The All-Star voting closes tonight at 11:59pm, so with the Yankees enjoying a day of rest after Alex Rodriguez's big bang I thought I'd share my ballots.
With no designated hitter spot on the ballot due to the fact that the game is taking place in an NL park, this spot is mighty crowded. In fact, with Jason Giambi now a full-time DH due to the long awaited arrival of Andy Phillips, Paul Konerko is the only full-time first baseman worth looking at here (though I do have to give a shout to Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox' Andy Phillips).
Here are the key stats on Konerko, Giambi and the three top designated hitters, all of whom shift to first base in NL parks, along with the number of games they've played at first thus far this year (all stats prior to yesterday's games).
Travis Hafner's career line is .296/.399/.568. Last year he hit .305/.408/.595 with 42 doubles, 33 homers, 108 RBIs and a .345 EQA and finished fifth in the MVP voting. The year before he hit .311/.410/.583 with 41 doubles, 28 homers, 109 RBIs and a .335 EQA. Travis Hafner has never been selected to an All-Star team, even as a reserve. This has to end this year. David Ortiz is the vote leader, but he's the least worthy of the five candidates above. What's more, Hafner is David Ortiz. He's a hulking, late-blooming lefty 1B-turned-DH who was tossed aside by his previous team. The primary differences between the two are that Ortiz has had the media exposure and postseason opportunities Hafner hasn't and Hafner is a year younger than Ortiz and is thus Ortiz, in a rather startling parallel, has made Hafner's improvements in production a year ahead of his Cleveland counterpart. At any rate, given the defensive shortcomings of his rivals and the relative insignificance of first base defense, Travis Hafner is my pick hands down.
It's a bummer that Robinson Cano's hamstring injury will prevent him from playing in what I hope is the first of many All-Star games, because he's the current vote leader and a worthy pick. Here's Robbie in contrast to top rival Brian Roberts and 22-year-old Mariners' newcomer Jose Lopez:
Lopez has prettier counting stats than Robbie, and Roberts has the added dimension of speed (those who said Cano's hamstring injury is particularly problematic because he's a player who relies on his speed have likely never seen Robbie play), but I have to give the tie breaker to Cano because of his tremedous lead on defense.
One of the game's biggest stars and a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer, Derek Jeter (.333/.426/.459) has only made one of the last three All-Star teams. That should change this year as, despite regression on defense, he's easily been the AL's best shortstop. His rivals are Miguel Tejada, Carlos Guillen and Michael Young. Young is the only one playing superlative defense and none of them have done any damage on the bases. Jeter, meanwhile has stolen 15 bases at an 88 percent clip and has out hit everyone, leading AL shortstops in average, OBP, EQA, VORP, walks and steals.
Yesterday's hero, Alex Rodriguez (.276/.388/.487, 15 HR, 52 RBIs) has a similar claim on the third base spot. Troy Glaus, Mike Lowell and Joe Crede have all had fantastic seasons that rival Rodriguez's, but the Yankee third-sacker leads in VORP, EQA, OBP, walks, RBIs and runs scored. Rodriguez's defense has been just average compared to the excellent glove work of Lowell and Crede, but Alex has gone 8 for 11 on the bases while Lowell and Crede have just one stolen base between them. As a solid fielder who combines power and speed and has had the best overall offensive season among the group, I have to give Rodriguez the edge. Anyone surprised by this selection will likely claim that this choice should be easier to make, but should take note that Rodriguez is still the best third baseman in the league and the only member of my AL ballot from last year to reappear this year.
This is the easiest pick in the AL. Joe Mauer (.389/.454/.533, 7 for 8 on the bases, great defense), no one else is even close.
Now would be a good time to point out for anyone wondering how the Yankees have survived the loss of Matsui and Sheffield that Cano, Jeter and Rodriguez have been the best in the league at their respective positions thus far this season, Giambi is essentially tied with Jim Thome for second behind Travis Hafner at 1B/DH, Johnny Damon has exceeded expectations in center (passing his 2005 homer total and coming within two of his 2005 steal total before the half-way mark), and Jorge Posada is the best AL catcher after Mauer. That doesn't even count Andy Phillips' hitting .362/.378/.623 since finally cracking the starting line-up a month ago in Detroit. Having said that, we won't be running into any more Bombers the rest of the way.
The three most productive outfielders in the AL do me a favor by distributing themselves across the three positions. Perennial choice Manny Ramirez (.302/.436/.603, 20 HR, 53 RBIs) is in left. Vernon Wells has been a defensive liability in center for the Blue Jays, but his offense (.316/.382/.611, 20 HR, 62 RBIs, 9 for 12 on the bases) has more than made up for it, answering anyone who thought his 2003 season was a fluke. Finally, last year's World Series MVP, Jermaine Dye has followed that distinction with the best year of his career, hitting .303/.390/.615 with 20 homers and 54 RBIs. Missing the cut are surprise performances by youngsters Alex Rios and Nick Swisher, confirmation of future greatness from Grady Sizemore, and a career year by 31-year-old disappointment Gary Matthews Jr.
It helps that Derrek Lee got hurt, but still, there's no one in the major leagues who can hang with Albert Pujols (.312/.441/.732, 26 HR and 67 RBI despite a stint on the DL, and remarkable defense). He is by far the best player in baseball.
The numbers are less overwhelming, but Dan Uggla (.313/.366/.532, 113 Rate) is as easy a choice as Pujols and Mauer here, beating Chase Utley and revived prospect Brandon Phillips hands down.
This is where the NL starts to get tough. Jose Reyes or my surprise pick from last year, Bill Hall?
Okay that's not that close, and if I'm going to include Hall, I should probably include Edgar Renteria (.303/.384/.442, 8 for 10 on the bases and above average in the field) as well, but I figured I owed you guys a chart here, so there you go. For those who can't figure it out, my pick is Jose Reyes.
I thought third base would be a tight battle between relocated Marlin Miguel Cabrera and emerging Met megastar David Wright (.332/.401/.600, 18 HR, 65 RBI, 11 for 13 on the bases, .329 EQA), but it turns out Wright hasn't really been all that great in the field and Cabrera has not only held his own at third, but has been superior at the plate (.347/.444/.579, 12 HR, 52 RBI, .344 EQA). These two are both 23 years old and if Cabrera stays put at the hot corner this should emerge into one heck of a rivalry between two Hall of Fame talents from the NL East. This year, however, I'm sticking with Miguel Cabrera, who made my ballot last year as an outfielder, while stiffing Wright because of his defense for the second year in a row.
This is the NL's answer to second base in the AL, where the term "star" is used most loosely. This fight, if you'll pardon the choice of words, is between the Braves' Brian McCann and the Cubs' Michael Barrett (.308/.370/.508). Barrett was the NL's best catcher a year ago (though I foolishly fell for notorious second-half swooner Paul Lo Duca at ballot time) and was in the mix in 2004 after years of futility in Montreal. McCann is a 22-year-old in his first full season and a player the Yankees should keep an eye on as 21-year-old superprospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia is bound to take his job in a couple of years (though Salty has struggled mightily in double-A thus far this year). Actually, this one's not all that close either, Brian McCann (.352/.417/.515) beats Barrett across the board on both sides of the ball. In fact, if he keeps this up, Saltalamacchia might be the player the Braves decide to move.
Much like in the AL, the outfielders have made it easy this year, with a clearcut candidate from center and two corner men who elevate themselves above the rest: repeat vote Jason Bay (.286/.402/.554, 20 HR, 56 RBI, plus defense) in left, Carlos Beltran not only confirming the second year in New York theory, but enjoying the best season of his career (.291/.403/.623, 21 HR, 60 RBI, 12 for 15 on the bases, outstanding defense) in center, and out-of-nowhere Rockies left fielder Matt Holliday (.354/.398/.616, 15 HR, 54 RBI) improving on his breakout sophomore season by bettering his stats despite the reduced park effects of Coors Field and getting my vote for right field.
So, my final ballots are:
1B - Travis Hafner
2B - Robinson Cano
SS - Derek Jeter
3B - Alex Rodriguez
C - Joe Mauer
LF - Manny Ramirez
CF - Vernon Wells
RF - Jermaine Dye
1B - Albert Pujols
2B - Dan Uggla
SS - Jose Reyes
3B - Miguel Cabrera
C - Brian McCann
LF - Jason Bay
CF - Carlos Beltran
RF - Matt Holliday
Checking the voting, Pujols, Reyes, Beltran and Bay are in line to take their rightful palaces in the NL, but a weak fanbase has hurt the two Marlins. At least proper second choices Utley and Wright have the leads at their positions, though Utley and both Mets are being threatened by less worthy candidates. Catcher is a disaster with that man Lo Duca again in the lead, while Alfonso Soriano, Ken Griffey Jr. and Andruw Jones are battling for the final outfield spot, which is no real surprise as all are having strong seasons and Holliday has almost no name recognition outside of Colorado.
In the AL, the trio of Yankee infielders and Ramirez are in place, but Red Sox fans are screwing things up by forcing Varitek and Ortiz in where they don't belong and pushing Cano and Rodriguez with Loretta and Lowell. On the flip side, Giambi is the player with the best shot at Ortiz at first. Mauer is making a late surge, but will need a lot of help as he is still in third at the time of this post. Vlad, Ichiro and Damon have blocked out Wells and Dye in the outfield. Wells at least has a chance as he's currently in fifth with the top three vote getters getting the start. Hafner, meanwhile, is pretty much screwed once again. Here's hoping the players do the right thing and vote him in.
For those who haven't done so yet, you can vote 25 times on line before midnight. Get to work fixing everyone else's mess, woodja?