The All-Star rosters were announced yesterday, and were met as always with plenty of ire from all corners. Fans on pretty much every team think their team got the shaft, to the point that a pretty innocuous David Schoenfield post over on the SweetSpot blog has gotten thousands upon thousands of comments, almost all of them angry about something or other. A lot of complaints are justified, and maybe that’s a separate post (mostly, way too many relief pitchers and manager favoritism).
The most common complaints, though, revolve around the Yankees and Red Sox having too many representatives. Six of the nine fan-elected starters for the AL play for one of those two teams, and the player vote and Ron Washington added four more, meaning that 10 of the 33 players on the AL roster play for one of those two teams, about twice as many as you’d expect given even distribution (30% of the roster plays for teams comprising 15% of the league).
In the past, I’ve tended to have the same complaint, at least about the fan voting. The Yankees and Red Sox have a huge and obvious advantage, and in the past we’ve seen atrocities like Jason Varitek being voted in in 2005, or Mark Loretta in 2006. It can be really, really maddening.
This year, though? Of all the nits to be picked with both rosters, this one just falls flat. The sad truth (sad for those like me who despise both teams, that is) is that the Yankees and Red Sox, at least at the top end, are just that good. They’ve got 10 All-Stars between them, and I think that you could argue that in a pure meritocracy, they could make a case to have 14 or 15. Let’s consider them in turn:
Adrian Gonzalez, BOS, starting 1B: indisputably the right pick. Gonzalez came into Independence Day leading the AL in batting average, hits, doubles and RBI, second in OBP, third in SLG, third in OPS, and second in Baseball-Reference WAR, and is viewed (rightly or wrongly) as an impeccable defensive first baseman. Miguel Cabrera is the only 1B who can compare offensively, and he’s a tree stump in the field.
Robinson Cano, NYY, starting 2B: I voted for Cano on our BBA ballot about three weeks ago. It was close enough that I might now switch my vote to Ben Zobrist, who’s got almost no chance of making the team through the Final Vote process. But while he’s third in WAR among second basemen in 2011 (behind Zobrist and Pedroia), he’s still comfortably ahead in 2010-11 combined, and his excellent second half of last year deserves some recognition. He might not deserve to start, but I think he deserves to be on the team.
Alex Rodriguez, NYY, starting 3B: another no-brainer, as he’s not only the best 2011 third baseman by WAR, but is an active legend (more on that below). If you take issue with this pick, I don’t think I even want to hear about why.
Derek Jeter, NYY, starting SS: and here’s the flashpoint. Everyone knows that Jeter is not performing at anything like an elite level right now, and in fact, by WAR, he’s sub-replacement and 10th of the 11 batting-title-qualifying shortstops in the AL (list here). I didn’t vote for him (though TCM would have), but I also have no problem with his selection. Cal Ripken, Jr. kept making All-Star teams until he hung them up, long after he was done as a useful player, and Ken Griffey, Jr. kept getting voted in well into his decline phase, too. I wouldn’t vote for him just because I don’t see him as quite that transcendent kind of talent (the way A-Rod is, above)…but most fans do, and that’s OK. Disagree with this one, I totally understand. I just can’t get riled up about a first-ballot Hall of Famer getting a little extra recognition toward the end of his career.
Curtis Granderson, NYY, starting OF: third in WAR among AL outfielders (behind Jose Bautista and Ellsbury), third in homers in the AL. Definitely belongs on the team, and probably deserves to start.
David Ortiz, BOS, starting DH: I don’t think the DH position should be restricted to actual DHes, since there’s very little specialized skill involved there, but if you’re going to pick a DH, Ortiz is your guy. You could make a case for Victor Martinez, but he ties Ortiz in WAR (at 2.1) only because he gets some extra replacement-level credit for his time spent as a catcher. If you’re looking at hitting only, Ortiz runs away with it.
Josh Beckett, BOS: 7-3, 2.12 ERA, 3.06 FIP. Hasn’t been the best starter in the league, but he clearly has a place on this team.
Mariano Rivera, NYY: See Jeter, Derek re. the legend exception. With that plus a 1.91 ERA and 2.10 FIP, if you’re going to name one reliever to either All-Star team, Rivera should be the guy.
Russell Martin, NYY: He almost won the fan vote, which really had people in a lather. Thankfully, Alex Avila won, and the second-best catcher in the AL this year, Matt Wieters, is also on the team. You need three on modern ASG rosters, though, and that’s where it gets tricky; those two have really been the only two catchers worth mentioning this half-season in the AL. By FanGraphs’ WAR, Martin is tied with Carlos Santana for third at 1.7, though by Baseball-Reference’s, Santana comes out nearly a full win ahead. Either way, you’ve got a guy hitting under .230 with minimal power who, one hopes, will be held back and used only in an emergency anyway. I see nothing wrong with picking two-time All-Star Martin over second-year player Santana. I guess you could take Victor Martinez as a catcher, but seeing as how the Tigers have only let Martinez catch about a quarter of their innings, I doubt they’d be thrilled about letting him catch in an exhibition.
Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS: second among AL outfielders in WAR, leading the league in stolen bases, batting .302 and playing excellent defense. It’s pretty surprising he didn’t get to start over Josh Hamilton, actually, but regardless, he belongs on the team.
There’s your ten. You can disagree on Jeter, Martin and maybe Cano, but I think it’s pretty clear that at least seven belong, and you can make a strong case for all ten. Now, consider these guys who aren’t on the team:
Dustin Pedroia, BOS: There seems to be this perception out there that Pedroia has struggled, but he’s actually been better than ever, with a .394 OBP, 16 steals in 18 tries, and impeccable defense, leading the league’s second basemen in WAR and in the top five among all AL position players (using either version of WAR). I keep saying I’d have voted for Zobrist (as I did right up there, actually), but I go back and forth; Pedroia might be the most glaring omission in the whole league. He definitely belongs on the team, probably ahead of Howie Kendrick (though he’s been excellent as well).
Jon Lester, BOS: I wouldn’t put Lester on the team, but it’s pretty surprising that he’s not. 10-4, 3.06 ERA — not supported by his underlying numbers (strikeouts and grounders are down, homers up from a year ago), but at least superficially All-Star quality.
Kevin Youkilis, BOS: The race for second-best 3B behind A-Rod is something of a toss-up. Youk has been the better hitter, Adrian Beltre the better defender, though how much better varies quite a bit depending on which system you use. Youkilis has 3.0 WAR to Beltre’s 2.7 on Baseball-Reference, while Beltre has him 2.9-2.6 on FanGraphs. You could justifiably flip a coin here and come up with yet another Boston All-Star.
Brett Gardner, NYY: Probably the most underrated player in the game right now by the larger fan community, Gardner’s WAR is fifth among outfielders on FanGraphs, seventh on Baseball-Reference, thanks to his rock-solid defense and on-base skills. I think he belongs on the team. Among All-Star outfielders, he’s certainly more deserving than starter Hamilton or reserve Michael Cuddyer, and you could make a strong case that he’s better than Matt Joyce and Carlos Quentin, too.
C.C. Sabathia, NYY: I just don’t get how he’s not on the team. By stats both old-school (tied for the league lead in wins, third in innings pitched, very respectable 3.05 ERA) and new- (2.67 FIP and 3.9 FanGraphs WAR, both second in the AL to Jered Weaver), Sabathia has been worthy. He’s having a better year than All-Stars David Price and Felix Hernandez (in addition to all those one-inning relievers just wasting space on the roster like Aaron Crow, Jose Valverde, Chris Perez and Brandon League), and you could argue he’s been better than James Shields, Gio Gonzalez, and C.J. Wilson, too.
Mark Teixeira, NYY: Paul Konerko is on the Final Vote and (in my mind) very likely to win, but at least according to FanGraphs, Tex has been the third-best 1B in the AL by a half-win over Paulie. Konerko has slightly better offensive stats to date, but Tex’s superior defense and non-disastrous baserunning skills more than balance that out (according, again, to FanGraphs; Baseball-Reference has Konerko third and Adam Lind just behind).
David Robertson, NYY: I wouldn’t care if no relievers other than Rivera made it, and really, I wouldn’t care that much if Rivera didn’t make it. (They’re all just failed starters, who pitch less than a third as often as a good starter will. Let the guys who handle the real work get the honors.) If you’re going to keep relievers in the game, though, including middle relievers like Crow, you might as well make room for the best; Robertson’s 1.05 ERA, 1.66 FIP, 55 strikeouts (in just 34 innings) and 1.4 FanGraphs WAR lead all relievers.
All of these guys have strong cases, but Pedroia, Gardner and Sabathia should all be in. Under the current practice of seriously overvaluing relievers, Robertson should be in, too. That’s a minimum of eleven Yankees and Red Sox (the seven indisputably deserving actual selectees plus those four non-All-Stars), with a straight-faced argument to be made that seventeen guys from those two teams actually deserve the honor.
It’s an awful lot of fun to cry bias when it comes to the Red Sox and Yankees, but here, the biased party at issue is reality. Those two teams, this year, really are just that much better than everyone else in the American League. I say you should count yourself lucky that it’s “only” ten guys, and move on to the real outrages among these two rosters (we’ll likely get to those later this week)…