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June 6, 2006

Prospectus Today

AL All-Stars

by Joe Sheehan

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On to my American League All-Star ballot, while wondering exactly why it is we don't get to vote for pitchers…

First Base: The silliest All-Star rule is the one that alternates using the DH rule based on the ballpark in which the game is played. It's an exhibition game in which pitchers average about one plate appearance per game; there's just no good argument for not using the DH in every single All-Star Game.

This being a non-DH year, we're treated to the sight of a number of DHs listed on the All-Star ballot at first base. Call me stubborn, but I don't think that's right. Why not just list David Ortiz and Travis Hafner at second base or catcher; they've played those positions just slightly less often. I declined to vote for either player, and docked Jason Giambi, who plays in field a bit more, similarly. In the end, my vote went to Mark Teixeira ahead of Paul Konerko.

Second Base: Quick, who is the best second baseman in the American League? If you had an answer on the tip of your tongue, you're a better person than I am. It seems like the AL has few second sackers who have been around long enough to stake a claim, and the top guys all have some flaw that makes it hard to support them.

Statistically, the top guy the past few years has been Brian Roberts, and Roberts has one of the longest tenures in his job. At the same time, he's missed 2/3 of the Orioles' last 80 games and his power spike last year screams "fluke." (Here we see the occasional problem with doing this at the ballpark; Roberts hasn't actually missed as much time as I thought he had, playing in 36 games so far this year. It makes a big difference.) Many, even most of the top guys this year weren't even in the league a year ago, and the guys who had the best stats in 2005, like Mark Ellis and Jorge Cantu, have mediocre track records, including so-so starts this year.

I eventually settled on Roberts, whose 2004 season was pretty good in its own right. As it turns out, I overestimated how much time he'd missed; had I been looking at stats, he would have been a pretty easy choice.

Shortstop: I'm comfortable with the idea that Miguel Tejada is better than Derek Jeter, and voted that way. I suspect that if Tejada (who gets repeatedly autocorrected in Word to "Tehama;" what's up with that?) ever lands on a good team again, he'll quickly revert to the MVP candidate he was in Oakland with virtually no change in his actual performance. He's also been one of the better free-agent signings in memory.

Third Base: Much like first base in the National League, the vote here goes to the best player in the league, Alex Rodriguez, despite the presence of at least one All-Star-caliber player in Eric Chavez.

Catcher: I think I might want this one back. With Jason Varitek and Jorge Posada in decline, I was choosing among Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez and Ivan Rodriguez. I found it fairly easy to dismiss Mauer, who's only been playing at an All-Star level for a few months. Eliminating the other contender was difficult; Martinez has been terrific for two years, and isn't a bad defensive player. Rodriguez, however, has declined slowly and retains his game-changing throwing skills, making him worth up to three wins a year with his defense. That defensive edge is why I voted for him, but there's an argument that Martinez has passed him in overall value. It's a difficult call, and a year from now, Mauer is going to make it that much more so.

Outfield: This is a fairly lame group of candidates, with the votes going to the same ol', same ol' because the second tier of AL outfielders has declined precipitously. Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez were pretty easy choices. I wanted to pick a center fielder, or at least a fake one, for the third spot, but couldn't see taking Johnny Damon or Ichiro Suzuki over Gary Sheffield.

As the estabished second tier slips away, however, there are a ton of AL outfielders having either their first really good year or their first really good year in a while, including Alexis Rios, Nick Swisher, Vernon Wells, Casey Blake and Jermaine Dye. Because most of these performances aren't backed up by a track record, I can't see putting any of the players on the All-Star team. Of that group, however, I think Swisher is for real, Wells might be--but I thought so in 2003 as well--and Rios' change in GB/FB ratio shows that he could be as well.

Looking over the numbers at home, I see that I missed Grady Sizemore, who has probably passed Johnny Damon as the best center fielder in the AL. Wells fans, understand that I was fooled by 2003, too, and I'm reluctant to get back on that bandwagon. Ichiro is playing well enough to merit consideration, certainly more than I gave him at the park. He's hitting .341, and when he does that, he's an All-Star.

So if I could do it again, I'd pick Sizemore ahead of Sheffield.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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