It's that time of year, when one could responsibly consider being an informed participant in the All-Star Voting. Last year, we fans elected Josh Hamilton to start. At the time, he was hitting .226 with 6 HR and had spent much of the previous three months on the D.L. This is merely the most recent of many ridiculous selections. From the much-publicized perspective that the All-Star game now "counts," because it determines home-field advantage for the World Series, the fact the game is still treated as an exhibition in terms of voting seems counter-intuitive. One could, I suppose, rationalize voting for the worst players on the AL ballot, if you favored team is from the NL.
We'll set the incongruities of the process aside for now, as I offer what I deem the most deserving candidates at each position, starting in the American League:
AL Catcher: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
Undeniably the easiest decision on either ballot. The reigning AL MVP, Joe Mauer, currently leads his position by about 700,000 votes. He also leads AL catchers in runs, hits, walks, average, OBP, WAR, and Catcher's ERA.
Runner-Up: Mike Napoli, Los Angeles Angels
AL First Base: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
This is probably the toughest call in either league. Mark Teixeira currently leads the voting by a slim margin, but based on 2010 stats, he's probably not worthy of a top five finish. Even if you include the latter half of 2009, when Teixeira was fantastic, he still falls well short of the "big three": Cabrera, Justin Morneau, and Kevin Youkilis. I couldn't fault anybody for voting for any one of them. The all have OPSs well over 1000 and are among the league leaders in pretty much every major offensive category. If the 2010 MVP were selected today, they would all be among the top five vote-getters. My rationale for Cabrera, who happens to lead the group in HR and RBI, is that he hits in a shallower lineup and therefore shoulders more of his team's offensive burden. But really, the only way you can really go wrong is by letting the less deserving Teixeira take an All-Star nod away from any one of them, just because he plays in New York.
Runner-Up: Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins
AL Second Base: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
Here's where it is most acceptable to vote for a Yankee. Cano may be having the best season of his already impressive career, and leads AL second-basemen in hits, doubles, RBI, average, OBP, SLG, and WAR. He also continues to develop defensively, having the best season of his career in that regard.
Runner-Up: Orlando Hudson, Minnesota Twins
AL Third Base: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
The question here would appear to be whether to reward the uber-hot, but somewhat flukish-looking Jose Bautista, who leads the AL in HR and leads his position in runs and OPS, or to go with the Evan Longoria, who is one of the best all-around players in the league and is having an excellent season in his own right. This is where WAR comes in handy, showing that despite Bautista gaudy power numbers, Longoria's high average, his speed, and his defense, make his significantly more valuable (2.5 WAR compared to 1.8).
Runner-Up: Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
AL Shortstop: Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
It is a foregone conclusion that Derek Jeter will start his fifth consecutive All-Star game, as he leads by nearly half a million votes, and this will hardly be the most ludicrous selection of his career. In fact, he leads AL shortstops in WAR. I, however, would prefer to reward Elvis Andrus, who oddly leads Jeter in many of his usual strengths: runs, stolen bases, walks, average, and OBP. Andrus, who is also the league's best defensive shortstop, has been an absolutely essential component of the Rangers success since taking over as their leadoff hitter. He doesn't have Jeter's power, obviously, but this season at least, the 21-year-old has been equal or better in every other aspect of the game.
Runner-Up: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
AL Left Field: Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays
Very quietly, another streaking Blue Jay, Fred Lewis, has inserted himself into the conversation, as has Josh Hamilton, who got very hot this month and now leads AL left-fielders in HR, RBI, and SLG. Crawford, however, remains the cream of the crop, both offensively and defensively, leading his position in runs, hits, triples, average, and WAR, while finishing in the top three pretty in much everything else.
Runner-Up: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
AL Center Field: Alex Rios, Chicago White Sox
For the first time in several years, J. P. Riccardi's albatrosses, Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, are playing up to their pay grade (though Rios now does so for the White Sox and is making Kenny Williams look quite brilliant). They are the top candidates for AL center-fielder, as usual suspects like Torii Hunter, Curtis Granderson, and Grady Sizemore suffer from injury and ineffectiveness. Wells leads Rios in most of the counting categories (runs, hits, 2B, HR, RBI, and walks), but Rios is superior in average, OBP, stolen bases, WAR, and, by a long shot, in UZR, where he tops the AL thusfar (yes, even slightly ahead of UZR king, Franklin Gutierrez). The sad truth is, it appears neither of these players will be rewarded for their efforts by the fans, as they are both outside the top ten in the voting.
Runner-Up: Vernon Wells, Toronto Blue Jays
AL Right Field: Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers
If he hadn't spent half the season on the D.L., Cruz would probably win this spot in a landslide, as he has a 200 point advantage in OPS and despite missing so much time, still manages to lead very slightly in HR, RBI, and WAR, though probably not for long. Ichiro, who leads AL outfielders in voting, is a decent choice, as he also leads AL right-fielders in hits, average, and steals, but Magglio Ordonez, Nick Swisher, Shin-Soo Choo, and Ben Zobrist have all been at least equally valuable. In the end, I will cross my fingers that Cruz recovers quickly from his most recent hamstring injury and has a couple more great weeks in him prior the break.
Runner-Up: Magglio Ordonez, Detroit Tigers
AL Designated Hitter: Vladimir Guerrero, Texas Rangers
It's a race between aging players with something to prove. After a slow start that prompted much ugliness, even in the Boston press, Big Papi has been among the best hitters in the league these past four weeks and now boasts and OPS of 908 (14th in AL) with 11 HR (9th) and 31 RBI (19th). Andruw Jones has shown glimmers of the power-hitter many had forgotten. Likewise for Jim Thome. But Vlad has topped them all during his Texas-sized rebirth. He currently trails only Miguel Cabrera in RBI, and leads his position in hits, homers, steals, average, OPS, and WAR.
Runner-Up: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox