American League All Stars through May

We’re still over a month away from the Midsummer Classic in the Bronx, but with two full months passed, I wanted to start looking at who I’d put on the All-Star team for each league at this point in the season. For this practice, I’m just going to cover the starter and then an honorable mention. I’m not going to adhere to the every-team-gets-a-player rule since I’m not picking the full team and my picks are going to be in line with the thinking that almost all of the weight is given to the games played this year, that way I’m in line with how the game usually plays out. One final note is that I’m more concerned with fantasy production that “real” baseball production meaning defense is factored in much less. I’ll look at the American League tonight:

Catcher
Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins – His lack of power doesn’t preclude him from the All-Star Game and hey, he finally got that first home run this week! He has the best OPS of catchers qualified for the batting title (.826), though it’s powered by his .411 OBP that is just four points shy of his slugging percentage. Anyone with a 0.5 K:BB is going to find their way into my lineup.

Honorable Mention: Dioner Navarro, Tampa Bay Rays – He missed some time due to injury, but anyone that adds 158 points to their OPS from the previous season is going to get a look from me. Of course, if the OPS move is from .500 to .658, I don’t care. But .642 to .800 shows some solid improvement if only in a limited sample.

First Base
Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox – What isn’t he doing so far this year? He’s hitting for power as his nine home runs are just seven away from his 2007 total. He hasn’t stopped hitting for average or taking bases on balls with a .305 average and .373 on-base percentage. And he’s displayed some solid speed with two triples and three stolen bases! At least at first base, there is quite a bit more competition than the catcher position we just covered. Even still, Youk has set himself from that competition with great showing across the board.

Honorable Mention: Jason Giambi, New York Yankees
– Spare me the “he’s hitting .253” pleas because a mere three more hits would have him right near .280 and there’d be nothing gripe about on that front. His comeback season has only seen 154 at-bats thus far, but he has 11 home runs already. His fantastic batting eye hasn’t failed him either as he carries a 0.9 K:BB. Yes, that is similar to Mauer in that they both have more walks than strikeouts! What’s more impressive about it from Giambi’s standpoint is he is a power hitter, a profile prone to striking out.

Second Base
Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers – Anyone familiar with my fantasy axioms knows how much I LOVE power/speed combos. Kinsler fits that bill. I think there might some published work floating around the net that saw me predicting a 30-30 season for him last year. He went 20-20, but only got to play 130 games thanks to injury. I’ll lean on that excuse as the reason he felt short! He has picked up right where he left off with seven home runs and 16 runs batted in. He has more than half the extra base hits he had a season ago with less than half the games played.

Honorable Mention: Jose Lopez, Seattle Mariners
– This pick assumes standard league settings that use batting average and not on-base percentage, in which case I’d take Brian Roberts or Placido Polanco. At any rate, Lopez is hitting nearly .300 while scoring as many runs as can be expected on that ball club and including a pinch of power with four home runs.

Third Base
Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees – But Paul, he doesn’t even have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title! But reader, he is still leaps and bounds better than anyone else at the position in the American League. His eight home runs place him third behind Adrian Beltre and Joe Crede. Beltre has five more home runs in about 80 more at-bats while Crede has a whopping one more in about 40 more. He has a much better average and OBP than either and he’s right there or ahead of both in runs scored and driven in. His six steals are best amongst them as well, just for good measure. He’s the best player in the game.

Honorable Mention: Mike Lowell, Boston Red Sox – As much as it pains me to put a Yankee and Red Sock as the two picks, I have to be objective about it. Lowell also missed time yet he has still put up the numbers worthy of inclusion to this discussion. He has come off the career-year numbers set last year, but even heading back down near career norms still make him a great option.

Shortstop
Michael Young, Texas Rangers – You want to take about position scarcity? Take a look at shortstop in the American League! Even lowering qualifications down to just 100 at-bats still couldn’t yield a shortstop with an OPS over .800. The Senior Circuit churns out eight such players with the same filter. Nevertheless, Young is about as steady as they come in this game. Looking for a bankable .300 average and 9-14 home runs at short? Pick Young. He’s the type of set it and forget it producer that makes roto players sleep a little easier at night.

Honorable Mention:
None – a homely bunch to say the least.

Outfield

Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
– Do I really need to go into details? The kid is positioning himself for a Triple Crown this season (though he is VERY unlikely to get it). That alone is enough to put him in this game and be pleased with his growth. Throw in the story of where he has come from after being a #1 overall pick turned bust turned budding superstar and you’ve got a nice Hollywood movie on your hands. Hamilton is baseball’s MVP right now and he needs only his numbers to back that up, the story is surplus.

Carlos Quentin, Chicago White Sox – Imagine if the Arizona Diamondbacks still had him and he was coming into his own in their lineup instead of Chicago’s! He’s being Magglio’d by Hamilton so far this season. Being Magglio’d, for the uninitiated, is when you’re having an amazing year that would be praised and lauded non-stop during most seasons but gets overshadowed by someone having an off-the-charts season at the same time. A-Rod managed to have a good enough season last year that Magglio Ordonez’ career year was back-burner fodder. Quentin has 15 home runs and 50 RBIs in 198 at-bats so far this season which is one home run better and just 13 RBIs short of his career totals in 395 previous at-bats with the D’Backs.

Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians – As with Giambi, I don’t want to hear about his batting average being .253 because he’s just five hits away from a .280 average. I know he didn’t get those five hits so we shouldn’t pretend that he did; the point of saying that is to illustrate how misleading batting average can be when context isn’t given. All he has done is slug 11 home runs and score 32 while driving in another 30 (in that garbage lineup) with 14 stolen bases from the leadoff spot. And an OBP league doesn’t even notice the batting average since he has a tremendous eye that has helped him get a .371 on-base percentage. He remains one of the best players in fantasy baseball. I ranked him 12th overall in my preseason Top 100 Rankings and I stand by that ranking. The kid is a bona fide franchise player.

Honorable Mentions:
Manny Ramirez, Boston Red Sox
– Left for dead after an un-Manny-like 2007, all he has done so far this year is pace himself for another .300-30-100 season. Manny being Manny indeed.

Magglio Ordonez, Detroit Tigers – You’ll get no argument from me that last year was absolutely a career year, but admission of that for some seemed to them to thinking that Ordonez would be a 2008 flop. He has been the only constant in the heavily disappointing Tigers lineup.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox – Leading the league in stolen bases while putting up solid numbers everywhere else is worthy of attention and it has nothing to do with Red Sox bias (I’m not a fan of the insufferable Red Sox Nation). My friend, who owns him in our AL-Only, has been talking this kid up for a couple of years now and Ellsbury is making my buddy look smarter by the day.

Starting Pitchers
Cliff Lee, Cleveland Indians – Even the non-believers have a hard time punching holes in Lee’s season-to-date performance. Even the poor outing tonight only raised his ERA to 2.45. Beyond that he has a splendid strikeout-to-walk ratio at 5.4 powered by a 7.6 K/9 – his highest since 2004 (8.1). He is riding a career high 1.46 groundball rate to the Promised Land. Considering he has ranged between .71 and .79 his entire career, a regression could be in the future for him. Nevertheless, if the game is today, he gets the ball.

Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays
– Speaking of amazing K:BB ratios.. Halladay is back to his elite levels from 2003 and 2005 with his 6.17 K:BB ratio of 2008. He has used improvements in both strikeouts and walks per nine to achieve the excellent ratio. Despite moving from 5.6 to 7.1 in K/9, he is actually throwing one fewer pitcher per inning, down to 13.8. This has helped him finish five of his 12 starts putting him on pace to crush the seven complete games he had in 2007. The guy is extremely reliable and his ability to pitch, as opposed to throw, portends a career well into his late-30s. He gets the strikeout when he needs it, but he doesn’t rely on it exclusively.

John Danks, Chicago White Sox – The southpaw is coming along much faster than expected after a rough rookie season. In those 139 innings last year, he had some solid indicators, but it seemed like the 23-year old would need another year or two of seasoning before he could be relied upon in the fantasy landscape. Thus far, he’s shown that thought process to be a load of crap. Danks has 180’d from a 0.8 to 1.64 groundball rate while keeping his strikeouts per nine at just over seven. He has shaved nearly an entire walk off of his rate down to 2.6 helping instill confidence that his first 63 innings of 2008 are no fluke. Anyone looking to towards the future already would be wise to invest in him for their keeper leagues.

Middle Relief Pitchers
Jesse Carlson, Toronto Blue Jays – What can you say about a rookie that handles high pressure situations with a 9.1 K/9 rate and strikes out nearly three times as many batter as he walks (2.9) all the while doing a great job at preventing runners from scoring (1.59 ERA)? You can say he is a middle relief All-Star as far as I’m concerned. With middle relievers, you could hand out 15 spots easily, but Carlson holds up well against anyone else.

Santiago Casilla, Oakland Athletics – I realize he is on the disabled list, but his excellence prior to the stint shouldn’t go unnoticed. It took him forever to even give up a run and even still, it’s happened just twice. In his 19.3 innings, he has 22 strikeouts and four walks. It’s a real shame that he got hurt because who knows where his numbers would be otherwise.

Closer
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees – 0.36 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 13.0 K/BB, 9 K/9 and 0.7 BB/9. The 38-year old Rivera was left for dead a season ago because he “only” saved 30 games and had an ERA above 3.00 for the first time ever. Nobody bothered to notice that he had his highest strikeout rate since 1996 and walked all of 12 batters in just over 71 innings. His four blown saves were right in line with what he usually does in a season. I am no fan of the Yankees, but I won’t let my dislike for them prevent from bettering my team with their players. Rivera was an absolute bargain in just about every league this year and this record setting effort is emphatically letting everyone know that he’s not done yet.

I’ll look at the NL tomorrow and perhaps some awards races on Friday. Thanks to everyone for your responses on the power piece. I got some great emails and I really appreciated the feedback overall.

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