01 July 2008

National League Will Win the 2008 All Star Game

OK, so it wasn't "tomorrow" but here's my NL All-Star Ballot, for what it's worth:

First Base: Berkman, L., HOU
Second Base: Uggla, D., FLA
Third Base: Jones, C., ATL
Shortstop: Ramirez, H., FLA
Catcher: McCann, B., ATL
Outfielder: Braun, R., MIL, Burrell, P., PHI, Lee, C., HOU

There are not a lot of votes here that are very difficult to defend. Nevertheless, I'll go through them one at a time.

Lance Berkman leads the entire National League in slugging percentage, OPS, Runs, total bases, extra base hits, times on base, and several sabermetric categories, such as VORP, Adjusted Batting Runs, Runs Created and Batting Wins. He has been, put simply, the best player in baseball up to this point. If he doesn't make the All-Star team, they shouldn't have one.

I assume that Berkman's monster year has netted him the top spot in the vote getting, but now that the balloting is closed, MLB's holding its cards close to the vest and will not divulge the All-Star rosters until Sunday. Honorable mention to Albert Pujols, who's having a great year despite the fact that his elbow might snap in two at any moment, and Adrian Gonzalez, who's somehow managed to hit 21 homers despite playing half of his games in a 1:8 scale replica of the Grand Canyon. Good to see him finally living up to the hype that comes with being a #1 overall draft pick.

Chase Utley has been great, but when you adjust for the effects of their home parks, Dan Uggla has been even better. The two are tied for the MLB lead with 23 homers and are both slugging over .600. Utley's 8-for-8 in stolen base attempts, while Uggla's 4-for-5, and both are decent, if not Gold Glove, fielders. Utley, however, was blowing away all of the competition, leading the major leagues with over 2.6 million votes, last I checked, more than Jeter or A-Rod. He's certainly a solid choice to start the game, and Uggla should have no trouble making the reserve squad.

Chipper Jones is hitting .391. Three-ninety-one. And with power and walks and stuff, too. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury has cooled him off a bit, as he's hit only .244 over his last 16 games, albeit still with lots of walks and a few homers. David Wright is having a decent year, but after generally increasing his percentage numbers across the board for the first three and a half years of his major league career, he's taken a decided step back, and the New York fans have not been voting for him as much as you might expect. Still, he's likely to make it as abackup, but I didn't vote for him because of, well... Three-ninety-one.

Hanley Ramirez was holding onto a slim lead over Miguel Tejada in the voting department, but in terms of stats, there's little comparison. Miggy's .286/.324/.446 line is decent, but his adjusted OPS is only about 3% above average, while Ramirez is 46% better than the norm. Add to that the fact that Hanley is handy on the basepaths (20 steals in 25 attempts, compared to just 6-for-9 by Tejada) and that both players are pretty bad with the leather, and there's no comparison. Jimmy Rollins has been injured and underperformed, but was still within striking distance the last time they let the vote totals see the light of day. Jose Reyes would be an excellent addition to the squad, and should be.

The outfield is all-power, all the time. Ryan Braun, Pat Burrell and Carlos Lee are all in the top 10 in the NL in extra base hits with 42 or more, and though you'd like a little more patience from Lee and (especially) Braun, the threat of three guys who could readily hit one out will loom large over the AL pitchers' heads. Yankee Stadium is not the cavernous righty-killer it once was, and all three of these guys is capable of smashing one into monument park if a pitcher makes a mistake.

Unfortunately, those guys are all left fielders, so if the NL squad wants some defense in center, they'll have to look to Carlos Beltran or someone like Aaron Rowand. (Hey, someone from the Giants has to make it, right? More likely they'll start Alfonso Soriano there, as he was leading NL outfieldrs in votes at last tally. He's mis-cast there, despite his speed, but he'll be OK for a couple of innings, which is as much as these guys play anymore anyway.

Looking at the big picture, despite the fact that the AL is generally considered better than the NL, this may be the year that the NL breaks is consecutive losses streak in the MLB All-Star Game, which started in 1997. There's a lot of really impressive options for filling up the NL bench, and a lot of really great players leading the vote getting (or at least there were, two days ago).

The American League is a different story. The voting has been dominated by Yankees and Red Sox, and this is not always a good thing.

  • Kevin Youkilis was leading AL firstbasemen in votes when I wrote my last article on the subject, despite being demonstrably inferior to Jason Giambi, and arguably Justin Morneau.
  • Dustin Pedroia was leading the AL secondbasemen, and while he's been on a tear of late and is hitting .311 with nine homers, he's clearly inferior to Ian Kinsler, at least this year. Worse yet, Robinson Cano was not far behind, and he's having a horrible season. If somehow Pedroia or Youk should miss the cut, Red Sox and All-Star manager Terry Francona will undoubtedly put them on the team anyway. Brian Roberts would be a much better choice to back up the winner.
  • Derek Jeter was leading the entire American League in votes and will be the AL starting shortstop despite his pedestrian offensive numbers, while Michael Young and Jhonny Peralta will likely miss out. Francona will probably choose his own guy, Julio Lugo, who's hitting .268 with one homer and playing atrocious defense.
  • The catcher's spot was only tenuously held by Joe Mauer, with Jason Varitek right on his heels, and Jorge Posada not far behind. If Mauer holds on to win it, and depending on how the rest of the roster shakes out, Francona may again pick his own man instead of a more productive hitter like Dioner Navarro or A.J. Pierzynski.
  • Though soon-to-be-divorced Alex Rodriguez hald a firm grasp on the starting job at the hot corner, second place was held by Boston's Mike Lowell, who could get tabbed for the backup spot there. Lowell is having a solid season but is not as good as Rays rookie Evan Longoria. More important, if Francona wants some late-inning defense, Scott Rolen might be a better choice. Again, someone from the Blow Jays has to make it, so why not him?
  • In the outfield, though Manny Ramirez doesn't really deserve to be the leading vote-getter, he's certainly no slouch, except, you know, when he's slouching. But be that as it may, he'll do, as will Josh Hamilton. In third place, however, was Ichiro Suzuki, who's an exciting player to watch, but is only about the 8th best outfielder/DH in the AL this year, well behind not just Hamilton and Ramirez, but also Milton Bradley, Grady Sizemore, Carlos Quenton, Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Hideki Matsui and (I hate to admit it) J.D. Drew. Ichiro's speed may come in handy, but not as handy as someone who can do something besides hit singles and win the hearts and minds of every voter in Japan. Again, this probably means that he'll pick Drew and/or Jacoby Ellsbury if Ichiro wins the third spot in the outfield.
  • The DH spot, while being unfairly led by Big Papi and followed by Hideki Matsui, both of whom are injured, should not be a problem. As Papi won't be able to play, Francona can pick anyone he wants, and may even surprise us by going with the smart choice of Aubrey Huff.

All told, these bizarre voting practices, combined with the blatant nepotism usually displayed by the All-Star managers, have really put the AL in a bind. To his credit, the last time he managed an All-Star game, Francona only picked one Red Sock for his reserves (Matt Clement), but then he had four starters that year as well. If he feels that one or more of his players was cheated out of a spot they deserved, he'll likely pick them over someone who might actually be a better option.

Time will tell, but I'm going on the record now as saying that the NL will have home field advantage in the World Series this year.

See? I told you that was a stupid idea.

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