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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hippeaux endorses...(AL)

It may not be as big of a story as Hillary falling in line behind Obama or Romney endorsing McCain, but I'd like to offer my advice on another upcoming ballot, that for the 2008 All-Star Game in New York. The Break is still a month away, but if you, like me, plan on voting about a hundred times again this year, and not exactly consistently, you'd best be getting started.

One thing to keep in mind: I believe that All-Stars should be based not only on the rather short-term performance of the first ten weeks of 2008, but also on the backstretch of the preceding season, which is why the potentially fluky seasons from the likes of Nate McLouth won't influence my vote...not this year. That said, here's my most common ballot.

American League

1B - Kevin Youkilis - Boston Red Sox (.267 AVG-75 R-16 HR-78 RBI-808 OPS-5 SB)

His dugout tantrums haven't endeared him to Manny, which certainly doesn't earn him any extra credit, but you can't argue with Youk's on-field performance. Since the middle of 2007 he's played 117 games at first, eighteen at third, and two in right field and has made a grand total of three errors. Youkilis has been pretty strong at the plate as well, sporting an 808 OPS during that span.

Youk has climbed in front of Justin Morneau by a pretty significant margin in the early voting, so it seems likely that the fans will get this one right, but Youk's biggest advantage, besides playing for the Red Sox, is the surprisingly weak field of first-baggers in the AL. Since July 12 of last season, only one AL first baseman has more than 22 HR and/or more than 84 RBI, that's Carlos Pena, who racked up most of those totals at the end of last year and is currently on the DL. After Youkilis and Pena, the best options are guys like Jason Giambi and Casey Kotchman.

Runner-Up: Carlos Pena - Tampa Bay Rays (.255-81-37-104-934-1)

2B - Ian Kinsler - Texas Rangers (.310-102-14-64-827-29)

As much as I'd like to see half-a-dozen Red Sox take the field at Yankee Stadium for the All-Star game, I can't endorse a player who's 8th in the AL in OPS among second-baseman in 2008 and 11th taking into account the second half of last season. Dustin Pedroia is a fine player, but he isn't the best the league has to offer, not by a long shot.

In about five hundred at-bats since the middle of last season, Kinsler has racked up 102 runs (1st), 14 homers (4th), and 29 stolen bases (2nd), to go with an 827 OPS (1st). Pedroia in those categories: 90 (2nd), 9 (7th), 12 (4th), and 742 (11th). Kinsler's is one of the most overlooked performances in the majors this past year, which is why he is 300,000 votes back of Pedroia and barely holding off Robinson Cano. This is an underdog who should be on every ballot you cast.

Runner-Up: Brian Roberts - Baltimore Orioles (.262-82-11-54-777-41)

3B - Alex Rodriguez - New York Yankees (.313-93-34-102-1021-21)

Even despite the injury and the modest start (for him) this season, nobody comes close. A-Rod leads all AL players at the hot corner in runs, home runs, RBIs, walks, slugging, and OPS, finishes second in stolen bases and OBP (Chone Figgins) and third in average (Figgins and Mike Lowell).

Runner-Up: Adrian Beltre - Seattle Mariners (.253-76-26-84-763-13)

SS - Micheal Young - Texas Rangers (.326-86-11-76-827-11)

It goes without saying the Derek Jeter is going to take the field in front of his home crowd in mid-July, but Young has been better than him in almost every statistical category, both offensively and defensively, this year especially. Young just wrapped up a 23-game hitting streak during which he hit .339. During the same span Jeter batted .218. This will be Jeter's third consecutive All-Star start. I doubt that I'm the only one hoping it will be his last.

Runner-Up: Derek Jeter - New York Yankees (.291-78-10-56-758-12)

C - Dioner Navarro - Tampa Bay Rays (.310-48-11-56-820-2)

I know this is going to surprise a lot of you, but over the last eleven months Dioner Navarro ranks 2nd among AL Catchers in batting average, RBI, slugging, and OPS, and 3rd in home runs and on-base percentage. Only Jorge Posada is also in the top three in all those categories and his injury may prevent him from catching on his home turf in July. Navarro has been a big part of solidifying the surprising Rays both offensively and defensively, helping to groom and very productive young pitching staff. He deserves recognition, at least as the alternate.

Runner-Up: Joe Mauer - Minnesota Twins (.301-61-5-50-798-2)

OF - Magglio Ordonez - Detroit Tigers (.337-83-24-109-944-2), Manny Ramirez - Boston Red Sox (.310-81-24-91-943-1), Josh Hamilton - Texas Rangers (.316-61-22-88-941-2)

It works out quite well for AL manager, Terry Francona, who has a natural left, center, and right fielder to start the game. Manny and Hamilton are nice sentimental picks who have the numbers to back it up and are currently first and second in the voting. Instead of voting in Ichiro or Vlad during somewhat down seasons merely based on reputation, let's go with the guys who's been hands-down the best outfielder in the AL over the past year. Despite his team's struggles so far this year, Magglio has continued to quietly tear the cover off the ball. Since last year's All-Star Game (when he started in left field), Magglio has more RBIs than any player in the AL. More than A-Rod. More than Big Papi. More than everybody in major league baseball except Ryan Braun and Ryan Howard. Among players with at least 400 plate appearances in the AL since the middle of last season he ranks first in batting average and third in OPS (A-Rod, Papi).

Runners-Up: Milton Bradley - Texas Rangers (.328-77-25-75-1063-7)
Nick Markakis - Baltimore Orioles (.311-85-24-90-912-17)
B. J. Upton - Tampa Bay Rays (.289-90-20-89-856-29)

DH - David Ortiz - Boston Red Sox (.307-97-34-108-1013-2)

Big Papi may not return from the DL in time for the All-Star festivities. Milton Bradley would be the perfect replacement, but unfortunately his name isn't on the ballot for the DH position. The runner up will probably be Jim Thome, who also has respectable numbers for the last eleven months.

Runner-Up: Jim Thome - Chicago White Sox (.248-77-34-85-885-1)

That's right, I've got three Rangers, as well as three Red Sox, on my 2008 AL All-Star ballot. The do, after all, lead all of baseball in runs scored. In addition, I expect Milton Bradley to be among the alternates (you hear me, Francona!). As of right now, all but one of my suggestion are ranked one or two (or among the top six outfielders) at their respective positions, so start punching those chads, stuffing those ballot boxes, and creating those fake email addresses. Let's get these guys to New York in July!

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