With the baseball season a little past the one-quarter mark, TheSportsNotebook is laying out the case for who should be leading in the race for All-Star positions and major awards. Today our MLB coverage focuses on the National League. The American League was posted yesterday.
As we did yesterday, let’s briefly run down the unique rules of procedure that govern team selection here at TheSportsNotebook…
- This is set up as a true team—a five-man starting rotation, and two setup relievers are picked, to go along with the closer and the regular everyday lineup.
- As a true team, one of the outfielders must either be a centerfielder, or at least reasonably able to fill the position’s defensive requirements.
- I place an inordinate value on defensive range at the middle infield spots, while offense tends to take priority most everywhere else.
- Finally—and this is a minor point—I view this as a starting point for a debate that should take place all the way to the end of the season, not just to the All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York this July. Baseball is alone among the major sports in not having season-ending All-Star selection.
With that covered, here are the picks for the National League, based solely on their 2013 performance to date…
C: Buster Posey (San Francisco): This rivalry between Posey and St. Louis’ Yadier Molina has the potential to be a fun, generation-defining kind of thing, but for the time being Posey has a comfortable lead. He’s solidly ahead of Molina in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage–.399/.517 for Posey, .358/.422 for Molina, so the San Francisco catcher is an easy call.
Russell Martin in Pittsburgh is lurking, at .360/.504 and an ability to handle a pitching staff that’s at least equal to, if not superior to the well-regarded leaders at this spot. Also a shout-out to New York Mets’ catcher John Buck, who’s popped 10 home runs in the vast dimensions of Citi Field.
1B: Joey Votto (Cincinnati): It’s a close call between Votto and Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, both of whom are having seasons that can keep them in not just this discussion, but the one for the MVP award. Goldschmidt’s got the power edge, while Votto is better at keeping himself on-base. Because Votto’s edge in OBP–.477 to .408—is so decisive, and because if push comes to shove, OBP is a more reliable indicator of a good offense than slugging percentage, I lean Votto’s direction. But the gap is small, and the fact Goldschmidt is grading out higher on the defensive metrics could become a factor if the OBP gap narrows.
Adrian Gonzales in Los Angeles could still get in this discussion. He’s at .374/.458, with the vast dimensions of Dodger Stadium curtailing his power, as Gonzalez has only four home runs. I’ll give him credit for the park he has to hit in, but he needs to at least hit the alleys more and get that slugging number up to .500.
2B: Matt Carpenter (St. Louis): It’s another Cardinal-Giant rivalry, and this one goes to St. Louis. Carpenter is at .376/.437 and he scores highly on range factor. That gives him the edge over Marco Scutaro, who’s got better offensive numbers, but not by a lot. And at this position, I prefer to take a top defender if it all possible.
The big name lurking here is Philadelphia’s Chase Utley. He’s at .339/.475, so the offensive numbers are in striking distance. But as Utley’s career has worn on, his range factor his taken a hit, so this is a dark horse shot.
3B: David Wright (NY Mets): He’s the best at his position in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and the best defensively. No debate necessary. If Wright does slip, the candidates on the outside are Chris Johnson in Atlanta, at .374/.487, and San Diego’s Chase Headley, at .398/.464. Of this trio, Johnson is the only one in a hitter-friendly park, meaning if he’s actually going to win this spot in the end, I want his offensive numbers to be decisively superior.
SS: Jean Segura (Milwaukee): This is a two-man race between Segura and Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki. Based purely on the numbers, without regard to park effects, Tulowitzki would have the edge. He leads Segura in OBP, .409 to .393, in slugging, .606 to .571 and is slightly ahead in range, where the duo is the 1-2 combo in the National League.
But the fact Tulowitzki plays in Coors Field has to count against him a little bit, and those offensive number are all very close. That’s why I lean Segura. A stronger argument for Tulowitzki is that he’s clearly the most likely to keep playing at this level and to be in the lead by the All-Star break.
CF: Carlos Gomez (Milwaukee): I’m not loading up on obscure Brewer players just because I live near Milwaukee. This team’s everyday lineup really is stacked. If you don’t have a centerfielder requirement in your All-Star process, than Gomez probably just misses. But he’s an elite defender at this position who’s having a very good offensive year, at .371/.553.
OF: Shin-Soo Choo (Cincinnati)/Justin Upton (Atlanta): Choo is the best offensive outfielder in the National League, at .455/.539. Officially, he could meet the centerfielder requirement because…well, because he plays centerfield. But this is a position switch for the man who was a corner outfielder in Cleveland and Choo is a liability on defense. That’s why he had to make his way onto this team via the spots reserved for offensive production. Upton leads the majors with 14 home runs, and has a .387 on-base percentage to boot.
If a Milwaukee fan wanted to vote for their team’s three starters, it would be a credible case. In addition to Gomez, Norichika Aoki has a .400/.450 stat line, and Ryan Braun is cranking out another big year, at .408/.559. You certainly expect Braun to be in this conversation all season long.
THE STARTING ROTATION
SP: Clayton Kershaw (LA Dodgers)
SP: Patrick Corbin (Arizona)
SP: Matt Harvey (NY Mets)
SP: Jordan Zimmerman (Washington)
SP: Adam Wainwright (St. Louis)
The National League has five starters with ERAs under 2.00, and four of them—the first four on this list have pitched at least sixty innings, and won at least five games, so there wasn’t a lot of analysis required. The last spot came down to two Cardinals. By the ERA criteria and the wins, Shelby Miller—who joins Corbin and Harvey in a trio of dynamic rookie pitchers—would have had the spot. But Miller has only pitched 57 innings. It’s not bad, but Wainwright is a horse, with 72 frames logged. For a short window of the season, that’s a significant edge and I like to have a workhorse. That’s why Wainwright, with his 6-3 record and 2.38 ERA goes in over Miller, at 5-3, 1.74.
RP: Mark Melancon (Pittsburgh)
RP: Justin Wilson (Pittsburgh)
CL: Jason Grilli (Pittsburgh)
And you were wondering how the Pirates are staying in contention. Grilli is 18-for-18 on save opps with a buck-31 ERA, a season even better than the one Mariano Rivera is enjoying in New York. (The journeyman Grilli can enjoy his fifteen minutes of fame with that comparison). Melancon and Wilson have each logged at least 24 innings, a good workload at this point for a setup man. Melancon’s ERA is a surreal 0.75, with Wilson at 1.35. I don’t necessarily like making the entire All-Star bullpen from one team, but all three have earned it and are easy choices.
MAJOR AWARD WINNERS
MVP: Buster Posey (San Francisco)
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw (LA Dodgers)
Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle (Pittsburgh)
I wouldn’t call Posey a runaway choice—Wright and Kershaw would not be far behind—but given that Posey gives his production at a position not known for offense, and his own team’s offensive production is the reason they’re in first place, and that Posey is the most important part of that lineup, that all adds up to a selection that I consider very clear based on today’s numbers.
Along with yesterday’s more obvious decision to anoint Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera as the American League front-runner, that puts on track to have repeat MVP winners in both leagues. If you’re wondering when the last time that happened the answer is never. And this award goes back to 1911.
Kershaw leads the league in both innings and ERA, which make him the man to beat for the Cy Young. I do value wins and losses, even if that’s considered an outdated stat. But the W-L record for an individual pitcher should be third in statistical consideration, and at 5-2, Kershaw is respectable there.
Hurdle has the Pirates playing .600 ball in spite of a bevy of injuries to the starting pitching, a so-so start by Andrew McCutchen and the fact that the team isn’t that good even when everything is going smoothly.