You might think it's a little early to start talking about All-Star teams, but not only does the PR arm of MLB disagree, so do I. Why? Because I really don't give much weight to the first eight weeks of the season in picking my team, so waiting a few more weeks is even more insignificant.
You see -- and your mileage is free to vary -- I favor the philosophy that the All-Star game should feature the best of the best. I want to see the highest quality players on the mound, at the plate, and in the field. Even though Mike Cameron is outperforming Carlos Beltran so far in 2009, I'm pretty certain Carlos Beltran is still the better player and will play better going forward. I understand that the All-Star game is often used to celebrate the best performances of the first half of the season (I'd hate to be a second half guy), but I'd rather we use the game to showcase the highest caliber of baseball, and instead honor single-season achievements with a post-season All-Pro team.
Anyway, to help find the best of the best, I used Fangraphs' nifty three-year leader board sorted by WAR. Ideally, I'd use an in-season projection like ZiPS, but I wanted position and fielding to be a part of the equation and had to settle for counting all stats from the past three years equally. I did allow myself to subjectively reject a player if his three-year totals were carried by 2006-07 numbers and he hasn't been good at all more recently (think Magglio Ordonez). Everything worked out nicely, however, and I didn't need to cheat.
Here's are my All-Star teams, with some fun facts about each player based on their performance over the past 1095 days.
National League All Stars
1B: Albert Pujols -- Leads all players with 18.9 total WAR and is 20 batting runs ahead of second place Alex Rodriguez.
2B: Chase Utley -- Second overall in WAR at 18.1. Leads all players in fielding runs relative to position. Second place in fielding is Brandon Phillips, another second baseman.
3B: David Wright -- Third overall in WAR at 17.7. Not a bad way to start filling out a lineup card.
SS: Hanley Ramirez -- Fifth in batting runs and closer to second (ARod) than sixth (Mark Teixeira). We rag on his fielding, but when you can hit better than Mark Teixeira and manage to get by at shortstop, you're a huge asset.
CF: Carlos Beltran -- While he's next-to-last in Edge, Beltran's eighth in three-year WAR, and that's with a surprisingly low +5 runs in CF. He's just ahead of the two AL center field options, Curtis Granderson and Grady Sizemore.
LF: Alfonso Soriano -- With Matt Holliday defecting to the AL, filling the NL outfield beyond Beltran is a challenge. Soriano is #32 on the overall list, sandwiched between Mike Lowell and Placido Polanco.
RF: Ryan Braun -- Number 36 overall, but that includes -22 runs on defense as a third baseman in 2007. As a corner outfielder he's about 15 runs better than that per season.
CA: Russell Martin -- Brian McCann is hurt by a poor 2007 season, and if I were doing a proper projection, McCann would likely come about ahead, as the gap is only one WAR as is.
DH: Chipper Jones -- He's actually sixth in overall WAR and fourth in hitting, but because of David Wright is banished to the DH role. And yes, I realize that's a glorified pinch hitter role when the All-Star game is in an NL park.
American League All Stars
1B: Mark Teixeira -- Here's another guy that UZR doesn't love as much as his fielding reputation suggests, at only +5 runs relative to average at his position. 13th in total WAR.
2B: Dustin Pedroia -- At 12.3 WAR, he's a third of a win ahead of Tex. Over half that total came in 2008.
3B: Alex Rodriguez -- You want to argue for Evan Longoria as a better player right now? Go ahead. But you better talk about the fielding difference and declining skills from ARod, not just Longoria's hot 2009 start.
SS: Derek Jeter -- This might be the weakest position for either team, if you account for Ryan Braun's position change. The NL has four shortstops ahead of Jeter: Hanley, Rollins, Reyes, and Hardy. Still need to give Jeter his props for being as good as he is, though.
CF: Curtis Granderson -- Grandy gets the center field nod over Sizemore both because he's insignificantly higher on the WAR listand because he's been a slightly better fielder. If you're not on the Grandy bandwagon yet, jump on.
LF: Matt Holliday -- Seventh on the overall WAR list. Coors Field, you say? Not looking great in Oakland, but certainly better lately. Has anyone seen a study about adjusting to a new league?
RF: Grady Sizemore -- All of the AL pitchers to take the mound will love their outfield defense. Sizemore makes it two AL center fielders in the top ten in WAR over the last three years.
CA: Joe Mauer -- Fangraphs' implementation of WAR doesn't include any measure of catchers' fielding, which would likely boost Mauer's ranking up from 18th on the list.
DH: Carlos Pena -- Ninth most runs created above average over the past three years, just ahead of Manny Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera, and Lance Berkman.
Comparing the Teams
This is a crude measure at best, but here are the position-by-position advantages for each team using three-year WAR total:
1B: National League by 6.9 WAR, Pujols over Teixeira
2B: National League by 5.8 WAR, Utley over Pedroia
3B: National League by 1.6 WAR, Wright over ARod
SS: National League by 7.0 WAR, Hanley over Jeter
CF: National League by 1.2 WAR, Beltran over Granderson
LF: American League by 5.9 WAR, Holliday over Soriano
RF: American League by 3.7 WAR, Sizemore over Braun
CA: American League by .7 WAR, Mauer over Martin
DH: National League by 3.9 WAR, Chipper over Pena (about 2 WAR due to defense)
In total, and ignoring the DH position, that's a 12.5 WAR advantage for the NL position players. Of course, how many of these players will actually be voted in as starters?