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May 26, 2005

Prospectus Today

Two All-Star Follow-ups

by Joe Sheehan

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My All-Star ballots generated a goodly amount of e-mail, virtually all of it discussing one choice, the NL's second-base slot. Readers wrote in to tout the candidacies of two guys named Craig: Counsell and Biggio.

I didn't give either much consideration. Counsell never even showed up on my radar, as he's the classic example of a guy playing over his head at the start of the year who really has no business being an All-Star. I did take note of Biggio's good start, but as a player who's been a below-average regular the past two seasons--noting his Hall of Fame career up to that point--I couldn't consider him the peer of Jeff Kent or even Mark Loretta as a candidate for the '05 All-Star team.

Here's how all four have stacked up the past few years:

             AVG   OBP   SLG   RARP   VORP   WARP   '04 WARP   '03 WARP
Kent        .261  .358  .473   10.4   12.2    2.9       7.5         5.4
Loretta     .300  .388  .344    7.0    8.0    1.9      11.7         7.2
Counsell    .316  .430  .445   12.0   17.4    3.1       4.3         1.3
Biggio      .298  .355  .538   11.0   18.3    1.7       3.8         4.2
Had Loretta not been injured, I probably would have voted for him. His being out for a while made it easier to select Kent. As you can see, Kent has played about even with Counsell and much better than Biggio this year. Once you look beyond this year, the gap between Kent and the other two widens significantly. Kent is an All-Star; Counsell is a guy having a good year.

In reading the e-mails from people who dislike my approach to All-Star voting--the current year doesn't mean as much as your established level of performance--a thought popped into my head: why don't people ever advocate for the guys who had monster second halves the previous year? I mean, there's a stronger argument for, say J.T. Snow, who at least had ten weeks of superstar performance, than there is for the '05 version of a guy like Counsell. Players who string together the best 200 PAs of their live in the first half of a season can become All-Stars, after which they'll be called an "All-Star" for the rest of their lives. (Ken Harvey being the current best example.) The rare players who have strong first halves and weak second halves year after year--Paul Lo Duca, I'm looking at you--have the weakest cases, yet will have people advocating their selection. Guys who go nuts in the second half of the year--and who are often irrationally celebrated as being more "clutch" than players who rack up numbers earlier in the year--find their work forgotten by the time ballots are printed.

There are people who would choose All-Stars based on their performance from one year's game to the next. I'm not one of them, but there's at least an attempt in that mindset to acknowledge that what you do in July, August and September should have a role in determining your fitness for All-Star status. Just looking at a stat sheet on June 22 to make your picks is about the worst way you can pick an All-Star team.

More All-Stars…if you caught yesterday's "HotList" segment on ESPNews, you saw Brian Kenny make mincemeat of my selection at first base in the AL. I should have had a stronger defense of Mark Teixeira at hand, and that I didn't reflected my apathy about the choice. There just isn't a standout player at the position, and a vote for any of about five guys could be considered pretty reasonable. It's hard to defend a position you don't feel that strongly about. I'd be fine with making Derrek Lee the AL's All-Star starter at first base, given his performance and the pool of players he'd displace.

With that said, Mike Sweeney falls in behind Teixeira once you start looking back past April 6 or so

             AVG   OBP   SLG   RARP   VORP   WARP   '04 WARP   '03 WARP
Sweeney     .317  .368  .565   15.5   19.6    2.1       2.8         3.7
Teixeira    .286  .348  .503   10.7   12.4    2.1       5.8         3.3
Sexson      .243  .349  .543   11.3   13.4    1.4       1.2         9.7
Sweeney has out-hit Teixeira in the early part of '05, but the defensive difference between the two draws them even, as indicated by Wins Above Replacement Level. Teixeira was a much better player last year and almost matched Sweeney back in '03, his rookie season. Again, unless seven weeks is everything--or you want to give Sweeney a lot of credit for being good when Teixeira was at Georgia Tech--Tex is the choice. This is one of those choices that will seem obvious by the end of the season, when Teixeira has outplayed Sweeney. Why not acknowledge the randomness of a small sample and consider more than short-term performance?

I threw in Richie Sexson because a reader asked about him. His partial season in '04 drops him off the radar a bit, so I don't know that he can be a big part of the All-Star conversation. Had I mentioned one more guy in the AL, it would have been him. Sexson is having a very good year, one that's getting a bit lost due to his low batting average and the park in which he plays. Honestly, I missed it myself, and I thank E.R. for writing in to defend him.

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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