- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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I've always thought Major League Baseball should announce an official end-of-season All-Star team. You could have different voting components -- 25 percent computer, 25 percent fans, 25 percent players and managers, 25 percent media, something like that. Make a big production out of it, get a sponsor, get the players to show up, televise it during one of the off days of the World Series and drum up some publicity for the game's best players. What a concept!
So make it happen. There are end-of-year All-Star teams named, of course -- I think The Associated Press still names one and some individual publications will name their own. So in the interest of fun, here's mine. I factor in the entire season, which means the postseason counts. Also: Who's your player of the year?
C: Buster Posey, Giants (.336/.408/.549, 24 HR, 103 RBI, 7.2 WAR)
Yadier Molina had a terrific season as well, but since we're factoring in the postseason, the Giants' World Series pushes Posey over the top. According to Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement, the only three catchers since 1980 with better seasons were Mike Piazza in 1997, Gary Carter in 1982 and Joe Mauer in 2009. Posey should become the first catcher to win the NL MVP Award since Johnny Bench in 1972.
1B: Prince Fielder, Tigers (.313/.412/.529, 30 HR, 103 RBI, 4.4 WAR
By WAR, Joey Votto was the best first baseman in the majors, but Fielder played all 162 games while Votto missed 51 games. It was a pretty weak year for first basemen -- only Votto, Pujols, Fielder and Adam LaRoche reached 4.0 Wins Above Replacement. Fielder has now posted four straight seasons with an OBP over .400, he's missed one game in those four seasons and he walked more than he struck out for the second straight season. He may have the body of a slugger, but Fielder is a hitter.
2B: Robinson Cano, Yankees (.313/.379/.550), 33 HR, 94 RBI, 8.2 WAR
He got criticized for his production with runners in scoring position (he hit .268, .207 with two outs), but that's nitpicking a fantastic player who had another terrific all-around season. He did hit .316 with men on base and .286 in "late and close" situations, so he wasn't a zero in the clutch. He hit 22 of his 33 home runs at home, but hit more doubles with more walks and a slightly higher average on the road, so his overall production was actually pretty similar. It was his best season, an MVP-worthy campaign in many seasons.
3B: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (.330/.393/.606, 44 HR, 139 RBI, 6.9 WAR
Cabrera had a fantastic season, of course, winning the Triple Crown, but his season at the plate wasn't really any more valuable than 2010 or 2011. In fact, his wRC+ and OPS were higher both seasons. His walks did drop from 108 to 66 (intentional walks from 22 to 17), perhaps a result of Fielder hitting behind him. His home runs did increase from 30 to 44, and while you can argue that was because Fielder was protecting him, it's worth noting that Cabrera led the majors with 16 "just enough" home runs, according to the ESPN Home Run Tracker. By the way, isn't it time to start listing the Tigers' acquisition of Cabrera from the Marlins as one of the greatest heists of all time?
SS: Ian Desmond, Nationals (.292/.335/.511, 25 HR, 73 RBI, 3.2 WAR)
There was no standout shortstop this year -- and, yes, I didn't forget about Derek Jeter, who had a great season at the plate with a .316 average and major league-leading 216 hits. Erick Aybar had the highest WAR at 4.0, but I'm going with Desmond, the only regular shortstop to slug .500. The defense is a bit erratic at times, but he has a strong arm, the power numbers were big and he swiped 21 bases in 27 tries. His improvement was a big reason the Nationals owned the best record in the majors.
OF: Mike Trout, Angels (.326/.399/.564, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 49 SB, 10.7 WAR)
What do you do for an encore after a season like this in which you turned 21?
OF: Ryan Braun, Brewers (.319/.391/.595, 41 HR, 112 RBI, 30 SB, 6.8 WAR)
Nearly identical numbers to his MVP season of 2011, although I suspect he'll finish out of the top-five in the balloting. Led the NL in home runs, runs, OPS and total bases. The affects of not having Fielder behind him? Pretty minimal, other than his intentional walks increasing from two to 15. The Brewers, by the way, scored more runs in 2012 than 2011.
OF: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (.327/.400/.553, 31 HR, 96 RBI, 7.0 WAR)
Now, get this man some help. Pirates outfielder with 7-win seasons: Roberto Clemente (5), Barry Bonds (4), Ralph Kiner (3), Willie Stargell (2), Dave Parker (1). And now McCutchen.
DH: Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays (.280/.384/.557, 42 HR, 110 RBI, 4.2 WAR)
It's not like he hadn't showed power before -- 26 home runs with the Reds in 2008, 38 over the past two seasons in part-time roles -- but I don't think anybody saw this coming. He did start 66 games at first base and that could be his full-time destination in 2013. Regardless of where he plays, expect big numbers again.
SP: Justin Verlander, Tigers (17-8, 2.64 ERA, 238.1 IP, 60 BB, 239 SO, 7.6 WAR)
I'm sure he'd like that final game, a disappointing end to an otherwise dominant season. It will be interesting to see if the Tigers back off him a little next season, making sure you have all your bullets left in October.
SP: David Price, Rays (20-5, 2.56 ERA, 211 IP, 59 BB, 205 SO, 6.4 WAR)
My guess is he edges out Verlander for the Cy Young Award, given the similar ERA but better W-L record. I think Verlander's 27-inning edge and performance in front of an inferior defense gives him the edge, but Price's 20 wins will likely sway the voters.
SP: R.A. Dickey, Mets (20-6, 2.73 ERA, 233.2 IP, 54 BB, 230 SO, 5.6 WAR)
Led the NL in innings, strikeouts, batters faced, complete games and shutouts. A wonderful year, a wonderful story.
SP: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (14-9, 2.53 ERA, 227.2 IP, 63 BB, 220 SO, 6.2 WAR
Nobody talked about him all season, but he once again ended up with dominant numbers. Don't be fooled by the 14 wins: He was every bit as good as last year. Don't blame him for the Dodgers not beating out the Giants: In five starts against San Francisco, he allowed seven runs, walked seven and struck out 40. Alas, he went just 2-3.
SP: Matt Cain, Giants (16-5, 2.79 ERA, 219.1 IP, 51 BB, 193 SO, 3.5 WAR)
In a year with so many strong starting pitching candidates, I'm giving Cain the fifth spot. His WAR isn't as impressive as some of the other candidates, but he became the ace of the rotation that won it all. Sounds like a good tiebreaker to me.
RP: Craig Kimbrel, Braves (3-1, 1.01 ERA, 42 SV, 62.2 IP, 27 H, 116 SO, 3.2 WAR)
With that unhittable slider, opposing batters hit just .126 off him and Kimbrel struck out over half the batters he faced. A season that ranks alongside Eric Gagne's 2003 Cy Young season and Dennis Eckersley's 1990 as best ever by a closer in the past 25 years.