The Tenth Inning – Week 13 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
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It’s a bit of a lighthearted column this week – no in-depth recaps of teams or series, no dire predictions of “needing to desperately turn things around” or “get (player X) healthy” or “make a move soon.” Since next week’s column will be another two-parter with the mid-season power rankings, this week’s column will instead take a look at a one-week phenomenon known as, “The Final Vote.”
A couple years ago, MLB decided to let fans decide not only the eight starters (or nine for the AL when the game is in an AL park) but also the last person to be added to the roster. Five players are placed on the ballot based upon player and manager voting, and then the fans select which of the final five will make the team. Since the game now “matters,” and it’s highly likely that the player selected by the fans will be involved in the game towards the final innings, it’s the job of the fans to select the player that will best help his respective league’s team win the game and secure home field for the World Series. So that’s the twist on this week’s column – looking at not just the numbers, but at who will do what to benefit each team. First, I’ll examine the current rosters announced Sunday, and then at the players vying for the final spot, before I come to a final verdict. Remember, this is not who I feel is most deserving of the selection, but rather whose selection would benefit the All-Star team the most.
The Team – A quick check of the rosters shows that, while there is a backup at every position, the team has FOUR first baseman, with Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, and Prince Fielder all backing up Albert Pujols. Each of those three reserves hits left-handed, a key fact. Meanwhile the team has only three reserve outfielders, and two of the three starters (Carlos Beltran and Raul Ibanez) are currently on the DL. Clearly, that would give an advantage to a right-handed hitting outfielder to be selected. On the flip side, with three left-handed power bats on the bench in the three aforementioned first basemen, the team could also use a right-handed hitting pinch hitter to come off the bench and face a lefty reliever in the late innings. Also, while starters Hanley Ramirez, David Wright, and Beltran can all steal bases, only Justin Upton and Orlando Hudson could be considered “speedsters” out of the reserves. If the NL team needs a Dave Roberts-esque performance against, say, Mariano Rivera in the ninth trailing by a run, having a pinch runner available who can steal any base at any time would be a significant advantage.
The Players – If the team is looking for that right handed power bat, the case is closed and Reynolds, with his 23 homers already this season. Wright and Ryan Zimmerman are the two third basemen, so another infielder on the left side wouldn’t hurt, and he’s stolen 13 bases to boot, so he’s certainly not slow of foot. If they really want the base stealer, though, it’ll be Victorino. Aside from the even .300 average, he’s stolen 13 bases while only being thrown out 4 times. For his career, he’s 97 for 121, an 80% success rate. Plus, he’s a switch hitter, can play all three outfield positions, and has a laser for a right arm, making him valuable whether the NL is behind OR ahead. The other three – Kemp, Sandoval, and Guzman – are also all hitting better than .300. Kemp fits the bill as a right-handed hitting outfielder, and he gets some more consideration with his ability to drive in runs in big spots, though not necessarily with a homer. His 19 steals also shows that he’s a five-tool player and can bring to the field whatever the NL team might need. Guzman would provide another backup infielder, and both his experience and stellar play from last year’s game would be a nice thing for manager Charlie Manuel to have in his back pocket. The switch-hitting Sandoval has had a breakout season for the surprising Giants, hitting .333 with 12 HR and 44 RBI in his first season as a starter.
The Verdict – As is the case with these kinds of votes, all five are having exceptional seasons. The choice here for best overall fit for the NL team, though, meaning it comes down to a close vote of Victorino over Kemp for the final spot, mostly for the high stolen base percentage and stronger arm. Coming from a Mets fan, that’s a pretty difficult sentence to write, especially considering last weekend, but he brings the most things to the table that could help the team win towards the end of the game. However, considering the Phillies 16-22 home record this season, Manuel and Victorino might be hoping he’s NOT selected – it might give Philly a better chance to repeat.
The Team – Since the AL roster already includes five reserve outfielders, it’s not surprising that the Final Vote list is devoid of any regular outfielder (though Lind does play left field when he’s not acting as a DH). Aaron Hill is the backup to Dustin Pedroia and second and Michael Young is behind Evan Longoria and third, meaning both reserves selected can also serve as a third-string shortstop for Joe Maddon if the need arose. Three first basemen were selected for the team, with Mark Teixeira as the starter and Justin Morneau and Kevin Youkilis as his backups, interesting selections from Maddon given that his own first baseman, Pena, leads the AL in HR. If Pena does win, however, he would join Longoria and reserves Jason Bartlett (ss) and Ben Zobrist (2b) in bringing the entire Rays infield to St. Louis (though Zobrist was labeled as an outfielder for selection purposes). The team is balanced from both sides of the plate, and the reserves have speed (Carl Crawford, Curtis Granderson), power (Morneau, Torii Hunter), average and on base percentage (Youkilis, Bartlett), and defense (Crawford, Granderson, Hunter, Youkilis). So what DOES this team need, and who will provide it?
The Players – The biggest shocker here is that Ian Kinsler, who led second basemen in voting nearly the entire way, was not selected as a reserve. Pedroia won the fan ballot in the final weekend, while Hill won the voting among players, managers, and coaches. Kinsler finished second in both areas, leaving him to rely on the fans to get selected. His 19 homers and 51 RBI are impressive, and he also has 16 steals, meaning he could be used in a variety of ways. Perhaps the greatest aspect of this AL team is the versatility, with Young, Zobrist, Hill, and even Youkilis able to play multiple positions. No one says versatility, though, like former everyman Figgins, who can play second, third, short, and all three outfield spots – perfect for your 25th (or in this case, 33rd) man. His stellar defense, .316 average, and 24 stolen bases don’t hurt either. Meanwhile there’s Pena, who as already stated leads the league in HR with 23, as well as runs (58) and walks (54). His presence on the bench as a late-game pinch hitter would be significant, especially with an all-right handed bullpen for the NL. Lind has been given a role in the field recently for Toronto, and he’s got good pop from the right side, while Inge is a gold-glove caliber third baseman with 18 homers and one other key aspect – he can serve as an emergency catcher.
The Verdict – This decision is much more difficult than the NL, as every player brings one unique aspect to the team. The already-present versatility on the AL roster means that the team can be a bit more choosy, but the player that best helps this team, with its current composition, is Brandon Inge. Sure, Pena has that homerun power and Kinsler is the best (and most worthy) overall selection, but Inge can make a difference late in the game defensively at third base, can vary his approach at the plate depending on if the team needs him to get on base or swing for the fences, and as I mentioned in the final point above – he can catch. After watching that 15-inning classic last season, I’m surprised both Manuel and Maddon each didn’t take a third catcher just to be safe, but here’s a chance for the AL to rectify that and have a fresh body for extra innings, if it gets to that point.
Last week’s answer: The 2001 Atlanta Braves, with a 40-41 record, were the last team to win a division with a sub-.500 record at home.
2009 Playoff “Dead List”
This week, watch for…
Look for my column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday for the UltimateCapper
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