"What are people thinking in this country?"
Tigers shortstop Carlos Guillen asked that just over a week ago, upon being informed that his teammate Magglio Ordonez was in seventh place among votes for American League All-Star outfielders. (He has since moved up to fifth in the balloting.) It's a damn good question, one we're always asking when initial vote totals are released - and most certainly when the All-Star teams are officially named in July, and we're lighting torches because someone got "snubbed."
And then the question of what the All-Star Game is really supposed to be comes up. Who should be in the game, the players the fans say they want to see or the ones who deserve to be there? Ideally, of course, each league's All-Star team would cover both sides of that equation. But it usually doesn't work out that way, and the exhibition is ultimately exposed for what it really is (and probably should be): a popularity contest.
But we don't really know what people are thinking in this country. Are fans voting for the players they're most familiar with? Is their vote based on what the players did last season? Are they voting for each player from their favorite team? Are they looking at the most recent statistical leaders and basing their preferences on those numbers?
I can tell you, however, what I'm thinking, as a baseball fan, and as a writer posting material to a blog devoted to a particular baseball team and the fan community that follows it. And maybe not that many people care, but I think more of us should do it. Because we're supposed to be different from the professionals who cover the sport, and have no problem wearing our caps and jerseys when writing about this stuff.
Or maybe I just want to do this because Joe Sheehan posted his AL and NL All-Star votes at Baseball Prospectus last week, and I thought it looked fun. Like Joe, I'll try to outline my criteria for voting. I don't necessarily vote for my favorite players. If so, Ichiro Suzuki would be one of my starting AL outfielders. And I don't always take last season's (or career) performances into consideration. I probably put far too much stock into what's happening now, and sometimes end up voting for players who happened to have had 8-10 great weeks at the beginning of the season.
And that's probably far too long an introduction for this sort of thing.
First Base: Justin Morneau - Twins
I don't really have a problem with David Ortiz leading the voting, though he plays very little first base for the Red Sox. But Morneau was last year's AL MVP (whether you think he should've been or not - and I would've voted for him) and has shown that 2006 was hardly a fluke.
Second Base: Placido Polanco - Tigers
See above. Polly gets his own post. (And I don't usually call him Polly.)
Third Base: Alex Rodriguez - Yankees
This is the easiest choice on the entire ballot.
Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta - Indians
I really want to vote for Carlos Guillen here, and that wouldn't be a homer pick. But Peralta has put up fantastic numbers for the Indians, picking up some of Travis Hafner's slack, and reminding us how highly regarded he was two years ago.
Catcher: Victor Martinez - Indians
I'm probably influenced by the perception that Martinez has seemingly hit every one of his 12 home runs against the Tigers. But he blows away his peers in almost every offensive category, and has improved his defensive performance, as well.
Outfield: Magglio Ordonez - Tigers, Vladimir Guerrero - Angels, Torii Hunter - Twins
If A-Rod is the #1 no-brainer on this ballot, Magglio is #2. Guerrero is having his own MVP-caliber season for the Angels. And though I really wanted to write Curtis Granderson in on my ballot, it's difficult to ignore what a great season Hunter is having for the Twins. If he's hitting free agency this off-season, his updated resume will be smokin' hot. He's putting up numbers across the board.
First Base: Prince Fielder - Brewers
I'm surprised how quickly I voted for Fielder with barely a thought about Pujols. Maybe I jsut take Pujols for granted at this point, so Fielder's numbers "pop" more. But they're really popping, man. Dude is just crushing the ball. Plus, he'll represent the Brewers' resurgence this year.
Second Base: Chase Utley - Phillies
Not a lot of competition here. I really like Brandon Phillips, and Dan Uggla's putting up good numbers, too. But everyone else falls in line behind Utley. He gets the nod for career performance.
Third Base: Miguel Cabrera - Marlins
Despite the weekend David Wright had against the Tigers, I'll go with the guy who's better in virtually every offensive category and has been doing it for a longer time. I think he'll have to try NutriSystem in the off-season if he wants to stay at 3rd base, though.
Shortstop: Jose Reyes - Mets
M-V-P! M-V-P! He didn't get much of a chance to show it this weekend at Comerica Park, but Reyes is a big reason why the Mets have the best record in the National League. About the only thing he's not doing is hitting home runs. So what?
Catcher: Russell Martin - Dodgers
I don't think Martin was considered one of the NL's elite catchers before the season, but he probably has to be on that list now. Not only is he hitting for power and driving in runs, but he also steals bases - something catchers are hardly ever known for. And if the Dodgers' pitching staff is fourth in the NL in both wins and ERA, shouldn't their catcher get some credit for that?
Outfield: Carlos Lee - Astros, Matt Holliday - Rockies, Ken Griffey, Jr. - Reds
I don't know if it's because not as many people watch the Rockies, or there's still a perception that players put up inflated numbers in Coors Field, but Holliday is having a quietly tremendous season. Lee is just a RBI machine. Maybe the Joe Carter of his generation. And raise your hand if you thought Griffey was done. I know my arm's up. It's too bad the Reds aren't playing better to bring his numbers more attention.
Of course, I don't just fill out one ballot at the ballpark or online. There's more than a few for which I voted all Detroit Tigers. And another batch in which I opted for other choices like Grady Sizemore and the aforementioned Mr. Granderson. But if I only had one ballot and one vote, this would be it. And I'd love to see these teams play each other on July 10 in San Francisco.