I'll never quite understand why Major League Baseball starts All Star Game voting in mid-April, as if votes from then are anything near a legitimate reflection of who's played the best this season. I mean, at that point in the season, Edgar Renteria and Scott Podsednik had some of the best numbers in the game, and they belong in the All-Star Game about as much as I do.
But the ballot did finally catch my attention last week while I was attending a White Sox game, and MLB released their first AL voting update yesterday. Now, the All Star Game is always something that I've never been 100% comfortable with, to be honest. Basically, I just hate the double-whammy of the voters and managers constantly omitting or including the wrong guys on the rosters, while the media and the public actually take those designations seriously. I mean, take last year, when guys like Miguel Tejada and Brandon Inge played in the game. That's good and fine and all, but one day when people are discussing how good Inge used to be, they'll surely look to his All Star Game appearance as a talking point. And it's quite unfortunate, but that figure simply isn't remotely an accurate reflection of a player's greatness, even though it's purported to be exactly that. To someone like me, that's okay, but to the more casual baseball fan, All Star designations can really affect a player's reputation going forward.
Now that I've gotten that out of the way, though, I thought that it would be interesting to see what my ballot would look like if I punched out one of those cards today. So over the next two days, I'm going to cover what my votes would be for both leagues, with some thoughts about each position. These aren't necessarily the guys who will, or are most likely to, play in the All Star Game, but they're the guys that I'd toss out onto the field if I was the King of Baseball. Some of these are super obvious, some of them aren't so much, but there's been no shortage of quality baseball played so far.
We'll start off with the American League today, as their voting results were released first, and I'll choose a pitcher, too, because that's the kind of guy that I am. Tomorrow I'll cover the National League.
AL Catcher: Joe Mauer, Minnesota
This should surprise nobody, he's the premier backstop in baseball right now. He leads all MLB catchers in fWAR, and might be the best player in the AL right now. The crazy thing though? He hasn't even been the best player on his own team so far. He's all but a lock to start in the game, he currently leads all AL players in votes.
AL First Base: Justin Morneau, Minnesota
Morneau is going absolutely freaking insane this season, his 3.6 fWAR so far is 0.8 WAR higher than Chase Utley's second-place mark. He's currently sporting a .507 wOBA, which is early-2000's Bondsian territory. Because pretty much nobody can maintain this kind of production, Morneau is all but sure to drop off from here, especially given his .444 BABIP. But he's showing a significantly more patient approach this season, one that's yielded a major increase in walks, and he's pretty much stopped hitting the ball on the ground, his 26% GB rate so far is down 15% from his 41% career mark. If he maintained this production for 150 games, he'd be in line for an fWAR around 13, which would easily set a record for the FanGraphs-era.The only guy even close to Morneau here is Kevin Youkilis, but Morneau is off to a truly special start right now. Unfortunately, Yankee fans have apparently managed to flood the voting booths so far though with votes for Mark Teixeira, so Morneau isn't currently on pace to start.
AL Second Base: Robinson Cano, New York (AL)
It was between Cano and Zobrist, but a lot of Zobrist's value comes from an impressive UZR mark that I'm somewhat skeptical of. Meanwhile, Cano has been one of the key parts of the Yankees' offense so far. He leads all AL second basemen in wOBA and he's tied with Zobrist (who's played a lot of right field) for first place in fWAR, he's been neck and neck with Ty Wigginton as the best offensive second baseman in the AL all season. He's in line for his third 4.5+ fWAR season in the past four years, which really makes you wonder what the hell happened in 2008 (0.2 fWAR in 159 games).
AL Third Base: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay
I think that we can comfortably say that Evan Longoria is the best third baseman in the AL right now. Longoria's numbers keep trending upwards while A-Rod's numbers go down, and this is a guy who was worth over 12 wins in his first two seasons as a Ray. There's just nobody that can keep up with Longo.
AL Shortstop: Elvis Andrus, Texas
I've talked about Andrus' offensive emergence before, but I think that he might already be the best shortstop in the AL already. At the tender age of 21, he leads all AL shortstops in fWAR and he's second in wOBA. It appears that we may be watching the rise of Elvis at the same time that we watch the demise of Jeter. Not that Jeter is done by any means, he's still one of the better shortstops in the game, but the Rangers really appear to have a gem in Mr. Andrus.
AL Outfielders: Alex Rios, Chicago, Nelson Cruz, Texas and Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay
I've talked about Rios a lot lately, probably because he's been one of the few truly pleasant surprises in a rough start to the White Sox's season. But seriously, ZiPS projects him to finish with 24 homers, 40 doubles, 34 steals and a .371 wOBA, all coming from an above average defender in center field. A lot of people bashed Kenny Williams for claiming Rios from Toronto, but right now that move is one of the few keeping Chicago afloat.
As for Cruz, I don't really know what to say, he went on the 15-Day DL in early May and still has some of the best numbers in the game. The strikeouts are a little worrisome, but he's also walking a good deal more this year as well. With his combination of power, speed and quality defense, you can take a few strikeouts. I mean, Cruz was worth 3.4 fWAR last season, and he should easily be able to exceed that this year.
Crawford may not be long for Tampa, but he's trying to make the best of his stay, clearly. He's showing more patience and hitting for more power than ever before, and he's still got his usual arsenal of gap power, excellent contact skills, elite speed and brilliant defense. Guys like Vernon Wells and Shin-Soo Choo have been awesome this year, but Crawford's been a little better.
AL Designated Hitter: Vladimir Guerrero, Texas
Guerrero is another guy who I've briefly discussed lately, thanks to his handy little start in Texas. Jose Guillen, Andruw Jones and Luke Scott have flashed more power at the DH spot this year, but Guerrero blows them away in batting average, and his power has been no slouch this year either; he's already hit 9 home runs. Vlad is presumably due for some regression, but he's shown so far this season that he's not remotely done smacking baseballs a very long way.
AL Starting Pitcher: Ricky Romero, Toronto
If you haven't noticed by now, I'm a Ricky Romero fan. And frankly, I think he really deserves some recognition for what he's done so far this season. Because as of today, he might have been the best pitcher in the AL so far, if you ask me. He's 6th in the AL in innings pitched, 4th in strikeouts and has the fourth-highest groundball rate among AL starters. Put it all together, and the metrics have him as arguably the best pitcher in the AL so far. He's 7th in the AL in ERA, but he's 2nd in FIP and 3rd in xFIP, and his tERA mark is even better than that. Jon Lester and James Shields could definitely give Romero a run for his money so far, but I'd take Romero if I had to choose one early-season pitching performance.
Covering up things, we got three guys from Texas, two guys from Minnesota, two guys from Tampa, and three other teams with one guy apiece. I suppose it shouldn't be surprising to anyone that Texas, Minnesota and Tampa Bay are all in first-place right now, then. There are some possible future Hall of Famers in their primes, like Mauer and Longoria. There are some young guys just reaching the height of their craft, like Andrus and Romero. There are some really good players having really great seasons, like Rios, Morneau and Cruz. And then there's the cherry on top, the legend who's showing everyone that he's not quite dead yet, and conveniently his name is Vladimir. I agreed with the voting results so far on Mauer, Cano, Longoria, Crawford, Guerrero and Cruz, but I don't quite feel that Teixeira, Jeter, and Ichiro Suzuki are as deserving as other players at their respective positions. Then again, Andrus would need to bat like .500 while Jeter gets hit by a bus in order take enough votes away from The Captain to get the honor, so I think we'll have to fight for Andrus another year.
So there it is, that's my AL All Star Game ballot as of today, about 45 games into the season.