2000 AL All-Star Ballot

Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website.
To figure out who belongs on the All-Star team, you first have to decide what kind of players you want to pick. In theory, I prefer to see the All-Star Team populated by the best players in the game, regardless of whether they happen to be having the best year. After all, nobody looks back and says, “gee, Willie Mays shouldn’t have been on the All-Star Team in such-and-such year because Jim Hickman had a great month of May.” The opposite method leaves you with Jack Armstrong starting the All-Star Game. In practice, though, I look at this year’s stats as much as anyone.
I guess we have to accept that the real question is this: Who would we pick if the All-Star Game were voted on in September? It seems wrong that guys like Albert Belle and Ken Caminiti (who wasn?t on the team in 1996 when he was NL MVP) get punished for saving their best work for the stretch drive.
If Nomar is hitting .280 at the break and Mike Bordick is hitting .390, it’s a safe bet that Bordick will wind up pretty close to Nomar at the end of the year, so we can fairly honor Bordick for being a better player in 2000. If Bordick is hitting .330 and Nomar is hitting .310, though, I’d rather have Nomar; let’s be serious about which one of them will hit below .260 after the break and which will hit around .330 (we will get to the real numbers on the shortstops below).
You know the rules: 30 roster spots (too many, really, but necessary because we have to take team representatives) and one player from each team. I will pick my own starting squad since the balloting’s still open. I will also leave players off the roster if they are on the DL. A note on stats: I usually write my column over a few days, so the stats here may not all be updated through today. But I don’t compare players based on different days’ stats.
Before I fill in the lineups, let’s start by making room on the roster for the guys the All-Star Game exists for: great players in their prime, having seasons that adequately reflect their greatness. The game would be a farce without the following guys: Pedro, Nomar, Jeter, Alex and Ivan Rodriguez, Frank Thomas, Roberto Alomar, Mike Mussina, and (although I don’t see them as Hall of Famers) Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams. Manny Ramirez would fit this bill if he was healthy, but he’s not.
Then there are good players having monster years: Carlos Delgado, Jason Giambi, Edgar Martinez, Troy Glaus, Derek Lowe, Darrin Erstad.
That leaves us with 14 more roster spots to fill, and four teams to account for: Kansas City, Minnestota, Tampa Bay and Detroit.
Now for the lineups:

C: Ivan Rodriguez
By such a wide margin that it’s embarrassing to debate. I’m a big Piazza fan, but with Rodriguez close to Piazza with the bat and far ahead in the field, he?s the best catcher in the game.
Jason Varitek and Charles Johnson are fine players, but the number two catcher this season is definitely Jorge Posada — he surpasses Varitek in almost every major offensive category despite playing in a much less hitter-friendly park. Johnson may be the best of the three defensively, but his history suggests that he is over his head offensively so far this year. Personally, I’m not certain I would rather have Posada over Varitek, given his notorious inconsistency, but over the last few years Posada has been the better hitter overall, and the defensive differences are not great.
1B: Carlos Delgado
Hands down. This is the hitter’s position, so we will avert our eyes from lousy defense (like last year’s Gold Glove voters who elected “None of the Above”) and focus on the numbers, leaving off some guys with HUGE stats. Jason Giambi leads the league in on base percentage by 16 points, but Delgado is second, 20 points ahead of the next guy, and leads in slugging by around 30 points, and is close in RBI. Both hit career highs in homers last year: Delgado with 44 and Giambi with 33. It’s clear that Delgado has a better chance to stay hot in the second half. The only factor favoring Giambi is that Delgado has a massive home/road split: Delgado has hit 20 of his 27 homers at home and isn?t among the top 15 in the AL in homers or slugging on the road. But SkyDome hasn’t been such an extreme hitter’s haven in the past, so that too could just be a fluke from a half-season of games.
I’ve already made room on the team for Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez, so adding them to Giambi and Delgado we have 4 first base/DH types. That leaves Mike Sweeney out in the cold. Sweeney’s numbers are real good, but here’s the comparison:

1B Avg Slg OBP R RBI
Sweeney .352 .575 .411 47 71
Thomas .325 .596 .433 54 60
Martinez .357 .685 .446 50 77

Thomas is short in RBI; Sweeney is short with runs scored. Sweeney trails the other two in both SLG and OBP, and besides, I give the benefit of the doubt to long-established stars like Thomas who are headed to Cooperstown. Maybe next year, Mike.
Before we leave the first basemen, by the way, he may not be an All-Star candidate in this crowded field, but don?t look now: Jim Thome is back.
2B: Robbie Alomar
Only Delino DeShields and Luis Alicea have been better so far, and Alicea will be 35 in a few weeks and hasn?t had a 100-hit season in five years. The only healthy, dependable second basemen in the AL right now – the ones who are not in danger of losing their jobs, moving to another position, or killing the star of some horrible FOX show with an errant throw into the field-level seats – are Alomar, DeShields, Ray Durham and Adam Kennedy. Kennedy is a rookie, Durham has been off his game since a hot April, and the White Sox will be well-represented for a change, so we will just take Alomar and Delino DeShields. That leaves us with ten open slots.
SS: Alex Rodriguez
I will spare you the historical numbers, but baseball’s answer to the Three Tenors are close enough over the years to justify looking only at this year. In 1998, Nomar was the most productive of the three, by a nose; last year, durability gave the edge to Jeter; this year I would tab Rodriguez.
Look at the hitting stats; we will throw in established non-All-Star Mike Bordick, who some ill-informed columnists have touted for the All-Star team, for comparison:

A-Rod .349 .640 .446 74 69
Jeter .331 .488 .383 48 25
Nomar .383 .587 .435 34 41
Bordick .297 .500 .350 47 48

So far this season, Jeter and Bordick are BOTH out of their league, due to a power outage and the pitiful state of the Yankees? usual 7-8-9 and 1 hitters. The big difference is that Rodriguez has been healthy and has almost 3 times as many homers as Nomar and Jeter combined.
Then there’s defense. The popular image is that Nomar is an outstanding defensive shortstop, Jeter a good one and Rodriguez a third baseman playing out of position. The numbers tell a different story. For most fielders, the two best indicators of defensive performance are Range Factor and Fielding Percentage. Fielding Percentage is familiar enough, and simply tells us how well the player handles the balls he gets to; Range Factor, which is also a very simple stat — for shortstops, (putouts + assists)/inning — measures how many plays a guy makes. While there are a few illusions factored into any stat, Range Factor tells you the same sort of stuff that batting average does – not how well a guy does something or how good he looks doing it, but how OFTEN.
Here are the numbers for the four candidates:

A-Rod 4.68 .991
Jeter 4.24 .964
Nomar 4.72 .963
Bordick 4.49 .981

Jeter, as he usually does, runs dead last in the league in Range Factor. He may be graceful in the field and fast on the bases, but that just means he has talent. Brian Rose has talent, too. Jeter’s not making the plays. A-Rod, by contrast, is doing just fine, not far behind Nomar in range and ahead in fielding percentage.
If you are wondering, the AL leader at the moment (other than Felix Martinez, who hasn?t been starting that long) is Royce Clayton at 5.19; only he and Jose Valentin are over 5.0. The 20th century record was 6.62 by Hall of Famer Dave Bancroft in 1918. As for fielding percentage, at this writing Omar Vizquel had not made an error yet.
So I’m taking the Big Three for the team: Rodriguez, then Nomar Garciaparra, then Derek Jeter. Jeter’s flaws don’t take away from the fact that he’s still one of the game’s brightest stars and likely to be way up there offensively by the end of the year. Nobody else is in their league.
3B: Troy Glaus
Peter Gammons wrote a few weeks ago that anyone who doesn?t vote for Glaus should be forced to row to Cuba with Peter Angelos in a tin can through shark-infested waters. Well, maybe he put it a little differently, but I can’t agree with him more on this.
As for Cal Ripken, his injury this week was a fortunate break; I’m okay with erring on the side of putting Hall of Famers on the team when they are past their prime, but Ripken is way past that, and he is not and never has been a Hall of Fame THIRD BASEMAN. Ripken’s on-base percentage is .295, almost 40 points below Mike Hampton’s. Glaus’ is .429. Thanks for the memories, Cal, but if Stan Musial and Warren Spahn aren’t playing, neither are you.
The others: well, there are a few guys (Travis Fryman, Tony Batista) worthy of consideration, but we need a Tiger, and Dean Palmer is having his usual productive year. He stands up better to the other third basemen than Higginson against the outfielders or Todd Jones against the elite closers. Palmer ought to be traded, of course; a veteran RBI man is useless to a team with no baserunners that’s miles from contention. But I’m assuming he will still be a Tiger when they fill the rosters. Nine slots to go.
If he was healthy, you would have to start with Manny Ramirez. He’s not, so that leaves us with the top two incumbent AL stars, Williams and Belle. But wait a second… Bernie and Belle have not been dominating forces thus far; let’s run the numbers on the top 7 outfielders, plus Matt Lawton, Lord of the Twins:

Bernie .316 .575 .388 53 69
Belle .307 .566 .382 42 57
Everett .335 .682 .405 43 68
Erstad .369 .576 .425 56 57
Dye .318 .629 .395 48 58
Justice .265 .588 .363 46 58
Magglio .321 .586 .397 49 62
Lawton .332 .473 .434 41 46

Hmmmm. Lawton isn’t better than any of the other guys, but he has been for the first three months of this season. Belle and Everett seem to have problems scoring runs, due mostly to the people “hitting” behind them.
Bernie and Belle are close enough to the pace that I would put them in the starting outfield; they just have better track records than the others. Given that he’s warming up to another monster second half, I’d rather have Belle the rest of this season than any of the others; wouldn’t you?
The third slot is tough; Everett is something like an established star now, and he and the erratic Erstad are the top two bats. But Dye is also having a huge year, and is probably the best defensive outfielder in the AL. When I cast my first online ballot, I voted for Dye, but this is a close call, and since Everett plays a tougher defensive position and has a big edge in slugging and RBI I?ll give him the nod, with Dye and Erstad as backups. I would also take Ordonez over Justice as a backup, since Ordonez is coming off a better year and he’s a better defensive player.
What about Lawton? He?s not a bad representative, but really, Ordonez is a better player than him, too, and I see Brad Radke as yet again one of the better pitchers in the league, so we’ll cut Lawton for the same reason we leave Erstad out of the starting lineup: last season he stank, and the previous year he tailed off after a hot start.
That makes 6 outfielders, and 7 slots to fill the pitching staff out to 11. I would take Greg Vaughn here (instead of Ordonez) to represent the Rays, but with him hurt I just can?t bring myself to put Gerald Williams or the remnants of Fred McGriff on the All-Star Team, so we will have to take a (gag) Tampa Bay pitcher.
You have to ask? Just for fun, let’s make Pedro the starter even though the Sox placed him on the DL yesterday. David Wells will start the game; for these purposes, he’s my #2 man. Mussina, Rivera and Lowe I mentioned already. Rivera is the best closer in the business, and despite Tuesday?s fiasco Lowe is having the best year and he’s an all-around talented pitcher. Mussina started slowly and was plagued by bad run support, but does anyone doubt that he’s still the number two pitcher in the AL?
The other six? Well, as far as honors go, I’d prefer starters. Most of the big closers aren?t having dominant years anyway, and I blanch at honoring people who throw 70 innings a year. On the other hand, closers are available to pitch, so you want a few to be sure you win the game. So we will add Keith Foulke, whether he?s the closer at the moment or not; he was unbelievable all last season and the first nine weeks or so of this one before a recent slump.
Then four starters: James Baldwin, who’s having a beast of a year and has won 18 of his last 20 decisions; Brad Radke (yes! Two Twins!), who’s been a productive workhorse; Chuck Finley, another durable standby; and Tim Hudson, who endured three April beatings by Boston and Cleveland but is 9-0 with a 3.19 ERA (61 hits in 87.1 innings) in his other starts … he’s now 20-4 in 37 career starts. (Those three whuppings hurt my rotisserie team much more than they hurt the A’s; a similar logic might support El Duque if he was healthy.) Pardon me if I don?t quite believe in Cal Eldred yet, and Kevin Appier has been hit harder than his ERA suggests.
Now we have 29. My last pick: Steve Trachsel. Trachsel is something of a bogus All-Star, but he’s 19th in the league in ERA — ahead of all the Yankees’ starters — and he suffered from awful run support all season. At one point last month he had yet to win a game where he allowed even a single run. He’s 6-7 for Tampa Bay; when you look at the Tampa Bay lineup and bullpen, that’s impressive. We need a Devil Ray, so he’s it.
You will notice a bias here: Mussina, Radke, Trachsel and Finley are a combined 22-28, while I leave off guys who are 9-2 or 8-3 or 7-1. Won-loss records are subject to a lot of luck, so they can easily be misleading over just half a season. They matter, because they are still the ultimate bottom line, but we don’t need to be told that 12-2 Wells or 7-1 Ricky Bottalico are not better than 9-3 San Pedro de Fenway. Same with the others; their ERAs and other stats just don?t suggest that they are the best pitchers.
Of course, that’s just my opinion… I could be wrong…
“I like to have players around who are young, married and in debt.”
–Branch Rickey
Name all the AL Cy Young Award winners between 1977 and 1984 who did not have mustaches.
Ted Williams in 1949 was the last player to score 150 runs in a season. 140 has been surpassed 8 other times since World War II: Williams (142 in 1946), Rickey Henderson (146 in 1985), Lenny Dykstra (143 in 1993), Ellis Burks (142 in 1996), Alex Rodriguez (141 in 1996), Craig Biggio (146 in 1997), Larry Walker (143 in 1997), Jeff Bagwell (143 in 1999). One other guy equaled 140: Chuck Knoblauch in 1996.