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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Some All-Star Roster Math For Your Holiday Selection Show Viewing

We've been hearing it ad nauseum for a month now: it's the "year of the pitcher."  Tomorrow, however, that impression will be made even more tangible by the All-Star Selection Show, airing on TBS.  So many pitchers are having dynamite seasons that a large percentage of fans are going to be surprised and horrified when their local Ace doesn't get the call, despite excellent totals.  It's almost certain that Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel will be forced to leave off at least one guy with double-digit wins, at least one guy on pace for 200+ K, and probably several with ERAs under 3.00.  

One way to dull the sting of this, at least slightly, is a creative use of MLB's "Final Vote," through which the fans choose the 34th player on each side.  The last two seasons, both managers have used that ballot exclusively for position players.  This year, it would be nice to give kudos to a few more arms by making it a pitching ballot.  Another possibility is going with fewer relievers.  All-Star managers have generally reserved five or six out of their thirteen pitching slots for their league's top relievers.  This year, it might be wise to pare that back to four or five, as the "year of the pitcher" has not been as kind to relievers as it has to starters (the average starter's ERA is down 0.27 runs from '09, the average reliever's is down only 0.01).

Here are some of the most interesting selection storylines to watch for tomorrow:

Nepotism or Anti-Nepotism?

Almost every year one of the All-Star managers gets accused of choosing one too many of his own players.  This season, certainly, Joe Girardi could face such criticism if he went for Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, or Alex Rodriguez over other more deserving candidates.  Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano have been voted in by the fans.  Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte are also shoo-ins at their positions.  Phil Hughes and C. C. Sabathia also have legitimate claims.  How many All-Stars can one team have?

Don't be surprised if you see both managers erring in the other direction.  The Yankees and Phillies primary goals are getting back to the World Series.  If possible, these managers may seek to give their own player a much-needed midseason vacation.  I expect either Hughes or Sabathia will pitch on the last day of the first half, thus preventing them from being available for the All-Star game.  Even if they are both selected, one will almost certainly be replaced.

To Stras or Not to Stras?

It's been the big debate at ESPN for the last week or so.  I certainly understand the temptation from the perspective of marketing.  The Golden Arm going head to head with the AL's best would make for good television, but take a long look at just a few of the NL's other borderline starting pitching candidates and tell me who off this list you would tell to stay at home because you prefer showcase a 21-year-old with half a dozen major-league starts.  Reigning two-time Cy-Young winner, Tim Lincecum?  Perennial Cy Young candidate and nine-game winner, Chris Carpenter?  The major-league strikeout leader, Yovani Gallardo?

The Other Rooks

Strasburg isn't the only rookie who could be headed to Anaheim.  Jaime Garcia is a pretty sure bet, as he is second in the NL in ERA.  Brennan Boesch is similarly among the AL leaders in several categories and should have his ticket punched.  Neftali Feliz leads the AL in saves.   Jason Heyward will likely be voted in, although injury will keep him out of the lineup.  Gaby Sanchez and Mike Leake are also worth of a long look.

Battling To Back-Up

Because of the fans tendency to elect at least a couple of infielders based on name recognition alone and the fact that each manager will likely carry only one back-up for most of the infield positions, there are often tough choices to be made for those spots.  Here are the most difficult this year:

NL C: Mike Napoli v. Jorge Posada
Both of these guys are probably more suited to DH, but with Victor Martinez on the DL, no other AL catchers are even close enough in the running to make defense a deciding factor.  I think Girardi goes with Napoli, both to satisfy the hosts in Anaheim and to give Posada more rest.  Such a choice will only fuel speculation of their feud in the New York papers.

AL SS: Elvis Andrus v. Alex Gonzalez
Alex Gonzalez leads AL shortstops in homers, RBI, and OPS, but he's slumped significantly since April, and faces stiff competition from Elvis Andrus, who leads AL shortstops in runs, AVG, OBP, and stolen bases.  Both are accomplished glovemen.  I expect, if it comes to it, Girardi will opt for the veteran.  Andrus, at just 21-year-old, is going to have many, many more shots at selection.

NL 3B: Scott Rolen v. Ryan Zimmerman
Z-Pack's recent slump combined with the fact that Rolen plays for a first-place teams will probably tilt this in favor of the Red, but both are excellent defensive players have outstanding campaigns.

So, an Indian, a Pirate, and an Oriole walk into a bar...

Many oppose the rule that every team must be represented at the All-Star Game, but I think it's great, because it rewards players who have little else to look forward to after their teams have been eliminated in May.  And, we get to see talents like Andrew McCutchen, who will be the Pirates lone representative, that don't get a lot of national recognition.  It also makes the roster math super complicated.  Here are some teams that will probably only get one roster spot, but have two or more equally deserving players.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Justin Upton v. Chris Young
They are both outfielders, their numbers are nearly identical, and they are clearly the best candidates on their team, so this one is going to be especially difficult for Charlie Manuel.  Upton has more cache and a better chance of hitting the best pitching the AL has to offer, but Young is a spectacular defensive center-fielder, something the NL roster may be otherwise lacking.

Baltimore Orioles: Nick Markakis v. Ty Wigginton
Neither separates himself dramatically from the other by pure numbers (and, really, Luke Scott would be right there with them if he wasn't a DH).  Nick Markakis is clearly the better player, but he is having a down year by his standards, with almost no power.  Wigginton, on the other hand, raised his modest game when given the opportunity to play everyday due to the injury to Brian Roberts.  His biggest advantage over Markakis and Scott is his ability to play all over the diamond, flexibility that could come in handy for the AL.

Chicago Cubs: Carlos Marmol v. Carlos Silva
A depth of NL outfielders will probably keep Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd out of the running at that position, forcing Charlie Manuel to take a Cubs pitcher.  Silva is having a great season, but not in comparison to guys like Mat Latos, Tim Hudson, and Mike Pelfrey, one of whom he could be ousting.  There is a much stronger argument that Marmol has been one of the four or five best closers in the NL, though Francisco Rodriguez and Francisco Cordero might disagree.

Cleveland Indians: Fausto Carmona v. Shin-Soo Choo
Although both are having solid seasons, if it were based on pure performance, neither would rank among the top ten at their position (Choo would be borderline).  Because the outfield crop is not as deep as the starting pitching field, I think Choo has the upper hand.

Houston Astros: Matt Lindstrom v. Roy Oswalt
Take a look at the Astros hitting stats.  Wow.  They don't have a single player with an OPS even near 800.  This is probably a chance for Oswalt to audition for his potential suitors.  

Oakland Athletics: Andrew Bailey v. Trevor Cahill
Both are plenty deserving and there is a slim chance they could both make the squad, but I think Cahill has the leg up.  He's been absolutely dynamite since joining the rotation a month into the season, with 8 wins in just 13 starts and the league's fourth best ERA (2.74).

Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista v. Vernon Wells
The resilient Blue Jays really deserve to be better represented, but I just don't see how it's going to happen.  Ricky Romero and Shaun Marcum are both having excellent seasons, but will be thrown amongst a host of borderline candidates that have very similar numbers.  I mentioned Gonzalez's situation above.  So, it comes down to Bautista and Wells, both having very good seasons, especially in the power department.  I think Bautista gets the call, both because he's the AL leader in HR, making him a potential derby contestance, and because he could fill in as an infielder if necessary.

The Dangers of Co-Depency

With so many pitchers deserving consideration, it's going to be very difficult to take multiple pitchers from the same staff if they aren't head and tails above the other competition.  Here are some teams with co-Aces who might be suffering from separation anxiety.

Minnesota Twins: Francisco Liriano v. Carl Pavano
Mauer and Morneau will were voted in, so Girardi doesn't need another Twin, but Pavano and Liriano have both been excellent, well worth of selection.  Something tells me that Girardi will prefer the man who wasn't being referred to as "American Idle" by the New York press during Girardi's tumultuous first year as manager.

New York Yankees: Phil Hughes v. C. C. Sabathia
Both have double-digit wins and solid, though not spectacular, overall numbers.  The Yankees much-publicized desired to keep Hughes inning down might be a contributing factor here, but they also may be looking to reward him with his first All-Star nod.  It is equally tempting to try to keep The Big Sleep, renowned for this second half dominance, fresh for the pennant race.

San Francisco Giants: Matt Cain v. Tim Lincecum
Lincecum leads in strikeouts and victories, and he has that whole back-to-back Cy Young think going for him, but Cain has actually been the more consistent pitcher this year, as he 2.93 ERA and 1.14 WHIP attest.  A truly tough call, and it's possible they both could be left off.  Imagine that.

So, if I picked the rosters, this is what they'd look like (assuming voting closed with the same results as were posted at the beginning of the week):


Starting Lineup:
RF Ichiro Suzuki, SEA
LF Carl Crawford, TB
C Joe Mauer, MIN
CF Josh Hamilton, TEX
1B Justin Morneau, MIN
2B Robinson Cano, NYY
3B Evan Longoria, TB
DH Vladimir Guerrero, TEX
SS Derek Jeter, NYY

SP David Price, TB

Pitching Staff:
Cliff Lee, SEA
Jered Weaver, LAA
Jon Lester, BOS
Clay Buchholz, BOS
Andy Pettitte, NYY
Francisco Liriano, MIN
Trevor Cahill, OAK
Jose Valverde, DET
Mariano Rivera, NYY
Rafael Soriano, TB
Joakim Soria, KC
Neftali Feliz, TEX

C Mike Napoli, LAA
1B Miguel Cabrera, DET
1B Paul Konerko, CWS
3B Adrian Beltre, BOS
SS Elvis Andrus, TEX
OF Alex Rios, CWS
OF Brennan Boesch, DET
OF Shin-Soo Choo, CLE
UT Kevin Youkilis, BOS
UT Jose Bautista, TOR
UT Ty Wigginton, BAL

Final Vote:
Felix Hernandez, SEA
Colby Lewis, TEX
Jeff Niemann, TB
Carl Pavano, MIN
C. C. Sabathia, NYY


Starting Lineup:
SS Hanley Ramirez, FLA
2B Martin Prado, ATL
1B Albert Pujols, STL
DH Joey Votto, CIN
LF Ryan Braun, MIL
RF Andre Ethier, LAD
3B David Wright, NYM
CF Jayson Werth, PHI
C Yadier Molina, STL

SP Ubaldo Jimenez, COL

Pitching Staff:
Josh Johnson, FLA
Roy Halladay, PHI
Adam Wainwright, STL
Jaime Garcia, STL
Yovani Gallardo, MIL
Mike Pelfrey, NYM
Mat Latos, SDP
Roy Oswalt, HOU
Jonathan Broxton, LAD
Billy Wagner, ATL
Heath Bell, SDP
Carlos Marmol, CHC

C Miguel Olivo, COL
2B Brandon Phillips, CIN
3B Scott Rolen, CIN
SS Rafael Furcal, LAD
OF Josh Willingham, WAS
OF Corey Hart, MIL
OF Colby Rasmus, STL
OF Andrew McCutchen, PIT
OF Chris Young, ARZ
UT Aubrey Huff, SF
UT Adam Dunn, WAS

Final Vote:
Chris Carpenter, STL
Tim Hudson, ATL
Tim Lincecum, SFG
Clayton Richard, SDP
Carlos Silva, CHC

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