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Spreadsheet Baseball: The All-Star Annoyance

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The All-Star game approacheth! It's major league baseball's popularity contest, where some of the better players in baseball miss going every year due to the voting process, biased managers, or Bud Selig (who is to blame for most of the problems of the free world). I'm sure it's a fun experience for all who get to go, but as a fan who wants to see the best players go...it's nothing short of annoying. It is, to me, like watching a movie that's good up until the end: I'm left with the feeling that, no matter how good it was, it just could have been so much better. With the All-Star voting taking shape right now, it's painfully obvious that there are the usual shennanigans going on this year. When commentators and ESPN talking heads use "All Star" as an adjective to describe ability, it's a blatant misuse of the word. What the hell is an All-Star year, if Mark Redman and Derrick Turnbow were All-Stars last year? It's not even always an acknowledgement that a lot of fans voted for you, what with the managerial selections and the rule that a player from each team has to go.

Then, there's this idiotic--yes, downright idiotic--ad campaign that comes with the supposed midsummer classic of "this one counts" or whatever wording they use for that platitude. The thing is, it really doesn't count for much. Home field advantage in the World Series worked for the Cardinals, I suppose, or perhaps it was just the fact that everyone in the Tigers' line-up went cold except Craig Monroe and Sean Casey and that the Cardinals got hot at the right time. Read what you will, into last year's 4-1 record for the home team in World Series games, but know that in the previous three series, totally unsurprising given the quality of WS teams, the games were evenly split in terms of home/road. That Game 7 being an extra home game for one team hasn't actually materialized since 2003, for the record.

The emergence of interleague play as a successful venture makes the midsummer classic look all the more clunky, as the idea of one league being better based on one game looks a bit silly what the AL's 137-115 record in IL play this year. In case you were wondering, the AL's worst teams in our Royals and the woeful Rangers finished a combined six games over .500 against the National League. No matter what happens when "this one counts" in a couple weeks, the American League is superior. It has been for a while, actually, and it's not really even in question even in the mainstream sports media.

So okay, that leaves me hoping that the fans vote for the right guys to the start the game. Unfortunately, the difference between the majority-rules favorite players and the best player at the position in the league often ends up being a pretty big difference. It's hot as hell in Massachusetts, so I'm going to cut to the chase. He are the current All-Star vote-leaders and also who should go in my humble opinion.

American League

C: 1. Ivan Rodriguez, 2. (150000 votes behind) Jorge Posada

I guess "Pudge" is pullin' the old popularity strings, because this one is absolutely ridiculously off-base. Props to Detroit voters for backing their guy, but the thing is Rodriguez starting for the AL would be a joke that's not very funny. Rodriguez is the fifth-best Catcher...in his own division. John Buck, Victor Martinez, Joe Mauer, and Kelly Shoppach all have higher OBPs and SLG percentages than Rodriguez, who is hitting a damning .285/.298/.446. I usually hate dem Yanks and all that jazz, but Jorge Posada is swatting at .341/.402/.545 with a VORP almost four times as high as Rodriguez's. Victor Martinez is left the unlucky non-starter at this point, so John Buck would have to make the team as a reserve. He still should make it over a guy like Varitek, but man, Catcher in the AL is stacked this year. NHZ Nominee: Jorge Posada.

1B: David Ortiz (and he's going to win)

Now look, I love Ortiz. He's a big friendly teddy bear of a guy, and he's hitting .319/.434/.582 for my favorite team. However, he should not be starting the All-Star game at first because he's the Red Sox back-up at first. If we're going to continue the tradition of no-DHs at NL parks, that means Ortiz should only be able to going as a reserve. When the Red Sox play the Giants, they have to find a way to squeeze out one of their other players to make room for him, but the AL All-Star team is not under such an obligation. He should play in the game, but he should not start. Kevin Youkilis is the Red Sox real first basemen, and he should have been the one on the ballot.

The All-Star game approacheth! It's major league baseball's popularity contest, where some of the better players in baseball miss going every year due to the voting process, biased managers, or Bud Selig (who is to blame for most of the problems of the free world). I'm sure it's a fun experience for all who get to go, but as a fan who wants to see the best players go...it's nothing short of annoying. It is, to me, like watching a movie that's good up until the end: I'm left with the feeling that, no matter how good it was, it just could have been so much better. With the All-Star voting taking shape right now, it's painfully obvious that there are the usual shennanigans going on this year. When commentators and ESPN talking heads use "All Star" as an adjective to describe ability, it's a blatant misuse of the word. What the hell is an All-Star year, if Mark Redman and Derrick Turnbow were All-Stars last year? It's not even always an acknowledgement that a lot of fans voted for you, what with the managerial selections and the rule that a player from each team has to go.

Then, there's this idiotic--yes, downright idiotic--ad campaign that comes with the supposed midsummer classic of "this one counts" or whatever wording they use for that platitude. The thing is, it really doesn't count for much. Home field advantage in the World Series worked for the Cardinals, I suppose, or perhaps it was just the fact that everyone in the Tigers' line-up went cold except Craig Monroe and Sean Casey and that the Cardinals got hot at the right time. Read what you will, into last year's 4-1 record for the home team in World Series games, but know that in the previous three series, totally unsurprising given the quality of WS teams, the games were evenly split in terms of home/road. That Game 7 being an extra home game for one team hasn't actually materialized since 2003, for the record.

The emergence of interleague play as a successful venture makes the midsummer classic look all the more clunky, as the idea of one league being better based on one game looks a bit silly what the AL's 137-115 record in IL play this year. In case you were wondering, the AL's worst teams in our Royals and the woeful Rangers finished a combined six games over .500 against the National League. No matter what happens when "this one counts" in a couple weeks, the American League is superior. It has been for a while, actually, and it's not really even in question even in the mainstream sports media.

So okay, that leaves me hoping that the fans vote for the right guys to the start the game. Unfortunately, the difference between the majority-rules favorite players and the best player at the position in the league often ends up being a pretty big difference. It's hot as hell in Massachusetts, so I'm going to cut to the chase. He are the current All-Star vote-leaders and also who should go in my humble opinion.

American League

C: 1. Ivan Rodriguez, 2. (150000 votes behind) Jorge Posada

I guess "Pudge" is pullin' the old popularity strings, because this one is absolutely ridiculously off-base. Props to Detroit voters for backing their guy, but the thing is Rodriguez starting for the AL would be a joke that's not very funny. Rodriguez is the fifth-best Catcher...in his own division. John Buck, Victor Martinez, Joe Mauer, and Kelly Shoppach all have higher OBPs and SLG percentages than Rodriguez, who is hitting a damning .285/.298/.446. I usually hate dem Yanks and all that jazz, but Jorge Posada is swatting at .341/.402/.545 with a VORP almost four times as high as Rodriguez's. Victor Martinez is left the unlucky non-starter at this point, so John Buck would have to make the team as a reserve. He still should make it over a guy like Varitek, but man, Catcher in the AL is stacked this year. NHZ Nominee: Jorge Posada.

1B: David Ortiz (and he's going to win)

Now look, I love Ortiz. He's a big friendly teddy bear of a guy, and he's hitting .319/.434/.582 for my favorite team. However, he should not be starting the All-Star game at first because he's the Red Sox back-up at first. If we're going to continue the tradition of no-DHs at NL parks, that means Ortiz should only be able to going as a reserve. When the Red Sox play the Giants, they have to find a way to squeeze out one of their other players to make room for him, but the AL All-Star team is not under such an obligation. He should play in the game, but he should not start. Kevin Youkilis is the Red Sox real first basemen, and he should have been the one on the ballot.

We can sit here and argue about the legitmacy of DH HoF candidates all day, and I'll defend Edgar Martinez's candidacy to the death because DH is now a part of AL baseball. But in the case of the best first basemen in the AL, a DH isn't an option as I see it. For who should be the AL starter, it's incredibly close. Right now I'd have to go with Casey Kotchman (take that, East Coast bias) by fractions over Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis. .327/.404/.545 from a guy who is pretty nimble around the bag is pretty sweet. NHZ Nominee: Casey Kotchman.

2B: 1. Placido Polanco, 2. Robinson Cano (about 300000 votes back), 3. Dustin Pedroia

A prime example of how the current system often fails to have the best player at a position start. In case no one has noticed during the Orioles' rather miserable year, Brian Roberts--a guy not even in the top five according to voters--is hitting .324/.411/.451 for a VORP of 32.5. Polanco, the current leader, has poisoned the minds of America into thinking that .329/.376/.412. Now, I know there are miscreants in the crowd who can make a pretty good case for Scarlett over Jenn, but this is like picking Martha Stewart over Jessica Alba. Good grief. It makes me embarrassed to be a baseball fan and (as Johnny Damon would say) stuff.

Oddly enough the second-best second sacker in the league is Upton, who is fifth. Sometimes the world just isn't fair. NHZ Nominee: Brian Roberts.

SS: Derek Jeter (by a ridiculous margin)

Captain Intangibles is actually having another great year, so it's not like I can harp on him and call him a so-and-so and an illegimate candidate for All-Stardom and a monkey's uncle, but I can point out that I hate him and that there's no reason he's any more legit a candidate than Carlos Guillen. Jeter is at .342/.419/.486, which is good for a 32.1 VORP and best in the league at short. Carlos Guillen is raking to the tune of .342/.391/.578 and a 31.2 VORP, good for second by 0.9. Given that there's still time before the break, it's very plausible that Guillen might be hitting better than Jeter when the All-Star game rolls around. Unfortunately, the voters have spoken already. Here's to them: I throw my drink in their faces. NHZ Nominee: Carlos Guillen.

3B: Alex Rodriguez (another no-doubter)

Not much to say here except to tip my cap to Rodriguez's absurd .333/.433/.707 line and 55.1 VORP, and to hope he gets the hell out of the AL East next year. The dude has 28 home runs already, and that's pretty damn good.NHZ Nominee: Alex Rodriguez.

OF: Vladimir Guerrero, Magglio Ordonez, Ichiro Suzuki

Waking up in the morning as the manager of a team with Guerrero, Ordonez, and Ichiro in the outfielder must be fun. As much as I like Manny Ramirez, he fully deserved to slip to fourth in the voting in my opinion. Ordonez was the one who managed to worm past him and Ichiro, which is fine by me since the guy is the only position player in baseball other than Pujols (always a threat to have a 20-homer month) who looks like he might be able to out-VORP Alex Rodriguez. Ordonez is the best of the starting three, whacking at a .379/.453/.643 pace and making Los Tigres fell bueno about that contract. Ichiro will probably continue to be voted into these games long after he's legally dead, but he's hitting .359/.413/.464 and, now a CF, has a 40.7 VORP of his own. Finally, Vladdy, the lead vote-getter in the AL OF, is actually the weakest link with a paltry .327/.424/.565 line and a weak 37.9 VORP. I'm kidding, of course, he's awesome. And quite frankly, here we have a rare instance were all three outfield starters actually deserve the start. Until a little while ago, thanks to rabid Boston fans you would've had Manny Ramirez (20.7 VORP) instead of Magglio Ordonez. All I can say is that I hope this three hold Manny off, because, performance wise, there are several OFers having better seasons than Manny.

NHZ Nominees: Magglio Ordonez, Vladimir Guerrero, Ichiro Suzuki

The American League isn't actually too far away from my idea of the best line-up, but those couple humdingers in there are awful. To sum up:

Voters:

C Ivan Rodriguez
1B David Ortiz
2B Placio Polanco
SS Dere Jeter
3B Alex Rodriguez
OF Vladimir Guerrero
OF Magglio Ordonez
OF Ichiro Suzuki
NHZ:

C Jorge Posada (it hurts me to turn Buck down)
1B Casey Kotchman (verrrrrrry close)
2B Brian Roberts
SS Carlos Guillen (again, close)
3B Alex Rodriguez
OF Magglio Ordonez
OF Ichiro Suzuki
OF Vladimiar Guerrero

The Posada thing really does grind my gears, as I really dislike the Yanks but I can't ignore the fact that Ivan Rodriguez is about one-fourth the hitter Posada is right now. I used my Alba analogy for Roberts' snubbing, but that's only because I can justify ranting about an Oriole being left out and I just don't have the enthusiasm to go on a tirade about a poor little Yankee. Plus Roberts is a handsome fellow and Posada looks like he just removed his head from a waffle-iron. He deserves to start as of now, I'll say that. It's funny how it worked out that the voters have actually been pretty good with the starting line-ups, but when they missed...they missed big.

Starting Pitcher

I'm fully aware that I'm not Jim Leyland and never will be the amazing motivator of millionaires that he is, but I'm going to give my two cents here anyway. Pretty much any of the last couple years, I'd have picked Johan Santana, but Dan Haren is the man this year. I'd never bet against Santana for the Cy Young--Haren's low (.218) BABIP suggests he's due to regrees--but that doesn't change the fact that Haren's been the best pitcher in baseball to this point. Last year his main achilles heel was the home run ball, and now that that's down to .73 per nine it's much less of a problem. Factor in a great K-rate, good control, a funny beard, durability, a funny beard, hit luckiness, and a funny beard, and a 1.78 ERA in 111.0 IP, and Haren has clearly been the best pitcher to this point in the season. NHZ Nominee: Dan Haren.

National League

C: 1. Russell Martin, 2. Paul Lo Duca (250000 votes back)

Thank you, National League voters. Thank you for not voting the teenage-womanizing Lo Duca into the starting spot. Martin is so much better on the field than Lo Duca that it leaves little doubt in my mind he's the man for the job. In what seems to be a baaaaaad year for National League backstops, Martin is by far the best of the bunch at x, whereas Lo Duca is hitting a punchless .283/.328/.354. Martin is at .291/.361/.461, leading the NL in catching VORP and the Dodgers in hitting VORP. NHZ Nominee: Russell Martin.

1B: 1. Prince Fielder, 2. Albert Pujols (250000 votes back)

Another one the voters are getting right, though the odd thing here is that Pujols is Fielder's primary competition instread of a resurgent Derrek Lee. For those of you who have lived under a rock in regard to National League, Prince Fielder has been a huge part of the Brewers huge lead in the NL Central. He's swatting .283/.374/.629, so he's officially broke out in terms of power and patience. Now that he's here, he ought to be a star for years in the middle of the Brewers' line-up. Milwaukee in the play-offs? It sounds wrong, but it seems very likely. NHZ Nominee: Prince Fielder. (but Derrek Lee is having a better year than Pujols and he's 4th in voting)

2B: Chase Utley

If Roberts is the on-base master of the keystone, Utley is the National League answer in the form of a true slugger belting away at a position where power is hardly an easy thing to find. Unlike the battle for top SS in the NL, this one really isn't close. Utley is awesome, and in the perfect park for his swing.

NHZ Nominee: Chase Utley

SS: 1. Jose Reyes, 2. J.J. Hardy (150000 votes back)

The battle in votes is between Reyes and Hardy, but the battle in VORP for the top SS spot is between Reyes and Hanley Ramirez. I don't expect anyone here to feel bad for the Red Sox, but watching Julio Lugo flail away like he's never seen a major league fastball before is particularly painful when you consider how good Ramirez is. Reyes gets a ton of press because he plays in the New York, he learned the art of stealing from Rickey Henderson, and he's very good at baseball. However, Hanley Ramirez is so close to Reyes in ability it's kind of uncanny; the two might be the next big shortstop debate, and what with Reyes's .319/.401/.455 line and Ramirez's .320/.378/.498 they're within two VORP points of each other. I'm not putting down Hardy--the lad has hit .285/.340/.521, finally establishing himself as a very good regular, but he's a win behind Reyes or Ramirez in batting alone. All three teams should be happy to have the guy they do have: these guys should all have mucho staying power.

So who's the All-Star? Hardy's really not in the debate as a starter, though probably could be a reserve. It's really Ramirez v. Reyes for the NL SS crown, and the shame of it is that Ramirez isn't even in the top five in voting (sound familar, Brian Roberts?). Nevertheless, I like Reyes to pull ahead of Hanley a little when Ramirez's BA comes down a little. NHZ Nominee: Jose Reyes (by an inch)

3B: 1. David Wright, 2. Miguel Cabrera (250000 votes)

Another case where it looks like the Mets' player is going to come out on top because of the bigger fanbase, and here it's glaring because Cabrera has definitely been better than Wright (which is not to say that most franchises wouldn't kill for one of these guys). Wright is hitting .286/.372/.486 after an extremely slow start, which is cool. Cabrera is hitting .330/.397/.601. If Wright's performance is cool, Cabrera's is downright frosty. Yes, the Marlins 3B isn't as good as Wright when it comes to defense, but that doesn't make up for the gap in-between their hitting lines. Get out there and vote, Marlins fans! (crickets chirp) NHZ Nominee: Miguel Cabrera

OF: Carlos Beltran, Ken Griffey Jr., Alfonso Soriano

Hoo boy. What is Beltran doing on top of this list? He's a Met, and I guess that explains it. While he certainly has time to bring his production up towards usual levels, he's only hitting .272/.349/.449: poor by Beltran standards and only good for 17.9 VORP. Ken Griffey Jr. definitely belongs here, at a resurgent .290/.384/.581 for the pathetic Reds as he continues to build his HoF resume. Alfonso Soriano is a fine choice, at .307/.356/.577 for the Cubbies.

While these guys are certainly among the better outfielders in the NL, the numbers give Matt Holliday as the best OF bopper in the league so far this season. It's time to stop questioning Holliday's true value: he jumped from AA to Coors Field as a rookie, and hit reasonably well. People said it was Coors Field. He played an entire season slugging over .500. People said it was Coors Field. The humidor was put into effect last season, and Holliday still killed the ball. This season, he's hitting .354/.399/.594. Hint: it's not Coors Field, it's a young player progressing relatively late. He's awesome, and he's six in the voting behind, somehow, Andruw Jones. Ouch.

Currently bearing the brunt of the tendency of people to ignore players who haven't been up all year (when it comes to voting), is Hunter Pence. BP had him tagged as Houston's lone power prospect, and he's delivered in awesome fashion. .352/.379/.605 since being called up. The plate discipline is a little worrisome, but, like Holliday, he's hitting as well or better than the top three vote-getters.

I'm picking the three guys below with the caveat that I think Soriano is a very defensible starting choice since Pence hasn't played all season. NHZ Nominees: Matt Holliday, Hunter Pence, Ken Griffey Jr.

To sum up:

Voters

C Russell Martin
1B Prince Fielder
2B Chase Utley
SS Jose Reyes
3B David Wright
OF Carlos Beltran
OF Ken Griffey Jr.
OF Alfonso Soriano

That's a little to much Met-love than is good for anyone, folks.

NHZ

C Russell Martin
1B Prince Fielder
2B Chase Utley
SS Jose Reyes (by the smallest of margins, though)
3B Miguel Cabrera
OF Matt Holliday
OF Hunter Pence
OF Ken Griffey Jr.

Readers may notice I've left out Barry Bonds. That's because he's a cheater and I don't think he's worth discussing. Anyway, the voters and I disagree on half the starting line-up. I'm also kind of wavering on picking Reyes, too, so clearly I have issues with Nat'l League fans. There's nothing here quite as stupid as Rodriguez over Posada or Polanco over Roberts, but Cabrera being left out of the line-up is pretty darn bad. I understand Beltran's really popular, I really do, but he hasn't been that great this season.

Starting Pitcher

This one is a really tough choice, as Brad Penny is actually ahead of Jake Peavy in VORP right now despite Peavy's utterly dominant first half. Penny did much the same act last year, where he himself was untouchable in the first half of the season before it all came apart down the stretch. Even given the Penny (41.3) and Peavy (37.6) VORP situation and the 2.04 to 2.14 advantage for Penny in ERA, I have to go all DIPS on you and pick the Padres' Ace. He has the best stuff-control combination in the league, and has allowed only one homer all year. While Penny has had almost as good success limiting longballs, Peavy is out-King him 9.69(!) to 5.96 over every nine innings. With similar walk rates and a slightly higher BABIP for Peavy (.305), I'm predicting Peavy will have better stats than Penny by the break. Also, given these rates and Penny's notable second half declines in the past, Peavy is the heavy favorite to keep up his current performance and thus outpace Penny and others to a Cy Young.

Royally Screwed?

Sorry this article isn't Royals-centric, but I'm afraid we're coming up a little short this year in the All-Star thing. Gil Meche, at 3.21 ERA and 23.5 VORP has legitimately earned an All-Star selection if definitely not a candidate to start it. John Buck would be anothe legit choice if the American League catchers weren't so damn good this year; it's still been a great half season for him and I hope he makes it, but my money's on Gil to represent Kansas City alone at the midsummer classic. I hope I'm wrong.

A Final Word

Overall, perhaps I disagreed with the fans a little less than I thought, but still I think the point is how much this is just a popularity contest dominated by big markets a lot of the time. I don't have a concrete idea for making the All-Star game better--there's things wrong way the fans voting and managerial selections--but I can tell you that the current way of doing this is cheating guys who play in smaller markets (like Miguel Cabrera) and players who play for bad teams (like Brian Roberts). That's really a shame, because I would like to see the players picked more for their accomplishments to date in the season rather than the size of the city they play in or how well their team is doing.

Spreadsheet Baseball returns next week, probably with the latest trade possibilities and such! Hope you enjoy this week's installment and, as always, comments are welcomed/encouraged. Sorry for the wait. I need air conditioning.