It's that time of year again, when All Star balloting is in full swing and the starting rosters are becoming more and more clear. With the release of the most recent results, the ridiculousness of the process dawns on me yet again. However, I am not going to dwell on the relative merits of the voting system other than to say this: The game is for the fans, and given that managers have the ability to fill out rosters, deserving players are on the All Star team more often than not (Curtis Granderson's 2007 snub notwithstanding, thank you very much Jim Leyland).
Sitting at 14th place, Curtis is unlikely to be voted on to the team, nor does he seem to deserve to. What is more interesting to explore is whether he deserves to be on the team at all. I'll take a semi-analytical approach to this, using the available data. As of this sentence, I am conflicted as to whether Curtis deserves to be on the team--hopefully the data will help push me in one direction or the other.
Based on 2008 All Star Game rosters, approximately 7 outfielders will make the team. The current top 15 vote-getting outfielders are listed as follows. How does Curtis compare?
1. Jason Bay
2. Josh Hamilton
3. Ichiro Suzuki
4. Carl Crawford
5. Torii Hunter
6. Ken Griffey Jr.
7. Nelson Cruz
8. Johnny Damon
9. Adam Jones
10. Jacoby Ellsbury
11. Nick Markakis
12. J.D. Drew
13. Grady Sizemore
14. Curtis Granderson
15. Bobby Abreu
When you think All Star, you think offense. It is the glamour number, easy to quantify and compare. People recognize excellent defense, but rarely does a defensive whiz make an All Star team without impressive batting numbers. Meanwhile, highly suspect defenders frequently make the midsummer classic despite being defensive liabilities. In the interest of sparing people's feelings, I won't name names.
Oh, the averages. The numbers that show your consistency, your well-roundedness and your ability to get on base and score. There is no prestige in baseball like being a .300 hitter, and despite its somewhat antiquated use, it still has a better ring to it than being a .900 OPSer. There are three averages worth paying attention to:
Batting Average: Curtis checks in with a paltry .257 batting average, well below his historical averages. This is attributable to a horrendous start to the season, during which time he frequently flirted with the Mendoza line. Recent improvement has been sporadic, as he hit .270 just last week before dropping back down. Among AL Outfielders with 150 at bats, Curtis Ranks 26th.
On-Base Percentage: Curtis sports a .336 On-Base Percentage, which isn't bad considering his low average. Still, he sticks at 26th among AL Outfielders with 150 at bats.
OPS: This wonderfully pure measure of a hitter's power and ability to get on base is a bit kinder to Curtis. He sits at 18th.
As expected, the Averages are Curtis' downfall so far and are clearly sub-All Star caliber. The question is, has the rest of his game been strong enough to bump him into that elite Top 7?
We're talking about the numbers that bring home the hardware. Home Runs, Extra Base Hits, RBIs. The money numbers.
Home Runs: The number that everyone oohs and ahhs about, Curtis ranks 5th among AL Outfielders with 14 Home Runs.
Extra Base Hits: Those Home Runs have come at a price however--what used to be doubles and triples have been going out of the park. Curtis is 14th in Extra Base Hits.
RBIs: Batting Leadoff for the majority of the season doesn't help here, but moving to 5th in the order has. Curtis' 33 RBIs are good for 10th among AL Outfielders. For what its worth, Jason Bay towers above the field with 63.
The last offensive hope, Curtis is tied for 12th in Stolen Bases, checking in with 10.
Hmm...That doesn't look very promising, does it? Curtis only falls into the Top 10 in two statistical categories (HR, RBI), which does not bode well. Even fancy pants statistics don't help him much. Fangraphs lists Curtis Granderson at 20th among AL Outfielders in offensive production. Perhaps his defense can redeem him?
Defensive statistics are rough, to say the least, but the best metric that we have is provided by fangraphs once again. Granderson is ranked the #7 AL Outfielder defensively, behind the likes of Ichiro, Nelson Cruz and Juan Rivera as the players with legitimate All Star claims.
Fortunately for Curtis, and not unexpectedly, many of the big hitters have been pretty weak in the field so far this year. When you factor in both offense and defense and positional factors, Curtis looks much better. He is ranked 5th in Wins Above Replacement player.
For those of you who say, "that's a bunch of sabermetric hooey," Here's your top ten, in order:
1. Nelson Cruz
2. Torii Hunter
3. Carl Crawford
5. Curtis Granderson
6. Jason Bay
7. Juan Rivera
8. Adam Lind
9. Shin-Soo Choo
10. Matt Holliday
I don't see too many glaring omissions there, do you?
And herein lies the problem. Traditional Offense is weighted too heavily, and defense not enough. The value of players like Granderson, Choo and Cruz is elevated when the player is viewed as a whole. I would argue that you could justify the inclusion of any one of these 10 players on the All Star team, based on the seasons that they're having. Adam Jones and Nick Markakis would likely have a gripe with this, as would Swisher, Abreu, Drew and Damon. Still, shouldn't All Star teams recognize the best players in the game?
That brings us back around to it: Is Curtis Granderson an All Star?
So, is he?
My heart says yes, but right now, the answer is no. Home Runs and spectacular defense notwithstanding, he has not been a difference maker offensively, hasn't carried the Tigers' weak offense to key victories and has had a few too many 0-fers for my liking. That said, this doesn't mean that Granderson can't be an All Star. I think that he has played tremendously well on the defensive end and has been strong offensively, just not as stong as some of his AL brethren.
In my opinion, if he can bump that batting average from .257 to .270, that alone should be enough. If he gets to .280 he should be a shoe-in. I hate to simplify everything down to batting average, but the proof is in the pudding. The HR power is there, as is the speed and he's never been much of an RBI guy. His faults lie within the percentages and boosting those will give him the well rounded resume that will allow him to jump past some players with more gaudy numbers.