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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hippeaux endorses...(NL Infield)

I'm going to acknowledge my bias right here.  I will never endorse a caucasian player who plays for the perennially lily-white, holier-than-thou, confederate Braves or Astros.  So, sorry Lance Berkman and Chipper Jones, you're having great years, but I just can't bring myself to vote for you.  That said, here's me NL ballot.

1B - Derrek Lee - Chicago Cubs (.294-93-30-84-897-6)

I explained why Berkman's not an option and Albert Pujols is likely to still be on the D.L. come July, so the OPS leaders among NL first-basemen since the 2007 break are both out of the picture.  The top five is rounded out by Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and - would you believe it? - Conor Jackson!?!  Fielder and Howard have both suffered much publicized slumps early in this year's campaign, but their numbers are still mighty respectable.  Adrian Gonzalez, on fire the past month, is also a legitimate choice.  Counting Berkman, Texeira, and Prince Albert, eight NL first basemen deserve a trip to Yankee Stadium more than the best choice in the American League (Kevin Youkilis).  I endorse Lee, not only out of loyalty to the Cubs, but because besides being a huge catalyst for Chicago's offensive explosion this season, he saves runs consistently on defense, making spectacular "hot-corner" dives and harnessing the erratic arms of Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Theriot, Ronny Cedeno, and Mark DeRosa.

Runner-Up: Ryan Howard - Philadelphia Phillies (.250-104-45-131-914-2)

2B - Chase Utley - Philadelphia Phillies (.317-96-29-97-997-9)

I'd love to make a case for Brandon Phillips, who remains among the most underrated players in baseball, but in truth, it's not even close.  Utley has been downright fantastic in the last eleven months, leading NL second-basemen in RBI, average, OBP, SLG, and OPS
(he leads by more than a hundred points).  He finishes a close second to Dan Uggla in HR and Runs Scored, and to Phillips in hits.  And, as the Baseball Tonight crew is constantly reminding us, he's made himself into quite an impressive fielder as well.

Runner-Up: Brandon Phillips - Cincinnati Reds (.283-88-26-86-817-28)

3B - David Wright - New York Mets (.319-107-26-108-956-24)

It would be nice to vote for Aramis Ramirez, but I just can't.  Wright is superior in every statistical category, at least Ramirez' equal on defense, and he can run the bases.  Wright is pretty much the only Met who has maintained his production and focus throughout the unbelievably distracting witch-hunt which has consumed their season.  If New York can turn things around in the wake of Willie Randolph (I highly doubt it), Wright still finds himself primed to make a run at the MVP.  He's in the top 25 in the NL in runs, hits, homers, RBI, and OPS.

Runner-Up: Aramis Ramirez (.302-84-21-95-909-1)

SS - Jimmy Rollins - Philadelphia Phillies (.301-101-20-66-876-39)

This is one of the toughest decisions on the ballot.  You've got the reigning NL MVP, Jimmy Rollins; a guy who's hit thirty homers and stolen forty bases since the last All-Star Game, Hanley Ramirez; the leagues biggest stolen base threat and possibly most dynamic player, Jose Reyes; and a resurgent former AL MVP, Miguel Tejada.  For me, it really comes down to Ramirez and Rollins.  Ramirez has the slight edge statistically, but they may be largely due to Rollins DL stint in April.  For the most part they are nearly in a dead heat.  I give Rollins the advantage because he is definitely a better defender (2007 Gold Glove Winner) and he is a little more consistent (although when Ramirez is playing well, there really isn't any comparison offensively).

Runner-Up: Hanley Ramirez - Florida Marlins (.311-113-30-78-930-40)

C - Russell Martin - Los Angeles Dodgers (.293-70-14-59-830-11)

Geovany Soto deserves a trip to New York almost as much a Martin.  But while Sweet Lou has the luxury of plugging Soto into the six-hole every day, and can rest easy when he takes an 0-fer or needs a day of rest, because he's got Fonso, D-Lee, A-Ram, and Fukudome, Joe Torre depends on Coltrane to be his offensive and defensive catalyst, especially while Rafael Furcal is on the DL, Matt Kemp and James Loney adjust to the league, and Jeff Kent and Andruw Jones appear washed up.  Int the last year, Martin has significant at-bats second, third, cleanup, fifth, and sixth in the lineup, he's won a Gold Glove at catcher, but, oh yes, he plays third base on his "off days" because Torre needs his bat.  He's stolen three times as many bases as any catcher in the NL and masterfully handled a difficult pitching staff.   Dodger fans need to focus these next few weeks on sending the face of their franchise to his second consecutive All-Star start.

Runner-Up: Geovany Soto - Chicago Cubs (.303-37-14-50-926-0)

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