Baseball BeatJuly 13, 2009
Nobody Came By on the Noon Balloon from Saskatoon...
By Rich Lederer

In honor of my nephew Brett, who is playing on the Canadian Professional Golf Tour and finished tied for 39th (in a field of 155) in the Saskatchewan Open at Dakota Dunes this week, nobody came by on the noon balloon from Saskatoon and asked me but...

  • If Joe Mauer (.373/.447/.622) is not the first-half MVP of the American League, then Ben Zobrist is. Using Fangraphs stats, he ranks second in batting runs, fourth in fielding runs, and first in runs and wins above replacement. Fangraphs unfairly docks him for positional adjustment when, in fact, his versatility has been a huge asset to the Rays this year. Zobrist (.297/.414/.598) has played 41 games at 2B, 34 in RF, 12 at SS, 7 in LF, and has also appeared in a game at CF and 3B. It is virtually impossible to quantify his positional value but it should be viewed positively, not negatively. In the meantime, the 28-year-old switch-hitter ranks in the top three in OBP, SLG, OPS (1.012), and OPS+ (159).

  • Jered Weaver, who is 10-3 with a 3.22 ERA, should be in St. Louis for the All-Star game on Tuesday. Among American League pitchers, he ranks third in wins and fourth in W-L percentage (neither of which I would put much stock in but know these are two of the most important stats managers use when choosing starters — hello, Tim Wakefield?!?!), fifth in WHIP (1.12), sixth in quality starts (13), seventh in strikeouts (104), and eighth in ERA. Lest you think his pitching prowess has been tied to his home ballpark, please be aware that the 6-foot-7 righthander ranks sixth in ERA+ (140). If you're looking for a story, how about the fact that the 26-year old has been the division-leading Angels' best pitcher throughout the first half while not missing a start for a team beset with several injuries to its starting rotation?

    I'm not sure if Weaver is a victim of not selecting enough starting pitchers, picking the wrong ones, or requiring that each team must be represented by at least one player, but his exclusion is an injustice that makes me wonder why so many Hall of Fame voters look to All-Star appearances as one of the reasons why they would support (or not support) a candidate for enshrinement in Cooperstown? Yes, I'm looking at you, Mr. Olney.

    Question to all the Blyleven Weaver naysayers out there: When is he supposed to morph into his brother Jeff?

    Through the Weaver brothers first four seasons:

    Wins Losses % ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP ERA+ WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
    Jered 44 22 .667 3.60 575.0 540 243 230 64 166 467 13 125 1.228 8.5 1.0 2.6 7.3 2.81
    Jeff 44 54 .449 4.30 792.2 809 410 379 88 224 534 57 105 1.303 9.2 1.0 2.5 6.1 2.38

    As Al Michaels, in his best Howard Cosell impersonation asked, "Who goofed? I've got to know."

  • If players and managers don't value wins and W-L % highly, how else do you explain the absence of Javier Vazquez (he of the 6-7 record but also with the seventh-best ERA and a top three ranking in both WHIP and strikeouts) from the National League's roster? Well, he's 53rd out of 59 qualified starters in run support. As it turns out, Vazquez was scratched from his start on Sunday due to a strained lower abdomen but that injury didn't factor into his omission from the team.

  • Along this line of thinking, there is no way one can justify Wakefield (11-3, 4.31) over teammate Jon Lester (8-6, 3.87, 2nd in SO) based on performance rather than whatever else goes into these decisions. The 42-year-old knuckleballer is tied for the major-league lead in wins and is second in the AL in W-L %. That's really the extent of his case. Lester, on the other hand, has thrown more innings, given up fewer hits and walks, and struck out twice as many batters while posting an ERA that is nearly half a run lower than Wake's.

  • Joel Pineiro (7-9, 3.20) should be in St. Louis as well. Perhaps the Cardinals pitcher is but he won't be taking part in the All-Star festivities on Tuesday. Although the 30-year-old righthander leads the majors in losses, he ranks 56th in run support while topping all starters in BB/9 (0.9) and HR/9 (0.2). Pineiro is a great example of a pitcher who can succeed with a poor strikeout rate (a career low of 3.8/9 IP) if one doesn't allow walks or home runs. Pineiro's teammate Adam Wainwright (10-5, 3.04, 6th in SO, and 1st in IP) was also overlooked.

  • As it relates to everyday players, Matt Kemp should not only be in St. Louis but firmly implanted as the NL's starting center fielder. He is hitting (.320/.384/.495), fielding (3rd in FRAR), and running the bases (19 SB in 23 attempts) like no other CF in baseball. He has been 10 runs and one win better than the next-best CF, Franklin Gutierrez, who is also nowhere to be seen in the Gateway City. St. Louis' own Colby Rasmus ranks third among all CF in RAR and WAR.

  • Pablo Sandoval (.333/.385/.578) also got the short end of the stick this year. He ranks in the top four in the NL in AVG, SLG, and total bases (177) while carrying the Giants' offense all season long. San Francisco is second in the NL West and first in the wild card standings. All-Star cases could also be made for Russell Branyan, Juan Rivera, and Marco Scutaro.

  • Josh Hamilton (.243/.298/.428 in 42 games) is starting for the American League? I guess this really is a popularity contest. How else could you explain Hamilton's inclusion? I'm sorry, you can put him in the home run derby but not in the All-Star game, at least not if the honor is going to influence things such as the Hall of Fame voting in the years to come.

  • Comments

    I'm probably alone in this, but I'd like to see a rule that the starting pitcher in the All Star Game has to pitch the first four innings, unless he gets injured. Have it look more like a "normal" game than what it is.

    Let's not get too anti-Wakefield here. I think it's pretty clear that Wakefield's selection is in large part a hat-tip to his career, and who's to say that that's a poor reason to choose someone (the fans did it for years with Cal Ripken Jr.). Given his history of unselfishness and his unique contract, you could even give him a bump up in a Ben Zobrist kind of way, yes?

    The real issue seems to be what we all agree on, how it's a bad idea to use all-star appearances for HOF arguments. But just because HOF voters often use foolish arguments, that isn't really a reason to criticize a selection like Wakefield's.

    I'm happy for Wakefield but that doesn't mean he belongs in the All-Star game. If baseball wants to add a category for "career achievement" or "most unselfish player" or "best player over the age of 40" or "best first half for a 10-year veteran who has never been chosen to an All-Star team before," fine. I'm OK with such honors but not at the expense of slighting more deserving players like Weaver, especially if HoF voters are going to place any value whatsoever on All-Star appearances down the road. The mid-season classic should either be meaningful or ceremonial but not some half-baked combo of the two.

    I would think after seeing you soaking up the California sun yesterday as the Angels pulled of the sweep of the NYY you would be writing also about how Nelson Cruz was selected over Chone Figgins.

    If i am trying to win a game (this one counts) I want Figgins who can play multiple positions and is much more valuable in a National League ballpark. Oh and the numbers well those speak loudly as well.

    Maddon is apparently into "lifetime achievement awards" for "body of work." Not only did he give one to Tim Wakefield just be selecting him to the AL squad over Weaver, he passed one out to Roy Halladay by giving him (undeservedly) the start.

    I have a different take on the selection of Wakefield. If the game goes into extra innings, Wakefield can pitch long into the night until the AL scores or the NL runs out of pitchers. He just seems like extra inning insurance to me, a starter that you can stretch out and not really have to worry about wearing him out.

    That's a good take, Eric. But why didn't that logic prevail in the years prior to 2009? Furthermore, is this strategy really necessary when you have 13 pitchers on each side? Assuming that the starter goes two innings, that leaves 12 innings at one inning per remaining pitcher. I don't think Selig would allow the game to go much beyond 14 innings so it seems unnecessary to carry a pitcher such as Wakefield to handle multiple extra innings of relief. But, given his presence on the team, your idea of how he should be employed is spot on.

    People can try to justify the Wakefield pick all they want, but the simple truth is he didn't deserve it as much as Jered Weaver, and his selection is yet another chapter in the saga of East coast bias.

    Your article was going well until your take on Josh Hamilton. Very out of place. The fan vote is a different subject altogether. You said, "I guess this really is a popularity contest". REALLY?!?! LOL