First off, let me preface the rest of this post by saying that I am vehemently opposed to requiring that each team have a representative in the game. Especially if MLB insists on using the All-Star game to determine home-field advantage for the World Series, watering down each team for some bogus “everyone’s a winner” type of reason is insane. But since I am hamstringed by this rule, I’ll work in a representative from each team, whether I agree with the practice or not.
Here’s a list of the National League starters, as voted on by fans.
C Yadier Molina, St. Louis
1B Albert Pujols, St. Louis
2B Chase Utley, Philadelphia (unable to play)
3B David Wright, NY Mets
SS Hanley Ramirez, Florida
OF Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
OF Jason Heyward, Atlanta
OF Andre Ethier, LA Dodgers
The infield is fine, but I’d make a few changes in the outfield. Ryan Braun and Jason Heyward have had solid seasons, but neither has sustained spectacular all-star play this season. Heyward started hot, but the league eventually adjusted to him, and he hit a paltry .181 in June. Braun has also cooled off after a hot start, but has avoided the huge slump that Heyward is enduring.
In the place of Heyward and Braun, I’d take Josh Willingham who has posted a 2.2 WAR and is second among all NL outfielders in OPS. I’d also hand the starting gig to Matt Holliday, who has posted the league’s highest WAR total for and outfielder. Holliday was already among the NL’s reserves, but deserves to start the game. My only problem is that an outfield of Ethier, Holliday and Willingham would have to utilize Holliday as the centerfielder, which would create a below-average defensive unit.
The other piece I’d change is Molina at catcher. He is fantastic defensively, but has been atrocious this season at the plate. He owns an OPS+ of 68 (terrible) and his .616 OPS ranks him 17th among 18 NL catchers with at least 100 at bats. He doesn’t belong on the all-star team at all, let along catching the first pitch the National League starter throws. My vote for starter is Miguel Olivo, who has put up excellent numbers at the plate for Colorado, in addition to working well with the young Rockies staff.
Of the other starters, I have no qualms so we’ll move onto the reserves.
C Brian McCann, Atlanta
1B Ryan Howard, Philadelphia
1B Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego
2B Martin Prado, Atlanta (will start in Utley’s place)
INF Omar Infante, Atlanta
SS Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado (unable to play)
SS Jose Reyes, NY Mets (will take Tulowitzki’s place)
2B Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati
3B Scott Rolen, Cincinnati
OF Michael Bourn, Houston
OF Marlon Byrd, Chi. Cubs
OF Corey Hart, Milwaukee
OF Matt Holliday, St. Louis
OF Chris Young, Arizona
Here I have more problems. Brian McCann has been fairly pedestrian this year, but without an overwhelming alternative, his presence on the roster isn’t terrible. First base however, is the big travesty. The league leader at first base in OPS, OPS+ and WAR isn’t there. Adrian Gonzalez is a fine selection as the third first baseman, and I’m even okay with Pujols starting because his season is very comparable to the one that Joey Votto is putting up for Cincinnati. But leaving Votto off the team in favor of Ryan Howard is ludicrous. Guys like Gaby Sanchez and Aubrey Huff have had better seasons than Howard. That’s not a knock on any of those guys, but Votto is perhaps the single most overlooked player in the National League. He’s not presently on the team, but could make it via that last man in vote. It’s hard to put together an all-star roster, but here’s a hint: you start with Joey Votto and go from there.
Martin Prado has definitely earned his spot on the club, and will start due to Utley’s injury. But I could have found a dozen infielders more deserving of a spot on the team than Omar freaking Infante. Infante’s not even a full-time player and he’s managed to be a below-average hitter (96 OPS+) despite his .311 batting average. Someone like Dan Uggla or Kelly Johnson would make more sense. Since I’m going to be giving the boot to Arizona’s only other representative, I’ll take Johnson by a nose over Uggla. Scott Rolen and Brandon Phillips both are excellent selections, and I can even live with Troy Tulowitzki’s replacement being Jose Reyes, due to a lack of better options.
As for the outfield, there’s a lot I’d change. Michael Bourn is there as the Houston representative. But he 31st out of 34 qualified NL outfielders in OPS, so even with his 25 stolen bases, he’s gone. But I’ll replace him later with another Houston guy. In his place, I’d take Andrew McCutchen from Pittsburgh, both because he deserves it and because I can get rid of a middle reliever from Pittsburgh later on. Marlon Byrd and Corey Hart are both fine choices, and because Matt Holliday moved into the starting rotation, I’ll replace him with his teammate Colby Rasmus, who’s had a more impressive year than Heyward. For the last outfield spot, I’ll keep Braun over Heyward. But I’m sure Heyward will be on many all-star teams in the coming decade.
Now for the NL pitchers.
RHP Jonathan Broxton, LA Dodgers
RHP Chris Carpenter, St. Louis
RHP Matt Capps, Washington
RHP Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee
RHP Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
RHP Tim Hudson, Atlanta
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado
RHP Josh Johnson, Florida
RHP Tim Lincecum, San Francisco
RHP Evan Meek, Pittsburgh
LHP Arthur Rhodes, Cincinnati
RHP Adam Wainwright, St. Louis
RHP Brian Wilson, San Francisco
First things first, I don’t like taking middle relievers to the all-star game, regardless of how good they’ve been. The best pitchers are starters, then closers and then middle relievers. Middle relievers do what they do for a reason—they’re not good enough to be closers or starters. So they obviously don’t deserve to be recognized as one of the league’s best pitchers, because they’re not.
I’ve got little problem with any of the starters, as all have had fantastic seasons. You could say that Tim Hudson’s gotten a bit lucky, but that’s baseball. He’s pitched very well and I’ll keep him on the team. But Matt Capps, Evan Meek and Arthur Rhodes all go. Meek and Rhodes because they’re middle relievers and Capps because there are better closers. Because I got rid of Michael Bourn earlier, Houston needs a new rep so I’m putting Roy Oswalt on the team. Somewhat because Houston needs a representative, but mostly because he’s been one of the NL’s top pitchers this season and he’s earned it.
Taking the place of Capps is Atlanta’s Billy Wagner. Despite not having the gaudy save total, Wagner’s had the best season of any NL closer. The last man on the NL club for me is Mat Latos, San Diego’s young ace. The last pitcher out for me was Stephen Strasburg. Do I think he’s one of the best 13 pitchers in the National League? I am beginning to think so, but I also value body of work, so I ultimately couldn’t take him after half a dozen starts, none against a truly good offense. But he, like Heyward will pitch in many a Summer Classic throughout his career.
C Joe Mauer, Minnesota
1B Justin Morneau, Minnesota
2B Robinson Cano, NY Yankees
3B Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay
SS Derek Jeter, NY Yankees
OF Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle
OF Josh Hamilton, Texas
OF Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay
DH Vladimir Guerrero, Texas
For once, the voters had a perfect voting season, as I can’t argue against any of the selections made to start the game this year. Which is an exceptionally rare accomplishment, given past elections.
Mauer, Morneau and Longoria are clear choices to start at their respective positions, and Robinson Cano makes the choice for the American League second base all-star the easiest choice in years. I suppose Elvis Andrus may have a case for being the starting shortstop, but Derek Jeter has an equally strong (weak?) one, so I don’t have a problem here.
Hamilton is by far the AL’s best option in the outfield so his selection is simple. I guess Crawford or Ichiro could be bumped by someone else, but there’s no AL outfielder who I’d definitively put there ahead of them. Vlad is easily the choice as the starting DH, and the fact that he left Anaheim just this past offseason gives the media another juicy narrative to write about.
C Victor Martinez, Boston (unable to play)
C John Buck, Toronto (will replace Martinez)
1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
2B Dustin Pedroia, Boston (unable to play)
2B Ian Kinsler, Texas (will replace Pedroia)
SS Elvis Andrus, Texas
3B Alex Rodriguez, NY Yankees
3B Adrian Beltre, Boston
INF Ty Wigginton, Baltimore
OF Torii Hunter, LA Angels
OF Vernon Wells, Toronto
OF Jose Bautista, Toronto
DH David Ortiz, Boston
Here’s where things start to go down hill, which is strange because the people most responsible for the reserves are in fact, the players themselves. You’d think they’d know which players were most deserving of representing their league in the all-star game. But they don’t seem to pay attention to the details of most players, and buy into hot streaks and luck.
Victor Martinez is a clear second choice behind the plate for the American League, but due to his fractured thumb, he needs to be replaced. And not by John Buck. Buck has bought into Toronto’s new hitting philosophy of “Look Fastballs And Swing At Every One You See”. It’s worked as well as it could, as Buck has 13 homers (only five off his career high) but also has drawn only nine walks against 64 strikeouts leading to a measly .307 on-base percentage. Both Jorge Posada and Mike Napoli would have been better choices. Because Posada missed significant time due to injury though, I’d take Napoli as Martinez’s replacement.
Miguel Cabrera would probably start the game most other years, but he’s relegated to the bench due to Morneau’s incredible season. The AL doesn’t have a whole lot of talent at shortstop or second base, and Dustin Pedroia’s injury just depletes the pool even further. Kinsler and Andrus are both fine selections to represent the AL, even with Kinsler missing some time. Adrien Beltre has been more impressive than just about any one expected this year, and has more than earned his way onto the team. A-Rod however, probably got on based more on reputation than performance. He’s driven in 61 runs, but has underperformed his usual standards. In lieu of a third third-baseman, I’d repalce him on the team with Kevin Youkilis, as first base is a position of depth of talent for the American League, more so than third base.
Ty Wigginton’s presence on the team is based solely on the fact that every team needs a representative. Baltimore doesn’t field one player worthy of appearing in the game featuring MLB’s best talent, and I thought of cutting him, but the lack of middle infield talent in the American League led me to keep him on the team, rather than take someone like Nick Markakis.
The outfield does not represent the American League well at all. Torii Hunter is fine, but both Vernon Wells and Jose Bautista used short-lived hot streaks to make their way to the all-star game. Wells is terrible defensively and his OPS has dropped drastically each month. Bautista, also below-average in the field was awful at the plate in April, awesome in May and WTF? in June. Both players are in the Top 5 in OPS among AL outfielders, but neither particularly strikes me as an all-star caliber player.
I’d leave both of them in Canada for the game and take Chicago’s Alex Rios and New York’s Nick Swisher in their place. While David Ortiz has had a splendid season himself, I value a player’s defensive contributions as well and would replace him with another outfielder, Magglio Ordonez.
While the reserves are questionable at best, it’s the pitchers for the American League that drive me crazy.
RHP Clay Buchholz, Boston
RHP Trevor Cahill, Oakland
RHP Fausto Carmona, Cleveland
RHP Neftali Feliz, Texas
RHP Phil Hughes, NY Yankees
LHP Cliff Lee, Seattle
LHP Jon Lester, Boston
LHP David Price, Tampa Bay
RHP Mariano Rivera, NY Yankees
LHP CC Sabathia, NY Yankees
RHP Joakim Soria, Kansas City
LHP Matt Thornton, Chi. White Sox
RHP Jose Valverde, Detroit
Of the ten pitchers in the American League with the highest WAR numbers, a grand total of two of them made the All-Star team. TWO! I understand that some of these pitchers will be replaced because of the new rules put in place to protect pitchers, but that will still leave some very questionable decisions on the team. Sabathia is set to pitch Sunday, rendering him ineligible for the roster, but I bet Joe Girardi fills his spot with Andy Pettitte, rather than more deserving pitchers.
Shin Shoo Choo getting hurt hamstringed the American League into having to include Carmona, and he truly is Cleveland’s most deserving available player. But I’d get rid of Phil Hughes in a second and replace him with Felix Hernandez and Neftali Feliz goes in favor of Jered Weaver. Matt Thornton is a middle reliever, and Alex Rios fills my White Sox quota so I’m able to easily replace him with Francisco Liriano.