Editor’s All-Star Introduction: The All-Star ballots have appeared at major league stadiums across the country, and TheSportsNotebook is ready to weigh in with the first of what will be three installments of tracking the All-Star race over the course of the season. The second update will come at the break itself and the third will come at the end of the season—why baseball, alone among major sports, completely ignores a complete All-Star vote at the end of the season, is beyond me.
Now a few notes about the way TheSportsNotebook sets up its ballot. It doesn’t mimic the one given out at MLB stadiums. I select a complete team—five starting two pitchers, two setup men and a closer. When outfielders are chosen, at least one has to be a legitimate centerfielder. Furthermore, the same criteria that is used for MVP selection—assessing a player’s value to his team, not just raw stats—are given the same consideration in this process, which I view as the first step in narrowing everything down to an MVP. Finally, what you see here is based strictly on production compiled to date. It’s not necessarily who I’d vote for to be in Kansas City in mid-July—I want more than six good weeks out of someone before I choose to watch them in the All-Star game. But, as mentioned at the top, I view this ballot as the first of a three-part show in choosing a season-ending All-Star team & MVP.
The SportsNotebook’s choices for the National League. Click here for the American League ballot.
C: A.J. Ellis (LA Dodgers): Ellis’ batting average and slugging percentage are behind Philadelphia’s Carlos Ruiz, both of whom are very good in each category. But Ellis’ plate discipline—21 walks already, compared to Ruiz’s 7, give the Dodger catcher a stunning .454 on-base percentage and the contrast between hitting in Dodger Stadium and hitting in Citizen’s Bank Park is enormous.
1B: Bryan LaHair (ChiCubs): Another young player joins the list along with Ellis. LaHair’s hitting .356 with nine home runs. Joey Votto, a more predictable choice has started to close fast as he heats up for Cincinnati and I would imagine will take over this spot in the immediate future.
2B: Omar Infante (Miami): I was set to go with Houston’s Jose Altuve or maybe even the Mets’ Daniel Murphy here because even though Infante’s power is through the roof with a .589 slugging percentage, his .331 OBP is lower than I want from an All-Star. But his showing in the defensive metrics is as dazzling as the power, where he’s got the best range of any NL second baseman and up the middle that counts for a lot.
3B: David Wright (NY Mets): Wright is hitting .389. No other NL third baseman is over .300. Wright has an OBP of .489. No one else is within 100 points. Wright is slugging .593. Only St. Louis’ David Freese is even at .500. Oh, and New York’s Citi Field is a lousy hitter’s park. The question isn’t whether Wright is the pick here, it’s where he fits into early MVP conversation.
SS: Rafael Furcal (St. Louis): I’m really not trying to just pick the guy with the best OPS at each spot (the combined total of on-base percentage and slugging percentage). And I’d have liked to have chosen someone with better defensive range at this spot, namely Chicago’s Starlin Castro. But Furcal’s .432 on-base percentage blows the competition away and he’s at least adequate defensively.
OF: Matt Kemp (LA Dodgers): Even if he did hit the DL yesterday with a pulled hamstring, Kemp still has a .446 OBP, 12 home runs and has done it in Dodger Stadium. He’s the Josh Hamilton of the National League. We just don’t waste time explaining this pick.
OF: Ryan Braun (Milwaukee): He’s answered the critics and hit 10 home runs this year, showing that maybe his power really didn’t come from steroids. He’s still hitting for average too, at .304. And this without Prince Fielder in the lineup and the rest of the everyday players in Milwaukee dropping like flies with injuries.
OF: Carlos Beltran (St. Louis): Once again, I feel guilty about just taking the top OPS players right off the board, but the National League is just lacking in quality depth at each position. And with Beltran sitting on a .403 on-base percentage and a .648 slugging, I’m not leaving him off just so I can feel more sophisticated about the selection process.
Cole Hamels (Philadelphia)
Wandy Rodriguez (Houston)
Johnny Cueto (Cincinnati)
Anibal Sanchez (Miami)
Matt Cain (San Francisco)
In the American League I had a cutoff of 50 innings as the arbitrary minimum workload. 12 AL pitchers had that figure, whereas a similar cutoff point in the NL was 47. Wandy Rodriguez is having a stunning year with a 1.99 ERA in a hitter’s park, although for the honor of best pitcher I’d choose Hamels. His ERA’s only a little bit higher at 2.28, his park is no friendlier to pitchers and even though there’s a big difference in public perception between the teams, the Phillie offense is lousy and they’re only competitive right now because of arms like Hamels. And while I’m sure sabermetricians will go ballistic at what I’m about to say, I still think wins count for something and Hamels is 5-1, while Wandy is 3-3. I would expect Roy Halladay to crack this group soon as well, although I am rigid about wanting a sub-3.00 ERA and Halladay is 3.20. Clayton Kershaw’s fans might have the loudest gripe, with his 2.22 ERA. But Sanchez and Cain aren’t far behind at 2.28 apiece and neither has Dodger Stadium to work in. Cueto is the one I expect to vault to the top before it’s over, with his 4-0 record and 1.12 ERA. But he’s right at the innings cutoff point, so I just want to see the workload pick up a bit before handing him the Cy Young.
Setup: Kenley Jansen (LA Dodgers), Josh Lindblom (LA Dodgers)
Closer: Brett Myers (Houston)
I didn’t like any of the choices in the National League setup area. Both Jansen and Lindblom are having good years for Don Mattingly in LA and their 19 innings apiece are on the high end for innings at this time of year. But there wasn’t even one shutdown pitcher with an ERA that knocks your socks off. The Dodger duo is in the 2.20s and if I were a fan of the team I’m certainly not complaining. As one looking for excellence in an All-Star ballot I am, but Jansen and Lindblom back in. For the closer’s spot, Myers nips Jonathan Papelbon. The Phillie closer’s 10-for-10 on save opps is the best percentage-wise, but Myers is 9-for-10 and Papelbon has a loss, while Myers does not. This is enough for the Houston closer’s 1.42 ERA—nearly a full run better than Papelbon’s—to swing the difference. Save leader Craig Kimbrel is only one ahead of Papelbon and has a blown save, plus a 2.77 ERA. A good year to be sure, but not yet All-Star level. And since I trashed the NL’s setup men, let’s also point out that the closer class is much stronger than what’s available in the American League.
Early MVP Vote: David Wright (NY Mets): I know Kemp is all the rage and I completely get why. But look at how many Dodger players are littered in this discussion as opposed to the number of Mets, and then consider that Wright is lifting New York to a surprising season. Both players are in pitcher’s parks for their home games, so I see them as head-and-shoulders above the rest of the class, but Wright has to get the edge. Besides, think how aggravated Yankee fans would be if a Met won the MVP and the Yanks missed the playoffs at season’s end. That has to count for a lot.