Thursday, June 30, 2011

The WAR All-Stars: AL

With All Star fan balloting coming to a close at midnight on Thursday and the first round of All-Stars being announced on Sunday, it seemed to make sense to put together a slightly more sabermetric All-Star team. Using the top players by WAR at each position, I’ve filled out the rosters for both leagues. All-Star rules apply, so each team has a representative... if a team didn’t naturally have a player on the squad, I added whichever one of their players had accrued the most WAR to replace a borderline player, who I bumped from the squad. I’ll break the lists up by position and give you a bit of analysis as we go. AL today, NL next. Just a disclaimer… I’m not saying this should be the All Star rosters, or that these are the guys that necessarily deserve to play in the game, although in some cases that may be true. Just interesting to look at who’s provided the most value to their teams roughly midway through the season.

Alex Avila, DET
Matt Wieters, BAL

In a weak year for AL catchers, Avila has stepped up for the AL Central leading Tigers. He’s nearly a win ahead of every other catcher in the league. Wieters has been solid but unspectacular at the plate, but he’s adding value behind the dish by shutting down his opponents’ running games. Wieters has gunned down 21 of 49 would-be basestealers for a league-leading 43% caught stealing rate.

First Base:
Adrian Gonzalez, BOS
Mark Teixeira, NYY

Miggy’s a win ahead of Teixeira, but since Teixeira’s got the better glove by a longshot I’ve slotted him in as the DH and Teixeira as the backup first baseman behind Gonzalez. Adrian’s adjustment to the AL has gone just fine, thank you.

Second Base:
Ben Zobrist, TB
Howie Kendrick, LAA
Dustin Pedroia, BOS
Ian Kinsler, TEX

Currently, four second baseman have accrued more than 3 WAR. No other infield position has more than two players who have reached that plateau. Of course, using both of the two flex infield spots at the same position creates some issues at the other infield positions, as we’ve only got one backup each (though Cabrera provides a backup first baseman). Fortunately, Zobrist’s versatility got him this far, and this iteration of the AL All-Star team won’t let it go to waste. I’d highly recommend Jonah Keri’s recent FanGraphs article on Zobrist as a stealth MVP candidate. Kendrick has flown under the radar somewhat, but his 138 wRC+ and 10.1 UZR lead all second basemen (though the usual qualifiers about small-sample defensive stats certainly apply) despite his only playing in 68 games. Pedroia and Kinsler make it on the strength of combined positive value at the plate, in the field, and on the basepaths. Incredible to have four AL second basemen without Cano, but despite his power, Cano doesn’t walk and these four second basemen have all been significantly better than him defensively.

Third Basemen:
Alex Rodriguez, NYY
Evan Longoria, TB

After 6 straight years of below-average defense, Rodriguez is putting up a bounce-back year, according to UZR, and has added almost a win on defense already. Definitely something we’ll want to check back on later in the year, as it could be a statistical blip or a sign Rodriguez is healthy and ready to get back to earning his ridiculous contract after playing in less than 140 games in each of the past three years. Longoria is tied with Youkilis and Beltre with 2.5 WAR, but he gets the nod since he’s done it in more than 20 less games. As usual, he’s producing in every aspect of the game.

Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE
Jhonny Peralta, DET

Cabrera came into camp and decided he was going to be the best shortstop in the AL. Just like that. Some things, you just can’t explain. He’s a new man with the bat and is putting together quite the highlight reel of impressive plays with the glove as well, though UZR rates him poorly. Nobody’s talking about Peralta, but his 144 wRC+ leads AL shortstops and he’s on pace to put up mid-20s homers, which he hasn’t done since 2008, when he was with the Indians. Peralta’s looking to match his 2005 career year, and he’s well on his way. If the Tigers win the Central despite almost no production from the hot corner and various other offensive issues, he’ll be a major reason why.

Jose Bautista, TOR
Curtis Granderson, NYY
Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS
Alex Gordon, KC
Brett Gardner, NYY
Denard Span, MIN
Matt Joyce, TB

Bautista is the best hitter in the league, though Granderson’s new approach at the plate this year is vaulting him into the conversation. Ellsbury and Gardner supplement their value at the plate with superlative defense. Alex Gordon, who finally doesn’t have to be "The Guy" in a lineup that now includes two of the top prospects in baseball, is responding brilliantly. Span’s having a great year in the field, and he’s cut his strikeout rate each year he’s been in the majors, including this one. He’s put up as much value as he did last year (2.6 WAR) in only 56 games, as he’s been dealing with concussion issues lately. Matt Joyce has been one of the biggest surprises of the first half, as his absurd 237 May wRC+ helped the Rays climb back into the race after their April swoon (as did Longoria’s return to the lineup). Carlos Quentin just misses the cut, so he’s your alternate if Span can’t make it back.

Jered Weaver, LAA
Justin Verlander, DET
CC Sabathia, NYY
David Price, TB
Felix Hernandez, SEA
Dan Haren, LAA
Gio Gonzalez, OAK

One of these things is not like the other thing. I originally just had the first six with the intention of taking nine relievers, but I couldn’t find an Athletic I wanted for the squad, so Jim Johnson loses his spot in favor of Gonzalez. Gio’s been good, but he clearly doesn’t fit along with this incredible rotation. Verlander has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since he came into the league, but this year he’s on another level. Weaver’s not quite on pace to match his league-leading K total from last year, but he forms a dominant tandem at the top of the Angels rotation with the chronically underrated Haren. Sabathia’s well on his way to his best season in pinstripes, although that’s partially due to an incredible home run suppression rate he may not be able to maintain. Price is on his way to a significant increase in strikeout rate for the second straight year. King Felix is also putting up a career high strikeout rate and his xFIP would be his best for a full season if he can match his production over the second half. He debuted in 2005, so it’s easy to forget that the guy is still only 25 years old. Scary thought for the rest of the AL, especially if the Mariners can get their prospects to produce in the majors. If they can lock him up, Hernandez-Pineda-Hultzen could be as good a top three as you’ll find West of Philly.

Mariano Rivera, NYY
Jonathan Papelbon, BOS
Jordan Walden, LAA
Sergio Santos, CWS
Al Albuquerque, DET
David Robertson, NYY
Daniel Bard, BOS
Glen Perkins, MIN
Vinnie Pestano, CLE

Using WAR gets a little wonky with relievers, as there are a ton grouped right around the one-ish WAR mark. You can basically mark down Rivera for an appearance in the Midsummer Classic before the season even begins. He’s bouncing back after a steep decline in strikeout rate last year. At this point, you basically just have to assume he’ll keep pitching until he’s eligible for Social Security (or the Panamanian equivalent). Papelbon’s actually been fairly unlucky, as his 3.90 ERA masks the fact that he’s been having one of the best years of his career. K rate up, walk rate down, and his xFIP is at a career-best 2.34. Walden’s been handed the closer’s role after an impressive rookie year, and the way he’s been pitching, he could be handling the ninth for the Angels for quite some time. His average fastball velocity of 97.6 MPH is the best in the AL. Santos was picked off the scrap heap in 2008. A converted shortstop, Santos took over the closer role when Matt Thornton faltered (Thornton’s better suited to being a lefty specialist) and hasn’t looked back. Albuquerque and Roberton ride strikeout rates of 14+ per nine onto this list despite being more than a bit wild. Bard is the closer-in-waiting in Boston should Papelbon go elsewhere in free agency next offseason. Perkins has the combination of strikeout stuff and the ability to induce groundballs that makes him a solid arm at the back of the bullpen, and Pestano’s strikeout rate is just a little behind Robertson and Albuquerque’s for the league lead, although he makes up for that by throwing more strikes. Both Perkins and Pestano’s sub-2 ERAs are the result of a bit of luck, but there’s also a whole lot of skill there, as both boast sub-2.5 FIPs.

This looks a whole lot different than the AL All-Star roster that will be announced Sunday, but that’s not the point. Ladies and gentlemen, these are your top producers of the (almost) first half of the season. Though many of these players won’t make the All-Star game itself, kudos to them on coming up huge for their respective teams thus far.

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