King Kaufman's Sports Daily

National League ballot: Griffey and Sosa have the star power, but what does poor Bobby Abreu have to do to make an All-Star team?


Salon Staff
July 1, 2004 11:00PM (UTC)

Wednesday we looked at the American League All-Star ballot. Now, with the voting having ended just before midnight Wednesday, we turn to the Senior Circuit.

I find myself in agreement with the fan voting on four of the eight positions, one more than in the American League, though I don't find any of the choices I disagree with particularly outrageous.

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Here's my ballot for the July 13 game in Houston. All stats are through Wednesday's games, and the voting tallies referred to are those released Monday. Baseball will announce the starting lineups Sunday.

CATCHER

Voting leader: Mike Piazza, Mets
My pick: Piazza

What to do with an obvious All-Star who's splitting his time almost exactly between two positions? Piazza's played 267 innings at first base, 255 behind the plate. In his case, we put him behind the plate, since that's his traditional position, it's where he's on the ballot and running away with the voting, and it's where the closest thing to him is Johnny Estrada of the Braves, who isn't close to him other than being similarly sub-par defensively.

Besides, with Piazza, 35, presumably making a gradual transition to first base or, if he changes leagues, designated hitter, this could be our last chance to see two of the greatest hitting catchers ever, Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez, starting the same All-Star Game.

FIRST BASE

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Voting leader: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
My pick: Jim Thome, Phillies

This is why Piazza should be the catcher. First basemen represent four of the league's top 10 in slugging percentage and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging), three of the top 10 in batting average and on-base percentage and two of the top 10 in home runs and RBIs. And both the leading hitter, Sean Casey of the Reds, and the home run leader, Thome, are first basemen. This is a position where Derrek Lee of the Cubs, hitting .305 with 10 homers, 27 doubles, 46 RBIs and a .381 on-base percentage, isn't even in the All-Star conversation.

The choice comes down to Thome and Casey since Pujols isn't quite hitting on their level, which isn't an insult. On the other hand, don't look now, but Pujols of all people is putting together an argument for a Gold Glove. Since Thome has Casey beat in every category except doubles and batting average, he's the pick. Pujols has a solid lead over Jeff Bagwell of the Astros in the voting, with Casey and Thome a ways back.

SECOND BASE

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Voting leader: Jeff Kent, Astros
My pick: Kent

This is a tough call. Mark Loretta of the Padres is kind of a hip pick among a certain crowd, and he's having a good year, but so are Kent and Todd Walker of the Cubs, who both have more power. With so little to distinguish between them, I'm going to go with the 36-year-old Kent on a lifetime achievement vote, and also because, full disclosure, he's my homeboy from Cal, though when he was a freshman shortstop and I was the beat writer for the Daily Californian we didn't get along too well and he spit on my shoes this one time. As it happens I didn't deserve it, but it wasn't unreasonable for him to think I did, so to the extent I'm willing to forgive an athlete for acting like an athlete, I let it go.

Kent has more than tripled the vote of runner-up Luis Castillo of the Marlins. Neither Loretta nor Walker are in the top five.

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SHORTSTOP

Voting leader: Edgar Renteria, Cardinals
My pick: Barry Larkin, Reds

Renteria leads Adam Everett of the Astros by six votes, 986,688 to 986,682. Where's Kathleen Harris when you need her! It's the closest race ever, as you might expect. But I'm going with Larkin on another lifetime achievement vote, since he's actually having a pretty good year for a 40-year-old who's looked washed up for the entire century, and nobody else at this position is doing much. Jack Wilson of the Pirates is having the best offensive year, but it's his first good one, and it's not so good that I'm willing to vote for him over Larkin.

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Renteria is almost certainly the most talented shortstop in the league, but he's having a down year, a reversion to his pre-2002 form. Everett makes a lot of lovely plays at short but the numbers say he's just a decent fielder. I don't know what to think of him defensively, but at best he's all field, no hit. I presume he's the beneficiary of the same ballot-box stuffing in Houston that's boosted Bagwell and Kent.

THIRD BASE

Voting leader: Scott Rolen, Cardinals
My pick: Rolen

No one else is even close, and "no one else" includes Mike Lowell of the Marlins, Aramis Ramirez of the Cubs and Adrian Beltre of the Dodgers, all having fine seasons. Finally, in Beltre's case, though he's still only 25. Ramirez, who just turned 26, is finally hitting again the way he did once before, in 2001 with the Pirates. Lowell is having his best year, which is saying something.

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Rolen has more than twice as many votes as Ramirez, who's second. Morgan Ensberg of the Astros ahead of Lowell for third place confirms the Houston ballot-box stuffing theory.

OUTFIELD

Voting leaders: Barry Bonds, Giants; Ken Griffey Jr., Reds; Sammy Sosa, Cubs
My picks: Bonds; Lance Berkman, Astros; Bobby Abreu, Phillies

Houston fans, where are you? You actually have a clearly deserving candidate in Berkman, and you've only stuffed him into fourth place, though you've done an admirable job of placing the not even remotely deserving Craig Biggio fifth.

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Look, I'm not going to argue with the star power of a Bonds-Griffey-Sosa outfield. It reminds me of those Willie Mays-Henry Aaron-Willie Stargell outfields of my childhood, with guys like Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose and Lou Brock consigned to reserve rolls. If Bonds, Griffey and Sosa are who everybody wants to see, it's OK by me.

But this is my ballot, and while Bonds, with his .618 on-base percentage and .764 slugging percentage, is a shoo-in, the fact is that even though Griffey's back to contributing and he hit his 500th home run, he's not exactly Ken Freakin' Griffey Jr. again. He's more like Moises Freakin' Alou, a good but not great player.

And Sosa's missed almost half the season so far. He's hit reasonably well when he's been in there, but he hasn't hit like Sammy Sosa. He's hit more like Craig Wilson. Hitting like Craig Wilson's pretty good, but it doesn't get you invited to the State of the Union address.

I only go for those lifetime achievement votes when they don't rob someone who obviously deserves to start. Berkman is head and shoulders above everybody else who isn't Bonds, and while various not-ridiculous arguments could be made for Adam Dunn of the Reds and J.D. Drew of the Braves, it's time to right a historical wrong and get Abreu into the All-Star Game.

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The N.L. outfield has been an embarrassment of riches in recent years, and Abreu's just been overshadowed. But with Vladimir Guerrero gone to the other league, Pujols and Shawn Green playing first base, and Sosa, Jim Edmonds, Luis Gonzalez, Chipper Jones and Brian Giles all having less than stellar years, let's finally recognize Abreu.

All he's done every year since the late '90s is play 150 games and hit .300, with an on-base percentage of .400, a slugging percentage of .500, 20 homers, 85 RBIs, 100 runs scored, 35 doubles and 25 stolen bases. At minimum. And you know how many All-Star Games he's been to? Just been to, not started? Zero. Unless he bought a ticket. And he's going to put up his usual numbers again this year unless he gets hurt or something.

According to the similarity scores listed at Baseball-Reference.com, the five most similar hitters to Abreu through age 29, as of the end of last year, were Dave Parker, Bernie Williams, Fred Lynn, Tony Oliva and Magglio Ordoñez, in that order. That's a group of not-quite Hall of Famers, next-level-down guys, but regular All-Stars.

By the time each of those men turned 30, which Abreu did in March, they had been to an average of 4.6 All-Star Games each, and all of them had been to at least two. Abreu was 14th in the voting as of Monday, right behind Juan Pierre, and with the polls closed, it's too late to do some Houston-style stuffing. Too bad, because Bobby Abreu doesn't just deserve to go. He deserves to start.

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Previous column: A.L. All-Star ballot

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