Continuing (and finishing) our heralded two-part series about under-the-radar All-Star candidates, and with a great deal of help from SweetSpot Network bloggers ...
Astros: Michael Bourn
Bourn’s .257 batting average can make him easy to overlook, even on the Astros, but he’s as solid an All-Star candidate as they’ve got. He does everything you want from a leadoff hitter. He gets on base: second on the team in walks (30) and on-base percentage (.333). He moves up when he gets there: leads the NL in stolen bases (22). And he scores runs: tied for the team lead (43). Bourn is also one of the best defensive outfielders in the majors with seven assists and the third-best UZR among center fielders (7.2).
- Austin Swafford, Astros 290 Blog
Braves: Billy Wagner
Wagner might not be the most visible All-Star candidate with only 15 saves, but that has less to do with Wagner's performance -- which has been excellent -- and more to do with the Braves rarely being in save situations. Among qualified National League relievers, Wagner's 1.19 ERA ranks fourth and his 13.65 K/9 ranks second. Wagner will supposedly retire at the end of the year, and as well as he's pitched this year and throughout his entire career, he deserves one more All-Star Game appearance. Plus I'm sure both the NL fans and the league itself would love to have a lefty with a 97 MPH fastball in their bullpen.
- Peter Hjort III, Capitol Avenue Club
Brewers: Yovani Gallardo
Perhaps he's not the most obvious, but the most deserving of All-Stars for the Milwaukee Brewers this season is none other than a starting pitcher -- Yovani Gallardo. He's the ace of a starting rotation full of scraps and prayers, but that shouldn't distract us from how well he's pitched this year. After 16 starts, Gallardo's 115 strikeouts is second in the National League to only Tim Lincecum. He's walking fewer than four batters a game for the first time in his career, and he's only allowed five balls to leave the yard all season. Whether its ERA (2.36), FIP (2.87), tERA (3.30), xFIP (3.42), or WAR (2.8), Gallardo clearly is among the best pitchers in the NL this season, and deserves to be in the dugout in Anaheim next month.
- Jack Moore, Disciples of Uecker
Cardinals: Matt Holliday
It's easier to be overlooked when your teammate is the game's best player (Albert Pujols), but don't hold that against Holliday. He's simply the National League's best outfielder, leading peers with a 3.1 WAR. That's even better than Pujols himself, who leads all candidates in votes. Holliday has actually out-Pujolsed Pujols, lifting the Cardinals on his broad shoulders this season as Pujols experienced a relative power outage. And it's not like Holliday is some upstart: He led left fielders in WAR last year, too. Shouldn't the league's best outfielder start in the All-Star Game?
- Matt Phillip, Fungoes
Cubs: Carlos Marmol
Looking at the roster, the obvious choice to represent the Cubs is Marlon Byrd or Alfonso Soriano. However, as a National League fan, there is no one on this roster I want playing for my league more than Marmol. When he’s on, and it’s been often this year, his stuff is perhaps the most unhittable in the majors. His 16+ K/9 ratio is other-worldly. If the game is late and close, would you rather have Byrd’s bat or Marmol’s electric stuff? I’ll take the latter. I love what Byrd and Soriano have done for this team -- especially considering the putrid showing from their teammates -- but me, I want Marmol.
- Joe Aiello, View from the Bleachers
Diamondbacks: Kelly Johnson
Dan Haren might be ticketed for his fourth straight All-Star Game ... except he leads the National League with 19 home runs allowed, which has ballooned his ERA to 4.65. So, no. Which doesn't leave many options. Haren's been Arizona's best starter, the bullpen's been a disaster, and the lineup's been almost uniformly uninspiring (though generally effective). But some way, somehow Charlie Manuel should find room on that 34-man roster for Johnson. Because he -- not Chase Utley, not .331-hitting Martin Prado, and not speedster Brandon Phillips or slugger Dan Uggla -- leads National League second basemen with an .851 OPS. Granted, Johnson might not actually be one of the three (or four) best second basemen in the league. But there must be a Diamondback and Johnson's been the best of them.
Dodgers: Hong-Chih Kuo
Assuming that one bad game against the mighty Yankees didn't ruin Jonathan Broxton's otherwise impeccable All-Star resume, I'd like to make a case for another inclusion from the Dodger bullpen.
Hong-Chih Kuo, whose career should have ended long ago with one of his many surgeries, has been spellbinding this year. Overall, he has a 1.16 ERA, striking out 29 in 23 1/3 innings while allowing only nine hits and seven walks. And as June heads into July, Kuo still hasn't allowed a hit to a left-handed batter all season. They are 0-for-25 against him with 12 strikeouts. (Kuo has allowed a whopping .224 on-base percentage to righties.) Besides the fact that he's a great story, besides the fact that Kuo would sincerely help in a "This Time It Counts" All-Star scenario, there's just this: He is practically unhittable. And this isn't new. Since 2008, Kuo has a 2.16 ERA and 157 strikeouts in 133 innings while allowing 90 hits. The rest of the Dodgers bullpen might be spotty, but like Broxton, Kuo belongs among the NL's All-Star relief corps.
- Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts
Giants: Andres Torres
Torres deserves to be penciled onto this year's National League All-Star team. Torres, a 32-year-old journeyman who's collected more than 4,300 at-bats in the minor leagues, has been an incredible asset to the Giants this year. The case for Torres is simple: He does everything well. His current +2.8 Wins Above Replacement ranks him among players like Ichiro (2.8), Vernon Wells (2.7), and even the almighty Pujols (2.6). He plays one of the best defensive center fields in baseball and he both gets on-base (.375) and hits for moderate power (.448 SLG). That package of skills is (or should be) the definition of an All-Star. Any way you slice it, a remarkable turn-around for this former journeyman.
- Chris Quick, Bay City Ball
Marlins: Leo Nunez
It's hard to say how many relievers will fit on the NL roster, but if there's room for a non-Hanley Ramirez Marlin, Nunez has a pretty good case. Just an afterthought not so long ago -- the Royals traded him to Florida for Mike Jacobs, who's now out of the majors -- Nunez has been one of the league's top closer this season, thanks to lots of strikes and just one home run.
Mets: R.A. Dickey
Despite a short stint in the majors, Stephen Strasburg’s making a case for All-Star consideration due to performance and fan interest.
Similarly, there's an argument for Dickey. Dickey’s won six of the eight games he’s started, sporting a 2.98 ERA. His story resembles a Disney movie script, rising from the ashes and succeeding via the knuckleball. Everyone loves the knuckler for its rarity and “everyman” connotation; not everyone succeeds throwing a knuckleball, but anyone can (theoretically speaking, that is). Fans can more easily relate to the average-guy Dickey than the phenom-freak Strasburg -- believing he could be in Dickey’s spikes, on the mound at the ASG.
It happens every spring.
- Joe Janish, Mets Today
Nationals: Josh Willingham
Josh Willingham won't be an All-Star. He's on an awful team with two other legitimate offensive All-Stars and with the hottest commodity in baseball stealing any grassroots support. Still, he deserves a spot. At this writing, his .402 on-base percentage is the best among National League outfielders by a healthy margin (he's third in the league in walks and OBP). He's also sixth among all NL outfielders in slugging and fourth in homers. And while some might balk at Willingham's .276 batting average, in 2010 that's enough to put him 15th among his positional peers. All while playing a surprising solid left field. If you want to reward the best first-half outfielders, you have to include Josh Willingham.
- Harper Gordek, Nationals Baseball
Padres: Luke Gregerson
It's always an uphill All-Star battle for non-closer relievers, and probably doubly steep for a non-closer like Gregerson whose closer teammate (Heath Bell) is himself a fine candidate. But if the idea is to win the All-Star Game, don't you want Gregerson available in the seventh or eighth inning? In 39 innings, Gregerson has struck out 51 hitters. That's impressive, though other relievers have similar (or better) strikeout rates. But Gregerson has issued only four walks this season ... and one of those was intentional. He has, suddenly and surprisingly, become one of the best relievers in the majors, and Manuel could use a guy like him.
Phillies: Jayson Werth
Werth is probably the least useful suggestion on this list. He's probably going to finish out of the money in the fan voting -- at last count he was fourth among outfielders, behind Ryan Braun, Jason Heyward, and Andre Ethier -- but with Heyward hitting the DL, Werth is the brilliantly obvious choice for that slot. But with these things, you never know. Werth might enter the All-Star break just third (or fourth!) on his own team in home runs, and third in RBI. Fortunately, Werth's manager is also managing the All-Stars and presumably won't fail to notice that Werth might be the best right fielder in the league.
Pirates: Evan Meek
This list is already reliever-heavy, but then again the list of All-Star candidates isn't exactly Pirates-heavy. The obvious (and eventual) choice is Andrew McCutchen, who probably should have been Rookie of the Year last year but will be an All-Star this year. But if McCutchen gets hurt and there's an empty spot in the bullpen, the NL could do a lot worse than Meek, who's suddenly discovered the wonders of control, the result being a 1.02 ERA that would look fantastic even on a good team. And Meek just might be legit, as he's throwing more fastballs this season and he's throwing them harder than ever with mid-90s heat that ranks with just about any hard-throwing reliever in the game.
Reds: Arthur Rhodes
Yes, another reliever. So sue us. If Tim Wakefield can get an All-Star nod (last year) for being an effective 42-year-old knuckleballer, why can't Rhodes get some love as a 40-year-old lights-out reliever with a 0.28 ERA. I'm not usually a big fan of Lifetime Achievement Awards, but he's got a 1.79 ERA over these past three seasons, and what's wrong with having somebody in the bullpen to face those tough American League lefties like Justin Morneau, Robinson Cano or Josh Hamilton.
Rockies: Miguel Olivo
It's not been a good year for National League catchers. It's not been a good year for Colorado's All-Star candidates, as Ubaldo Jimenez is the only Rockie who has to make the team. So what about Olivo, who leads NL catchers in RBI (34) and slugging percentage (.516)? Sure, maybe Olivo's a one-half wonder and someday we might see his name on the 2010 roster and say, "Who?" But the manager needs at least two catchers, and Olivo has hit better than Brian McCann and played more than Geovany Soto, and after those three there aren't really any candidates at all.