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July 6, 2013 / Nat Anacostia

Five Nationals make my NL All-Star team

In a couple of hours, MLB will announce the All-Star teams. I could just talk about Nationals I think deserve to be on the NL All-Star team. But the way I think about it is that in order to decide which Nats belong, I have to figure out which players belong—all 35 of them—if I’m to determine whether a specific Nat is one of the deserving 35. So in addition to hearing about five Nationals, you get to see my whole team and hear about my methodology for picking them.

It’s important to note that I set up my criteria before ranking the players—I didn’t tweak the methodology to include or exclude any particular players. I was actually surprised that five Nationals made my team, with a couple of them being especially surprising.

Here’s my method:

For position players, wins above replace (WAR), specifically the Fangraphs.com version, is my metric of choice, because it takes account of so many things that it would be difficult or impossible to account for without it—defense, park effects, base running, playing time and position.

For pitchers, the Fangraphs version of WAR is based on fielding independent pitching (FIP), whereas I also like to give some weight to runs allowed, including the effect of balls in play and timing. So, instead, I took an average of WAR (based on FIP) and a measure that Fangraphs calls RA9-Wins (based on runs allowed – it’s very similar to what baseball-reference.com uses for pitching WAR).

I give heavy weight to performance in 2013, but I’m also aware that it’s not unusual for players to be hot for two or three months, then fizzle the rest of the year. So I also give some weight to 2012 performance. Finally, I give a little bit of weight to career performance – really more as just a tie-breaker. If we’ve got two pitchers with similar performance in 2012/2013, but one of them is Mariano Rivera and the other is Brett Cecil, I’d rather see Rivera at the All-Star game. I mean that’s part of what an All-Star game is about!

My formula is 4*2013 WAR (or the average of WAR and RA9-Wins for pitchers) + 2*2012 WAR + Square root(Career WAR). However, if the 2013 WAR is higher than the 2012 WAR, I substitute the 2013 WAR for the 2012 WAR in the second term of this formula, thereby allowing rookies or players who were seriously injured in 2012 to still have an opportunity to rank well. Below, I show the number of points calculated according to this formula for each player in parentheses.

I rank players by position according to this metric. I start by selecting the best player at each position as the starter, with two special rules. For the outfield, not all outfielders can play center field, but normally corner outfielders can play either corner, as can center fielders. So I require that one starter and one reserve outfielder be a center fielder, but then pool the rest of the available outfielders (including any available center fielders) to select the corners, first for the starters, then for the reserves. The All-Star game also uses a DH, so my approach to selecting a DH is to select the best available hitter (based on hitting metrics alone) after the other position players are selected, again, first for starters, then for reserves. Also, I follow the rule that every team must be represented, and indicate below the players who bumped higher ranked players in order to represent their team.

I allocated the reserves as follows: 2 catchers, 6 infielders (including at least one at each position), 5 outfielders (including at least one center fielder), 1 DH, 6 starting pitchers, and 5 relief pitchers.

The following Nationals players make my 2013 NL All-Star team:

Ian Desmond starts the game at shortstop (in place of Troy Tulowitzki, who’s on the DL). The NL has a number of good shortstops—Everth Cabrera, Jimmy Rollins, and Jean Segura are all close and make my team as reserves (and are all better than any AL shortstop). But based on my criteria, Desmond is the best other than Tulowitzki.

Jordan Zimmermann – the 5th-ranked starting pitcher in the NL according to my metric.

Gio Gonzalez – the 6th-ranked starting pitcher according to my metric. His name really hasn’t been mentioned, so this selection was a bit of a surprise. But after a few rough starts at the beginning of the year, Gio’s quietly putting together a good season. Combined with his Cy Young-contender season last year, he ought to be on the consideration list for the All-Star staff.

Rafael Soriano – again he’s quietly putting together a good season, which, combined with good performance last year, lifts him to the 5th and final relief pitcher slot on my team.

Denard Span – This is the big surprise, and I have to admit that it’s may be a fluke of my system. There are really 3 very good NL center fielders according to my metric—McCutchen, Carlos Gomez, and Shin-Soo Choo—but because I allow center fielders to be in the pool for the corner outfielders and DH, they all wind up as starters on my team. Because I also decided I need at least one “true” center fielder as a reserve, I looked at 4th-ranked Dexter Fowler, who’s on the DL, and finally to Span, who is ranked 5th in the league among center fielders according to my metric.  I’ll point out, though, that while Span seems to be considered a disappointment by many Nats fans, his 1.3 WAR for 2013 and 3.6 for 2012 are actually quite good. I feel like this selection can be defended.

Here’s my team:

National League – Starters

C – Buster Posey – Giants (32.8) – In one of the closest races, he just edges out Yadier Molina

1B – Joey Votto – Reds (29.9)

2B – Matt Carpenter – Cardinals (27.5)

3B – David Wright – Mets (39.8) – The leading NL player according to my system

SS – Troy Tulowitzki – Rockies (28.7) – Disabled List – Replaced by:

SS – Ian Desmond – Nationals (24.4)

LF – Ryan Braun – Brewers (28.3) – Disabled List – Replaced by:

LF – Carlos Gonzalez – Rockies (25.9)

CF – Andrew McCutchen – Pirates (33.6)

RF – Carlos Gomez – Brewers (29.5)

DH – Shin-Soo Choo – Reds (20.2)

SP – Clayton Kershaw – Dodgers (33.6)

Reserves

C – Yadier Molina – Cardinals (32.4)

C – Russell Martin – Pirates (21.2)

1B – Paul Goldschmidt – Diamondbacks (22.4)

2B – Chase Utley – Phillies (23.7)

3B – Chase Headley – Padres (25.7)

SS – Everth Cabrera – Padres (23.9)

SS – Jimmy Rollins – Phillies (22.0)

SS – Jean Segura – Brewers (21.6)

OF – Matt Holliday – Cardinals (21.2)

OF – Hunter Pence – Giants (20.9)

OF – Jason Heyward – Braves (20.7)

OF – Giancarlo Stanton – Marlins (17.6) – to represent the Marlins (in place of Starling Marte, Pirates, 20.6)

CF – Dexter Fowler – Rockies (18.2) – Disabled List – Replaced by:

CF – Denard Span – Nationals (16.4)

DH – Carlos Beltran – Cardinals (20.6)

SP – Adam Wainwright – Cardinals (30.7)

SP – Cliff Lee – Phillies (30.6)

SP – Matt Harvey – Mets (28.2)

SP – Jordan Zimmermann – Nationals (23.6)

SP – Gio Gonzalez – Nationals (21.9)

SP – Jeff Samardzija – Cubs (16.6) – to represent the Cubs (in place of Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks, 20.7)

RP – Craig Kimbrel – Braves (14.1)

RP – Aroldis Chapman – Reds (13.2)

RP – Mark Melancon – Pirates (13.0)

RP – Jason Grilli – Pirates (11.0)

RP – Rafael Soriano – Nationals (10.7)

Finally, I can’t end this article without answering the question about Yasiel Puig. Puig did remarkably well according to my metric, with 13.4 points, considering he’s only played for one month. If he’d had two months at that level (as Mike Trout did last year), he would have made my team. But despite Puig’s phenomenal month, I think it’s fair that he wait a year to better demonstrate his talent before possibly making next year’s team. When other very good players like Gerardo Parra and Jay Bruce can’t make my team, I don’t have a problem with leaving Puig off.

PS. The official All-Star Game selections have been announced, and Bryce Harper was voted in as a starter by the fans, while Jordan Zimmermann is the only other Nat selected. (Ian Desmond’s name will appear on a ballot for the final slot.)  How did Bryce do according to my criteria? He had 17.9 points. That came close. The only outfielder with more points who didn’t make my team was Starling Marte, with 20.6. Two outfielders with fewer points did make my team, however—Giancarlo Stanton with 17.6 (because the Marlins needed a representative) and Denard Span with 16.4 (because we needed a reserve center fielder). I understand how Harper made the team, due to his huge celebrity, but at this point his career continues to be more promise than realization (though his fantastic start in April suggests that the realization may be coming soon).

Other Nationals who came close to making my team but missed included Adam LaRoche with 11.7 points, who ranked 5th among NL first baseman behind Votto and Goldschmidt, who made my team, and Adrian Gonzalez and Allen Craig, who didn’t. At third base, Ryan Zimmerman ranked fourth with 18.7 points behind Wright and Headley, who made my team, and Aramis Ramirez, who didn’t. And Stephen Strasburg ranked ninth among starting pitchers with 19.3 points, placing behind Kershaw, Wainwright, Lee, Harvey, Zimmermann, and Gonzalez, who made my team, and Patrick Corbin and Mat Latos, who didn’t.  All in all, the Nationals did very well on this exercise.

PPS. I made a mistake. There are actually 34 roster spots, rather than the 35 that I was assuming. (I must have thought that the final slot filled by fan ballot was in addition to the 34 rather than included in that total.) If I had used the right total, Heyward is the one that I wouldn’t have selected.

 

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5 Comments

  1. william / Jul 14 2013 12:43 am

    If you think that Denard Span belongs on the NL All Star team, then you probably should just pack it up now and shut down your blog. Seriously. You are a walking advertisement for just how useless fielding War is. What an utter joke. Maybe the Nats need a whole team of guys who can’t get on base even at the league average, who can’t reliably steal bases or lay down bunts and who have no power. There is nothing special at all about Span’s base running. You really need to re-think this. And you know what, Harper plays center field and he played it with a better defensive War than Span, who apparently you believe is Willie Mays’ second coming.

    Seriously, you need to watch the games. Span isn’t even as good as Ben Revere. But whatever, this is the kind of thinking that got the Nats into their predicament.

    • Nat Anacostia / Jul 16 2013 11:43 pm

      If you take another look at my post, I don’t seriously think that Span belongs on the All-Star team – I admitted that it was a fluke of my system. But I said I was going to set up my system and then follow it, so that’s what I did. I said that Span’s the 5th best center fielder in the NL based on my criteria – and looking again over the list of guys he’s ahead, I’ll stand by that. There are guys who are probably more talented, but haven’t been playing well (Matt Kemp, BJ Upton), guys who were good not too long ago, but are now slipping (Jay, Pagan, DeJesus), and Revere, who looks statistically very similar to Span, but hasn’t played quite as long. Revere did look a lot better than Span when we were playing in Philly, but Revere didn’t hit much at all during the first couple of months this season. Then there’s Ruggiano, who I’m not quite sure how to evaluate (he’s 31 and had half a big season last year, but hasn’t done much in the rest of his career). Then there’s Lagares and Pollock, who make Span look like a slugger.

      And fielding WAR doesn’t say that Span is a great fielder (the best NL center fielders according to fangraphs UZR and DRS are Gomez, Pollock, and McCutcheon), but it does say that Span’s somewhat above average, which matches my observation. He doesn’t charge short flies as well as Nyjer used to do, but he does get a good jump and takes direct routes.

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