Realizing I had yet to make my selections for the 2006 All-Star game, I quickly started checking stats to make sure I made some sort of coherent decision. When Dan also came online, we decided we should turn it into an article. Who doesn't love free content ideas?
We discussed our picks on the fly, and revealed them as we went along, so there's no behind the scenes kibitzing to be had. This is basically the transcript of the conversation, so enjoy!
Dan: 1B - Travis Hafner: Hafner is a fantastic hitter who still does not get the acclaim that he deserves. If he were playing in New York or Boston, he would be regarded as his league's premier hitter and would be compared to Pujols. As it is, he's hitting .310/.453/.620 in a park that limits run scoring strongly (PF of 94 in 2005). The next best picks are Thome and Giambi, and they have similar flaws in their games with far less offense. No contest here.
Marc: 1B - Travis Hafner: I also went with Hafner at first, because there is no one I can think of better for the spot. Giambi does play first, but he doesn't play it well. Ortiz is the central focus of the entire clutch argument at the moment, but he's not performing anywhere near as well as Hafner overall. It's a shame no one seems to realize how great Hafner really is, although I saw someone say today that he's been the best hitter in the American League since 2004. Don't forget that his nickname rivals Big Papi; Pronk is a great nickname.
Dan: No counter on this end to all of that, and I would agree that Hafner has been the AL's best hitter since '04
Marc: 2B - Brian Roberts: After much internal debate and number crunching, I decided that Brian Roberts was deserving of the nod at second base for this year's game. Robinson Cano has done a very good job this year, improving his fielding and, until recently, playing in every game in NY. Now that he is on the DL, I find it difficult to vote for him. Jose Lopez has similar numbers to Cano, but Roberts blows them both out of the water, as he has already earned +12 runs above average this year in only 57 games.
Dan: 2B - Brian Roberts: Second base is extraordinarily weak in the AL this year, but it's not like the system allows for two "MI" like some fantasy leagues do. I picked Roberts because he has developed into one of the game's premier leadoff hitters. His .313/.381/.412 is a far cry from his power surge last year, but I love his consistency and his defense. He's second in the league in Zone Rating, he's only made 3 errors... and he has a .381 OBP at second base. Roberts isn't a lock, and you'd have a case for Jose Lopez and Robbie Cano, but I think that Roberts is a solid, safe choice here.
Dan: 3B - Alex Rodriguez: For all the talk of "un-clutch" and the chorus and symphony of boos that the star third baseman has heard, he's been OK this year... and that's good enough for me. I have problems with all of the other legitimate candidates: Glaus gets too much help from his park and is on-basing .349, I feel like Lowell's high SLG is largely due to the doubles he gets from Fenway and isn't adjusted for enough in typical park factor analysis, Crede hasn't played enough, Chavy's been largely unimpressive over the past couple of months.... Melvin Mora? No thanks... I think that this isn't the lock that I'd expect it to be at this time most seasons, but A-Rod, even slugging less than .500, is a productive, valuable player and is certainly defensible.
Marc: 3B - Mike Lowell: I'll have to disagree and go with Mike Lowell here, which is hard for me to do, considering all the negative words I wrote about his acquisition this winter. He's been the best defensive third basemen in either league so far according to ZRate, and his bat is not all that far behind ARod's. I took a look at Crede, but he doesn't seem to have the defensive numbers everyone raves about, although his bat is certainly looking like it did last October. Lowell sort of wins by default, although he did manage to topple ARod in an off-year on his way to the top.
Dan: There are a few things there that are of interest: Mike Lowell has been one of my favorite players for quite a while, and I'm happy to see him do well. I also wanted to pick him a little bit, but I felt like it would be good to go different on at least... one of these AL picks. Plus I still think that A-Rod is an ever-so slightly better choice.
Marc: I was surprised myself when I ran the numbers that Lowell was doing as well as he is. His defense is really what separates him from Rodriguez, although there bats are not that far apart this season. By the end of the year I expect Rodriguez to pick it up offensively, but for now Lowell is the guy I'd like out there.
Dan: That also brings up a good question about how we select all stars in general. I know that Aaron Gleeman tends to look at past history as well, in order to avoid half-year flukes. I'm not sure if I agree with that or disagree with that.
Marc: Excepting Lowell's terrible stretch from the second half of 2004 through all of 2005, he has been one of the best third basemen in the league. It is an interesting question; I know some people like to pick their players from the second half of the previous year combined with the first half of the current season. I personally just go with who has been best in the present tense.
Marc: SS - Derek Jeter: Jeter has performed well enough with the bat -- and avoided embarassing himself entirely with the glove -- and is leading all American League shortstops in runs above average. For that, he gets my vote, although it certainly hurts to not vote for Carlos Guillen, who I long to see make the All-Star team. Honestly the gap is close enough that I should've let myself become an angry, bitter fanboy and avoided Jeter altogether. I'm going to stop typing before I change my mind.
Dan: SS - Derek Jeter: I saw this one as a two-horse race between Jeter and his counterpart just a few hours down I-95--Miggy Tejada. I agree with Marc's first sentence entirely: the fact that he has been just slightly below average defensively, according to the metrics available, is a big deal in my mind. Jeter is by no means a superstar-caliber player at this point, but he's a damn good one.
Dan: C - Joe Mauer: Is there any doubt? Mauer's hitting .392. That's absurd for a catcher at the end of June, but he's really doing it. He's hit .542 in his last 7 games at the time of writing. He's also throwing out greater than 40% of basestealers at this point. He's accumulated 5.0 WARP already and has a .333 EqA. I'm still a little dazed that he has exploded like this and taken the title of "best hitting catcher" away from Victor Martinez (at least for the time being), but Joe Mauer is a legitimate MVP candidate so far. This was the easiest pick of the day.
Marc: C - Joe Mauer: I really have nothing to add. Mauer has been absolutely incredible in 2006, and he's only 23 years old. I really don't want to think about what his ceiling is, or if he'll fall to a lower level of play; I really just want to enjoy the fact that a 23-year old catcher is hitting .392, and its June 29th.
Marc: OF - Manny Ramirez, Alexis Rios, Vernon Wells: Manny Ramirez is the class of the offensive outfielders in the American League. He is something else to watch when he is up at the plate. He turns his wrists and adjusts his swings quicker than any hitter I've ever watched, and he does it to any pitcher with any pitch. The man does his homework, regardless of what people might think about his work ethic. Vernon Wells has been spectacular, with some of the best defensive play in center around, as well as leading the Jays offensively. Alexis Rios just made it over Jermaine Dye for my last spot in the outfield, and you can thank his defense for that -- he's the second best defensive right fielder in either league, and his bat is not all that far behind Dye's.
Dan: OF - Grady Sizemore, Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells: I feel like people have been talking about Vernon Wells as a breakout candidate for years now, but it looks like it's finally happened. He has 42 XBHs in the first half and he's slugged above .600. He's also a fantastic defender. I like Grady Sizemore a lot, and he's doing roughly what I expected this year: .307/.381/.552, and 13/15 SB/CS. He has also been very good defensively, like Wells. I wrote about Ichiro last week, and it wouldn't be right to not give him a spot here. He's hitting .356/.407/.444, and I love the defense and stolen base efficiency.
Marc: I'll admit I forgot about Sizemore, but I couldn't pass up Manny's bat. After a slow start that had many questioning if he had finally slipped a bit, his EqA is .333; damn impressive.
Dan: I remember even mentioning back in May how I thought that Manny might have slipped...I was quite wrong.
We'll post our thoughts on the National League another time relatively soon.