Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My All-star game, Part 1

One of the great things I love about competitive sports is their annual All-star game. Funny thing about them is more often than not the actual played games, to me at least, are anti-climactic. It seems every year I get really hyped up for either the NBA or MLB All-star game and in the end I’ve turned the channel during the middle of the fourth inning or at halftime. If it’s close then i turn in back on for the last 4 minutes of the game (when everyone decides to “try”) or for the last two innings. Football’s star game is only known to me in recognition. Not once have I ever been jacked to watch the NFL’s Pro Bowl game nor will I ever, unless they adopt the XFL rules for the game. This is not debatable. That would be glorious to watch! Imagine watching Asante Samuel and Chris Henry sprinting for the 50-yard line to see which one gets there and recovers the ball. Can’t a guy dream? I don’t know why they even have it, other than creating an excuse for the players to vacation to Hawaii. I do think, however, that they should still vote people to be a “pro bowler” because there needs to some sort of recognition for great play during a season, plus it looks good when they introduce the lineups on Monday night, but beyond that they need to nix the game. Why would I want to watch a competitive match that contains zero competitiveness?

This is why I like Major League Baseball’s All-star game the most, even if I do not watch the entire thing from start to finish. It actually counts for something and with that fact alone, makes it a billion times better than all of the others combined. If the NBA adopted the same format, with which ever conference that wins the game, said conference gets home court advantage for the finals. Instantly the NBA All-star game is the funfest basketball game to watch of the year, but I still do not know if it could surpass baseball. The MLB All-star game is also much more enjoyable because the game itself still feels like a normal baseball game and is played with the same intensity. You do not see pitchers under-handing it so Adam Dunn can crush the ball 700 feet because everyone is actually trying. There is plenty of long ball to be seen in the Home Run Derby, which brings up another point. Baseball’s pre-game festivities are WAY better than all the others. Better to watch, better to bet on, better name reference (Midsummer Classic), better competitors, better everything, and certainly way better than what the NBA throws our way. Don’t even get me started on the Dunk Contest aka Junk Contest. But since I brought it up…

Ways to instantaneously spice up the crappy Dunk Contest:
1) If you are not voted to play in the actual All-star game, then you cannot participate in the contest. I don’t want to see DeMar DeRozan, Gerald Green, Rudy Fernandez, or Hakim Warrick. Who are you? I HAVE NO IDEA WHO YOU ARE OR WHY YOU ARE IMPORTANT TO THE NBA! Stay out of the Dunk Competition!
2) If Dwight Howard wants to raise the rim to 30 feet, then let him. We need to see this.
3) I’m almost positive LeBron, with his speed and vertical, could dunk from the top of the circle that connects to the free throw line. Every year we need to see how far away he can dunk it.
4) For every dunk attempted, the ball needs to be lit on fire.

With the Midsummer classic a little over two weeks away and it got me thinking. What if instead of voting for the rosters every year, each team instead sent its single best player, regardless of their position played, to compete in a best of three series? Each All-star team would be required to conform to the following guidelines.

• Each player sent, has to play their regular season position, unless there is another player from a different team that also plays said position. If so, that particular player may switch to a position that is vacant
• Roster size will be dependent upon how many teams are in your league, so for the American League there will only be 14 spots and 16 for the National League
• The best player chosen is not necessarily the person putting up the best numbers for that particular season, rather the one who is collectively considered that teams best player overall (past production playing and future potential is all factored as part of the selection)
• The teams feature an American League lineup, meaning a DH will be used and is selected using the first mention requirement on position spots. Spots each team is required to fill are as follows:

Catcher
First Base
Second Base
Third Base
Shortstop
Right Field
Center Field
Left Field
Designated Hitter
Starting Pitcher
Middle Reliever
Middle Reliever
Middle Reliever
Closer

My rules freshly set in place, I went through every team and tried to select who I truly believed was that team’s best player. For the teams that I did not particularly like or just do not follow closely, I tried to get the input of somebody that strongly follows that team and went with who they felt should be representing. For some choices, picking the player was a simple no brainer, and with others it was difficult to weigh strengths against weaknesses to pick just one player. In some cases, a team literally did not have anybody worth choosing, thank you Oakland for offering zilch to world of professional baseball (unless of course you count minor league pitching prospect Scott Deal). With each selection I’ve given a synopsis of why I think they should be the one to represent their team as its best player. We’ll begin with the American League.


BALTIMORE ORIEOLES

Player: Nick Markakis
Age/Position: 26/Right Field
2010 Stats: BA .300, HR 3, RBI 23

Although Markakis’ numbers are not much to shout about, he edges the rest of his team on his superior athletic ability. Initially touted as a pitching prospect during college, when compiling a 12-0 record and 1.63 ERA in 15 starts, the Orioles drafted him seventh overall in 2003 because of bat: .439 BA, 21 HR and 93 RBIs. Like I said, just a pure athlete. And even though he has not had that same success as he did in college, he is on the rise, whereas fellow teammates Miguel Tejada, Garrett Atkins, Ty Wigginton are on their decline.

BOSTON RED SOX
Player: Dustin Pedroia
Age/Position: 26/Second Base
2010 Stats: BA .293, HR 12, RBI 41

Playing in just his 4th year of the bigs, Dustin Pedroia already has already won a World Series ring, the 2007 AL Rookie of the Year and the 2008 AL MVP. Do not get me wrong, I love me some Kevin Youkilis, but when you compare Pedroia has done over his first couple of full seasons, against Boston’s all-time great second basemen, you see why he gets the nod.

Pedroia’s averages:
BA .313, HR 13, RBI 68, R 106, H 187, 2B 47, SB 15

Bobby Doerr, inducted in to the Hall of Fame in 1986. First three seasons:
BA .299, HR 13, RBI 86, R 77, H 162, 2B 30, SB 5
Seasonal Averages (per 162 games):
BA .288, HR 19, RBI 108, R 95, H 177, 2B 33, SB 5

Billy Goodman, first three seasons:
BA .320, HR 2, RBI 63, R 70, H 140, 2B 25, SB 3
Career averages (per 162 games):
BA .300, HR 2, RBI 59, R 81, H 169, 2B 30, SB 4

Now if you take it a step higher, and compare his play against the greatest 2B to ever play the game, players like Jackie Robinson, and Charlie Gehringer, then you really see what you’re getting in Pedroia.

Jackie Robinson
, inducted to Hall of Fame 1962. First three seasons:
BA .311, HR 13, RBI 61, R 118, H 182, 2B 37, SB 29
Career averages (per 162 games):
BA .311, HR 16, RBI 86, R 111, H 178, 2B 32, SB 23

Charlie Gehringer, inducted to Hall of Fame 1949. First three seasons:
BA .304, HR 4, RBI 61, R 93, H 160, 2B 25, SB 13
Career averages (per 162 games):
BA .320, HR 13, RBI 100, R 124, H 198, 2B 40, SB 13

NEW YORK YANKEES

Player: Mariano Rivera
Age/Position: 40/Closer
2010 Stats: ERA .92, SV 17, SO 29, WHIP .61

It is no secret that I hate the Yankees. Ever since the year I first started to follow sports with real intent (1995) and the magical season of the Mariners (Alive in ’95 baby!), a true hate was birthed in my heart against our first opponent in the League Divisional Series: the Yankees. Of course we beat those slobs and were sadly shown the exit in the next round from the Cleveland Indians, but the seed had been planted none the less. My dad told me that a lot of teams hate the Yankees and have for decades, and introduced me to their history and biggest rivalry; the Boston Red Sox, the team I’ve followed closely since ’99. Anyways, one of my co-workers is a born and bred Yankee so I asked him who he considered their best player. He and I both agree that pitching is always a little more valuable and because so, as he put it, “You gotta go with Rivera. That guy is never not clutch.” I remember a certain Game 4 in 2004 that says otherwise, but whatever. I would have said Jeter.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Player: Evan Longoria
Age/Position: 24/Third Base
2010 Stats: BA .297, HR 12, RBI 52

With how loaded the Rays are this year, it was kind of difficult to choose him when you have players like Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and BJ Upton, but if I could have any third baseman in the league it would definitely be Longoria. Although only in his third season, the 2006 3rd overall pick’s numbers are getting better every season. Longoria is projected to finish with a .304 batting average, 29 homeruns and 115 RBI. With the potential that is in front of him, he is the clear choice.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Player: Vernon Wells
Age/Position: 31/Center Field
2010 Stats: BA .285, HR 19, RBI 47

Not too many options to pick from here. Wells has been the Blue Jays offensive man for the better part of a decade and was the #2 guy in the organization until Roy Halladay left for the Phillies. Already this year Wells has surpassed last year’s terrible output when he only hit 15 homeruns and 66 RBIs. Currently he has an OPS of .913, the best of his career, and this year’s numbers should be similar to 2003 and 2006 seasons when he .310 and 33 dingers. Looks like every 3-4 years he comes out of his hitting shell. This being one of them, he’ll continue to have a solid year.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Player: Alex(is) Rios
Age/Position 29/Center Field
2010 Stats: BA .313, HR 13, RBI 40

I didn’t know whether to go pitching or batting here. On one hand you got a pitcher in Mark Buehrle that has pitched a perfect game and has been the White Sox ace for a couple of years, but with a mediocre win to loss ratio over his career and the fact that he has never won a Cy Young just doesn’t proffer enough glimmer to win me over. I think anything really memorizing that he’ll do over his career, he has done already. Sure he’ll win 12-16 games a year but likely will get as many losses too. On the other hand Rios is having the best season of his career; the type of season that he is capable of consistently having year in and year out. I think he is one of those guys that once it clicks for him, it will stay that way for the rest of his career until he gets older and his game fades in general. It’s a breakout year that will continue on for the next 5-6 seasons. If the Sox can put younger pieces alongside Rios than perhaps they’ll be able to make another run like they did in 2005. Sure, Paul Konerko is having a monster of a season but both he and AJ Pierzynski are the latter part of their careers.

CLEAVLAND INDIANS
Player: Fausto Carmona
Age/Position: 26/Starting Pitcher
2010 Stats: ERA 3.64, SO 52, WHIP 1.27

Talk about a really crappy team and a team with players that I want to do well, but for whatever reason they just don’t. Take Travis Hafner for example. One of those guys that have all of the tools but for whatever reason cannot piece it together. I’ve been on his bandwagon since day one, but I need to be realistic with myself and accept the fact that it is never going to happen for him. Maybe it is because I played an entire season of MLB 2K5 – every game, for both my major league team and AAA – and was able to pick him, his 91 power vs. righties and his $900 K contract up for only a few minor league prospects. I hit 48 homeruns with him that season. Once again, video games have deceived me and my perceptions on reality. Because of this we have to go with Carmona. Sure his record is 6-6 but that is because he gets zero run support. With decent bats to back him, his record should look more like 10-4. Remember this is the same guy that went 19-8 just three years ago.

DETROIT TIGERS

Player: Miguel Cabrera
Age/Position: 27/First Base
2010 Stats: BA .332, HR 20, RBI 64

This speaks for itself right? Cabrera is pretty much leading the league in everything except batting average. I like the fact that he plays on the Tigers because you almost forget about him. Nobody ever pays attention to the Tigers. If I told you they were in dead last or first in their division with a 9 game lead you’d believe either one. That’s how inconspicuous they are. 2010 Cabrera reminds me 2006 Cabrera but with more power, so yeeeeeaaaahhhh… we shouldn’t need to explain this pick. By the way, the Tigers are half a game behind the Twins in the AL Central.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Player: Zach Greinke
Age/Position 26/Starting Pitcher
2010 Stats: ERA 3.72, SO 89, WHIP 1.19

For their first 20 seasons in the major league (’69-’88) guess how many of them had a winning percentage above .500? Drumroll please… the answer is thirteen. Now, guess how many they have had in their last 20 seasons. Three. Yeah, we must be talking about the Royals. I had my ideas at who should be selected but I still asked my boy, Mike. He his family are big Royals fans so I texted him to see who he thought their best guy is and this is who he said. I’d have to agree, even though (wait for it) his record is a paltry 3-8. Gulp. He lost 8 games all of last season, so it must be one of those years. In his defense six of those losses were in games they lost by scores like 1-0 and 2-1.

MINNESOTA TWINS
Player: Joe Mauer
Age/Position: 27/Catcher
2010 Stats: BA .304, HR 3, RBI 33

I know, I know, I know. I know the debate. Justin Morneau, right now is their best player. And he is only 29. But you know what? He wasn’t the #1 overall pick that just got signed to a fatty contract extension, and if you look at Morneau career he’s an “every-other” type of guy. Since 2003 his seasons have looked like this: .226, .271, .239, .321, .271, .300, .274 and now in 2010 he is batting .346. Just watch, next year he’ll bat .275 – trust me on this. And you know what else? Justin Morneau is having a Joe Mauer season, so don’t complain to me. Mauer is the future and I don’t want to debate it. The second half of the season, you’ll see Mauer’s number jump up and he’ll finish the way he did last year. Of this I know.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Player: Jered Weaver
Age/Position: 27/Starting Pitcher
2010 Stats: ERA 3.01, SO 118, WHIP 1.09

Weaver inherited the top spot of Alpha Male this year, when the Angels lost Lackey to the Red Sox. Posting a 7-3 record and a league leading 118 strikeouts Weaver has to be a consensus best player pick right? Of course there are star players on the team but they’re all… old. Matsui is 36, Abreu is 36 and Hunter is 34. This one was a rather easy choice.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Player: Ryan Sweeney
Age/Position: 25/Right Field
2010 Stats: BA .293, HR 1, RBI 32

Who the hell is Ryan Sweeney? Exactly. If Dallas Braden had not thrown a perfect game earlier this year, nobody would be able to name a single player from this team. What is special about Sweeney? Nothing. He is mediocre at best! There is literally nobody on that team. I threw a dart and it landed on his name. Ryan Sweeney ladies and gentleman, Ryan Sweeney.

SEATTLE MARINERS
Player: I don’t want to say
Age/Position: It feels like poison to think it
2010 Stats: I’ll get struck by lightning if I say it out loud

He has been the All-star MVP. He has 9 Gold Glove awards. Won the Rookie of the Year AND the American League MVP his first year in the league. In 2004 he broke George Sisler’s 84-year old record of hits in a single season with 262. If you combine his hits while playing professionally in Japan with his hits he has compiled while playing for the M’s it totals 3410. That’s in the company of Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron and Stan Musial… and he still has at least four more seasons in him. Easy.

But after watching losing season after season from the Mariners, I have come to accept that Ichiro Suzuki cannot bring a championship to Seattle. I have to accept that it would have happened by now or at least come gut wrenchingly close. It is too much to ask from the guy. An M’s pennant will come from pitching or an entire infield on steriods. We need solid pitching that has Ichiro, plus a few other productive bats behind it. They have the key parts of pitching, and Ichiro, but they’re missing those few others. That is why I would have to say that, right now, the Seattle Mariners most important player is not #51 (looking around cagey, towards the sky to see if Zeus is in the vicinity). It is starting pitcher #36, Cliff Lee.

Before we get to Lee, below are Ichiro’s two worst seasons EVER:

2005 BA .303, HR 15, RBI 68, R 111, H 206, 2B 21, 3B 12, and 33 stolen bases.
2008 BA .310, HR 6, RBI 42, R 103, H 213, 2B 20, 3B 7, and 43 stolen bases.

He is a freak. Anyway, before a gypsy comes and puts a curse on me, why I think Cliff Lee gets to rep the Mariners before Ichiro. How does a 2.39 ERA and .91 WHIP sound? Pretty good right? What about his record at 6-3? Not bad considering it should be more like 8-3 with two no-decisions that easily should be W’s had Lee received even a semblance of offense. That is an 8-3 record in 11 starts; remember he was hurt for the first month of play. Lee has been nothing short of dominant. He is certainly on his way to another Cy Young award, like the one he got back in 2008 when he went 22-3. Out of his 11 games played this year, he has gone the entire distance four times and has never allowed more than two runs in game. D-O-M-I-N-A-N-T. Do not be misled because the Mariners are so crappy. In batting average they rank 27th, 29th in runs batted in and are 30th for home runs and hits. The only person giving any offensive production is, obviously, Ichiro. Yes, Ichiro is a maniac, but Cliff Lee is the Mariners best player.

TEXAS RANGERS

Player: Josh Hamilton
Age/Position 29/Left Field
2010 Stats: BA .346, HR 18, RBI 57

Maybe they already have and I am just out of the loop, but there needs to be a E:60 done on Hamilton. What this guy has accomplished and has been accomplishing this year is nothing short of incredible. Compiling only four seasons in the majors, there is still a lot for us to see from Hamilton, the future looking bright. Of course we know what he is doing now and what he did in 2008 with the bat during the Home Run Derby, and is clearly well on his way to his third consecutive All-star appearance, but did you know that the former #1 overall pick has had a gone through a huge struggle with drug addiction that almost robbed him from being able to play the game? Neither did I, until I dug a little deeper.

Drafted in 1999 by the Rays, Hamilton signed to a $4 million dollar bonus and began play in their minor league system. Two years later, Josh began his drug (cocaine) and alcohol use and made his first stint in rehab. In 2002 his season was cut short due to toe and neck injuries and in 2003 he took the entire season off for personal reasons. A year later he was suspended 30 days for violating MLB’s drug policy. Between ’04 and ’06, Hamilton did not play any ball at all, until he was selected in the Rule 5 draft (a draft that prevents a team from stockpiling too many prospects in the minors when they could be playing for other teams in the majors) by the Chicago Cubs, who dealt him to the Reds. In his first major league at bat, Hamilton hit a home run off of Edgar Gonzalez of the Arizona Diamond backs and hit a second the very next night. Traded to the Rangers during the offseason, Josh batted .304, hit 32 home runs and drove in 132 runs during 2008. After only being able to play half the season in 2009, he is back to his similar form. Josh credits his recovery to his wife, family and his faith. Just a feel good story that wraps up the American League representatives.

Recap:
Baltimore - Nick Markakis, Right field
Boston - Dustin Pedroia, Second base
New York - Mariano Rivera, Closer
Tampa Bay - Evan Longoria, Third base
Toronto - Vernon Wells, Center field
Chicago - Alexis Rios, Center field
Cleveland - Fausto Carmona, Starting pitcher
Detroit - Miguel Cabrera, First base
Kansas City - Zach Greinke, Starting pitcher
Minnesota - Joe Mauer, Catcher
Los Angeles - Jered Weaver, Starting pitcher
Oakland - Ryan Sweeney, Right field
Seattle - Cliff Lee, Starting pitcher
Texas - Josh Hamilton, Left field


C Joe Mauer
1B Miguel Cabrera
2B Dustin Pedroia
3B Evan Longoria
SS
RF Nick Markakis
CF Vernon Wells
LF Josh Hamilton
DH
P Cliff Lee
MR Jered Weaver
MR Fausto Carmona
MR Zach Greinke
CL Mariano Rivera
Reserves: CF Alexis Rios and RF Ryan Sweeney

Using our aforementioned rules I can move Nick Markakis and Vernon Wells to fill vacant positions. Because Markakis can pitch and play on the offensive side, shows to me that he has versatility and out of our limited options, I think he could play short stop the best. That means the perennial force known as Ryan Sweeney will play right. Look out every one, Ryan Sweeney is playing right field for the American League all-stars. Move Wells to the DH and Rios to center and you have a pretty good lineup by all accounts. The only real gap was short, but I feel good about it.

NATIONAL LEAGUE AND GAME RESULTS TO FOLLOW IN PART 2 OF MY FANTASY ALL-STAR GAME.

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