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June 5, 2006

Prospectus Today

NL All-Stars

by Joe Sheehan

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One of the weird things about me is I go to baseball games in spurts. Back in March, I saw six games in five days on my Arizona trip, including two World Baseball Classic tilts. I then didn't see another one until May 7, when I caught a game at Dodger Stadium. That kicked off a stretch of six games in four parks over four weeks, culminating with yesterday's déjà vu moment, watching Aaron Sele pitch for the Dodgers up at Chavez Ravine.

I actually need to write a complete article about the Dodgers, who seem to have an endless supply of talented young players coming through their system. In yesterday's 6-4 loss to the Phillies, I saw Matt Kemp (I'm not a huge fan), Willy Aybar, Joel Guzman, Russell Martin, Andre Ethier and Hong-Chih Kuo. Dioner Navarro is on the DL, Chad Billingsley is about a month away, and I still haven't mentioned James Loney or Jonathan Broxton. There is some massive upside in those names, as well as guys who can contribute right now and are doing so. This crest of talent is going to make the Dodgers one of the most interesting, and likely most successful, teams in baseball over the rest of this decade. I think Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks has the makings of Yankees vs. Red Sox, but with sunscreen and better manners.

That's a topic for another day, though. Today and tomorrow are for making people mad at me, because after all those trips to all those parks, I finally got around to filling out my All-Star ballot yesterday. As regular readers know, I don't wait until the end of June to write this article because I don't weight the current season performance that heavily in making my selections. I'm looking for the best player at the position, not the guy having the best first half, and while the latter informs a decision on the former, the body of work is more important.

I just finished Scott Gray's The Mind of Bill James, an entertaining read that contained an awful lot of material from James himself. I give Gray credit; there's just no way I would juxtapose my own writing with that of James, because I don't think there's any way to look good in that comparison. The book works, and I definitely recommend to BP readers.

Anyway, there's a bit in the book where James talks about the All-Star Game, about how most of the debates about who should and should not select the teams are actually questions about whether the game is for the players or the fans. My inclination is that it's for the fans, and as such, the current method of selecting the starters works. (Married to the players selecting the reserves and the goofy roster rules, the whole thing is a bit of a mess, but the fan voting is the least problematic part.) As a group, fans do tend to select the best player at each position or at least a reasonable candidate for the honor, with exceptions in situations where a legend remains on the ballot after he's slipped from his perch. It's the media, and to a lesser extent the players and certain subsets of fans, who tend to latch on to people having the best 200 at-bats of their lives, which is perhaps the lamest justification for All-Star status extant.

The All-Star Game is for the stars, and while this year's ballot was as difficult to fill out as I can remember, keep in mind those seven words as you evaluate my selections. I did this at the ballpark, and while I've sprinkled in some stats here, understand that I voted without a laptop, a VORP report or a stat sheet anywhere near me.

NL today, AL tomorrow.

First Base: With apologies to Lance Berkman, Derrek Lee and the many other great NL first basemen, there's only one choice here, and that's Albert Pujols. No, Saturday's injury didn't change anything for me. Pujols is the best player in baseball, and a DL stint doesn't make him less an All-Star.

Second Base: One of the toughest calls on the ballot, and one I'm still not sure of. Has Chase Utley passed Jeff Kent? Utley's been a bit better this year (.302 EqA to Kent's .281) and has been in the lineup more. The two were virtually even last season. Kent is, in my eyes, a future Hall of Famer, and that carries some weight with me when putting a guy on the All-Star team.

At the game, I punched a hole next to Utley's name, perhaps because I was watching him instead of Kent, currently on the DL. His star is ascendant, and while Kent has has a very slow decline from his MVP peak, he is on the backside of his career. The fact that Utley has played more this season also factored into the decision. If you'd asked me on a different day, I might have voted for Kent. It's a very close call.

All that is without mentioning Marcus Giles, who's still a terrific player, but probably a notch below the other two right now.

Shortstop: This is a fairly weak pool, populated by players who it seems should be more productive than that actually are. I went with Rafael Furcal over Jimmy Rollins, again choosing between two players who were right in front of me. Furcal was a bit better last season, and neither has played all that well in 2006. In retrospect, I should have given more consideration to David Eckstein, who has been very productive as a Cardinal, and Omar Vizquel, who is aging as gracefully as any skill-position player in recent memory.

Given the general blah nature of the pool and my making the picks from section 59 at Dodger Stadium, I'm comfortable with choosing Furcal. Had I made the picks from home, I likely would have landed on Vizquel, who himself is becoming a fringe Hall of Fame candidate.

Third Base: I've been autopicking Scott Rolen for years, and I have no problem with people who would continue to do so. However, I went with David Wright, who has passed Rolen with the bat and legs, and edges closer to him in the field while showing more durability. Miguel Cabrera, who's having an amazing season while no one notices, wouldn't be a bad choice either. I picked Wright over him because of Wright's defensive superiority.

Catcher: An even more blah group than shortstop, as the perennial star slips and no one really steps up to take over. It's too soon to vote for Brian McCann, as great as he's played, and Mike Piazza is no longer at that level. I went with Michael Barrett over Piazza, because Barrett has outplayed him since the start of 2005, and arguably 2004. Barrett really isn't anyone's idea of an All-Star, but sometimes being a bit above average works when the talent pool is shallow.

McCann, Russell Martin and Ryan Doumit could change that in the years to come.

Outfield: If I made the rules, I'd probably take five of these guys and make two of them play catcher and shortstop for a few innings. The NL outfield selection is usually one of the toughest to make, and this year is no exception. I initially ticked off eight names, and at that I skipped over Brian Giles and Carlos Beltran.

After two innings of deliberation, I narrowed the list down to Jason Bay, Barry Bonds and Andruw Jones. Bay has taken Bobby Abreu's spot as the underrated guy who does everything. Bonds isn't the best outfielder or hitter in the game any longer, but even in decline he's getting on base nearly half the time, enough to make him a wildly productive player. Jones gets the nod over Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Edmonds on durability and defense. Abreu, J.D. Drew and Adam Dunn also received consideration, and could start for the American League as a unit with absolutely no argument.

Perusing stats at home, I realize I should have given Alfonso Soriano at least a passing glance. He's been a great player this season, having a year I didn't think he had in him. It's still early enough that his overall value could slip, but right now he's fourth in the NL in Runs Above Position. That's a down-ballot MVP candidate.

Junior Circuit on Tuesday.

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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