10 July 2007

2007 All-Star Game Preview

The 2007 All-Star Game will be played tonight in San Francisco, at SBCGlobalAT&TPacBellYahoo Park.

The rough year the Yankees are having (42-43) is attested to by the fact that they have "only" three players in the game, despite the fact that two were voted into the starting lineup. This is the fewest All-Stars the Yankees have had since 2003, when they also had three, and they have not had fewer than that since way back in 1993, when only Jimmy Key and Wade Boggs made the team. (Interesting side note: Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey and Ivan Rodriguez were all in the starting lineups of that game as well, and John Smoltz was in the bullpen. Cecil Fielder was on the bench, as his son, Prince, is for this game. Oddly, Darryl Kile, Kirby Puckett and the recently deceased Rod Beck were also in that game. You expect a lot of players to retire in 15 years, but you don't necessarily expect them to still be playing, especially not well enough to be an All-Star. And you certainly don't expect young men in the prime of their lives and careers to be dead within a decade and a half. Strange stuff.)

Anyway, this marks the first time since 1995 that the Yankees have had a losing record as of the All-Star Break. They were 30-36 at this time that year, having played about 20 fewer games than they would normally have played to that point, because of the Strike. Those Yankees, unlike these, had actually played as badly as their record reflected, scoring 331 runs and allowing 356, which projects to about a 31-35 record, almost exactly matching thier actual one. Bu tthe 1995 Yankees had to play insanely well (49-29) the rest of the year just to catch up and snag the first ever MLB Wild Card, just so they could have their hearts broken by the Seattle Mariners in the ALDS.

These Yankees have a Pythagorean record of 49-36, based on their 464 ruins scored and 392 allowed, much better than thier actual record. Most of that discrepancy is because they've gone only 6-14 in 1-Run Games. Just breaking even there would bring them up to 46-39, which would look a lot more respectable. it's possible that their luck will turn around in the second half and they'll win a few more of those, but short of going something like 22-5 in those contests for the rest of the season, I don't see how they can make up the defecit they've got now, currently 8.5 games behind Cleveland in the WC race and 10 games behind Boston in the AL East. Worse yet, they'd have to leap-frog Oakland, Minnesota, and Seattle while fending off Toronto just to get next to the Tribe in the AL consolation prize standings. Probably not gonna happen.

So, let’s look at what might happen tonight.

Starting lineups

Ichiro Suzuki, CF

Derek Jeter, SS

David Ortiz, 1B

Alex Rodriguez, 3B

VladimirGuerrero, RF

Magglio Ordonez, LF

Ivan Rodriguez, C

Placido Polanco, 2B

Dan Haren, P

Jose Reyes, SS

Barry Bonds, LF

Carlos Beltran, CF

Ken Griffey, RF

David Wright, 3B

Prince Fielder, 1B

Russ Martin, C

Chase Utley, 2B

Jake Peavy, P

You can’t really compare lineup spots, given that Tony LaRussa has some odd ideas about where players should bat. (Barry Bonds hasn’t batted #2 in a regular season game in 20 years. Beltran’s hitting 3rd despite the fact that he’s batting only .264, and Prince Fielder, despite leading the NL with 29 homers, is batting 6th. Chase Utley, hitting .325 and leading the NL in doubles, bats 8th. Go figure.)

However, we can compare players by position. First the Yankees, of course. Ironically, both Yankees’ NL counterparts play for the Mets.

Shortstop - Jeter vs. Reyes. Slight edge to Reyes, who has shown an incredible increase in patience (47 walks already this year, after drawing only 53 all of last season) and whose basestealing abilities are the best we’ve seen since Rickey Henderson was in his prime. He can turn a game around all by himself.

Third base - A-Rod vs. Wright. Huge edge to A-Rod, who leads the majors in homers, RBIs, runs, slugging percentage, and leads the AL in OPS. Wright’s darn good, but there’s no comparison.

First Base - Big Papi vs. Little Prince. Slight edge to Ortiz. they actually have nearly identical OPS numbers (158 to 159) but Papi gets a big edge in on-base percentage, while Prince’s 29 homers give him the edge in slugging. I’ll take Ortiz in a clutch spot any time.

Second base - Chase vs. Enrico Polozzo. Let’s see…the current Phillies 2B or the phormer Phillies 2B? Despite the gaudy .335 batting average, Polanco really isn’t that great a hitter. His adjusted OPS is only 17% better than his league, way behind Utley, who’s 51% better. Huge edge to Utley.

Catcher - Pudge vs. Martin. Pudge is the fan favorite, a future Hall of Famer on his firts try, but he’s only been a mediocre hitter the last two and a half years. martin is the future, and as it happens, also the present. Edge to Martin.

Left Field - Bonds vs. Magglio. Slight edge to Bonds, who’s still the most feared hitter on the planet. He’s been intentionally walked 30 times in 301 trips to the plate. Ordonez, despite the gaudy batting average, has been intentionally walked just three times. Not that he’s some kind of slouch. Oh, and Bonds is even better at home, hitting .320 there this year, compared to .269 on the road.

Center Field - Beltran vs. Ichiro. Big Edge to Ichiro, who’s hitting .359 and is one of the best base stealers in the major leagues (23 for 25 this year). Beltran’s hititng just .264 this year, including only .234 in May, .238 in June and .152 (that’s right: a buck-fifty-two) in July.

Right Field - Vlad vs. Junior. Junior’s got a bit more power (23 homers to 14) but otherwise, every advantage is in Guererro’s favor. He hits for a much higher average, can still leg out a double and almost never strikes out. Edge to Vlad.

So, for the starters, that’s one big advantage (Utley), and three slight to modest edges (Bonds, Martin and Reyes) to the NL. The AL gets a BIG edge at third base, center and right field and a slight edge at first base, so overall, the starting lineup advantage goes to the AL, if only by a small margin.

AL Reserves

Victor Martinez, C

Jorge Posada, C

Justin Morneau, 1B

Brian Roberts, 2B

Mike Lowell, 3B

Carlos Guillen, SS

Michael Young, SS

Carl Crawford, OF

Torii Hunter, OF

Manny Ramirez, OF

Alex Rios, OF

Grady Sizemore, OF

NL Reserves

Brian McCann, C

Albert Pujols, 1B

Derrek Lee, 1B

Dmitri Young, 1B

Orlando Hudson, 2B

Freddy Sanchez, 2B

Miguel Cabrera, 3B

J.J. Hardy, SS

Alfonso Soriano, OF

Carlos Lee, OF

Aaron Rowand, OF

Matt Holliday, OF

The benches are very evenly matched on average, each hitting a combined .305/.370/.495, give or take a few points. Each team has seven players with double-digit homers, though the NL’s bench tops out with Miguel Cabrera’s 18, and nobody else on the team has more than 16. The AL squad has three players with 17 or more: Rios, at exactly 17, Hunter with 19, and reigning AL MVP Justin Morneau, who has 24. Both teams average about 22 doubles per player. The AL does have two catchers on the bench, which could come in handy in terms of late-game manuevering, if a pinch hitter is needed. Jorge Posada makes his 5th All-Star team, though he’s only played in two of the four games he’s made.

The big difference is speed, and here, ironically, the AL has a big edge, with five players in double digits in steals, plus Rios with 9, compared to only one among the NL benchwarmers. Alfonso Soriano is 13 of 17 on base swipe attempts this year, though we all know he’s capable of more than that, but nobody else on the bench has more than 6 thefts this year. Their speed is all in the starting lineup. Reyes (46 steals), Wright (18), Beltran (13), and even Martin (16) could run rough-shod over the AL if they can get on base, but the starters tend not to play more than about 5 innings in these contests, so it’s the Junior Circuit’s bench that could use their speed to great advantage at a close spot late in the game.

AL Pitchers

Dan Haren (starter)

Haren’s been unbelievably good this year. Despite playing half his games in pitcher-friendly Oakland, Haren’s been just as good on the road.

Starters: Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Johan Santana*, Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia*, Gil Meche
Relievers: Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, J.J. Putz, Bobby Jenks, Hideki Okajima*

Somebody from Kansas City has to make it. It’s the rule. It’s a stupid rule, but a rule, nonetheless. But that doesn’t mean that Gil Meche has to play. You’ve heard a lot about what a shot in the arm he’s been for the Royals this year and what a great free agent signing it appears he was, but he was 2-1 with a 2.18 ERA in April, and he’s 3-5, 4.24 since, including a combined 5.87 ERA in his last 4 starts. In other words: just as mediocre as we all thought he’d be, and definitely NOT an All-Star. Stay away.

Otherwise, everyone on this list has absolutely filthy stuff, and any one of them could get a strikeout for you in a tight spot. With three lefties in the pen, including two starters, AL Manager Jim Leyland can mix and match all he wants to make sure that Bonds (or Prince, or Chase, or Junior, or McCann…) doesn’t beat him. Okajima’s been unbelievably good, and could win the Rookie of the Year award, but in reality, he’s only here because they hold the voting for the last man on the InterWebs, and those rabid Japanese baseball fans apparently like voting better than sleeping.

NL Pitchers

Jake Peavy (starter)

Ironically, Peavy’s been even better on the road (4-0, 0.94 ERA) than at home (5-3, 3.04), so PetCo’s reputation as a pitcher’s haven hasn’t done much for him this year. Regardless of that, he’s got unbelievable stuff, and can strike out almost anyone he pleases, except that the AL starting lineup isn’t all that whiff-prone, with only A-Rod among the top 75 players in the majors in strikeouts (Ortiz falls in tied for 76th).

Starters: Brad Penny, Cole Hamels*, Ben Sheets, Chris Young, Roy Oswalt, Brandon Webb
Relievers: Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner*, Francisco Cordero, Jose Valverde, Takashi Saito,

Penny’s been insanely good so far this year, pretty much everywhere he pitches, but much of Young’s success is due to PetCo (0.82 ERA at home, 3.33 on the road). Penny or Hamels could easily strike out the side if they knew that was the only inning they’d have to pitch, and Webb’s extreme ground ball tendencies (3.18 GB to Fly Ball ratio) make him a great option when you get into a jam and need a double play, especially with Orlando Hudson behind him. (Webb replaced the injured John Smoltz, who was voted in by his colleagues.)

The relievers are #1, #2, #3 and #4 in the NL in Saves this year, and #5 was Brian Fuentes, who was also selected, but got hurt and was replaced by Billy Wagner. How Wagner got in instead of Jason Isringhausen, Tony LaRussa’s own closer, with nearly identical stats this year, is beyond me. Still, a solid bullpen regardless.

So there you have it, my breakdown of each aspect of the game.

My predictions:

AL wins, 4-2. Bonds hits a 2-run jack for the only NL runs, and the SanFans get something to cheer for while the rest of the nation boos loudly. A-Rod drives in Jeter in the third inning with a monster shot off Penny, but still gets no respect, as Justin Morneau comes off the bench to homer off Trevor Hoffman and win the game in the 9th.

Tony LaRussa blames the loss on having had to use “all these youngsters” that the fans and players selected for him, like 29-year old Brad Penny, 31-year old Alfonso Soriano (who makes an error in th 6th), and 39-year old Trevor Hoffman.

Manny Ramirez falls asleep during the game and Bud Selig says something that makes him look geeky and foolish after it.

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