I’m a little amazed at the gap between the two leagues right now. I think if
you put together a list of the top 50 players in the game, some inordinate
percentage of them would be in the NL. This is tempered somewhat by the AL
having the two best players in baseball in Pedro Martinez and Alex
Rodriguez, but the difference between the two leagues, especially in the
outfield, is staggering.
It’s certainly not meaningful in any real sense, just a cyclical thing that
tends to make picking an All-Star team difficult.
"Stop whining and name names, Writer Boy."
First Base: Mark McGwire, Cardinals. Yes, this is unfair, but
if everyone’s healthy, McGwire is the best first baseman in baseball, and I
want to watch him face Pedro Martinez. Besides, it’s easier to do
this than to decide between Todd Helton and Jeff Bagwell.
McGwire isn’t going to play in the All-Star Game, anyway, so I have to
choose between the other two guys. Both play defense, both play in hitters’
parks (Helton, admittedly, in a much better one), both do everything at the
plate. I’ll go with Helton, who’s probably moved past Bagwell for the slot
Second Base: Jeff Kent, Giants. Last year I voted for Craig
Biggio, then admitted I probably should have given my vote to Edgardo
Alfonzo, who had surpassed Biggio on the field. This year, with Biggio
playing better than and more often than Alfonzo, I passed on both and went
with last year’s NL MVP. He’s not playing as well as Biggio, but with all
three guys in the same vicinity, I’ll let last year’s performance sway me.
Another difficult call.
Shortstop: Barry Larkin, Reds. Giants fans, you got the last
one. This is one of those "definition of All-Star" picks, and as
good as Rich Aurilia has been so far, he’s not the player Larkin is.
This year’s Ricky Gutierrez, in other words.
Third Base: Chipper Jones, Braves. A number of National League
third basemen are having good seasons (Phil Nevin, Robin
Ventura, Mike Lowell), but Jones is right there with them and has
the best curriculum vitae.
Albert Pujols is not on the ballot, but he wouldn’t be able to get my
vote here, anyway, based on my established reasoning (which I admittedly set
aside, slightly, for Ichiro Suzuki). I might have considered him for
the AL’s third outfielder slot, but it’s not likely.
Catcher: Mike Piazza, Mets. Like the AL’s catcher position,
this one is standard until a league switch, position switch, or Ripkenesque
Outfield: Barry Bonds, Giants; Sammy Sosa, Cubs;
and Ken Griffey, Reds. The first two are no-brainers, the
third a cop-out along the lines of the McGwire selection. Choosing from
among Luis Gonzalez, Gary Sheffield, Andruw Jones,
Jim Edmonds, Larry Walker, and Vladimir Guerrero gives
me a headache.
That gap between the leagues to which I was referring? This is where you
notice it in spades. I guess I’d go with Guerrero in Junior’s spot, while
taking a really long look at Gonzalez, who now has to be considered a late
bloomer in the Paul O’Neill mold. Any way you look at it, someone
really good, like J.D. Drew or Ryan Klesko or Lance
Berkman, is going to have days off in July they really don’t deserve.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.