- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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On a night when the biggest news was the first-year player draft, the action on the field was limited. So let's dedicate this post to the One-Third All-Stars. Disagree? Hey, that's the fun of doing a little exercise like this.
First base: Joey Votto, Reds. Votto is hitting .346/.476/.620, and while that line may not have stood out in the juiced-up PED era, it stands out in 2012. Here's one way to compare that line. Today's offensive numbers compare to output from 1988 to 1992. In those seasons, only four players produced a 1.000 OPS and only one had a higher OPS than Votto's current 1.096 -- Barry Bonds in 1992.
Second base: Robinson Cano, Yankees. What a beautiful player to watch. One note about Cano's first 53 games: He's swinging far less often at pitches out of the strike zone, down nearly 8 percent from last year. He's swinging less often at all pitches, so I'm not sure if this indicates better strike-zone judgment or just a more patient approach in general. It hasn't paid off in better numbers yet, but I believe it will, especially when the weather heats up in New York and some of those doubles turn into home runs.
Third base: David Wright, Mets. The shorter dimensions at Citi Field haven't resulted in home runs for Wright, but his .464 on-base percentage has made him one of baseball's most valuable players. After two seasons hitting less than .300 after five years when he averaged .310, Wright resembles the hitter he was before 2010. His line-drive rate is way up -- resulting in an average over .400 in balls in play -- but he's hitting more line drives because he's laying off pitches off the plate, content to rack up walks and get on base.
Shortstop: Elvis Andrus, Rangers. Jed Lowrie leads all shortstops in OPS and Andrus has just one home runs, but his all-around game pushes him to No. 1. Entering Monday, he has almost as many walks as strikeouts (27 versus 28) so he's getting on base nearly 40 percent of the time. We all know about his great glove. He's 9-for-10 in steals. And while he has just the one homer, his power isn't nonexistent as he's on pace for 40-plus doubles and nine triples.
Outfield: Josh Hamilton, Rangers. He entered Monday hitting .354/.410/.728. There have been 33 seasons when a player slugged .700 in at least 500 plate appearances. Twenty-nine of those took place in the 1920s or '30s and between 1994 and 2004. The four that didn't: Ted Williams in 1941 and 1957, Stan Musial in 1948 and Mickey Mantle in 1956. Hamilton is slugging .738 on the road. I assume he'll slow down, but I wouldn't necessarily bet on it.
Outfield: Adam Jones, Orioles. There are reasons to be skeptical about his performance moving forward, but you can still be a great player even if you don't walk a lot. And right now Jones is a great player.
Designated hitter: Paul Konerko, White Sox. At 36, he's better than ever, leading the AL in batting average and OBP. Just projecting a bit here: If he finishes the year with 100 RBIs, his career total reaches 1,361. If he plays three more years and averages 80 RBIs per season, he will reach 1,600 in his career. Only 31 players have reached that total.
Pitcher: Justin Verlander, Tigers. Yeah, he's lost three straight starts for the first time since Bryce Harper was still in high school (OK, that wasn't so long ago). But of 26 starters with an ERA less than 3.00, 19 are in the National League. Verlander leads the majors in innings and strikeouts and no NL pitchers has had to face the Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers five times in their 12 starts.
Pitcher: Matt Cain, Giants. His strikeout rate has increased, his walk rate decreased, he leads the NL in innings and he has held opponents to a .251 OBP. Cain's career high in wins is 14 (he has six right now). This is the year he finally contends for a Cy Young Award.
Pitcher: James McDonald, Pirates. I couldn't fit Andrew McCutchen into my outfield, but I'll fit McDonald into the rotation. You may not believe in him over the final four months, but there's nothing that screams fluke in his numbers. After throwing his slider sparingly in 2011, it has become a key weapon. Opponents are hitting just .151 off it in 56 plate appearances to end with the pitch. But also key has been the location of all his pitches -- fastball, curve and an occasional changeup. Check out his heat map against left-handed pitchers:
The improved command is subtle but you can see the differences: Fewer pitches in the middle of the plate, more on the outside corner. It shows up in the numbers: Lefties hit .302 off him in 2011, just .210/.267/.339 in 2012. I believe he's for real.
Pitcher: Chris Sale, White Sox. What, six starters? Yes, I had to fit Sale on the One-Third All-Stars. He leads the AL in ERA, he's absolutely electric, he knows how to pitch and the only question is how he'll hold up over 30 starts. OK, one more caveat: He's made 10 starts, none against the AL's top six offensive teams (one of which is the White Sox). Nitpicking. If you haven't seen Sale pitch, make an appointment. Unless you're a Cubs fan, you'll love this guy.
Relief pitcher: Aroldis Chapman, Reds. Twenty-eight innings, one unearned run. Fifty strikeouts. One extra-base hit. Yes, sir.
Biggest surprise, National League: Melky Cabrera, Giants. He's hitting .364, he's on pace for 242 hits and 118 runs. Don't tell me you saw this coming. Here's a fun stat: The Giants moved to San Fran in 1958. Only three players have recorded 200 hits in a season: Willie Mays in 1958 (208), Bobby Bonds in 1970 (200) and Rich Aurilia in 2001 (206). Here's another one: Since 1950, only four National Leaguers have recorded 230 hits in a season: Matty Alou (1969 Pirates, 231 hits); Tommy Davis (1962 Dodgers, 230); Joe Torre (1971 Cardinals, 230): Pete Rose (1973 Reds, 230).
Biggest surprise, American League: Josh Reddick, A's. He always looked like a hitter and now he's producing. The power (14 home runs) is the big surprise and while it may be a long season in Oakland, at least Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes are providing the first power bats A's fans have enjoyed in a long time.
Most exciting, National League: Bryce Harper, Nationals. Living in Seattle at the time, I remember well Ken Griffey Jr.'s rookie season. Savor this, Nationals fans. He won't always be the 19-year-old kid. No matter what happens over the next 20 years, it's special to witness a player so young doing this.
Most exciting, American League: Mike Trout, Angels. If you live on the East Coast like I do, Trout is reason enough to stay up past your bedtime to watch some late-night baseball. Put him on the All-Star team.
One-third NL MVP: Joey Votto. The league's best hitter on a division-leading team. Gets the nod over David Wright and all those outfielders putting up big numbers.
One-third AL MVP: Josh Hamilton. An easy call.
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