Who’s an All-Star? Let the numbers decideby Vince Caramela
June 28, 2011
In its very beginning, and now, nearly 80 years later, baseball's All-Star Game has involved the fans. Under the current system, people who follow baseball vote on line and at ballparks for their favorites, and their votes determine the starting teams for each league.
Not only performance matters in selections, we've learned over the years, but also popularity (it helps to be a big-market player) and reputation (it helps to be Derek Jeter). Statistics matter—but which statistics? Lifetime? Last year? This year? Potential?
Today, we look at two approaches that remove sentiment and fame—just the facts, sir. Here, Vince Caramela has used advanced metrics to assess which players, based on their 2011 play thus far, belong on the All-Star teams. In the next article, Justin Inaz has used two top projection systems, including The Hardball Times' Oliver, to pick the year's best players.
And the fans, who really have the vote? The latest announced ballot results in advance of Thursday's deadline are in THT Live today. (The game is July 12 in Phoenix.)
Our rules here were that each offensive mentioned had to (a). be healthy at the time of the All-Star game and log 180 plate appearances prior to this week. Starting pitchers had to have at least 80 innings pitches, relievers 20—and be healthy for the game.
Catcher: Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers
Avila has been solid all season and should get the starting nod based on his offensive and defensive abilities. Victor Martinez has mostly been used as the Tigers' DH but he has logged in enough hours behind the plate to qualify.
First base: Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox
This is very close but Gonzalez's defense and slight lead in the wOBA and WAR department should be enough to push ahead past Miguel Cabrera. As we can see, this position is stacked and it's too bad since Adam Lind has been blowing away all preseason projections, but the biggest travesty of all will be Mark Teixeira bumping Miggy right into a three-day vacation. According to the latest numbers, Tex is the ffth best and really has no right to be on the team.
Second base: Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels
This was very tough to score. I went with Kendrick based on wOBA and weighted runs created, but a solid case, according to these numbers, can be made for either Ben Zobrist, Dustin Pedroia or even Robinson Cano. I will admit that I'm not too confident in my rankings for this position and seeing how these numbers could fluctuate, this will probably remain unsettled until the All-Star break.
The major question mark for Kendrick will be how long he is able to keep his BABIP up.
Third base: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
Evan Longoria has been making a bit of a surge after being shelved earlier this season. But A-Rod has been fairly solid and his defense was enough to push him ahead of Kevin Youkilis. Full disclosure: I am a Yankees fan but I'm going with Fangraphs' calculation of WAR on this one. There, that settles it.
Shortstop: J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles
Before everyone falls out of their chairs because Jeter's on this list, please know that I included him to merely illustrate what a terrible season he is having (like you didn't know), but guess what? A lot of people don't know—or don't care—and based on current votes, Jeter has a fairly good lead over Asdrubal Cabrera.
Cabrera is having a fine season, but according to most of the advanced offensive stats, the starting nod should go to Hardy, who has been on a tear since returning from an oblique injury in April.
Right field: Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
This is a no-brainer; Bautista is still rolling from last season and everyone is just trying to keep up. It would be nice to see Matt Joyce get the nod as Bautista's under-study, as we can see he certainly deserves it.
Also, the inclusion of Ichiro Suzuki is to show just how far the mighty have fallen.
Center field: Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees
Another easy choice and one that seems to coincide with Yankees votes without starting any controversy. After Jacoby Ellsbury, the quality does fall off a bit.
Left field: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
As of June 25, all players eligible for this "project" had to reach a minimum of 180 plate appearances; lucky for our reigning AL MVP. Hamilton just squeezed in. This was another tough one and as much as I want to name Alex Gordon as the starter, it's obvious that Hamilton has too much of a lead in a few important categories.
Designated hitter: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
Another slam dunk. Ortiz is having a career revival and is showing no signs of slowing down.... maybe Miguel Cabrera or Paul Konerko can be talked into pulling DH duty since the quality of this group does fall a bit after Papi's name.
Probable starting pitcher: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
According to the rules, each league will be expected to roster eight starting pitchers. Verlander seems like the clear choice, but David Price isn't too far behind.
Probable closer: Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox
Judging relievers can be a headache, especially when looking over a small sample between 20 to 35 innings. I know it seems that every season Mariano Rivera has this job locked up, but Papelbon is making a very strong case as the new go-to guy.
Catcher: Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves
McCann is the obvious choice but it is nice to see Chris Iannetta and Miguel Montero make their case after showing so much promise in previous years.
First base: Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers
Albert Pujols' injury forced me to leave him off this list, but even if he were healthy I don't see anyone moving Fielder out of this spot based on advanced stats. Michael Morse can also qualify as an outfielder (based on the handful of games he played in left field) which would better suit him since the top two names on this list aren't going anywhere.
Second base: Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
Weeks is solid but the rest of this list is dreadful, although I am pleasantly surprised by the season Danny Espinosa is having.
Third base: Ty Wigginton, Colorado Rockies
Ryan Zimmerman has returned, but his injury has knocked him out of consideration. This is just sad... never in my life did I see the day coming where I would be adding the name Ty Wigginton as a starter in a major league All-Star Game; yet here he is!
Shortstop: Jose Reyes, New York Mets
Reyes is looking to cash in big after this season and, so far, he is the best among all qualifying starters. Time seems to be running out for Hanley Ramirez to salvage his nightmare season.
Right field: Lance Berkman, St. Louis Cardinals
According to the stats, Berkman is the logical choice, but since the DH will be used by the National League team, a case can be made that Berkman should be placed in that role to allow Justin Upton the deserved start on his home field.
Center field: Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
Easy choice here. Kemp has been near Bautistian all season and should be seen as one of the best players on the NL squad.
Left field: Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals
This was another tough choice as both Holliday and Ryan Braun seem to be neck and neck. The favorite to start will be Braun, but a solid case can be made that Holliday should get the nod.
Probable starting pitcher: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies
Could the AL team see three Philly starters in a row? According to these stats, it should happen, but rules mandating that no starter is eligible to appear in the All-Star Game if he has pitched the prior Sunday probably makes this unlikely. Regardless, Halladay has been incredible and should get the start.
Probable closer: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
As I mentioned in the AL closer section, this is a crapshoot and the best thing to do is try to gather the absolute best and hope their good fortune continues. Based on the stats I compiled, I like the ninth inning job going to Kimbrel. His solid peripherals in high leverage situations look promising. I also like his high swing strike stat, which is always good for a few cheers at the end.
References and Resources
Most of the stats used were provided by Baseball Info Solutions and Fangraphs. Other stats used to look at reliever leverage and inherited runners were provided by Baseball-Reference.com. The stats Baserunning runs (BRR) and SIERA were provided by Baseball Prospectus.
Some of the less familiar stats:
LevHI: simply the number of high leverage situations for a reliever
IR: Inherited runners.
IRS%: The percentage of inherited runners that scored on the reliever's watch. There are problems with this stat since it presumes all situations are created equal (doesn't account for errors or passed balls, etc.) but it's handy and the best thing I could come up with.
SwStrk%: Swing strike percentage.
SIERA: Skill Interactive Earned Run Average. This is a stat used at Baseball Prospectus and it measures a pitcher's ability close to what tERA and FIP do in terms of taking out luck in a situation.
BRR: Baserunning runs, another BPro stat that measures a players baserunning ability and doesn't just focus on how well he steals bases; instead it measures a players baserunning smarts.
Vince has his own blog, The League of Transparency, and has also written for SBNation.