So I thought it would be a good time to look at the progress of the balloting and some of the oddities/surprises/huge mistakes therein. I'll probably do the National League tomorrow unless something more interesting comes up, but MLB.com's latest AL update came out today, and the NL has been getting all the attention anyway, what with the Manny thing and the Brewers thing and the Milledge thing, so we'll stick with the American League for today. My geekily opaque stat of choice today will be WAR, as seen on FanGraphs, through the games of June 1.
1. Ranger Dominance.
The story of the AL ballot is usually Yankees and Red Sox fans using their numbers to bully everybody else out of the game, but it looks to me like the Rangers might be doing their best Brewers impression and stuffing the box this year (or have just had more home games this month than anybody else; I'm not going to bother to check). "Only" two Rangers would start if the voting ended today--the unquestionably deserving Ian Kinsler (2.5 WAR) and the less-deserving Josh Hamilton (0.9 WAR)--but a Ranger is in the top 5 at every position, including Chris Davis (fabulous first-base D but a .194 AV and .253 OBP; -0.2 WAR), rookie shortstop Elvis Andrus (1.2 WAR thanks mostly to great D) and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (0.5 WAR). And Nelson Cruz (who it should be said as a much stronger claim to a spot than Hamilton) is also among the top 10 outfielders. I expect they'll slide back in several areas--Michael Young is in a distant second at 3B behind Longoria, for instance, and I'm sure the Right Coasters will make sure Lowell and A-Rod pass him up soon enough--but it's kind of ludicrous right now.
2. Derek Jeter
I get that the All-Star game is supposed to be about who the fans want to see, and I'm generally for rewarding players for longer-term performance than just the first half of this season. But Jeter (2.0 WAR), who is enjoying a very nice bounceback year from a down-for-him 2008, currently has 2 1/2 times more votes than any other shortstop, including Jason Bartlett (.373/.418/.596, 2.7 WAR) and Marco Scutaro (.305/.408/.457, 2.5 WAR). Both those guys are having a fluky couple of months, and I'd rather see the first-ballot Hall of Famer than the scrubs that happened to get off to hot starts. But I also think that the voting should be closer than 2.5:1. Jeter is a very close second behind Longoria for the most votes in the AL, and it's hard to argue that he's earned that.
3. Ken Griffey Jr.
I know I just said I'm all for honoring players for their great careers and everything, but haven't we already done all that with Junior? He's just 30,000 votes behind teammate (and currently vastly superior player) Ichiro! for the third starting position among outfielders. At least when he was getting voted onto the team in Cincinnati, he was actually playing in the outfield when he was healthy enough to play. Now he's a full-time DH, with just 23 innings in the field so far, and he's hitting .208/.327/.362 (0.0 WAR). Look, Junior knows we love him, and there will be decades (God willing) for ceremonies and such after he retires. Let's leave him out of this one, though, 'kay?
Where did all those Japanese voters go? Ichiro is, as I said, in the third and final OF slot, but is much, much closer to 4th through 7th places (Griffey, Carl Crawford, Torii Hunter and Nick Markakis) than he is to 2nd place (Hamilton). Yet, he's having arguably the best year of his career, and he's been elected to start the All-Star game in each of his first eight seasons; to be left out of this one would be unfortunate and pretty ironic. His walk rate is down, and so are his steals, but he's hitting .352, and with more power (5 HR; he's had 6 total in each of the last two years, and his career high is 15). He's playing his usual stellar defense, and has a 1.8 WAR, better than both Hamilton and the current leader, Jason Bay (1.5).
5. Adam Jones.
UZR doesn't like his fielding nearly as much as most human observers do (in fact, they say he's cost the team nearly five runs, which seems like a blip after being worth 10 runs last year), or else his WAR would be much higher than his current 1.9. His .344/.400/.608 offensive line ought to put him in regardless, however. He's a distant 10th in the outfield balloting. Another Oriole with a strong case is Nick Markakis, though WAR hates him because UZR says he's lost them ten fielding runs already (after saving 12 last year...what's up with the O's outfield?).
All in all, this is shaping up to be a better voting year than most; I'm not convinced that we're getting all the starters right, but (as long as Ichiro continues to hold Griffey at bay) there aren't any that I'd actually call "atrocities," either. Well, maybe Hamilton too, though at least he was still playing like an All-Star (more or less) in the second half of '08, if you want to credit him for that.
For the record:
I know, I said I'd rather see Jeter than Bartlett, but I know Jeter's going to win anyway (and I know Bartlett is on the DL, but he's just been that good), and I don't think I could ever actually bring myself to vote for Jeter.
I didn't even really mention Torii Hunter (2.2 WAR), but he's been phenomenal for an Angels team that really badly needed a hitter.
The hardest to leave off my ballot were Youkilis and Teixeira (both of whom have been about as valuable as Morneau...so all things equal, of course, I go with the Twin), and Carl Crawford (who has arguably been just a little better than Ichiro, but I have to go with career value there).
Nelson Cruz is actually the best OF in the league according to WAR (2.4), but a lot of that comes from his 7.6 UZR (meaning he'd save 22.9 runs per 150 games at that rate), and that's no more sustainable than Scutaro's OBP. He's good, but not that good.
So that's my ballot. What's yours?