Thursday, June 27, 2013
Picking the 'real' All-Star teams
By Keith Law
If we are supposed to believe that the All-Star Game counts for something other than TV ratings and MLB revenues, why don't we see rosters built to win the game? It's part popularity contest, part reward for having a good two months to start the season, but very little about how the rosters are selected makes it look as though the teams are there to win.
Lineups built to win the game would look like All-Star lineups but would move some players around to different positions to try to build the strongest team possible, while also avoiding those hot-start players who aren't the best choices at their respective positions.
Here are the lineups, including one starter and one reliever per team, that I'd set up to give each league the best chance to win one game.
1. Mike Trout, CF | Los Angeles Angels
Still the best player in baseball, in my opinion -- posting a historically high WAR total in both major systems last year, playing a position in the middle of the diamond, drawing walks, hitting for power, adding value through speed. He'd be the poster child for advocates of old-school baseball if they weren't so busy propping up the corpse in Weekend At RBIs 2.
2. Miguel Cabrera, DH | Detroit Tigers
It's where he belongs, if you ask anyone not associated with or rooting for the Tigers. Cabrera is a disaster at third base and no great shakes at first, but at DH he can focus on what he does better than any other active player right now: hit.
3. Robinson Cano, 2B | New York Yankees
Dustin Pedroia is having a marginally better season, but only a Sox homah would argue he's a better player than Cano, an equivalent defender to Pedroia (with more range but less consistency on routine plays) with better bat speed and more power. A straight WAR ranking would put Ben Zobrist in this category, but I think he's better suited to the bench in this format, as he's solid at several positions but excels at none.
4. Jose Bautista, RF | Toronto Blue Jays
Bautista hasn't been as dominant as he was in 2010-11, probably because of age and a tendon sheath injury in his left wrist, but he still has hit for above-average power with a strong walk rate, along with very good defense in right field. The weakness of the AL outfield crop right now also makes choosing Bautista and Alex Gordon -- even when they're having down years -- easier; none in the next group of candidates, such as Alex Rios or Austin Jackson, has a particularly strong case on skills or performance. I've tried to build the most balanced outfield possible, with three strong defenders who all hit for power and get on base.
5. Evan Longoria, 3B | Tampa Bay Rays
When healthy, he challenges Trout for the mantle of the league's best all-around player. A format where a manager can move players around to easier positions would allow the AL to get Longoria and Cabrera into the starting lineup, thus fielding the best team possible.
6. Chris Davis, 1B | Baltimore Orioles
Davis and Prince Fielder have had comparable offensive lines in the past year-plus, but Davis is a much better defender than Fielder, who is best suited to DH duty at this point, and both players have moderate but not fatal weaknesses against southpaws. This also should say something about my confidence in Davis' ability to carry this new level of offensive performance forward.
7. Joe Mauer, C | Minnesota Twins
There's no backstop remotely close to Mauer in the AL right now; Carlos Santana is improving offensively but can't touch Mauer's defense, while Matt Wieters has the converse problem. I wouldn't tab Mauer to be my catcher for 140 games, but for just one game, he's the easy choice.
8. Alex Gordon, LF | Kansas City Royals
I debated putting center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury here, as his arm is better suited to left than center and he'd probably beat Gordon's glove thanks to his superior speed. However, Ellsbury has all of five home runs since his 2011 season ended, with weaker walk rates and less power than Gordon has, even though Gordon also seems to have caught the Royals' hitting malaise this season.
9. Manny Machado, SS | Baltimore Orioles
There isn't a truly elite shortstop playing shortstop in the American League right now, although if Machado were at his natural position, he'd qualify, and would be pushing his way into the MVP discussion in a month or so. (As it stands, his MVP case is going to rest rather heavily on voters' faith in advanced defensive metrics, not normally a good thing for a candidate.)
Starting pitcher: Yu Darvish, RHP | Texas Rangers
Justin Verlander hasn't looked quite like his old self lately, and if you're trying to win one game, you have to give yourself the best possible chance to miss some bats, which Darvish does better than anyone else in baseball right now. Second choice was Felix Hernandez. As for Max Scherzer, Darvish has better stuff and command, in my view; Scherzer is having a breakout year, but the win/loss record overrates him, and he's faced a lot of impatient offenses in his 15 starts to date.
Reliever: Jake McGee, LHP | Tampa Bay Rays
Greg Holland misses more bats; Mariano Rivera has the name value; Joe Nathan has the saves. But Jake McGee does everything you'd want a late-game reliever to do: He misses bats, avoids walks and gets left- and right-handed batters out equally well. The AL doesn't have at this spot a good candidate who could easily go multiple innings -- Holland has a little more experience in that regard than McGee, but not much, and hasn't gone past an inning so far this season.
1. Buster Posey, C | San Francisco Giants
This format might be cruelest to Yadier Molina, who gets squeezed out solely because he plays in the same league as Posey and doesn't have the bat to beat out candidates at first base or DH.
2. Joey Votto, 1B | Cincinnati Reds
Not only would Votto be my first baseman, he'd bat second, which might be a shocking experience for him. For Paul Goldschmidt partisans, bear in mind that Votto has outhit him this year and has a long track record of performing at this level.
3. David Wright, 3B | New York Mets
If Ryan Zimmerman could throw, he'd be an excellent choice as well, but he might be a better option at second base for the Nats and possibly for this roster if he had any experience at the position. Wright's an easy call as the best all-around option at the position right now, with only Chase Headley coming close.
4. Ryan Braun, DH | Milwaukee Brewers
Braun, like Miggy, doesn't really have a position; he can fake left field, which is more than Cabrera offers on defense, but his best position is batter. (It's a little surprising that Braun isn't a good left fielder, or a great one, as he's a solid athlete who runs very well, but even years at the position haven't gotten him much beyond fringe-average.)
5. Giancarlo Stanton, RF | Miami Marlins
Stanton edges out Shin-Soo Choo here, as I'm going for power and defense over OBP and another left-handed bat. Gerardo Parra also gets short shrift here, but in a one-game situation I don't want to overemphasize the value of defense and give up any offense. For the record, I wouldn't be opposed to seeing Yasiel Puig on the real NL All-Star roster in a sort of “rising star” spot, but did not consider him for this exercise.
6. Andrew McCutchen, LF | Pittsburgh Pirates
Although McCutchen is a natural center fielder, he's not the best defender in the league, and his bat is more than sufficient to play at a star level in a corner, where his defense also likely would be a plus.
7. Aaron Hill, 2B | Arizona Diamondbacks
Hill, when healthy, is the league's best second baseman, but he's just coming back from the disabled list this week, and it might be better to use Brandon Phillips or even erstwhile shortstop Ian Desmond in Hill's stead, because those players are healthy and won't need a few games or weeks to get back up to speed.
As for Matt Carpenter, I'm certainly not ready to give him this job and assume his .360 BABIP shows us his natural talent level, and while I think he's above-average defensively at third, he's below that at second. He's a very good player but adds value through his versatility, which doesn't make him a great candidate for the starting lineup here -- although he'd be among my first choices for the bench.
8. Carlos Gomez, CF | Milwaukee Brewers
Gomez's surge during the past year or so looks very real, as he always had the raw tools but lacked the patience or plate discipline to convert them into production.
9. Andrelton Simmons, SS | Atlanta Braves
With Troy Tulowitzki, the obvious choice, out with an injury, the NL middle-infield crop is so weak that I tried to persuade my "Baseball Tonight" colleague Barry Larkin to come out of retirement for one game, but he turned me down. Jimmy Rollins is the best all-around shortstop in the league right now and Desmond is probably the best available bat, but I chose to go with the best glove, even though it means punting a lineup spot, given Simmons' difficulty getting on base.
Starting pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, LHP | Los Angeles Dodgers
He's the best pitcher in baseball right now, although Adam Wainwright is having the better season so far. If any major league starter has a harder pitch to hit than Kershaw's curveball, I'd like to see it. Or not see it, because it probably would be invisible. I couldn't go with Matt Harvey based on so short a track record, but I would not be surprised if he appeared, with the benefit of hindsight, to be the right decision when the season ends.
Reliever: Aroldis Chapman, LHP | Cincinnati Reds
If we were strictly looking at one-inning usage, I would probably take Craig Kimbrel, but I feel better about stretching out Chapman -- a former starter who would probably still be a starter if we lived in a world where everyone realized that starters are more important than one-inning closers -- for more than three outs if necessary. The NL is loaded with high-strikeout relievers, far more so than the AL, with these two guys and Kenley Jansen all posting incredible strikeout rates.