The All Star Game is just around the corner and that means that it is time to go to http://www.mlb.com/ and stuff the virtual ballot box for your favorite players. On the other hand, if you want to vote for the players that have earned their spot on the All Star team, I'm going to give you a handy little guide. Today I'll go through the American League and tomorrow I'll look at the National League.
Before I get started though, I'd like to briefly discuss the qualifications for making the team. In my mind, there are two schools of thought, if you exclude the 'vote for every player on my favorite team' method. There is the 'half season of performance' method and the 'performance plus legacy' method. I think the 'performance plus legacy' method has a valid argument for legitimacy; that argument is that a guy who has never done anything before, but has a great three months at the beginning of the season, should not beat out an established star that has maintained a consistent level of performance over several years, even if the first guy is outperforming the second guy. There is merit to that argument, however, because things like Hall of Fame voting use the number of All Star appearances as a measuring stick, I think the selections should be made only on the merit of the current season. Otherwise, certain guys that get selected by reputation alone will receive unearned credit that they don't deserve (yes, I know this happens all the time - I am just giving my rationale for why selections shouldn't be made this way).
Anyway, my choices will be based on only the performance to this point in the 2008 season, but I will add comments regarding the players' past performance, if you choose to base your selections on other criteria. So, with no further ado, here are the selections:
The American League has several legitimate choices at catcher. Here is how I would rank them:
Joe Mauer - .321/.406/.442 - 3 homers, 32 rbi
Dioner Navarro - .317/.368/.444 - 4homers, 31 rbi
Gerald Laird - .306/.360/.437 - 4homers, 25 rbi
AJ Pierzynski - .296/.337/.423 - 5homers, 30 rbi
I am personally not a big fan of the rbi as a comparative statistic, but I am including it for all players because so many people put so much stock in it and some of the comparisons you'll see in these lists show exactly why I dislike it. Anyway, Joe Mauer seems to be the clear leader of this group. He's a hell of a hitter, an on-base machine and he's got solid pop in his bat (if not homerun power). He probably gets the nod from a 'legacy' standpoint over the others on the list, as he put up a near-MVP season in 2006 (he should have won) and has been a premier catcher for the last several years.
This one is really close and it comes down to (to the disappointment of the rest of the country) New York vs. Boston. Here are the contenders:
Jason Giambi - .262/.396/.542 - 17 homers, 46 rbi
Kevin Youkilis - .313/.382/.544 - 13 homers, 50 rbi
Justin Morneau - .306/.368/.483 - 12 homers, 63 rbi
Morneau is clearly third in this race (although this is the first example of how the rbi can be misleading). Giambi and Youkilis are basically even in slugging percentage and Giambi has a decent lead in OBP, while Youkilis has a solid lead in batting average (which is probably the least important of the "slash" statistics). But they are really close to each other offensively, but Youkilis is far superior to Giambi defensively. I think I would choose Giambi because of the homeruns and the OBP advantage, but I don't think that a vote for Youkilis would be a travesty. Giambi probably has the edge from the 'legacy' standpoint, as a former MVP, although that legacy now also includes a steroids tag.
The most deserving second baseman in the American League is one of the most unknown and underrated players in the game. He's not in Chase Utley's league, but it might surprise many to find out that he's not that far behind Utley. Here is the list:
Ian Kinsler - .323/.377/.534 - 13 homers, 50 rbi, 20 sb
Brian Roberts - .293/.370/.478 - 5 homers, 30 rbi, 21 sb
Dustin Pedroia - .304/.348/.442 - 8 homers, 37 rbi, 9 sb
Many people thought that Pedroia was overrated and would come back to Earth this season, myself included, but he has continued to play at a level that not many expected from him. Brian Roberts is having one of his typically great seasons, which would probably give him the 'legacy' edge at this position, since he's been doing this for some time. Ian Kinsler, however, clearly gets the nod here. He was a 20/20 player last season and has raised his game this year and has an outside chance of being a 30/30 player.
The answer here is pretty obvious, but a darkhorse candidate seems to gain ground with every game played:
Alex Rodriguez - .322/.404/.591 - 15 homers, 43 rbi, 10 sb
Evan Longoria - .270/.342/.529 - 15 homers, 47 rbi, 4 sb
Joe Crede - .271/.343/.506 - 15 homers, 46 rbi
Mike Lowell - .296/.359/.519 - 12 homers, 46 rbi
I did a preliminary list last week for this post and Longoria didn't make the cut, but he's gaining momentum and is now neck-and-neck with Joe Crede for the backup spot on the team. As a rookie, he certainly doesn't have the 'legacy' vote, but that's only a matter of time. He's going to be a special player. Alex Rodriguez is having another MVP-quality season. He hasn't hit as many homers as he has in the past, but I would expect him to finish with around 40 anyway.
This position used to be a strength for the American League with the 'holy trinity' of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra. Then Miguel Tejada was added to the mix and throw in Omar Vizquel and someone is going to get snubbed every year. This year, though, I had a difficult time coming up with qualified candidates. Here is my list:
Michael Young - .280/.333/.408 - 7 homers, 43 rbi, 5 sb
Derek Jeter - .284/.344/.393 - 4 homers, 35 rbi, 5 sb
That's it. In most years these guys wouldn't sniff consideration (at least from me - Jeter will always get a lot of votes). Both of these guys have been quality players in the past, but Jeter obviously would win the 'legacy' battle here.
I've never understood why outfielders are lumped together - the positions are similar, but you clearly need different skills to play the different outfield positions. Regardless, the votes are for three outfielders, indpendent of position, so that is the way I have them listed as well.
JD Drew - .304/.417/.570 - 15 homers, 48 rbi, 2 sb
Josh Hamilton - .312/.362/565 - 19 homers, 79 rbi, 3 sb
Carlos Quentin - .288/.396/.544 - 19 homers, 61 rbi, 5 sb
Grady Sizemore - .268/.372/.525 - 19 homers, 45 rbi, 19 sb
Manny Ramirez - .289/.378/.519 - 16 homers, 52 rbi
Nick Markakis - .288/.394/.474 - 12 homers, 39 rbi, 8 sb
Magglio Ordonez - .307/.376/.490 - 12 homers, 50 rbi
David DeJesus - .316/.377/.480 - 8 homers, 41 rbi, 6 sb
This is clearly the position of strength for the American League. Any of the first five would be valid selections to start the game and the other three aren't that far behind. Take a close look at the numbers and especially the rbi. Does the difference in rbi between Josh Hamilton and JD Drew (or Grady Sizemore) really tell us anything about the relative abilities of those players? I submit that it does not (to steal a phrase from the hysterical Jeff Kay of the West Virginia Surf Report).
Also, take a look at David DeJesus' season so far. Those are some outstanding numbers that are getting lost in another wasted season for the Royals. DeJesus doesn't fit the mold of the speedy leadoff hitter (his stolen base success rate is barely over 50%), but if he remains at the top of the order and Alex Gordon and Billy Butler continue to develop as hitters, he will score a lot of runs for the Royals in the future.
There is a look at your American League All Stars, check in tomorrow for the National League.