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Entries in All-Star (4)

Friday
Jun222012

My All Star Starters: AL 1B

Next up is my choice for American League First Baseman. Voting totals can be found here.

The first baseman used to be the position where teams would shove the unathletic slugger and sacrifice defense for the sake of a big bat. With the game shifting back towards the pitchers, defensive first basemen are more important than ever. A first baseman can cut errors off from teammates by making smooth plays with quick hands and feet. The first baseman is as much a part of the game as anyone else, needing to be focused on every play in the event of a ground ball. First base in the American League is still a position of hitting strength, especially as two of the NL's biggest hitters made their way over to the AL to hook up with contenders. On to the analysis:

 

#1. Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers 1,946,045

Prince Fielder has lived up to the hype. In a previous article, I questioned whether Prince was the next King of Motown, and he may well be on his way. I projected his stat line to be somewhere along the lines of a .287 AVG, .376 OBP, .617 SLG, .993 OPS, 50 HR, and 121 RBI. Here we'll analyze Fielder's success thus far and determine if he is on pace to meet that goal. 

Prince has showcased his durability by showing up in 69 games so far this season. Much to the disappointment of the Tigers, the power numbers have not quite been Fielder-like. Isolated power is a statistic that measures a players ability to hit for extra bases, providing some "pop" to the offense. From 2008-2011, Fielder was able to connect for power on pitches throughout the strike zone, but this season, it seems like he is missing a hitter's favorite pitch - right down the middle.

Fielder should be feasting on pitches in the middle of the zone, but he has yet to find his power stroke there, and it has cost him some home runs early on. Let's look at his stats to this point.

69 G, 80 H, 15 2b, 1 3b, 11 HR, 30 BB, 40 SO, 45 RBI, 1 SB, .309 AVG, .386 OBP, .502 SLG

The average and on base percentage are above my projections for Fielder, but the slugging is way down, as he has settled for only 27 extra base hits out of his 80. Compared to other first basemen in the American League, Fielder is absolutely all-star worthy as a middle of the order presence who has had a little trouble adjusting to the not so friendly confines of Comerica Park. If Fielder settles in and starts launching balls left in the middle of the plate, he will put up monster numbers in the second half.

 

#2. Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox 1,680,793

Has anyone ever been as quiet a productive hitter as Paul Konerko has been in his career. For fantasy fans, Konerko is your prototypical .300/25/95 lock every season, and so far he is by no means disappointing anyone. Did you know he leads American League qualifiers in batting average at .354?! Konerko is like a fine wine; he continues to get better with age. Some of his success this year can be attributed to his ability to hit pitches in the upper half of the strike zone. 

The right handed slugger has increased his ability to drive the ball in the upper part of the zone, leading to a higher batting average as he takes advantage of pitchers' mistakes. One of the tough breaks for Konerko is that he is in a lineup that has struggled to get on in front of him when he muscles up; runners have been on base for only four of his thirteen home runs. Here are Konerko's numbers to this point.

62 G, 81 H, 14 2b, 13 HR, 26 BB, 37 SO, 39 RBI, .354 AVG, .426 OBP, .585 SLG

In seven less games, he has accumulated one more hit than Fielder, as well as two more home runs. He is sixth in the AL in RBI and tied for second in home runs. He has the highest OBP and SLG among qualifying first basemen and has been all around one of the best hitters in baseball over the first half. Konerko is a stud, and with one week left in voting, he could easily overtake Fielder for the starting nod at Kauffman Stadium.

 

#3. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees 1,405,187

Tex has slowly been on the decline the past couple of seasons. Between 2008 and 2009, Teixeira played for three different teams, all the while averaging .300, hitting 72 home runs, and knocking in 241 RBI. After his first season in pinstripes, the average dropped off the table, as he has hit a paltry .253 since '09. The home runs and RBI have always stayed about the same, as he continued to have 30+ HR, 100+ RBI seasons. Teixeira is one of the few switch hitters in this league that you can say does not lose much power when switching sides of the plate, as evidenced by his .460/.484 right-handed/left-handed splits for slugging percentage. At this point in his career, it is safe to say that Tex has developed into a pull power hitter, as ten of his twelve home runs have been to the pull field, bolstering a .406 ISO when pulling the ball. Take a look below at Teixeira's pull field heat zones.

Tex has been a commodity at first base for a long time, coupling power form both sides of the plate with gold glove caliber defense throughout his career. His ability to perform in a big market and produce power numbers at a steady rate make him one of the best in the game, but not quite at all-star starter level this season. His stats are below.

65 G, 62 H, 17 2b, 12 HR, 28 BB, 37 SO, 40 RBI, 1 SB, .256 AVG, 336 OBP, .475 SLG. 

Overall, Tex's numbers are fantastic, and he should definitely be considered for a reserve role on the team.

 

#4. Mitch Moreland, Texas Rangers 1,202,724

Now I think Mitch Moreland is as good as the next guy, but I believe there are plenty of players having a better season at the first base bag. Moreland only cracks the top ten in traditional stats for first basemen in HRs with ten. Every other statistic calls Moreland out as an above average first baseman in the league. Since he has been connecting on home runs, we will look at the general locations of where he is hitting the ball for out of the park power.

As you can see, Moreland has been taking advantage of balls left out over the plate on the outer half. As long as he continues to contribute at least HRs to Texas' lineup, the rest of the team will carry the load in other respects. Let's take a look at his stats.

55 G, 43 H, 8 2b, 10 HR, 12 BB, 31 SO, 25 RBI, .272 AVG, .326 OBP, .513 SLG

The power numbers are there, but I find it hard to believe that a guy with half as many hits at Konerko and Fielder should be given the nod in the Summer Classic.

 

Wild Card: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels

So "The Machine" has finally flipped the switch to on, and pumped the volume up to eleven. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before he turned on his stroke, but a horrific first month may have cost him a berth in the all-star game. After Pujols launched his first home run, everything turned around. Below, we look at his slugging percentage from before his first long ball, and after. 

Pre-First HR

Post-First HR

It was only a matter of time before Albert figured it out, and he is positively crushing the ball right now. After he hit that first home run, he started punishing mistake pitches left in the zone. Here is a look at his total stat line.

69 G, 69 H, 17 2b, 11 HR, 24 BB, 34 K, 43 RBI, 4 SB, .255 AVG, .312 OBP, .439 SLG

The numbers are not quite there for an all star appearance at the half, but to not be concerned; Albert Pujols will have an amazing second half if he stays the hitter in the second graphic.

 

MY RESULTS:

Starter: Paul Konerko

Reserve: Prince Fielder

3: Mark Teixeira

4: Chris Davis (Didn't discuss him but he is having quite the season out in Baltimore)

Thursday
Jun212012

My All Star Starters: AL Catcher

As I told everyone earlier, I will be profiling the main all-star vote getters for each position. Each article will feature the top four vote getters at the position, as well as one of my wild cards. Vote totals can be found here.

Today is all about the junior circuit backstop. These guys have one of the toughest jobs in baseball, squatting behind the dish for nine innings, constantly being required to remain alert and focused on every facet of the game, all the while taking 3-4 ABs per game. At this position, the greatest value lies in durability. Catchers will normally catch four of every five games, usually taking day games off after a night game, but the real all-stars make their time in the game count. 

#1: Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers  2,239,047

Napoli has made his living crushing the ball in Arlington over the past few years, hitting 41 home runs in the last year and a half. Historically, Napoli has annihilated left handed pitching, averaging .312 with a 1.005 OPS between 2008 and 2011. These are all-star type numbers, but this year has proven more difficult for Napoli, who seems lost versus south-paws. He is only managing a .150 AVG with a .604 OPS, significantly lower than his averages and breakout season in 2011. Below is a heat map of Napoli's Slugging percentage versus lefties over the two time periods indicated.

It seems that Napoli may have been figured out because he has been baffled. His general line from this season is as follows:

60 G, 45 H, 3 2b, 2 3b, 11 HR, 29 RBI, 29 BB, 67 SO, .234 AVG, .346 OBP, .443 SLG.

Per usual, Napoli has his long ball stroke intact, his 11 homers ranking him third among league leaders at the position. The problem is, there are not enough guys getting on in front of him (mainly due to Josh Hamilton clearing the bases before him, but we'll get to him when we get to AL Outfielders). The most alarming statistic there may be the strikeouts, pacing the American League lead at his position. While Napoli may have the big name, the numbers from last year, and a monstrous power stroke, The numbers just don't indicate an all-type season out of an all-star player.

 

#2: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins 1,283,804

As chronicled in a previous article, Joe Mauer needed to be a force if the Twins wanted to contend this year, and thus far, some of his numbers have returned to form, in conjunction with his return to health. So far, his power numbers haven't returned to his Most Valuable Player Season, but the average is there, pacing the American League qualifiers at .314. He also has more walks than strikeouts (37/31), which has helped to bolster his strong .415 OBP. He has had a .355 batting average on balls in play, extremely close to his career average of .349, so there is little doubt that this Joe Mauer is legit. His righty/lefty splits have been fantastic, and he has taken a liking to left handed pitching, hitting a solid .356 in lefty-lefty matchups. Mauer's issue so far has been against the soft stuff.

As long as Mauer can continue to take advantage of mistake fastballs left on the inner half of the plate, he'll be a .300 hitter again by years end. His season line to this point is as follows:

60 G, 69 H, 14 2b, 1 3b, 3 HR, 33 RBI, 3 SB, 37 BB, 31 SO, .314 BA, .415 OBP, .427 SLG.

According to this line, Mauer is out hitting Napoli in almost every major category for catchers except HRs, which he makes up plenty for in terms of doubles boosting his slugging percentage. The 33 RBI tie Mauer for third in the American league at catcher thus far, indicating his ability to hit in the clutch with men in scoring position (.377 w/RISP and 27 RBI).

Mauer with Runners in Scoring Position

Mauer has been a stud and is definitely worthy of a few more all-star votes than he is getting. Minnesota fans need to hit the ballots and get this guy up there. 

 

#3. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles 1,242,247

Early in his career, Wieters was heralded as the second coming of Mark Teixeira, but it took a long time for him to really get accustomed to the major leagues. Young offensive and defensive backstops are few and far between in baseball, increasing Wieters' value to the O's as a centerpiece in their future plans. For this piece, let's play guess that player.

Player A: 60 AB, 24 H, 6 2b, 1 HR, 7 BB, 13 SO, 10 RBI, .400 AVG, .471 OBP, .583 SLG

Player B: 164 AB, 33 H, 8 2b, 8 HR, 19 BB, 35 K, 22 RBI, .201 AVG, .294 OBP, .396 SLG

Did you get it? Player A is Matt Wieters from the right side of the plate while Player B is Wieters on the left. When facing right handed pitching, Wieters has had trouble with balls on the inner half, but he has pulled half 7 of his 8 HRs from that side which means he is out in front of balls on the outer half of the plate. When facing lefties, Wieters has shown a little more power throughout the zone, as well as the ability to hit for a significantly higher average. 

Wieters still has some work to do, but he is just a tweak here or there from being an all-star for years to come. Wieters line this season:

62 G, 57 H, 14 2b, 1 3b, 9 HR, 32 RBI, 26 BB, 48 SO, .254 BA, .341 OBP, .446 SLG.

Wieters leads all catchers in games so far, is tied with Mauer for the lead in doubles, tied for fourth in home runs and fifth in RBIs. He is in third in AVG among qualifying hitters, but not very much better then Napoli at the top of this list. While I do not think that this is Wieters' year to start, he certainly has all-star quality numbers and should definitely be considered for a nod on the bench.

 

#4. AJ Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox 1,048,603

So who expected this? An absolutely monster year out of Pierzynski has him in fourth place in the all-star voting. Over the last four seasons, AJ has averaged approximately 11 HRs per season; This year he already has 12. Over the past four seasons he has averaged about 53 RBI; this year he has 41. Many baseball fans and fantasy junkies probably thought this was some kind of fluke, because it isn't often that a 35 year old ball player can flip a switch and revert back to prime form, especially at the catcher position. And believe it or not, his batting average on balls in play is actually lower than his average, pointing to a notion that he might actually be getting robbed of a few hits here and there. So what could possibly be the secret to his success? His swing rate is up, his miss rate is up, his in play rate is down, and his chase rate is up, but he continues to hit. Most of his hitting numbers are right around his career average, except for an astonishing 19.7% HR/FB ratio. 

If you take a look at the general location of Pierzynski's dingers, he has been unbelievable at pulling mistake pitches (middle-in) out of the park. AJ's Stats:

59 G, 61 H, 8 2b, 2 3b, 12 HR, 41 RBI, 14 BB, 27 SO, .285 BA, .330 OBP, .509 SLG.

Pierzynski could absolutely afford to take more walks, but he has also managed to limit his strikeout numbers, constantly putting the ball in play in his at bats, and when you do that, good things happen. His average ranks him second among qualifiers and he is second in the bigs in HRs and his SLG paces all qualifiers. This guy has been an absolute machine and absolutely deserves an all-star appearance just by straight numbers alone.

 

Wild Card: Jarrod Saltalamaccia, Boston Red Sox

My wild card All-Star for this segment is "Salty". This kid has been clutch in every sense of the word, and he is finally blossoming into the talent that the Red Sox and Rangers believed he would eventually be. The second switch hitter on this list, Salty leads all AL catchers in HRs and though he doesn't qualify, he has the highest SLG. Salty will not be voted in by fans, but managers and coaches could see how he has come up big for the Red Sox this year with some clutch extra base hits and decide that he is worthy of his first all-star appearance.

54 G, 46 H, 12 2b, 0 3b, 13 HR, 34 RBI, 12 BB, 49 SO, .263 BA, .307 OBP, .554 SLG

 

MY RESULTS:

Starter: AJ Pierzynski

Reserve: Joe Mauer

3: Mike Napoli

4: Matt Wieters

 

Tuesday
Jun192012

All-Star Starters Debate

The 2012 Major League Baseball All Star Game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City is only a few weeks away, and the fan voting is heating up. Household names like David Ortiz and Joey Votto are leading the charge, but old time players as well as new faces are making their way to the forefront.

Over the next few weeks, I will be chronicling the heated voting as well as cast my decision for who this year's all star starters should be.

First up this evening: American League Catcher which will feature Mike Napoli, Joe Mauer, Matt Wieters, AJ Pierzynski, and Jarrod Saltalamaccia.