So they hand you your 2007 All-Star ballot. You're punching away blissfully. And then it happens.
You arrive at what has become the new showpiece position of baseball:
Shortstop. National League.
Uh-oh. You ask yourself: Who's the All-Star shortstop in the National League? Our advice to you if you take your hole-punching seriously: Good luck.
"It's got to be our guy," says Brewers manager Ned Yost, referring to the erupting J.J. Hardy. "No question."
Well, it could be his guy. Hardy went into Thursday leading the league in home runs (13), RBIs (39) and total bases (103). But does it have to be his guy, no question? Uh, sorry. There is a question.
"My answer is Jose Reyes," says Tony Bernazard, vice president for player development of Reyes' own New York Mets. "And if Jose Reyes were on another team, I'd still pick Jose Reyes, because this guy can do it all."
And he can, too. We discussed that only a couple of weeks ago in Rumblings and Grumblings, as you might recall. Reyes leads the league in stolen bases and triples. He's also hanging with the league leaders in on-base percentage (.411), batting (.337), doubles (13), extra-base hits (22) and total bases (90). And over on the defensive side of the leaderboard, he's also first in zone rating. So if that's not doing it "all," it's close.
But does the argument end there? Nope. Can't. Shouldn't.
Yet another NL shortstop -- Florida's remarkable Hanley Ramirez -- leads the league in runs scored (37) and has a higher on-base percentage (.422), slugging percentage (.553) and batting average (.342) than Reyes.
Then you have a fourth NL shortstop -- the Phillies' multitalented Jimmy Rollins -- who is first in multi-hit games (19), has scored as many runs as Reyes (35) and is up there with the leaders in departments all over the stat sheet (home runs, triples, steals, total bases and hits).
And we haven't even touched on a fifth shortstop who is batting .331 (Edgar Renteria). Or a sixth shortstop (Rafael Furcal) who just ripped off three straight four-hit games. Or a future Hall of Famer (Omar Vizquel), your incumbent World Series MVP (David Eckstein), two rising stars (Troy Tulowitzki and Stephen Drew), a guy with seven home runs (Alex Gonzalez) or three of the the best defensive shortstops on earth (Adam Everett, Khalil Greene and Jack Wilson).
So go ahead. Fill out your ballot. You can't go wrong.
But you can go right, if you just consult our handy-dandy All-Star Shortstop Index.
We aspired to sort this out as scientifically as possible. So we decided to rank the big five -- Hardy, Reyes, Ramirez, Rollins and Renteria -- in six major categories, assign points on a 5-4-3-2-1 scale, then add them up and tell you which shortstop you -- our responsible voting public -- should vote for. Ready? Here we go:
CATEGORY NO. 1 -- OPS
On-base Plus Slugging percentage (OPS) used to be a funky, sabermetrician's stat. Now it has just about gone mainstream. It's as accurate a measure of offensive productivity as you'll find. And you shouldn't be shocked to see Hardy atop our OPS leader board:
1 -- Hardy .999 (5 points)
2 -- Ramirez .975 (4 points)
3 -- Reyes .943 (3 points)
4 -- Renteria .898 (2 points)
5 -- Rollins .877 (1 point)
CATEGORY NO. 2 -- RUNS PRODUCED
Now let's mix in this old-fashioned tool for quantifying basic productivity. Our Runs Produced formula is so easy, you won't even need a calculator to follow it: Runs scored plus RBIs, minus homers. What this stat tells us is how many runs a player has "produced" this year by either scoring them or driving them in. We subtract home runs just so they're not counted twice. You'll note that Ramirez is last in the group, even though he's first in the league in runs scored, because he drove himself in with five of his eight RBIs, via homers.
1 -- Reyes 56 (5 points)
2 -- Hardy 54 (4 points)
3 -- Rollins 52 (3 points)
4 -- Renteria 48 (2 points)
5 -- Ramirez 40 (1 point)
CATEGORY NO. 3 -- RUNS CREATED PER 27 OUTS
We love this stat. "Runs Created" essentially tells you how many of a team's runs are created by each hitter, factoring in just about every number on the stat sheet. "Runs created per 27 outs" simply estimates how many runs a team of, say, nine J.J. Hardys would score in one game. There are different variations on the formulas. But we're using the one on ESPN's own stat page. And this is where Ramirez's package of diverse talents really shows up, although he's second to Reyes. This guy, one scout told us this week, "has the talent to be an all-time great."
1 -- Reyes 8.88 (5 points)
2 -- Ramirez 8.86 (4 points)
3 -- Hardy 8.55 (3 points)
4 -- Renteria 6.91 (2 points)
5 -- Rollins 6.61 (1 point)
CATEGORY NO. 4 -- VORP
VORP is a Baseball Prospectus invention. Another simple concept, even if it's one we'd have no idea how to compute on our own: Value Over Replacement Player. In other words, this is how many more runs this player is worth to his team than an average sub playing in his place. Reyes and Ramirez have been wrestling for not just the shortstop lead, but the league lead (along with that Barry Bonds fellow), for days now.
1 -- Reyes 24.7 (5 points)
2 -- Ramirez 24.3 (4 points)
3 -- Hardy 20.9 (3 points)
4 -- Rollins 15.9 (2 points)
5 -- Renteria 15.3 (1 point)
CATEGORY NO. 5 -- EQUIVALENT AVERAGE
This is another stat that's kind of the specialty du jour over at Baseball Prospectus. It measures a player's offensive value per out, again factoring in baserunning and a wide variety of offensive stats. It also adjusts those numbers for league, home ballpark and pitching. It's a tremendous concept. Just don't try to figure this out at home, without adult supervision.
1 -- Ramirez .340 (5 points)
2 -- Reyes .330 (4 points)
3 -- Hardy .323 (3 points)
4 -- Renteria .309 (2 points)
5 -- Rollins .297 (1 point)
CATEGORY NO. 6 -- DEFENSE
It's a little early to compute any one all-encompassing defensive stat. So we looked at fielding percentage, range factor and zone rating, then averaged them out to figure out the defensive ranking for this group. Including defense actually had a major effect on our final standings, bumping both Hardy and Rollins northward.
1 -- Reyes (5 points)
2 -- Rollins (4 points)
3 -- Hardy (3 points)
4 -- Ramirez (2 points)
5 -- Renteria (1 point)
1 -- Reyes (27 points)
2 -- Hardy (21 points)
3 -- Ramirez (20 points)
4 -- Rollins (11 points)
5 -- Renteria (10 points)
We're guessing Reyes didn't need our help to win this election. If his talent and charisma didn't pull that off, that NY on his cap probably would have catapulted him over the top. But if we accomplished anything with this study, at least we helped reassure you aspiring Jose Reyes voters that he's everything people keep saying he is.
"Those other guys can do what Reyes can do here and there," Bernazard said. "Jimmy Rollins can do some of the things Jose Reyes can do -- but not all. Hanley Ramirez can do some of the things Jose Reyes can do -- but not all. But Jose does all those things. And Jose is a winning player, who does it playing in the pressure cooker of New York. This guy is a special player."
Well, heck, he won the Rumblings and Grumblings All-Star Shortstop Index tabulation derby, didn't he? So he must be special.
• Here's a fascinating Alex Rodriguez question we're now hearing baseball people kick around: If Scott Boras announces that his favorite opter-outer intends to exercise his bail-out clause, and the Yankees then re-sign him, would Texas still be on the hook for the $7 million a year it owes A-Rod in 2008, '09 and '10? The Yankees would no doubt argue that they're merely extending the old contract, so the Rangers' I.O.Him part of the deal would still stand. Texas obviously would have a slightly different view. And somebody at MLB would sure have a fun time officiating that debate.
• Remember last winter, when Brad Penny's name was all over the trade-rumor circuit? Well, the Dodgers fielded offers but never came close to dealing Penny. And it's a good thing. He has ripped off eight straight quality starts, has given up one run or none in six of them and leads the league in ERA (1.39). "He told us he didn't want to go anyplace else," said GM Ned Colletti. "He wanted the opportunity to stay. And you know what? It's tough to get rid of guys who can win 15 to 20 games, and pitch 200 innings." Actually, Penny has won more than 10 games just twice in seven seasons, has topped 14 once and hasn't worked 200 innings since 2001. But if it all fits together this year, he can't beat the timing. If he keeps this up, the Dodgers will have no choice but to pick up his $9 million option for 2008. If not, he's a free agent.
• Scouts have been gushing all week about Mets outfielder Carlos Gomez, called up last week to help them cover for Moises Alou's health issues. Gomez, still just 21, is the first name on the shopping list of every team the Mets talk trade with. But forget that. The buzz is that Lastings Milledge is now considered far more touchable than Gomez is. "At some point," Bernazard says of Gomez, "he has a chance to be just like Jose Reyes. He's still developing. But he can fly. He can field. He can throw. And eventually, he's going to hit for power. But right now, he's still learning how to play winning baseball."
• Speaking of guys who have come out of the minor league wilderness to dazzle us, is there a better story than Jack Cust? After 3,800 minor-league at-bats, 199 farmland homers and no extended shots in the big leagues, Cust just hit more home runs in his first week in Oakland (six) than Carlos Delgado and Bobby Abreu have hit this year combined. Billy Beane has always had a soft spot for Cust (who did walk 143 times last year, in between homers and strikeouts). So when Mike Piazza went down, Cust -- buried in the Padres' system at the time -- was the first name Beane thought of. "He's the perfect Oakland A," said one scout. "Strikeouts. Walks. And homers. That's what their whole club is built around." Maybe, but we bet some much bigger name will get traded this July and not hit six homers the rest of the season.
• Cust may never have another week like that one. But at the very least, this blitz should be great for business at the fabled Jack Cust Baseball Academy in Flemington, N.J. "I have a feeling," quipped former Arizona GM Joe Garagiola Jr. (whose team drafted Cust in the first round in 1997), "they may have had to hire some extra help this week."
• One scout even went so far this week as to ask what the difference was, offensively, between Cust and Richie Sexson. Uh, paychecks, for one thing. But Sexson's swing has gotten so long in recent years, that scout said, that he has turned into "Dave Kingman Jr." The good news is, Sexson is on pace to drive in close to 100 runs. The bad news is, he's also on pace to do it while hitting .176. That prompted loyal reader Dick Fain to ask what the lowest average ever was for a 100-RBI man. Well, Sexson could obliterate that one. The only 100-RBI man in history who even came within 50 points of .171 was Tony Armas, who hit .218 while driving in 107 runs in 1983.
• You know that convenient theory that Carlos Zambrano's messy start can be traced to his contract snafu? A little too convenient. "His arm angle has been down," said one scout. "So he flies open, and all the movement on his pitches has been east-west. When he's good, his angle is up, and he has that good, heavy, late sink -- at 94. When he's right, he's got Kevin Brown stuff. But this year, he's been more like Joaquin Andujar redux."
• Best outfield arm in the National League? One scout nominates the Flyin' Hawaiian, Phillies right fielder Shane Victorino. "Probably the most dangerous right fielder in baseball to run on," the scout said, "because he has a plus arm and top-flight accuracy." Victorino's response, upon hearing that glowing review: "That's from throwing all those coconuts around the island when I was a kid."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is now available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.