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May 25, 2005

Prospectus Today

NL All-Stars

by Joe Sheehan

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I have to just do a diary some day where I watch games and run a column of observations. On any given night, I see any number of things watching games that I want to write about, but which wouldn't, on their own, be enough for a column. Every single day of baseball is chock full of material--decisions by players and managers, great performances, unique situations--that is ripe for discussion.

Take last night, for instance. You had five games go into extra innings, including the Reds' very special experience: a three-run first, followed by 12 scoreless innings, followed by scoring in the 14th when their just-up-from-the-minors last available pitcher (Randy Keisler), batting only because they had no position players left, snapped a career-opening 0-for-17 stretch with a game-winning single. Three other games were decided in the home team's last at-bat, including a walk-off piece by Reed Johnson against the Red Sox.

There's the NL East apparently beginning to separate, as the Mets and Phillies squander opportunity after opportunity against the Braves and Marlins. The Astros and Rockies each dropped another road game, dropping to 5-40 combined away from home. Roger Clemens lowered his ERA to 1.19 in Houston's loss, and sustained his 0.00 road ERA as well. Twenty-six innings on the road, no runs allowed.

I have got to find a way to work this kind of stuff into the column. Well, either that, or start a blog.

Anyway, today is about All-Stars, specifically, my National League ballot.

First Base: This is where all the first basemen went. Jim Thome and Carlos Delgado have migrated to the NL, Lyle Overbay and Derrek Lee are in the midst of very strong peaks, and Todd Helton is just exiting his. None of it really matters as long as Albert Pujols is ambulatory. Like Alex Rodriguez in the AL, Pujols is the NL's All-Star at whatever position he plays for a long time to come.

By the way, some very good player from that last paragraph--at least Thome, but probably at least one other--is going to be left off the team. There's just only so many first basemen you can have on the roster.

Second Base: Until someone takes it away from Jeff Kent, this is his spot to lose. Marcus Giles hasn't passed him yet, and the other candidates to supplant Kent--Jose Vidro, Luis Castillo, Mark Loretta--have all fallen short. Loretta came the closest, and might have warranted a vote this year had he been playing well or had he not suffered a thumb injury that will keep him out for a few months.

Shortstops: There are very few All-Star caliber shortstops in the NL. The AL has at least three better All-Star candidates than the NL's best option. As the only guy with more than a few months of play on his resume, and the best defensive player in the pool, Cesar Izturis is my choice. Had he been healthy, I might have voted for Nomar Garciaparra, but then again, is he that much better than Izturis at this point?

Third Base: Scott Rolen has reached the auto-pick level for me, so even conceding that his injury might keep him out of the festivities, he gets my vote. At least this year, there was some good competition, as Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus have both returned to the position where they made themselves famous, while David Wright has begun his challenge to the throne. This is another of those cases where I go with the best established player over the guys having the best seven weeks.

Catcher: I can't remember the last time I didn't vote for Mike Piazza. 1993, maybe? His performance last year would have made him the third- or fourth-best catcher in the NL had be played the position all year. There's no NL catcher playing so well that he becomes an automatic pick--Paul Lo Duca is doing the Paul Lo Duca things that make media types vote for him, but we know, with near certainty, that he's a brutal player after July 31. Why ignore that and pretend that he's as good as his first-half numbers? Ramon Hernandez, outplaying Piazza for a second straight year, has the strongest case, especialy when you think about the defensive gap. Then again, he's less than a win better than Piazza at the plate so far this year.

I puzzled over this pick longer than any other on this year's ballot, and I have no doubt that this one will generate the most mail. I'm going with Piazza, choosing the Hall of Famer over the guy who's played a bit better since the start of 2004. It's not like Hernandez is an up-and-coming star; were this a choice between Piazza and someone like Joe Mauer, it'd be more difficult. When it comes down to it, though, I think the All-Star Game is about the Mike Piazzas of baseball--the capital-S stars--and not the Ramon Hernandezes.

Outfield: It may have been even longer since I last left Barry Bonds off of a ballot. He hasn't played yet this year, and that's an enormous reason to not vote for him. In a different pool, I might have been able to put him on the ballot. The NL has so many great outfielders, though, that it would really be a crime to leave one off in favor of a guy who, while an amazing player, might not swing a bat in anger until after the All-Star break.

With that said, who gets my votes? Jim Edmonds is a near auto-pick, despite being out-hit by a handful of players so far. (And by the way, when is it safe to start looking at him as a Hall of Fame candidate?) Bobby Abreu, seems to lose out in these debates evey year, finally forces his way onto my ballot thanks to his being the best player in the league so far, on top of his considerable achievements to date.

After those two, there are a ton of viable options. Andruw Jones' defense combined with his best hitting season in years makes him a candidate. Carlos Beltran's skill set and established value makes him a solid pick, even when he's not hitting all that well relative to the competition. Milton Bradley and Pat Burrell are having good years, as is Brian Giles.

With Bonds out of the picture, though, the choice comes down to two big-hitting left fielders. Miguel Cabrera and Adam Dunn have very different approaches at the plate--with more than a 100-point edge in BA, Cabrera only has a five-point lead on Dunn in OBP--but both players put a ton of runs on the board. Dunn was much better last year, while Cabrera has been a bit better this year.

You can't go wrong with either guy. I'm going to vote for Cabrera, however, because his age and his development indicate to me that he's going to stay at this level--an All-Star level--for many years to come. Call this a readers' pick, where the complaints that I don't recognize a changing of the guard quickly enough had an impact.

That it comes at the expense of a Three True Outcomes deity is unfortunate. Hopefully, Dave Pease skips today's column.

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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