Yesterday I tackled the NL; now it’s time to see what the AL has to offer. No need to waste time, let’s get right to it:
Leading off and playing CF, Mike Trout. If you saw any highlight reel in the last 24 hours, you saw the incredible catch Trout made on Wednesday. It was one of the best of the year, and in a game where he also went 4/6. Trout has been turning in monster games like this regularly, and it’s led him to the AL lead in both batting average and SB, despite playing 20 games in AAA before being called up. Oh, and he’s only 20 years old. He’s a slam dunk Rookie of the Year so far, and if he can repeat his first half, we might be looking at the first RoY/MVP since Ichiro (who was a 27 year old “rookie” when he did it.)
2nd, Adam Jones, RF. The Orioles have been waiting for Jones to live up to his full potential since 2008, and with 19 HR, 10 SB, and a .295/.341/.550 line, he appears to finally be doing just that. He typically plays CF for the O’s, but Trout’s defense has that locked down. Jones has been too good to not be a starter though, and his cannon arm will play just as well in RF.
3rd, Paul Konerko, 1B. Konerko has been a great player for over a decade now, but seems to be getting even better with age. He ranks 2nd in the league in average, and 3rd in OBP.
4th, Josh Hamilton, LF. On May 8th, Hamilton made history by becoming the 16th player to hit 4 HR in one game. He’s added 20 more around it, and leads the AL in RBI and SLG as well. He’s likely your 1st half MVP, though the next player up deserves consideration as well…
5th, Robinson Cano, 2B. This is a no-brainer, as Cano leads all 2Bs in average, HR, SLG (by over 100 points), is 1 point from the lead in OBP, and is one of the better defenders at the position as well. That’s not even a slight against the rest of the AL 2Bs, as this is actually a fairly strong year for the position. Cano’s just that good.
6th, David Ortiz, DH. Ortiz has dominated this spot for the last decade, and this year is no different. Sporting a .308/.397/.623 line with 21 HR and 2nd to only Hamilton in OPS, Ortiz is the one constant on a Red Sox team that has struggled both on and off the field this year.
7th, Adrian Beltre, 3B. This position had plenty of candidates: Miguel Cabrera’s been slightly better at the plate, Brett Lawrie and Mike Moustakas slightly better in the field. No one brings the total package as much as Beltre though.
8th, Matt Wieters, C. His batting line isn’t eye-popping like most of the other starters here, but it’s still good enough to make him one of the better hitting catchers around, and he is arguably the top defensive catcher in all of baseball at the moment. He and fellow starter Adam Jones are two major reasons the O’s are still in second place after years in the cellar.
9th, Elvis Andrus, SS. Andrus leads all shortstops in OBP, and brings elite speed and defense to the position. This makes the starters a little Ranger-heavy, but when you’ve been a juggernaut in the 1st half the way Texas has been, that’s what happens.
C—A.J. Pierzynski, Joe Mauer
3B—Brett Lawrie, Miguel Cabrera
Pierzynski leads all catchers in SLG, and Mauer leads the entire league in OBP. He no longer catches full-time, but the other top candidates for his spot, Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana, don’t either. Encarnacion, with 22 HR already, is experiencing a power explosion similar to the one that teammate Jose Bautista had in 2010. Toronto just seems to bring this out of players. Cleveland’s double play combo both find their way into the backups, as well. Kipnis has become one of the better power/speed threats in the game, with 11 HR and 18 SB, and Cabrera’s been the top SS at the plate in the league so far. And finally, as mentioned above, Lawrie brings the best 3B has to offer on defense (and a pretty great bat as well), and Miggy represents the best on offense.
Among all the high-profile free agent signings this offseason, Willingham was kind of lost in the shuffle, but with a .272/.384/.535 line and 15 HR, he has arguably been the best one so far. Jackson has been all-around fantastic for the Tigers this year, and it’s difficult not to make him a starter, but the talent at the top edges him out. Ditto Trumbo, who has been a monster at the plate this year, coming in 3rd at OPS, but he’s been shuffled around 4 different positions already this year, and his defense at all of them is mediocre at best. I’ll be honest, Reddick is here because the A’s need a player, but with 18 HR and a .260/.340/.516, he was a solid candidate anyway. And Bautista, after leading all of baseball in HR in both 2010 and 2011, is doing it again in 2012, with 26 so far. Ridiculous fact of the day: in June, Bautista has hit 14 HR, compared to 7 singles.
Chris Sale (starting the game)
On May 4, the White Sox suddenly announced they were taking Sale out of the rotation and making him their closer. He made only 1 appearance in the bullpen before being made a starter again on May 11. This says more about the incompetence of White Sox management tha anything about Sale, because he’s been phenomenal despite the mishandling. He leads the league with a 2.27 ERA and is second with a 0.965 WHIP. It was a close call between him and Weaver to get the starting nod, but I’m giving the edge to Sale’s 8.9 K/9, 5th in the league and much higher than Weaver’s. Hammel is one of the biggest surprises of the year, coming out of nowhere to anchor the O’s rotation, and Peavy’s return to dominance after years of struggles is one of the feel-good stories of the season. Rounding out the starters are a couple of usual suspects in Verlander and King Felix.
If you feel like something’s missing here, you’re right. 12 time All-Star and the greatest reliever of all time Mariano Rivera is conspicuously absent after his freak ACL tear, but his replacement, Rafael Soriano, has done an admirable job filling in. Broxton and Nathan have both revived their careers with new teams and rejoined the ranks of elite closers. Rodney and Johnson are tied among closers with a 1.07 ERA each, but Perez leads them both and all of baseball with 23 saves. And Furbush has quietly been one of the most dominant relievers in the league, with a 1.95 ERA, an 11.7 K/9 that ranks 6th in the league, but with far fewer walks than anyone in front of him.
And there you have it. I found the AL team to be harder to put together than the NL; there are a ton of offensive powerhouses that there just wasn’t room for. My apologies to Curtis Granderson, Adam Dunn, Prince Fielder, Billy Butler, and many more. The official All-Star teams are going to be announced on Sunday at 1:00 ET, but I guarantee they won’t be as good as mine. What do you think?