Today -- and with the help of SweetSpot Network bloggers -- we'll campaign for some All-Star candidates who probably won't win any fan balloting and might be flying under everyone else's radar, too. First, the Junior Loop ...
Angels: Jered Weaver
If someone's not paying attention -- which happens far more than you might think -- they might miss Weaver, since he's won only seven games and his 3.01 ERA ranks just ninth in the American League. But look at what else Weaver's doing. You know who leads the majors in strikeouts? Nope, not Ubaldo Jimenez or Tim Lincecum or any of the other annual candidates. Weaver, thanks to his newfound habit of consistently getting ahead of the hitters. Just as impressive, while Weaver's strikeouts are up this season, his walks are down. He's never done anything quite like this before -- well, not since the minors, anyway -- but for some years people who follow the Angels have been waiting for this to happen. And now it has.
Athletics: Kurt Suzuki
He's not going to ace out Joe Mauer in the voting, and Jorge Posada's enjoying yet another Hall of Fame-quality season. But with Victor Martinez hitting the disabled list, Joe Girardi might want (or need) a third catcher, even with the new substitution rules. And Suzuki, with his 10 home runs and his Flying Wallendas defense behind the plate, is probably the best candidate for that slot. (If Girardi opts against a third catcher, Andrew Bailey's following up his Rookie of the Year campaign with a reasonably effective season.)
Blue Jays: Jose Bautista
There are three major leaguers with 20 home runs, and one of them is Bautista. Sure, he's hitting just .230, but he's drawing walks, driving in runs and he's not the worst right fielder on the planet and Ricky Romero's an obvious choice and there's no room for John Buck because we've already put Kurt Suzuki on the team. So ... if Girardi's looking for a right fielder with some pop, maybe for a late pinch-hitting stint against somebody like Billy Wagner, Bautista's the man.
Indians: Shin-Soo Choo
Here is my argument for why you must take Shin-Soo Choo to the All-Star Game:
Because you have to.
Also, neener neener.
Among American League right fielders, Choo is currently ranked 4th in VORP behind David DeJesus (whom you must also take), Ichiro Suzuki, and Magglio Ordonez, but the differences are largely cosmetic. Their OBPs are indistinguishable and Choo's SLG is virtually the same as DeJesus' (Ordonez' is higher, Ichiro's is lower). Choo, who's stolen 12 bases, is a five-tool player having a fine season.
But the real reason you have to take him is because you have to have a Cleveland Indian. In 1987, in the shadows of Oakland's horrific ballpark, I watched the All-Star game slouch into extra innings for the sole purpose of watching Cleveland's only representative, Pat Tabler, make an appearance. I did not care who won, so long as he got to bat.
Tabler was finally called into the game. He made an out. I went to bed.
And that, my friends, is what the All-Star Game means to me: Shin-Soo Choo will pinch-hit.
And I will go to bed. Huzzah!
- Steve Buffum, The B-List
Mariners: Cliff Lee
With Ichiro Suzuki locking down a spot (as usual), there won't be a great deal of room for other last-place Mariners. But there should be a spot for Lee, who's got only six wins and 87 innings, but also has perhaps the most amazing strikeout-to-walk ratio we've ever seen at this point in the season: 19. In those 87 innings, Lee has struck out 76 hitters and walked four. We used to call this sort of thing Saberhagian, but after this season the adjective will probably be Lee-ee-an. (Or not. But he still belongs on the All-Star team.)
Orioles: Ty Wigginton
OK, so nobody pays their money to see Wigginton. But amidst the train wreck of the Orioles' season, let's not miss the somewhat amazing season that Wigginton's having. A third baseman for most of his career, the veteran stepped into the break at second base this spring when Brian Roberts couldn't answer the bell. Robinson Cano is going to start at second base for the American League. But with Dustin Pedroia out of action, Wigginton's going to be the only other American League second baseman with a slugging percentage better than .450 and an OPS higher than 800. Granted, he hasn't been real good, defensively, but give the guy a break. He's only 32. He's still learning.
Rangers: Elvis Andrus
Andrus is having a different sort of season -- his offense is up, his defense is down -- but it's still a valuable season, and in a weak year for shortstops Andrus is one of the best, thanks to his .291 batting average, .375 on-base percentage and 21 steals. And remember, he's still only 21; if Andrus doesn't make it this year, he'll have plenty more chances since he figures to spend the next decade as one of the game's best shortstops.
Rays: Rafael Soriano
Evan Longoria's going to start at third base, David Price might start on the mound and Carl Crawford's currently among the top vote-getters, too. Will there be room for a fourth Ray? If so, that slot should go to Soriano, the franchise's first star closer since ... well, Danys Baez pitched in the All-Star Game just five years ago, and Roberto Hernandez once saved 43 games in one season. Soriano's different, though. Soriano is sort of scary. Not because he throws particularly hard (he doesn't) but rather because of his pinpoint control and his five-pitch repertoire. Oh, and his 1.63 ERA.
Red Sox: Kevin Youkilis
Believe it or not, Youkilis might be the most controversial pick. It's going to be kind of hard to carry three first basemen (not including Tex) plus Vlad. Although the ever-expanding roster (it's gotten way, way, way too big) might make it easier ...
Advocating for Youkilis to make the All-Star team makes sense. After all, he’s the best hitter on the Red Sox, has the third-best OPS in the American League and has the flexibility to play third base. One slight problem: The two better OPSs belong to Justin Morneau and Miguel Cabrera, both of whom are also first basemen having fantastic seasons. Then toss in Mark Teixeira, whose Yankee pinstripes place him second in 1B voting and perhaps, ultimately, first. Not having Youkilis on the team, however, would be a disservice to the anchor of baseball’s best offense as well as one of the better fielding first baseman in the game.
- Evan Brunell, Fire Brand of the American League
Royals: David DeJesus
Tagged in some circles as a “fourth outfielder,” what DeJesus lacks in style, he more than makes up for in substance. Offensively, he does all of the heavy lifting for the Royals and his current slash line of .331/.397/.481 are all career highs. Defensively, he slid over to right field and hasn’t missed a beat with the glove. (His arm leaves a little to be desired, but hey, it’s the Royals.) It’s hardly a coincidence that the Royals' best month of the season came when DeJesus‘ bat took off -- he’s hitting .418/.453/.551 since May 31. DeJesus has never been an All-Star. This should be his year.
- Craig Brown, Royals Authority
Tigers: Phil Coke
One Tigers player that deserves All-Star recognition this season, and likely won’t even get a mention, is Coke, who's been outstanding at bridging the gap between the starters and the late-innings guys (Joel Zumaya and Jose Valverde). He’s retired the first hitter he's faced 71 percent of the time, and allowed just eight of his 30 inherited runners to score. Coming into Monday, Coke had allowed a mere two hits in his last five outings and held opponents scoreless in his last 10. Unfortunately, Coke’s performance flies under the radar outside of Detroit and it will continue to do so as Girardi shapes his American League roster.
- Mike McClary, The Daily Fungo
Twins: Jon Rauch
The Twins are perfectly accustomed to sending their closer to the All-Star Game in July. Joe Nathan has been there four times since taking over the role in 2004. Yet, few would have guessed that the Twins' bullpen would be represented in Anaheim this year after Nathan went down with season-ending elbow surgery in March. It could happen, though. Rauch has stepped up in Nathan's absence and provided everything the Twins could ask of him. The sky-scraping right-hander ranks among the American League's best closers with 17 saves and a 2.57 ERA, and -- most importantly -- the Twins have not yet lost a game that he's entered with a lead.
- Nick Nelson, Nick's Twins Blog
White Sox: Paul Konerko
Konerko needs to be a bigger butcher with the glove. He's tied for the league lead in homers, he's fourth in RBI, fifth in slugging and sixth in OPS. Problem is, three of the best offensive players this year all play first base: Cabrera, Morneau and Youkilis. Now, if Konerko had Vladimir Guerrero's feet or David Ortiz's paunch, with his numbers he'd be a lock as DH. Instead, Konerko is functional enough to wear a glove -- if Girardi can't find room for four first basemen -- so he might be staying home. Maybe they should get rid of the DH spot on All-Star ballots, because when it's time to play the game, there are better hitters to designate. Konerko is one of them.
- Jim Margalus, Sox Machine
Yankees: Phil Hughes
Let’s get the basics out of the way: Hughes is 10-1 with a nifty 3.17 ERA in the rough-and-tumble AL East. Hughes has only made 13 starts to date as the Hughes Rules are already being enforced, so his counting stats aren’t as high as other qualifiers. Despite three fewer starts, he trails only CC Sabathia on his team in K’s. Hughes does, however, rank 8th in the AL in K/9IP (8.53) and has posted a K/BB ratio of 3.17 and a solid 1.13 WHIP. And as we move into the advanced stats, Hughes is No. 2 in the AL in WPA (Win Probability Added) at 2.21. Hughes’ FIP is 3.25, right in line with his ERA.
Hughes trails Sabathia and Andy Pettitte in name recognition and bank account size, but he’s been every bit the ace as either of those two pitchers. Pettitte has a better ERA, but a lower WPA; Sabathia trails Hughes in W, ERA, WPA. Then again, given his 2009 performance out of the bullpen, we shouldn’t be that surprised.
- Jason Rosenberg, It's About the Money