The All-Star Game may be history, but in the MLB coverage at TheSportsNotebook, the real conversation about the All-Stars should be just getting heated up. There should be more emphasis placed on whose best at their spot at season’s end, not in mid-July. What follows is TheSportsNotebook’s view of how the American League All-Stars should stack up as we head into the season’s final 2 ½ months.
This is one of three installments of the All-Star series. The first was released back in May and we’ll do it again at the end of the regular season. The rules for selection are as follows…
- This is a true team, meaning five starting pitchers and two setup men, to go along with the closer. It also means that at least one outfielder must be a true centerfielder, or at least able to credibly play the position if this team actually took the field.
- As a personal preference, I give defensive range heavy consideration at second base and shortstop. This doesn’t mean I’ll pick the modern equivalent of Mario Mendoza as an All-Star—whoever is chosen still has to be able to hit first. But I’ll sacrifice some offensive numbers if there is a significant gap in the defensive metrics.
- And this may seem obvious, but it’s worth reiterating that these choices are not predictive in terms of what I think will happen between now and the end of the regular season. It’s not a statement on who has had the better career. It’s just my view of who has compiled the best body of work between Opening Day and the All-Star break in 2013.
C: Joe Mauer (Min): This is a two-man race between Mauer and Cleveland’s Carlos Santana. Mauer churns out on-base percentage, as he’s always done, with a .402 OBP. You would think Santana would have the edge in power, but the home runs are only an 11-8 edge for the Indian catcher and Mauer’s 30 doubles give him the superior slugging percentage. The race is close, but picking right now, Mauer is the clear leader.
1B: Chris Davis (Bal): You know about the 37 home runs, but don’t overlook Davis’ .392 OBP. That tells us he can continue to be a productive offensive player even if his power hits a drought. Normally I would say “the inevitable drought”, but it sure doesn’t seem inevitable the way he’s swinging the bat right now. Davis is obliterating a good American League first base class that includes good years from Edwin Encarcion, Prince Fielder and James Loney.
2B: Dustin Pedroia (Bos): Yankee fans are screaming that I’m allowing my Red Sox fan bias to override good judgment. I certainly can’t claim non-bias, but I do believe this is an argument that can be made to an objective observer. While Cano’s has an advantage in slugging (.531 to .436), driven by a big home run gap (21-6), Pedroia has a slightly better OBP (.396 to .386) and more importantly, Pedroia’s edge on the defensive metrics is substantial, as Cano ranks as the worst defensive second baseman in the American League. Just looking athletic doesn’t mean you make more plays.
3B: Miguel Cabrera (Det): This one’s as easy as picking the first base spot. Let’s give our kudos to players like Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria and Josh Donaldson. Or an up-and-comer like Manny Machado. But with Cabrera, we’re talking about numbers that are superior on the surface, at .458 OBP and .674 slugging. Then we talk about him doing it in a pitcher-friendly park, something only Donaldson can claim amongst the challengers. Cabrera is that rare star who is really worth all the media accolades showered on him.
SS: Jhonny Peralta (Det): The shortstop class in the American League is exceptionally weak, with Derek Jeter hurt and Asdrubal Cabrera having a bad year. But Peralta is swinging the bat well, with a stat line of .361/.447 in the aforementioned pitchers’ park in Detroit. And he plays a respectable enough game defensively to justify All-Star selection.
CF: Mike Trout (LAA): I know I’m cheating a little bit here, because Trout has played his share of left field, but he broke in as a centerfielder and the next best choices in the American League are pure corner outfielders. Trout is the best of anyone in the outfield in what’s frankly not a very good class of talent. Trout’s .399/.565 stat line is one of the few bright spots the Angels have had in a troubled first half.
OF: Jose Bautista (Tor): It was a slow start, but Bautista has heated up and gotten to 20 home runs. His slugging percentage of .493 is low for him, but still a solid number, and the .351 OBP shows he still knows how to get the most of his at-bats.
OF: Tori Hunter (Det): He’s vindicated Detroit’s confidence in him, with a .352/.458 season and his veteran leadership is only going to matter more as the games get bigger.
Other worthy candidates include Nelson Cruz, Raul Ibanez and Adam Jones, but they all need to lift their on-base percentage. I particularly single out Jones, because this lineup would be better if I could list him as the centerfielder and move Trout into one of the corner spots. But Jones has got to lift that mediocre .324 on-base percentage. He’s still not disciplined enough at the plate, with only 13 walks. By comparison, Trout has 47 and most other centerfielders are in the 30s.
Another centerfielder in striking distance is Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury, with a .368/.422 stat line. If he nudges that power up just a bit—either by home runs or just hitting more doubles, he could push Trout into the corner spots and force me to choose between Bautista or Hunter.
DH: David Ortiz (Bos): Big Papi is an easy call, with no one else in shouting distance of his .402/.606 stat line. In a world without Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis, you could argue Ortiz for MVP, depending how you feel about a DH getting the award.
SP: Felix Hernandez (Sea)
SP: Bartolo Colon (Oak)
SP: Max Scherzer (Det)
SP: Hisashi Iwakuma (Sea)
SP: Derek Holland (Tex)
The American League starting pitchers broke into three basic groups. King Felix is a group unto himself and has to be the clear leader for the Cy Young Award right now. Colon and Scherzer were pretty easy picks, who balanced good ERAs, W-L records and innings. If I had to pick, I’d lean Colon, because Scherzer’s ERA was slightly higher, at 3.19, than I would really like. But that 13-1 record speaks pretty loudly.
It was the last two picks that are a little tougher, but Iwakuma still had a nice balance, at 8-4 with a 3.02 ERA and a solid 131 innings. The last spot was a razor-close race between teammates, as Yu Darvish has the same record as Holland and his ERA is narrowly better. But Holland has six more innings, and with the latter being scheduled to start the first game after the break, he’s the favorite to be the staff workhorse.
Other candidates include Boston’s John Lackey, who needs more innings, Tampa’s Matt Moore who needs to bring down that 3.44 ERA, as well as up the workload. And the one I feel most guilty about, and the one that modern sabermetric guys are ready to excoriate me over, would be Chicago’s Chris Sale. He’s got the ERA at 2.85, and the innings are good enough at 120. But I don’t like the 6-8 record. I know his team’s offense is terrible, but please just get to .500.
RP: Jesse Crain (Chi)
RP: Tanner Scheppers (Tex)
CL: Joe Nathan (Tex)
The race for the closer spot is really tight, with Oakland’s Grant Balfour and the legendary Yankee, Mariano Rivera, being right there. I think of this is Nathan-Rivera being sort of a preliminary bout. Each is in a hitter’s park, each has at least one blown save and each has a sub-2.00 ERA. In the end, Nathan’s only coughed up one save, while Rivera has blown two, and Nathan has the better ERA, 1.36 to 1.83. It’s close enough to change in a week or two, but right now I don’t see the argument—other than sentiment (and even I’d have sentiment for Rivera)—for not picking Nathan.
That moves him into the finals against Balfour, who is a perfect 25-for-25 with a buck-03 ERA, the best of them all. It’s not just that Nathan is in a tougher park to pitch, he’s also got five more saves. It’s enough to give the Texas closer the edge.
Crain and Scheppers were both pretty easy calls. I’d like to see a few more innings from Crain—he’s at 36, while a lot of his contemporaries are in the 40s, but the 0.74 ERA obliterates the field. Scheppers is at a 1.84 ERA in 44 innings, so there’s no argument against him that I would consider credible.
THE AMERICAN LEAGUE AWARDS
MVP: Miguel Cabrera (Detroit)
Cy Young: Felix Hernandez (Seattle)
Manager of The Year: Terry Francona (Cleveland)
If the season ended today, all of these would be pretty anti-climatic. Since the season doesn’t end today, it’s worth wondering if Davis can make a run at Cabrera in the MVP discussion. It’s anybody’s guess who the challengers would be to Felix and Tito, but whomever they are, they’re pretty far in the rearview mirror.