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While at Bank One Ballpark Friday, I filled out my first All-Star ballot
of the year. Well, it was probably my only All-Star ballot of the year; I used
to do a bunch of them–issuing votes for my favorite players, the best ones,
the guys on my Strat team, the Yankees–but I feel like one is enough now. It’s
not unlike my change in attitude toward cheesesteaks.

Before I continue, I have to say that filling out an All-Star ballot with
friends is one of the great pleasures of being a baseball fan. The
good-natured debates over what constitutes an All-Star are a key part of
loving the game, and getting to go through this process with Rany and Jonah
last week was a lot of fun. The all-Royals and all-Expos ballots were a little
tough to take, but that’s life in a democracy for you.

Anyway, I’ll run my NL ballot today, AL tomorrow. As always, I consider
All-Stars to be the top players at their position, with current stats running
secondary to established performance.

First Base: Jeff
Bagwell
. I picked Bagwell over Todd
Helton
based on the idea that the two players are essentially
comparable, and Bagwell is having a better season. You could argue that he’s
not actually doing so–VORP says yes, EqA and RARP say no–but the two are close
enough in value that you can’t go wrong with either selection. Both players
have markers–defense, 2003 performance–that import Jim
Thome
doesn’t.

Second Base: Jeff
Kent
. When you fill out a ballot at the ballpark, you’re watching the
game, you’re chewing on a dog, you’re enjoying the antics of the guy in the
pirate outfit two sections over, you’re guesstimating what county that last
home run landed in…and while the ballot is important, it’s not like you’re
sitting there with a laptop and the 2003 BP.

What I’m trying to say is that had I looked at things a little more carefully,
I might have chosen Jose
Vidro
for this slot. I think Kent is defensible, a great player having
another fine season, but Vidro has a strong argument that he’s passed Kent on
the field. Jonah called this selection “a travesty,” which is a bit
harsh and almost certainly the result of us letting him have that third cotton
candy.

Shortstop: Edgar
Renteria
. While he hasn’t had the attention-getting breakout season we
keep predicting for him, Renteria has quietly improved to the point of being
the best non-trinity shortstop in baseball, with a case for being mentioned
alongside Nomar
Garciaparra
and Derek
Jeter
. He’s a complete player in the Barry
Larkin
mold, someone who will have an MVP-caliber season or two before
he’s done.

By the way, National League shortstops are having a monster season. Last year,
just two finished in the top 10 in baseball in RARP. This year, Renteria, Rafael
Furcal
, Alex
Gonzalez
(Fish version), Orlando
Cabrera
, Rich
Aurilia
and Jimmy
Rollins
are all up there with EqAs in the .260s and above.

Third Base: Scott
Rolen
. This is one of the easier calls on the ballot at a position
that has gone from deep to shallow in two years. Mike
Lowell
fans are welcome to argue the point, but as good as he’s played
this year, Rolen has been better, and has a much better track record.

I’ve gotten some e-mails asking me about the sudden decline in performance at
third base. As of last week, MLB shortstops were outperforming third basemen
by EqA, although that’s since been reversed. I wouldn’t put much stock in it
as a harbinger of some change in the game. Just two years ago, third base was
ridiculously deep before guys like Chipper
Jones
, Albert
Pujols
and Phil
Nevin
moved from the position. Two years from now, it will likely be
again as prospects like Andy Marte and Miguel Cabrera emerge to take their place. It’s a short-term blip, not a
long-term issue.

Catcher: Mike
Piazza
. A couple of years ago, I ended up in an extended debate over
Piazza’s place on the ballot vs. Charles
Johnson
‘s, which seems silly now. Even in decline, Piazza has been the
best catcher in the NL year-in and year-out, and eight good weeks by Johnson
didn’t change that.

Of course, Piazza won’t be playing in the All-Star Game, thanks to his groin
injury. In his absence, I’d vote for Mike
Lieberthal
over Ivan
Rodriguez
, conceding that it’s a thin pool behind Piazza. Are there
any good catchers in the NL under 30?

Outfield: Barry
Bonds
, Jim
Edmonds
, Sammy
Sosa
. The pool of NL outfielders is deep, but because so many of the
top players have been injured or slumping this year (Lance
Berkman
, Vladimir
Guerrero
, Bobby
Abreu
, Brian
Giles
), the top three guys stand out a bit more. Edmonds gets the nod
over Albert
Pujols
and Gary
Sheffield
because of the requirement that someone play center field
for a few innings. Sosa has missed a lot of time, and is probably the best
example of a player I’d vote for regardless of current performance. If Sammy
Sosa isn’t an All-Star, who is?

OK…send me nasty e-mail now and we’ll look at my AL ballot tomorrow.

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