Thursday, July 11, 2013

2013 All-Star Roster Corrections: NL Edition

I would say Bruce Bochy/the NL All-Star Squad out-sensibled Jim Leyland/the AL/whoever’s responsible for the mess that is All-Star selection. While making the roster, I felt like it was the other way around; I was making all sorts of changes on the NL roster. Then I realized that a lot of that was fixing problems the fans made in voting, something that miraculously (almost) didn’t happen at all in the AL. Between these two, these may be the most reasonable All-Star Rosters that I’ve covered.

On top of that, a lot of the picks in the NL wound up feeling almost like personal preference picks, like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic (or Queen Mary*, depending on how you feel about the NL’s chances this year, I suppose).

*I guess this sort of destroys the comparison, though. Either way.

I would like to add that, where the AL is stacked at second and third base, the NL is well-stocked behind the plate, at shortstop, and in the outfield. I couldn’t even fit people like Brian McCann or Evan Gattis in, and young stars like Giancarlo Stanton and Jason Heyward had just enough bad luck in their years to let a bunch of other players into the discussion (but more on the mess that is the outfield once I get to it).

But enough of that; the starting lineup is:
C-Yadier Molina (STL)
1B-Joey Votto (CIN)
2B-Brandon Phillips (CIN)
3B-David Wright (NYM)
SS-Troy Tulowitzki (COL)
OF-Carlos Beltran (STL)
OF-Carlos Gonzalez (COL)
OF-Bryce Harper (WAS)

It’s not bad, but the fans weren’t quite as good as in the AL. Bochy and the players did a good job covering their snubs, though, so every change I would make would just involve promoting someone from the bench. And even then, most of the players I would be “replacing” would still make the team, just as the backups.

Really, it’s just the outfield and second base that are giving me issues. At second, it’s hard to argue for Brandon Phillips over Matt Carpenter unless you start bringing in past performance. Phillips is the better fielder, but Carpenter is no slouch with the glove by most fielding stats (especially for a converted third basemen). The bat is clearly in Carpenter’s favor, though. Matt is hitting .322/.393/.496 (average/OBP/slugging), good for a 150 weighted Runs Created+ (meaning, adjusted for park, he’s hitting 50% better than league average). Phillips, meanwhile, has a solid-yet-unspectacular .262/.316/.412 line, a 95 wRC+. Both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference have Carpenter as one of the best players in the league so far (3.9 bWAR, 4.1 fWAR), while Phillips is again merely decent (1.7 bWAR, 1.9 fWAR).

In the outfield, as well as Harper (152 wRC+) and Beltran (146 wRC+) have hit, it’s difficult to argue that they top the all-around games of Carlos Gomez and Andrew McCutchen. Both made the team already, but their advantages are a full set of games played (Harper’s injury has limited him to under 55 games so far) and healthy knees (Beltran’s have cut into his fielding). Both versions of WAR have Gomez leading the NL in the first half (4.9 fWAR, 5.5 bWAR); a .305/.346/.547 batting line (143 wRC+) and a dozen or so runs saved on defense (Fangraphs estimates 14, with another 4 from baserunning) will do that. McCutchen is no slouch either, with his .300/.372/.464 line (133 wRC+) and over half a dozen runs saved (Fangraphs) contributing to 3.9 fWAR (sixth among NL batters) and 4.6 bWAR (tied for third). More on Harper and Beltran later.

With that, on to the back-ups:

C-Buster Posey (SFG)
1B-Paul Goldschmidt (ARI), Allen Craig (STL)
2B-Matt Carpenter (STL), Marco Scutaro (SFG)
3B-Pedro Alvarez (PIT)
SS-Everth Cabrera (SDP), Jean Segura (MIL)
OF-Michael Cuddyer (COL), Domonic Brown (PHI), Carlos Comez (MIL), Andrew McCutchen (PIT)

As I mentioned, catching has been deep in the NL this year. Brian McCann, Evan Gattis, and A.J. Ellis have all been good, but Russell Martin has been even better for the surprising Pirates. Martin is acclaimed defensively, which is a good starting point for anyone catching. Martin brings an above-average bat with it, though, hitting .242/.345/.403 (114 wRC+). Fangraphs likes him to the tune of 2.9 WAR, while B-R has him at 3.1. It’s not as good as Molina (4.0 fWAR, 3.7 bWAR) or Posey (3.9 fWAR, 3.8 bWAR), but it’s still deserving of recognition.

To free up the slot, do we really need three first basemen on the roster? Maybe a few seasons ago, when we were getting incredible seasons from Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, and Prince Fielder. This year, though, we have Joey Votto (.318/.429/.504, 155 wRC+) and Paul Goldschmidt (.310/.388/.560, 154 wRC+), then everybody else. Allen Craig has been solid (.329/.372/.494, 142 wRC+), but not quite on that same All-Star level. WAR backs this up, with Votto (3.6 fWAR, 3.9 bWAR) and Goldschmidt (3.9 fWAR, 4.6 bWAR) well ahead of everyone else.

At second base, Scutaro and Phillips aren’t bad, but neither is having a season even close to Carpenter. Scutaro is rated as more or less the same value as Phillips but with more hitting (121 wRC+) and less fielding (slightly below average). Instead, why not go with Chase Utley? He’s been hurt (only 62 games), but when he’s played, he’s hit better than any regular second baseman who isn’t Matt Carpenter, posting a .276/.339/.504 line and a 131 wRC+. On top of that, he’s his normal great-fielding self. I’m more inclined to look past fewer games if the player has been that much better (2.6 bWAR, 2.6 fWAR).

With one fewer second baseman, I’d actually take another shortstop (although there’s a good chance Tulowitzki will miss the game anyway). Ian Desmond has been one of the few offensive bright spots for the Nats this year, building off last year’s breakout campaign by hitting .278/.322/.493 (a 122 wRC+). As a decent-fielding shortstop, it’s good for 3.2 fWAR and 2.3 bWAR. Points for Hanley Ramirez’s late run, and if the field were weak like at second, he may have made it.

Third base is fine, although I can see (and have seen) arguments for Todd Frazier (depending on whether you think he’s turned his fielding around) or Ryan Zimmerman (partly ignoring his injury-hit defense, partly by using a weak year to apologize for him only making one Midsummer Classic to date).

The outfield is a mess of too many options, really. I can see arguments for all of Cuddyer, Brown, Harper, and Beltran. There are a bunch of other good outfielders right there with them, too, between Dexter Fowler, Gerardo Parra, Hunter Pence, Yasiel Puig, and Marlon Byrd. None of their teams are hurting for representatives, either; everyone of those teams is covered already except for the Mets and Dodgers (spoiler alert: Matt Harvey and Clayton Kershaw will be mentioned in the future), meaning we can focus solely on who should be on the team.

The conversation doesn’t start with them, though. NL Central natives Shin-Soo Choo and Starling Marte have been quietly backing up their starting teammates with All-Star campaigns of their own. Choo has been reaching base any way he can, getting walked, getting hits, or getting hit himself (20 already, far in the lead). It adds up to a .271/.413/.448 line and a 142 wRC+. He losses a lot of defense, but he is playing out of position in center (God only knows why, since starting left fielder Ryan Ludwick has been hurt most of the year, freeing up his normal corner outfield spot; I’ll just blame Dusty Baker, since that’s my usual answer). Despite that, he’s managed 2.1 bWAR and 2.5 fWAR. If nothing else, I’ll take the league-leading OBP.

Starling Marte’s on-base percentage isn’t quite as strong, as he’s posting only a .288/.338/.456 line (still a solid 122 wRC+). However, he’s been using his speed to great effect-Fangraphs, for one, credits him with over 13 runs created between his fielding and base-running. Both sites agree he has been massively valuable, with Fangraphs pegging him at 3.3 Wins and Baseball-Reference placing him at 3.9 Wins (fourth among NL outfielders in both cases).

That would leave two slots for the remaining nine or so players to fight over, except that there’s also the Final Vote slot. Since All-Star teams usually have 13 pitchers and we only have 20 position players, it’s safe to set that spot aside for a position player. For two of those slots, I would go with Yasiel Puig and Bryce Harper. I went over this some the other day, but basically, Harper’s performance over the past year is a good tie-breaker for him, and Puig has just hit so much better than everyone else that I feel he’s justified.

And for that last slot? That’s tough. Cuddyer is the best hitter in the remaining group, with a 153 wRC+ barely edging out Harper’s 152. However, Beltran isn’t that far behind at 146, and his mark is probably more sustainable (Cuddyer has a .373 batting average on balls in play). But also, both have been awful on defense. Domonic Brown hasn’t hit quite as well (137 wRC+), but he plays better (still below average) defense. Pence (113), Fowler (129), and Byrd (122) are all above-average with the bat and glove, while Parra is more defense-based in his value. I’m going with Brown (maybe just in part because it’s good to see top prospects finally put it all together), but I really could be swayed to support any of them. The Cardinals fan in me still kind of wants to support Beltran, but really, these last three spots just don’t have clear-cut favorites.

And then, there was just the pitching staff:

Adam Wainwright (STL)
Matt Harvey (NYM)
Cliff Lee (PHI)
Clayton Kershaw (LAD)
Jordan Zimmermann (WAS)
Travis Wood (CHC)
Jose Fernandez (MIA)
Jeff Locke (PIT)
Patrick Corbin (ARI)
Madison Bumgarner (SFG)
Jason Grilli (PIT)
Craig Kimbrel (ATL)
Aroldis Chapman (CIN)

Major kudos to the NL for sticking to only three relievers and maxing out on starters. Kimbrel, Wood, and Fernandez are all their teams’ only representatives, and there aren’t many clear better choices. You could probably argue for Jeff Samardzija instead off Wood, but I left Wood since he was already on the team. I don’t think anyone would argue against Wainwright, Harvey, Lee, Kershaw, or Zimmermann. Corbin hasn’t been quite as good as those five, but he’s been good enough to earn his spot. Also, I don’t normally but relievers on the same level as starters, but I wouldn’t debate Grilli either, who’s been lights out for the Pirates. That leaves us only three spots to debate: Locke, Chapman, and Bumgarner. I would argue for Mat Latos over Bumgarner. In two fewer innings, Latos has four more strike outs, the same number of walks allowed (accounting for intentional walks), and three fewer homers allowed. That adds up to a 3.18 ERA, compared to Bumgarner’s 3.05...except that Latos plays in a hitter’s park, and Bumgarner doesn’t. Latos’s ERA+ is actually 126 to Madison’s 111. Fielding Independent Pitching also like Latos more, 2.96 to 3.36.

For the last starter slot, Jeff Locke has been very fortunate to post a 2.15 ERA, and owes a lot of it to his lucky .228 batting average on balls in play. His 3.82 FIP is a better indicator of his performance. Why not use the last spot on NL Rookie of the First Half Shelby Miller? Although Miller has ten fewer innings, he does have over 30 more strikeouts (107 to 73) and about half as many walks (47 to 24) while posting a still respectable 2.80 ERA and 2.91 FIP. It’s also worth noting that his 9.66 K/9 ranks behind only Matt Harvey and the injured A.J. Burnett in the NL.

For the last reliever spot, I can see going with Chapman, but I would probably go with Mark Melancon instead. Grilli’s set-up man is impressive in his own right, posting an 0.85 ERA and a 1.65 FIP in 42.1 innings. Fangraphs also has him as the league leader in Shut Downs (description here, but basically, it’s the equivalent of a save, but it can be credited in any inning, not just the ninth). Honorable mentions to Stephen Strasburg, Jorge De La Rosa, Homer Bailey, and Aroldis Chapman as the inevitable injury replacements.

With that, we are finished with out NL Roster updates. The differences are:

Matt Carpenter (2B, STL), Carlos Gomez (OF, MIL), Andrew McCutchen (OF, PIT) promoted to Starting Lineup
Russell Martin (C, PIT) for Allen Craig (1B, STL)
Chase Utley (2B, PHI) for Brandon Phillips (2B, CIN)
Ian Desmond (SS, WAS) for Marco Scutaro (2B, SFG)
Shin-Soo Choo (OF, CIN) for Michael Cuddyer (OF, COL)
Starling Marte (OF, PIT) for Carlos Beltran (OF, STL)
Yasiel Puig (OF, LAD) for Final Vote
Mat Latos (SP, CIN) for Madison Bumgarner (SP, SFG)
Shelby Miller (SP, STL) for Jeff Locke (SP, PIT)
Mark Melancon (RP, PIT) for Aroldis Chapman (RP, CIN)

Honorable Mentions: Brian McCann (ATL), Evan Gattis (ATL), A.J. Ellis (LAD), Marco Scutaro (SFG), Brandon Phillips (CIN), Todd Frazier (CIN), Ryan Zimmerman (WAS), Michael Cuddyer (COL), Carlos Beltran (STL), Gerardo Parra (ARI), Dexter Fowler (COL), Hunter Pence (SFG), Marlon Byrd (NYM), Jeff Samardzija (CHC), Jorge De La Rosa (COL), Stephen Strasburg (WAS), Homer Bailey (CIN), Aroldis Chapman (CIN)

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