Surprises among April All-Stars
The release of the All-Star ballots this past Tuesday is a perfect opportunity to determine who April's All-Stars have been. The picks below are based entirely on this year's performances and contain absolutely no adjustment based on the likelihood of a player actually making the All-Star team come July, yet the starting nine is comprised entirely of former All-Stars (the one exception is the 10th man, the American League's designated hitter). Still, there are a few surprises below, particularly among the runners-up. If you're tempted to cast your actual All-Star votes now, we ask that you put that ballot away for another couple of months and instead focus on the veracity of this one.
The defending National League Most Valuable Player leads major league first basemen in all three slash stats (batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging), walks (23), runs (23), and stolen bases (3 . . . hey, it's first base). The Tigers' Miguel Cabrera (.318/.435/.568) would be our American League pick.
We'll take Phillips in an extremely close call against Rickie Weeks (.309/.383/.574) of the NL Central-rival Brewers. Weeks has hit for more power, but Phillips' batting average is 40 points higher, he has struck out half as many times, and he is a far superior fielder. Despite Ben Zobrist's monster double-header on Thursday (7-for-10, 2 HRs, 10 RBIs, SB), we'll still take Howard Kendrick of the Angels as our AL pick.
Tulo leads major league shortstops in on-base percentage, slugging, home runs, RBIs, walks, and has struck out less than 27 of his position-mates. There is no other choice. You can take either the Indians' Asdrubal Cabrera (.260/.318/.440) or the Blue Jays' Yunel Escobar (.284/.337/.420) in the AL, but both are a mile behind Tulowitzki.
Adrian Beltre leads major league third basemen in homers and RBIs (the latter tied with Chipper Jones), but he's still struggling to get his on-base percentage over .300. Rodriguez leads only in slugging, but his production has been so well rounded that it clearly trumps his competition. The Phillies' Pladico Polanco (.389/.448/.516) is our NL pick.
Martin, who was non-tendered by the Dodgers in December, has been a revelation for the Yankees in April. Martin was one of the best catchers in baseball as recently as 2008, but fatigue (he was the only player to appear in 300 or more games between 2007 and 2008 whose primary position was catcher), injuries (his 2010 season was ended in early August by a fractured hip), and, to use his word, "distractions," combined to limit him to a .249/.350/.330 line over the last two seasons. Thus far this season, the 28-year-old Martin has looked like the 24-year-old version of himself, who hit .293/.374/.469 and started the All-Star Game. In that way, Martin's hot start is for real, but it remains to be seen if he can hold up over a full season. Our NL pick is the Diamondbacks' Miguel Montero (.295/.368/.538), who is doing a nice job of replicating his breakout 2009 season.
This is by far the toughest position to whittle down for a single major league All-Star team, largely because of the glut of strong starts from National Leaguers. Consider that the above does not include Ryan Braun (.356/.454/.689), who leads the majors in home runs (9) and runs scored (23); Matt Kemp (.378/.460/.612), a centerfielder who has also stolen eight bases, or Andre Ethier (.380/.451/.560), who has an active 24-game hitting streak. Instead we have the major league leaders in slugging (Berkman), batting average and on-base percentage (both Holliday), and, in Bautista, the man who is second in both on-base percentage and slugging, leading his league in batting and home runs, and leading the majors in walks and runs (tied with Braun and Votto). We also have the top three OPS leaders in the game, and the only men who currently boast an OPS over 1.200.
To flesh out the NL squad, give us Braun of the Brewers. In the AL, supplement Joey Bats with the White Sox' Carlos Quentin (.305/.394/.632), who is on pace for 81 doubles, and, believe it or not, the Royals' Jeff Francoeur (.330/.369/.596).
Though the game is being held in a National League park, the American League will have fan-elected designated hitter per the new balloting rules put in place a year ago. There have been a number of strong performances by DHs thus far this season, but we'll take the rejuvenated Hafner, who has been one of the leading forces in the Indians' implausible early success by hitting like it's still 2006. Billy Butler, the on-base machine of the AL Central-rival Royals, is the runner up here.
The fans don't get to vote for pitchers, but no All-Star team is complete without them, and the pick for the best starter in baseball in April is