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May 22, 2009

Prospectus Today

NL All-Stars

by Joe Sheehan

Today, I'll run through my NL All-Star ballot, again keeping consistent with the idea that I'm trying to pick the very best player at each position, and specifically not giving much weight to the last six weeks relative to the body of work and established level of play. It's pretty clear that many, many people want to see the All-Star Game reward a big six, eight, or 10 weeks, and while it's a popular view, it's a tough one to defend, not least because it would mean that July, August, and September never matter in choosing All-Star teams.

First Base: Albert Pujols, Cardinals. One method of selecting All-Stars that I will give credence to is selecting favorites, whether that's the guys on your team, your favorite players irrespective of laundry, or the guys you want to see play in the All-Star Game for personal reasons. Those kinds of ballots are the only ones for which a vote other than for Albert Pujols as the NL's first baseman is valid. Just because Adrian Gonzalez or someone like that-an All-Star-caliber player-has a higher EqA or VORP or something for six weeks doesn't change Pujols' status as the game's best baseball player.

Don't get me started on Ryan Howard.

Second Base: Chase Utley, Phillies. This is arguably an easier choice than voting for the best player in baseball. Pujols has more worthy competition in most years; Utley has Orlando Hudson and Brandon Phillips, good players who don't reach his level.

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins. He's continued to separate himself from Jose Reyes, a fine player in his own right. Ramirez's power makes up for Reyes' superior defense, and will likely continue to do so through the two players' primes.

Third Base: David Wright, Mets. This has been one of the toughest calls on the ballot for a few seasons now, as Chipper Jones' second, late peak coincides with the meat of Wright's career. I don't think you can go wrong with either player, and to some extent, this pick is me throwing up my hands and flipping a coin. (This is a case where current-season performance served as a tiebreaker.) It will be interesting to see if Ryan Zimmerman makes this more complicated in future seasons.

Catcher: Brian McCann, Braves. There was a debate between him and Russell Martin for a while there. It's not a debate any longer, and even had Martin sustained his 2008 line, there wouldn't be. McCann increasingly reminds me, as much as someone born in 1971 can say this, of Yogi Berra. I wouldn't mind seeing Yadier Molina make the team; he's good enough defensively that he doesn't have to take a back seat to anyone in the league other than McCann.

Outfield: Carlos Beltran, Mets; Manny Ramirez, Dodgers; Adam Dunn, Nationals. It looks like a protest vote, or that I'm making a statement, or what have you. It's not. Even with missing eight weeks due to a suspension for violating the drug policy-a presumed use of steroids-Ramirez keeps this spot for me. I do not see any argument that steroids are the reason for his performance, this year or previously; I also don't see where a suspension makes you ineligible for an All-Star berth. Finally, the NL outfield pool is not what it was a few years back. As in the AL, there's a drop-off after the top two guys to a group of comparably valued players with limited track records or a flaw of some kind. I couldn't take two from the pool ahead of Ramirez. He's just that much better than the field, especially if you want to just look at NL performance.

Looking back, I think Ryan Braun might have been a better choice than Dunn was, though Dunn isn't an unreasonable pick. The two are similar players, Braun growing into a better version of what Dunn has been for the last eight years, with fewer walks, more contact, and a bit better outside the batter's box. Dunn over Braun is the one pick on the ballot that I wouldn't mind having back, and what bugs me is that I missed Braun last year as well. I think I'm mentally overcorrecting for his move from third base to left field, downgrading the value of his performance too much. Ryan Ludwick, Carlos Lee, and Alfonso Soriano all caught my eye here as well.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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