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April 17, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

The Knee-Jerk All-Stars

by Jim Baker

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The rasputitsa is upon the land, which means it's time to start thinking about the All-Star game and who deserves to go. It is the inalienable right of every baseball fan to make wild assumptions based on a couple of weeks' worth of play. We all do it: the 2-0 starter will win 20, the 9-3 team will win 117 games, the superstar with the .247 OPS is done for, and so on. You do it, come on, you know you do. There's no shame in it. In fact, it's part of the fun in the early going: chucking all reason to the side and making absurd extrapolations.

In that spirit, we present the Knee-Jerk All-Star team:

Catcher

AL: Jorge Posada (Yankees). No, wait, that's the wrong choice. This is the Knee Jerk All-Stars after all. If there's a viable candidate with a lesser track record, that's the guy who's getting the nod. If we're going to stay on theme here, we just have to take John Buck of the Royals. Yes, he's got half the playing time Posada has, but he was slugging a robust .882 heading into play last night, and he dragged that down with two singles in three at bats. You know you're a Knee-Jerk All-Star when you can do that.

NL: Russell Martin (Dodgers). No sophomore slump for this young backstopper. He's cruising with a .324 EqA and a four-for-four showing in the stolen base department. He's got one more stolen base than all other National League catchers combined! On top of that, he's nailed more opposing basestealers than any other catcher as well--would-be thieves are just four-for-nine against him.

First Base

AL: Ty Wigginton (Devil Rays). Wiggs is cranking his EqA 50 points higher than his career average. No, his start isn't as good as Justin Morneau's, but that guy's the defending MVP, so we were all already expecting him to show up big. Wigginton, on the other hand--well, come to think of it, he started even better than this last year. Remember the eight homers and 24 RBI he had in the April of a year ago?

NL: Mike Jacobs (Marlins). He was topping the position after one week, and to prove it was no fluke, he's still pacing the field. He's already leading the man he was traded for, Carlos Delgado, by putting a VORP of 6.6 to Delgado's -1.0. Another viable Knee-Jerk candidate would be the resurgent Dmitri Young, who upped his counts to .302/.434/.581 with a big game against the Braves last night.

Second Base

AL: Ian Kinsler (Rangers). He's got the second-highest slugging average in the American League, trailing only Alex Rodriguez (who also has the home run lead edge on him, seven to six). It's too bad the rest of the Rangers haven't answered the bell. Kinsler currently has a Loneliness Factor of infinity, and only Kenny Lofton is registering on the Ranger Richter scale.

NL: Orlando Hudson (Diamondbacks). How about an EqA that's 70 points above his career average? Think that's sustainable? Why not? Why cloud your April state of mind with realistic projections?

Third Base

AL: Alex Rodriguez (Yankees). As we can see, at many positions the cream has already risen to the top--now there's an arcane expression, having to do with glass milk bottles, quiet spring mornings, and the lost art of home delivery. At any rate, Rodriguez has got a higher VORP than the next two American League third basemen combined. For him and the current crop of AL third sackers, that's actually a sustainable ratio. He almost did it last year when he didn't have a particularly great season. In 2005 when he did have a fantastic year, his VORP of 91.0 was higher than the next three men combined: Melvin Mora, Chone Figgins, and Eric Chavez.

NL: Miguel Cabrera (Marlins). He's finally cooling off, but he's still way ahead of the pack, and unlike the other league, the pack is comprised of known commodities. The combined VORP of Chipper Jones, David Wright, and Aramis Ramirez--the next three third basemen--bests Cabrera, but not by much. Through an age similar to Cabrera's, Alex Rodriguez had 165 BRAA. Cabrera had 156 going into the season, and now has 168.

Shortstop

AL: Jhonny Peralta (Indians). Good news, he's back! Oh, wait, it's only 38 plate appearances. Not a lot happening among American League shortstops so far.

NL: Jimmy Rollins (Phillies). His EqA is 95 points higher than last year's--and last year's was his career high. While he's bound to come back to earth, the temptation is there to suggest this is going to be the season of his life. If he improves on last year instead of regressing, he's going to have some pretty crazy numbers coming out of the leadoff spot. 30 homers? 100 RBI? He's even walking more. Of course, this is only after 11 games.

Left Field

AL: Scott Podsednik (White Sox). Remember what I said earlier about cream rising to the top? That was a general statement. Podsednik jumped into this spot with a 3-for-4 day a week ago Monday and hasn't relinquished it yet. In fact, I heard a promo on Fox Sports Southwest last night that said this: "Watch the Rangers take on Scott Podsednik and the Chicago White Sox!" The announcer made it sound like Genghis Khan was coming to sack the city.

NL: Chris Duncan (Cardinals). It was Adam Dunn for most of the early going, but Duncan went four-for-five against the Brewers on Sunday, and that's put him in the driver's seat for now. That's the great thing about the Knee-Jerk All-Stars: one game can make or break you on this team. The Cardinals VORP list is pretty disturbing these days. There's Duncan, carrying the load at 9.1, followed by pitcher Adam Wainwright with his five plate appearances, then Gary Bennett (1.9) and So Taguchi (1.3).

Center Field

AL: Grady Sizemore (Indians). He's teeing it up for the MVP run, an award that could well be his if the Indians do what many think they will and take the division.

NL: Ryan Church (Nationals). Church is at the point in his life where his career total in plate appearances approximate that of a full season. There should be a name for that. That's the problem with our language--it doesn't have enough words. Anyway, after 640 career plate appearances, he's at a very decent .276/.352/.480. The downside is that he's 28, which actually may be an upside. This is, after all, the brief window that is his prime.

Right Field

AL: Vladimir Guerrero (Angels). When you heard that he'd hurt his hand on a hit-by-pitch, wasn't your first assumption that he probably swung at it? It's pointless to throw the ball anywhere near the plate when he's at bat.

NL: Eric Byrnes (Diamondbacks). He's actually played a few games in center as well, covering for the injured Chris B. Young, but he'll do for now at a position that hasn't generated a lot of fire just yet. How slow of a start has it been for National League right fielders? Endy Chavez of the Mets is third in VORP at the position, and he's only been to the plate seven times.

Designated Hitter (AL only)

Kevin Millar (Orioles). He's picking up where he ended 2006 by hitting very well. As long as he keeps that Isolated Power away from the .120 level he put up in 2005, he can still be a valuable commodity. I think we forget sometimes that the guy has a career .292 EqA.

Starting Pitcher

AL: Felix Hernandez (Mariners). The anticipated Fernandomania-like coming of El Rey was delayed, but only for a year. It's really a shame he's not matching up against Johan Santana when the Mariners host the Twins this week.

NL: Jake Peavy (Padres). Roy Oswalt was in pole position a week ago, but then he got splattered by the Phillies his last time out, dropping him far down the list. Peavy, Brad Penny, and Tim Hudson are all viable choices here. They've pitched about the same amount of innings and each surrendered two runs. Peavy, though, has allowed the fewest baserunners. Rich Hill of the Cubs has only made two starts, but they've both been good ones. Ian Snell would be a fun choice as well.

Reliever

AL: Todd Jones (Tigers). He hasn't allowed a run yet in seven appearances, so it's hard to argue with that. He's got the highest WXRL in the league while being challenged with the third-highest Leverage. There's also Matt Guerrier of the Twins, who has faced 28 men so far this year and retired 26 of them, allowing just two hits.

NL: Matt Capps (Pirates). He's got the highest WXRL in the league with the sixth-highest Leverage, but Jose Valverde has six saves and the third-highest leverage number. Finding a definite candidate for this slot this early involves a lot of follicle dividing. Actually, I'm getting off-theme again. The best true Knee-Jerk guy is probably Henry Owens of the Marlins--he's faced 26 batters and retired all but five of them without allowing any runs. If you don't notice the fairly low leverage and that he has just two strikeouts, the line looks pretty good.

Related Content:  AL Center Fielders,  The Who

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