On Wednesday, I posted my picks for this year’s American League All-Star Team. Before disclosing my National League choices, I just want to make one thing clear. As you may have noticed, I’m disregarding Major League Baseball’s rule that every team in baseball has to be represented on the rosters. The game should be about showcasing the best players regardless of their distribution, not patronizingly pandering to each and every market for a few extra dollars. So, to the entire city of Chicago, I apologize. You have no All-Stars.
Here are my picks for the National League team. The blurbs are short are no shorter than last time because I’m tired and have a headache I got carried away.
C: Brian McCann, Braves
When researching this pick, I was surprised at how strong Yadier Molina’s case was for this spot. I assumed that Molina – who is actually starting in tomorrow’s game – was having another all defense, no offense season. Even though I was wrong, I prefer McCann’s great bat (.298/.375/.487) and acceptable defense to Molina’s average bat and fantastic defense.
1B: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
Albert Pujols is the best baseball player on the planet. There’s really no other way to put it. He’s hitting an obscene .332/.456/.723 so far. He leads the majors in home runs – by a lot – with 32. His 87 RBIs also lead baseball, which normally wouldn’t impress me (because RBIs are stupid), but teams constantly pitch around him because of his weak supporting cast and he still drives in tons of runs. He leads the majors in walks with 71. He’s struck out only three more times than he’s been intentionally walked (35 to 32). Pujols is simply an incredible player, and is rightfully starting at first base tomorrow night.
2B: Chase Utley, Phillies
If Albert Pujols were to retire tomorrow, Utley should be recognized as baseball’s best player. Unfortunately, he remains the game’s most underrated performer, a reality exacerbated teammates’ Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins winning the NL MVP award in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Utley is having the best season of his career so far, putting up a .313/.430/.573 line with excellent defense. Baseball continues to not know what it has in the Phillies’ second baseman.
SS: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Ramirez may not be the game’s best player, but he’s certainly its most valuable asset. The 25-year-old shortstop has markedly improved on his 2008 season (.301/.400/.540) in 2009 (.349/.411/.567). Even his defense has ascended from bad to average. He also is making on $5.5 million this season, and although that figure escalates sharply in the following years, he’ll still be a bargain.
3B: David Wright, Mets
Much has been made of Wright’s low home run total in 2009. While it is fairly surprising, it doesn’t take intellectual contortion to come to a reasonable conclusion. His playing in a pitcher’s ballpark coupled with a dose of bad luck can conceivably equal five home runs at the break. He’ll hit 20 this year though, and while we’re waiting on that, we should remember that he still has a .324/.410/.462 line with sparkling defense. Wright narrowly gets this spot of the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval.
OF: Carlos Beltran, Mets
Forget the .336/.425/.527. Beltran gets this spot because Steve Phillips and other industry nincompoops continually pile on the guy for lacking the toughness, fire, and hustle necessary to will his team to victory. In reality, Beltran is the last place fans and analysts should look to explain the Mets’ struggles.
OF: Raul Ibanez, Phillies
First, I’m going to eat a very, very small amount of crow. I thought the Ibanez-Burrell swap was insane when it happened, and while I still think it will prove to be a poor move, Ibanez’s unbelievable first half has helped make the exchange look less confounding. Aided by a small home ballpark and weaker competition, he’s slugging .649 with 22 home runs. He still deserves this spot. Before I move on, let me hop on my soapbox for a moment. Why is it that a blogger’s speculation about Ibanez’s performance is met with criticism and indignation, while a newspaper columnist’s similar ponderings pass without uproar? Clearly, the stink regarding the Ibanez post has nothing to do with journalistic standards and everything to do with print sportswriters going on the offense to protect their dying medium.
OF: Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
Upton is the Adam Jones of the National League. He may not be starting the All-Star Game this year, but this spot is his for the next 10 or so. At least it should be. The 21-year-old (you read that right) boasts a .301/.374/.544 line, including 16 home runs, 12 steals, and good defense. Thanks to Brad Hawpe’s horrendous fielding, those numbers are good enough to make him the NL’s best right fielder.
P: Tim Lincecum, Giants
Lincecum over Dan Haren was a tough decision, and ostensibly unjustified. After all, Haren has thrown slightly more innings (130 to 127) and has a lower ER A (2.01 to 2.33). But when it comes down to it – and perhaps this is a matter of taste – Lincecum’s indicators of dominance are stronger than Haren’s. The Giants’ hurler has a 10.5 K/9; Haren’s is 8.93. Lincecum has allowed four home runs this year. Haren has allowed 12. Lincecum also induces more ground balls than Haren (0.94 G/F compared to 0.77). Admittedly, Lincecum walks more batters, but his ability to miss bats compensates for that relative shortcoming. He’s my pick, even though you can’t go wrong with Haren either.
C: Yadier Molina, Cardinals
Molina’s average offense (.280/.352/.383) is more than balanced by his spectacular, game-changing defense behind the plate. He’s clearly the second-best catcher in the NL, and perhaps even the best if you have a particular affinity for glovework.
1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Padres
The NL is loaded with first basemen, so one could make an argument for Prince Fielder or Lance Berkman here (not Ryan Howard). I chose Gonzalez because of his .250/.387/.523 line, his defense, his respectable numbers in baseball’s worst ballpark for home runs, and the total futility of his situation.
2B: Brandon Phillips, Reds
Freddy Sanchez is probably a better choice, but I like home runs and Phillips has more of them. This is also an attempt to make up for my selection of the punchless Ichiro over the powerful Jermaine Dye in my AL picks.
SS: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
This is how this selection went: Tejada (higher OBP!), Tulowitzki (more home runs!), Tejada (Tulowitzki’s gag-inducing home/away splits), Tulowitzki (Tejada’s gag-inducing home/away splits), Tejada (30 doubles!), and Tulowitzki (more home runs!). The moral of the story is that I love home runs and hate defense.
3B: Pablo Sandoval, Giants
Really, you could make a strong case for him starting over Wright. He’s hitting .333/.385/.578 with 15 home runs and would lead the National League in the all-importance corpulence statistic were it not for the existence of Prince Fielder.
OF: Matt Kemp, Dodgers
OF: Brad Hawpe, Rockies
Hawpe’s ability to hit lefties and righties (home and away, no less) earns him a spot over Jayson Werth, even if Hawpe is a disaster in the outfield.
OF: Ryan Braun, Brewers
Chosen over Adam Dunn for this nominally more important spot because his defense in left field is acceptable. Braun is no stranger to being chosen, because he is Jewish and the National League’s answer to Ian Kinsler.
UT: Prince Fielder, Brewers
Selected for his .315/.442/.614 line, as well as his remarkable ability to be a 320-pound vegetarian.
UT: Adam Dunn, Nationals
My favorite kind of player: all bat (.266/.398/.544, 23 HRs), no glove (God kills a kitten in anger every time he attempts to field a ball).
UT: Freddy Sanchez, Pirates
Because deep down I know he’s having a better season than Brandon Phillips.
SP: Dan Haren, Diamondbacks
Tim Lincecum’s blurb basically addresses why Haren is having a fantastic year and is absolutely worthy of starting the game. He strikes out batters at an above-average rate, doesn’t walk many, and is good for over 200 innings every year.
SP: Javier Vazquez, Braves
I want to be baffled by Vazquez’s non-selection to the actual team. I want to wonder incredulously why Vazquez and his 2.95 ERA, 136 strikeouts in 119 innings, good ground ball rate and excellent control didn’t make the cut. But then I look at his wins, and see the number six, and I know exactly why he wasn’t picked.
SP: Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
Gallardo has a 3.22 ERA, 123 strikeouts in 114 innings, and a good but not great walk rate. He’s on my team, even if he was left off the actual roster.
SP: Josh Johnson, Marlins
The big right-hander is striking out fewer batters than he has historically, but it isn’t as simple as that. He’s cut down on his walks a great deal, and has developed into an extreme ground ball pitcher. His ERA stands at 2.74, plenty good enough to make both my and the actual team.
SP: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
While Vazquez’s omission elicited reluctant acceptance, Wainwright’s inspired genuine disbelief. He meets any and all the requirements for inclusion. He has a 3.04 ERA, induces tons of ground balls, and has thrown the most innings of any pitcher in the NL. He also has 10 wins for a division leader and premier franchise. But no, this is not good enough. I simply do not understand.
SP: Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
Perhaps you have noticed a trend in my selection of pitchers by now: hard-throwers that strike out many, walk few, and induce weak contact. Billingsley also fits this description. Balancing his tendency to walk batters are his 119 strikeouts in 125 innings, as well as his relatively few home runs allowed. His 3.38 ERA should come down as his control returns to its normal level.
SP: Matt Cain, Giants
I’ve always enjoyed Cain because of his unwitting but persistent effort to prove that wins are a stupid statistic. In 2007, he was 7-16 with a 3.65 ERA. In 2008, 8-14 and 3.76. He’s 10-2 so far this season, which I understand to be karmic retribution for his brief stint of perceived mediocrity. His 2.38 ERA, however, is the reason he’s on my team.
SP: Johan Santana, Mets
Santana is having another great year, but there are causes for concern. His strikeout rate has declined from his career norms, while his walk rate has increased. He’s allowing more home runs than ever, but he was homer-prone during his dominant 2004-2008 stretch as well. This could all mean something, or it could just be yet another charming statistical blip for which baseball is known. For now, let’s just enjoy yet another stellar first half from one of the game’s most talented pitchers.
SP: Wandy Rodriguez, Astros
I did not see Rodriguez’s 2009 season coming, although perhaps I should have. Last season, he increased his strikeout rate for the fourth season in a row, and improved his control for the third. He’s also settled down nicely as a solid ground ball pitcher – particularly important in Houston’s homer-friendly ballpark. The result is a 2.96 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 112 innings. His home run and walk rate don’t fully support such a low ERA, but even when regression occurs, he’ll be a damn good pitcher.
SP: Jair Jurrjens, Braves
Jurrjens’ current 2.91 ERA is a little misleading. He’s allowing more home runs than in 2008 (3.68 ERA), while striking out fewer and walking more. I think his ERA will end up around four, but the All-Star Game should include good players having great first halves. Jurrjens fits the bill.
RP: Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers
Broxton is the first of only two relievers on my team. His story is pretty simple: he throws hard, strikes out a ton of batters (14.39 K/9), and occasionally gets wild (17 BB in 40 IP). He’s allowed only one home run though and keeps the ball on the ground. Broxton is possibly the best reliever in baseball, and I would recommend that we enjoy his dominance while we still can; his delivery does not suggest a long career.
RP: Rafael Soriano, Braves
Soriano is my only other reliever and the third of three snubbed Braves pitchers. He strikes out 12.23 per nine innings, but walks fewer batters than Broxton. He, too, has allowed only one home run this season. Soriano is, however, a decidedly fly ball pitcher, which might not bode well for his home run rate. Like Broxton, there are concerns about his durability, but he’s having a remarkable season as the Braves’ most dependable reliever.