SweetSpot: Adrian Beltre

Longtime reader/chatter Tarek asked the following question in Tuesday's chat: How many of this year's All-Stars will have a better career than Derek Jeter?

Now, that's a bit of a layered question when you start factoring in things like World Series titles and legacy, two areas where it's difficult to trump Jeter. So let's keep it simple: How many will finish with a higher career Wins Above Replacement than Jeter?

Jeter's current career WAR, via Baseball-Reference.com, is 72.1. That's fourth among active players, behind Alex Rodriguez (116.0), Albert Pujols (95.0) and Adrian Beltre (74.0).

Does Beltre, who made this year's All-Star Game, ranking so high surprise you? He's not really considered a slam-dunk Hall of Famer right now, in part because a large percentage of that value is tied into his defense. His career batting line has a much different arc than Jeter's:

Beltre: .284/.335/.480
Jeter: .311/.379/.443

Jeter has the better on-base percentage but Beltre has more power. Who has been the more valuable hitter? Beltre has created an estimated 1,410 runs in 9,704 career plate appearances -- 5.6 runs per 27 outs. Jeter has created 1,887 runs in 12,315 PAs -- 6.3 runs per 27 outs. Those are not park-adjusted figures; Beltre spent a large portion of his career in Dodger Stadium and Safeco Field, two pitcher's parks, so that draws him a little closer. But getting on base is more important than slugging and B-R estimates Jeter has been 362 runs better than the average hitter while Beltre has been 193.

But Beltre makes up for that with his good fielding and Jeter's poor fielding. The fielding metrics Baseball-Reference uses has Beltre at 183 runs above average on defense and Jeter at 240 runs below average. So that's how Beltre ends up higher than Jeter in career WAR.

Here are the five remaining 2014 All-Stars with the highest career WAR:

Chase Utley: 60.8
Mark Buehrle: 57.9
Miguel Cabrera: 57.6
Robinson Cano: 48.1
Felix Hernandez: 42.9

A quick and dirty way to see how these guys compare to Jeter is to check his career WAR when he was their age.


Which of this year's All-Stars will end up with the highest career WAR?


Discuss (Total votes: 1,214)

Utley (age-35 season) -- Jeter was at 67.3
Utley rates so well due to more high-peak seasons than Jeter. He was arguably the second-best all-around player in the game from 2005 through 2009 when he averaged 7.9 WAR per season (only Pujols was better). Even while missing time with injuries in recent seasons, Utley has reached at least 3.0 WAR the past three seasons and is already at 2.9 this year. So he's behind Jeter but Jeter didn't do much after turning 36. Could be close.

Buehrle (age-35 season) -- Jeter was 67.3
He's headed for his 14th consecutive season of 200-plus innings. He's never been a big star but he's still accumulating value and with his style of pitching could easily remain effective until 40. Can he pile up 16 more WAR before he's done? He was probably over his head in the first half -- 4.0 WAR compared to 2.1 all of 2013 -- so I say he comes up short.

Cabrera (age-31 season) -- Jeter was at 48.4
Even though he doesn't earn much value with his defense or position, Cabrera is well ahead of Jeter at the same age. His offensive numbers are down from the past few seasons but he's still hitting .312, leading the league with 32 doubles and has been worth 3.0 WAR. He should soar past Jeter and approach at least 80 career WAR.

Cano (age-31 season) -- Jeter was at 48.4
So these two are just about dead even at the same age, although Cano will move ahead by the end of the season. Jeter had two of his better seasons at 32 (5.5 WAR) and 35 (6.5). With his decline in power so far, Cano is at 2.9 WAR, well below the 7.4 he averaged the previous four seasons. He's been one of the most durable players in the game (as was Jeter until his injury in the 2012 playoffs). Yankees fan will never put Cano on the same pedestal as Jeter -- in part because of Cano's dismal .222 postseason average -- but through the same age it's hard to argue he hasn't been as valuable in the regular season.

Hernandez (age-28 season) -- Jeter was at 36.8
King Felix is ahead of Jeter's pace. Of course, most pitchers don't remain as durable as Buehrle. Hernandez is in the midst of his best season yet and there's no reason he won't stay dominant for many more years if his elbow and shoulder remain intact.

What about the younger guys? Well, Mike Trout only needs five more 10-win seasons to pass The Captain.

Colby Lewis returns to the Rangers tonight to make his first major league start in 21 months. Eric and myself discuss the state of the Rangers.

In praise of Adrian Beltre

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
Last Tuesday night, Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre knocked in both the game-tying and game-winning runs. His teammates spilled out of the dugout, mobbing him at home plate. It wasn't the first time Beltre was responsible for a Rangers victory, nor will it be the last. That isn't surprising. What is surprising, however, is the Hall of Fame case he has quietly built since leaving the Seattle Mariners after the 2009 season.

Everyone remembers Beltre's 2004 season with the Dodgers. Then 25 years old, Beltre led the National League with 48 home runs and 121 RBIs, finishing second in the National League MVP race to Barry Bonds. Baseball-Reference lists Beltre's 2004 season at a whopping 9.5 Wins Above Replacement, which has been exceeded by only three position players since: Mike Trout (10.8) in 2012, Bonds (10.6) in 2004 and Albert Pujols (9.7) in 2009.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Beltre
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsIn his first three seasons with the Rangers (2011-13), Adrian Beltre has hit 98 home runs.
After the season, Beltre signed with the Mariners on a five-year, $64 million deal. Back then, $64 million was a sizable wad of cash. In those five seasons, the Mariners were mostly irrelevant, peaking at 88 wins and a second-place finish and averaging 76 wins. Beltre also vanished, posting an aggregate .759 OPS from 2005 to 2009. Adjusting OPS for league and park factors, Baseball-Reference puts him at 101, exactly one point above the average. He never came close to repeating his '04 level, peaking at 5.6 WAR in 2009. Not that 5.6 WAR is anything to sneeze at, but a sizable portion of it was due to his defense. That's problematic for two reasons: Defensive value isn't as easily apparent to the casual observer, and defensive metrics are far from perfect, as they can be unreliable in single-season samples.

Beltre became a free agent again following the conclusion of the '09 season, but he drew only tepid interest. He had undergone shoulder surgery in June and suffered a rather unfortunate injury to his "groin" in September, and was entering his age-31 season. Beltre ended up signing with the Boston Red Sox for a "pillow contract" -- a one-year deal with the intent to prove himself again with the hopes of drawing more serious interest the following offseason. It was a one-year, $10 million deal with a $5 million player option for 2011.

Beltre certainly earned his $10 million, coming as close to his 2004 value as he'll likely ever get. He finished the season with a .321/.365/.553 slash line along with his usual elite defense, resulting in 7.8 WAR and a ninth-place finish in AL MVP voting. The Red Sox finished in third place. With no postseason fun, Beltre went back into business mode a few weeks earlier than he would have liked. He declined his player option, becoming a free agent yet again.

Beltre parlayed that outburst with the Red Sox into a five-year, $80 million contract with the Texas Rangers. He was an instant hit with the team and nearly an instant hit at the plate. Beltre helped bring the Rangers back to the World Series, where they ultimately lost in seven games to the Cardinals.

Beltre has gotten older, but his numbers haven't begun tapering off. In his first three seasons with the Rangers, he has hit at least 30 home runs, posted an adjusted OPS of at least 130, and finished with an average of 6.1 WAR per season. Even last year, at the age of 34, Beltre hit .315 and led the league with 199 hits.

Beltre's high level of production went nearly unheralded but for a third-place finish in the AL MVP race in 2012. The Rangers had other players taking a bigger share of the spotlight, like Josh Hamilton and his contract status; Michael Young and the position-changing drama; Nelson Cruz's World Series blunder, PED suspension and pending free agency; the end of C.J. Wilson's tenure in Texas; and the Yu Darvish signing. Beltre was never the lead story, always the blurb.

Since the end of his time in Seattle, Beltre has posted 26.3 WAR in four seasons, according to Baseball-Reference. That in itself is impressive -- Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, for instance, has only 19 career WAR as he enters his 11th season. Beltre has 70.8 career WAR over 16 seasons.

There are 11 in the Hall of Fame who played a majority of their careers at third base. Only five ended their careers with more WAR than Beltre's 70.8: Mike Schmidt (106.5), Eddie Mathews (96.4), Wade Boggs (91.1), George Brett (88.4) and Brooks Robinson (78.3). Some time last season, Beltre passed Ron Santo (70.4).

As for the traditional stats, Beltre's 2,428 career hits would rank fourth; his 496 doubles third; and his 376 home runs third. When you adjust for league and park factors, Beltre loses a few points -- his 114 career adjusted OPS would rank eighth of the 12 players -- but is impressive nonetheless.

Among active players, only Pujols (93.1) and Derek Jeter (71.6) have more career WAR (Alex Rodriguez's career WAR is 116.0). Recent Hall of Fame inductees Frank Thomas (73.7), Barry Larkin (70.2), Roberto Alomar (66.8) and Andre Dawson (64.5) had comparable or less career WAR than Beltre.

By advanced metrics -- which justly give Beltre credit for his elite defense, even if they are a bit unreliable and aren't backed by consistent Gold Glove awards (he's won four) -- he is clearly destined for Cooperstown. But it isn't that cut-and-dried. Beltre will be scrutinized by BBWAA voters, who have a preference for old-school methods of evaluation, for having finished in the top three of MVP voting only twice and never winning, and never having won a World Series.

Let's not forget, however, that Beltre isn't even close to finishing his career. At 35, he's coming off of a season in which he hit 30 home runs, posted a .315 batting average and was worth 5.4 WAR. He should still have plenty left in the tank. Anything he does between now and the end of his career will only solidify an already strong Hall of Fame résumé.

Bill Baer writes for Crashburn Alley and contributes to the SweetSpot blog.

Beltre, Utley among all-time great gloves

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
There is an interesting common thread among some of those under consideration for the Hall of 100 this season, and that's how much defensive play impacted their overall value.

Baseball Info Solutions has been tracking defensive runs saved as a statistic since 2003, and in that time, the top three players in that stat are three players who were under Hall of 100 consideration this year: Adrian Beltre (165 DRS), Chase Utley (141 DRS) and Albert Pujols (131 DRS).

Granted, that is partly due to their having been in the majors 11 years ago when the stat was devised, but it also speaks to their consistent defensive success.

I was asked to rank the players on the Hall of 100 ballot by their defensive value and I'm fairly comfortable with that trio being my 1-2-3.

Beltre slipped a little bit last season but has averaged 15 DRS per season in this 11-year stretch. That sort of success has propelled Beltre to be ranked among the elite third baseman in the sport's history (a drum Dave Cameron of FanGraphs and ESPN Insider has been beating for some time).

Consider this: If you look at Baseball Reference's all-time wins above replacement leaders for third baseman (using 40 percent of games at third base as the standard), the top eight are Alex Rodriguez, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Chipper Jones, Brooks Robinson and Beltre, with Ron Santo a little behind.

By the formulas used for defensive WAR, which take into account both DRS and a pre-2003 metric, total zone runs, Beltre's defensive value is nearly 22 wins.

Were Beltre worth half of what he has been worth defensively in his career, his overall rank among third basemen in WAR dips to the 16-17 range, alongside Darrell Evans and Robin Ventura.

My educated guess is that most fans perceive Beltre as being closer to the latter players in stardom, but when you dig deeper into the numbers (including the defensive ones), he fits in with the best of the best, and worth of Hall of 100 consideration.

Utley's glove

If you had asked me which player ranks closer to the top of the all-time list in WAR at their position, Beltre or Utley, I'd have guessed Utley ... and been wrong.

Utley ranks 15th, right behind Jackie Robinson and just ahead of Jeff Kent. Three more 3-WAR seasons and Utley will be the virtual equal of Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar, even though he'll be considerably behind them in base hits.

Utley can thank his defensive performance for that. He currently ranks 10th in dWAR among second basemen (17.1), though he'll have to work to maintain that. Last year was the first season of Utley's career in which he didn't rank as strongly above average in DRS.

Pujols and adjustments

The way that dWAR works with regard to adjusting for position played, first basemen don't get a great spike from being great defensively. But when we consider Pujols, we should consider him to be among the best of the best.

From 2004 to 2010, he was among the top five in DRS every season. Total zone, which works off 60 years of data rather than 11, has Pujols as one of only three players with at least 100 runs saved at that position (one run behind Todd Helton and 15 behind Keith Hernandez).

Pujols ranks behind Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in overall WAR among those whose primary position was first base, and you could make a legit case if you put a premium on defensive value, that Pujols is the No. 2 first baseman of all-time right now, and worthy of his No. 16 rankings in the Hall of 100.

The rest of this year's ballot

Carlos Beltran: His defense has slipped with age and knee injuries, but in his prime, he was a great center fielder, who made difficult catches look easy because he could glide to the ball. Beltran won three Gold Gloves and has a good but not great dWAR and DRS totals. His defense should definitely be worth a slight bump, though probably not enough to get him into the top 100.

Alex Rodriguez: A-Rod has bigger problems than how his defense impacts his overall value, but he should rate pretty well, considering that he handled two of the toughest positions in baseball very well. He rates solidly in dWAR, though chances are not many people are going to remember that when his career is done.

Joe Mauer: The good perception on Mauer's defense doesn't quite match up with his career DRS of minus-6. (For the record, he does rate very well at limiting stolen bases.) The perception of his defense rates as an incomplete, though, as he'll write an additional chapter with his move to first base this spring.

David Wright: Wright is an interesting defender because he has had years where he has looked great (16 DRS in 2012) and been Gold Glove worthy (he has improved since Tim Teufel became Mets infield coach), and had other years in which he has rated poorly (-14 in both 2009 and 2010). It will be interesting to see how Wright rates against Beltre when their careers are done. Beltre probably should rate better overall, but I'm not convinced that public perception will match that.

Derek Jeter: His defense is a polarizing topic, and without getting into a full-fledged discussion about it, I'm inclined to buy into the numerical assessments, which don't treat him well.

Those who rank Jeter as this generation's Honus Wagner need to take this into consideration. Jeter rates as the second or third-best offensive shortstop of all-time (depending on whether you consider A-Rod a shortstop), but his dWAR ranks next-to-last. His Hall of 100 rank of 33 is probably just about right for him. Were he as good a defender as some perceive, I'd argue he’d be worthy of the top 15.

Miguel Cabrera: He is going to put up amazing offensive numbers by the time he's done, but those classifying him as a future top-20 player in our Hall of 100 assessment should consider that he's already in the bottom 100 in dWAR. The move back to first base and the DH role may eventually save him from descending much further.
David Ortiz turns 38 years old today and is coming off another big season, highlighted by his monster World Series performance. Probably no player did more to help his potential Hall of Fame case than Ortiz did in 2013. Consider:

  • With offensive numbers once again in decline across the majors, Ortiz hit .309/.395/.564 with 30 home runs and 103 RBIs, ranking fourth in the American League in on-base percentage and third in slugging. His OPS+ was the fourth-highest of his career, following his injury-shortened 2012 season, 2007 and 2006. He finished 10th in the MVP voting, his first top-10 finish since 2007.

    [+] EnlargeDavid Ortiz
    Elsa/Getty ImagesDavid Ortiz hit 30 home runs in 2013, giving him 431 in his career.
  • Those numbers also indicate he has a lot left in the tank, suggesting he should still be an effective hitter for at least two more seasons, maybe three or four. That will help some of those all-important counting stats that Hall of Fame voters love. Ortiz has 431 home runs, making 500 a possibility; with 1,429 RBIs, another 300 would put him into the top 20 all time.

  • The World Series heroics -- he hit .688 with eight walks -- boosted his reputation as a clutch postseason performer. While his overall postseason batting line isn't that different from his regular-season numbers (.962 OPS versus .930), it's that reputation that will matter more than a strict analysis of his numbers, much like how we remember Jack Morris' Game 7 shutout in the 1991 World Series and not what happened in the 1992 World Series, when Morris got hammered twice and lost two games. With three World Series rings, plus several memorable October home runs, Ortiz will gain extra support from those factors, the way they pushed marginal Hall of Fame candidates like Rollie Fingers and Catfish Hunter into Cooperstown.

  • The big knocks against Ortiz remain: 1) he's largely been a designated hitter; 2) tenuous ties to PEDs; and 3) his career Wins Above Replacement. At 44.0, he's below Hall of Fame standards and even below another designated hitter candidate in Edgar Martinez (68.3). But Ortiz's fame and career counting stats should eventually help him get in.

    By the way, one more quick note on Ortiz. Whenever I write about him, the haters always bring up PEDs. They also like to point to his rejuvenation in recent years as "proof" that he's juicing. In 2008 and 2009, Ortiz hit .250/.348/.482, and in 2009 he got off to that awful start when he'd hit one home run through May while batting under .200. Since 2010, he's hit .300/.392/.560. The haters extract this to argue that he obviously must be cheating. I mean, Hank Aaron had the two highest slugging percentages of his career at ages 37 and 39, but whatever, Ortiz must be cheating.

    Of course, that narrative leaves out something important. Check out Ortiz's strikeout rates:

    2009: 21.4 percent
    2010: 23.9 percent
    2011: 13.7 percent
    2012: 13.3 percent
    2013: 14.7 percent

    Ortiz's line drive percentage in 2013 was 25 percent, the highest during any season of his Red Sox career. Even when he hit .332 in 2007, it was much lower, at 19 percent. It seems to me that Ortiz has simply become a better hitter, better against left-handed pitching and willing to sacrifice a few home runs to put the ball in play more often. The guy who struck out 134 and 145 times in 2009 and 2010 struck out just 88 times in 2013.

    Here are four other players who most helped their Hall of Fame cases in 2013 -- I wouldn't include somebody like Mariano Rivera, who was a lock no matter what he did this year, or even Miguel Cabrera, whose Hall of Fame credentials are already firmly established.

    Carlos Beltran
    After injury-plagued 2009 and 2010 seasons with the Mets, Beltran's career appeared in jeopardy, but he's put together three consecutive good-to-excellent seasons, hitting .288 while averaging 26 home runs and 88 RBIs. Although he wasn't quite the terror in the postseason that everyone kept mentioning, he did drive in 15 runs in 17 games. As with Ortiz, it's the perception that matters here. Beltran's career WAR of 67.5 puts him above many recent Hall of Famers -- in some cases, well above -- and though he'll turn 37 in April, he appears to have a couple more good seasons in him. With 358 home runs and 1,327 RBIs, his counting stats are starting to impress as much as the advanced metrics like him.

    Adrian Beltre
    Beltre is similar to Beltran -- he's a good all-around player who has kind of snuck up as a Hall of Fame candidate. Beltre has now had four straight terrific seasons, averaging 6.5 WAR; according to Baseball-Reference, the only position players with more WAR since 2010 are Robinson Cano and Cabrera. Much of Beltre's chances of eventually getting in rest in how much value voters will place on his defense, but his offensive numbers are now strong enough -- and he'll be just 35 next year -- that voters will pay attention to the entire package. Factor in that he's been one of the best players in the game over a period of years (plus 2004, when he was second in the MVP voting while with the Dodgers) and his case looks better and better.

    Clayton Kershaw
    He obviously has a long way to go because he's just 25, but the important things Kershaw did were win another Cy Young Award, and do it with a high level of dominance, posting a sub-2.00 ERA. There's no doubt that his peak level of performance has made him into being the best pitcher in the game. Certainly, many other young pitchers have been at this stage in their careers -- Dwight Gooden, Bret Saberhagen -- but Kershaw's established level of performance means all he has to do is remain healthy.

    Dustin Pedroia
    Pedroia isn't a classic Hall of Fame candidate because he doesn't hit a lot of home runs or drive in 100 runs, but he's building a lot of positives on his résumé; adding a second World Series ring was a big plus. Pedroia now has four seasons of 5+ WAR, and a fifth at 4.9. Those totals are starting to line up with players like Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar, both of whom had six 5+ WAR seasons. Pedroia turned 30 in August and his career WAR is 38.1, so he has a long way to go to become a Hall of Fame candidate, but if he can churn out three more peak seasons, he's going to have a strong case.

    The thing to remember is that fame remains an important consideration for Hall of Fame voters. Fame is why Jim Rice is in and Tim Raines isn't. For Ortiz and Pedroia, they have that "winner" tag applied to them as well; if their cases end up borderline, they now have a check in the extra-credit column. It could make the difference.

  • Best seasons by third basemen since 1980, at least according to Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement formula:

    1. Adrian Beltre, 2004 Dodgers: 9.6
    2. Alex Rodriguez, 2007 Yankees: 9.4
    3. Rodriguez, 2005 Yankees: 9.4
    4. George Brett, 1980 Royals: 9.4
    5. Scott Rolen, 2004 Cardinals: 9.1
    6. Wade Boggs, 1985 Red Sox: 9.0
    7. Mike Schmidt, 1980 Phillies: 8.8
    8. Miguel Cabrera, 2013 Tigers: 8.8 (projected)
    9. Wade Boggs, 1989 Red Sox: 8.4
    10. David Wright, 2007 Mets: 8.3

    Cabrera is certainly having a historic season with the bat. If we look strictly just at hitting by third basemen, the list looks like this in terms of runs produced compared to an average hitter from that season:

    1. Cabrera, 2013: 79 (projected)
    2. Rodriguez, 2007: 65
    3. Rodriguez, 2005: 64
    4. Brett, 1980: 61 (in just 117 games!)
    5. Jim Thome, 1996 Indians: 60
    6. Chipper Jones, 1999 Braves: 59
    7. Chipper Jones, 2007 Braves: 58
    8. Boggs, 1988 Red Sox: 57
    9. Ken Caminiti, 1996 Padres: 56
    10. Boggs, 1987 Red Sox: 56

    Eric Karabell argues that the first list gives too much credit to defense; he may be right -- Rolen is credited with 3.3 WAR on defense alone in 2004, for example, although he doesn't top 2.0 in any other season. And it's true that none of the players on the first list were bad defensive players in those seasons, except Cabrera, who is credited with minus-1.1 WAR on defense so far. Boggs didn't have a great defensive reputation early in his career, although he later won two Gold Gloves with the Yankees, and Baseball-Reference credits him as a plus defender for most of his career (although not in the class of Rolen or Beltre).

    Does Cabrera's offensive output make up for his subpar range at third base? In the video, we discuss Schmidt's 1980 season, when he hit .286/.380/.624. Schmidt posted a 1.004 OPS that year; the only other National Leaguers to reach even .900 were Keith Hernandez at .902 and Jack Clark at .900. Bob Horner and Dale Murphy, both playing in the Launching Pad in Atlanta, were the only other National Leaguers to reach 30 home runs.


    Which third baseman had the best all-around season since 1980:


    Discuss (Total votes: 4,911)

    As impressive as Schmidt was compared to his peers, Baseball-Reference still credits him with "just" 47 runs produced above average, compared to Cabrera's projected total of 79. As Karabell says in the video, .286 is not the same as .359. But do Schmidt's defense and baserunning advantages make up for Cabrera's edge at the plate? I think it's close. Schmidt was still a very good third baseman in 1980 and B-R credits him with plus-11 runs, compared to Cabrera's minus-15 so far. B-R actually gives Cabrera the minor edge in baserunning, plus-1 to minus-1, although Schmidt did steal 12 bases that year.

    Anyway, measuring defense remains imperfect. But in measuring the complete package of a player, it must be considered. Cabrera is having an all-time great offensive season, but it's a good debate whether it's the best all-around season by a third baseman of the past 35 years or so. (And to be fair, WAR isn't going to factor in that Cabrera is hitting an insane .422 with runners in scoring position.)

    What do you think?

    OK, none of these guys are actually going to win the American League MVP Award -- not with Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis and Mike Trout around -- but they deserve recognition for their terrific seasons. And if you find down-ballot MVP votes interesting, it would be interesting to see how this group eventually fares in the voting.

    Beltre's defense helps Hall of Fame chances

    July, 29, 2013
    PM ET
    BeltreRick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsAdrian Beltre's defense is a major reason he may end up as a Hall of Famer.
    ST. LOUIS -- You can't play the game of baseball tight. Ron Washington says it happens though. Players get bogged down with pressure and it's not easy to unwind. Players, he says, need be intense competitors and have a fun side. After all, baseball is a game. Washington remembers during his major league career some managers would scowl down the dugout to see who was paying attention, but in his clubhouse he wants the Rangers to have a little fun.

    "Just because he is having fun it don't affect me," Washington says. "It don't affect me one way or the other because one thing you can't hide, you can't hide baseball from me. I know if you can play or if you can't."

    Adrian Beltre can play. And he can have a little fun. Elvis Andrus, who likes to get into Beltre's personal space, irritates Beltre and they even joke around about it but Washington is OK with this. Take the pop fly that Andrus caught on June 22 -- with Beltre acting like he was going to catch it.

    "I didn't know who was actually catching that ball," Washington said. "Beltre sitting there waiting on it, Elvis behind him. I guess they communicated (Washington says with a sly smile and a pause) ... ya' know what I mean." Washington pointed out that "Elvis loves to run Beltre off the ball and there's times when Beltre tells Elvis, in Spanish, 'to pleasantly get out of the way, I'll catch this one.'" Of course, Washington laughs, "It doesn't go like that."

    Beltre has been overshadowed by Miguel Cabrera this year but he's hitting .307 with 22 home runs and 58 RBIs, including a .344 mark with eight home runs in July, one of the few Rangers not struggling at the plate this month as the team has dropped 6 games behind the A's in the AL West.

    Despite the excellent numbers at the plate, it's Beltre's defense that draws raves as he's won the past two Gold Gloves at third base (and has four in his career).

    "If we could get 27 balls going down to Adrian every night, I'll take it, because I know most of the time it's going to turn into an out," Washington said.

    Had it not been for a childhood friend, Beltre might not have ended up playing third.

    "I first started playing second because my dad told me I was going to be short," Beltre said. "I played there for a month or two and then I had a friend who wanted to play second so I moved to third."

    Beltre was 13 when he made the switch. At 5-foot-11, he also didn't end up short as his dad predicted. He has now spent 16 years in the majors and is a career .281 hitter with 368 home runs.

    "He takes what the pitcher gives him and I think everyone in the game of baseball knows what he does on defense," Washington said. As Beltre's career totals climb, combined with his excellent defense, talk about him as potential Hall of Famer is gaining ground.

    There are only 16 third basemen in the Hall of Fame. Other than catcher, which also has 16 Hall of Famers, every other position on the field has more representation in the Hall.

    "For some reason third base is the position that not a lot of players can stick with for a long time," Beltre said. "I just don’t know the reason why."

    Part of the reason is that third base requires quick reaction time to field the ball. Players often have to move off the position as they age.

    "I don't want to say it's easy but I don't think it's that difficult," Beltre says of playing third. "You know you need to have a plan before the ball is hit to you. It's more about quickness and reaction than anything else."

    Baseball-Reference.com lists Hall of Fame third basemen Eddie Matthews and Ron Santo as the most similar players to Beltre through age 34, but it's his defensive reputation that will heavily influence his Hall of Fame chances. B-R credits him with 185 runs saved beyond an average player -- sixth-best since 1901, behind only Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, Ozzie Smith, Andruw Jones and Roberto Clemente.

    Catchers in baseball will often say when they make a mistake on defense it will upset them more than a mistake on offense and they tend to carry that into an at-bat. For Beltre, he tries to separate his performance on defense and offense.

    "That's one of the things that has helped me be more consistent in the big leagues," he said. "I try not to take my at-bats to the field and I try to not take my defense to home plate. It's hard to do. It's not easy to do."

    * * * *

    One of many great traditions in baseball is what happens at batting practice before games. BP is a great way to observe team chemistry. Coaches hang on the batting cage rails, players meet up with friends on the opposing team. Everyone has a job to do but not really -- they are free to be themselves and joke around.

    During a recent road trip to St. Louis several players were standing around watching Beltre hit; he completely whiffed on one pitch. The guys around him laughed and gave him a hard time.

    Beltre said nothing. He didn't crack a smile or frown. He answered their jesting on the next pitch by hitting the ball so hard the crack of the bat against the ball was so loud everyone in the stadium turned to see how far it would go.

    "If you can get to the point where you can enjoy [baseball] and have fun, the way Beltre and Elvis and those guys enjoy it, I think you are going to have a lot of fun and a lot of good things are going to happen," Washington said.

    It is obvious the Rangers know how to have fun. That is part of Washington's formula for a winning team.

    The Rangers are slumping right now, but Beltre is focused on one thing.

    "The first thing on my mind is the only thing I want. It is to win the World Series," he said. "That is why I signed here because I knew that they [had] a good enough team to compete and hopefully win the World Series. Obviously we were in the World Series two years ago, we ended up losing, but this year everybody's focus is to get back to the World Series and win it."
    Albert Pujols was placed on the disabled list on Sunday, sort of the exclamation point to the Los Angeles Angels' debacle of a season. Sunday was Hall of Fame induction day -- you may have missed it, considering the lone player elected played his final game in 1890 -- and Pujols' injury and the ceremony in Cooperstown got me wondering: Which of today's players will be future Hall of Famers?

    There are probably more than you realize. Pujols, of course, is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, even factoring in the somewhat disappointing results of his first two seasons with the Angels. With three MVP Awards, 492 home runs, 1,491 RBIs, a .321 average and a career WAR of 92.9 (27th all time among position players) his legacy is ensured, even if his Angels career never lives up to the expectations of his contract.

    Based on historical trends, I estimate about 40 current players are future Hall of Famers -- possibly more, although Hall of Fame standards have been growing tougher in recent years, both by the Baseball Writers Association, which pitched a shutout this year, and the Veterans Committee, which has voted in just one post-1950 player since 2001. The steroids era fallout is also affecting voting results.

    Anyway, if we look back at 10-year increments we can see how many Hall of Famers were active that season:

    1953: 28 players
    1963: 36 players
    1973: 37 players
    1983: 34 players
    1993: 19 players

    There are fewer players in 1953 because there were fewer teams, just 16 compared to 30 now. Compared to 1983, when there were 26 teams, 1953 still has a higher percentage of players inducted (1.75 per team versus 1.30). Still, 1983 already has 34 players who active that season already in the Hall of Fame, plus potential enshrinees like Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Dale Murphy, Lou Whitaker, Keith Hernandez, Ted Simmons and others (some of whom are off the BBWAA ballot but could be Veterans Committee selections).

    OK, to our little list. Here are 40 active players who will be Hall of Famers -- listed in order of most likely to make it. We're at a moment when there are very few sure-thing Hall of Famers -- I count only five -- so the list thus involves a lot speculation. I considered only players who have played in the majors this year, so no Andruw Jones, Manny Ramirez or Scott Rolen.

    1. Derek Jeter: Would anyone find reason not to vote for Jeter? Well, he did date Mariah Carey. Jeter may seem like a lock as a unanimous selection, but keep in mind that eight voters somehow found reason not to vote for Cal Ripken Jr.

    2. Mariano Rivera: No matter what you think of closers, Rivera will be a slam-dunk selection, with his "greatest closer ever" label, World Series rings, universal respect among opponents and writers, and 0.70 postseason ERA in 141 innings. While writers have generally become very generous to relievers -- Dennis Eckersley made it in his first year on the ballot -- I suspect a few won't vote for Rivera out of an anti-reliever stand.

    3. Albert Pujols: If his career continues to peter out, that more recent perception may cast a shadow over his dominant run from 2001 to 2010, when he averaged 8.1 WAR per season. Many Hall of Famers never achieved that in one season.

    4. Miguel Cabrera: Cabrera is now in his age-30 season, with 53.2 WAR. Through age 30, Pujols had 81.1 WAR. That's how good Pujols was -- nearly 30 wins better than a sure Hall of Famer who arrived in the majors at a younger age. Much of that advantage comes on defense and the basepaths, but Baseball-Reference estimates Pujols created 590 runs more than the average batter through 30, with Cabrera at 447 (and counting).

    5. Ichiro Suzuki: He may not get to 3,000 hits in the majors -- he's at 2,706 after Sunday's four-hit game -- but with 1,278 hits in Japan, voters should factor that he didn't arrive in Seattle until he was 27. With his all-around brilliance, he should sail in on the first ballot.

    6. Robinson Cano: He has done a lot of things MVP voters like -- hit for average, drive in runs, win a World Series -- and done it with exceptional durability. He's already at 42.4 WAR and needs three to four more peak seasons to ensure lock status, but he's just 30 and still at the top of his game. Considering his durability and age, 3,000 hits isn't out of the question either.

    7. Clayton Kershaw: Obviously, he could get hurt, and a lot of pitchers who were dominant through age 25 couldn't carry that success into their 30s. But Kershaw has been handled carefully, is on his way to a third straight ERA title and second Cy Young Award. He's the Koufax of this decade … minus the World Series heroics. But maybe he'll get that shot this year.

    8. Felix Hernandez: He's 27 and has won 109 games, despite playing for some of the worst offenses in the history of the game. He has earned 38.8 WAR, which puts him about halfway to Hall of Fame lock status. As with Kershaw, barring injury he'll get there.

    9. Roy Halladay: He leads all active pitchers with 65.6 WAR, a total higher than Hall of Famers Bob Feller (65.2), Eckersley (62.5), Juan Marichal (61.9), Don Drysdale (61.2) and Whitey Ford (53.2), to name a few. But what if he never pitches again? Is he in? He has 201 wins and voters still fixate on wins for pitchers. To Halladay's advantage is the general consensus that he was the best pitcher in baseball at his peak, his two Cy Young Awards and two runner-up finishes, three 20-win seasons and the second no-hitter in postseason history.

    10. Adrian Beltre: Voters have never been kind to the good-glove third basemen -- excepting Brooks Robinson -- so I may be overrating Beltre's chances. But he also has the chance to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. If he gets to those milestones, that combined with his defensive reputation should get him in.

    11. CC Sabathia: He has 200 wins and looked like a possible 300-game winner entering this season, but that 4.65 ERA has everyone wondering how much he has left in the tank at age 33.

    12. David Wright: Similar in a lot of ways to Cano -- same age, similar career WAR (Wright is actually a little higher at 45.9) -- so if he plays well into his 30s like Beltre has, he'll get in. But a lot of players have looked like Hall of Famers at 30.

    13. Justin Verlander: He still has a lot of work to do, with 134 career wins and just two seasons with an ERA under 3.00.

    14. Carlos Beltran: I suspect he'll have a long, slow trek to Hall of Fame status, as his all-around game may be difficult for voters to properly assess. His having just two top-10 MVP finishes will work against him, but he has eight 100-RBI seasons, should reach 400 home runs, is one of the great percentage basestealers of all time and should reach 1,500 runs and 1,500 RBIs.

    15. Mike Trout: Well, of course this is premature; he's only 21. He could be Willie Mays, he could be Cesar Cedeno. I'm betting on Mays.

    16. Evan Longoria" Beloved in sabermetric circles, he could use that one monster MVP season to create more of a Hall of Fame aura around him.

    17. Joey Votto: Will voters appreciate the on-base percentage in 20 years?

    18. Joe Mauer: Like Votto, Mauer has an MVP award that helps his case; any time you can argue "he was the best player in the game" about a guy, his candidacy shoots up in the minds of voters. He's not going to end up with the big home run and RBI totals but his .323 career average, .405 OBP and solid defense (three Gold Gloves) will garner support. He has to stay healthy and probably needs to stay behind the plate a few more years.

    19. Andy Pettitte: See Jack Morris. Probably a slow crawl on the BBWAA ballot, perhaps hurt by admitting he tried PEDs (although he seems to have escaped the stain), with eventual election by the Veterans Committee. With 252 wins, five World Series rings and 19 postseason wins, it's difficult to ignore his fame and constant presence in October.

    20. Bryce Harper: Most home runs before turning 21: Mel Ott 61, Tony Conigliaro 56, Ken Griffey Jr. 38, Harper 37, Mickey Mantle 36, Frank Robinson 34.

    21. Buster Posey: Yadier Molina may be the most valuable catcher right now, but Posey is the better Hall of Fame candidate.

    22. David Price: Pitchers become Hall of Famers in their 30s, not their 20s, but Price is already 66-36 with a Cy Young award.

    23. Dustin Pedroia: I'm a little skeptical how he'll age into 30s, but Pedroia seems like the kind of player voters would love to put in if he becomes a borderline candidate. He does have an MVP award and recognition for his all-around play, but since he's not a big home run or RBI guy, he'll have to remain durability and approach 3,000 career hits.

    24. Manny Machado: He's in a big slump right now but we have to remember he's still just 20 years old. But few players have shown this kind of ability at his age and his defense -- Jim Palmer said recently he makes plays at third base that Brooks Robinson could not have made -- is already Hall-of-Fame caliber.

    25. Todd Helton: We can just about close the book on him. The .318/.417/.541 career line is impressive, although voters will have to adjust for Coors Field. The 361 home runs and 1,378 RBIs are short of Hall of Fame standards for recent first base inductees. Considering Larry Walker's poor support so far, Helton will probably have to get in through the back door.

    26. Andrew McCutchen: How about an MVP Award for 2013?

    27. Giancarlo Stanton: Injuries are an issue, but I'm still betting on him (or Harper) to be the premier power hitter of his generation.

    28. Troy Tulowitzki: He has to stay healthy, of course, but he has 30.5 WAR so far, in his age-28 season. Jeter had 36.8 and Ripken 50.1 through age 28, but you don't have to be Derek Jeter or Cal Ripken to make the Hall of Fame. Recent inductee Barry Larkin had 30.9 WAR through age 28 and only played 140 games three seasons after that (although did play until he was 40).

    29. Miguel Tejada: Tough one here. He has the PED rumors, but he also has six 100-RBI seasons as a shortstop, an MVP award, more than 300 home runs and he will top 2,400 hits. Perhaps a Veterans Committee choice?

    30. Prince Fielder: He hasn't hit 40 home runs since 2009 and is going through the worst season of his career. Still, he's just 29 and has 277 home runs and 838 RBIs. He has been the most durable player in the game since his rookie season, but his body type certainly raises questions about how he'll do as he gets into his mid-30s. If he does remain healthy and reaches some of the big milestones he's going to be a Morris-like controversial candidate, because his career WAR (currently 22.4) isn't going to reach Hall of Fame standards.

    31. Madison Bumgarner: He turns 24 on Aug. 1 and already has 46 career wins, two World Series rings and is in the midst of his best season. Check back in 10 years.

    32. Yasiel Puig: Is he not in already?

    33. Andrelton Simmons: We're starting to get into the area of crazy projections. Hey, a lot of Hall of Famers didn't look like Hall of Famers their first few seasons in the league. Anyway, the Braves have four young players you could reasonably project long-shot HOF status onto -- Simmons, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel. I like Simmons; he'll have to have an Omar Vizquel-type career with most of his value coming from his glove, but what a glove it is.

    34. Chase Utley: He basically has no chance to get in via the BBWAA because his career counting totals will be well short of Hall standards. His five-year peak from 2005 to 2009 was among the best ever for a second baseman -- in fact, since 1950, from ages 26 to 30, the only players with a higher WAR were seven guys named Mays, Pujols, Yastrzemski, Aaron, Bonds, Boggs and Schmidt. If he can stay healthy for a few more years -- a bit of a dubious proposition -- he enters Veterans Committee territory.

    35. Jose Fernandez: This could be Chris Sale or Stephen Strasburg or some other hotshot young pitcher.

    36. Tim Hudson: I believe pitching standards will have to change, as the idea that you need 300 wins eventually subsides in this day where starters just don't as many decisions as they once did. Hudson is out for the year after breaking his ankle and, at the age of 38, you have to worry about his future. But he does have 205 wins and one of the best winning percentages of all time at .649. He sounds like a Veterans Committee choice in 2044.

    37. Nick Franklin: The point isn't that I think Franklin is a Hall of Fame player, but that somebody like Franklin will turn into a Hall of Famer. It could BE Franklin, it could be Wil Myers, it could be Marcell Ozuna, it could be Jurickson Profar. As for Franklin, he has reached the majors at 22, has flashed power (10 home runs and 12 doubles in 52 games) and shown a good approach at the plate. You never know.

    38. September call-up to be named: Xander Bogaerts? Oscar Taveras? Miguel Sano?

    39. David Ortiz: There's no denying the fame and the peak value -- he finished in the top five in MVP voting five consecutive seasons -- but he has several strikes against him, notably the PED allegations (Ortiz was mentioned in the Mitchell report) and the fact that he may not be the best DH eligible (that would be Edgar Martinez, with a career WAR of 68.3 to Ortiz's 42.7). Papi is at 420 home runs; if he gets to 500 (round number!), his chances go up, but like all the guys tied to steroids, he'll be a controversial candidate.

    40. Alex Rodriguez: He hasn't actually suited up in the majors yet this season, but let's assume he does to be eligible for this list. I also assume, at some point in the future -- 20 years? 25 years? 75 years? -- the moral outrage against the steroids users eventually subsides. Maybe, like Deacon White, A-Rod makes it some 130 years after he plays his final game.

    Hey, it's not like Adrian Beltre hasn't been stiffed for the All-Star Game before. Back in 2004 when he was with the Dodgers, he was hitting .315 with 22 home runs and 56 RBIs at the break but didn't make the All-Star team, getting squeezed out at third base by starter Scott Rolen and backup Mike Lowell. Beltre would put up even bigger numbers in the second half and finish second in the MVP vote. But he wouldn't make his first All-Star Game until 2010 in his one season with the Red Sox after leaving the Safeco Field dungeon.

    After putting up big numbers the past two seasons for the Rangers, Beltre finally played his first postseason games since that '04 season and, not coincidentally, finally began escaping the "most underrated" label. Amazing what playing for a playoff team will do for your reputation. People have even started viewing him as a potential Hall of Famer, given his reputation in the field and the possibility he'll reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. He's just 34, aging well and on track for another terrific season. He went 4-for-4 with two home runs and five RBIs in Tuesday's 8-4 win over the Orioles, and suddenly, his season totals are 20 big ones and 52 RBIs to go with his .319 average.

    He won't be going to Citi Field next week for the All-Star Game, however, which isn't an insult as much as a matter of the luck of his happening to play the most loaded position in the majors right now: third base, American League, at which Miguel Cabrera and Manny Machado made the All-Star team. As a result, Beltre, Evan Longoria and Josh Donaldson will get to spend a few days fishing.

    Beltre is in a little different station this season: With Josh Hamilton gone, you can make the case that Texas is Beltre's team. Well, not in the sense that he owns the Rangers team, but in the sense that he's the guy of whom opposing pitchers will say -- if they actually say such things -- "We can't let this guy beat us." Beltre never has really had to be "the man" on the Rangers before, but without Hamilton and with this Rangers team scoring half a run per game fewer than last season, it's hardly the same power attack we saw in Texas in recent seasons.

    However, Beltre did beat the Orioles on this night. He led off the second with a home run as Zach Britton tried to get ahead with a first-pitch, middle-of-the-plate 90 mph fastball. Beltre doesn't miss middle-of-the-plate fastballs, and he crushed this one 411 feet to center field. After surrendering a single to Beltre in the fourth, Britton tried to sneak a 1-0, middle-of-the-plate fastball past Beltre, or maybe figured he'd be taking. Bad idea. Beltre was sitting on that high fastball and tomahawked it on a line to left for a three-run homer. In the seventh, the Orioles had learned their lesson and intentionally walked Beltre. He added an RBI single in the ninth.

    Pitchers try to work Beltre outside -- he's pretty much a dead-pull hitter for power, as only two of his 20 home runs have gone to the right of center field (including his first one Tuesday, which went just to the right of center). But he still hits for a good average on pitches on the outside part of the plate, hitting .311 on the season due to his ability to drive the ball to right-center for base hits and doubles. And if you miss over the plate, he can punish you.

    Britton's inability to locate those fastballs pinpoints the larger issue with the Orioles: Their rotation remains a big question mark. The Rangers pounded new acquisition Scott Feldman on Monday. Britton now owns a 4.76 ERA and, after getting no strikeouts against the Rangers, has just 12 in 34 innings. He's not going to succeed with that ratio, and while his fastball has adequate velocity, he's just not the same promising left-hander of a couple of years ago.

    The Baltimore rotation now sports a 4.85 ERA, 27th in the majors, and even the spectacular hitting from Chris Davis and all-around brilliance from Machado won't be able to mask that over a full 162 games. Orioles starters allow the most home runs per nine innings, and while some of that is a Camden Yards effect, it's a staff that gives up a lot of fly balls and doesn't register a lot of strikeouts. That can work in the spacious outfields in Seattle or San Francisco, but it's not going to work very well in Baltimore. Wei-Yin Chen returns Wednesday for his first start since May 12, and the Orioles are desperate for him pitch as well as he was before straining his oblique.

    Chen's return essentially bumps Britton from the rotation, which now looks like Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Jason Hammel and Feldman. If the Orioles can keep those five guys healthy -- they've used 13 different starters -- and Chen pitches well and Hammel starts pitching like he did last season, maybe that's enough, even lacking an ace. But I get the feeling the O's will need Davis to keep hitting a lot of home runs.

    The big questions for this season’s All-Star selections as we headed into Saturday’s selection show: Would Yasiel Puig make it? Who backs up Miguel Cabrera at third base in the American League from a strong field of candidates? Who represents the Astros?

    But I’m left with this one: Could the American League have chosen a worse, more boring squad?

    Remember, the All-Star squads are chosen by a four-tiered system: The fans vote in the starters, the players vote for the reserves at each position, plus the top five starting pitchers and top three relievers, the managers choose the rest of the squad (with their choices limited due to having to name a representative for each team) and then the fans vote again for the final man.

    Got all that?

    The player vote is the one that usually causes the biggest mistakes. Last season, for example, the players voted in Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair as the backup first baseman even though he was a platoon player with 28 RBIs at the time of selection. Similarly, Lance Lynn, who had a big April, was voted in as one of the top five starters even though he ranked 28th in the National League in ERA. The ripple effect for selections like those end up causing more worthy All-Stars to not make it. This season, a similar thing happened, most notably with Torii Hunter named as an outfield reserve in the AL.

    My quick reaction to this season's American League and National League squads:

    Best fan selection: Chris Davis, Orioles. Hardly a household name before the season, his offensive numbers are just too good to ignore, and he’s a deserving starter over Prince Fielder.

    Worst fan selection: Bryce Harper, Nationals. The fans generally do a good job -- better than the players -- and while I don’t see Harper as a glaring mistake (I’d put him on my NL roster as a reserve), he did miss significant time with the knee injury. Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates or Carlos Gomez of the Brewers would be a more deserving starter (both should be starting over Carlos Beltran as well).

    Most controversial AL selection: Justin Verlander, Tigers. He’s not having a terrific season, with a 9-5 record and lukewarm 3.54 ERA, but I don’t have a huge problem with American League manager Jim Leyland selecting the guy who’s been the best pitcher in baseball the previous two seasons.

    Most controversial NL selection: Marco Scutaro, Giants. The NL roster is actually pretty solid, but you can nitpick Scutaro and Allen Craig. With Matt Carpenter being voted in by the players, manager Bruce Bochy didn't have to add a third second baseman, but he did select his guy and take a slot away from a deep pool of outfield candidates -- Puig and Hunter Pence were added to the final-vote group, but Starling Marte, Jay Bruce and Shin-Soo Choo all had All-Star first halves. But, hey, even All-Star teams need professional hitters.

    How the Astros screwed the AL: Salvador Perez being voted in by the players as the backup catcher meant Jason Castro was named as a third catcher to represent the Astros. Actually, this is a little unfair, since Castro is having a season equal to or better than Perez’s. But having three catchers on the squad takes a slot away from one of the much more deserving third basemen -- Evan Longoria, Josh Donaldson or Adrian Beltre.

    [+] EnlargeMax Scherzer
    Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SportsWith the American League's weak pitching staff, Max Scherzer could see a couple innings.
    How the players screwed the AL: Hunter rode a .370 April to an All-Star berth, but he’s down to .307 with just five home runs. It’s not a great season for AL outfielders, but Hunter is kind of a joke selection: He ranks 24th among AL outfielders in FanGraphs WAR (0.9). Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury are better options.

    Weirdest selection: Brett Cecil, Blue Jays. The Jays already had Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, so there was no need to add Cecil. Don't get me wrong, he is having a nice season -- 1.43 ERA, 50 strikeouts in 44 innings -- but this is also a guy with a 4.79 career ERA entering the season. (Granted, mostly as a starter.) Rangers starter Derek Holland was the better choice here.

    Team with a gripe: The A’s have a better record than the Tigers yet ended up with one All-Star to Detroit’s six.

    Most-deserving guy who didn't make it, AL: Longoria. Seventy All-Stars were named today, but somehow one of the top 10 players in the game didn't make it.

    Most-deserving guy who didn't make it, NL: Not including the players eligible in the final-player vote, I'd go with Pirates outfielder Marte or Braves defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons.

    Worst final-player vote ever: American League. Choose from Joaquin Benoit, Steve Delabar, David Robertson, Tanner Scheppers and Koji Uehara. Can I go to a dentist appointment instead? Unless you have a fetish for right-handed relief pitchers, this isn’t exactly the best way to get fans enthused about the All-Star final vote. Why not at least have a final-man vote with Longoria, Beltre and Donaldson?

    Most predictable final-player vote ever: National League. Is there any way Puig doesn’t beat out Ian Desmond, Freddie Freeman, Adrian Gonzalez and Pence for the final vote?

    In a perfect world, Jim Leyland does this: The AL pitching staff is a little shaky, so he should try to ride his top starting pitchers. Assuming Max Scherzer starts, I’d pitch him two innings and then bring in White Sox lefty Chris Sale for two more innings so he can face the top of the NL lineup that would probably feature Carlos Gonzalez and Joey Votto. Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez take over from there and hand the ball to Mariano Rivera, with Glen Perkins and Cecil used as situational lefties if needed.

    Offensively, Cabrera and Davis should play the entire game, as they’ve clearly been the dominant offensive forces in the AL. Frankly, I’m not too thrilled with the AL bench, especially the outfield. Mike Trout and Bautista should also play the entire game. Use Fielder and Encarnacion to pinch hit as needed for J.J. Hardy or Adam Jones. Manny Machado can replace Cabrera in the late innings if the AL is ahead.

    In a perfect world, Bruce Bochy does this: The NL squad looks much better on paper. Assuming Matt Harvey starts, he should be followed up with Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee (Adam Wainwright is scheduled to pitch on Sunday and will be unavailable). From there, I’d match up -- Madison Bumgarner or Jordan Zimmermann -- and then turn the game over to three dominant relievers: Jason Grilli, Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel. (Kudos to Bochy for going with all starting pitchers after the mandatory three relievers.)

    Offensively, David Wright should play the whole game in front of the home fans, and assuming Paul Goldschmidt gets the nod as the designated hitter, I’d let him and Votto play the entire nine as well. Without a regular center fielder in the starting lineup (although Beltran, Gonzalez and Harper have all played there in the past), I’d get McCutchen in the game as soon as possible, with apologies to Gomez. I’d hit for Brandon Phillips in a key situation with a better bat like Buster Posey or Craig or maybe for Gonzalez against a left-hander (although he’s hit very well against lefties this season).

    And Puig? Yes, once he makes the team, I’d like to see him play as well.

    Jesse Chavez is essentially the 25th man on the Oakland A's roster. He started the year in Triple-A, got called up, got sent down, got called back up and is working as the low-leverage guy out of the bullpen. Before Thursday, he hadn't pitched since June 5, and the final scores of games he'd appeared in (without a decision) were 6-1, 10-2, 11-5, 6-2, 6-1, 6-3, 10-2, 9-6 and 8-1.

    Chavez is the definition of a journeyman right-hander, having pitched for the Pirates, Braves, Royals and Blue Jays before the A's purchased him from Toronto last August. He was a typical Billy Beane acquisition: He has a pretty good arm, fastball in the low 90s, but what Chavez hadn't had was much success at the major league level, with a 5.74 ERA over 191 career innings.

    But sometimes you need that 25th guy to come through, and Chavez's other asset is that he had started for Triple-A Sacramento. That ability to pitch multiple innings came into play in Thursday's 18-inning marathon in Oakland, the A's finally pushing across the winning run with a blooper and broken-bat flare off Mariano Rivera, winning 3-2. Chavez was the big hero, however, pitching 5.2 innings of one-hit, scoreless relief. He has a starter's repertoire, with a cutter, curve and changeup. He got two big outs when he entered with two runners on in the 13th, striking out Kevin Youkilis and Vernon Wells on curveballs.

    In the 14th, A's manager Bob Melvin had the guts to intentionally walk Robinson Cano with runners on first and second; Mark Teixeira popped out to shortstop, missing a hittable fastball. From there it was smooth sailing, as Chavez retired the side in order in the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th innings. Not bad for your garbage-time reliever.

    [+] EnlargeJesse Chavez
    AP Photo/Eric RisbergJesse Chavez got the win for the A's in 5.2 innings of scoreless relief, with one hit and seven strikeouts.
    "The last guy they threw was the best guy we faced all day," Teixeira told MLB.com. "That guy is nasty."

    It's one of those games that will be remembered if the A's end up winning the American League West. It's that kind of bullpen depth that fueled their second-half surge last season and has fueled their strong start this season. The A's are 33-0 when leading heading into the ninth inning. They're 6-2 in extra innings. When tied through seven innings they're 8-1. This is a tough team to beat late in a game.

    The A's have won 11 consecutive games at home and 21 of their past 26, and while they were 7 games behind the Rangers in mid-May, they now lead the division by two games, after the Blue Jays beat Yu Darvish and the Rangers 3-1, dropping the Rangers to 4-8 in June. Injuries to Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland have hurt, but that gets us back to roster depth.

    Who is the favorite to win the West? Here's a quick rundown comparing the two teams.

    Oakland: .246/.328/.397
    Texas: .264/.327/.436

    Entering Thursday's games, the Rangers had the higher wOBA, but the A's had the slightly better park-adjusted offense. The A's have gotten huge performances from Josh Donaldson and Coco Crisp, and while some regression might be in order, Donaldson also looks like a much-improved hitter from last season, as Jerry Crasnick wrote. On the other hand, Josh Reddick (.187) and Chris Young (.169) should improve.

    For the Rangers, the offense is trending downward. In 2011, they averaged 5.3 runs per game; in 2012, 5.0; this year, 4.4. Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz are doing Adrian Beltre- and Nelson Cruz-type things, but Elvis Andrus and David Murphy are struggling right now. If Murphy doesn't pick it up, the Rangers might look to add an outfielder.

    Advantage: A's.

    Starting pitching
    Oakland: 29-24, 4.01 ERA; .249/.298/.398; 6.1 innings per start
    Texas: 25-21, 3.77 ERA; .251/.311/.391; 5.9 innings per start

    The rotations have posted similar numbers, but once you adjust for ballpark, the Rangers' staff has performed better, led by Darvish and Derek Holland. FanGraphs WAR rates the Rangers' starters at 8.6 Wins Above Replacement, third-best in the majors, and the A's 12th-best at 5.0.

    The good news for the A's is that Jarrod Parker pitched well again Thursday. After posting a 7.34 ERA through his first seven starts, he's gone 4-1 with a 2.40 ERA over his past seven, with a .183 average allowed and WHIP under 1.00. His changeup is back to the deadly weapon it was last year, as batters have hit .118 against it in those most recent seven games.


    Which team will win the AL West


    Discuss (Total votes: 2,957)

    The Rangers have succeeded even though Matt Harrison has spent most of the season and the disabled list and Colby Lewis all of it. Alexi Ogando is also out again with shoulder inflammation. The Rangers received some solid work from Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm early on, but those two haven't been quite as strong lately, and you have to wonder if the injuries won't catch up to the rotation at some point, at least until Lewis and Harrison return.

    Edge: Even. The Rangers have been better so far, but moving forward I think the A's close the gap.

    Oakland: 12-3, 2.89 ERA; .227/.289/.358
    Texas: 13-7, 3.29 ERA; .240/.313/.368

    The Texas bullpen has also been outstanding, especially the back three of Joe Nathan, Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross. Neal Cotts has added some depth as well. Scheppers has been the big surprise, with a fastball that sits at 94-96 mph and touches 98; he's always had a good arm but might finally be putting it together. He doesn't have a big strikeout rate (21 in 32.1 innings), and I do wonder if he keeps pitching this well. Batters are hitting just .170 off his fastball even though Scheppers' strikeout/walk ratio with the pitch is just 10.9.

    Edge: A's. The Rangers have a good pen, but once you get into the fifth, sixth and seventh guys, I think the A's have the advantage.

    Oakland: minus-20 Defensive Runs Saved
    Texas: plus-8 Defensive Runs Saved

    Ultimate Zone Rating has the clubs essentially even -- Texas at minus-0.3, Oakland at minus-1.3. The big problem area for the A's has been shortstop Jed Lowrie at minus-8 DRS. Chris Young, who usually rates very well in the outfield, has also rated poorly at minus-5 DRS. Of course, if he doesn't start hitting, he's not going to get much playing anyway behind Crisp, Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes.

    Edge: Rangers.

    The A's were my preseason pick to win the division, and they look like the better team right now. What do you think?
    Crazy night in baseball -- Matt Harvey's near-perfect game, the Yankees getting shut out at Coors Field, ninth-inning wins for the Blue Jays (a victory made less joyous after J.A. Happ was hit in the head by a line drive) and Diamondbacks, Yuniesky Betancourt homering again -- but the most stunning result happened in Cincinnati, where the Reds hit back-to-back home runs with two outs off Craig Kimbrel to defeat the Braves 5-4.

    It was just the second time in 30 years that a team hit back-to-back home runs with two outs in the ninth to win a game (Nick Green and J.D. Drew did it for the Braves in 2004). That it came off Kimbrel, regarded as the game's best closer, was all the more shocking.

    First, Devin Mesoraco, pinch-hitting, lined a 3-2 low fastball just over the fence in right-center to tie it and then Shin-Soo Choo hit his second homer of the game, off another low fastball, for the improbable walk-off.

    We all remember how dominant Kimbrel was last season. Not only did he strike out over half the batters he faced, he allowed just four extra-base hits -- three home runs and a double. He's now allowed three home runs and two doubles in 2013 in just 13.1 innings and has blown three save chances -- and the Braves lost all three games. You can point to his still-great strikeout totals (21) but the bottom line is Kimbrel has not done the job. That's three losses for the Braves in games they led entering the ninth inning, after losing just one such game a year ago.

    In 2012, the 30 teams combined to lose just 111 such games --3.7 per team. So unless Kimbrel is perfect the rest of the way, the Braves' ability to protect ninth-inning leads will likely be worse than the average major league team.

    Making Kimbrel just another overrated closer.

    Other quick thoughts:
    Mike Trout and Miguel CabreraGetty ImagesThe SweetSpot bloggers predict another 1-2 MVP finish for Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera in 2013.

    Yes, it's the time of the year ... awards predictions! Here are the collective thoughts of the writers from across the SweetSpot network.

    Last year, the SweetSpot bloggers correctly picked Miguel Cabrera as the AL MVP winner. How quickly we fall in love with the new kid on the block! I'm not surprised that Mike Trout is the MVP favorite by the SweetSpot bloggers -- but I am surprised by his runaway vote total, as he collected 33 of the 47 first-place votes (including mine). If wisdom of the crowds proves true, it should be a landslide MVP result for Trout.

    Amazingly, Cabrera only received two first-place votes (remember, he ranked ahead of Trout in our recent BBTN500 voting). This probably reflects the difference in the mind-set between the bloggers -- who are going to pay more attention to advanced metrics like WAR -- and the more conventional group of analysts (writers, announcers, former players) who voted in the BBTN500.

    The network bloggers must have high hopes for the Rays since Evan Longoria ranked third in the balloting. And maybe the Yankees won't collapse just yet: Robinson Cano finished fourth in the balloting.

    Points on a 14-9-8-7-6 basis.

    1. Mike Trout, 574 points (33 first-place votes)
    2. Miguel Cabrera, 374 points (2)
    3. Evan Longoria, 268 points (3)
    4. Robinson Cano, 238 points (4)
    5. Adrian Beltre, 101 points (1)
    6. Yoenis Cespedes, 92 points (0)
    7. Jose Bautista, 85 points (2)
    8. Prince Fielder, 70 points (1)
    9. Albert Pujols, 62 points (1)
    10. Jose Reyes, 43 points (0)

    Others -- Josh Hamilton (41 points), Dustin Pedroia (34), Joe Mauer (21), Alex Gordon (18), Matt Wieters (9), Adam Jones (7), Curtis Granderson (7), Edwin Encarnacion (6), Carlos Santana (6), Ian Kinsler (6), Jacoby Ellsbury (6)


    No surprise here: Justin Verlander collected 28 first-place votes to easily outdistance last season's Cy Young winner, David Price. Keep an eye on Yu Darvish: He finished ahead of Felix Hernandez in the voting. Reigning NL CY Young winner R.A. Dickey is now with Toronto and he collected just one first-place vote.

    Points on a 7-4-3 basis.

    1. Justin Verlander, 258 points (28 first-place votes)
    2. David Price, 129 points (4)
    3. Yu Darvish, 81 points (5)
    4. Felix Hernandez, 70 points (5)
    5. Jered Weaver, 34 points (3)
    6. R.A. Dickey, 15 points (1)

    Others -- Chris Sale (9 points), CC Sabathia (8), Max Scherzer (6), Josh Johnson (6), Jarrod Parker (6), Jon Lester (6), Doug Fister (3), Matt Moore (3), Jake Peavy (3)


    The rookie race is even more wide open, since most of the top rookie prospects will begin the year in the minors, including Tampa Bay outfielder Wil Myers, who led our balloting with 17 first-place votes. Outfielders Aaron Hicks of the Twins and Jackie Bradley of the Red Sox will break camp with their big league teams, and that helped them finish second and third in the voting.

    Points on a 5-3-1 basis.

    1. Wil Myers, 111 points (17 first-place votes)
    2. Aaron Hicks, 71 points (8)
    3. Jackie Bradley, 65 points (8)
    4. Jurickson Profar, 46 points (4)
    5. Dylan Bundy, 29 points (4)
    6. Brandon Maurer, 24 points (2)
    7. Trevor Bauer, 21 points (1)
    8. Dan Straily, 12 points (1)

    Others -- Bruce Rondon (6 points), Mike Olt (5), Mike Zunino (4), Chris Archer (3), Avisail Garcia (1), Conor Gillaspie (1), Nick Tepesch (1), Kevin Gausman (1)
    No, the World Baseball Classic isn't the World Series or the World Cup, and it doesn't really prove which country has the best baseball talent. But it's a fun event, the players participating want to win, and there are fans across the globe -- mostly outside of the United States -- who care passionately about the results.

    Is the event perfect? Of course not. Thursday's much-anticipated Pool C game between Venezuela and the Dominican Republic in Puerto Rico should have featured Felix Hernandez starting against Johnny Cueto instead of Anibal Sanchez against Edinson Volquez, but I didn't have a problem getting pumped up to watch a Dominican lineup that featured Jose Reyes, Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion, Hanley Ramirez, Nelson Cruz and Carlos Santana, and a Venezuelan lineup that went nine deep with the likes of Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez, Pablo Sandoval, Miguel Montero and Martin Prado.

    [+] EnlargeRobinson Cano
    Al Bello/Getty ImagesRobinson Cano drove in three of the Dominican's nine runs in the opener against Venezuela.
    Managers Tony Pena of the Dominican and Luis Sojo of Venezuela were forced to scramble when a first-inning rain delay led to the early exits of Volquez and Sanchez. But the Dominican had already jumped on Sanchez for three first-inning runs -- Cano doubled in two -- and a contingent of Dominican relievers, some minor league no-names and some major leaguers with big fastballs held the explosive Venezuelans to just six hits in a 9-3 victory. The game slogged along, reminiscent of a Red Sox-Yankees affair from the mid-2000s, but that just showed what the game means to the players: They weren't going through the motions like you might see in a spring-training game in Arizona in early March.

    The win puts the Dominicans in the driver's seat to win Pool C and help escape the embarrassment of 2009, when they lost twice to the Netherlands in pool play and failed to advance (scoring just three runs in those two games despite a lineup that included Cano, Reyes, Ramirez, David Ortiz and Miguel Tejada). Venezuela entered the tournament as a favorite alongside the U.S. Even minus Hernandez, it seemed to have more pitching depth than the Dominican, especially among the starters.

    But in pool play, it's all about bullpen depth. Pitchers are limited to 65 pitches per outing and if they throw at least 30, they can't pitch the following day. If you pitch two days in a row, you can't pitch a third day in a row. But the Dominican bullpen rolled out Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera, he of the average fastball velocity of 97 mph last year, veteran Octavio Dotel, Pedro Strop of the Orioles and Rays closer Fernando Rodney. Strop had the key appearance on Thursday, pitching 1.2 hitless innings in the middle of the game when the score was 5-3. Command has always been the issue for Strop, but he threw an efficient 20 pitches, 14 for strikes. With a day off on Friday, Pena had no reservations about running all his relievers out there.

    The Dominicans can attack you in different ways. They have the speed of Reyes, Erick Aybar and Alejandro De Aza; the power of Cano and Encarnacion; the patience of Santana, who drew four walks on Thursday. The team is also hoping to add Adrian Beltre in the second round. With that lineup and that crew of hard-throwing relievers, the Dominicans certainly have the ability to win it all.

    The U.S. is still the favorite on paper (it plays its opener on Friday against Mexico). Even without starters Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw, it has the most pitching depth. After Volquez, the Dominicans have to rely on guys such as Wandy Rodriguez and probably Samuel Deduno to start.

    And don't sleep on Venezuela. Its Saturday game against Puerto Rico likely becomes the key game now in Pool C. I wouldn't bet against a lineup where Marco Scutaro is batting ninth.