We’re in the last weekend of the baseball season and it’s time to start the awards parade with selections for the final 2013 National League All-Star team. TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage makes this a season-ending tradition, because I find it foolish that we place all the emphasis on what players are All-Stars at the halfway point (with voting beginning even earlier), rather than which players produced the best body of work for an entire season.
The rules for selection are as follows—it must be a true All-Star team. That means at least one outfielder must be a centerfielder, it means a complete five-man starting rotation must be picked, and a bullpen that includes a couple true setup relievers are also honored.
This list will then serve as the basis for our discussion of the MVP and Cy Young Awards, which will take place prior to the start of the National League playoffs on Tuesday.
THE EVERYDAY LINEUP
C: Buster Posey (San Francisco): Easily the toughest choice of them all, Posey nips St. Louis’ Yadier Molina at the wire. The players are virtually equivalent in all the key statistical categories. What swings me Posey’s way is that his advantage comes in on-base percentage (.471 to .453), and while Molina has a corresponding edge in slugging, the OBP ranks a little higher on my priority list.
1B: Paul Goldschmidt (Arizona): Goldschmidt was a big bright spot on a disappointing Diamondbacks team, hitting 36 home runs and posting a stat line of .403 on-base percentage/.557 slugging percentage. Cincinnati’s Joey Votto had a big year himself, outpacing Goldschmidt in OBP, while lagging in slugging. Both players are in hitter-friendly parks, but the ultimate difference is that Goldschmidt drove in 124 runs to Votto’s 73.
2B: Matt Carpenter (St. Louis): This one’s not even a discussion. Carpenter’s numbers are not only the best, at .394/.487, but the NL’s better players at the position (Chase Utley, Neil Walker) all missed time with injuries, and Carpenter plays a solid defensive second base.
3B: Chris Johnson (Atlanta): Johnson’s edging of Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is a pick where team success made a difference in a close race. Zimmerman is slightly better in power, Johnson in OBP. But not only do I value on-base percentage a bit more than slugging, but Johnson was essential to Atlanta’s offensive success as they surprisingly ran away from Washington in the NL East.
SS: Ian Desmond (Washington): I understand that Troy Tulowitzki is the NL’s best player at this spot, from all facets of offense to his defensive range. But injuries just kept Tulowitzki on the shelf, and Desmond ended up with 167 more at-bats coming into the final weekend.
That’s just too big a gap to ignore. And the Nationals’ shortstop posted a .458 slugging percentage in a park not nearly as friendly as Coors Field, and was respectable in both OBP and defense. Milwaukee’s Jean Segura is a comer, but faded in the second half.
CF: Shin-Soo Choo (Cincinnati): Choo gets the nod over Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen because the Reds centerfielder scored decisively better in the defensive metrics, something surprising given that Choo had played right field prior to this year. Both players are clearly a cut above the rest of the National League crop.
OF: Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh): The Pirate outfielder is still pretty damn good, and at .404/.506 and 27 home runs and leading his team into the playoffs, he deserves a place ahead of other candidates at the corner outfield spots.
OF: Matt Holliday (St. Louis): At .382/.476, Holliday was steady, albeit unspectacular as a key in the potent St. Louis offense. The top OPS’s (on-base + slugging) among NL outfielders were posted by Michael Cuddyer in Colorado and Washington’s Jayson Werth, but both had substantially fewer at-bats than Holliday.
Clayton Kershaw (LA Dodgers): With a buck-88 ERA, 15 wins and a workhorse load of 230 innings, the only conversation regarding Kershaw is about the Cy Young and MVP awards, which are not yet the subject here.
Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco): Bumgarner logged 200 innings and finished with a winning record, at 13-9, for what proved to be a bad team. The 2.77 ERA is a little higher than I’d like, but the innings are impressive.
Adam Wainwright (St. Louis): I normally insist that All-Stars have a sub-3.00 ERA, especially in the National League. But I’m not going to pick nits at 3.01, where Wainwright sits. And the fact he’s got 236 innings of work for a team likely to win its division and that lacks a great bullpen, mark him very valuable.
Jose Fernandez (Miami): The 2.19 ERA, second to Kershaw in the National League is too good to pass up, even at a fairly pedestrian 172 innings.
Cliff Lee (Philadelphia): Lee is the last choice and it’s his 214 innings that enable him to edge out Matt Harvey and Zack Greinke for the honor. Lee’s 2.93 ERA is substantially higher than Harvey and Greinke, who are below 2.30. But Philadelphia is a tough park to pitch in, while the Dodgers and Mets are both in pitcher-friendly environments.
Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta): Nailing down 49/53 save chances at a 1.25 ERA and being instrumental in helping a team win a division title gets you in the MVP and Cy Young conversations.
Mark Melancon (Pittsburgh): He was the best setup man in baseball for much of the season and then stepped into the closer’s role when Jason Grilli got hurt after the All-Star break. Melancon has a 1.41 ERA and had 16 saves.
Tony Watson (Pittsburgh): Watson worked 70 innings, a threshold number for setup relievers and ended up with a 2.42 ERA. And given how important the Pirates’ bullpen depth was to their success, I like having two Pittsburgh relievers in the pen.