As voting for the 2013 MLB All-Star Game draws to a close, there is the usual amount of debate regarding whom to select, who doesn’t belong and whether the game should “count” in the sense that it does. I’ll begin with the easy part: Allowing the All-Star Game to determine home-field advantage in the World Series is ridiculous, absurd and a half-baked attempt to “make the game matter” to fans, players and executives. The unfortunate fact of its impact on the World Series did not factor into my selections, but a few other considerations did.
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In the instance of above-average players who have career years, I tend to favor giving them the nod over perennial All-Stars and household names — but only if the stats are comparable and it’s a virtual tie. The Major League Baseball season is a grind, and it can be hard to make an All-Star roster at a stacked position, like first base has been in recent years or shortstop was during the concurrent peak years of A-Rod, Jeter and Garciaparra. Why not reward a career .290 hitter, who plugs away every season to make steady contributions for his team and his fans, when he happens to have a .320 average at the break? This is especially relevant in the case of players who are good defenders; I don’t want to unwittingly place myself in the camp of those who have unduly promoted the sabremetrics fad (despite the merits of its approach as a response to those whose tape-measure approach to baseball analysis seems reminiscent of the NFL Combine), but being an All-Star shouldn’t be all about one’s offense. This is the reasoning behind my contention that Mike Trout is the AL MVP — and it’s only kinda close. Mike Trout should have been last season’s MVP, for example, and it’s the reasoning behind a few of my All-Star choices this season. Speaking of which:
(Quoted statistics are as of July 2, 2013)
American League All-Stars
First Base: This might be the easiest one of the lot. As of July 2, Chris Davis has 31 home runs and 80 RBIs, has scored 60 runs and is hitting .329. He’s hitting .408 with runners in scoring position. Go ahead, read those numbers again. He’s in triple-crown contention, the Orioles are having a strong season and … eh, just read his numbers again.
Second Base: The Yankees hit, the Yankees slump, the Yankees win, the Yankees stink and Robinson Cano just keeps on hitting — 20 home runs, stellar defense, a .295 batting average and 54 RBIs on a team that often struggles to score. Even in a ridiculous hitter’s park for lefties, those numbers can’t be ignored. Dustin Pedroia is having a good year, as are Jose Altuve and Jason Kipnis; both deserve to be All-Star reserves, especially since someone has to represent the Astros. But Cano’s been named captain of the AL Home Run Derby team, and he deserves to start.
Shortstop: Here’s where my prior argument about solid players having career years comes in. Nobody’s head and shoulders above the crowd at shortstop in the American League, so far, and Jed Lowrie is having a solid year for the first-place Oakland Athletics. He’s hitting .305 and playing good defense, and he gets my vote.
Third Base: Last year’s AL MVP and triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera is at it again. He and Chris Davis are in a race for the 2013 triple: Miggy is batting a whopping .368, with 26 home runs, 65 runs scored and 85 RBI. Wow.
Catcher: Joe Mauer marches on, posting a .318 average with 49 runs scored. Salvador Perez, the young catcher in Kansas City, is hitting .301 and is a heck of a defensive catcher. This one’s a close call, but I’d give it to Mauer because he’s a fan favorite and might not have many All-Star appearances left.
Designated Hitter: David Ortiz just keeps on truckin’ in Boston. Big Papi is the best DH in the league, yet again, hitting .320 with 16 home runs and 57 RBIs. The Sox are 51-34, and Papi is right in the middle of their attack.
Outfield: Jacoby Ellsbury is a run-stopper in the outfield and is hitting .299 with 33 stolen bases on the first-place Red Sox. Trout is having another fantastic all-around year: He’s hitting .311 with 57 runs, 53 RBI and 20 stolen bases. Triple crown or not, he might be the best overall player in the American League (see above for the importance of defense). The third spot is a close call between Adam Jones and teammate Nick Markakis, but I’d give the nod to Jones because of his defense and slightly better numbers.
Starting Pitcher: It’s got to be Max Scherzer — 12-0 with a .089 WHIP, and opposing batters are hitting .190 against him.
Top Reserves: Manny Machado is on a record-setting pace for doubles and plays third base with athleticism and the instincts of a seasoned veteran. Edwin Encarnacion has 23 home runs and 66 RBI. Jason Kipnis, the AL Player of the Month of June, is having a breakout season in Cleveland, hitting .299 with 51 RBI, and fellow second baseman Jose Altuve is making a strong case to be the Houston Astros’ representative at Citi Field. As popular as Jose Bautista is, and as dominant as he’s been in recent years, a .265 batting average doesn’t make the cut over so many strong corner infielders in the AL this season; he should, however, be on the Home Run Derby team. I would add the aforementioned Markakis to the AL bench, and Nelson Cruz‘s 20 home runs make him a deserving candidate to represent the Texas Rangers. And 27-year-old third baseman Josh Donaldson is having a breakout year in Oakland, putting up solid numbers in the middle of the lineup and playing a strong third base.
National League All-Stars
First Base: This is a close one. Joey Votto is having a Votto-esque year, but he’s also struggling defensively, with an uncharacteristically high 10 errors so far. Meanwhile, Paul Goldschmidt is killing it in Arizona, with 20 home runs and 69 RBI.
Second Base: Here’s another tough one. Brandon Phillips is having another good year in Cincinnati, batting cleanup for the 48-36 Reds and consistently playing the best second base in the National League. Matt Carpenter is hitting .320 in St. Louis, quietly putting together a nice year at age 27. But defense wins it with this one, and Phillips gets the nod.
Shortstop: Jean Segura is one of this year’s breakout stars in Milwaukee. He’s playing great defense, and he’s hitting .320 with moderate power for a shortstop and 24 stolen bases. Troy Tulowitzki, whom I’d normally have picked, is currently injured.
Third Base: David Wright is the NL captain in the Home Run Derby, and the game is taking place in his home stadium. He’s also playing a stellar third base, and hitting .305 with 14 stolen bases to go along with his 12 home runs.
Catcher: The National League seems full of close calls, and this is a virtual tie. Buster Posey is having another great year for the Giants, but Yadier Molina is having just as good a season and might be the best defensive catcher in the league.
Outfield: The National League is full of outfielders having extremely good years, and this was tough. Carlos Gonzalez has 23 home runs and 15 stolen bases, and is a great defensive center fielder. Cargo’s teammate, solid veteran Michael Cuddyer, is having a career year: He’s hitting .339 with 14 home runs and just finished a 27-game hitting streak. And another veteran, Carlos Beltran, is hitting .306 with 19 home runs and 50 RBI in St. Louis.
Starting Pitcher: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Matt Harvey is the truth. He’s out-pitching everyone in the National League, and he deserves to start in his home park.
Top Reserves: The aforementioned Posey, Carpenter and Votto all deserve bids. Carlos Gomez is having a breakout season in Milwaukee, hitting .308 with 16 stolen bases along with 12 home runs. He’s also an outstanding defensive center fielder, and probably a close fourth in my choices of starting outfielders this season. The Phillies’ Domonic Brown went on an absurd home-run binge earlier in the season, and his 20 homers and .280 batting average make him a solid candidate. And last but not least, there’s the oft-discussed Yasiel Puig.
The Yasiel Puig debate
I understand the argument that Yasiel Puig hasn’t played very many games. I also know that, if he flames out and becomes an average or even below average player, he wouldn’t be the first to take the league by storm and then fade away (remember when it seemed like nobody could get Shane Spencer out? He went on to become a decent player, but he was not a Hall of Famer or even perennial All-Star). But a few things come to mind regarding Yasiel Puig.
First, Puig will not likely sustain an extremely high batting average (much less his current .440), given his propensity to swing at — well, seemingly whatever he likes. Then again, maybe not — Vladimir Guerrero was a career .318 hitter, and his strike zone was the size of his native DR … and come to think of it, Puig shares other similarities to Vlad. He’s got a ridiculous arm, for example, and a knack for hitting in the clutch. People don’t generally mention it any more, but Guerrero was fast in his peak years — he stole 40 bases once — and Yasiel Puig seems even faster. Moreover, he hustles his butt off whenever he’s on the bases, seeming to think “double” out of the box in every at bat and taking extra bases with (occasionally too much) aplomb. Puig also hustles in the outfield, and he’s generated as much excitement among Dodgers fans as anyone in recent memory. And isn’t that part of the point of the All-Star Game?
Like it or not, the All-Star Game is as much for the fans as it is for the players. While I strongly disagree with its connection to home-field advantage in the World Series, one thing this strategic importance does is raise the game’s real and perceived value. Which brings me back to Yasiel Puig: Whether as a buzz-generating fan favorite or a valuable offensive and defensive asset, putting him on the All-Star roster is a total win-win situation for baseball and the National League team. The only argument against it — that more established players might lose their spots on the roster — could be applied to many other factors, as well, such as having multiple closers on the roster to shorten the endgame. Why is there not a similar uproar over filling the rosters with the game’s most specialized players, who are only good to fill one highly specific role? I don’t mean to disparage the importance of closers, nor do I take issue with having multiple closers on the All-Star roster. I am simply framing the argument, and challenging the notion that Yasiel Puig doesn’t deserve a spot because of his small sample size. And to be fair, I generally do share the opinion that sample size should be a factor in All-Star consideration; this is why pinch-hitters with 35 at-bats don’t make the game, no matter how high their averages. But Yasiel Puig is an exceptional example, and despite his relative newness, he is taking the game by storm. He is, already, a bona-fide star of the game … and, all things considered, isn’t the point of the All-Star Game to celebrate the stars?
There are many ways to view the idea of stardom, and when the matter of merit is introduced, things get complicated. When perennial All-Stars win the fan vote, despite having spent most of the season on the disabled list, it tends to strike many as unfair and a bit absurd. I agree with this assessment. At the same time, all things considered equal, it’s an understood part of the process that fan favorites will make their way onto rosters in place of more deserving players (note that I did not place Pablo Sandoval among my list of reserves, despite the fact he’s currently second in voting behind David Wright). The balance between fairness, sample size, popularity, fan favoritism and flat-out statistics is hard to strike. And if a player who is so new to the major leagues were to ever make an All-Star Game, their breakout should be truly exceptional.
I would that say Yasiel Puig qualifies.