National League All-Stars: The Final Ballot

There’s only five days left in the regular season and time to put together a season-ending All-Star team for each league. With the National League playoff picture looking close to settled (St. Louis won again last night, Los Angeles is still three back and Milwaukee is all but eliminated from the one race still really hot), we’ll start in the senior circuit.

TheSportsNotebook’s format starts, obviously enough, with a player at each everyday position. We will then round the team out with five starting pitchers, two setup relievers and one closer. The MVP selection that then derives from this ballot will appear sometime next week before the playoffs start on Friday.  On we go with TheSportsNotebook’s 2012 National League All-Stars…

C: Buster Posey (SF)—A great comeback year for the young Giants’ catcher who not only led all at his position in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, but also logged the most at-bats. Posey is the best of what was a good position. Yadier Molina for St. Louis had a season that would have been All-Star worthy most years, and the NL West trio of Miguel Montero in Arizona, A.J. Ellis in Los Angeles and Wilin Rosario in Colorado all brought their own unique strengths. But there’s no denying Posey was the best, and now it’s about whether he gets the MVP.

1B: Adam LaRoche (Was)—It’s a weird year in the National League, as the catchers produced offense, while the first baseman were mediocre. LaRoche had a nice year, hitting 32 home runs, slugging .503 and being a big part of a better-than-expected Washington offense. But I’d have liked a better OBP at this level than .338. But the time missed by Cincinnati’s Joey Votto left the door open for a watered-down selection and LaRoche is it.

2B: Aaron Hill (Arizona)–The change of scenery from Toronto to Arizona worked wonders for Hill, whose .359/.515 stat line for OBP/Slugging was the best at his position by a lot, and his defensive range at a key position was solid.

3B: Chase Headley (San Diego)– Headley edges out worthy candidates in New York’s David Wright and Milwaukee’s Aramis Ramirez. The latter’s numbers are the best, but Wright and Headley are both in extreme pitchers’ parks. And while Wright’s stat line is slightly better, the level of help around Headley is worse (though hardly stellar in either case). And the fact Headley grades out his position’s best in the defensive metrics clinch his selection.

SS:  Starlin Castro (Chicago)– Another case where the position was not stellar, but Castro hit .285 and popped 14 home runs, contributing to a respectable overall stat line. If it were just about offensive numbers though, Washington’s Ian Desmond would get the nod. But Castro grades out drastically higher on defensive range at a position where such is essential. Finally, if we just look at playing time, Castro has over 130 more at-bats than his Washington counterpart, giving him more opportunities to help his team.

For the outfield, we choose one pure centerfielder and the other two choices can come from any position…

CF: Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh)—We can talk about a stellar stat line of .403/.557. We can talk about his .330 batting average or his thirty home runs. But let’s instead ask how a guy hitting in one of the game’s worst lineups still managed to drive in 93 runs and score 106. McCutchen’s late slump will hurt him in the MVP conversation, but it can’t deny him a spot on this team.

OF: Ryan Braun (Milwaukee)–An easy choice, with the .391/.602 stat line, 41 home runs and tacking on 30 stolen bases with it in a season that screamed vindication to anyone open-minded enough to listen.

OF: Matt Holliday (St. Louis)—Based on the numbers, Holliday has the edge, although I gave Andre Ethier a long look for the Dodgers. The stats were quite different–.351/.457 for Ethier, to .376/.499 for Holliday—but so is the difference between hitting in Los Angeles and hitting in St. Louis. If Ethier could have made up some ground defensively I’d have pushed him over the top, but both candidates were equal liabilities in the field, and this will also be a case where I’ll consider that it looks like Holliday’s team is beating out Ethier’s for the last wild-card spot.

R.A. Dickey (NY Mets)
Johnny Cueto (Cincinnati)
Gio Gonzalez (Washington)
Kyle Lohse (St. Louis)
Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles)

Let’s start by not assuming these are listed in order. While Dickey is certainly a solid candidate for the Cy Young, with his 20 wins and leading the National League in innings pitched at 227, he also does have a great pitchers’ park to work in. Contrast that with Cueto who still has one more shot at 20 wins himself, and whose ERA is only 0.08 off Dickey’s. I’m enough of a traditionalist to still like the 20-win plateau though, particularly given the difference in the caliber of teams each pitches for, so the Cy Young vote is still up for grabs.

The toughest choice was Kershaw, who’s missed a lot of time in September due to a hip injury, but he still leads the NL in ERA and he’s still second to Dickey in innings. It wasn’t an ideal time for the Dodger starter to be out, but the overall body of work tells us he deserves to be in the top five. Lohse was an easy choice with his 16-3 record, 200-plus innings and 2.77 ERA in a year where the team desperately needed him to step up. The final cut came down to Gonzalez and Matt Cain. I’d have liked to see Gio get 200 innings, but he’s only one shy and depending on Davey Johnson’s plans could still pitch one more time and get there. And his 21 wins lead the league.

Setup: Mitchell Boggs (St. Louis)
Setup: David Hernandez (Arizona)
Closer: Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta)

Kimbrel’s 40/43 for save rate combined with a buck-04 ERA make him a candidate for the Cy Young and a no-brainer as the best closer. Boggs and Hernandez separated themselves from a good field of setup men through consistent work—Boggs threw 70 innings, while Hernandez had 66, and good ERAs in parks that are hitter-friendly.

We’ll be back next week with the American League All-Star team, along with the final individual award choices for each league.