Friday, June 15, 2007

2007 MLB All-Stars: American League

I haven't been to a major league baseball game in a few years, so I haven't had the opportunity for a special fan delight: punching tiny holes in cardboard to mark out my All-Star Game selections. While many fans have become dismissive of the Summer Classic, I continue to watch the ASG year after year, and enjoy debating who "deserves" to start at each position. The debate is typically philosophical, centering on what one believes All-Star means. Is it the player who is the best active player at that position? Is it the player who has had the best first half of that particular season? Or is it simply, as the cynics call it, just a popularity contest.

In recent years its gone even beyond that last option, to the point where players for the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, and Dodgers dominate over the rest of the teams. The reason is simple- these teams have more fans, and more votes. In reality, most of the players having good seasons join the popular and top players on each leagues' roster (if as reserves), and "snubs" are forgotten by the third week of July.

Of the problems I have with the current method of selection: Curiously, the tradition of leaving the pitching staff selections up to the mangers/players continues; I believe the fans should at least decide the starting pitcher for each league. Further, the fact that no DH is selected for the American League when the game is in an NL park is absurd. None of the pitchers ever bat in an All-Star game anyway. Why not just give the AL a DH in the game? Does anyone really want to see David Ortiz try to field a baseball?

The following picks, for AL position players first, will also show for each postion the player leading the league in Runs Above Replacement Player (sorry Ozzie Smith, but I don't watch the ASG for defense), the player currently leading in voting (as of June 12), and the player I would most likely pick if I were sitting in the stand with no stats in front of me. Let's go!

AL Catcher
2007 RARP leader: Jorge Posada (25.0) has a modest edge over Victor Martinez (23.7) and no one else is close.
Current Votes: Pudge Rodriguez leads Jorge Posada by about 112,000 votes
Gut Pick: Jorge Posada. Come on, I'm a Yankees fan, and my team's 36 year old catcher is second in the AL with a .357 batting average. No brainer. I-Rod will probably win, despite worse stats in 2007.

AL First Base
2007 RARP leader: Mark Teixiera (22.1) with a slight lead over Carlos Pena (22.0).
Current Votes: David Ortiz has a commanding lead, with over one million votes, or half a million votes for every game he's actually played at 1B so far this season. Travis Halfner isn't much better, with 8 games played at 1B.
Gut Pick: Well, if we went under my version, I would vote for Ortiz as the DH rep (his OPS+ is, after all, 173), and probably Youkillis as the first baseman. As that's not really an option, I guess I'd have to go with Ortiz.

AL Second Base
2007 RARP leader: BJ Upton (22.4) has a commanding lead over other AL 2nd Basemen.
Current Votes: Placido Polanco (12.9) has recently surpassed Robinson Cano (1.9) and leads by 50,000 votes.
Gut Pick: I'd be tempted to take Cano, my new favorite Yankee. But he sucked for most of April and all of May, so I'd lean away from the homer pick here. If I was at a game in mid-May, I would have voted for Ian Kinsler, but for the moment he's indeed gone the way of Chris Shelton. I'd probably go with Upton, based mostly on that Walk-Off Grand-Slam.

AL Third Base
2007 RARP leader: Alex Rodriguez (34.4). Duh.
Current Votes: A-Rod leads by almost a million votes ahead of Mike Lowell.
Gut Pick: A-Rod. Easiest pick ever. I'd probably wouldn't want to do it too quickly so that I didn't punch Nick Punto's hole by mistake.

AL Shortstop
2007 RARP leader: Derek Jeter (20.0) with a slight lead over Orlando Cabrera (18.8)
Current Votes: Jeter, obvi, by not nearly enough over Carlos Guillen.
Gut Pick. DEH-rek JEE-ter (Clap Clap, Clap-Clap-Clap)

AL Outfield
2007 RARP leaders: Magglio Ordonez (35.2), Vladamir Gurerro (28.0), Grady Sizemore (28.6)
Current Votes: Vlad the Impaler (1.1 M), Manny being Manny (823K) Ichiro! (756K).
Gut Picks: Vlad, mos def, even without stats I know he's having a redonkulous season. I had no idea Magglio was leading the world in RARP, so I probably wouldn't have picked him. But, I do tend to pick one from each outfield position, to give the team balance, and to avoid having no one capable of playing center field. Manny is having an off year, so I'd probably go with Ichiro and Sizemore.

Switching gears a bit, the pitching staffs aren't voted in by the fans, so I'll go with more of a rigorous approach to my selections. Wins and saves don't really matter all that much to me, and I'd be inclined to take the top six pitchers in each of the following categories.

AL Starting Pitchers
2007 VORP Leaders:
Dan Haren (40.4)
James Shields (29.6)
John Lackey (29.0)
C.C. Sabbathia (26.9)
Justin Verlander (25.7)
Andy Pettitte (24.7)

I think the above six pitchers would make a fine pitching staff. Slim chance that Shields makes the team though (despite being 6-0), since Upton or Crawford will probably be the D-Rays rep. And of course Boston fans will clamor for Josh Beckett (9-1, 3.35 ERA). At this point I don't have a problem with it, as long as he doesn't start the game. Haren should start, with Sabbathia as my second choice if you must have someone with a lot of wins.

AL Relievers
2007 WXRL (A stat that takes a Win Expectancy Matrix and calculates how effective a reliever is at nailing down the win for his team. Takes into account some things that stats like saves (even I could finish with a 3-run lead many times) don't, and includes ability to prevent inherited runners from scoring):
JJ Putz (3.285)
Al Reyes (2.739)
Rafael Betancourt (2.733)
Hideki Okajima (2.569)
Casey Janssen (2.403)
Pat Neshek (2.315)

Those numbers are measured in wins added, so that's pretty significant for half a season. Anyway, those last four aren't even their teams' closer, which means that their managers are using effective releivers in non-save situations. That's pretty laudable from a SABR standpoint, but in theory your most effective releiever (the closer) should be in the highest leverage situations.

Putz should absolutely be on the team, along with Fransisco Rodriguez (despite being just 28th in WXRL), and (cringe) Jonathan Papelbon. Okajima's got the hype and the stats and will probably continue the tradition of having one token middle reliever on the roster. Borowski will probably make it over Betancourt, and we may see something not seen since 1997- an ASG without Mariano Rivera. I suppose its possible he continues his refound dominance and makes a case, but I can't see Leyland picking him over the luckiest closer of all time- Todd Jones.

So there we have it. Let the debate begin.

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