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May 20, 2003

Prospectus Today

NL All-Star Ballot

by Joe Sheehan

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While at Bank One Ballpark Friday, I filled out my first All-Star ballot of the year. Well, it was probably my only All-Star ballot of the year; I used to do a bunch of them--issuing votes for my favorite players, the best ones, the guys on my Strat team, the Yankees--but I feel like one is enough now. It's not unlike my change in attitude toward cheesesteaks.

Before I continue, I have to say that filling out an All-Star ballot with friends is one of the great pleasures of being a baseball fan. The good-natured debates over what constitutes an All-Star are a key part of loving the game, and getting to go through this process with Rany and Jonah last week was a lot of fun. The all-Royals and all-Expos ballots were a little tough to take, but that's life in a democracy for you.

Anyway, I'll run my NL ballot today, AL tomorrow. As always, I consider All-Stars to be the top players at their position, with current stats running secondary to established performance.

First Base: Jeff Bagwell. I picked Bagwell over Todd Helton based on the idea that the two players are essentially comparable, and Bagwell is having a better season. You could argue that he's not actually doing so--VORP says yes, EqA and RARP say no--but the two are close enough in value that you can't go wrong with either selection. Both players have markers--defense, 2003 performance--that import Jim Thome doesn't.

Second Base: Jeff Kent. When you fill out a ballot at the ballpark, you're watching the game, you're chewing on a dog, you're enjoying the antics of the guy in the pirate outfit two sections over, you're guesstimating what county that last home run landed in...and while the ballot is important, it's not like you're sitting there with a laptop and the 2003 BP.

What I'm trying to say is that had I looked at things a little more carefully, I might have chosen Jose Vidro for this slot. I think Kent is defensible, a great player having another fine season, but Vidro has a strong argument that he's passed Kent on the field. Jonah called this selection "a travesty," which is a bit harsh and almost certainly the result of us letting him have that third cotton candy.

Shortstop: Edgar Renteria. While he hasn't had the attention-getting breakout season we keep predicting for him, Renteria has quietly improved to the point of being the best non-trinity shortstop in baseball, with a case for being mentioned alongside Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter. He's a complete player in the Barry Larkin mold, someone who will have an MVP-caliber season or two before he's done.

By the way, National League shortstops are having a monster season. Last year, just two finished in the top 10 in baseball in RARP. This year, Renteria, Rafael Furcal, Alex Gonzalez (Fish version), Orlando Cabrera, Rich Aurilia and Jimmy Rollins are all up there with EqAs in the .260s and above.

Third Base: Scott Rolen. This is one of the easier calls on the ballot at a position that has gone from deep to shallow in two years. Mike Lowell fans are welcome to argue the point, but as good as he's played this year, Rolen has been better, and has a much better track record.

I've gotten some e-mails asking me about the sudden decline in performance at third base. As of last week, MLB shortstops were outperforming third basemen by EqA, although that's since been reversed. I wouldn't put much stock in it as a harbinger of some change in the game. Just two years ago, third base was ridiculously deep before guys like Chipper Jones, Albert Pujols and Phil Nevin moved from the position. Two years from now, it will likely be again as prospects like Andy Marte and Miguel Cabrera emerge to take their place. It's a short-term blip, not a long-term issue.

Catcher: Mike Piazza. A couple of years ago, I ended up in an extended debate over Piazza's place on the ballot vs. Charles Johnson's, which seems silly now. Even in decline, Piazza has been the best catcher in the NL year-in and year-out, and eight good weeks by Johnson didn't change that.

Of course, Piazza won't be playing in the All-Star Game, thanks to his groin injury. In his absence, I'd vote for Mike Lieberthal over Ivan Rodriguez, conceding that it's a thin pool behind Piazza. Are there any good catchers in the NL under 30?

Outfield: Barry Bonds, Jim Edmonds, Sammy Sosa. The pool of NL outfielders is deep, but because so many of the top players have been injured or slumping this year (Lance Berkman, Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu, Brian Giles), the top three guys stand out a bit more. Edmonds gets the nod over Albert Pujols and Gary Sheffield because of the requirement that someone play center field for a few innings. Sosa has missed a lot of time, and is probably the best example of a player I'd vote for regardless of current performance. If Sammy Sosa isn't an All-Star, who is?

OK...send me nasty e-mail now and we'll look at my AL ballot tomorrow.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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