Sunday, September 09, 2007

The All-NL Central Team!


The fun thing about such an undertaking is that besides it being easy material for four posts, I got to test myself as a homer. I think I was able to avoid the homer bug too much. I’ve chosen a good chunk of home-town players, but I also took about as many from three other teams. This is a team balanced out mostly by the Cards, Cubs, Brewers and surprisingly, the Reds.

Anyway, I’ll just get to the positional battles.


Starting Rotation

The first battle! I spent some money here, in the form of $24.06M. I grabbed two left-handed and three right-handed starters and the right/left split did play a role in the #5 starter. Of the three lefties—Hill, Lilly, Gorzelanny—I decided that the two Cubs players were the best of the three, due to higher strikeout rates. The ERAs were all pretty close, as were the innings pitched. So Hill and Lilly made it, and due to not wanting three left-handed starters, I cut Gorzelanny. He’s the top honorable mention, certainly.

From the right side, Aaron Harang was the most obvious choice, with a 13-3 record when I started and a 14-4 record as of today. Oswalt seemed like an obvious choice too, especially since I had to have an Astro and there were only a couple choices that fit from the Astros. His skimpy 3.35 ERA was reason enough despite his hefty price tag (13M—definitely would have been under budget if I had taken Gorzy instead). That left the last choice down to Big Z, Snell, Wainwright and Sheets. Sheets and Big Z were too expensive for their output this year (Big Z has been up and down, Sheets has been hurt, both make 8-digit salaries). Snell, while having pitched pretty well this year, can’t match Wainwright in the ERA or win-loss record department, as Snell has a losing record. Picking an all-star pitcher (even if it’s just from one division) with a losing record seems like it’s not the way to go. So Adam Wainwright gets the 5th spot in the rotation.

First Base

Albert Pujols vs. Prince Fielder.

Prince Fielder vs. Albert Pujols.

Is there a right answer? Is there a wrong answer?

I couldn’t figure it out. A combination of higher OPS, better defense and baserunning, proven track record and my fanship of St. Louis baseball led me to initially choose Albert Pujols. In fact, I didn’t change my mind until I was writing this post and updated my stats (since my first stats were from about 2 weeks ago)

Fielder, for most of the season, has led the NL in Slugging, and currently has a .615 slugging percentage. This slugging percentage is better than Pujols’ .563 slugging this year (although is still behind Pujols’ CAREER slugging of .620). Fielder also has more home runs (43-30), RBI (104-88), and costs considerably less $415,000-$12,900,000. In addition, despite what I said earlier about OPS, it’s changed since my first stats back in late August. Fielder is on a tear again, and has pushed his OPS up to 1.002, while Pujols seems to be in a mini-slump and his OPS sits at a still unreal .987.

Sorry Albert Pujols, but I can’t spend 12.5M on baserunning and defense when Fielder is out-producing you this year.

Second Base

This one wasn’t tough, but it could look tough if you consider batting average, so I thought I’d quickly defend myself. Phillips of the Reds wins over Sanchez because, despite the 30 point difference in batting average, Phillips has a higher OPS, hits for power (25 HRs to Sanchez’ 11(August stats)) and has speed (25 SB’s to Sanchez’ 0). Oh yeah, Phillips also costs less by over 2M.

Shortstop

Both guys in question made the team, because of course, there’s a bench. The question for your starter is: Do you want speed or power from SS? Ryan Theriot (25 SBs) or J.J. Hardy (23 HRs). Well, the combination of Hardy cooling off and the fact that I have power all throughout my lineup led me to go with Ryan Theriot for the starting spot. J.J. Hardy does make an appearance on the bench though.

Third Base

This is the Pujols/Fielder battle all over again, except it’s a Cub that got knocked off the team by a hot-hitting young Brewer. Ryan Braun is a machine, with an OPS of 1.005, 28 HRs in 374 ABs (13.35 ABs per HR), and a nice little price tag of the league minimum. Ramirez is by far better defensively and understands the game better, and is certainly having a good year overall. But it’s the same argument as before, so Ryan Braun has to make this team.

Catcher

When it’s a close call, the defense suddenly matters more. The nominees here were Yadier Molina, Johnny Estrada and Javier Valentin. 40 points of OPS from first to last, none are huge home run threats, none put up big RBI numbers or have speed(imagine that, a slow catcher?). So I went with the hometown guy in Molina. The numbers are pretty close to identical offensively for all three, but Molina guns down runners all over the diamond, whether they’re stealing or even just leading off too far. He also was a clutch hero last fall, hitting the home run that put the Cardinals ahead in Game 7 of the NLCS against the heavily favored Mets. Of course, I need a 2nd catcher for the bench, so one of these two other guys will make an appearance below.

Infield Analysis

That totals the infield at $1,738,000 total. I actually didn’t mean to go cheap here, as I originally was going to bring Pujols into the mix, and his 13M salary would have put this part of the team on par with the others. Instead, this allows me some wiggle room elsewhere.

I’m not sure how good defensively these guys are as a whole, but having seen Molina play plenty, I know this team would be solid there. Ryan Theriot is a definite hustle player who isn’t going to make errors due to a lackadaisical attitude. So in two of the positions I feel pretty good. The corners could be better, if Pujols and Ramirez had been chosen, but then I would have had to give up production elsewhere.

Outfield

Remember our rule here: One player must be a center fielder for his team (my posted definition of this is having played at least 100 innings in center this year at the time I first compiled stats in August).

The best choices for the center field position were Alfonso Soriano, who of course started the season in center for the Cubs before being moved primarily to left (why they don’t play him in right with his arm is beyond me) and Corey Hart, who again, while not the full time guy, has played there for 150 innings, more than enough to show he’s capable out there. (Note: The rule’s existence is so that myself or anyone else participating doesn’t put an outfield of Carlos Lee, Adam Dunn and Chris Duncan out there—none of those guys are playing center)

Looking at the two guys, I was first intending to take Alfonso Soriano, because of all he does for his club. His arm is stellar and he’s one of the rare guys who has 30/30 ability, and potentially 40/40 ability. However, two factors led me to go with Hart instead. First was the fact that he was a LOT cheaper, at $395,000 to Soriano’s $10,000,000. But beyond that, looking at their numbers, they’re pretty much the same, with many close calls going towards Hart’s favor. Hart leads slightly in OPS (.882 to .860), stolen bases (22-18) and blows him away in RBI (68-51—this is mostly due to Soriano’s position in the lineup). Meanwhile in average, runs scored and HRs he’s close to Soriano.

If you could look back and take one of these two guys this year, as much as Cubs fans seem to love their new lead-off hitter, Corey Hart is the man.

That settles center, but how about the corner spots? Adam Dunn has been a beast this year, with 36 homers, 96 RBI and a .932 OPS. Of course, he has a pretty mediocre batting average, due to his all-or-nothing swing, but he manages to draw walks to have a respectable(but not great, for a slugger at least) OBP of .384, right on line with his career average. He gets the nod for one corner spot, leading us to our tough choice.

The battle of Ken Griffey, Jr. vs. Carlos Lee.

The case for Griffey: His OPS(my favorite stat) is higher, .875 to .909, which is not a huge difference, but significant enough. Their slugging percentages are pretty similar, so most of this comes in that Griffey gets on base about 4% more often than Lee. Griffey has also outhomered Lee 30 to 27 and plays better defense. On top of that, while Griffey is still well-compensated for his role on the Reds, his salary is 3.1M less than Lee’s. Last, but certainly not least, Griffey is a fan-favorite pretty much throughout baseball, whereas Carlos Lee is a name only somewhat known by casual baseball fans outside of the cities he’s played in.

The case for Lee: The man is an RBI machine, with 105 RBI, good for 3rd in the NL. Don’t forget, he’s doing this for the punchless Houston Astros, who are 26th in the majors in runs scored and 22nd in on-base. With more players who could get on base around him, he might have 10-20 more RBI this year. Lee also has a higher batting average by 14 points and doesn’t represent the injury risk Griffey does.

The verdict: Griffey’s health is a concern, but this year he’s played 134 games so far and should break the 150 game mark. His charisma, defense, OPS, and slightly lower salary are enough reason to take Griffey over Lee here.

Which takes us to the last two parts of this exercise:

The Bullpen

Rules concerning this: Gotta have an ACTUAL closer and gotta have at least one lefty.

The easy choices were the lefties. There were two lefties out there pitching well, and as I expressed in the original post, the idea would be to get two lefties if possible. This is also the only place I could find a Pirate having a good enough year to justify making the team(apologies to Gorzelanny, of course). So Damaso Marte and Brian Shouse both make the team.

From there, the easy place to look is the St. Louis bullpen, where they have 4 guys who have had a WHIP below 1.0 for most of the season. Percival, Springer and Franklin are all your typical middle relievers as far as salary goes, ranging from league minimum(Percival) to a little shy of 2M(Springer). I thought about taking all three, but there are some other good candidates out there, so I took two out of the three. As much as Percival has been a lift to this team, his smaller sample size compared to the others made him the odd man out. Ryan Franklin and Russ Springer made the team. Troy Percival doesn’t. The only concern here is Franklin’s poor K/9 rate (an abysmal 4.69), but his WHIP and ERA haven’t shown signs of this being a problem, with a WHIP under 1 and an ERA of 2.03.
From there, we pick up the anti-Ryan Franklin. The best strikeout reliever in the division in the Cubs Carlos Marmol. This kid is a stud and if the Cubs are wise, he’ll be closing games out for them in 2008. His K/9 of 12.23 is amazingly good, and according to the Cubs announcers last night, he has the best strand rate in the NL at, I believe, around 94%. He did give up one inherited runner last night after they said that, but being put in with nobody out and the bases loaded, that’s still more than you’d get out of most relievers.

After that, I took two closers. One a veteran closer who has been trashed by his team’s fans in the past for making things too interesting, and another a young guy who’s only been the closer about half a season. The first is Jason Isringhausen, who is having a career year this year, with 28 saves and a 1.77 ERA. The other is Matt Capps, who at 24 was promoted to being closer, and now has 15 saves and a 2.13 ERA on the season. I would install the veteran as my closer, and Capps as my 8th inning righty.

That settles the bullpen. Onto the last part,

The Bench

Now, I spent most of my money on the real part of the team, so the bench will be closer to what a real bench could potentially be. Many of the high-priced snubs wouldn’t be happy on the bench, so you won’t see an Aramis Ramirez, Albert Pujols or Carlos Lee on the bench. Instead we have several players who are either on minimum contracts or are outplaying bench-type contracts and earning significant time in the starting eight.

First, I pick Hunter Pence, the kid from Houston. With an OPS hovering around .900 and an average that is very Pujols-like, this kid is showing he can play. In addition, he gives flexibility to the manager being a center fielder. He has some pop, with 14 homers, and some speed, with 9 steals. He’s a good all-around player that could fill about any role the manager asks.

For my 2nd outfield choice, I choose Chris Duncan. The Cardinals lefty has knocked out 21 homers and driven in 70 runs and gives a left-handed power option off the bench. He can play either corner outfield position, although he’s best suited for left, where his defense, while vastly improved from 2006, is still shaky at times.

For infielders, I’ve chosen Johnny Estrada, the switch hitting catcher, to back up Molina, and two middle infielders, in J.J. Hardy, a power hitting shortstop and Freddy Sanchez, a guy who can deliver a base hit when you need one. Between the middle infielders, the infield is covered.

That fills out the team. The next post will list player stats, salaries, and the probable lineups for this team. (And I promise I’ll link player cards on the next post, unlike this one, where I was lazy)

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