MLB All-Star Final Vote 2013: Making the Case for Final Roster Spot Candidates
Now that the debate and rage over the All-Star rosters has cooled down, it is time to start looking at what will come of the Final Vote controlled by the fans that ends on Thursday.
It is very much a tale of two leagues this year. The anticipation for the National League vote is actually holding our attention because there is some very real star power in there and because the American League is filled out by a bunch of middle relievers.
I don't know about you, but nothing screams excitement voting for an All-Star Game like putting a reliever on the roster.
The NL hopefuls include Washington's Ian Desmond, Atlanta's Freddie Freeman, San Francisco's Hunter Pence and two Dodgers in Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig.
The junior circuit ballot includes Detroit's Joaquin Benoit, Toronto's Steve Delabar, New York's David Robertson, Texas' Tanner Scheppers and Boston's Koji Uehara.
What we want to do is influence your vote by making a case for all 10 All-Star hopefuls through a combination of stats, star power and merit.
Note: All stats courtesy of Fangraphs.com unless otherwise noted.
Joaquin Benoit, RP, Detroit Tigers
Of the five players listed on the AL Final Vote ballot, Benoit leads the pack in wins above replacement at 1.3. Koji Uehara is right behind him at 1.1, so the gap is not significant enough to say the Detroit reliever is clearly the best.
Benoit also has a strong track record of success in the big leagues, though like most relievers, he has battled inconsistency at times. With the exception of the 2012 season when he had a 3.68 ERA and allowed 14 home runs in 71 innings, the 35-year-old has had an ERA and fielding independent ERA under 3.00 every year since 2008.
Since you want a pitcher who can miss bats, Benoit's 11.39 strikeouts per nine innings is the highest of his career, and his velocity continues to go up (93.8 mph on his fastball) at an age when most pitchers, especially relievers, are trying to keep their shoulder attached.
Pitching for a team that is in desperate need of bullpen help, Benoit has been easily the best and most consistent performer for the Tigers.
Steve Delabar, RP, Toronto Blue Jays
Delabar has been one of the biggest surprises among relievers in the American League this season. His strikeout rate of 12.83 per nine innings and 57 total strikeouts are in the top half among the players listed on the AL Final Vote ballot and in the AL this season.
He also ranks seventh in the league with just 0.23 home runs per nine innings. Delabar is also wildly erratic, owning the seventh-worst walk rate among AL relievers this season, but he has made it work so far with a powerful fastball-slider combination that hitters can't square up.
If you are a person who wants to reward first-half success stories with an appearance in the All-Star Game, ignoring track record and actual star power, Delabar would be the right choice. He spent years in the minors trying to work his way to the big leagues before spending two years out of the game as a substitute teacher due to major elbow problems.
David Robertson, RP, New York Yankees
Robertson has an advantage that no one on this list except for Koji Uehara can match by playing in New York. But even with the Yankees being the most popular franchise in the sport, that doesn't diminish what the 28-year-old has done on the field for the last three years.
Even though fans continue to debate the merits of Robertson eventually succeeding Mariano Rivera as the Yankees closer because he's blown four saves in the last two years, he remains one of the most reliable relievers in the AL.
This year has been no different, as Robertson continues to be one of the best strikeout pitchers in the AL, ranking 11th with 11.39 per nine innings and trailing only Joaquin Benoit among Final Vote contenders in win probability added (2.32).
If consistency is a prerequisite for an All-Star, Robertson certainly has a track record. Assuming his performance this year holds, it will mark the third straight year he has averaged more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings and had an ERA under 3.00. It would also be his second consecutive season with fewer than three walks per nine innings.
Tanner Scheppers, RP, Texas Rangers
The purpose of this piece is to make a case for why you should vote for the players on the Final Vote ballot, but try as I might, I can't give you anything on Tanner Scheppers beyond saying his ERA looks really shiny.
Nothing else in his performance this year puts him in the class of the four other AL players listed, let alone actually warrants being on the ballot.
Scheppers has by far the lowest strikeout rate (6.07 per nine innings) and highest walk rate (3.56) of the pitchers on the list. His success is tied directly to a .229 batting average on balls in play, which is is 161 points better than his .390 mark last season.
Eventually, Scheppers' luck is going to run out and that ERA will fall more in line with the 4.40 FIP that he boasts right now. He is not an All-Star under any circumstance.
Koji Uehara, RP, Boston Red Sox
After a brief one-and-a-half-season trial with Texas, Koji Uehara is back where he is most comfortable in the American League East. And this time, he's joined a revamped Boston bullpen that has helped guide the Red Sox to the best record in the AL.
Uehara is the most unique pitcher on the ballot, because he doesn't overpower hitters with stuff. He succeeds by hitting his spots and getting movement on his sinking fastball. On top of that, he also boasts the best control of all the pitchers on the list with just eight walks in 37.1 innings. His 6.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio also leads this particular pack of pitchers.
Velocity is what everyone pays to see in an All-Star Game, but a change-of-pace option like Uehara could be beneficial to the roster just to prevent hitters from sitting on 95 all game long.
And even though his BABIP so far seems low at .231, it isn't that far from his career mark of .254, so unlike Scheppers, he is more likely to carry this performance over all year and not look like a poor choice for the Midsummer Classic when we look back on the game in a few years.
Ian Desmond, SS, Washington Nationals
Just based on WAR, Ian Desmond has been one of the 12 best position players in the National League this season and probably should have made the NL squad without having to be on the Final Vote ballot.
Milwaukee's Jean Segura has a great slash line right now, but he hasn't hit since May with a .277/.296/.429 mark in June and .276/.333/.310 in the small sample of seven July games.
No one is going to argue the merits of Troy Tulowitzki, who is on the disabled list right now but was arguably the NL MVP before getting hurt. San Diego's Everth Cabrera has changed his approach a bit and could maintain close to this level of performance for a long time.
But Desmond is the No. 2 shortstop in the National League behind Tulowitzki. His power and speed combination can compete with anyone at the position, and his defense keeps getting better to the point where he is now an above-average glove at the most important position.
Desmond might not need the support, since he would likely be the next option if Tulowitzki can't play. But based on the resume, no one in the NL has a better argument than the Nationals shortstop.
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
As of Monday, Freeman is actually leading the NL Final Vote over Yasiel Puig.
Freeman and Adrian Gonzalez make this an interesting vote, because they are virtually doing the same things in terms of value added this season. Freeman has a better average and on-base percentage, but Gonzalez is slugging better and plays first base at a higher level.
The Braves first baseman is a better pure hitter than Desmond, showing greater strike zone awareness and willingness to work a count. But he doesn't possess the same power that Desmond or Puig do.
The offensive numbers in the first half of the season do favor Freeman being the choice, which the fans are clearly looking at. It is hard to find much fault with that, even though there will be some regression later as his .362 BABIP comes down.
Again, since most of the selections are based on how you performed in the first half, Freeman is not going to be penalized based on his actual ceiling or what may happen.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers
Once a fixture in All-Star Games during his time with San Diego and Boston, Adrian Gonzalez has fallen off a bit in the last two years as his game has changed. No longer one of the best power hitters in the game, he gets by with his ability to hit the ball to all fields and hitting more doubles.
Gonzalez trails only Ian Desmond among Final Vote candidates in slugging percentage and is tied with Hunter Pence for second in home runs. He also has the most hits among players on the ballot.
If you believe that the RBI is a proper statistical measure by which to judge a player, Gonzalez ranks ninth in the National League in that category. He hits better with runners in scoring position, posting a .347/.427/.560 line with three home runs, 40 RBI and a 14-13 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
Hunter Pence, OF, San Francisco Giants
Yes, the .309 on-base percentage doesn't do Hunter Pence a lot of favors. But it is light years better than the .287 mark he had with the Giants in 59 games last season.
On top of that, if you look at other factors like power, extra-base hits, stolen bases and defense, Pence stacks up quite well. He's tied with Ian Desmond in extra-base hits among NL candidates, and his 13 stolen bases are the most in the field.
Even though his defense has slipped a bit in the last two years, Pence is having a nice bounce-back season in that department with an Ultimate Zone Rating of 5.4. (He has cost the Giants one run defensively, but he's covering more ground in the outfield.)
The overall package doesn't scream out at you, but when you break Pence's season down, you can see why he might have some appeal as an extra outfielder in a game like this.
Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Of course, we saved the most talked-about player on the ballot for last. But if we are going to follow the All-Star template to the letter, Yasiel Puig should win the vote and represent the National League in this game.
Don't preach about playing time or anything like that when it comes to the All-Star Game; this is an exhibition, pure and simple. It is a marketing event designed to draw casual fans into the game and build stars to an audience that might not otherwise get to see these players outside of highlights.
Puig is the most buzzed-about player in the game right now, and at just 22 years old, he has more than enough ceiling to be a constant fixture in the Midsummer Classic.
We know all about the records that Puig has set with 34 hits and seven home runs in his first 20 games and most hits by rookie in a month with 44. You can see that there is no one on the NL ballot who brings the kind of explosive tools and buzz that the Dodgers outfielder does.
Even with a strong field of candidates to choose from, Puig has just as much right to be in this game as anyone, regardless of what people like Jonathan Papelbon and Marty Brennaman might say.
If you want to debate the Final Vote ballot, or anything else baseball related, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments.