|Derek Jeter or Asdrubal Cabrera: Fans and WAR vote differently for the All-Star Game. (US PRESSWIRE)|
The way it is with the All-Star Game: There are some who think the players should be the ones who had the best first half. There are others who think the All-Star Game should be for the fans' favorites, no matter how they happen to be playing at that particular moment. There are others who think the All-Star Game should feature their own hometown stars, deserving or not. Many of these are Giants fans.
And who is to say any of them are wrong? If you are a Giants fan, shouldn’t you vote for Giants? I grew up in Cleveland, and I voted every year for Duane Kuiper. Someone could have pointed out a million obvious statistical reasons why Willie Randolph or Bobby Grich or Frank White might be the more compelling choice, but I would not have cared. Duane Kuiper was my guy (Frank is now my guy too). And it’s my vote.
I have the same feeling about Derek Jeter -- the guy’s one of the greatest shortstops in the history of baseball, he’s one of the popular players in the history of baseball, and if you think, “the All-Star Game wouldn’t mean as much without him,” you don’t have to justify that. It’s your vote.
And I have the same feeling about Melky Cabrera -- he’s hitting .354, slugging .516 and playing one of the toughest hitting ballparks in baseball. Can he keep it up? Will he drop off dramatically? That’s the future. He’s killed it this season, and that doesn’t need to be justified.
So here’s what I’ve done. I’ve tried to get at all of those -- I’ve put together a little draft between the fans and WAR. They will each pick a team. The fans' draft is based on vote totals. The WAR draft, obviously, is based on Wins Above Replacement (some combination of the FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference models). Let’s the do the draft first, then I’ll try to make some sense of it.
Fans get first pick. They select, Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas. He led all vote-getters by a landslide.
WAR, with its first pick, selects: David Wright, 3B, Mets. Someday, someone will answer the question for me -- how David Wright, who is an amazing player, an interesting individual and who has spent his entire career in New York can be so underrated.
Fans: Buster Posey, C, San Francisco. Those Giants fans are amazingly loyal.
WAR: Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati. Has he taken over as best hitter in the game?
Fans: Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees. Fans going for star power here.
WAR: Mike Trout, OF, Angels. And WAR going for youth.
Fans: Carlos Beltran, OF, St. Louis. I’ve been writing about Carlos Beltran for so long, I almost feel like a proud uncle watching him have such a great first half.
WAR: Carlos Ruiz , C, Philadelphia. Two catchers selected in top four rounds -- and neither one is Joe Mauer?
Fans: Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees. Fans steal WAR’s next selection.
WAR: Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates. Yes, we saw it last year, but how great is it to see the Pirates in first place. Why can’t that EVER happen to the Royals?*
*I shouldn’t say “ever” because it did happen in 2003 if by “it” you mean “were in contention at the All-Star break.” Take a look, however at the other years:
Royals, games behind at All-Star break:
2012: 7.5 games back
2003: UP 7 games!
2002: 15 games back
Look at that chart. That might be the most depressing thing I’ve seen in a long time. It isn’t just that the Royals have been terrible year after year since the strike. It is that they have been out of contention every single year by the All-Star break -- this in a division that has not always been particularly strong. Not counting that crazy 2003 season, they have trailed by double-digit games every year except 1997 and, perhaps, this year. Perhaps. At this point, if you are a Royals fan you are not even asking for a meaningful September. A meaningful July would do.
Fans: Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants. Great to see Panda hitting again, but Mel Kiper would definitely call this a reach. Those Giants fans!
WAR: Michael Bourn, OF, Braves. But Kiper might not like this pick either.
Fans: Curtis Granderson, OF, Yankees. Curtis Granderson at Yankee Stadium this year: 14 homers, one double. Last year: 25 homers, 11 doubles (BR Mike pointed out this second stat is wrong; it’s 21 homers, 15 doubles). Just an interesting piece of trivia -- ballparks can play such a big role in a players’ performance.
WAR: Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland. Quietly having a good year with 11 homers, 20 of 21 stolen bases and good defensive numbers. Ian Kinsler leads the league in runs and doubles. WAR does not care.
Fans: Prince Fielder, 1B, Tigers. Just beat out Brandon Belt. Those Giants fans!
WAR: Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Cleveland. WAR loves those Cleveland middle infielders.
Fans: Ryan Braun, DH, Milwaukee. Each team gets to pick a DH with the last pick; the fans pick is actually Matt Kemp but he’s hurt.
WAR: Melky Cabrera, DH, San Francisco. WAR snags a Giant!
OK, so here’s what the teams look like (I tried to choose the highest scoring lineup using Baseball Lineup Simulator):
1. Carlos Beltran, RF
2. Josh Hamilton, LF
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Ryan Braun, DH
5. Curtis Granderson, CF
6. Prince Fielder, 1B
7. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
8. Derek Jeter, SS
9. Buster Posey, C
That lineup (assuming everyone hits at the pace they hit in the first half) simulates out to 987 runs for a season, or 6.09 per game. I originally had Hamilton and Cano switched, but the simulator say it will squeeze out an extra run or two this way. Defensively, it’s not great.
And here’s the WAR team lineup
1. Mike Trout, LF
2. Andrew McCutchen, RF
3. David Wright, 3B
4. Joey Votto, 1B
5. Carlos Ruiz, C
6. Melky Cabrera, DH
7. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
8. Michael Bourn, CF
9. Jason Kipnis, 2B
That lineup, making the same assumptions as above, simulates out to 1,116 runs for a season, or 6.89 per game. Defensively, it is mostly spectacular, with three center fielders roaming the outfield.
So what would happen if these two teams played a seven-game series? This is the beauty of baseball: You have no idea what would happen, right? One, we haven’t even talked about pitchers. But even assuming the same pitcher was going for both sides, you still don’t have any idea. Baseball -- like everything -- is more complicated than, well, anything imaginable.
I was thinking about this regarding Jeter. Since May 5, Jeter has been hitting .252/.307/.314 in the leadoff spot for the Yankees. And over those 53 games, the Yankees are 34-19, that’s .641 baseball or 104-win pace over a 162-game season. I realize we are talking arbitrary starting and ending points, small sample sizes, none of this matters -- but I’m not trying to make that point. I’m simply making the point that while everyone will tell you how important the leadoff hitter is to winning games, Jeter has been struggling for two months in the leadoff spot, and the Yankees have been winning at a championship pace.
It isn’t just Jeter. As Tom Tango points out, Mariano Rivera did not have a single save over that time. Alex Rodriguez has been pretty blah, Mark Teixeira has been pretty blah, The rotation has been beat up, and the bullpen has not exactly invincible. But when you put it all together, the Yankees still have seven above-average hitters in their daily lineup, they hit a lot of home runs, and they’ve been getting enough pitching to not just win, but win big. You can’t wrap up winning and losing baseball in some simple and neat package.
But which team would you rather have? The fans team certainly have more star power and more years. The WAR team has more athleticism and youth. The fans team has quite a bit more World Series and playoff experience. The WAR team has many more stolen bases and can probably cover a lot more defensive ground. The fans team figures to be a lot more settled -- these guys, as the line goes, know how to play the game -- but you have to ask if they can stay healthy and fresh. The WAR has its own risks. Will Mike Trout dip as the league adjusts to him? Will Melky continue to hit like this? How about Ruiz?
Who do you think would win? I’ve got the poll up asking that very question.
But then there’s another question: Which team would be more fun to watch play? I might prefer to see the WAR team play -- younger, faster, more options, better defense -- but you might prefer seeing players you’ve watched and admired for a long time like Jeter and Beltran and Cano and so on. Are either of us right? Well, I’ve got that poll question up too. Which team would be more fun to watch?
By the way, I am absolutely recommending that baseball try something like this instead of the state American League vs. Nation League. The other day I listed off fun ways to play the All-Star Game. Add this one too: Scouts vs. Stats … or Fans vs. Scouts … or Everyone vs. La Russa. I’ve got lots of ideas.