My All-Stars

Despite what baseball might have you believe, the All-Star game is just a meaningless exhibition. Position players only play a few innings, pitchers are shuffled in and out as if Tony LaRussa is managing both teams, and the stats don’t count. Sure, it decides homefield advantage for the World Series, but as we saw last year, that often doesn’t even matter.

Each year, the All-Star game is news for about five days — the two days leading up to the game, the day of the game, and the two days following the game. For the other 360 days a year, no one cares. So why do I get worked up about the All-Star game every year? Why do I make my picks for both teams? Why do I complain when a deserving player doesn’t make the team and an undeserving one does? Well, for one thing, it just bugs me when dumb decisions are made, whether it is for a game that counts or one that only pretends to.

In addition to that, there is a historical importance involved in who plays in the All-Star game. It may not matter right now that Jim Thome has only made three All-Star teams, but I guarantee you it will be mentioned when it comes time for Thome to be voted on for the Hall of Fame. And in 50 years, someone’s going to look at the careers of Tim Salmon and Bobby Abreu and wonder how it happened that they never played in even one All-Star game, and how it happened that Scott Cooper played in two of them.

Beyond all of that, I think the main reason I get worked up about the All-Star game is that I have a problem with the way most people think in regard to who deserves to be an All-Star. I have zero problem with the fans choosing the All-Star starters and, to be honest, I think they generally do a fine job. It doesn’t really matter as much to me who gets to start the game as who gets to say they were an “All-Star” that year. And every year, at least a few reserves for each team are picked solely on the basis of 2-3 good months of play.

For instance, way back in 2001, Paul Quantrill was chosen for the American League team over a guy like Mike Mussina, because Quantrill, then with the Blue Jays, had 45 great innings before the All-Star break. So Quantrill got the call because of one good half-season as a middle reliever, despite coming into that year with 854.1 career innings pitched and a 3.97 ERA. Meanwhile, Mussina, who came into the 2001 season with a career record of 147-81 and a 3.53 ERA in 2,009.2 innings as one of this generation’s best starting pitchers, missed the game.

So what happened? Paul Quantrill went back to being Paul Quantrill, posting a 4.47 ERA after the All-Star break and finishing the season with a 3.04 ERA in 83 innings. Nice numbers, certainly, but nothing special for a relief pitcher. Mike Mussina finished the year with 17 wins, 228.2 innings pitched, and a 3.15 ERA. In other words, a typically great Mussina season, his ninth in a row. But go look at their player pages over at Baseball-Reference.com … Paul Quantrill was an All-Star in 2001 and Mike Mussina was not. That’s what I have a problem with.

And it’ll happen again this year. All you have to do is go look at the league leaders over at ESPN.com to see who will be playing the role of Paul Quantrill this season. Jack Wilson came into this season as a career .246/.292/.330 hitter in 1,626 plate appearances and he has been one of the worst offensive players in baseball in each of his three years in the big leagues. But he has put together 60 good games this season and for that he will almost certainly be an All-Star.

Now, it’s possible that Jack Wilson, who turns just 27 in December, is simply becoming a better player before our eyes. However, it’s also possible that he’ll revert back to his banjo-hitting ways in the second-half and look like a ridiculous All-Star selection at season’s end (or in 50 years).

So here’s my point … 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.

Every year, there are several players who get off to hot starts, get branded as All-Stars for the rest of their lives, and then go back to being thoroughly mediocre for the rest of the season. And, every year, there are several established stars who are off to slow starts, get snubbed in favor of someone with a .310 batting average in 210 at-bats, and then go back to being great players for the rest of the year. All of which is why my general feeling on All-Star selections is basically to choose players who are a) having a good season and b) have the best chance of not making you feel dumb for picking them as an All-Star two months later.

If I had to break it down into a formula, I would say …

- 75% past performance
- 25% current season

That seems reasonable, right? It leaves room for someone having a great first-half, assuming that person has shown something resembling All-Star level play prior to this year. For someone like Jack Wilson, that means he’s out of luck, but if he can put together two good years, then he’s in. Imagine that … an “All-Star” having multiple good seasons!

With all that in mind, below you will find my 2004 All-Star selections for the AL and NL. Before I get to that, here are a few things to keep in mind …

- All-Star rosters have recently been expanded to 32 players, and there must be at least 11 pitchers on each team.
- All 30 MLB teams must have at least one All-Star representative.
- This is not a list of which players I think will make the teams, it is who I believe should make the teams.
- My pick for the starter at each position is in bold.

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

Catcher:
- Ivan Rodriguez

- Jorge Posada
- Jason Varitek

The first two spots here are really easy; Ivan Rodriguez (.361 AVG/.401 OBP/.526 SLG) and Jorge Posada (.268/.405/.525) have been, ignoring Rodriguez’s one-year stint in the NL, the AL’s best backstops for years now. Rodriguez seems like the easy call as the starter, as he has had a better career and he and Posada are having similar seasons thus far. The third spot is a tough one, because there are several veterans like Jason Varitek (.275/.395/.454) and Javy Lopez (.307/.358/.461) having good years, and there is also Victor Martinez (.307/.378/.549), who was once considered one of the elite prospects in baseball and is now showing why. Martinez has been the third-best catcher in baseball this year.

In the end, I am going with Varitek over Martinez simply because Varitek has done this for several years already. I have very little doubt that Martinez is the real deal, particularly since I ranked him as my #3 prospect in baseball two years ago, but I’ll wait a year before making him an All-Star. He’s been better than Varitek for the first three months, but the edge isn’t that big. With Rodriguez, Posada, Varitek and Lopez all getting up there in age, we are about a year or two away from the AL catching situation becoming the Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez show.

First Base:
- Frank Thomas

- Jason Giambi
- David Ortiz

First base is typically one of the toughest positions to choose All-Stars at, because there are usually a ton of good hitters having good seasons. That is not the case this year, and the few “first basemen” who are having excellent seasons are guys who are more like designated hitters who occasionally play first base. This All-Star game will be played in Houston, under NL rules, so there won’t be a DH, which is why I am going with Frank Thomas (.296/.459/.628) as my starting first baseman.

Thomas is head and shoulders above the rest of the 1B/DH pack when it comes to offense this season, and his career accomplishments speak for themselves. I am of the opinion that there is no way to argue against Frank Thomas being one of the greatest handful of hitters of this generation without using something having to do with his personality, which, of course, doesn’t swing a bat. He can barely play the position defensively at this point, but he’d only be in the game for the first 2-3 innings anyway, so what’s the difference? He has played three games at first base this year without making an error, for whatever that’s worth.

I am going with Jason Giambi (.250/.389/.483) and David Ortiz (.292/.346/.551) as my backups. Giambi is not having a good season, but he hasn’t had an OPS below .900 since 1998, so it’ll take more than a few mediocre months to change my opinion of him. Ortiz just narrowly edges Rafael Palmeiro, although I could have gone either way.

Second Base:
- Alfonso Soriano

- Mark Bellhorn

Second base is the weakest position in the AL this year. The three guys who are having great first-halves — Juan Uribe (.310/.365/.533), Ron Belliard (.310/.385/.400) and Mark Bellhorn (.260/.393/.426) — aren’t exactly what you think of when “All-Star” comes to mind. Of the three though, Bellhorn has had the most success in the past, hitting .258/.374/.512 with 27 homers for the Cubs just two years ago.

So Bellhorn makes the team as the backup, while Alfonso Soriano (.289/.330/.433) makes it as the starter. Soriano is not having a great year, but his numbers certainly aren’t bad. And of all the second basemen, he and Bret Boone (.224/.302/.375) are the only ones with multiple great years on their resume. Boone is having an awful year, so bad that he pretty much disqualifies himself, so Soriano gets the nod.

Shortstop:
- Miguel Tejada

- Derek Jeter
- Mike Young

Not so long ago, choosing the AL shortstops for the All-Star game was the toughest gig in town. Now all of a sudden, Alex Rodriguez is at third base, Nomar Garciaparra has barely played, and Derek Jeter is hitting .250. The only previously-great shortstop having a good season in 2004 is Miguel Tejada (.298/.357/.454), so I’m giving him the starting spot.

Those of you who have read my stuff in the past know that I am not the world’s biggest Derek Jeter fan and this is probably going to be the most controversial of my selections, but I think Jeter (.255/.315/.410) deserves a place on the All-Star team this year. Yes, I know it took him until the end of May to get his batting average above .200, but the fact is that he is on fire in June, his numbers are climbing rapidly, and he is certainly one of the best shortstops in the league. Just as a couple good months don’t make Jack Wilson an All-Star, a couple bad months don’t make Derek Jeter any less of one. When he’s back to hitting .290 by the end of the year, I won’t seem so crazy.

Mike Young (.326/.364/.498) gets the nod over Carlos Guillen (.322/.386/.558) as the third guy because his 2004 breakout more closely resembles his previous levels of performance than Guillen’s. Young hit .306 with a .446 slugging percentage last year, while Guillen has never slugged over .400 in full season before.

Third Base:
- Alex Rodriguez

- Hank Blalock
- Melvin Mora

This is a no-brainer for me. Shortstop or third base, it doesn’t matter … Alex Rodriguez (.293/.383/.533) is the starter. Hank Blalock (.303/.369/.573) has a case for the job, of course, but he’ll have to settle for being the backup on my team. Two other potential All-Stars, Eric Chavez (.246/.372/.476) and Troy Glaus (.296/.387/.694), miss out because of injuries, so Melvin Mora (.354/.442/.560) steps in as the third third baseman.

Outfield:
- Manny Ramirez
- Carlos Beltran
- Vladimir Guerrero

- Matt Lawton
- Johnny Damon
- Gary Sheffield

The All-Star voting doesn’t force fans to vote for a leftfielder, a centerfielder and a rightfielder, but I’ve never quite understood why. Same thing goes for the Gold Glove award. I mean, they don’t give Gold Gloves to four shortstops and no one else in the infield, so why do they (sometimes) do that with centerfielders in the outfield? And we don’t let the fans vote for three first baseman and a shortstop as their starting All-Star infield, so why do we let them choose three “outfielders”? At the very least, we should be asked to pick at least one guy who can fake center field. I’m not concerned about the corner outfield spots, since they’re basically interchangeable.

Anyway, I’m going with Manny Ramirez (.335/.437/.637) in left, Carlos Beltran (.281/.371/.522) in center, and Vladimir Guerrero (.341/.386/.593) in right. Not only have they been the three best outfielders in baseball this year, and not only have they all been great players for years, they also actually play left field, center field and right field. Aside from an appearance by Superman, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Picking the backup outfielders was tough. Beyond the starting three, there isn’t really an AL outfielder having a great year. The second-best players at each outfield spot so far have been Matt Lawton (.326/.395/.481), Johnny Damon (.287/.384/.429) and Gary Sheffield (.302/.401/.476). I know Lawton well from his days in Minnesota and he has been an underrated player (when healthy) and is having a very nice, vintage Matt Lawton season. Plus, we need someone from Cleveland.

I also went with Damon and Sheffield, who have proven themselves for years. That also gives me my LF-CF-RF setup for backups and starters. If he hadn’t gone down with an injury last week, I likely would have taken Vernon Wells (.300/.366/.481) over Damon, and Magglio Ordonez (.311/.370/.521) also misses the cut because of an injury.

Pitcher:
- Pedro Martinez

- Tim Hudson
- Mark Mulder
- Curt Schilling
- Javier Vazquez
- Roy Halladay
- Mariano Rivera
- Keith Foulke
- Francisco Rodriguez
- Eddie Guardado
- Joe Nathan
- Danys Baez

I’ve seen some people say that you should choose X number of starting pitchers and X number of relievers, but the fact is that, after the starting pitcher, everyone is a reliever in the All-Star game. With that in mind, I just take them as they come, regardless of what role they fill for their teams.

Picking the game’s starter in the AL this year is tough, because there are several established studs having good years. Tim Hudson (103.2 IP, 2.78 ERA), Mark Mulder (102.0, 2.91), Curt Schilling (98.0, 3.31) and Pedro Martinez (96.2, 3.91) could all be given the assignment, in my opinion. If Pedro had his ERA down in the low 3.00s, the decision would have been easy, but I have a hard time going with someone with an ERA bordering on 4.00. Still, Pedro is Pedro and, while he has been roughed up a few times this year, he’s had plenty of starts where he’s been great and he does lead the league in strikeouts.

After those no-brainer four, the other starters who made the squad are Javier Vazquez (94.1, 3.43) and Roy Halladay (89.0, 3.84). Halladay isn’t having a great first-half and he did miss some time with injuries, but the man won the Cy Young last year and we did need a Toronto representative. Javy Vazquez is just good.

The relievers who make my team are Mariano Rivera (37.2, 0.96), Joe Nathan (32.2, 1.38 — he fills the Minnesota spot … can’t accuse me of being a homer), Keith Foulke (35.1, 1.02), Francisco Rodriguez (38.1, 1.17) and Eddie Guardado (33.2, 1.07 — he fills the Seattle spot). All five have been extremely good this season and in the past.

The very last spot on the entire team goes to Danys Baez (32.1, 3.34), because we needed a Devil Ray. It was either him, Carl Crawford (.305/.343/.428) or Tino Martinez (.282/.374/.508). Check back on Crawford in a couple years, and I refuse to take Tino over guys like Giambi or Palmeiro at first base.

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

Catcher:
- Mike Piazza

- Jason Kendall
- Paul Lo Duca

Mike Piazza (.303/.389/.541) has split time between first base and catcher this year, but he’s on the ballot as a catcher and I still think of him as a catcher, so that’s what he is. Plus, he has extremely good numbers despite being pitched around like crazy, so he gets the nod as the starter. This will be his 11th All-Star game.

I almost went with Johnny Estrada (.318/.374/.478) as a backup, but the fact is that he came into this season as a 28-year-old who was a career .231/.279/.345 hitter. Plus, even his breakout first-half isn’t any better than what Paul Lo Duca (.340/.379/.460) has done thus far. Jason Kendall (.316/.397/.380) is being typical on-base machine self, and makes the team as the lone Pirate.

First Base:
- Jim Thome

- Albert Pujols
- Todd Helton

This is without a doubt the most stacked position in baseball. I nearly went with Albert Pujols (.306/.401/.616) as the starter, based on the fact that he is a monster, but then I remembered that Jim Thome (.323/.423/.718) has been doing this for the last decade or so, he just hit his 400th career homer, and, after his two-homer game yesterday, he’s got a 1.141 OPS.

After those two guys we still have established studs like Todd Helton (.338/.460/.599) and Jeff Bagwell (.281/.399/.475), as well as guys having awesome first-halves like Sean Casey (.357/.407/.612), Lyle Overbay (.345/.408/.554), Hee Seop Choi (.266/.383/.538) and Derrek Lee (.310/.387/.528). In the end, longevity and track record wins out, so Casey, Overbay and Choi will have to wait another year (plus we needed someone from Colorado).

Second Base:
- Jeff Kent

- Mark Loretta

The second base situation in the NL is very much like the one in the AL. One of the established stars at the position, Marcus Giles, has been injured, and most of the guys having good years aren’t your typical All-Stars. So, just as I went with Soriano as the starter in the AL, I am going with Jeff Kent (.289/.341/.512) in the NL. His backup will be Mark Loretta (.320/.370/.463), who is having his second straight very good, overlooked season.

Shortstop:
- Barry Larkin

- Edgar Renteria

Boy, the shortstop crop in the NL is weak this year. Still, after all that Jack Wilson bashing, I can’t very well go and pick him now, can I? No, instead I will go with Barry Larkin (.303/.351/.423), one of the most underrated players of this generation and one hell of a great shortstop for many years. Has Larkin been great this year? No, not really. Still, his solid hitting makes him one of the top shortstops in the league, and his 2,300 career hits, three Gold Gloves, 11 All-Star appearances and 1995 MVP award make him an incredibly easy pick over some guy who is having a good three months. Seriously, how many good three months do you think Barry Larkin has had?

Edgar Renteria (.275/.324/.381) goes as the backup, despite uninspiring numbers. He was great last year, very good in 2002, and I still love his defense. Sorry, Jack.

Third Base:
- Scott Rolen

- Mike Lowell
- Aramis Ramirez
- Adrian Beltre

Here’s a no-brainer. As great as Mike Lowell (.299/.377/.563) has been, both this year and last year, Scott Rolen (.344/.416/.639) has won four straight Gold Gloves, he’s put together an All-Star caliber season every year of his career, and he’s currently leading all of baseball in runs batted in.

I took two backups at third base, instead of just one, in part because both Aramis Ramirez (.317/.364/.542) and Adrian Beltre (.310/.341/.554) are having very good years, but also because I needed some guys who could play the infield after taking only two second basemen and two shortstops. Beltre could play second or short for an inning or two in a pinch.

Outfield:
- Barry Bonds
- Jim Edmonds
- Bobby Abreu

- Lance Berkman
- Luis Gonzalez
- Miguel Cabrera

The NL outfield is nearly as stacked as the NL first base situation. Whereas I just picked good-but-not-great guys like Damon and Lawton in the AL, the NL logjam means stars like Sammy Sosa (.287/.387/.573), Brian Giles (.276/.368/.456) and Andruw Jones (.248/.338/.488) don’t even make the cut, not to mention owners of good first-halves like Craig Wilson (.306/.388/.571) and J.D. Drew (.280/.410/.559).

Left field and center field were pretty easy, despite Ken Griffey Jr.‘s good and healthy start (.260/.363/.558), but I almost went with Luis Gonzalez (.280/.383/.551) or Lance Berkman (.326/.479/.637) as my third outfielder. In the end though, Bobby Abreu (.303/.434/.571) is having just as good a season as either of them and he has been overlooked for so many years that he gets my pick. Plus, having him gives me my sought after LF-CF-RF starting alignment.

Adam Dunn (.259/.413/.557) loses out on the final spot, despite the fact that I’m about as high on him as anyone. Gonzalez and Berkman get in over him because they’ve done it before, whereas Dunn (as I’ve written about before) has yet to put together an entire season of good hitting. Miguel Cabrera (.293/.359/.551) hasn’t put together an entire season, period, but I am completely convinced that he’s for real and then some.

Pitcher:
- Roger Clemens

- Randy Johnson
- Tom Glavine
- Jason Schmidt
- Carlos Zambrano
- Ben Sheets
- Livan Hernandez
- Eric Gagne
- John Smoltz
- Billy Wagner
- Brad Lidge
- Latroy Hawkins

Roger Clemens (88.2, 2.84) is going to get the start, both because he’s 9-2 and because the game is in Houston, so I’ll just go ahead and make him the starter. Picking him or Randy Johnson (100.1, 3.05) is a toss-up anyway. After those two, my other starters are Tom Glavine (104.1, 2.07), who is having a great comeback year, Jason Schmidt (91.2, 2.26), Carlos Zambrano (96.0, 2.25), Ben Sheets (94.0, 2.59) and Livan Hernandez (110.2, 3.42). Sheets and Hernandez fill the one-per team quota, but have also been very good.

I thought about taking Greg Maddux (89.2, 3.91) over his teammate, Latroy Hawkins (40.0, 2.25), but it seems silly to take a guy who is probably the fifth-best starting pitcher on his own team, even when that guy is an all-time great. After Hawkins, I filled out the staff with Eric Gagne (29.1, 1.53), John Smoltz (28.0, 3.21), Billy Wagner (21.0, 3.43) and Brad Lidge (40.1, 2.45).

Smoltz and Wagner don’t have ERAs that scream out “All-Star,” but they’ve obviously got the track records. Plus, we needed someone from the Braves. Oh, and they also have a combined strikeout/walk ratio of 60/2. Seriously. Lidge was great last year, when he went 6-3 with 28 holds and a 3.60 ERA setting up Wagner, but he’s been even better this year, setting up Octavio Dotel and striking out 14.06 batters per nine innings.

So there you have it, the 2004 All-Star teams. None of you have any objections, right?

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