Wednesday, July 7, 2010

American League All-Star Snubs and Schlubs

By Kyle Jahner

Also see: National League All-Star Snubs and Schlubs

I've already broken down some solutions to the National League All-Star mishaps. Fortunately the last-man voting is seemingly going to right the horrendous wrong that was the Votto omission. And that was the biggest oversight that the fans, coaches and players made. But it wasn't by that wide a margin. Another first baseman in the American League is having an elite season offensively as well.

The lack of a Kevin Youkilis is one of a handful of glaring flaws on the AL roster. Justin Morneau is deserving of his starting spot at first base, and Miguel Cabrera is a no-brainer. But stopping at one first baseman with a player as good as Youkilis out there is a mistake, especially considering his grit goes beyond batting statistics.

Throw in a closer, a breakthrough superstar, and another position player beyond Youk at his position that might be having just as good a year (and a better one than an All-Star with no position) and we have a plenty to talk about as we patch up the American League Roster while cutting the dead weight. (Same rules apply as in the NL version, with the picks keeping with the one-per-team rule and a rough adherence to the team's balance.)

In: 1B Kevin Youkilis; Out: Alex Rodriguez

Upon first glance, I was ready to dump Youk's teammate, Adrian Beltre. I figured Youk was such a great hitter that having three 1B made more sense than a third 3B. And I was right ... but not about which 3B to drop. Forget A-Rod's Hall of Fame trajectory (and the fact that I severely underrated the season Beltre was having). Look at this line and ask if you think an all-star: .272 BA, .344 OBP, 12 homers. His OPS is fourth in the AL ... among third basemen. (Michael Young has an overall better line.) He has RBIs, but that's thanks to being in a loaded Yankee lineup.

Meanwhile, Kevin Youkilis is one of the best hitters in the AL yet again. And as usual, he doesn't get his due. I'd bemoan the under-emphasis of OBP and OPS. But despite Youkilis' usual dominance in those stats (.416 and 1.002, both third in the AL), he also has 17 homers and 55 RBIs, both top-10 in the AL. And as for my use of OPS as a justifier more often than most would use it, this case makes it abundantly clear. Each of the top 11 hitters in OPS made the team — except Youkilis. He's absolutely the best hitter not on the roster, and is better than the vast majority on it. Oh, and he hustles like a mad-man and plays good defense.

In: 1B Paul Konerko; Out: DH David Ortiz

David Ortiz has had a resurgent season. Good for him. But with Youk (better numbers than Ortiz, as well) already making three first basemen, adding another while taking away a defensive player at another position could limit flexibility. Ortiz, however, is a DH, so he had better be a better hitter than anyone left off the team.

In Konerko's case, he has not been that by any measure. Konerko is having one monster walk year, with 20 homers (tied for second in the AL), 58 RBI (seventh), .948 OPS (sixth), and no one above him in any of those stats was left off the AL squad. Oh, and no one above him in any of those categories (or batting average, or runs scored) is named David Ortiz.

In: CL Rafael Soriano; Out: CL Matt Thornton

The best closer in the NL this year (Billy Wagner) didn't make it. You'd think the AL wouldn't also leave out its most dominant finisher as well. And it didn't; it left off its third most dominant. After Mariano Rivera and Jose Valverde (who've been so oppressive to hitters they are being investigated for crimes against humanity) no closer in the AL has come close to Soriano's numbers (22 saves, 1.42 ERA, 0.76 WHIP). He's also the only closer in baseball with over 20 chances that has only one blown save. Hitters haven't been able to touch him (.170 BAA, .210 OBP against). With all due respect to all-star Neftali Feliz: Rivera, Valverde, and Soriano have stood alone as the triumvirate ruling ninth innings in the AL.

Thornton, meanwhile, has been a nice reliever for the White Sox, but by no means dominant. As I've said, there can be arguments for setup men in the All-Star Game. But here's the main problem with middle relievers; if they were that dominant, they'd be closers. If they had more pitches, they'd be a starter. They are what they are precisely because they're not good enough to fill the more pivotal roles. If the White Sox thought he was better than Bobby Jenks (not an all-star), then Bobby Jenks would be in the setup roll.

In: SP Jered Weaver; Out: SP Phil Hughes

Seventh in ERA. Second in WHIP. First in Strikeouts. Second-best opponent OBP, fourth-best opponent batting average. But Weaver, whose team will play hosts to the All-Star Game, can't find a spot despite his iron-clad number (8-3, 2.82, 1.06, 126 Ks in 108.2 innings). Meanwhile, Hughes has an ERA a run higher (3.83) and can't touch a single one of Weaver's other numbers. But he's won 10 games! (Thanks to that potent Yankee offense.)

In: SP Felix Hernandez;Out: SP CC Sabathia

Another Yankee pitcher gets the benefit of a win total, plus cache. But King Felix is no anonymous upstart, either. (Appologies to Jeff Niemann, whose ERA and WHIP are better than both these pitchers, but we'll get to that.) Hernandez surrenders about a third of a run fewer per nine innings than Sabathia, a near-identical WHIP, Neimman, Andy Pettitte, and Colby Lewis have pretty strong beefs to go over Sabathia. All of them would go over Fausto Carmona if the Indians didn't need a representative. (If ShIn-Soo Choo doesn't get hurt, an offensive player would be taking that hit.)

But while you could go in any direction depending on which stats you emphasize, I fall back on King Felix being the King of the Workhorse. He leads the league in innings. And that means his work not only helps a team win that game, but reduces strain on the bullpen. It also doesn't do wonders for your own stats to pitch more of your innings tired.

In: OF Brennan Boesch; Out: Remaining last man vote candidates

The astute reader noticed that while Joey Votto made the last man vote as his basis for entry in my NL article, my best hitter not on the roster award knocked out A-Rod. This left me a slot to play with position-wise; I didn't want to replace an infielder with an outfielder. And it was an incredibly tough choice as to who the additional player would be. Brett Gardner has been a spark-plug atop the Yankee lineup, getting on base (.416 OBP) and wreaking havoc once there (25-for-28 on steal attempts). Maglio Ordonez is hitting .315 with 10 homers and 51 RBIs, which would be impressive if Nick Swisher wasn't a few OPS points and homers ahead.

And I was all ready to give the nod over them to Alex Rios. The OPS is about 20-30 points lower than the last two mentioned. And Gardner has more steals and a higher percentage. But Rios has done it all on a lineup that struggled in the early going. His 22 steals are still in the top 10 in the AL (and only Ichiro, Crawford, and Gardner have more among legitimate all-star candidates). He has hit 13 homers. He is on pace to best 90 runs and 90 RBIs. He's been a complete player.

But the one that truly stands out is Boesch. Yes, yes. He doesn't even qualify to lead in average stats because he doesn't have enough plate appearances. So what? He's a whole 6.1 appearances short; he'll probably qualify within a week or so. And that he didn't start the year in the bigs wasn't his fault. What is his fault is that he's hitting .342 (second in the majors), has as many homers as A-Rod in far fewer at-bats, and his .997 OPS (sixth in the majors) is better than Albert Pujols.

He's already accomplished far more than any players had when the fan voting started in, what was it, early May? Even if he hit .200 for the next few weeks, his first 80 games would still be more productive overall than a lot of the players selected. So while Strasburg is out because he's only faced major league pitching for a month, Boesch is different. He gets called up a few games earlier, he's already qualified to almost lead the majors in batting average.

And more importantly for this article, he's exactly the type of guy that needs this kind of talk and recognition for having one of the best first halves in baseball. Even if you don't see him in Anaheim.

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