Monday

6-6-11: 2011 MLB All-Star Ballot - American League

Hello again everybody...

I hope you all had a brilliant weekend. We finally had decent weather here in Minnesota (why couldn't the Twins be playing at home?!) and, near as I can tell, a good time was had by all.

Before we get to the sports, one quick note: Happy Anniversary, Mom & Dad!

That's right, just a scant *mumble-grumble* years ago, my folks got hitched, God bless 'em. And lo these *insert muffled, inaudible noise here* years later, they're still together and going strong! Kudos to you both and I promise... my card's in the mail!

Onward...

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are in full swing with the Vancouver Canucks up 2-0 in the series over the Boston Bruins. Both games have been closely played, with Vancouver picking up the game winner late or in overtime. 2-0 leads can be overcome, but Boston's going to have a rough time coming back against a team as talented as the Canucks.

The NBA Finals are cruising along as well. Yes, regular readers know that I'm not much of a NBA fan, but with the shop now becoming the Wolves flagship station, I feel compelled to pay a certain amount of attention. The Heat are up 2-1 in the series and seized home court advantage back with their win last night in Dallas.

My analysis? I don't like Miami for two reasons: one, for the same reason everybody else hates them (The Decision, the celebration, etc.) and two, because they've forced me to roots for Mark Cuban's team. Nobody should have to do that.

But neither the Cup, or the Larry O'Brien Trophy carry as much weight around here as the Commissioner's Trophy... that's right, baseball uber alles!

And as we near the half-way mark in the pursuit of said trophy, it's time to prepare for the Summer Classic, the MLB All-Star Game. Each year I assemble a ballot. Each year I try to fill said ballot with deserving - not necessarily “popular” players.

How did this year's ballot turn out? Glad you asked. You'll find out half the answer...

Right after the quote!

“The least of learning is done in the classrooms.”
- Thomas Merton (1915 - 1968), Catholic monk


I don't think the good friar was trying to denigrate schools. Rather he was pointing out that what you learn in school is merely preparatory for the massive amount of learning you do in that little thing called “life”.


2011 MLB All-Star Ballot: American League

Last Year I developed a new system for creating my All-Star Ballot.

Basically, I took what I thought were the three best statistics at measuring a player's performance - OPS (On-Base + Slugging Percentage) for offense, UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) for defense, and WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for overall value - and ranked each eligible player (40+ games played) in each of those three categories.

I then added up the rankings and the player with the lowest score got my vote. Simple enough.

Only I wasn't entirely happy with the results. Not that the players I ended up with weren't deserving, but I thought the overall rankings didn't come out quite right. I believe that's because there's such small variations in the UZR and WAR ratings producing large variations in the rankings. For instance, a difference of a half-point in those two categories was producing a ranking difference of six points or more. That didn't seem quite fair.

So to counter that problem, I decided that this year, I would rank players in the same fashion, but then divide the rankings for UZR and WAR by two, thereby reducing the size of the gaps in the rankings. That decision had the side-effect of making the OPS rankings far more determinate in a player's overall ranking, but I don't think that's a huge problem.

As much as I'm a “pitching and defense” guy, there's no question that offense drives the show in baseball, and even more so in the All-Star Game. So if my formula favors offense a little bit, so be it.

So the spreadsheet is filled out, the rankings have been determined, and what follows are who I voted for the requisite 25 times online for the 2011 All-Star Game.

Today you get my American League Ballot. I'll reveal my NL picks later in the week.

First Base: Adrian Gonzalez - Boston Red Sox (Ranking total: 3.5)

Honorable Mentions: Miguel Cabrera - Detroit Tigers (6.5), Mark Teixeira - New York Yankees (8.0), and Mitch Moreland - Texas Rangers (8.5)

As much as I dislike voting for a player from Boston - yes, I'm keeping to my promise not to use the “h” word - this one's a must.

Gonzalez leads all qualified first basemen in UZR and WAR and is second only to Cabrera in OPS. As questionable as free agent acquisition Carl Crawford's performance has been for the Red Sox, Gonzalez's output has been exactly as advertised, if not more.

He's likely to win the Gold Glove at his position, and the regularity with which he's hitting line-drives off the Monster has his OPS at a sky-high .934. And my guess is he'll only get better as he learns all the quirks and eccentricities of Fenway Park.

Cabrera has managed to avoid any drunk driving arrests during the season so far, so I guess he's still eligible for the ballot. Tex has been emblematic of the Yankees this year: good, but not eye-popping. Moreland was something of a surprise since you don't hear his name a ton, but the Rangers are slowly starting to seize control of their division, and Moreland's play is part of the reason why.


Second Base: Ben Zobrist - Tampay Bay Rays (4.0)

Honorable Mentions: Howie Kendrick - Los Angeles Angels (4.5), Dustin Pedroia - Boston Red Sox (7.0) and Ian Kinsler - Texas Rangers (8.0)

I figured this position would be a surprise, and I wasn't disappointed.

I counted on a surprise because the usual suspect here - Pedroia - has had a rough start thanks to some injuries. Pedroia's UZR (4.5) is sky-high as usual and his WAR (1.6) isn't that far off the norm, but his .688 OPS is a killer and knocked him out of any serious contention.

The player I figured would benefit most from Pedroia's down-year was the Yankees Robinson Cano, but as you can see, he didn't even make “honorable mention”. His .793 OPS isn't as high as I expected it to be, though it's still above average. What hurt him was poor defense (-2.3 UZR) and a surprisingly low WAR (1.1).

That threw the door wide open. Enter, Ben Zobrist.

Once again, the Rays were predicted to “come back to earth” after a series of competitive seasons, and once again, they're right there in the thick of things with the Yankees and Red Sox.

We've known for a while that Zobrist is a good all-around player. So much so that the Rays have found it tough to keep him at just one position, shifting him from second base to the outfield and back. That hasn't completely ended this season, but the bulk of his time has been spent at second base, and his numbers there have been outstanding.

Kendrick has been an offensive tour-de-force for the Angels, and nearly got the vote himself. It's a testament to how good Pedroia is that he's having a “down year” and still finished third. Kinsler's a guy who I keep waiting for to make “the leap” and never quite does. He's good, but I expected this guy to be a superstar. I'm still waiting.


Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta - Detroit Tigers (5.0)

Honorable Mentions: Alexei Ramirez - Chicago White Sox (6.0), Eric Aybar - Los Angeles Angels (7.5), and Asdrubal Cabrera - Cleveland Indians (9.0)

Remember when the AL East was the home of all the good shortstops? Not so much anymore.

As a fan of an AL Central club, I can definitively say it's been a lousy year for that division. But one bright spot has been the emergence of quality shortstops.

Jhonny Peralta (no, that's not a typo, that's how he spells his first name) isn't new to the division or even the game for that matter. Now in his ninth season in the bigs, the bulk of which came with the Tribe, Peralta's finally realizing some of the potential that got him to the Show in the first place. He's on pace for career highs in batting average, OPS, home runs, RBI and walks. His defense isn't going to win him any awards any time soon, but his offense more than makes up for those deficiencies.

Ramirez seems to be making “the leap” as well. After finishing second in the balloting in '08, Alexei sank into relative obscurity with a couple of good, but not as great, years - though it should be pointed out that he did win the Silver Slugger award at his position last season. He's built on that late-season success this year, and were it not for Peralta's offensive emergence, he'd have gotten the vote. Aybar, like Kendrick is quietly having an outstanding offensive season, though his defense hurt him in the rankings.

Of course, I wanted to vote for Cabrera since “Asdrubal” is still very high on my “What I'd like to name a Son” list (sorry, Mom). He's been good this year, but not good enough to get the nod here.


Third Base: Alex Rodriguez - New York Yankees (3.5)

Honorable Mentions: Kevin Youklis - Boston Red Sox (6.0), Adrian Beltre - Texas Rangers (6.5), and Macier Izturis - Los Angeles Angels (7.0)

Oh my word how I hate having to make this pick.

I don't know anybody who's an A-Rod fan, and that's not an accident. What's to dislike more? His arrogance? His preening? Cameron Diaz feeding him popcorn at the Super Bowl? (Who'd have thought those two crazy kids wouldn't make it?!) Oh, and did I mention he's an admitted PED user?!

But the numbers don't lie. He trails only Youklis in OPS and leads the league by a solid margin in UZR and WAR. If he's still using, he's using the good stuff because he hasn't popped a positive test recently.

Dammit.

Youklis isn't a player I like much better, but at least he hasn't cheated... that we know of. Beltre's been a great pick-up for the Rangers and would be the guy I'd most like to vote for. Izturis continues the pattern of quality Angels infielders who somehow can't pilot their club above .500 for any serious period of time.


Catcher: Alex Avila - Detroit Tigers (2.0)

Honorable Mentions: Russell Martin - New York Yankees (2.5), Matt Weiters - Baltimore Orioles (4.5), and Carlos Santana - Cleveland Indians (6.0)

One caveat when it comes to the rankings for catcher, they don't measure UZR at that position, so it's strictly a combination of OPS and WAR rankings.

That being said, the rankings worked out much like I'd hoped. Avila has been outstanding for the Tigers this year. I scoffed when a colleague of mine suggested that the Tigers were his pick to win the Central. Clearly the only two contenders were the Twins and the White Sox, right?!

Um, not so much.

As wonderful as Cleveland's start has been this year, they're going to come back to earth sooner or later. And I fear for woebegone Tribe fans, that slide has already started. The Tigers haven't exactly jumped forward to stake their claim on the division yet, but they're in the best position of any of the other clubs to do so.

Russell Martin has found something in New York. After appearing in back-to-back All-Star Games for the Dodgers in '07 and '08, Martin's career fell off the map, so to speak. Like many before him, however, Martin's found success after signing with the Yankees as a free agent. After all, in that lineup, they have to pitch to somebody, and Martin's been able to take advantage of it.

Weiters was advertised as “Joe Mauer with power” when he arrived in the big leagues. Those expectations were quickly quieted as he faced his fair share of struggles adjusting to life in the majors, but it finally seems like he's getting things on the right track in what has otherwise been a dreadful year in Baltimore.

Santana had his rookie campaign cut tragically short after suffering a broken leg in an awkward collision at home plate. Funny how there wasn't the same outcry over that injury as there was over Buster Posey's injury this season. Then again, Santana wasn't coming off of a World Series victory I suppose. If nothing else, Santana's injury should offer hope to Giants fans, since he's come back and been as good as ever.


Designated Hitter: David Ortiz - Boston Red Sox (1.5)

Honorable Mentions: Michael Young - Texas Rangers (2.5), Jason Kubel - Minnesota Twins (4.5), Billy Butler - Kansas City Royals (6.0)

As with catcher, there's no UZR rating here - for obvious reasons - so again, we're left with purely OPS and WAR.

And I hate this pick as well. Sensing a pattern yet?

Really?! I have to vote for Big Papi?! Another PED user. A guy who pissed and moaned about not winning an MVP award even though he wasn't good enough to play in the field. A guy who hung around Manny Ramirez long enough to learn how to pose, watch home runs fly out and show up pitchers.

Joy.

But the numbers are the numbers. He leads all eligible players in both categories. I don't have to like it, but there you are.

If I was to go for a straight sympathy vote, Michael Young would be my guy. All he's done is move from shortstop to third base, to DH and excel each time the Rangers shifted him around to accommodate someone else. I don't doubt he'll be an All-Star again this season, and it's well deserved.

Kubel is the only Minnesota Twin to get a sniff on my ballot, and that's for good reason. The team's been awful so far this year, and Kubel's been one of the few bright spots.

Billy Butler was a liability defensively at first base, and will likely spend the rest of his career DH'ing or coming off the bench. Hey, if Matt Stairs can create a career out of doing that, why not Billy Butler? He was a large part of Kansas City being hot out of the gate, though like the Royals as a whole, he's been on a downward slide as of late.


Outfield: Jose Bautista - Toronto Blue Jays (4.0), Matt Joyce - Tampa Bay Rays (8.5) and Curtis Granderson - New York Yankees (9.5)

Honorable Mentions: Carlos Quentin - Chicago White Sox (11.0), Jeff Francouer - Kansas City Royals (11.5) and Alex Gordon - Kansas City Royals (12.5)

Bautista is the obvious choice. In his quest to prove that his break-out season last year was no fluke, he leads the league in runs scored, walks, home runs, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Two-thirds of the way to a Triple Crown? Yeah, that gets you my All-Star vote.

Joyce is honestly a surprise to me. I knew he was good, but second in the balloting good? That was news to me.

Granderson was a more expected choice. He showed some pop in Detroit before getting traded to New York. It took him some time to adjust, but the pop is back and his speed in the outfield is a definite plus for the Yankees.

If Quentin was better defensively, he'd have gotten a vote. His offense is more than good enough.

Francouer and Gordon are both interesting stories for the Royals. “Frenchy” is trying to revive a previously stalled career and while Kansas City seems an odd place to be doing it, there's no question but that he's been their leader so far. That being said, I don't expect him to finish the year in KC. A team with that much young talent would be remiss not to take the opportunity to flip Francouer to a contender for some prospects.

Gordon was the “highly touted prospect” that never really found his way in the big leagues. You'd think on a team as terrible as the Royals, they'd have been able to find him plenty of playing time to develop, and yet Gordon bounced between the majors, triple-A and the disabled list like he was sitting on flubber. Something seems to have clicked this year, however. Whether he finally found an appropriate defensive position in left field, or he just plain figured it out at the plate, he's been at least close to what Kansas City hoped for when he first came up, and that's good enough to get him a mention here.


So there you have my AL ballot. See any glaring omissions? Post a comment, or shoot me an email and let me know!

I'll have my NL ballot for you later this week. In the mean time, head over to MLB.com and make your picks.

Remember, you can't complain if you don't vote! And how often do you get to vote 25 times legally?!

Until next time, thanks for reading!

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