Among the many things that bother me about the All-Star voting process is the fact that the ballot does not distinguish between left, center, and right field. It's as though MLB is implying that defense makes no difference. In a game that has World Series home-field advantage riding on it, the NL may end up starting Jayson Werth in center field. Don't get me wrong, Werth is a very good outfielder, but there's a reason why the Phillies prefer him in right. It could be even worse if Werth were to be overtaken in the voting by Jason Heyward or Matt Holliday (well within the realm of possibility, as the top six oufielders are only seperated by about 200,000 votes). We could easily end up with Ryan Braun and his -7.2 UZR/150 patrolling center-field. With the A.L. likely handing its spots to Ichiro, Carl Crawford, and Josh Hamilton (assuming Nelson Cruz is injured), all of whom are excellent fielders with experience playing center, the N.L. finds itself with at least one immediate disadvantage.
Here's a look at my endorsements for the senior circuit:
NL Catcher: Miguel Olivo, Rockies
Yadier Molina currently leads Carlos Ruiz and Ivan Rodriguez by less than 100,000 votes and his incredible defense makes him a legitimate candidate regardless of his offense contributions. However, Yadi is having his worst offensive seasons since 2006, while there are a number of other NL catchers who have been excelling on both sides of the ball, Miguel Olivo first among them. Olivo trails only Molina in CS% and is 4th in Catcher's ERA. On offense, he has been even more stellar. He leads NL backstops in SLG, OPS, and WAR, and he is second in runs, hits, homers, RBI, SB, and AVG. The race for second is a close one, as Ruiz, Nick Hundley, Ramon Hernandez, Rod Barajas, and Geo Soto are all having very strong seasons.
Runner-Up: Carlos Ruiz, Phillies
NL First Base: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
You really can't go wrong voting for The Machine, who has a very healthy lead on Ryan Howard. Sadly, his closest rival, Joey Votto, isn't getting proper consideration, as he isn't even among the top five vote-getters. Votto is trailing Pujols by only a hair in most of the offensive categories and, according to FanGraphs, he's actually been slightly better defensively, which gives him a narrow advantage in terms of WAR (2.4 to 2.3).
Runner-Up: Joey Votto, Reds
NL Second Base: Chase Utley, Phillies
Another instance where the fan-favorite is probably the right choice. Utley has a better than 800,000 vote lead on Rickie Weeks and Martin Prado. Kelly Johnson and Dan Uggla have actually been his equals offensively so far in 2010, but Utley's far superior defense give him the edge.
Runner-Up: Dan Uggla, Marlins
NL Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
Where have all the Nats fans gone? Z-Pack isn't even in the top five vote-getters at his position, even though he's been arguably the best player in the National League this season (he leads the NL in WAR). He's definitely the best third-baseman, as the usual suspects like David Wright, Pablo Sandoval, Chipper Jones, and Aramis Ramirez have had years ranging from mildly sub-par (Wright) to downright dreadfull (A-Ram). Zimmerman, meanwhile, has been fantastic, posting a 1005 OPS, a .309 AVG, 11 HR, and 31 RBI. It's time to log-on, Washingtonians, and give your superstar some much-deserved love.
Runner-Up: Scott Rolen, Reds
NL Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
I love J-Roll as much as anybody, but following his poor season in '09 and his injury-plagued first two months, there's no way he should be leading the voting on shortstops, not when there are a host of other qualified candidates. It's a very hard call between the guys who are currently in second and third place, Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez. They have been more or less equals offensively, so Tulo's superior glove gives him a slight advantage, but with a June hot streak, Han-Ram could easily change my mind.
Runner-Up: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
NL Left Field: Josh Willingham, Nationals
Ryan Braun lead NL outfield voting, and he is having another great campaign, but he certainly has some stiff competition from the revitalized Alfonso Soriano and the massively underappreciated Josh Willingham. Soriano lead the trio in OPS, Willingham leads in WAR, and Braun leads in AVG and most of the counting stats, but all are tightly bunched across the board. I endorse Willingham mainly because he deserves some recognition for how good he's been since joining the Nationals prior to the '09 season.
Runner-Up: Ryan Braun, Brewers
NL Center Field: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
There are a number of very intriguing center-field options. The Rockies Carlos Gonzalez, my 2010 Fantasy baseball man-crush, would probably get the nod if he hadn't missed a week in May, then followed it with a miniature slump. He's still neck-and-neck with other candidates like Colby Rasmus, Matt Kemp, and Marlon Byrd. I give the nod to McCutchen because unlike the rest of this group, he's doing his damage in a lineup that offers absolutely no support, which explain how a guy with a .315 average and .478 SLG is on pace for less than 50 RBI. McCutchen has shown the expected combo of speed (13 SB) and power (6 HR), but it's the patience which has been most impressive (23 BB, 34 K, .388 OBP) from a guy who had the reputation for being a bit of a free-swinger.
Runner-Up: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
NL Right Field: Andre Ethier, Dodgers
There are three monsters competing for this spot, as Ethier, Jayson Werth, and Jason Heyward are all having excellent seasons. If it weren't for his injury, however, this probably wouldn't be close. Ethier's average is forty points higher than any other NL player with 150+ plate appearances and he leads Pujols in OPS by almost 100 points. Even despite missing time, he's top ten in homers and RBI.
Runner-Up: Jayson Werth, Phillies