My 2005 All-Stars: American League

Much like with the end-of-season award voting, I’m not sure why I still get worked up about the All-Star game each year. I know better, and I know that all the hype and exaggerated outrage over who makes the team this year and who doesn’t will be completely forgotten within 72 hours of the game’s final pitch, just like it was last year. And yet the annual discussion of who deserves to be an All-Star still manages to rope me in each time.

I have a very specific idea of what an “All-Star” is, and in my mind All-Star games should be reserved for great players, not just players having great first halves. I tried to explain my point of view by using Jack Wilson as an example last year and received an avalanche of nasty e-mails from Pirates fans for my trouble. In short, my point was that one good half-season does not an All-Star make, and Wilson should have to prove himself for longer than that before being branded an “All-Star” for life.

Or, as I wrote then:

If Jack Wilson is “for real,” we can certainly wait a year just to make sure, and pick him as an All-Star next season. If he’s not for real, he doesn’t deserve to be an All-Star this year any more than Paul Quantrill in 2001 or Scott Cooper in 1993 and 1994 anyway. A mediocre player who has 10 good weeks is not an All-Star, he’s just a mediocre player who happened to put his hot streak together in the first-half of the season.

Despite all the angry e-mails from Pittsburgh, Wilson hit just .279/.313/.407 in the second half of last season and is back to his banjo-hitting ways this year, hitting .231/.266/.352. In other words, he was indeed far from for real and we certainly could have waited to see him in his first All-Star game. Ah, but I know what you’re saying now. Pittsburgh needed someone to represent them in the All-Star game last year, so why not Wilson?

My formative years as a baseball fan were spent watching the post-Kirby Puckett Minnesota Twins fight for fourth place in the AL Central, so I speak from experience about the one-player-per-team rule. There is absolutely nothing exciting about watching Ron Coomer represent your favorite team in the All-Star game, and in fact it serves as more of a reminder that your team stinks than simply not having an All-Star at all would. Plus, the idea that a deserving player has to miss out on an All-Star game because a less-deserving player plays for a horrible team is repulsive to me.

Each year, a number of players who get off to hot starts are branded All-Stars for the rest of their lives, and then go back to being thoroughly mediocre. Each year, several established stars who are off to slow starts get snubbed in favor of guys like Wilson, and then go back to being great players. All of which is why my method for picking All-Stars is to choose players who are having good seasons, but who also have the best chance of not making you feel dumb for picking them two months later. If I had to break it down into a formula, I would say 75% past performance, 25% current season.

That still leaves plenty of room for guys having breakout years, assuming they have been quality players in the past. For players like Wilson who have good first-half numbers but very little in the way of a deserving track record, I prefer to wait a year. The worst-case scenario is that someone continues to play well in the second half and into the next season, at which point they can be chosen to an All-Star game. I know, I know, forcing someone to play well for two straight years before they make an All-Star team is a new concept, but I think it’s a solid one.

With all of that said, here are my picks for the 2005 AL squad (starters listed with a * next to their name) …

CATCHER:
Ivan Rodriguez*
Jason Varitek
Jorge Posada

These are the same three catchers I picked as my All-Stars last year and despite being perhaps the world’s biggest Joe Mauer fan, I don’t see any other way to go. Ivan Rodriguez (.298/.310/.452), Jason Varitek (.311/.382/.548), and Jorge Posada (.277/.367/.451) have not only been the three best catchers in the AL this year, they’ve been three of the best catchers in baseball for their entire careers. If there are any no-brainers with my “system” for picking All-Stars, these three certainly qualify.

The only tough part is deciding which of them should be the starter, but in the end I went with Rodriguez because he was the best of the three last year and has had the best career. As you’ll soon see, this is a very strong position in the AL this season, with guys like Mauer (.290/.363/.425), A.J. Pierzynski (.257/.313/.456), Javy Lopez (.278/.316/.481), and Bengie Molina (.292/.338/.451) not making the cut.

FIRST BASE/DH:
David Ortiz*
Mark Teixeira*
Travis Hafner
Paul Konerko

The game is in Detroit this year, which means there will be a DH. That job goes to David Ortiz (.302/.379/.591), while Mark Teixeira (.289/.361/.565) starts at first base. It seems at first glance like this is a weak year for first basemen (and DHs), but that’s mostly because the deserving names aren’t the same ones from years past. Rafael Palmeiro (.264/.336/.426) is past his prime, Jason Giambi (.256/.396/.378) is a mess, and Frank Thomas (.275/.380/.825) has only played for a few weeks.

However, Ortiz is in the middle of his second straight 40-homer, 40-double, 130-RBI season, Teixeira is on pace for 45 homers and 130 RBIs after going for 38 homers and 112 RBIs last year, and Travis Hafner (.286/.392/.500) has quietly been one of the best hitters in the league again for the Indians. My fourth and final 1B/DH pick is where not playing along with the one-player-per-team rule first comes into play.

If you needed to find a representative from the Royals, you’d almost have to go with Mike Sweeney (.299/.336/.509). Yes, he’s been injured, but he has still hit well enough to be among the top five first basemen in the league this season and certainly has a worthy track record. However, since I’m picking my All-Stars regardless of what team they play for, I’m taking Paul Konerko (.254/.363/.500) over the injured and slightly less productive Sweeney.

SECOND BASE:
Alfonso Soriano*
Brian Roberts

Brian Roberts (.361/.433/.605) is having a first half of epic proportions, but it is still just half a season regardless of how great it’s been. However, he gets my vote where Wilson didn’t last year because, depending on how much credit you give him for defense, Roberts was around the sixth- or seventh-best second basemen in the AL last season. Of course, Alfonso Soriano (.285/.318/.562) was the best second baseman in the league last year and has been a star-caliber player for years now (whereas Roberts has been one for about three months), which is why he gets the starting nod.

SHORTSTOP:
Miguel Tejada*
Derek Jeter
Michael Young

Along with catcher, shortstop is the easiest position to pick in the AL. Miguel Tejada (.318/.366/.611) has emerged from being an afterthought in the Alex Rodriguez-Nomar Garciaparra-Derek Jeter “Holy Trinity” to being the best shortstop in baseball. After him comes Jeter (.309/.396/.464) and Michael Young (.323/.373/.495), who is putting together his third straight star-caliber season. Carlos Guillen (.355/.409/.485) was outstanding last season before he got hurt and has been outstanding this season when he’s been on the field, but his knee injury makes it tough to crack the AL team at a strong position.

THIRD BASE:
Alex Rodriguez*
Melvin Mora
Eric Chavez

This is the position where things get tough for me. Rodriguez (.330/.430/.599) is a no-brainer to start at third base, but picking his backups is difficult. Brandon Inge (.307/.395/.480) has been the second-best third basemen in the league so far this year and has clearly made dramatic improvements over the last year and a half, but he is still just a .241/.304/.382 career hitter. Meanwhile, Eric Chavez (.263/.326/.443) got off to a horrible start in Oakland, but he has killed the ball in June and has certainly proven that he is an excellent player.

So does a good first half from Inge offset less-than-stellar career numbers? And does a bad first half from Chavez offset five great years that came before it? In my mind, Chavez is still an All-Star and Inge is still just a guy who has played very well this year and pretty well in 2004. If Inge is hitting like this next June, I would pick him in a second. Adrian Beltre‘s (.261/.306/.379) situation looks a little like Chavez’s, but it’s different. Beltre had an amazing 2004 season, but he has been even worse than Chavez in 2005 and has really only had one star-caliber season in the last five. I took Melvin Mora (.300/.357/.513) over Hank Blalock (.284/.349/.471), Bill Mueller (.293/.396/.414), and Shea Hillenbrand (.305/.364/.448).

OUTFIELD:
Manny Ramirez*
Johnny Damon*
Vladimir Guerrero*
Gary Sheffield
Ichiro!
Torii Hunter

This has been a relatively weak year for AL outfielders. Manny Ramirez (.275/.362/.547) got off to a bad start, but an “off year” for him still means a 35-homer, 130-RBI, 100-run pace. Guys like Kevin Mench (.292/.361/.553) and Raul Ibanez (.292/.358/.471) are having good years, yet they’ve been no better than Ramirez. Vladimir Guerrero (.332/.385/.559) and Gary Sheffield (.309/.406/.521) are no-brainers, with Guerrero getting the ever-so-slight nod for the starting spot.

Johnny Damon (.337/.384/.469) and Torii Hunter (.272/.341/.506) have been the best centerfielders in the league this year and also have track records to match, so they are easy picks. Grady Sizemore (.307/.358/.491) has very similar offensive numbers to Hunter, be this is his first full season and he’s not the defender Hunter is. Sizemore is going to be an excellent player for a long time, but he’s not an All-Star yet. Ichiro! (.294/.334/.413) narrowly beats out Trot Nixon (.302/.388/.488) and Hideki Matsui (.299/.364/.480) for the last outfield spot, based mostly on previous seasons.

STARTING PITCHER:
Roy Halladay*
Johan Santana
Mark Buehrle
Randy Johnson
Kenny Rogers
Bartolo Colon
Matt Clement

Normally I’d go with last season’s Cy Young winner as the All-Star game starter, especially given my oft-stated appreciation for Johan Santana (112.0, 3.78), but he has struggled this year and the Cy Young winner from 2003, Roy Halladay (122.0, 2.51), has been the best pitcher in the league. Mark Buehrle (116.0, 2.48) is the other no-brainer pick to fill out the starting staff.

Just as it’ll take more than three mediocre months to convince me that a Hall of Famer like Randy Johnson (103.0, 4.02) isn’t an All-Star, it’ll take more than three good months to convince me that a previously mediocre pitcher like Jon Garland (100.2, 3.40) is a deserving All-Star. Setting aside his gaudy win-loss record, Garland hasn’t been significantly better than Bartolo Colon (102.1, 2.99), Kenny Rogers (98.2, 2.46), Matt Clement (102.2, 3.33), Jarrod Washburn (94.0, 3.35), Freddy Garcia (103.0, 3.58), or Mike Mussina (100.1, 3.95)—all of whom have better track records.

I wanted to go with Jeremy Bonderman as the AL’s final starting pitcher, especially given the fact that I picked him as my “Breakout Pitcher of the Year” back in March, but he has really only been pitching at an All-Star level for about six months (the last three months of 2004, plus the first three months of 2005). Like Inge (and Wilson last year), if Bonderman is pitching this well next June, he is an easy selection. If his career plays out like I think it will, he’ll make plenty of All-Star teams.

RELIEF PITCHER:
Mariano Rivera
Francisco Rodriguez
B.J. Ryan
Eddie Guardado

Given the small number of innings involved, there are always going to be a lot of relievers having great first halves, which is why the 75%-25% rule is particularly relevant. Should guys like Mike Timlin (35.1, 1.27), Dustin Hermanson (29.1, 1.53), Jesse Crain (34.2, 1.04), Huston Street (34.0, 1.59), and Cliff Politte (28.1, 1.27) really be All-Stars based on 30 good innings of relief? Put it this way: No one thought of those guys as All-Stars before this year, so why should 30 measly innings change that? Let Crain and Street do it for another year or two, and then we can talk.

I stick with bullpen studs like B.J. Ryan (34.2, 1.82), Mariano Rivera (27.2, 0.98), and Francisco Rodriguez (26.0, 2.77), who are having excellent 2005 seasons and have established their dominance in past years. Any number of relievers with solid track records would be worthy choices for the last bullpen spot, but I went with Eddie Guardado (27.0, 1.67) over Arthur Rhodes (29.2, 0.91) in a coin-flip situation.

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