All-Star Watch: National League
Catcher – Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies
NL catcher was among the most difficult decisions this month, with worthy candidates all over the diamond, but Ruiz is the best choice. Having always been known as an excellent defensive catcher and pitch caller, Ruiz has really blossomed with the bat this season. He leads NL catchers in the following categories: OPS (1.016), batting average (.368), slugging (.600), and is tied for the lead in homers with 8. His offense has buoyed the Phillies during the absences of the team’s two big stars, and has kept the team in the division race.
Runner-up: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
1st Base – Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
It was only a matter of time before the best 1st baseman in the NL took over the top spot, and Votto was able to do so with a torrid May where he hit .355/. 476/.677. Votto has an astonishing 22 doubles so far this season, which could put him on pace to break the all- time single-season record held by Earl Webb, who hit 67 for Boston in 1931. If Votto keeps up his current rate, he could hit over 70 doubles in 2012, 10 more than any other player from the modern era.
Runner-up: Bryan LaHair, Chicago Cubs
2nd Base – Omar Infante, Miami Marlins
This was another difficult choice, with 3 quality players standing out above the rest: Jose Altuve, Omar Infante, and Dan Uggla. I decided to go with Infante, who has the best OPS (.877), 2nd best batting average (.317), and best slugging percentage (.508). He also has 7 steals in 8 attempts, which ranks 2nd in the NL to Altuve. Infante was crucial in helping the Marlins to a 20 win month of May, displaying his plus speed, power, and defense.
Runner-up: Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves
3rd Base – David Wright, New York Mets
Wright ranks as the 3rd best player in the National League in terms of WAR at 2.9 this season, so its no surprise to seem him as the best choice for the All-Star team. He’s been crushing the ball to the tune of a .361/.464/.574 line, walking 6 more times than he has struck out, while hitting 6 homers and 19 doubles. He also leads all 3rd basemen in the NL in runs scored with 32 this season, and has done a solid job leading the Mets into playoff contention.
Runner-up: David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals
Shortstop – Rafael Furcal, St. Louis Cardinals
The National League pool of shortstops is not nearly as deep as in the AL, but Furcal has ranked among the best in either league. He leads NL shortstops in OPS (.807), batting average (.316), and hits (68). Furcal has also been a sparkplug on the base paths for the Cardinals, nabbing 9 bases in 11 attempts. He was acquired for a sack of potatoes and a moldy shoe at the trade deadline by St. Louis, a move that is still paying off for John Mozeliak, one of the sharpest GMs in the game.
Runner-up: Jed Lowrie, Houston Astros
Outfield – Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
Carlos Gonzalez has probably been the best NL outfielder this season, accruing the most bases in the National League and scoring the most runs. His batting line is a superb .329/.393/.623 with 14 homers, 3 triples, and 13 doubles. Gonzalez is also a perfect 8-8 in steal attempts, and his isolated power, which measures a batter’s ability to get extra-base hits, is tops in the NL at .295. The only concern this season may be his home/road splits, because Gonzalez has been far more effective at Coors Field. He hits .126 points higher at home and his OPS drops over .400 points when he’s on the road. This is a trend that plagues most Colorado hitters, but Gonzalez is taking it to the extreme.
Outfield – Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
No player in baseball has to will his team to victory more than the Pirates talented centerfielder. McCutchen is the one bright, shining star in the galaxy of black holes known as the Pirate offense. The Pirates rank last in the National League in batting average, OBP, and 2nd to last in slugging despite McCutchen’s .337/.396/.565, 9 homers, 30 RBI, and 10 steals. The Pirates’ fluky 27-26 start feels more like last season’s mirage, rather than the sign of any real progress, but McCutchen’s season shouldn’t be ignored.
Outfield – Melky Cabrera, San Francisco Giants
As I wrote earlier, the Melk Man has been the biggest steal in the offseason in baseball. He leads the National League in hits and triples, with a .364/.406/.538 triple slash. His OBP is tops for all National League qualifiers, and his 9 steals provide some extra value on the base paths. Cabrera has always been a solid hitter, and despite already playing 6 full big league seasons, is just entering his age-27 season, when most hitters enter their prime. He was a .305 hitter a season ago, and in the more spacious AT&T Park in San Francisco, Melky is hitting better than ever before
Runners-up: This was, bar none, the most difficult position in all of baseball to decide from. In order to pick my players, I had to leave the following players, who are all having All-Star caliber seasons on the bench: Matt Kemp, who has been the best NL player hands down when healthy, Ryan Braun, the reigning NL MVP who’s having his 2011 season all over again (minus the runs scored), Giancarlo Stanton, who has been on fire over the last month to propel the Marlins to the top of the NL East, and Michael Bourne, who’s 15 steals and great defense have Atlanta playing better than .500 baseball.
Right-handed Pitcher – Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
While Brandon Beachy and James McDonald were appealing options, I decided to go with the NL strikeout leader. Gonzalez has been excellent in his first year in the National League, going 7-2 with a 2.31 ERA and 1.025 WHIP. He has allowed the fewest hits/9 in the NL (5.4), and is finally beginning to cut his walk rate (3.8). This has led to a career-best season out of Gonzalez, and paired when paired with Strasburg the two are the best 1-2 combo at the top of any rotation in baseball.
Runner-up: James McDonald, Pittsburgh Pirates
Left-handed Pitcher – Johan Santana, New York Mets
The most recent Mr. No-No, and the front-runner for comeback player of the year has also been the best lefty in the National League. Santana is 5th in WAR for pitchers (2.0) and in ERA (2.38), while ranking 8th in WHIP (1.029). Santana also leads all NL pitchers in shutouts and complete games with 2 apiece. While he may not be an elite strikeout pitcher like he was in Minnesota, Santana has found other ways to induce hitters into outs. By using his change-up to generate more groundballs by opposing hitters, the Mets ace has been able to work deep into games, allowing him to throw 68 innings already. This has been a special season for one of the hardest working players in baseball.
Runner-up: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Relief Pitcher: Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
The flame-throwing lefty has been absolutely brilliant coming out of the bullpen for the Reds this season, posting a 0.00 ERA in 28 innings, while striking out 50 major league hitters. His astronomical 16.1 K/9 rate is unheard of in the big leagues, and his control issues from previous seasons appear to be a thing of the past. Chapman has only walked 2.9 batters per 9 innings, down from the 7.4 a year ago, and the results have been tangible. He’s purely unhittable, and when he locates his pitches, opposing batters might as well take their 3 pitches and head back to the dugout. The only complaint is that the Reds still haven’t figured out that this guy should be in the rotation, where an extra 60 innings could be the difference between playing or just watching October baseball.
Runner-up: Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers