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All-Star Selections

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In today's Toronto Sun, Jody Vance implores her readers to help mount a write-in campaign for Alexis Rios, who's been enjoying a career year.

All too often in Canada we sit back and wait for others to covet and recognize the talents of young up-and-comers -- this needs to change.

No, he is not Canadian, but he is playing on the only MLB team in our country and he is ripping it right now.

And one person certainly makes a difference. In 1999, lest we forget, a hacker from Massachusetts was caught after he cast 39,000 online votes for Nomar Garciaparra, who wound up starting that game.

It's highly unlikely, however, that Rios will make the team as a starter. Not only are his chances severely hampered because he plays for the only city north of the 49th parallel, but also because his performance, though clearly deserving, hasn't been inordinately spectacular enough to elicit enough fan support.

With that said, my own personal selections don't consider such trifles. Even though it's early, I'll list my picks for the All-Star Game. I'll update these selections as the season progresses, of course, though for now I'll only focus on American League players. However, my National League selections will be posted closer to the All-Star Game, along with my updated American League selections.

I've always had a soft spot for All-Star Games, baseball's in particular. Now, as I've aged and the Midsummer Classic has become somewhat of a joke, that spot has hardened somewhat. With that said, I still watch it every year and find some sort of shameful enjoyment in it.

Some things to consider before I list my selections:

  • According to the rules, 32 players must be chosen from each league, at least 11 of which must be pitchers. To be honest, I don't know why the rosters were expanded to 32 players. That simply diminishes the honour of being chosen to the team.
  • At least one player from each MLB team must be selected. This rule is terribly outdated in the era of expansion, but it sill has to be followed.
  • I consider both current performance and past performance when making my selections. Now, that may seem ridiculous considering it's the 2006 All-Star Game, but I have my reasons. I feel that the thousands of at-bats or hundreds of innings of prior play should be given at least some consideration. The fact is that just about anyone could post great totals in 200-300 at-bats, and just as easily revert to career norms during the second half of the season. With that said, I do weigh this season's performance more heavily, but perennial All-Stars are slightly favoured whenever I'm forced to choose between certain players.

* Denotes starter

American League All-Stars:

Catcher:

*Victor Martinez (.319/.378/.504, 24 Runs Created)
Ramon Hernandez (.315/.385/.488, 29 RC)

Within the next two months, Jorge Posada or Joe Mauer may play his way onto the team. One slight concern I have with Mauer is that he's hit an inordinate number of ground balls this season. His GB/FB ratio is 2.38, which is the 11th highest in the league. Consider the top 10 players in that category:

Player             GB/FB
Luis Castillo      3.57
Joey Gathright     3.54
Matt Murton        3.00
Mark Grudzielanek  2.95
Derek Jeter        2.90
Juan Pierre        2.81
Shawn Green        2.67
Hanley Ramirez     2.63
Orlando Hudson     2.56
Dave Roberts       2.44

The common thread between those players is that they're not power hitters. Many of them are good at getting on base, but it's likely that none of them will crack 30 home runs. Obviously, that's a result of hitting a lot of ground balls, which of course don't result in home runs (inside the park home runs excluded). For comparison's sake, let's look at the bottom 10 in GB/FB ratio:

Player             GB/FB
Jonny Gomes        0.43
Brandon Inge       0.55
Paul Konerko       0.55
Mike Jacobs        0.56
Joe Crede          0.56
Barry Bonds        0.58
Bill Hall          0.59
Jason Lane         0.60
Jason Giambi       0.60
Jim Thome          0.60

Now that list includes many more reputable power hitters.

Mauer is a great hitter regardless of his GB/FB ratio, but if he ever wants to display the power that everyone knows he possesses, he'll have to hit more fly balls.

First Base:

*Jim Thome (.290/.438/.694, 43 RC)
Jason Giambi (.269/.480/.654, 38 RC)
Travis Hafner (.314/.430/.628, 37 RC)
David Ortiz (.264/.366/.579, 26 RC)

Since this year's All-Star Game will be played in a National League park, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, designated hitters will be included among first basemen.

Thome has simply been great this season, and I'll admit that I was unsure about how well he'd perform after his miserable 2005 season. He's getting on base, as he always has, and he leads the American League with 15 home runs. His transition from a first baseman to a designated hitter has allowed him to focus on hitting and, more importantly, has helped him maintain good health. It's incredible that he was once a third baseman, isn't it?

Giambi, Hafner, and Ortiz are among the best hitters in the game, and they should continue to perform at a high level for the rest of the season. Giambi in particular doesn't seem to get enough credit for how incredibly well he's played since the middle of last season. Since last July -- or about four and a half months of baseball -- he's hit 39 home runs. Incredible.

Chris Shelton and Paul Konerko may merit consideration if they continue to play as well as they have. However, Shelton's production will likely slip enough within the coming months to the point where Konerko will deserve more consideration. Shelton's had a fortunate BABIP and 25.7% of his fly balls have become home runs, which is a total I'm not sure he can sustain. Shelton's a great hitter, to be sure, but in my view Konerko is marginally superior.

Second Base:

*Luis Castillo (.333/.388/.447, 21 RC)
Jose Lopez (.288/.309/.469, 30 RC)

This was a tough decision, but Castillo gets the nod due to his productive past and his wonderful ability to get on base with regularity. Lopez's extra-base power has been a big plus, and has led to a good number of runs created. In addition to his five home runs, which is tops among AL second basemen, he has three triples, which also leads his AL positional peers. Robinson Cano could play his way onto the team if either Castillo or Lopez falters.

Third Base:

*Eric Chavez (.287/.368/.600, 23 RC)
Troy Glaus (.265/.354/.596, 27 RC)
Mike Lowell (.331/.389/.585, 21 RC)
Alex Rodriguez (.276/.388/.515 25 RC)

Third base is such a deep position (in both leagues, really) that several other players could easily have been chosen. In fact, I was very, very close to selecting Joe Crede and Melvin Mora in favour of Lowell and Rodriguez. That doesn't even take Hank Blalock, who's enjoying a fine season, into account.

Chavez gets the nod despite similar statistics, but it could have easily gone to any one of the others. Rodriguez's selection was premised a lot on his perennial All-Star status. Ultimately, he should improve enough to warrant his probable selection as the AL starting third baseman. Lowell is the big surprise, and it's not entirely unlikely that he'll maintain his pace. In fact, considering how many doubles he's hit this season (20), his home run rate should actually increase. He's currently on pace for 91 doubles, an otherworldly total.

Shortstop:

*Miguel Tejada (.361/.402/.613, 30 RC)
Derek Jeter (.333/.430/.511, 30 RC)

Tejada has played above and beyond expectations. After a poor finish to last season, during which he was accused of simply giving up on the season, he's performed very well. For example, he has 12 home runs, which is almost three times more than any other AL shortstop. Jeter was chosen despite his defensive woes. He's posted a zone rating of .764 and a range factor of 3.76, which are well below his career norms and simply aren't very good. He ranks dead last in both of those categories, which further cements the fact that he's vastly overrated defensively. With that said, his offensive production warrants his selection. If Carlos Guillen keeps up his impressive start to the season, he could overtake Jeter by the All-Star Game.

Outfield:

*Jonny Gomes (.288/.421/.648, 32 RC)
*Nick Swisher (.305/.405/.664, 28 RC)
*Vernon Wells (.358/.407/.642, 33 RC)
Alex Rios (.367/.386/.692, 30 RC)
Casey Blake (.370/.445/.606, 32 RC)

Obviously, there's no chance the actual AL outfielders will mirror this list. Marquee names such as Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, and Ichiro Suzuki will likely be named in some of these players' stead. While someone like Guerrero will likely play his way onto the team anyway, the five players I listed are more than deserving. If I had to choose two players likely to regress, however, Rios and Blake would be my choices. I outlined my reasons for Rios in a previous post, while Blake's career norms are much, much lower than the totals he's posted this season. And considering his age (32), it's unlikely he'll maintain his current level of performance for much longer.

Starting Pitchers:

*Jose Contreras (44.2 IP, 1.47 Component ERA, 0.87 WHIP)
Jeremy Bonderman (53 IP, 2.26 ERC, 1.04 WHIP)
Roy Halladay (49.1 IP, 2.53 ERC, 1.01 WHIP)
Mike Mussina (59.2 IP, 2.51 ERC. 1.01 WHIP)
Javier Vazquez (46.1 IP, 2.53 ERC, 1.04 WHIP)
John Lackey (52.1 IP, 3.00 ERC, 1.09 WHIP)
Johan Santana (53.1 IP, 3.19 ERC, 1.14 WHIP)
Kenny Rogers (53 IP, 2.87 ERC, 1.13 WHIP)
John Koronka (49 IP, 3.23 ERC, 1.29 WHIP)

Koronka is only on the team because the Rangers need an All-Star representative. Most likely, an everyday player will excel enough in the upcoming months to merit a selection. As a result of Koronka's inclusion, Jarrod Washburn, who has surprisingly been quite effective this season, was bumped from the roster. Also of note is how well Rogers has performed prior to the All-Star Game during the past few years. As always, however, his numbers will probably inflate during the latter months of the season.

Relief Pitchers:

B.J. Ryan (17.2 IP, 0.08 ERC, 0.51 WHIP)
Jonathan Papelbon (21.1 IP, 0.74 ERC, 0.66 WHIP)
J.J. Putz (19.2 IP, 1.89 ERC, 0.97 WHIP)
Ambiorix Burgos (17.1 IP, 6.30 ERC, 1.56 WHIP)

Ryan, not Papelbon, has been the game's best relief pitcher this season; his stats are overwhelmingly dominant. Burgos was only chosen because the Royals need an All-Star representative. This is yet another example of why the one-representative-per-team rule is too antiquated to justify being used. The Royals simply don't have a player worthy of participating in the All-Star Game.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this. I'll update the list and include my National League selections once the actual All-Star Game rosters are chosen.