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Monday, September 26, 2011
The SweetSpot American League All-Stars

By David Schoenfield

Wilson/Cabrera
Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson and Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera are two of the SweetSpot All-Stars.
We have a few days in the regular season, but before we got caught up in the final hours of the wild-card races and playoff previews, here's my 2011 SweetSpot American League All-Star team.

Catcher: Alex Avila, Tigers (.295/.388/.509, 19 HR, 78 RBI). Maybe the most surprising season in the majors this year, considering he hit .228 last year as a rookie. Avila hit .311 in April and other than a one-RBI July, has kept hitting all season. He ranks sixth in the AL in on-base percentage, 12th in slugging and has thrown 32 percent of base stealers.

First base: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (.341/.447/.579, 29 HR, 103 RBI, 107 R). Adrian Gonzalez got most of the attention, but it's now clear that Cabrera had the better year with the bat. Cabrera has created more runs, has a higher on-base percentage (thanks to 40 more walks) and a higher slugging percentage. Gonzalez has a few more RBIs, which is strictly a function of having better hitters in front of him. Cabrera is hitting .381 with runners on base and .397 with runners in scoring position.

Second base: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox (.302/.381/.467, 20 HR, 88 RBI, 101 R, 26 SB). Yankee fans will cry foul, but Pedroia's big edge in OBP (.381 to .351) and even bigger edge with the glove, makes him the selection.

Third base: Evan Longoria, Rays (.240/.345/.482, 29 HR, 95 RBI). Longoria has a chance for 100 RBIs despite missing most of April with a strained oblique. While the batting average is down, the power numbers are there and he owns a terrific glove. So does Adrian Beltre, who is also hitting .293 with 30 home runs, but Beltre has the advantage of a hitter-friendly home park; he's hitting .265 on the road and 23 of his 30 home runs have come at home.

Shortstop: Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians (.273/.333/.463, 25 HR, 92 RBI). The toughest call on the board as Jhonny Peralta, J.J. Hardy, Yunel Escobar, Alexei Ramirez, Erick Aybar and Elvis Andrus all have their supporters and decent claims to best in the league. Cabrera's defense isn't highly regarded by the advanced metrics, but he had a terrific season at the bat, gives you more on the base paths than Peralta, and hit well with runners in scoring position -- .312/.393/.529.

Outfield: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (.304/.447/.615, 43 HR, 107 RBI, 105 R). Bautista's OPS at home: 1.062. On the road: 1.062.

Outfield: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox (.322/.377/.551, 31 HR, 103 RBI, 117 R, 38 SB). Obviously, nobody saw this coming. A remarkable all-around season, the best by a Red Sox center fielder since Fred Lynn in 1979.

Outfield: Curtis Granderson, Yankees (.266/.368/.561, 41 HR, 119 RBI, 135 runs). He's tailed off in September (.221, three home runs), costing him a chance to become just the third player since World War II to score 150 runs in a season, but he remains in the thick of the MVP discussion.

Designated hitter: David Ortiz, Red Sox (.307/.397/.557, 29 HR, 96 RBI). Michael Young, with his .338 average and 104 RBIs, has been enormously valuable to the Rangers, especially with his ability to fill in at first, second and third bases. But for pure offensive numbers, Ortiz is the guy.

Starting pitcher: Justin Verlander, Tigers (24-5, 2.40 ERA, 251 IP, 174 H, 57 BB, 250 SO). Yes, wins aren't everything, but he had the most wins in the American League since Bob Welch in 1990.

Starting pitcher: Jered Weaver, Angels (18-8, 2.41 ERA, 235.2 IP, 182 H, 56 BB, 198 SO). Here's how he's been: In one less start than Verlander, he's allowed eight fewer runs.

Starting pitcher: James Shields, Rays (15-12, 2.84 ERA, 240.2 IP, 189 H, 62 BB, 221 SO). Brought back the complete game: His 11 were the most in the AL since 1993. Saddled with poor run support, he didn't win a single game all season when he allowed more than two runs.

Starting pitcher: C.J. Wilson, Rangers (16-7, 2.97 ERA, 221.1 IP, 189 H, 72 BB, 206 SO). He hits the free-agent market this winter and general managers would be salivating to see what he could outside of the Ballpark -- he had a 2.34 ERA on the road.

Starting pitcher: CC Sabathia, Yankees (19-8, 3.00 ERA, 237.1 IP, 230 H, 61 BB, 230 SO). The big man may have had his best season. Now the pressure is on to repeat his 2009 postseason performance.

Setup guy: David Robertson, Yankees (4-0, 34 holds, 1.09 ERA). The Yanks paid big bucks for Rafael Soriano in the offseason, but he went down and Robertson never gave up the big hit as Mariano Rivera's setup guy, allowing just nine runs in 66 innings. He gave up just one home run while fanning 99.

Closer: Jose Valverde, Tigers (2-4, 47 saves, 2.30 ERA). Rivera has a lower ERA and better WHIP, but he's blown fives while Valverde was 47-for-47 in save opportunities. It's not always pretty, but he's you can't deny the job he's done.

Player of the Year: Justin Verlander. He leads the AL in wins, ERA, strikeouts, innings, WHIP, quality starts, opponents' batting average, opponents' on-base percentage and opponents' slugging percentage. He's been the most electrifying performer in the league. More than any other player in the AL, it's been his season.