By Jonah Keri
Special to Page 2
I can't understand why people get so worked up about Major League Baseball's All-Star selections. When home park attendance and how often a team appears on TV are the two most important selection criteria, you're bound to get plenty of horrendous snubs and shaky selections. Throw in the rule that requires one representative per team, and it's no wonder studs such as Travis Hafner, Nomar Garciaparra and Francisco Liriano are on the outside looking in.
If you want players who truly have earned their selections, look no further than the No-Stars Team. To be a No-Star, it helps to be just plain bad. But special circumstances are considered. Overrated players are always welcome on the squad. Players who double as a financial burden to their team get bonus points. And if a player can somehow be bad, overrated, overpaid and a first-class jerk … we slap a "C" on his chest and call him Captain of the No-Stars.
(Double-slash numbers are batting average/on-base percentage/slugging average.)
C: Brad Ausmus, Astros (.246/.315/.311)
In a recent poll on the most overrated players in baseball, Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez were the biggest vote-getters. The problem is, those guys are actually good. Eyeball any Astros broadcast or game report and there's a good chance you'll see heaps of praise bestowed on Ausmus. During the recent Clemens-Liriano showdown on ESPN, the gushing over Ausmus' supposed attributes reached a fever pitch. He's smart, calls a great game, is a team leader and in his spare time cures chronic halitosis, we were told. A baseball researcher named Sherri Nichols once observed that catchers who are lousy hitters often develop reputations as great defensive players and great game callers -- otherwise, why would teams keep putting them in the lineup? But studies by Keith Woolner of Baseball Prospectus show that catchers don't have the ability to lower pitchers' ERA over their careers. Meanwhile, Ausmus is polluting the Astros' lineup yet again this season.
Runners-up: Los Dos Molinas, Yadier (.222/.270/.316) y Jose (.212/.256/.297)
1B: Richie Sexson, Mariners (.227/.297/.427)
He's starting to come around a bit lately, but the horrendous starts by Sexson and Adrian Beltre set the Mariners way back before their recent hot streak hoisted them back into the race. Sexson's 15 homers and 58 RBI look pretty, but his overall line begs for more singles and walks to go with those jacks. In the second year of a four-year, $50 million contract, Sexson's the highest-paid No-Star, and another example of the folly of giving first basemen multiyear free-agent contracts (see Vaughn, Mo; Bagwell, Jeff; Young, Kevin; et al).
Runner-up: Travis Lee (.203/.282/.299)
2B: Adam Kennedy, Angels (.257/.315/.357)
This was a tough one because no second basemen have been truly atrocious this year. Kennedy gets the nod in part because of his offensive struggles. But he gets extra credit for the way the Angels have totally botched his situation. Even accounting for the high-offense environment of Salt Lake City and the Pacific Coast League doesn't explain away top second-base prospect Howie Kendrick's hitting .384 with power and speed, completely dominating the league. However, Kendrick saw only brief action earlier this year, making a few spot starts instead of getting a clean shot at second ahead of uninspiring Kennedy. Now, Kennedy's a lame-duck player less than three months from free agency, Kendrick's rotting in Triple-A and the Angels' offense is going to pot. Of course, this is the same team that chose to demote Jered Weaver and keep his brother Jeff, after Jered went 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA in four starts with the big club -- before finally coming to its senses last week. Kendrick is Jered. Kennedy is Jeff. It ain't rocket science.
Runner-up: Marcus Giles (.241/.332/.353) -- his power has completely and mysteriously disappeared.
SS: Clint Barmes, Rockies (.208/.246/.314)
Barmes' nosedive this year shows the dangers of getting excited over small sample sizes and of not accounting for park effects. Barmes hit .329 with eight homers in the first two months of 2005 before breaking his collarbone while trying to carry deer meat. He came back in September and slumped, but people saw the .289 average at the end of the year and remained bullish on Barmes' future. Big mistake. Barmes hit .332 at Coors Field and .239 on the road last year. His numbers this season are awful. A .208 average with little power in one of the best hitters' parks in history deserves its own special place in No-Star lore.
Runner-up: Angel Berroa (.239/.262/.331) -- K.C. Royal, 'nuff said.
3B Vinny Castilla, Padres (.236/.266/.332)
Quick, guess who led the National League in RBI in 2004? That's right, it was Castilla, a Coors Field creation if there ever was one. The Padres made it that much tougher on themselves this offseason by settling for aging Castilla at third base. Rarely an offensive threat outside of Colorado during his prime, Castilla is about to turn 39 and has brutal stats this season. That the Padres have held on to first place while trotting out that weak a bat is both a minor miracle and a reflection of the horrendous quality of play in the NL West.
Runner-up: Aaron Boone (.253/.317/.364) -- but he'll always have '03.
OF: Jeff Francoeur, Braves (.253/.272/.435)
I love roto as much as the next guy, but looking only at traditional fantasy stats can paint a misleading picture of a player. Francoeur ranks among the league leaders with 15 homers and 58 RBI. But he swings at everything, so he never walks. His doubles numbers are also way down. The result is a horrible on-base percentage and a below-average slugging percentage. Mario Mendoza -- the man for whom the Mendoza Line of a .200 batting average was named -- had a career on-base percentage just slightly lower, at .245, in a much weaker offensive era. Francoeur's bat has cost the Braves one full game in the standings compared with a replacement-level player -- a Triple-A lifer or waiver-wire quality talent. When you're less valuable than Adam Hyzdu, you have problems.
OF: Jeromy Burnitz, Pirates (.226/.274/.426)
In his first full major league season last year, Freddy Sanchez hit a promising .291. Craig Wilson missed most of the 2005 season but hit as well as ever when he played, posting a .387 OBP. Coming off a 95-loss season, the Pirates needed to give their young, cheap, talented players a clean shot. Instead, they spent $10 million on Joe Randa and Burnitz. Randa has been both injured and terrible; Burnitz has simply been terrible. It's not as if the Bucs couldn't see that coming -- Burnitz was a below-average player last year, and he's now one year closer to 40. Meanwhile, Sanchez is tearing up the league in place of Randa and Wilson is crushing the ball on the rare occasions when the Pirates let him play. Just another example of a team that equates signing bottom-of-the-barrel free agents to showing a commitment to the fans.
OF: Juan Pierre, Cubs (.260/.309/.336)
The man once considered an MVP candidate has been one of many causes of the Cubs' woes this year. Pierre exemplifies the dangers teams face when they sign players whose performance hinges largely on batting average. A few bloopers here, some line drives at people there, and batting average can fluctuate dramatically from year to year. Pierre's hitting .260 this year. Considering he has less power than Rey Ordoñez after a hunger strike, that's not going to get it done.
Runner-up: Craig Monroe (.241/.276/.433) -- one of only two disappointments on a loaded, balanced Tigers team.
DH Carl Everett, Mariners (.238/.315/.383)
When a team throws away $4 million in guaranteed money on a washed-up hitter who can't catch the ball anymore, that's one thing. But it takes a special kind of incompetence for a player to be so bad he prompts his team to make another bad move to cover for the first one. Then again, Everett is a special kind of guy. The man once charged with abusing his own children and famously denying the existence of dinosaurs has been equally vexing and perplexing on the field this season. Everett's performance places him at the bottom of the heap among designated hitters. After watching Jurassic Carl flail to a .179 average against lefties this year, the team made a rash move, trading prized prospect Asdrubal Cabrera for platoon man Eduardo Perez. Apparently an entire career of failing against lefties wasn't quite evidence enough for the Mariners … much like those "alleged" fossils.
Runner-up: NL counterpart bad-attitude, bad-performance champ Jose Guillen (.211/.270/.407)
SP Mark Redman, Royals (5-4, 5.59 ERA)
Years from now, he might be the answer to a trivia question: Who was the worst player ever to make an All-Star team? Redman turned the trick with a 5.59 ERA -- he's heading to Pittsburgh next week because every team needs one ambassador in the game. Denny Bautista, a talented but erratic pitcher almost seven years younger than Redman, put up a nearly identical 5.66 ERA in seven starts earlier this season. He was exiled to Omaha to "work on his mechanics." New Royals GM Dayton Moore needs to toss as much as he can overboard -- clueless manager Buddy Bell, half the starting lineup and many of the pitchers, including the $4.5 million man, Redman. Come on, contenders … surely someone wants an All-Star pitcher, right?
Runner-up: Mark Mulder -- 6.09 ERA, plunging strikeout rate, on the DL with shoulder problems … think the Cardinals would like to have Danny Haren and Kiko Calero back right about now, not to mention top prospect Daric Barton?
RP Todd Jones, Tigers (1-5, 6.00 ERA, 22 saves)
The other Tigers letdown. Jones' 22 saves can't hide his pathetic 6.00 ERA. With Jones' dead-ball era strikeout rate of less than three per nine innings and a repertoire of highly hittable stuff, his performance doesn't figure to improve much, either. Ironically, leaving Jones in the closer role hasn't hurt the Tigers much; in a way, it has helped them. Using more talented, more effective pitchers such as Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney, Jamie Walker and recently promoted Wil Ledezma in high-leverage situations in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings has been a boon to the Tigers' success. Jones might be awful this season, but even awful pitchers will convert a lot of save chances coming in with the bases empty, up two or three runs and needing just three outs to end it.
Runner-up: Jose Valverde -- whose ERA has skyrocketed to 8.22 this season, almost six(!) runs higher than last year.