Monday, July 8, 2013

2013 All-Star Roster Corrections: AL Edition

Now, this is the article where I would normally take a faux-condescending tone to mock MLB’s All-Star game selections. After all, that’s what I’ve done for the past three years. But this year, the rosters aren’t as mind-bogglingly awful as they have been in those past few years. Maybe they’ve been listening to me finally.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t problems, though. We’re mostly just short on the completely clueless picks, with them being replaced by picks that are just disappointing. Or maybe it’s just me learning to not get as bent out of shape over the All-Star. Either way, there are still corrections to make.

We’ll just focus on the American League roster for now; 34 slots is enough to debate for the time being. If you aren’t familiar with my All-Star revisions, I generally go through all 34 slots, starting with the starting lineup, then moving to the backups, followed by the pitching staff. I won’t pay much attention to the distinction between starters and reserves; if I had the starter as the second best player behind the reserve, I leave them how the fans voted. I also try to adhere to the rules, such as taking two of each position and taking at least three relievers (although I will occasionally argue about taking two designated hitters).

Anyway, let’s begin with the starting line-up:

C-Joe Mauer (MIN)
1B-Chris Davis (BAL)
2B-Robinson Cano (NYY)
SS-J.J. Hardy (BAL)
3B-Miguel Cabrera (DET)
OF-Mike Trout (LAA)
OF-Adam Jones (BAL)
OF-Jose Bautista (TOR)
DH-David Ortiz (BOS)

That is overall a solid starting lineup; I would say every player on it is deserving of at least a roster spot with one exception. Adam Jones has a good average and good power for a center fielder, but the rest of his game is lacking. His .290 average and .473 slugging percentage aren’t nearly as impressive once you realize they come with a .313 OBP. Jones, historically impatient, has an astounding 2.4% walk rate, showing an astounding lack of patience at the plate and contributing to a 111 wRC+ (weighted runs created) that is only above-average. Add in his fielding (most advanced metrics aren’t a fan of his routes) and Jones comes in at a solid but unimpressive 1.5 Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement and 1.8 Baseball-Reference WAR.

Jacoby Ellsbury doesn’t have as much power (only a .412 slugging percentage), but his better batting average and OBP (.301 and .365) make him as good of a hitter (110 wRC+). Add in his above-average glove and you have a great player (3.1 fWAR and 3.3 bWAR, both third for outfielders).

And now for the back-ups:

C-Jason Castro (HOU), Salvador Perez (KC)
1B-Prince Fielder (DET)
2B-Dustin Pedroia (BOS), Jason Kipnis (CLE), Ben Zobrist (TB)
SS-Jhonny Peralta (DET)
3B-Manny Machado (BAL)
OF-Nelson Cruz (TEX), Torii Hunter (DET), Alex Gordon (KC)
DH-Edwin Encarnacion (TOR)

Three back-up second basemen seems a little much. Pedroia, Kipnis, and Cano are sort of on their own; they have 3.5, 3.3, and 2.9 fWAR, respectively (no other AL second baseman has more than 2.4. Kipnis and Cano have done it with passable gloves and great bats (wRC+ of 150 and 137), while Pedroia has done a little of both (131 wRC+, 3 runs saved on defense). Unfortunately, this leaves Ben Zobrist, and while he’s doing admirably (109 wRC+, passable defense across several positions) I will, for the first time, have to pass on him. He wouldn’t be a poor injury back-up, though, especially given his versatility.

If any position deserves four players, it’s third base. Fangraphs, for one, has Cabrera, Machado, Josh Donaldson, and Evan Longoria all in the top six for AL position players. You probably recognize the brilliance of the first two. Longoria is just bringing his usual stellar defense (over 10 runs saved) and offense (.292 average/.370 OBP/.531 slugging, 148 wRC+), good for 3.6 bWAR (ninth among AL position players) and 4.5 fWAR (fourth). Donaldson, meanwhile, is hitting even better; his 154 wRC+ (.317/.385/.533) is fifth behind only Cabrera, Davis, Ortiz, and Trout. Four third basemen doesn’t seem that far-fetched. Shout-outs to Kyle Seager and Adrian Beltre, both of whom probably would have made the NL team as back-ups if they were league-swapped.

Catchers are a little over-crowded. Mauer is a pretty clear first, and Castro is a not-distant second. Carlos Santana is hitting a little better (129 wRC+ to 122), but playing first base more often, and with less skill. Perez, meanwhile, is a defense-first starter who can kind of hit (104 wRC+). Fangraphs WAR has them all fairly close, with Castro leading Santana and Perez 2.2-1.8-1.6. Castro’s lead is decent, and he has the added reasoning of being the only Astro on the roster. He can stay. Santana and Perez are pretty close though, and with four third basemen and three second basemen, we may need to pass on a third catcher.

Prince Fielder is doing even worse than I first realized. He’s hitting a solid .266/.361/.464 (124 wRC+)...but James Loney is actually out-classing him, to the tune of .320/.373/.478 (137 wRC+). Even if part of that is luck, there’s no arguing who’s the better fielder. Despite his name, Prince is estimated by most defensive metrics as a full entire win worse than Loney with the glove. Really, the only other good choice for first is Edwin Encarnacion, who was picked as a back-up DH (for whatever sense that makes, although Edwin has technically played first more in 2013).

As for the outfield...Alex Gordon can stay. He’s played great defense in left for a while now while hitting above-average, and it’s great he’s finally being recognized (first All-Star selection). I wish I could say the same for Hunter and Cruz; both have seen better days. Hunter is hitting an above-average .307/.348/.435 (113 wRC+), but his defense and base running aren’t what they once were. Brett Garnder’s offense is close (.276/.335/.435, 109 wRC+), but he brings great base running and center field-defense. This is partly why Gardner laps Hunter in Value, too (B-R: 2.7 to 0.8; Fangraphs: 2.6 to 1.2).

Cruz is hit by the same factors, although he was never a good fielder or runner to start with. However, center fielder Austin Jackson has hit almost as well as Cruz, .274/.331/.533 with a 126 wRC+ for Cruz against a .295/.374/.419/120 wRC+ line for Jackson. A-Jax has missed around 30 games, but he makes up for it by playing a harder position (although fielding metrics are a little harsher towards him this year than in years past). Either way, even with less playing time, Jackson has been pretty clearly more valuable. Fangraphs WAR, for instance, goes 1.8-1.3 in Jackson’s favor. Shane Victorino makes a strong showing in total value, but a lot of that comes from off-the-charts defense. I might have been more willing to side with him if he had above average offense to go with it (95 wRC+), but his hitting plus flukish-looking defense makes his high WAR look a little less impressive next to Jackson. I would consider Victorino as a back-up, though.

That gives us 21 position players, the same number we began with. That means we should be clear to move on to our last stop, the pitchers.

Clay Buchholz (BOS)
Justin Verlander (DET)
Yu Darvish (TEX)
Felix Hernandez (SEA)
Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA)
Justin Masterson (CLE)
Chris Sale (CHW)
Max Scherzer (DET)
Brett Cecil (TOR)
Jesse Crain (CHW)
Joe Nathan (TEX)
Mariano Rivera (NYY)
Glen Perkins (MIN)
Bartolo Colon (OAK)

As some quick notes: Colon was an injury replacement for Buchholz. Crain is also hurt. This list covers the remaining unrepresented teams, too, between Sale (Chicago), Darvish (Texas), and Hernandez and Iwakuma (Seattle). Really, the only problem I have is the five relievers; starters are much more important, so I would like to keep most of the staff starters. Crain’s hurt and no replacement has been named, so there’s one free spot. I would also argue that Greg Holland should replace Perkins and Cecil, although I can see it any way:

Holland: 15.27 K/9 (AL-best)-3.00 BB/9-0.55 HR/9-1.91 ERA-1.47 Fielding Independent Pitching

Perkins: 12.40-1.93-0.55-1.93-1.85

Cecil: 10.23-2.66-0.20-1.43-1.98

I’d probably go with Perkins as my emergency injury replacement, but removing him and Cecil leaves us with two slots to reach 34 people.

First, I would take Derek Holland. Fangraphs has him second in the AL in pitching Wins Above Replacement. Even if you don’t think it’s that precise, that’s close enough to the top that it feels safe putting him in. How does he do it? Well, in 112 innings, he has 107 strikeouts (seventh-most) and an 8.60 K/9 rate (tenth among AL starters). Meanwhile, he’s held batters to only 0.56 homers/9. That, with a solid walk rate, leads to a 3.13 ERA and a 2.78 FIP.

For my last slot, I’ll take Aninbal Sanchez. Despite an injury keeping him to only 86.2 innings thus far, he has 105 Ks, tenth in the AL. That 10.90 K/9 (second to only Darvish) 0.42 HR/9 (second to only Doug Fister) help give him a 2.70 ERA and a American League-best 2.11 FIP. That’s partly why he’s tied for third in WAR for AL starters, despite his lack of innings. Honorable mentions (who, due to rules about pitcher usage, have a good chance of making the game) include James Shields (2.3 fWAR, 1.8 bWAR), Bud Norris (2.1, 2.6), and Hiroki Kuroda (1.9, 2.4).*

*I would also like to point out how ridiculous it is that the AL Final Vote spot contains five middle relievers while all of these snubs still exist.

So there you have it, still one player from each team and all. My total changes are:

James Loney (1B, TB) for Prince Fielder (1B, DET)
Evan Longoria (3B, TB) for Ben Zobrist (2B, TB)
Josh Donaldson (3B, OAK) for Salvador Perez (C, KC)
Jacoby Ellsbury (OF, BOS) for Adam Jones (OF, BAL)
Brett Gardner (OF, NYY) for Torii Hunter (OF, DET)
Austin Jackson (OF, DET) for Nelson Cruz (OF, TEX)
Derek Holland (SP, TEX) for Brett Cecil (RP, TOR)
Greg Holland (RP, KC) for Glen Perkins (RP, MIN)
Anibal Sanchez (SP, DET) for Final Vote

Honorable Mentions: Carlos Santana (CLE), Salvador Perez (KC), Kyle Seager (SEA), Adrian Beltre (TEX), Ben Zobrist (TB), Shane Victorino (BOS), James Shields (KC), Bud Norris (HOU), Hiroki Kuroda (NYY), Glen Perkins (MIN)

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