldn't have -- his .292/.879/16/51/49 numbers are nice, but they don't compare to any number of his peers. For one thing, the other third baseman to make the team was Miguel Cabrera (FLA), and he put up .324/.969/18/61/52 -- an improvement in every category, and by quite a bit in several of them. Chipper Jones (ATL) missed time this year, but has still put up numbers that were deserving of a bid (.329/1.011/15/41/48). Aramis Ramirez (CHC) also has a solid case at .312/.913/15/51/36. Bottom Line: Wrong starter, and with just 2 spots, Wright should not have made the cut.

Jose Reyes (NYM) won the voting, and I can't bring myself to disagree. He has a .307 average, an .825 OPS out of the leadoff spot, and an 80's-like 46 SB's this season. J.J. Hardy (MIL) is more puzzling -- his .280/.833/18/54/48 aren't bad, by any means -- but what about Hanley Ramirez (FLA) and his .331/.926/14/35/70 with 27 SB's? Or Jimmy Rollins (PHI) and his .286/.847/16/53/71? Bottom Line: Another poor decision in the NL, this time by the players and not the fans. Ramirez and Rollins should have both made the team at Hardy's expense (and probably at the expense of one of the 3000 closers Tony LaRussa selected).

Here's where things went horribly off the rails in the NL. Carlos Beltran (NYM), Barry Bonds (SFG), and Ken Griffey, Jr. (CIN) won the fan vote in the NL, and only one of them even has a legit claim. Well, OK, maybe two. Let's start with the easy one, though -- Carlos Beltran was not an All-Star this year. Not even close, as a matter of fact. For one thing, his .264 battinga verage and .817 OPS are drowned out by a host of other players numbers (he's 23rd in BA, for example). This was entirely a team-based vote, and was probably the worst mistake by the fans all year (unless you count David Ortiz winning the AL 1B vote). Griffey -- I can dig it. He's hitting .286, which is ok -- and his .958 OPS puts him third in that category amongst NL outfielders. He also leads the pack in homeruns with 23, and has solid production numbers with 59 RBI and 49 Runs. Bonds -- I'm ambivalent, but his sick 1.101 OPS and 91 walks are enough to convince me that he belongs in the starting lineup.

Amongst the backups, Matt Holliday (COL) was an obvious choice with his .341/.964/69 RBI/56 R numbers. Alfonso Soriano (CHC) was more of a stretch, however, at .309/.884/33/60. The 60 runs probably save him here, and his OPS isn't bad -- but these numbers just don't excite me much. Carlos Lee (HOU) gets the nod because he's driven in 73 runs while keeping the batting average and OPS reasonably high (.297/.869) and scoring a solid number of runs (48). That leaves Aaron Rowand (PHI), the man I least expected to see on this list. He does have solid numbers, though, with a .310/.863/43/52. Is that really better than Brad Hawpe (COL), though? I don't think so -- Hawpe is hitting .310/.949/60/44 -- clearly an improvement. Bottom Line: Beltran doesn't even belong on the team, let alone in the starting lineup -- and Aaron Rowan should have been left off to make room for Brad Hawpe.

Jake Peavy (SDP) was a deserving All-Star starter, with a 2.19 ERA/125-34 K-BB/9-3 record -- but he arguably wasn't even the best pitcher on his team -- Chris Young (SDP) put up unbelievably solid numbers, with a 2.00 ERA, 99-36 K-BB, and 8-3 record. Young nonetheless had to win the fan vote to make it on as the last player selected -- an egregious offense that never should have happened. He was an All-Star all the way. Brad Penny (LAD) (2.39/82-34/10-1) was also clearly All-Star worthy. Beyond that, things get harder to figure. John Smoltz (ATL) deserved his bid (3.07/75-35/9-5), but unfortunately couldn't play. Brandon Webb (ARI) had to wait for an injury to get in despite solid numbers (3.37/112-47/8-6), and the same is true for Roy Oswalt (HOU), although he was closer to the line (3.53/94-44/8-5). Then there was Ben Sheets (MIL), a solid choice against whom I can't argue too loudly (3.41/87-25/10-4). Unfortunately, these selections meant that very deserving candidates like John Maine (NYM), Ian Snell (PIT), Tom Gorzelanny (PIT), and Oliver Perez (NYM), amongst others, were left off of the list.

The sheer number of closers selected was probably the most bizarre thing, however. Tony LaRussa went with six closers for reasons that are hard to fathom. Let's start with the good -- Takashi Saito (LAD) has a 1.47 ERA, a sick 47-4 K-BB, and 23 saves. Yep, that's an All-Star. Trevor Hoffman (SDP) -- 1.91 ERA, 20-6 K-BB, 25 saves -- is weak in the K department but is still getting it done -- All-Star. Billy Wagner (NYM) also passes the smell test with a 1.64 ERA, 51-10 K-BB, and 17 saves. But why not stop there? The team didn't need the good but not great Francisco Cordero (MIL) and his 2.86/49-12/27 numbers or Jose Valverde (ARI) and his 2.83/38-14/26. And the club certainly didn't need Brian Fuentes (COL) and his 4.06/31-11/20. Fuentes ended up having to bow out due to injury, but what were the players thinking in the first place? Bottom Line: Way too many closers made this roster at the expense of some very deserving starting pitchers. There may be a time when 6 closers are warranted -- but this was not that time.



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