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July 2, 2009

Prospectus Hit and Run

Look Over, But Don't Overlook

by Jay Jaffe

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By midnight tonight, the All-Star balloting will have ended, and on Sunday the starting lineups will be announced. Inevitably, deserving players will be left out in the cold (even after managers Joe Maddon and Charlie Manuel have stocked their benches and bullpens), whether they be unheralded veterans amid career years, youngsters whose stars haven't fully risen, or players nudged aside to ensure that every team is represented. What follows is a mixed-league lineup of players who might not get that trip to St. Louis, though they should. Space considerations prevent me from showing the entirety of my mental math for both leagues at each position, so I've spotlighted what I felt was the more interesting decision of the two.

Catcher: Chris Iannetta, Rockies
Yadier Molina will have the honor of starting in front of the hometown crowd, and Brian McCann seems to be a lock for a fourth straight berth. With both Geovany Soto and Russell Martin off to uncharacteristically lousy starts with Equivalent Averages around .250, the choice for a third catcher isn't so obvious. Iannetta's low batting average (.229) and injury-depressed RBI total (27) won't impress a traditionalist, but his .361 OBP and slugging .484 are both assets at a defense-first position, and his .280 EqA is second only to McCann among NL starting backstops.

First Base: Adrian Gonzalez, Padres
Albert Pujols is putting up monster numbers once again, and he'll obviously start, which means that one of the heavy-hitting trio of Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, and Gonzalez won't make it, and it's a safe bet that Manuel won't leave his own big slugger behind. Still, Howard's raw numbers (.257/.329/.537, 20 HR) are no match for those of Fielder (.306/.423/.604, 20 HR) or Gonzalez (.271/.414/.588, 24 HR), and once you factor in ballparks, fuhgeddaboutit; Howard's .293 EqA is dwarfed by Fielder's .347 and Gonzo's .353. If the latter were playing in a hitter-friendly park instead of Petco, he might have 30 jacks already. The Padres' lack of another obvious All-Star may work in his favor.

Second Base: Aaron Hill, Blue Jays
The most recent AL balloting update showed Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia separated by less than 7,000 votes. The latter's been relatively punchless (.291/.372/.386, 2 HR), but his status as the league's reigning MVP and the possibility that Red Sox Nation's internet efforts might put him over the top suggests he's already in. While Robinson Cano is hitting .300/.332/.481 with 12 homers, the nod for the third spot should go to Hill, whose comeback from a severe concussion is more impressive than the annual temperature fluctuations of the hot-and-cold Cano. A catalyst of Toronto's surprising showing, he's hitting .301/.341/.504 with a team- and career-high 19 homers.

Shortstop: Elvis Andrus, Rangers
Overall AL vote leader Derek Jeter is the deserving starter, and Jason Bartlett's uncharacteristically hot season (.362/.401/.560) won't be overlooked by Maddon. The third spot comes down to a choice between 33-year-old journeyman Marco Scutaro and 20-year-old rookie Elvis Andrus. Scutaro leads the AL in both runs and walks, but he's cooled off considerably from a scorching start (.305/.408/.457 through May). Andrus has dazzled by making plays that would do mentor Omar Vizquel proud, but his FRAA and UZR numbers are basically a wash with the less flashy Scutaro's. Andrus has held his own with the stick, hitting .269/.330/.380, but aside from a 4-for-4 game last week, June was unkind to him as well. In a close play, I'll choose the kid on the basis of Texas's 34-point improvement in Defensive Efficiency.

Third Base: Pablo Sandoval, Giants
Though his power stroke has gone missing, David Wright's exceptional numbers will yield a well-earned starting job. Figuring that Chipper Jones will likely (and deservedly) make the squad as a reserve, that leaves Ryan Zimmerman and Pablo Sandoval as candidates for the last spot. The more heralded Zimmerman has rebounded nicely from shoulder woes to reel off an early 30-game hitting streak on the way to a .296/.366/.492 line, but Sandoval has battled for the batting title, hitting .332/.384/.556 with 11 homers in a tough park while stuck amid a dismal Giants offense. Including last year, Sandoval has now got 448 PA under his belt with a .337 batting average. A converted catcher, he hasn't embarrassed himself at the hot corner, either, making several highlight-worthy plays.

Outfield: Adam Dunn, Nationals; Adam Jones, Orioles; Matt Kemp, Dodgers
In the NL, Raul Ibaņez, Ryan Braun, and Carlos Beltran lead the voting. With the latter out of commission due to injury, Mike Cameron or Shane Victorino (who rank fifth and sixth in the voting) are likely to replace him as starter, but Kemp is even more deserving. He's hitting .302/.363/.474 with the second-best EqA (.302) among NL starting center fielders. The fact that Joe Torre has mainly hit him sixth, seventh, or eighth in the lineup suggests that his accomplishments, which include outstanding defense (+12 FRAA, +11.5 UZR), could be overlooked; he's just 13th in the voting. Also likely to be overlooked is Dunn, who's batting .260/.396/.528 while ranking second in walks and fifth with 20 homers. A polarizing figure, he hasn't been invited to the midsummer party since 2002, but only Pujols and Alex Rodriguez have bashed more homers since then. From the AL ranks, I'll channel Joe Sheehan and put in a plug for 23-year-old Adam Jones, who has tacked superb defense onto his .305/.359/.509 performance while ensuring that the name "Bavasi" will be cursed in Seattle for years to come.

Starting Pitcher: Edwin Jackson, Tigers
Figuring out who's in or out on the All-Star pitching staffs is a trickier game than it is for the hitters due to starters' schedules and teams' understandable reluctance to part with their aces. Rather than pull my hair out overthinking this, I'll simply stump for a less-obvious choice: Jackson, who's finally living up to the promise shown when he beat Randy Johnson on his 20th birthday. He's second in the league with a 2.49 ERA, fifth in SNLVAR (ahead of his more heralded teammate, Justin Verlander), and ninth in strikeouts.

Closer: David Aardsma, Mariners
Brandon Morrow was supposed to be the Mariners' closer, but soon after being anointed, he struggled with injury and ineffectiveness, and Aardsma, pitching for his fifth team in six years and without a big-league save to his name, stepped forward. Pumping mid-90s heat, he's saved 16 of 17 opportunities, whiffed 11.4 batters per nine, and has been scored on in just one of his past 26 outings en route to a 1.49 ERA and the league lead in WXRL. He'll still have to overcome the enmity he's incurred by replacing Hank Aaron at atop the game's all-time alphabetical register, but he deserves a trip to St. Louis as much as any reliever in the game.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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