AL East Stars

All-Star Gazing

It seems obligatory for any sports site or blog to post an article criticising the current year All-Star rosters, citing Scott Rolen’s lack of offense, Josh Hamilton’s lack of playing time or Derek Jeter’s lack of a pulse in the field. We are not going to go there however. Instead, we’ve made a new set of rosters to complain about. Six All-Star teams, one from each division in baseball, for you to review, critique, dismiss or simply ignore (I’m being realistic here). Given that we’re all more familiar with the AL East it is here the focus will remain, but the makeup of the other teams does make for some interesting reading.

AL East

1. CF: Jacoby Ellsbury – Incredibly, given the attention some members of his team get, one can argue that Ellsbury is actually a little underrated so far this year. His batting line (.316/.377/.490) isn’t too far from the premium offensive players at his position, all the while playing the best centre field outside of Pittsburgh. FanGraphs currently have him 5th among all position players in WAR and there really are no gaps in his game right now (he’s even added some unexpected power). Without his play, the disappointment of Carl Crawford would be bigger news in Boston.

2. LF: Curtis Granderson – Admittedly he isn’t really a left fielder but he dabbled over there in Detroit and it would be harsh to exclude him or Ellsbury from this team. The ramifications of the series of trades which saw Edwin Jackson move from Tampa to Detroit to Arizona continue to have an impact on the game and while the acquisition of a player like Granderson make the Yankees look like sure fire winners, the play of Phil Coke, Austin Jackson and Ian Kennedy may suggest otherwise. Either way, the Yankees aren’t complaining as Granderson continues to establish himself as one of the best handful of players in the league. With one year left on his deal and a club option in 2013, it will be interesting to see if the Yankees throw a new contract at him, saddling themselves with another thirty-something year old (fading?) star.

3. RF: Jose Bautista – Living in Toronto I’ve had the pleasure of watching the majority of Bautista’s at-bats this season and it’s been truly enjoyable. Pitcher after pitcher have challenged him and fastball after fastball have been dispatched somewhere into Lake Ontario. I tend to peg myself as a bit of a contrarian, rebelling against public opinion whenever it gets too high or low on somebody. With Bautista however, the public don’t really seem to be caught up to just how good this season is for him. FanGraphs’ ‘value’ stat have his value at the break at $29.9m. His 5-year, $65 million contract was roundly dismissed as a massive overpayment, yet a big second half could almost see him repay the total contract in it’s first year. If his move to third is permanent (which isn’t likely given the progress of Brett Lawrie in Las Vegas), Longoria and Youkilis will struggle to make this team again next year.

4. 1B: Adrian Gonzalez – Four of the top nine first baseman (by WAR) call the AL East home (sorry Derrek Lee that’s not you) and while success for someone like Casey Kotchman was obvious, the crafty acquisition of an unknown Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres looks like an inspired move by Epstein and co. (Rick Sutcliffe actually suggested few people had heard of Gonzalez before he came over to Boston despite him ranking third among all first baseman in WAR since 2008). In what might develop as a trend here, good luck goes to the Yankees paying Teixeira $23m a year until 2016.

5. 2B: Ben Zobrist – An extremely deep position in the East sees the three best second basemen over the last year and half in the AL competing for a single spot. This season is starting to look like a familiar tale though Cano’s inferior defensive play means he will miss out from this team. Reading ESPN, I was fairly certain there was an advanced metric called ‘grit’ in which Pedroia excelled but FanGraphs appear to be quiet on this issue. I can only assume it’s something like:

GRIT = WAR x % jersey covered in dirt + Games played with injury + Exaggerated chest bumps / Player height

In truth, Pedroia’s wOBA (.376) is a touch ahead of Cano and Zobrist while he has flashed good power (.158 ISO and 11 HR) and speed (16 of 19 stealing) for the year. At some point we will have to collectively accept that he isn’t ‘scrappy’ but until then we can at least recognise that he is very, very good. However, this is the Ray Area, not Fire Brand of the AL so in a coin toss Zobrist gets the nod. He isn’t quite on the torrid pace of 2009 but excluding Bautista’s heroics he would be a legitimate (though unfortunately unrealistic) candidate for first half MVP honours and this team like any other, can use his flexibility.

6. 3B: Alex Rodriguez – As unlikely as it may seem, Rodriguez may actually be a bit underrated at this point in the season, occasionally thrown into the same bucket as the likes of Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada as big market players gaining too many votes from uneducated fans. However, if you throw Bautista into the mix at third, the East has four of the top five home run hitters, two of the top four defensive players and three of the top four in WAR, with Rodriguez coming out behind only Bautista in WAR. Rodriguez is probably on the downside of his career and he has benefited from Longoria’s injury and Youkilis’ struggles in the field in winning this nomination but he remains a top tier player who is still one of the best at manning the hot corner in the AL. As with Teixeira though, the prospect of paying him $21m in 2016 would terrify anyone but the Yankees brass.

7. DH: David Ortiz – He fights like a sumo wrestler and I have literally no idea what he is ever saying, but the production with the bat is there again this year with no possible explanation for a 35 year old’s bat speed suddenly improving (joke, joke, please don’t post angry comments).

8. SS: Yunel Escobar – Considering the attention paid to shortstops, there is a surprising lack of depth with the East. The Sox and Rays have both struggled to settle on a regular player at short, and in both cases the supposedly superior offensive player (Jed Lowrie/Reid Brignac) has been forced to split time with a less heralded, defensively sound and consistent player (Marco Scutaro/Elliot Johnson). JJ Hardy has been a pleasant surprise for the O’s, recounting his Brewers day when he registered back-to-back 4+ WAR seasons, adding power to his consistent career OBP. He’s generally been a good defender in his career though the defensive metrics suggest he is below average this year (we’ll leave the debate on the virtues of defensive stats until another day though). The Yankees trot out an unheralded no-name player who barely gets a mention in the press these days, despite having the rare honor of contributing negatively in hitting and defensive runs above replacement yet still earning an All Star birth. That leaves Escobar, though I would not go so far as to say he wins his place in the team by default. He’s shown an ability to increase his power numbers (9 HR in 368 AB compared to 4 in 567 in 2010) without sacrificing his on base ability and keeping his K% at a decent level. Worryingly, the Blue Jays front office seem to have got this extension right too, suggesting a fourth major player is emerging in the ever crowded AL East.

9. C: Matt Wieters – Possibly the weakest position in the East sees just a single player top 2.0 wins above replacement and no player has managed to hit for both power and average with any kind of consistency. The Rays, Red Sox and Blue Jays have all taken a two-headed monster approach with one supposedly offensive player (Jaso, Saltamacchia and Arencibia) paired with a defensive sound veteran (Shoppach, Varitek and Molina). In truth though, no one from this group has distanced themselves as anything significantly more than average and while Martin is enjoying a rejuvenation of sorts, Wieters defense and solid bat make him the choice here.

How good could they be?

The total team WAR would be 37.3, which even if you only stretch to it 60 for the year would give the team a pretty good shot at hitting 110 wins. Six of the players are the best at their respective position and players like Pedroia, Gardner or Youkilis would get into most other divisional All Star teams with ease.

It isn’t a huge stretch to suggest the AL East has a lot of talent given the resources of the Yankees and Red Sox but the fact that this team’s rotation would include Sabathia (1st in WAR), Shields (6th) Price (7th) and Beckett (10th) along with a handful of the game’s better relievers only emphasises the monumental task of trying to bring home the pennant in the East. Going into the All Star break, the top 7 players in the AL in terms of WAR all ply their trade in the East, and that list doesn’t even include the likes of Robinson Cano or Evan Longoria.

The Challengers

With the East lineup settled, could any of the below teams could beat them in a game/series/season?

AL Central

CF: Melky Cabrera

SS: Jhonny Peralta

1B: Miguel Cabrera

DH: Paul Konerko

C: Alex Avila

LF: Alex Gordon

RF: Brennan Boesch

2B: Gordon Beckham

3B: Jack Hannahan

Total WAR: 22.6

The weakest of the lineups created sees Alex Gordon lead them in WAR and no one exceeds 3.5 wins at the break. Only Avila and Peralta would have a chance to crack the East’s lineup as the great Miguel Cabrera is overmatched by Adrian Gonzalez. The rotation wouldn’t look too great after Justin Verlander either, suggesting the talent in this division is somewhat lacking right now. Players like Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana and Erik Hosmer could quickly change that notion in the near future.

AL West

DH: Ian Kinsler

SS: Elvis Andrus

3B: Adrian Beltre

LF: Josh Hamilton

2B: Howie Kendrick

1B: Michael Young

RF: Torii Hunter

C: Mike Napoli

CF: Peter Bourjos

Total WAR: 22.7

Disadvantaged by only having four teams, the West is basically the Rangers plus Kendrick and a few above average pieces. The team would likely be very useful in the field and with arguably the best rotation around (Pineda would not make the team) it would be a tough team to compete with.

NL East

SS: Jose Reyes

CF: Shane Victorino

1B: Gaby Sanchez

RF: Carlos Beltran

C: Brian McCann

DH: Mike Stanton

LF: Michael Morse

2B: Danny Espinosa

3B: Daniel Murphy

Total WAR: 28.2

Led by the best pitching staff (basically Philly starters and the Atlanta bullpen) the team wouldn’t need to score too many runs which is probably a good thing considering the bottom half of the order. On reputation alone you can make the team look better (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jason Heyward to name a few) but the reality is that those players have not delivered this year and so the NL East looks a little short of run producers right now.

NL Central

2B: Rickie Weeks

LF: Ryan Braun

CF: Andrew McCutchen

DH: Prince Fielder

1B: Joey Votto

3B: Albert Pujols

RF: Lance Berkman

C: Ramon Hernandez

SS: Clint Barmes

Total WAR: 30.4

A terrific lineup sees Pujols forced to third base and into the 6 hole, as he is only the third best first baseman in the division this year. The top two thirds of the lineup is astonishing and makes this the only lineup close to contending with the AL East. The team defence looks to be lacking somewhat with only McCutchen and Barmes excelling with the glove but with 24 HR Berkman hitting 7th, they could probably play bare hand and win a lot of games. The team is let down a bit by their pitching staff (led by the solid but not spectacular Jaime Garcia), none of whom would crack the AL East’s starting rotation.

NL West

RF: Justin Upton

SS: Troy Tulowitzki

CF: Matt Kemp

LF: Carlos Gonzalez

DH: Andre Ethier

23B: Pablo Sandoval

B: Kelly Johnson

1B: Todd Helton

C: Miguel Montero

Total WAR: 25.2

The lineup is a bit top heavy but it’s some top half and slightly better seasons from Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and Ethier could see this lineup challenging the NL East and Central for the silver medal. Their Giants-plus-Kershaw rotation would also be fairly interesting to watch but ultimately could probably not overcome a lack of star power outside of Matt Kemp and Tulo. Upton’s appearance would give BJ something to watch, given his current lack of hope in cracking his own lineup.

Hopefully this killed a bit of your time before the real baseball starts up again and hopefully it was half as enjoyable for you to read as it was to write.

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