The MLB Non-Stars: Overlooked Players Sparkling on the Diamond
I like to do this thing every year called the MLB Non-Star team.
And it seems as if every year, my criteria and make-up for the team changes slightly.
There remains one constant, though.
Pick players who didn't make the All-Star team.
In this case, I'm picking players who didn't make my own All-Star team.
One thing is also for sure as far as the make-up goes. These are all players who are having good years. Most of them don't get the publicity that others do and there is one common theme you'll notice throughout both teams.
The players on this team all come together to form an actual team, not just a collection of players having the best years.
This year's team has expanded. I've got the set lineup that includes the designated hitter position, three bench spots, a full starting rotation, and a bullpen that now has three extra spots. I added the three spots to better help recognize role players.
Here is a bit of a refresher from last year's team though.
C: A.J. Pierzynski, 1B: Casey Kotchman, 2B: Akinori Iwamura, 3B: Mike Lowell, SS: Jhonny Peralta, OF: BJ Upton, Nick Markakis, David Murphy, DH: Aubrey Huff, SP: Felix Hernandez, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Nick Blackburn, Jon Lester, RP: Dan Wheeler, Scott Linebrink, Bobby Jenks, RS: Casey Blake, Brian Roberts, Magglio Ordonez.
C: Ryan Doumit, 1B: Derrek Lee, 2B: Brandon Phillips, 3B: Garrett Atkins, SS: Jose Reyes, OF: Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, DH: Mark Teixeira, SP: Cole Hamels, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Kyle Lohse, Chad Billingsley, RP: Taylor Buchholz, Carlos Marmol, Jon Rauch, RS: Mark DeRosa, Ryan Theriot, Randy Winn.
American League Position Players
SS - Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians: The man I call "Drubby" missed some time due to an injury, but at the time he went out, he was the best hitter the Indians had outside of Victor Martinez. Cabrera elevated himself from light-hitting defensive wiz, to a top of the order shortstop.
LF - Bobby Abreu, Angels: Among Major League outfielders, Bobby Abreu is sixth in runs batted in. I don't think anyone would have batted an eye if you said, "Bobby Abreu was snubbed from the All-Star team." His performance is worthy of it, at least.
1B - Paul Konerko, White Sox: While he still hit 22 home runs last year and 31 the year before that, Paul Konerko wasn't the same hitter. This year, he's two RBI away from matching his total from 2008 and his average is way up back into the .300 range.
RF - Jermaine Dye, White Sox: Back to back with White Sox with one of the more under appreciated outfielders in the game. He's got a good arm, he's always a reliable power hitter, and he's very coveted as far as contenders go. So I guess that last one makes him pretty appreciated. The unawareness of how good he is doesn't, though.
DH - Russell Branyan, Mariners: Russ Branyan's 22 home runs is third among all first baseman in the game right now. I won't lie, I laughed at Seattle when they signed him this offseason. But then again, I figured when the Indians had their hands on him for no more than a day a few years ago and then shipped him off, he was pretty much done.
C - Mike Napoli, Angels: The average for Angel’s catcher Mike Napoli has steadily gone up each year. He's got his walks at a better rate, he's got a good on-base percentage and he's still displaying that power that makes him lethal at times. Take note of him now.
3B - Brandon Inge, Tigers: There is a bit of a reason I didn't put him on my All-Star team. He being a perfect fit for the Non-Stars wasn't the main reason, but it's a good excuse. If Inge wasn't a Tiger, he'd be my favorite player.
CF - Adam Jones, Orioles: He made the real All-Star team, but I picked his teammate, Nick Markakis, in favor of Jones on my own All-Star roster. Jones does a little bit of everything and really is looking like a fantastic return on the Erik Bedard deal.
2B - Alberto Callaspo, Royals: Callaspo was traded to the Royals in 2007 for pitcher Billy Buckner. He's been hanging around the club as a bit of a minor leaguer and a fill-in, but this year with the injury to Alex Gordon, forcing Mark Teahen to third, Callaspo has shined. He's fifth among AL second baseman in hits.
Bench - C Kurt Suzuki, SS Elvis Andrus, OF Ben Zobrist: I've made it a point to have a catcher on the bench for this team, for some odd reason. But Suzuki deserves it as being one of the constants for a disappointing Oakland team.
Elvis Andrus has stepped up into the shortstop role as a dependable bat with a way above average glove. The Rangers were willing to sacrifice some offense to bring Andrus along, but he's been more than you could ask for in addition to being a defensive highlight reel.
Ben Zobrist is the exact copy of Brandon Inge. He too made the real team, but was sort of left off mine, because I believe he really is more of a Non-Star than an All-Star. Zobrist has been a bit of a godsend for the Rays this year with their injuries.
American League Pitchers
SP - Kevin Millwood, Rangers: The addition of Mike Maddux to the coaching staff has given Millwood a better conditioning routine for the Texas season. Millwood has taken that and run with it, to become one of the more successful pitchers the Rangers have had in awhile.
SP - Cliff Lee, Indians: Last year he was an All-World player, not just an All-Star. This year he doesn't have the wins because of horrible run-support, but he is pitching just as well minus a few blemishes that really spiked his ERA. He's the same old Cliff Lee, if you ask me.
SP - Mark Buehrle, White Sox: While I snubbed him off my All-Star roster, Buerhle is just the pitcher to represent my Non-Star team. He's one of those pitchers out there who could and probably would, play the field if he had the talent to.
SP - James Shields, Rays: Not as bad as Cliff Lee, but he is in the same boat as far as run support goes. He's been good this year; you just haven't heard about it because he doesn't have the wins and the Rays haven't been at the front of their division like they were in 2008.
SP - Brad Bergensen, Orioles: So I left Justin Verlander off my All-Star roster, but I fully believe he's an All-Star. We all know about him and his strikeouts though. So let's give love to the one starter in the Baltimore rotation that has held ground. Brad Bergensen is a big unknown, but since starting for the O's in late April, he's been steady.
Long Relief - Dallas Braden, Athletics: I gave my long relief job to Dallas Braden because of Brian Tallet's recent struggles. Braden ranks sixth in the AL in ERA among qualified players. No one noticed that? You now know.
Middle Relief - Michael Wuertz, Athletics and Matt Thornton, White Sox: You might be saying, what makes Michael Wuertz and Matt Thornton qualified over other middle and late relief pitchers?
Wuertz, for one, is first in innings among players who have at least ten holds in the AL. He's won five game and only blown one lead and has a stellar WHIP of 1.01. Thornton, meanwhile, is one of the best, if not the best lefty the AL has to offer right now. Left-handed hitters have just a .127 average against him in 55 at-bats.
Set-Up - J.P. Howell, Rays and Andrew Bailey, Athletics: I've got some depth in my two set-up men in Howell and Bailey. You want a couple of guys that are very similar? You got them in Howell and Bailey. The bonus part is that they come from both sides of the mound.
Howell is the left-hander, while Bailey is the right-hander with length, good control, and the ability to close and set-up from both sides.
Closer - Frank Francisco, Rangers: He's missed some time due to injury, but Francisco given the lead away just two times this year. My favorite part is Francisco's 0.94 WHIP and his low hit and walk totals.
National League Position Players
LF - Juan Pierre, Dodgers: Is there more of a Non-Star than Juan Pierre? He comes off the bench, hits like crazy in the absence of Manny Ramirez, and now that he's back, Pierre is relegated to bench—used for late-inning defense. I tip my hat to Pierre for not pitching a fit.
2B - Freddy Sanchez, Pirates: While I'm a fan of him making the real All-Star team, Sanchez can bat second for my Non-Star team because of his versatility and consistency at the plate. He actually leads all MLB second baseman in average.
1B -Todd Helton, Rockies: With age has come a decrease in power for Helton, but he's still a professional hitter. It seems like the Rockies were going to move on from him years ago, but he's still there, being a more than capable first baseman with the stick.
DH - Ryan Howard, Phillies: This is sort of a default placement here. Like Sanchez, I'm not putting him on the All-Star team, but there's a spot here for his big bat.
C - Bengie Molina, Giants: Brother Yadier beat him out for my catcher spot on the All-Star team, but Bengie is still a productive RBI man. The most of all NL catchers, by far.
3B - Mark Reynolds, Diamondbacks: I really don't like all the strikeouts; I'm just not a fan. I've been warming up to Adam Dunn, but it will take me awhile to warm up to the owner of MLB's single-season strikeout record. While he's now passed Chris Davis, at least he isn't carrying a very poor average and on-base percentage.
RF - Andre Ethier, Dodgers: I've got probably this year's most clutch hitter.
SS - Yunel Escobar, Braves: I just don't get all the trade talk concerning Escobar—at least from the Braves point of view. I can understand why any team would love to have him. He's a much underrated producer for Atlanta. You've got Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Tejada, and then Escobar as run-producing shortstops.
CF - Nyjer Morgan, Nationals/Pirates: Nyjer Morgan is second among NL outfielders in stolen bases. He's been a surprise this year for the Pirates and now he's gone from one last place team in Pittsburgh, to another in Washington. Let's give him the props while we still can.
Bench - 2B Skip Schumaker, 3B Casey Blake, OF Jayson Werth: So here's Skip Schumaker, moving to second base from the outfield. He looked horrible in spring training with all his errors. His bat remains the same—hitting .300, scoring runs, and keeping it low on the strikeouts.
His errors are starting to pile up a little, but give credit to Schumaker for making the move. He is joined by someone who is no stranger to moving himself. Casey Blake made the team last year as well and he brings his infield and outfield versatility to this club as well.
Blake is second in RBI among NL third baseman; still a productive player.
Then we have Jayson Werth, who I think was added by the graciousness of his manager, Charlie Manuel, to the real All-Star team. But I had him here before that because I like the quietness of his game. No one really takes note of him, but he puts up numbers.
National League Pitchers
SP - Jason Marquis, Rockies: I kept Tim Wakefield off both my AL rosters, but Marquis has been good enough to make my Non-Stars—and really, he fits here anyway. He was a throw-away salary dump by the Cubs to make room for Milton Bradley. They didn't want him. The Rockies did, and he's worked out great.
SP - Zach Duke, Pirates: You know how Ian Snell is in the minors right now? A few years ago, when Duke and Snell were looking young and promising, Duke sort of fell off the map after that. Now he's back on track and doing what works best for him. He's a mini-Tom Glavine and he's now pitching like he should.
SP -Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: I left off teammate Chad Billingsley because we all know who he is by now. Billingsley made the list last year as well. Kershaw is going to be a superstar someday, but for right now, he's been good enough to make the team, but he's gone rather unnoticed.
SP - Yovani Gallardo, Brewers: You could really make a case for him to make the actual All-Star team, but we need to give credit to Gallardo right now for stepping it up. It isn't easy for a team to replace two pitchers like Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia, two guys who are aces for any team. But Gallardo has done that and done it well.
SP - Wandy Rodriguez, Astros: No, it's been not Roy Oswalt, but Wandy Rodriguez as the best pitcher that Houston has to offer. Rodriguez has quietly put together a year that makes you say, "Finally he's put it all together over the long haul." He's shown flashes, but now he's showing it all.
Long Relief - J.A. Happ, Phillies: He's done a little bit of starting and relief pitching, so Happ fits the bill for my long relief role—not to mention he's 6-0 with a 2.90 ERA. The 87 innings isn't as much as others, but it's good enough for this list.
Middle Relief - Rafael Soriano, Atlanta and Jeremy Affeldt, Giants: Injury riddled Rafael Soriano is finally healthy and the struggles of Mike Gonzalez have pushed him into more of an important role. Soriano was aces setting him up, and now he's just as good closing it out.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Affeldt proved to be quite the signing for the Giants. They've now got themselves a legit left-hander who is actually more of a straight-up relief pitcher. The average against him is actually better against the righties than the lefties, but he's the top relief pitcher in holds.
Set-Up - Ramon Troncoso, Dodgers and Huston Street, Rockies: One of the keys to the fact that the Dodgers bullpen hasn't fallen off despite losing a lot of key players from their bullpen last year is Ramon Troncoso.
He's carrying an impressive ERA of 1.75 with the work-load he's done. Of all relief pitchers that’ve made 30 appearances, Troncoso has pitched the most innings.
Street bounced back and forth between closing and setting up, but he's been the man shutting the door for the Rockies big run the past month plus. He can do this just as well as anyone else can.
Closer - Trevor Hoffman, Brewers: Someone had to get left without a chair in the musical chairs of NL relief pitchers. Hoffman was probably the answer because of missed time, but it was impressive how he came off the disabled list and proceeded to not give up a run at all.
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