As of today, the statistics are set for the All-Star Break. At this time, I am going to look at who I think the best 25-man team in baseball is this season. These are "stlfan's All Stars 2011."
Brian McCann and Alex Avila are two of only 11 players who are qualified for the batting title at the moment. In other words, they are two of 11 catchers who are full-time catchers in MLB and don't share a job. Really, the number is 10, however. Victor Martinez is listed as a qualified catcher, but has played a grand total of 226 innings in the field this year, mostly he is a DH. Not including Martinez, McCann and Avila are the only catchers this season with an OPS over .800 - and both are over .875. Both of them have OBPs at .370 or higher and are SLG over .500. Most teams would take this out of any position on the field; luckily for the Braves and Tigers, respectively, McCann and Avila are providing it for their teams out of a position normally relied on for a defensive prowess.
As much as it burns me up to give a guy with an 8.7% walk rate, when the three guys behind him on the OPS list have 15.1, 17.0, and 16.1% walk rates, the nod at first base, Adrian Gonzalez deserves the honor of the top first baseman of the first half of the year. He is hitting .354 (albeit helped by a .394 average on balls in play), has an OBP of .414 (only 4th best for 1B), and has the highest slugging percentage and OPS (at .591 and 1.006) of all 1B this season. This is due, in large part, to playing a majority of his games in Fenway Park this year rather than Petco Park, which nearly every pundit agreed would skyrocket his statistics. It has. Adrian has 128 hits this season. 29 of them have been doubles, 3 have been triples, and 17 have been home runs. 49 of his 128 hits have been for extra bases - that's 38%. In and of itself, that's not a ridiculous number. He has done so in 403 plate appearances and is the only 1B with an OPS north of 1.000.
For me, second base comes down to three players: Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, and Rickie Weeks. All three of them are having terrific years. It was very difficult for me to break these three down. Their OPS's are all within .025 of one another, but their OBP have a variance of .053 and their SLG have a variance of .079. Cano has the highest slugging and lowest on base. Pedroia has the opposite. Weeks is the medium in both categories. The difference maker for me, in this case with all of them so close (yet so different) is walks and strikeouts. Cano walks less than 5% of the time. Weeks strikes out more than 1 out of every 5 at bats. Pedroia is the constant on both. He has walked in over 15% of his plate appearances this season and has struck out in 12% of his PAs. I go with Dustin Pedroia.
Shortstop was an obvious one for me. As a manager, I would want to construct a team with two people who can play this position at a high ability and there have been two players, one from each league, who have been head and shoulders above their peers. Jose Reyes is having a career year in a contract season - go figure? - with a line of .354/.398/.529/.927. Just like the catchers, this is a line you would like to see out of corner players where you care more for their offense than about their defense. In this case, it's coming at a primo defensive spot, shortstop. The other player I would take at short is Jhonny Peralta - a player I was really hoping that the Cardinals would go after when trading either Anthony Reyes or Chris Perez to the Indians. Instead...nevermind, not going there. Peralta has an identical .529 slugging percentage as Reyes, but has a .312 avg and .362 on base. Those numbers are great. They pale in comparison to Reyes'. The last thing I'll say here is that Reyes has 15 triples this year already. His career single-season high is 19. If he can get to 25 triples this season, although he's still a LONG SHOT to do it, he'd be the first player since Kiki Cuyler in 1925!
Kevin Youkilis "The Greek God of Walks" of the Red Sox is an easy choice for third base this season. He's the only 3rd baseman within 30 points of .400 OBP (at .399) and is the only 3rd baseman over .500 SLG this season (at .512)! 40 of his 84 hits this season have gone for extra bases - that's 47.6%! WHOA!
My other infield choice came down to 3 first basemen: Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, or Prince Fielder. They are all generally the same player this season, except Joey Votto can play defense. Since Gonzalez already plays good D at first base, though, I go with Miguel Cabrera - who, like Pedroia, does a great job of cutting down on his Ks and picking up more walks than the other two.
In the outfield, I found more easy choices to make. The top 5 players in OPS are all at or over .935. I like having more than one player capable of playing centerfield, 2 of them can. I like players who can walk, all 5 of them walk 10% of the time or more. I like players who can flat out get on base and four of them have OBP of .398 or above. I like players who can drive the ball and four of them have SLG .575 or above. These 5 players are (in order of OPS) Jose Bautista, Lance Berkman, Matt Kemp (CF), Ryan Braun, and Curtis Granderson (CF). The only thing this outfield does not have is great defense. In looking at my pitching, I do not believe great defense would be needed, especially when the team can hit like this team does.
As far as starting pitchers go, I only looked at players who had accumulated 3 or more WAR as a starter this sesaon. That included 17 players. I can only have 5. The first way of narrowing them down any further was to look at how many innings they pitch (since I know that I have all great pitchers from whom to choose.) The reason I did this was because if the later a starting pitcher can effectively go into a game, the more rest they can give a bullpen. Since I'm talking about a 25 man team here, I am thinking of this team over the course of a season, not just for one game. By taking out the pitchers who failed to get 20 outs per game on average (6 2/3 IP), I brought my total down to 12 players. Next, I know that if a player cannot hit a ball and they are not given free passes to first base, then it is much harder to win. I looked next at K:BB (or strikeouts and walks.) From there, there was a multitude of ways to go. By simply taking the top 5 in K:BB, I would have one heck of a staff; so I started with those numbers first. Roy Halladay averages over 7.5 innings a start and has a K:BB of 8.1 (best in either league by 2.42 K:BB!) He's an easy #1 starter. Two other players had a K:BB over 5 at this point in the year. That's flat out ridiculous, still. Those two players are Dan Haren and Cole Hamels. Since none of the other 9 were in those three H's league of K:BB, I decided to look elsewhere to bolster the back end of my rotation. I could still go a number of ways with this. I decided to look at their FIPs (better than ERA, in my book) and found that Jered Weaver, while being quite lucky with his home run rate, has been ridiculous this year. He has the lowest ERA of the 12 and is under 2.00 on the year! His FIP was 2nd to Halladay, who is already on the team. That made him my 4th starter. Lastly, I looked at xFIP - players' expected FIPs for the rest of this season based on their statistics with their HR/FB rate normed out. Clayton Kershaw's was the best after (you guessed it) Halladay again. He also has the highest amount of strikeouts per nine innings (10.13) of any starter in the big leagues this year. He's my #5.
For relievers, I only looked at reliever statistics. Fangraphs will show you a player's statistics as either a starter, a reliever, or overall - it's pretty neat. That means, if a player started 2 games and did horribly, but has been great out of the pen, we're not worried about those two starts. That doesn't indicate very well how he does an inning at a time later in a ballgame (see Lynn, Lance - St. Louis Cardinals, for example).
I know that I only have 7 players to pick out of more than 200 players who have pitched a baseball this year out of a bullpen, so I went straight for my favorite statistic for a reliever - K:BB, again. As far as I'm concerned, relievers on this staff are going to average a grand total of less than 2 innings per game (with my 5 starters combining to average over 7 IP/start) the relievers will be able to come into the game at their very best and throw their hardest, most concentrated pitches. If the hitters can't touch it, they aren't going to be able to do anything with it. This led me to also look at % of pitches swung at and missed (also on fangraphs.) Therefore, I first looked at players with more than 1 strikeout per every inning pitched. That left me with 35 pitchers. I only needed to cut that down by 28 instead of 190+. Once I eliminated anyone with a K:BB under 3.00, I was down to 13 pitchers. Then I looked at their swinging strike %. These do not take into effect whether a batter swung at pitches in the zone or out of the zone. I don't mind either way. If they are swinging at pitches out of the zone, it is because they cannot recognize a ball very well from that pitcher. It could be for a variety of reasons, but for whatever reason, the pitches work. If it is in the zone and they swing and miss, then it just means it's a really good pitch that would be a strike either way! Once I did that, I could eliminate one off the bat. Chris Resop's been great this year, but his swinging strike percentage (SwS%) is the only one under 10% out of those 13 players. In fact, 8 of the 13 were at 12% or higher, so I could eliminate the bottom 5. Out of the final 8, three were definites, with K:BB over 6. Sergio Romo's K:BB is a league best 10.75. Koji Uehara and Jonathan Papelbon's were the other two between 6 and 7.(Need 4 more) With 5 left, instead of choosing four, I set out to eliminate one. Ryan Madson was the only one with a WHIP over 1.05 (at 1.19), so he ended up being my final cut. Making the team (and one impressive statistic each) were Craig Kimbrel (13.7 K/9), Vinnie Pestano (12.69 K/9), Tyler Clippard (0.86 WHIP and over 17 SwS%!), and Matt Reynolds (3.67 K:BB).
Congrats to "stlfan's All-Stars 2011"!
C Brian McCann - Atlanta Braves
C Alex Avila - Detroit Tigers
1B Adrian Gonzalez - Boston Red Sox
1B Miguel Cabrera - Detroit Tigers
2B Dustin Pedroia - Boston Red Sox
SS Jose Reyes - New York Mets
SS Jhonny Peralta - Cleveland Indians
3B Kevin Youkilis - Boston Red Sox
CF Matt Kemp - Los Angeles Dodgers
OF Jose Bautista - Toronto Blue Jays
OF Lance Berkman - St. Louis Cardinals
CF Curtis Granderson - New York Yankees
OF Ryan Braun - Milwaukee Brewers
SP Roy Halladay - Philadelphia Phillies
SP Dan Haren - Anaheim Angels
SP Cole Hamels - Philadelphia Phillies
SP Jered Weaver - Anaheim Angels
SP Clayton Kershaw - Los Angeles Dodgers
RP Sergio Romo - San Francisco Giants
RP Koji Uehara - Baltimore Orioles
RP Jonathan Papelbon - Boston Red Sox
RP Craig Kimbrel - Atlanta Braves
RP Vinnie Pestano - Cleveland Indians
RP Tyler Clippard - Washington Nationals
RP Matt Reynolds - Colorado Rockies