6/11/10 11:57am----I've done a fairly significant update of this post. In response to legitimate concern about the quality of the fielding statistic, I've revised this post by incorporating Steve Sommer's UZR projections. I also corrected a significant omission: somehow, Adrian Gonzalez was excluded from this post among NL 1B's. He is now rightfully included. All that said, only one selection changed: Jayson Werth in RF over Andre Ethier and Jason Heyward.
One of the things that I've always disliked about the All Star Game is that it essentially has become a way of recognizing great first half performances, rather than the best overall players in the game. If we agree that it is supposed to be about finding the best players in baseball, though, how should we go about doing this?
This season, we have a number of in-season projection systems available that can give us current true talent estimates for every player in baseball. In-season ZiPS and Oliver are updated (at least) weekly, while CHONE is updated monthly. So now we can include the stunning first-half performances we all are talking about (hello Justin Morneau!), but we can weight it appropriately with other information about past performance.
What I've done here is take an average of the three above projection systems' true talent estimates (ZiPS, Oliver, CHONE) and use that to rank all players in baseball. Batting RAA, but not wOBA, is park adjusted. Updated: Fielding is now provided by Oliver and CHONE projections, as well as Steve Sommer's pre-season UZR projections (which do include Fan Scouting Report data). Weighting is 50% UZR, 25% Oliver, 25% CHONE (TZ). UZR is the better stat, but CHONE and Oliver include minor league data and therefore have a longer track record for young players. I opted to include all of them. Finally, I'm not considering differences in playing time at all. There is a lot of value in durability, but my preference in this case was to just reward those players who are the best of the best, when healthy and in the lineup.
Without further adieu, here are your National League All Stars (plus four alternates):
No real surprise here at the top of the list. The fact that Buster Posey and Chris Iannetta rank 3rd and 5th in the league, but aren't the starting catchers on their own teams, however, is surprising. FWIW, though, Miguel Olivo comes out at -3 RAA/700, which is probably within the margin of error here.
Depending on how rapidly you think Berkman is aging and how bad his knee problems are, you might bump him down (or off) the list. The #6 NL 1B is Ryan Howard at +28 runs.
I was surprised to see Kelly Johnson at #3, but some of these fielding systems like his defense a lot more than is in keeping with his reputation. On related note, though, I sort of heart Martin Prado.
His power was down last year, and his batting average is down this year...but David Wright is probably still the best 3B in the National League. If you think the fielding systems are low on Zimmerman (his UZR projection is +10 runs), then he might yet leap frog over Wright for #1 at the hot corner. Chipper seems to be getting old--I think he's probably aging faster that the projection systems think. And he's never healthy.
It's Hanley, then Tulo, then everyone else. That goes for the AL as well, as we'll see in a later post.
Left Field: Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals
I'm breaking down outfield by position, 'cause that's how I roll. If you think corner outfield slots are interchangeable, Braun would win the starting RF option.
Carlos Beltran deserves mention here, but I don't have a projection for him from all of the systems because he hasn't played yet. Even so, I'd take Matt Kemp over him...but I'd probably put Beltran over the other four guys on the list, assuming he'll be able to run enough to not be a liability in CF. His "backup," Angel Pagan, rates right with Marlon Byrd as the #5 CF in the league (+11 runs). I have a hard time seeing how he can sit and Frenchy can play if/when Beltran returns, but we'll see what happens.
Right Field: Jayson Werth, Philedelphia Phillies
When I updated this post to incorporate UZR fielding data, this is the one position that changed. Thanks to an amazing +11 UZR fielding projection, Werth leap frogged over Heyward and Ethier to take the starting job. He was who I expected to see here anyway, so this made me think I was on the right track.
I ran this last week when putting together the numbers for this article, and at that time Jason Heyward barely eduged out Ethier for #1. That was pretty exciting...but apparently his recent struggles bumped him down the list. Even so, it's pretty impressive for a kid with Heyward's age and limited track record to rate as the #2 RF in the league based on projection systems. And if Ethier isn't healthy by the time the All-Star game rolls around, Heyward would still get the start!
Next up: NL Pitchers!