Freedom of choice

The time has come, and Thursday marked the final day of fan voting for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. As a fan, I have been following the voting closely and the Royals’ fans attempt to get their entire roster into the game. However, I had not yet myself voted on the proceedings.

Now I have, and here are my choices:

National League

  • First baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona (.350, 20 HR, 65 RBI, 15 SB): He leads the NL in all four categories at the position. This is about as no-brainer as it gets.
  • Second baseman, Kolten Wong, St. Louis (.289, 9 HR, 36 RBI, 6 SB): This was a fairly tough call, with Miami’s Dee Gordon (.350, 1 HR, 21 RBI, 26 SB) and San Fran’s Joe Panik (.314, 6 HR, 30 RBI, 3 SB) having very nice years. But Wong’s been pretty clutch for the Cardinals, who have the best record in the NL.
  • Shortstop, Jhonny Peralta, St. Louis (.301, 11 HR, 41 RBI, 1 SB): I waffled back and forth between Peralta and Panik’s double-play mate Brandon Crawford (.270, 11 HR, 47 RBI, 4 SB). I finally settled on Peralta because it’d probably be good for the team defensively to have that kind of familiarity up the middle, and with both providing similar pop Peralta’s average stands out.
  • Third baseman, Todd Frazier, Cincinnati (.283, 25 HR, 54 RBI, 8 SB): The New Jersey native is battling with Matt Carpenter of St. Louis (.275, 8 HR, 37 RBI, 1 SB) for the starting nod, and Frazier’s far more deserving to take the spot in his home ballpark with a career year. Nolan Arenado (.288, 24 HR, 68 RBI) gets a strong mention for an impressive first half, but Colorado’s third sacker will have to settle for coming in for the final innings.
  • Catcher, Buster Posey, San Francisco (.304, 12 HR, 54 RBI, 1 SB): Like first base, not really much competition in this category either, though it is worth acknowledging the first halves of Pittsburgh’s Francisco Cervelli (.300, 3 HR, 27 RBI, 1 SB) and LA’s Yasmani Grandal (.269, 12 HR, 31 RBI).
  • Outfielders, Bryce Harper, Washington (.340, 24 HR, 58 RBI, 3 SB); Starling Marte, Pittsburgh (.285, 13 HR, 47 RBI, 15 SB); Giancarlo Stanton, Miami (.265, 27 HR, 67 RBI, 4 SB): Harper and Stanton are locks, and it’s a real shame that Stanton will have to sit this one out after his recent injury. The third spot was trickier, and Arizona’s AJ Pollock (.300, 9 HR, 35 RBI, 16 SB) was nearly my pick. But I like to spread things around, and it’s hard to argue against Marte’s performance … and feels weird that it’s not Andrew McCutchen.

American League

  • First baseman, Miguel Cabrera, Detroit (.344, 15 HR, 53 RBI, 1 SB): Credit to Texas’ Prince Fielder for a first half I’m pretty sure no one ever thought he’d have again (.342, 12 HR, 49 RBI), but no way I don’t want the game’s best long-tenured hitter up there taking hacks to give us an early lead if I’m AL manager Ned Yost.
  • Second baseman, Jose Altuve, Houston (.298, 7 HR, 33 RBI, 23 SB): Altuve gets my vote to hopefully propel him past Kansas City’s Omar Infante (.230, 0 HR, 23 RBI, 1 SB) and put a respectable player at the position. While I think Altuve deserves to be there in Cincinnati, the person who should start but won’t is Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis (.346, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 10 SB). At least I have faith he’ll be chosen a backup.
  • Shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, Boston (.289, 3 HR, 33 RBI, 4 SB): I couldn’t believe what a sorry crop of starters were listed on the ballot at this position, and the Red Sox youngster gets credit here for putting together a solid sophomore season on a terrible team and providing something to cheer about.
  • Third baseman, Josh Donaldson, Toronto (.302, 19 HR, 51 RBI, 3 SB): Baltimore’s Manny Machado (.303, 16 HR, 44 RBI, 11 SB) has made a great run to get to this point, but Donaldson’s been consistent all season for the Blue Jays and gets my vote.
  • Catcher, Stephen Vogt, Oakland (.295, 13 HR, 53 RBI): KC’s Salvador Perez (.267, 13 HR, 34 RBI, 1 SB) won this vote in a landslide, but I’m going to give the 30-year-old A’s backstop some love for a fine first half in again a somewhat weak field. I will note that former Braves perennial all-star Brian McCann (.265, 12 HR, 49 RBI) could get a spot on this team as a backup.
  • Designated hitter, Nelson Cruz, Seattle (.307, 20 HR, 48 RBI, 1 SB): The Mariners’ occasional outfielder was red-hot from the start and is my choice over Texas’ Mitch Moreland (.300, 14 HR, 43 RBI, 1 SB) and the Yankees’ A-Rod (.280, 15 HR, 45 RBI, 1 SB) in an impressive bounceback campaign.
  • Outfielders, Brett Gardner, New York (.304, 9 HR, 39 RBI, 15 SB); JD Martinez, Detroit (.281, 20 HR, 48 RBI, 2 SB); Mike Trout, Los Angeles (.303, 21 HR, 44 RBI, 9 SB): Here as in the NL, Martinez and Trout were pretty simple picks. For the third slot, I could have gone with the people’s choice of Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain (.299, 6 HR, 33 RBI, 15 SB) or Baltimore’s Adam Jones (.295, 10 HR, 37 RBI, 3 SB) or credited a surprising resurgence from Minnesota’s Torii Hunter (.277, 12 HR, 44 RBI, 1 SB). Josh Reddick (.287, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 3 SB) has also had a nice year, but I was shocked when I saw Gardner’s stats and opted to go with some more speed with a little pop thrown in, like Cain but more so and lefty.

Feel free to let me know if I’m crazy, where I went wrong or even how great my picks are. I feel like the most questionable choices are ones where there was no clear choice so I’m comfortable with them. We’ll find out who actually gets in Sunday.

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Voice of Harold

mlb_allstar_12Holy crap. I actually agreed with something Harold Reynolds said on “MLB Tonight.”

Harold used to be one of the people that made ESPN watchable, both on “Baseball Tonight” and elsewhere on baseball broadcasts. Then he was the face of Little League Baseball coverage, blowing up the kids’ performances to gargantuan size, then he got fired for sexual harrassment.

Reynolds resurfaced on MLB Network after ESPN settled his lawsuit, but seemed to have the opinion that any information that didn’t directly relate to having played the game meant nothing. He was paired with polar opposite and former ESPN colleague Brian Kenny on a new afternoon show, MLB Now, with Kenny very much a fan of stats and analytics and Reynolds basically saying those things don’t help much at all.

Analytics has become something of a divisive issue, with some sharing Reynolds’ disdain for them and saying that they cause people to ignore what’s right in front of them in on-the-field actions and evaluation and off-the-field work. This is often argued by those who simply don’t understand what analytics can provide, and so instead of trying to learn more about them they simply make fun of them because that’s what people do with things they don’t understand.

Needless to say, I believe analytics can be a very useful tool and most of baseball seems to be agreeing as teams create departments dedicated to trying to utilize this additional tool for player evaluation that will hopefully help bring home titles and help create dynasties.

Analytics isn’t really what this post is supposed to be about, but it is part of the larger point. I don’t listen to a lot of what Reynolds says, in part because he refuses to listen when analytics arise in discussions of the sport. But he said something Monday night in studio that I agreed with, though I’ll rephrase it slightly: MLB is trying to have the All-Star Game both ways, and it’s hurting the game and the sport.

Baseball’s midseason classic is an exhibition game, meant to be a reward for top performances of the first half of the season voted on by fans with selections made by players and coaches as well. Every team gets a representative, and managers try to play as many players as they can to give them a chance to experience the potentially once-in-a-lifetime event.

But ratings were dropping and interest seemed to be waning, so in an effort to bring gravitas and interest back to the game they made it count for home field advantage in the World Series for whichever league wins. In theory every player deserves to be there and should be a solid choice to come up in a key situation late in the game if need be, but by the same token Kansas City fans are trying to vote Royals second baseman Omar Infante into the game despite him being possibly the worst player at the position in the American League this year.

In addition, MLB is promoting the game and online voting for it with the Twitter hashtag #ASGWorthy, which is being used after players have particularly good individual games. Monday’s MLB Network mention with the hashtag went to the Reds’ Billy Hamilton after he went 2-for-4 and stole four bases. But Hamilton has no other numbers that make him worthy of an All-Star Game slot except for his universe-topping 40 steals, so again a contradiction arises.

If it’s an exhibition, then let the vote and first-half performances determine the roster and it shouldn’t count for anything. Guys have bonus clauses for making the game, and that’s logically tied to them doing big things on the field to earn such a selection. The top stars in the game should be able to draw fans, and if not then you need to figure out how to better market these players. But if it is going to count for something, let managers have more say in the rosters, let them manage it like a playoff game and give them the opportunity to put a guy like Hamilton on the bench to use as a pinch-runner late in a close game, or a Nelson Cruz to pinch-hit in a key spot.

While I still probably won’t agree with a large amount of what Reynolds has to say, the voice of Harold won’t be quite so grating for awhile and I’ll be listening to him a little more closely for awhile.