Debating the NL All-Star Team

The first thing I want to address is what merits an All-Star selection. Some will say it is whoever is having the best year. I’m somewhat partial to that argument despite its flaws. Others suggest that we should look at who has had the best career. I think that’s worth considering, too.

The way I intend to put together my preferred team is by first looking at who has had the best year thus far then looking at each player individually to see if their past accomplishments or future projections in the case of younger players match up with their current performance.

As for how we’ll measure performance, I’ll be using Runs Above Replacement as derived from wOBA and Baseball Reference’s multi-year park factors. My roster will be composed of starters at the 8 positions, back ups at each of those positions and the four best players not making it into one of those 16 spots.

Without further ado, my initial list of starters:

Pos Name, Team, RAR

C Brian McCann, ATL, 29.8

1B Lance Berkman, HOU, 41.8

2B Dan Uggla, FLO, 34.5

3B Chipper Jones, ATL, 48.1

SS Hanley Ramirez, FLO, 28.6

OF Nate McLouth, PIT, 32.2

OF Jason Bay, PIT, 28.8

OF Brian Giles, SDN, 26.2

It’s hard to argue with most of these guys making an All-Star team. All but two of them have appeared in at least one. Hanley Ramirez, one of the two without an appearance, was Rookie of the Year in 2006. So, that leaves Nate McLouth. McLouth is 26 years old and in the middle of what will likely be his first full season as a starter. I think there’s certainly an argument for leaving him at the least out of the starting lineup. The next guy in line for his spot is Aaron Rowand of San Francisco (25.1 RAR). Rowand is a former All-Star in his own right and is difficult to argue against including.

The initial list of back-ups then is:

C Russell Martin, LAN, 22.2

1B Albert Pujols, SLN, 35.5

2B Chase Utley, PHI, 34.4

3B Aramis Ramirez, CHN, 26.9

SS Jose Reyes, NYN, 21.2

OF Aaron Rowand, SFN, 25.1

OF Ryan Ludwick, SLN, 24.1

OF Pat Burrell, PHI, 23.6

All except Ludwick and Burrell are former All-Stars. Ludwick in five previous seasons has played in just over 220 games and is either a late bloomer or in the middle of a fluky 50-some game stretch. There’s an argument to be made not to include him. Burrell on the other hand is a veteran player who has had a very good career and just hasn’t received All-Star berth despite being deserving previously. I don’t think you can make a very good argument for keeping him home this year. Next in line for Ludwick’s spot is former All-Star Adam Dunn of the Reds (20.0 RAR).

The four floating best player available spots go to:

3B David Wright, NYN, 26.9

1B Adrian Gonzalez, SDN, 22.5

SS Rafael Furcal, LAN, 20.2

OF Adam Dunn, CIN, 20.0

Only Gonzalez has yet to be included on an All-Star team and I can’t think of a single argument to keep him out of this one. Now, if we go ahead and drop McLouth and Ludwick, that moves Rowand to a starter’s spot and Dunn to a back up role from best player available while leaving an empty spot at back up outfielder and fourth best player available.

Statistically this year the next in line for back up outfielder is Xavier Nady, but he suffers from the same problems as McLouth and Ludwick, so if we’re to include him, why not include them instead? Going further down the list we find Matt Holliday of Colorado (18.5 RAR). And looking to fill the spot vacated by Dunn we get Christian Guzman of Washington (19.3 RAR). Both are former All Stars, so they fit. As a bonus both play for teams until now not represented on our roster.

The lone remaining concern is that there is no representative of either Arizona or Milwaukee, but that can be taken care of on the pitching side of the equation, I suppose.

UPDATE: If you add last year’s numbers to this year’s, you get the following result:

C Russell Martin

1B Albert Pujols

2B Chase Utley

3B Chipper Jones

SS Hanley Ramirez

OF Matt Holliday

OF Aaron Rowand

OF Ryan Braun

C Brian McCann

1B Lance Berkman

2B Dan Uggla

3B David Wright

SS Jimmy Rollins

OF Adam Dunn

OF Carlos Beltran

OF Pat Burrell

3B Aramis Ramirez

1B Prince Fielder

1B Derrek Lee

1B Mark Teixeira

I am way too tired to comment on that, but I figured I’d at least post it.  What do you say?  Are those results more to your liking?

All-Star Berth for Adrian?

Padres.com and XX Sports Radio personalities agree: Adrian Gonzalez belongs on the NL All-Star team this season. Now, one might argue that Gonzalez has only been the fourth most valuable National League first baseman by Runs Above Replacement (RAR), but last year’s squad had four first basemen so maybe he does belong.

(A lot of people disagree with choosing the team based on half a season’s worth of results and I respect that, but that’s how I’m going to be breaking down this year’s team today.)

Obviously, the starters will include one each of catcher, first baseman, second baseman, third baseman and shortstop as well as three “outfielders.” This years numbers suggest those spots ought to be occupied by the followng:

C Brian McCann, ATL

1B Lance Berkman, HOU

2B Dan Uggla, FLO

3B Chipper Jones, ATL

SS Hanley Ramirez, FLO

OF1 Nate McLouth, PIT

OF2 Jason Bay, PIT

OF3 Ryan Ludwick, SLN

Only McLouth and Ludwick appear out of place, but they’re both having fantastic years thus far.

When looking at the bench positions, I decided to use last year’s bench composition as a guideline. That manes one catcher, three first basemen, two second basemen, one third baseman, one shortstop and four “outfielders.” Using RAR, that gives us:

C Geovany Soto, CHN

1B1 Albert Pujols, SLN

1B2 Derrek Lee, CHN

1B3 Adrian Gonzalez, SDN

2B1 Chase Utley, PHI

2B2 Mark DeRosa, CHN

3B Aramis Ramirez, CHN

SS Rafael Furcal, LAN

OF1 Aaron Rowand, SFN

OF2 Pat Burrell, PHI

OF3 Matt Holliday, COL

OF4 Brian Giles, SDN

There are no real surprises save Mark DeRosa and Geovany Soto if you don’t follow minor league prospects. Now, one might argue that last year’s roster doesn’t apply to this year’s and that’s a fair point, so I also looked at it from the point of view of having eight back ups (one for each starter) and four floating best player not selected. That gives us a bench like this:

C1 Geovany Soto, CHN

C2 Russell Martin, LAN

1B1 Albert Pujols, SLN

1B2 Derrek Lee, CHN

2B Chase Utley, PHI

3B1 Aramis Ramirez, CHN

3B2 David Wright, NYN

SS Rafael Furcal, LAN

OF1 Aaron Rowand, SFN

OF2 Pat Burrell, PHI

OF3 Matt Holliday, COL

OF4 Brian Giles, SDN

As you can see David Wright and Russell Martin squeeze out Adrian Gonzalez and Mark DeRosa, which I think is damn near impossible to argue with. And hey, we still have a deserving Padre on the list, so that’s cool.

KT and Alderson on the Radio

Kevin Towers did an interview with the XX Sports Radio morning show on Tuesday. You can listen to it here. Here are some of the highlights:

Jake Peavy is getting better. We’ll re-evaluate in four or five days.

Chris Young will be out at least a month.

Clay Hensley’s velocity is coming back, his soreness is gone and we’ll likely see him, Carlos Guevara and Justin Hampson up with the big league club in the next few weeks.

Strikeouts are part of the game, the problem is when you’re striking out on pitchers’ pitches. The key thing is swinging at quality strikes.

Chase Headley will be up in June, possibly early June, probably before interleague play. A big part of holding off on calling him up has been an attempt to let Chase build his confidence at Triple A after a slow start in April.

Sandy Alderson conducted his weekly interview this afternoon and you can listen to it here. The highlights:

Tim Sullivan’s column was fair.  We are always balancing the now versus the future.  Alderson declined to speak about Headley specifically.  He asks, “If we have a guy who is one day away from qualifying for free agency one year early, would you expect the team to take that into account?”  As you move from that, he notes, it gets less black and white.  He also makes the point that regardless of what Player A might get paid, the Padres will spend the same amount on payroll calling it a zero sum game.  Money not spent on one particular player is spent on another, not invested outside the organization.  Payroll is set ahead of time, allocation amongst players is decided annually.

“Let’s back off the notion that Tim Sullivan or Nick Canepa or somebody else knows that Chase Headley is quote ready.”  Chase could flame out.  We need to be careful about assuming he’s going to be the next Ryan Braun or whoever.  Scott Hairston, Jody Gerut, etc. are involved in this equation, also.  We need to find out which if any of those guys are going to be in their plans going forward.

The team is careful with their money, but aren’t afraid to take a shot at somebody (Jim Edmonds) even if that doesn’t work out.  They are, however, unwilling to put themselves in a situation where a mistake could handicap them for seasons to come (Andruw Jones).

The comments about the right environment are with regard to an environment where Headley won’t be likely to alter his approach at the plate.  It’s not about chemistry in the clubhouse or anything of that nature.  They don’t want to have to send Headley down again.

We strike out too often.  We can tolerate 100 strikeouts if a guy has 100 walks.  Our K/BB ratio is horrendous.  With regard to a two strike approach, putting the ball into play is really no better than striking out at the Major League level.  Fielders are too good to not put the ball into play with authority and expect not to make an out.  The Padres stress walks less as an outcome than as evidence of a selective approach.

A lot of the team’s approach moving forward will depend upon health.

Random Thoughts

A somewhat common refrain from Padre fans is that the Padres had opportunities to better their outfield this off-season, but elected not to. This strikes me as an example of merely looking at the roster now and assuming no effort was made to field a different one. The Padres attempted to re-sign Milton Bradley and Mike Cameron and also made a run at Kosuke Fukudome. That they were outbid for their services means just that. It also means that guys like Edmonds and Hairston were not their first choices. Hairston was ticketed for a role as fourth outfielder and the Padres traded for Edmonds as their fourth choice. I refuse to believe anyone honestly believes the front office’s Plan A was to start the season with Jim Edmonds and Scott Hairston as their starters in center and left field.

I’ve also heard people complaining about Kouzmanoff and some even going so far as to hope he can “bounce back next year.” Really? Through 48 games this year Kouzmanoff is hitting .274/.303/.398, which granted is not what you’d like to see, but through 48 games last year he was hitting .212/.285/.364. He finished with a line of .275/.329/.457 by hitting .303/.350/.498 over his final 97 games. Given that he had such a drastic split last season, can’t we all agree it’s a little ridiculous to write off this season when he’s actually performing better to this point than he was last season?

Another thing I keep seeing that I don’t get is crowing about wasting Headley’s bat by moving him from third base to left field. The positional adjustment from third to left is roughly five runs over a full 700 PA season. It’s not exactly moving from Catcher to Designated Hitter (which is more like a 25 run adjustment). Speaking of Headley, though, am I the only one bothered by his peripherals this year? The drop off in XBH% isn’t particularly troubling because it’s still solid, but the fact that his walk rate has basically collapsed while his strikeout rate has held steady is worrisome. I suppose it’s only 41 games, but his great AA campaign was only 121 games.

I’ve also heard calls for a new plan, one that won’t lead to 17-31 records. I think it’s worth noting that this same “plan” led to 89 wins last season and back-to-back division titles prior to that. Maybe it’s not so much the “plan” as this year’s execution of it.

I’ll post the full list tomorrow, but I wanted to mention it now.  I went through a list of all the players that have played in the Majors this year (through I believe Tuesday) and found which team drafted or signed them as amateurs.  The Padres were responsible for the fewest players and it wasn’t close as they accounted for only 16 while no other club fell below 20.

The Alderson Report

Sandy Alderson, as I imagine most of you know, does a weekly interview with XX Sports Radio’s Too Much Show.  This week’s can be found here.  For those who don’t feel like listening to the entire interview right now, I’ll summarize some of the key points.

Asked about Kevin Towers’ comments on Monday, Alderson said he by and large agreed with them and was pleased Towers made them.  He did try to clarify, though, that despite the team only having a handful of All-Star caliber players that this team has had recent success with many of the players currently on the roster and that collectively we are not that deficient in talent.

Asked if there was a need to reevaluate the way they evaluate players, Alderson basically said there was not.  He said that they must learn from both successes and failures, but that there was no reason to think their fundamental approach is flawed based on a month and a half of poor play.

The hosts then pointed to home runs being down and asked if this meant it was time to discount home runs when evaluating players.  Alderson made the rather obvious point that increased scarcity of home runs makes them more valuable if anything.

The hosts followed up by asking about strikeouts and wanted to know why they were up.  A greater emphasis on power and walks was suggested by Alderson as a possibility.  He also went off on a bit of a tangent saying that the Padres’ lineup has six guys with OBP below .300 and that you can’t score runs like that.

It was then asked why those players were on the team.  Alderson called that a good point, but reminded everyone that some of those players have historically had higher OBP or been productive despite low OBP.

This of course returned the conversation to Towers’ comments about wholesale changes, which Alderson seemed to acknowledge as likely if the current players don’t improve.

There was more, but I feel that was the meat of it.

Replacement Players Follow-Up

Through tonight’s game the Padres are now carrying only four sub-replacement level performers having cut ties with Callix Crabbe, Colt Morton and Jim Edmonds. Their replacements, Edgar Gonzalez, Luke Carlin and Jody Gerut are all out-performing their predecessors thus far.

Relative to replacement level, Gonzalez has been worth 2.4 runs more than Crabbe was, Carlin 3.0 more than Morton and Gerut 4.8 more than Edmonds.

The four sub-replacement level players still on the active roster are Josh Bard, Justin Huber, Khalil Greene and Tony Clark all of whom are within one run of replacement level.  Huber and Clark have both only had about a week’s worth of PA’s.  Greene has shown substantial improvement recently and Bard had caught far too many games without rest.  Things are certainly looking up.

Replacement Players

The Padres this season have carried at one time or another fifteen different position players. Eight of them have performed below replacement level offensively.

I suppose the first reaction from those inclined to defend the Padres would be to point to the park, but note that I’m basing my assertion on a statistic that is adjusted for both park and position. A more reasonable point of contention might be that the sample for many of these players is quite small (all in fact). Well, that’s true but my point is how well they have performed thus far, not how well they’re likely to perform in the future or what have you.

Callix Crabbe (39 PA), Colt Morton (18), Jim Edmonds (103), Jody Gerut (6), Justin Huber (34), Khalil Greene (144), Scott Hairston (111) and Tony Clark (31) have all failed to play at a level one would expect from the type of player theoretically readily available to be plucked from the minors or off the waiver wire at any particular time. By my count, that’s five off-season acquisitions and three starters.

Somewhat disturbingly, Morton who currently has a .129 wOBA is actually out-performing his Weighted Mean Pecota projection. The rest, I think somewhat obviously, are all under-performing. Though, in some cases, not by as much as you might expect (or hope, even).

The Crabbe, Clark, Huber and (especially) Gerut lines can be partially forgiven because of the lack of opportunity, but the fact that three of the Padres’ starting eight can’t manage a Replacement Level performance over more than 100 plate appearances is pathetic.

Nobody else in the organization can play shortstop, so short of a trade Khalil is the best we can do there. Edmonds is just an absolute black hole at nearly half a win below replacement just considering his lackluster offensive not even including his less than adequate fielding.

Hairston’s performance is very nearly exactly replacement level and were he playing center rather than left, it would be above it. However, his play in centerfield statistically speaking has actually been worse than Edmonds’. Paul McAnulty who presumably could replace and sometimes has replaced Hairston in left is actually performing above league average with the bat, but his fielding is abysmal. Also worth considering is that Hairston has some degree of potential. I personally wouldn’t mind seeing if his bat heats up with the weather.

Hopefully the Padres can find a way to get improved performances from these trouble spots and given that replacement level would be an improvement, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

And in case anyone’s interested, here’s the most recent Sandy Alderson interview on XX Sports Radio.