Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ranking the NL Final Vote Candidates

Rendon's performance is worthy of his first All-Star appearance (CSN Washington)
While the American League Final Vote race is comprised of five hurlers, the National League field features five position players, three of whom have never been named All-Stars before. That makes comparing them easy, as does the fact that all five play corner positions (four in the infield and one, Justin Upton, in the outfield). Still, for the purposes of the game I'm trying to pick the best player. I was torn between the top two choices, but ultimately feel that I made the correct call.

5. Casey McGehee (1.4 bWAR)
McGehee's a great comeback story playing as well as he is after spending 2013 in Japan and struggling badly in the two years before that. He's leading the loop in hits and batting a robust .318, but without any power (one home run) or speed (one stolen base). So while he's hitting for a great average and getting on base at a tremendous clip, he hasn't been nearly as valuable as those numbers would suggest due to his inability to clear the fences, swipe a bag, or play even capable defense at the hot corner. He has the lowest OPS, raw and adjusted, of the five and doesn't bring anything to the table elsewhere, so he's an easy first cut.

4. Justin Morneau (1.9 bWAR)
Looking to make his first All-Star team since 2010 and fifth overall (but first as a National League representative), Morneau's enjoying a big bounce back year at 33. He's hitting nearly as well as McGehee--.313 to the Marlin's .318--but with much more pop. Morneau has the same number of doubles (20) and 12 more home runs, which explains his 119 point advantage in slugging percentage. And while Coors Field has certainly boosted his numbers a bit, he's still batting over .300 on the road with a slugging percentage close to .500. Morneau's hit everywhere this year, but for a Rockies first baseman his numbers are merely good, not great. Thus, he's next to go.

3. Justin Upton (1.7 bWR)
B.J. Upton's kid brother is having another fine all-around season, albeit still not at the superstar level everyone thought he'd have reached by now. His 17 home runs rank fifth in the National League, four behind league leader Giancarlo Stanton. His 50 RBI are just outside the Circuit's top 10, as are his .503 slugging percentage and .854 OPS. He's also getting on base at a good clip (.350 OBP) despite striking out a ton, and has seven steals in eight attempts as well. Because of his power and speed I like his game more than Morneau's; Upton's skills are better suited for the Midsummer Classic, which he's appeared in twice before (in 2009 and 2011).

2. Anthony Rizzo (2.7 bWAR)
Rizzo disappointed last year, but this year he's been the hitter everyone thought he'd be. A better hitter than Upton, to be sure, which is why I have Rizzo ranked higher. With his name plastered all over the leaderboards, the Cubs first baseman has been one of the Senior Circuit's ten best hitters this year. That alone gives him a very strong case. His 19 home runs are second only to Stanton in the NL, and he's showed tremendous patience by walking 51 times, an approach that's fueling his .383 OBP. Rizzo, along with teammate Starlin Castro, is having a great year for a terrible team and deserves to be recognized for it, but unfortunately for him he's not the best player on this list.

1. Anthony Rendon (3.0 bWAR)
The 24 year-old Rendon is making a name for himself in his second big league season. After holding his own as a rookie last year, he's made great strides by improving his game in several areas. He's hitting for more power, playing better defense and being smarter on the basepaths, all while being forced to play out of position due to Ryan Zimmerman's injury. His numbers don't jump off the page, but he does everything well. As it stands, he's on pace to score 120 runs with 190 hits, 40 doubles, 10 triples, 25 home runs, 100 RBI, 15 steals, 60 walks and 325 or so total bases. There aren't many players in the game today, regardless of position, capable of that kind of all-around production. He's been huge for the Nationals this year, stepping up to man the hot corner in Zimmerman's absence, and because of his bat and versatility deserves to make his first All-Star squad.

Rizzo's easily the best hitter on this list, but WAR confirms that Rendon's been the better player. Almost as good with the bat, better on the bases and more valuable in the field as well. So as much as I hate to leave Rizzo out, that's why I'm voting Rendon by a nose.

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