MLB Coverage: The American League All-Star Team

It’s time to pick the final season-ending American League All-Star team. TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage makes the selection of this team, along with their counterparts in the National League, an annual rite of late September/early October, believing that it’s silly to define the All-Stars by who won a fan vote based on a couple months worth of play early in the year.

The rules for selection are as follows–this is a true All-Star team. A full starting rotation is chosen, and two setup relievers are also picked along with the closer. In the outfield at least one of the choices must be a true centerfielder. The selection of this team serves then as the basis for the later discussion on who should win the MVP award.


Without further adieu, here are TheSportsNotebook’s 2013 American League All-Stars…

C: Carlos Santana (Cleveland): This one was a very close pick between Santana and Minnesota’s Joe Mauer. On the face of it, Mauer has the better numbers, 27 points higher in on-base percentage and 21 points higher in slugging percentage. But Santana logged more playing time, getting nearly 100 more at-bats and durability at a spot like this can’t be underestimated.

Finally, applying classic MVP criteria to a positional debate, Santana was a big reason why the Indians made the playoffs and that counts for a little bit. It’s not as big here as it is in conventional media circles, but enough to tip the scales in a really close decision.

1B: Chris Davis (Baltimore): The 53 home runs are the eye-popping stat, along with the .634 slugging percentage and 138 RBIs. Let’s not overlook that Davis was consistently on base, with a .370 OBP and he also scored over 100 runs. This is someone who’s helpful to the offense even he’s not hitting home runs. And when he is hitting home runs, Davis is a one-man wrecking crew. Oh, and his defensive range factor was the best among American League first baseman.

2B: Robinson Cano (NY Yanks): I hate myself for this pick, and not because Cano is a Yankee and I’m taking him over Dustin Pedroia when I’m a Red Sox fan. The reason I hate it is that Cano’s defensive metrics are the worst among American League second baseman. He’s traditionally towards the bottom of the league, suggesting that all his smooth athletic talent doesn’t mean he gets to enough balls on a consistent basis, and at a position where this is vital.

So why I am I picking him? Pedroia and Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis are also subpar defensively. In Pedroia’s case, this is a reminder that while being a scrappy hustler may be admirable, it doesn’t mean you get to a lot of balls consistently. In this respect, Pedroia is Boston’s version of Derek Jeter–easy to admire for his tenacity, but we shouldn’t overlook that his lack of great natural talent does restrict him.

Ben Zobrist is a top-notch defender in Tampa, and with a .355 OBP, I might have picked him, even if his power was down this season. But Zobrist only played 124 games. I felt like I had to default to the pure hitters, and Cano was the best of the group.

3B: Miguel Cabrera (Detroit): The on-base percentage is .442. The slugging percentage is .636. Cabrera hit 44 home runs and drove in 137 RBIs. His playing time was limited in September due to nagging injuries, costing him a shot at the Triple Crown. But when it comes to All-Star selection, all there is do with Cabrera is celebrate him.

SS: Yunel Escobar (Tampa Bay): This is an appalling group of players to pick from, with the injury to Derek Jeter and the PED suspension of Jhonny Peralta stripping the field of quality. Asdrubal Cabrera in Cleveland had a bad year. Escobar finished with a .331 OBP and .368 slugging percentage. But he ranks in the upper third of AL shortstops defensively.

The players with better offensive numbers–Jed Lowrie and J.J. Hardy–are too weak in the defensive metrics to justify taking at a position like this, and unlike Cano, their offensive numbers aren’t that much superior. Honestly, this group is so bad, you could justify picking Peralta, even if he did miss most of the last two months. Or you could just leave it blank in protest. But I’ll live with honoring Escobar as a 2013 American League All-Star.


CF: Mike Trout (LA Angels): Trout is in the middle of the league defensively here, and I wish it were higher. But it’s respectable enough and a .432/.557 stat line simply blows the rest of the field away. Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t have the power while Adam Jones couldn’t get on base consistently enough.

OF: Adam Jones (Baltimore): The .318 OBP is a sore subject, and a lack of defensive range that has persisted throughout the career of this talented athlete cost Jones the centerfield spot. But he hit 33 home runs and slugged .493 for a team that relied on its power to keep them in the playoff race to the final week. But what ultimately sets Jones apart is his reliability–with 653 at-bats, the man is in the lineup every day. In an American League outfield class without a lot of great contenders, it’s enough to get the Oriole centerfielder a spot, though we’d shift him to a corner position.

OF: Torri Hunter (Detroit): The numbers aren’t dazzling, but at .334/.465, they’re pretty good, and factor in that this Comerica Park is a tough place to hit. And, like Jones, Hunter had over 600 at-bats. There were other American League outfielders that had pretty percentage numbers–Danny Nava and Shane Victorino in Boston, and Jose Bautista in Toronto. But whether it was injuries or platoons, they weren’t on the field enough. Hunter was.

DH: David Ortiz (Boston): The man Hunter once called “The Big Dog Of Boston” is still going strong, at .395/.564, and he popped 30 home runs, helping lead the Red Sox back to the top of the AL East.


STARTING ROTATION

Hisashi Iwakuma (Seattle)
Max Scherzer (Detroit)
Bartolo Colon (Oakland)
James Shields (Kansas City)
Anibal Sanchez (Detroit)

The first three picks were easy. The last two were a little tougher, but ultimately it came down to some simple basics. Shields worked more innings than anyone in the American League and led a rotation that put the Royals in playoff contention for the first team in the post-1994 realignment era. Sanchez had the best ERA in the American League, and while the fact his innings–182–were lower than I’d like–that’s more about taking him out of Cy Young contention, rather than removing him from the All-Star team.

Yu Darvish was the one who kind of got whipsawed in all this. He ended at 13-9, 2.83 ERA and 209 IP. The latter two were solid, but not dazzling and the W-L record was just a bit outside of All-Star range.

Scherzer’s 21-3 record was one of the big stories in baseball all year. He got a lot of run support and a 2.90 ERA in Detroit would without question be higher in other parks. But we’ll save a discussion of those flaws ¬†for the Cy Young debate. Colon won 18 games for the AL West champs and trailed only Sanchez in ERA. And Iwakuma was third in ERA with a 14-6 record for a lousy team. This trio was the Big Three of American League starting pitchers.

BULLPEN

Closer: Greg Holland (Kansas City): The only other serious contender was Texas’ Joe Nathan. But Holland was narrowly better than Nathan across the board. In saves, it was 47-44. In save percentage, it was 94-93. In ERA it was 1.21 to 1.39. Innings pitched came in at 67-64. If the season lasts another week or two, maybe Nathan overtakes him, but acknowledging the tightness of the race doesn’t mean there should be serious dispute over how the American League’s best closer was in 2013.

Setup: Tanners Scheppers (Texas) & David Robertson (NY Yanks): Scheppers was as easy a pick at his position as Davis, Cabrera and Ortiz were at theirs. The Texas kid worked 75 innings, a good workload for a setup reliever and posted a 1.90 ERA. Robertson had an injury down the stretch, but still worked 66 innings and a 2.04 ERA in the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium is almost surreal.