Thursday, July 3, 2014

My 2014 AL All-Star Ballot

Bautista, the leading vote-getter, is a worthy pick (BleacherReport)
Today's the last day to vote for the All-Star Game! As promised, here are my picks for the American League squad:

C Salvador Perez
I really wanted to vote for Derek Norris here, but couldn't get past the fact that he barely has 200 plate appearances. With 100 more plate appearances (which at this point accounts for one-third of the season), Perez has had more of an impact and been head and shoulders above his fellow American League backstops this year, leading qualified AL receivers in meaningful categories such as slugging percentage, wOBA, OPS, wRC+, and fWAR. He also ranks second in home runs, tied with Brian McCann just two behind Mike Zunino, and runs scored with one fewer than Yan Gomes. An All-Star last year, the 24 year-old Perez appears to be coming into his own as a premier catcher and should remain one for years to come.

1B Jose Abreu
As much as it pains me to not vote Miguel Cabrera for the All-Star Game, the simple truth is that Jose Abreu's been better. The Cuban rookie's slugged almost twice as many home runs as Cabrera, if you can believe it, despite spending time on the DL and accumulating 40 fewer plate appearances. Abreu also boasts the best slugging percentage in the bigs which, at .624, is a full 82 points higher than Cabrera's. Though the two-time defending MVP has more doubles, a better OBP and as many RBI as Abreu, Cabrera still rates as an inferior hitter on a league and park-adjusted basis. And since neither adds anything in the field or on the basepaths, that's all that matters. With more than three million votes and counting, though, Miggy's going to get the start anyways.

2B Ian Kinsler
A few weeks ago I would have said Brian Dozier, but his recent funk (.172/.304/.190 and no home runs since June 14th) has put a serious hurting on his numbers, opening the door for Robinson Cano and Jose Altuve. Cano, the leading vote-getter at the keystone, is clearly the flashier name. He's having a fine season and isn't a poor choice by any means, but his struggles in the power, speed, and defense departments have diminished his value from superstar into merely a great player. The starting start belong to Altuve, who leads the American league in stolen bases (37) and batting average (.343) in addition to racking up the most hits in baseball (118). Because of his all-around contributions, the Dustin Pedroia-sized Altuve has been more valuable than Cano.

And then there's Ian Kinsler, who in some respects is having a better season than Altuve. He's hit for more power and played better defense, so he's been slightly better based on wins above replacement. He also has more star appeal as a three-time All-Star who was traded for Prince Fielder straight up last fall. Altuve's been a slightly better hitter and baserunner, but Kinsler's defensive advantage (which works out to be at least one win) more than compensates, making him the top choice by a nose. At almost any other position I'd vote for Altuve given his offensive edge, but second base is too important to overlook Kinsler's superior glovework there, as well as the fact that he's hit almost as well as Altuve.

3B Josh Donaldson
His recent slump notwithstanding, Donaldson is still the clear choice at the hot corner. Last year's breakout leads the position in home runs, RBI and runs and, according to Baseball-Reference, has been the American League's second most valuable player behind only Mike Trout. A lot of that value stems from his terrific defense at third, which should net him his first Gold Glove award at year's end. While Kyle Seager, Adrian Beltre, and Todd Frazier have been better hitters, no major league third baseman has matched his two-way contributions this year.

SS Alexei Ramirez
Sentimental value aside, Derek "Don't Call Me Replacement Level" Jeter has not been All-Star caliber this year. I have no problem with Derek Jeter being on the team as a reserve--it is his last season, after all--but he does not deserve to start even in what is shaping up to be a poor season for American League shortstops. There's no obvious, slam-dunk pick here, but Alexei Ramirez seems to have the strongest case seeing as how he leads AL shortstops in home runs (8--tied with Asdrubal Cabrera and Brad Miller), slugging percentage, OPS, and wOBA. In addition to batting a rock solid .294/.327/.421, he's also stolen 14 bases in 17 attempts and played all of Chicago's 86 games. Cases can be made for Erick Aybar and Alcides Escobar, whose numbers don't look all that different from Ramirez's, but in the end I'm voting for Ramirez because he's been the slightly better hitter and is more of an established star.

OF Mike Trout
The American League's most valuable player and OPS leader needs no introduction, or a case to be made in defense of why he deserves to start in the All-Star Game.

OF Jose Bautista
After a couple of injury-plagued seasons, Joey Bats appears to be back to his 2010-2011 self. In addition to supplying his usual power numbers, he leads the American League in OBP at .431 and his 60 walks lead the sport, making Bautista an easy choice for his fifth straight All-Star trip. I'm surprised to see he's the top vote-getter in baseball this year.

OF Adam Jones
After a mediocre first two months, Jones has been on fire since the calendar flipped to June. Since June 1st he's batted .353/.383/.664 with 10 of his 16 home runs and 23 of his 52 RBI, raising his batting line on the year to an All-Star caliber .307/.330/.510. I gave Michael Brantley and the always underrated Alex Gordon some thought here, but Gordon can't match Jones' offensive production and Brantley, because he plays a corner outfield spot, is less valuable defensively. Neverthless, it doesn't look like Jones is going to get a starting nod anyways, seeing as how he trails Yoenis Cespedes and Melky Cabrera for the final outfield spot. If Jones had his month of June in April, I doubt that would be the case.

DH Edwin Encarnacion
Close call between him and Nelson Cruz, who share the major league home run lead with Jose Abreu, but I'm giving the nod to E-5 (I guess E-3 now that he's become a butcher at first base) for leading the majors in home runs, RBI, extra base hits and total bases. His raw OPS is also more than 50 points higher than Cruz's, which explains his clear advantage in wRC+ (166 to 147). Unfortunately Cruz has almost twice as many votes as Encarnacion, who's languishing in fourth place behind David Ortiz and Victor Martinez as well, so it's possible he might not even make the team. Hopefully John Farrell selects him as a reserve, because there's no excuse for him not to be there.

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