Allright, folks, we're getting down to the wire in the All-Star voting. Let's take a look at who is making the team, who should make the team, and who is going to get snubbed. We'll start with the American League...
Who will start? Joe Mauer or Jason Varitek
Who should start? Mauer
Backup: Dioner Navarro
In terms of deserving to start, the gap between Mauer and the next guy is probably the biggest in baseball. He's been the best hitting catcher by far in the American League, and is likely the best defensive catcher as well. His VORP is 10 points higher than any other AL catcher. Varitek, meanwhile, has a VORP of .7, which puts him .2 behind Rays backup Shawn Riggans. As for the backup, Dioner Navarro's huge step forward this year has been a very underrated part of the Ray's resurgence. He's second in VORP at the position, and actually has a higher slugging percentage than Mauer. Past Navarro, we're getting into people like Pierzynski and Rod Barajas.
AL First Base:
Who will start? Kevin Youkilis
Who should start? Youkilis
Backup: Justin Morneau
At first glance, this looked a bit like the Red Sox fans dominating the voting, but Youkilis would be here on merit. He has the highest VORP of any AL first baseman, he's sixth in the league in SLG, 9th in batting average, and 12th in OBP. Morneau has the big RBI totals, but his .306/.367/.484 line doesn't measure up to Youkilis's .314/.381/.549, especially when considering that Youkilis is the superior defensive player. With the game being at Yankee Stadium, there will be sentiment to get Jason Giambi on the team, but his low batting average and terrible defense put him on the bubble.
AL Second Base:
Who will start? Dustin Pedroia
Who should start? Ian Kinsler
Backup: Brian Roberts
With his recent hot-streak, Pedroia is no longer the terrible choice he was two weeks ago, but Kinsler has still been the dominant player at the position. Kinsler is the league leader in hits, and currently has a line of .318/.372/.525, along with being 20 for 21 in stolen base attempts. Pedroia's .302/.347/.434 line is solid, but nowhere near measuring up to Kinsler or Brian Roberts, who matches Kinslers .372 OBP and also leads Major League Baseball in doubles.
Who will start? Derek Jeter
Who should start? Jeter
Backup: Michael Young
Yes, Michael Young has been the best shortstop in the league at the plate this season, as well as having a significant defensive advantage. That's all well and good, but let's take a step back for a moment. In an All-Star game played at Yankee Stadium, in the final season of Yankee Stadium, the most popular Yankee of the past 20 years should probably be starting. It helps that Young hasn't really been outstanding, and that American League shortstop is currently the weakest position in baseball. Either way, as long as he has a pulse, Jeter should be starting this game.
AL Third Baseman:
Who will start: Alex Rodriguez
Who should start: Rodriguez
Backup: Carlos Guillen
Since coming off of the disabled list, Rodriguez has almost single-handedly ignited the Yankees recent surge. Expectations for him are so high that his rank as 3rd in the AL in VORP seems very ho-hum, even when considering the time he missed while on the disabled list. Carlos Guillen continues to be among the most underrated players in baseball, seamlessly moving over to third when the Tigers decided Miguel Cabrera wasn't up to the task. It's likely that Guillen will be the Tigers' lone representative in New York. Evan Longoria is also an option here as a backup, especially if he continues to hit a home run every day.
AL Designated Hitter:
Who will "start"? David Ortiz
Who should start? Whoever the best hitter in the league not starting at another position is. Likely Milton Bradley.
Ortiz will win the voting here, but will not be healthy in time for the game. Hideki Matsui would have been a solid vote, but he has gone on the DL as well, with conflicting reports on whether or not he will need surgery. The sensible decision here would be to start Milton Bradley. He's been the best hitter in the American League, leading in batting average, OBP and SLG, the latter two by a fairly significant margin, and he's not going to win the voting.
Who will start? Manny Ramirez, Josh Hamilton and Ichiro Suzuki
Who should start? Hamilton, JD Drew and Carlos Quentin
Other Backups: Grady Sizemore, BJ Upton, Jermaine Dye
Hamilton has been baseball's best story in 2008, becoming the player people envisioned when he was drafted first overall in 1999, an absolute five-tool stud, excelling at every aspect hitting for power, hitting for average, and displaying good defense and a canon arm. If healthy, this will be the first of many all-star games.
It's a bit ironic that, with the way the Red Sox tend to dominate the voting, a deserving Red Sox player is going to need to make the team as a reserve. Drew was having a solid year until early June, when he suddenly turned into Mickey Mantle. His June so far: .357/.481/.881. Since David Ortiz's injury, the Red Sox have hardly missed a beat, and Drew is the reason why. Opposite Drew in the Boston outfield, Ramirez is having another solid Manny style season. He's hardly the worst choice ever to start, as he is 13th in the AL in VORP. If he weren't voted as a starter, he'd have a good chance to make the team as a reserve. He just hasn't been as good this year as Drew or Quentin.
The Diamondbacks traded Quentin this offseason to reduce their glut in the outfield. It's hard to fault anybody for choosing Justin Upton, who despite a recent slump is still having a fantastic year for any 20 year old in the major leagues. Quentin, though, has been a serious MVP candidate. He's getting some advantage from US Cellular Field, though the 30 point increases in both his OBP and SLG he has at home aren't too far out of line with a normal home/road split.
Ichiro, on the other hand, will make the team based on his popularity and past success, rather than from any 2008 success. His .286/.347/.364 line is nowhere near his career .330/.377/.432, just one of the reasons for the Mariners' dreadful season. Ichiro's election will not only keep a more deserving outfielder home, it will also make it tough for teammate King Felix Hernandez to make the team.
BJ Upton seems to have turned into the forgotten Upton brother in 2008, but he's been the better one, posting a .399 OBP and matching his 2007 total 22 steals. His home run total is lagging behind his 2007, which is the difference between his merely being an All-Star, rather than an MVP candidate.
The Indians have been one of baseball's biggest disappointments in the first half, but don't blame Grady Sizemore. 2nd in the American League in homers and 10th in VORP. While he does a good job of getting on base, the Indians would do well to bat him second or third in their lineup, in the interests of having more people on base when he is at the plate. Factoring in his Gold Glove level defense, and Sizemore seems a slam dunk
For the final outfield spot, Jermaine Dye likely has the leg up, due to his recent hot streak putting him in a tie with Sizemore and teamate Quentin for 2nd in the league in homers, and in 5th place in slugging. Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui (if healthy) will get looks here as well, helped out by the fact that the game is at their home park. Before his injury, Magglio Ordonez would have been an option here as well.
Cliff Lee, Cleveland: He has to be the likely starter. he's the league leader in wins, second in ERA, has a strikeout to walk ration of 90 to 16, and has the highest VORP of any AL Starter.
Justin Duchscherer, Oakland: The AL ERA leader, he's been the ace of the A's staff through Harden's injuries and Blanton's inconsistency. He'll likely be Oakland's only representative.
Roy Halladay, Toronto: He has a 100 to 19 strikeout to walk ratio, the 7th best ERA in, and he gives the announcers the opportunity to talk about how the complete game is a "lost art."
Shaun Marcum, Toronto: The terrible Torotnto offense has left him with only a 5-4 record, which may keep him off of the team. That would be a shame, because Marcum has been outstanding, joining Halladay as the best 1/2 combination in the AL in the first half.
John Danks, Chicago: Poor Texas. They can't get anyone out. Meanwhile, pitchers they've traded in the past two offseasons are going to make All-Star teams. I doubt they are going to cry much over the Hamilton-for-Volquez swap, but giving up Danks for Brandon McCarthy seems like a colossal blunder.
Zack Greinke, Kansas City: Peter Gammons' favorite player has taken a big step forward this year, taking over as the true ace people envisioned in 2004. He gets extra points as the most likely pitcher to try an Eephus Pitch or Quickpitch in the All-Star game.
Joe Saunders, LAAOA: Tied for the league lead in wins, and 6th in ERA.
Mariano Rivera, New York: Expect to see him in the 9th if the American League has the lead.
Jonathan Papelbon, Boston: With a 2.00 ERA, he's been slightly less dominant than in past years, which is just as incredible as it sounds.
Francisco Rodriguez, LAAOA: 31 saves already. The Angels excellent pitching and defense, combined with their mediocre offense, leads to a lot of low-scoring games. With that in mind, Rodriguez will have a real shot at Thigpen's record of 57.
Joe Nathan, Minnesota: Nathan is in the midst of his third straight sub-2.00 ERA season, and his fourth in five years.
Scott Linebrink, Chicago: After years as one of the best setup men in baseball with the Padres, Linebrink deserves to make his first All-Star team. Recent history shows that one middle reliever will make the team. Either Linebrink or Tampa's Dan Wheeler would appear to be the best choices.
John Lackey, Scott Kazmir and Rich Harden have both been outstanding, but have missed too much time with injury to merit consideration over the seven starters listed. King Felix is 5th in the AL in ERA, but it will be hard to bring two Mariners. Joakim Soria has been outstanding, as has Bobby Jenks. George Sherrill is second in the AL in saves, but the rest of his numbers aren't as dominant as the other relievers - plus, he wears his cap stupidly. C.C. Sabathia got off to a terrible start, but leads the AL in strikeouts, and has made his way back into the top 20 in ERA.