The ballots are in. Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Corey Hart and Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria are headed to the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. Hart, a budding superstar, and Longoria, the leading candidate for the American League Rookie of the Year, benefited from strong election campaigns all across the Internet, edging out the competition to earn their first All-Star invitations.
With a record 47.8 million votes cast, baseball fans clearly enjoy this new voting feature. However, as is the case with the selection process for starters and reserves—where the coaches, players and fans all struggle to make decisions in an imperfect process—the fans do not always make the right decisions on the final ballot. If you disagree, look at the case of Jason Varitek, who will make an All-Star appearance despite his slash stats line of .220/.300/.360 and OPS+ of 73. Varitek, in fact, is struggling to make contact right now, and certainly did not deserve his selection.
Did the fans get it right in choosing Hart and Longoria, though?
Well, since I cannot get enough of writing these All-Star articles, let us have a look.
In the American League, Longoria edged out—in order of votes—Jermaine Dye, Jason Giambi, Brian Roberts and Jose Guillen.
Longoria is a deserving candidate, taking into consideration his role in the Rays’ recent surge to the top of the American League East standings. A smooth-fielding defender at third base, he has delivered enough walk-off hits to make David Ortiz jealous, emerging as the top rookie position player in the league. He is batting .281/.354/.525 with 16 home runs and 53 RBIs, and sits atop the leader board in nearly offensive statistical category among AL third baseman.
With the mainstream media’s recent infatuation with the Rays and a strong campaign sponsored by the organization, this decision was almost inevitable, forcing the former first-round pick to cancel a trip to Las Vegas with his buddies. It looks as if this will be the first of many All-Star trips for Longoria, who is leading Tampa Bay in homers and RBIs as well. For all that he has done for his team, in addition to his contributions in all facets of the game, it is hard to disagree with the fans’ final vote selection here.
Dye has enjoyed a fine season to this point in his own right, slugging .550 with 20 home runs in 86 games. The Chicago White Sox outfielder, who has picked up the slack for several of his fellow veteran teammates, ranks ninth in the league in OPS (.902), fourth among outfielders, and is one of only four players on the circuit with 20-plus homers. He has been a key cog in the White Sox’s lineup, producing big hits while Paul Konerko (.679 OPS, eight home runs) and Jim Thome (.846 OPS) have struggled to get things going at the plate.
The performance of Dye and Carlos Quentin, who was acquired in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks this offseason and is leading the club with 21 jacks and 65 RBIs, is a major factor why Chicago currently resides in first place in a division that was expected to be one of the deepest in baseball. He is on the wrong side of 30 and struggled in the first half of 2007, causing Chicago to put him on the trade block only months after he produced one of the finest campaigns of his entire career last summer. He turned it around in the second half of '07, though, batting .298/.368/.579 for the White Sox, who then decided to sign him to a two-year extension. So far, it looks as Kenny Williams’ decision to keep Dye, who has fared better against right-handed pitchers so far, is justified, as he turned in an All-Star first half. Really, he has performed like an All-Star as well, perhaps even more so than Longoria.
Whether it is the mustache or the gold thong, the 37-year-old Giambi is enjoying a nice bounce back season as well. After a foot injury sustained in May of last season sidelined him for several weeks, he did not provide the Yankees much of anything, finishing the year with a line of .236/.356/.433 while earning more than $20-million. Then, after a poor April, it looked as if his days as productive slugger were nearing the end. With the Yankees’ interest in soon-to-be free agent Mark Teixeira, Giambi’s days in New York seemed numbered as well. Since the infamous thong story broke, however, he has helped carry the New York offense, coming up with several crucial hits while Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez were on the DL and Robinson Cano was lost at the plate. Giambi, tied with Rodriguez for the team-lead in homers (18), now has the sixth-highest OPS (.925) in the league.
Then there is Roberts, who is among league leaders with 102 base hits, 32 doubles and 25 stolen bases. One of the most productive offensive second baseman in the game, he has posted a line of .291/.372/.481, for one of the highest OPS (.853) totals at the keystone. A solid defender up the middle, he is one of the most underrated players in the game, truly. He has, however, been gunned down on the bases nine times in 34 tries. Regardless, the Orioles, enjoying surprising success, are lucky that they kept onto Roberts, who was nearly dealt to the Chicago Cubs this winter. As is the case with Giambi, it is easy to make the case for him as well, because he delivered an All-Star caliber first half.
Guillen finished last in the final ballot voting, perhaps because he plays in Kansas City. Well, two smaller markets—Milwaukee and Tampa Bay—got their players elected, so there goes that argument. Rather, it seems, the fans actually determined (correctly) that Guillen is undeserving of an All-Star bid. Since calling out his teammates earlier this spring at the height of the Royals’ inability to score runs, he has had his moments. He is leading the club with 13 homers and is among AL leaders with 65 RBIs. Overall, though, he has made far too many outs this season. A direct result of his inability to draw bases on balls (he has only 10 walks while striking out 67 times), his .298 OPS is nothing to write home about, bringing his OPS down to .768, hardly an All-Star mark. In fact, he does not place in the top 40 in the league in OPS, even sitting behind an aging teammate, second baseman Mark Grudzienlak, who is batting .314/.367/.419 for the fourth-place Royals.
Kansas City has a -63 run differential, and only three AL teams have scored fewer than its 386 runs scored as a team. While the performance of his former team, the Seattle Mariners, has made the Royals seem like an offensive juggernaut, Bill Bavasi was right to decline Guillen’s option for 2008. He had a nice season in ’07, batting .290/.353/.460 with 23 home runs and 93 RBIs in spacious Safeco Field, but reports of performance-enhancing drug use put that performance into question. While he hits for some power occasionally, he does not get on base enough, has had a questionable past, and his first half was not All-Star worthy.
It looks as if the fans did a nice job in the American League, but it would be hard to argue with any of the first four aforementioned players.
In the National League, Hart received 8-million votes, beating out David Wright, Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand and Carlos Lee, respectively.
Hart is a nice player who should play a huge role in the postseason push for Milwaukee, which acquired an ace in left-hander CC Sabathia earlier this week. He does not, however, deserve to be an All-Star, at least not for 2008. The Kentucky native has certainly been a key cog in the Milwaukee offense, posting a .510 slugging percentage with 43 extra-base hits, including 15 homers, and 57 RBIs. He has also swiped 15 bases in 18 chances. Still, though, his .842 OPS is good for 28th in the National League, which makes it tough to choose him over Burrell or Wright.
It is definitely a good sign that the Brew Crew faithful helped get their guy elected, and hopefully the excitement level among the Milwaukee fan base will remain this high down the stretch.
Burrell deserved to get picked here, as he has been a force for the Phillies, who are currently in first place in the National League East. Burrell, fourth in the league in OPS (.993), has been one of the premier performers with the bat on the Senior Circuit to this point, slugging .581 with 22 homers and 54 RBIs. The former Miami star has had an up-and-down tenure in Philadelphia, which is why he is such a polarizing player among the Phillies’ fan base. This season, though, he is putting it all together at the right time—he is in a walk year—taking advantage of playing in Citizen’s Bank Park.
The Phillies recently locked up closer Brad Lidge, but it would not be a surprise if Burrell’s days in the city of Brotherly Love come to an end once the season is over. He was perhaps the biggest snub for the Mid-Summer Classic, though, and it is disappointing that he will not be playing in the Bronx on Tuesday night. In fact, if not for the brilliant play of Lance Berkman, Chipper Jones, Albert Pujols and teammate Chase Utley, Burrell might be getting some strong consideration for first-half MVP in his league. At the very least, he deserves to represent the National League, and it was a surprise that he was not selected by the coaches or players.
Burrell has undoubtedly had the most impact on his team of any of the candidates, but ended up finishing third out of the five. National League manager Clint Hurdle still has one decision left, and the Phillies slugger could end up as the replacement for injured outfielder Alfonso Soriano, who will be replaced in the starting lineup by Matt Holliday.
Wright is having a bit of a down year by his standards, but has still played well enough to confirm his place as perhaps the best player the age of 25 or younger in the National League. He is batting .288/.386/.511 with 17 home runs and 70 RBIs. Wright, a defensive stud who deserved to win the MVP award last year but paid the price for his teammates’ September woes in the eyes of the voters, may have just been snubbed again. While Chipper Jones’ monster first half led to an easy decision for the fans, Wright (.897 OPS) has been equally as valuable to the New York Mets as Aramis Ramirez (.900 OPS) has been to Chicago Cubs. If the Mets make a surprise push to supplant the Phillies in the NL East—they will have to, because the Wild Card will probably come out of the Central—he will again merit consideration for MVP.
Rowand, at 30 years old, is close to turning into a fourth outfielder in the near future, making the San Francisco Giants’ decision to offer him such a lucrative deal fairly puzzling.
This season, though, the gritty outfielder has provided one of the only bright spots for the anemic San Francisco offense, batting .296/.362/.453 with 26 doubles and eight home runs. Regardless, he has not performed like an All-Star, and it is unlikely that the veteran outfielder will do so ever again.
A two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, Lee could add another silver bat to his trophy case if he continues to perform in the second half. He is batting .293/.345/.548 with 21 homers and 72 RBIs, helping pack punch in the middle of the Astros’ lineup alongside Berkman.
All-in-all, Burrell and Longoria seem like the most deserving of the bunch, though the American League provided a far more difficult decision.
This had to help Longoria, who had Dick Vitale on his side.
Update: Hurdle selected Wright, not Burrell, to take Soriano’s place on the National League All-Star roster.
On Saturday, I will be appearing on Sports Talk 1220 to discuss the All-Star game and the first-place Tampa Bay Rays at 3:20 P.M.
Click here to listen live.