Giants vs Astros recap
As an Astros' fan, one of the most memorable All Star Games was July 8, 1980. The Astros' 6 foot 8 inch J.R. Richard was the starting pitcher for the NL and his overpowering presence found a national stage. Richard's ERA at the time was 1.93, and he had struck out 9.4 batters per 9 innings. Richard pitched two scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out 3. Richard's scary velocity drew words of amazement from the broadcasters. Only 22 days later, Richard collapsed with a stroke as he played catch before a game, and he was never able to come back.
I don't expect any Astros to have center stage at this year's All Star Game (ASG). None are likely to start the game. But one will be in the dugout (or bullpen, as the case may be). The ASG rules guarantee that one representative. This is the first year in awhile that I have difficulty picking an Astros' player who is deserving of an All Star position. So many individual Astros players have underperformed that this isn't an easy selection. But our team has to send someone; and, while we recognize that players' stats can change in the next two weeks, we are close enough to the ASG selection date to make some educated guesses..
Some players have performed so poorly that we don't even have to look at their stats. I will examine the following potential candidates: Roy Oswalt, Brett Myers, Matt Lindstrom, Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, and Jeff Keppinger. We will compare how the Astros' candidates rank, relative to the other NL players at their position, in order to gauge how many "better" canddates have to be skipped over. I may not use the statistics which manager Charley Manuel will use when he considers whom to select, but that's nothing new.
Oswalt and Myers
The traditionalists will have to ignore starting pitcher W/L records when they consider Oswalt and Myers. And, that's not unusual in the ASG when lower division teams must be given a roster spot. And, after all, starting pitchers' W/L record doesn't tell us that much about the the players' individual performance. Oswalt's and Myers' ranking on the pitching stats is shown along with the No. 1 ranked player.
(Player, NL Rank, X-FIP)
Oswalt, 5th, 3.40
Myers, 16th, 3.93
Halladay, 1st, 2.90
Oswalt, 11th, 3.28
Myers, 18th, 3.59
Josh Johnson, 1st, 2.56
Roy Oswalt, 19th, 3.10
Myers, 25th, 3.34
Jiminez, 1st, 1.15
Oswalt looks like a good candidate, and right now I would say he is the best choice for the Astros representative. While it appears that quite a few starters have to be passed over if ERA is used to rank candidates, the more advanced metrics make a better case for Oswalt. If HR rates are normalized (x-FIP), Oswalt's ranking indicates he should be selected on merit alone, even if the Astros were not guaranteed a roster slot. Interestingly, Felipe Paulino is ranked 10th on FIP, a hair ahead of Oswalt. Brett Myers' stats are pretty good, but his rankings indicate he is far from a prime choice for the ASG. However, certain events (such as an Oswalt trade, or Oswalt's and Myers' pitching schedule leading up to the ASG) could allow Myers to be the Astros' representative.
A few weeks ago, I thought Lindstrom might belong on the All Star team, but since then, he has experienced back problems, and his performance has fallen down somewhat. ERA, FIP, and x-FIP are not the best measures of a reliever, but they are decent benchmarks for comparing closers, who normally don't inherit runners.
Lindstrom, 38th, 3.95
Broxton, 1st, 1.79
Lindstrom, 33rd, 3.20
Broxton, 1st, 0.67
Lindstrom's NL ranking is about the same if ERA is used, so I didn't show it. Really, Lindstrom doesn't deserve an All Star slot, given the large number of good relief pitchers who are available in the NL. It's possible that traditionalists will just look at Lindstrom's saves and use that as a gauge. But I don't think that tells us which relievers deserve an all star assignment, and to do so ignores the fact that Lindstrom has 4 blown saves and is on pace for 9 blown saves for the year. That said, sometimes a bad team's closer is picked for the all-star team (think, Mike Williams and the Pirates, earlier in this decade) even if the closer is mediocre.
I look at position players after the jump.
Let's start off with the fact that position players generally are selected for offense, rather than defense. Want an example? Does anyone remember the NL's starting outfield in the 2004 ASG in Minute Maid Park? Barry Bonds, LF. Lance Berkman, CF. Sammy Sosa, RF. And the Astros' position players generally are underperforming on offense. I don't think any of the Astros' hitters I examine below qualify for the ASG, based on their current offensive stats. However, we can look to see how they rank now, in order to guess whether a good offensive burst over the next couple of weeks might put them in position to be named to the All Star squad by Manuel.
Earlier this season, Bourn was hitting well enough that some of the fans here at TCB hoped he would be named to the ASG. And, certainly, it would be enjoyable to watch Bourn tracking down every ball hit his way in the all star game. But defense, alone, generally won't get you to the all star game (unless you buy a ticket). Bourn's offense has spiraled downward in recent games. Bourn's wOBA is .293, which ranks him 12th in the NL among centerfielders. By comparison Colby Rasmus leads NL centerfielders with a .395 wOBA. Bourn's OPS is 13th among NL centerfielders at .646, with Rasmus again leading with a .930 OPS. The Pirates' McCutcheon and the Cubs' Marlon Byrd are centerfielders who have put up good enough numbers to deserve an all star spot too. I don't see any way that Bourn will be named to the ASG.
Pence earned his first ASG spot last year, and that history certainly helps get him consideration this year. But Pence's offense has been below his normal standard by a wide margin, even though he has begun to rebound this month. Let's see how he ranks in wOBA and OPS among NL right fielders.
Pence, 12th, .330
Ethier, 1st, .411
Pence, 12th, .754
Ethier, 1st, .964
Maybe if Pence went on an absolute tear, crushing the ball daily over the next two weeks, he might put himself in position to be the Astros All Star representative. But I doubt it. The depth of good offensive players in right field is just too good. Cory Hart is having a career year in home runs and OPS. The fact that Ethier can surpass him shows how phenomonal the Dodger right fielder's performance has been. And, to make it even harder, the ASG selection just picks outfielders, not right or left fielders. That means that Pence is also in competition with left fielders for an outfield spot. And that means big name sluggers like Ryan Braun and Matt Holliday are also in the mix. Nationals' left fielder Josh Willingham has 13 HRs and an OPS over .900. Phillies' right fielder Jayson Werth is also having a fine year.
Jeff is normally a utility infielder, but he has moved into the starter spot at 2d base this year. Keppinger doesn't seem like a typical all star type player based on talent, but he has been one of the few Astros who isn't underperforming. Sometimes the all star manager will pick a player like Keppinger, especially if he needs to give a spot to a bad team, so that he can have the flexibility of a player who can man multiple positions. How does Keppinger rank among NL second basemen?
Keppinger, 12th, .312
Johnson, 1st, .380
Keppinger, 8th, .704
Johnson, 1st, .874
As we've discussed before, Kelly Johnson was a terrific free agent signing, and it would be a disservice if he doesn't get an all star selection. Chase Utley is 2d in most categories to Johnson, and it would be a surprise if he doesn't get an all star slot. The chances aren't great for Keppinger, but it's not out of the question. If Keppinger were to go on a hitting streak in the next couple of months and get his batting average (empty or not) up higher, maybe Manuel would pick him as a utility infielder.
Given Berkman's poor offense so far, it's hard to explain why I would consider Berkman. My thinking is that Berkman has sufficient star power and name recognition, that maybe Lance could be selected if he were to go on a hitting tear which hikes his batting average and OPS. In reality, Berkman's ranking among first baseman is so low that I can't see that happening. Among NL first basemen, Berkman is 15th for both wOBA (.324) and OPS (.724). Joey Votto leads both categories and probably deserves an all star assignment. And how could you leave off Albert Pujols who is 2d among NL first basemen in OPS. The Padres' Adrian Gonzalez also has put up all star worthy numbers. The most interesting part of the first baseman ranking is at the bottom. The bottom three NL first basemen in wOBA and OPS looks like the all star selections from previous years:
wOBA : 14th Derek Lee (.327), 15th Lance Berkman (.324); 16th Todd Helton (.305)
OPS: 14th Derek Lee (..735); 15th Lance Berkman (.724); 16th Todd Helton (.659)
My conclusion is that Roy Oswalt and Brett Myers are the most deserving Astros' representatives for the ASG, based on current performance. Betweent those two starting pitchers, Oswalt is the better selection and probably the more likely pick. You may have noticed that there is a media debate brewing over whether Strasburg should be put on the NL All Star team. Many would say that he shouldn't be considered over other starting pitchers who have been pitching in the majors since the start of the season. However, Strasburg may well be among the top five starting pitchers in baseball, plus his selection might well bring higher television ratings to the ASG. That's a question for another day. But suppose Roy Oswalt is picked for the ASG, and Strasburg isn't. Would that bring howls of protest from Strasburg-lovers, and would the Astros get the brunt of the blame among the national media? Just a question.