Rooting for Rendon, Crisp to be All-Stars
July, 5, 2014
By Christina Kahrl | ESPN.com
With the All-Star rosters being named Sunday night, I’m sure we all have guys we’d like to see make it and our different reasons, as fans or as analysts, for wanting them to get in. It’s easy to be excited for guys such as Andrew McCutchen or Josh Donaldson or Yasiel Puig, guys we expect to be there who are just flat-out fun to watch play the game.
But beyond those kinds of selections, there are two players I’d like to see make it to the All-Star team this year, as recognition of what they’ve delivered. One is a rising star in the National League who will have multiple chances in the years to come; the other is an American League long shot making his last, best case for inclusion. I’d like to see both on the foul lines on July 15 at Target Field when they make the full-team introductions.
In the NL, I’m not being especially sentimental in stating that I think Anthony Rendon of the Nationals flat-out belongs. He’s knocking around with Puig and Hunter Pence in terms of WAR, just outside the league’s top 10. Puig and Pence are both likely to make it; Rendon might not.
In part that’s because Rendon was on the ballot as a second baseman, where Chase Utley should have won the fan vote handily in recognition of past greatness and present goodness. It probably didn’t help Rendon’s case that he's had to split his playing time this season between the keystone and the hot corner because of Ryan Zimmerman’s injury. If you consider him a third baseman, Rendon suffers because whomever the fans vote in between Aramis Ramirez and David Wright, Todd Frazier is the first choice for who should be selected to sit behind the starter.
But it has been a pretty weak season for second basemen around the senior circuit: Neil Walker got hurt, while Brandon Phillips has gotten old; Rickie Weeks has slipped back into a platoon role, while Matt Carpenter moved to third base to stay. Utley is clearly the league’s best, but after that, who’s the obvious reserve at second base? There really isn't one.
However, Rendon has made himself into a good second baseman after last year’s midseason live-fire conversion. I figure between his reliability at the plate and flexibility around the diamond, he has been the glue that has held both the Nationals’ offense and their infield together during a bumpy first half. While all of their more famous and expensive people have broken down or provided one form of disappointment or another, Rendon has been the Nats’ first-half MVP. It should be the first of many All-Star invitations for him.
Jason O. Watson/Getty ImagesHere's hoping Coco Crisp is at least this excited if he's named to the American League All-Star team.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, in the AL the guy I’m rooting for is Coco Crisp. This might surprise you because the A’s player who comes up after Josh Donaldson in this context is usually Brandon Moss. And I agree with the proposition that Moss would be a worthy selection, for many of the same reasons: If you want to honor a broad, deep Athletics lineup, you couldn’t do much better for a “Moneyball 2.0” poster boy than Moss, a 30-year-old journeyman who washed out with the Pirates and put in a season in Triple-A for the Phillies before resurrecting his career with the A’s in 2012.
But my case for Crisp relies on a couple of considerations. I can start off with a subjective argument that he’s just flat-out fun to watch play, not that that means much -- most All-Stars are, and they should be. This would also be a way of recognizing his critical impact on the contending A’s in the past year and a half, because after last year’s 22-homer, 4.3-WAR season helped propel him to a 15th-place finish in the AL MVP voting, this year he’s made it clear that his bigger impact on the A’s offense isn’t a one-year phenomenon. Crisp never merited mention for an All-Star invitation earlier in his career, but his late-career surge deserves notice.
The thing to recognize about Crisp’s impact at the plate is that he’s something of a sorting-stat victim this season. Crisp’s overall WAR this year of 1.9 doesn’t sound especially awesome, and it isn’t. But it suffers because various defensive metrics aren’t wild about his contributions in the field, which reflects a long-standing problem -- while WAR relies on the offensive value we can measure so well, it relies on less-certain data when it comes to evaluating defense. WAR is like a good fruit punch on that score: You mix your apples and oranges and they might seem great together, but one is recognizably better than the other.
In this instance, I’d argue that it’s undermining Crisp’s perceived value. While he’s just 41st overall in the American League in WAR, he’s in the AL top 10 in the more reliable offensive component of WAR with 3.0 oWAR, effectively tied with Baltimore’s Adam Jones as the second-best bat in center after some kid named Trout, and that’s a tie only because Crisp lost time to the DL earlier this year. It’s also a higher mark than Moss (2.5 oWAR), again in much less playing time. Crisp is 13th in the AL in OPS; Jones is 14th.
All of which makes for an interesting argument about who the second-best center fielder in the league might be. But whereas Jones has been an All-Star three times before, Crisp has never made it. At 34 years old, this might be his last chance to merit an All-Star conversation. So, between his bat and his never having earned the honor before, and because he’s become a fan favorite in the East Bay in recent years, here’s hoping that Crisp gets to go to Target Field to play for the American League.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.