I’m further breaking up my “what happened in baseball during that year” posts to create another post that I’ll do for each year. This was the bottom part of my “statistics” post in the past – where I pick my own opinion of the All-star team and compare that to the silver slugger winners. Why am I breaking it up into an extra post? Frankly – this post has always taken too damn long to write! I was getting stuck whenever I got to my year-end posts – I was doing a season re-cap, a Reds re-cap, and a statistics post. The recaps and statistics posts are very long – and both have natural breaks. I always finish the season re-caps with what happened in the postseason, so I can break that up between the regular season and playoffs. And the statistics posts always end with my All-Star team. This seemed like a good way to break this one up, too. Breaking this up into 5 posts makes it a bit more manageable – both to write and probably to read. And, it gives me a little better incentive to keep moving forward. It’s rewarding when you finish posts – but when you get stuck, it’s the opposite!
Here’s a reminder of the premise of my All-Star selections – I pick my opinion of the best player at each position in each league. For pitchers, I pick 3 starters and 1 reliever. At first, I wasn’t including DH in the American League – a really good DH could bump an outfielder or first baseman if he was good enough and played some games there – but I just am not a fan of the position. Around 1992 or so it just became too difficult to keep them out – there were times where I would have been leaving someone who was a top-3 player off the roster!
Anyways, without further ado, here’s the 1996 version:
My NL All-Stars: C – Mike Piazza, LAD (.336/36/105)
1B – Jeff Bagwell, HOU (.315/31/110, 48 2B)
2B – Craig Biggio, HOU (.288/15/75)
3B – Ken Caminiti, SDP (.326/40/130, MVP)
SS – Barry Larkin, CIN (.298/33/89, 36 SB)
OF – Barry Bonds, SFG (.308/42/129, 151 BB, .461 OBP, 40 SB)
OF – Gary Sheffield, FLA (.314/42/120, 142 BB .465 OBP)
SP – John Smoltz, ATL (24-8/2.94/276, 253.2 IP, Cy Young)
SP – Kevin Brown, FLA (17-11/1.89/159)
SP – Greg Maddux, ATL (15-11/2.72/172)
RP – Trevor Hoffman, SDP (9-5/2.25/111, 42 SV)
First base was the tough decision – Bagwell actually had an incredible year, but Galarraga had better numbers on the surface. He smashed 47 homers and had an incredible 150 RBI. But if you look at the splits, it’s really hard to argue for Galarraga. First off, even counting his Coors numbers, Bagwell had an OBP of nearly 100 points higher – that’s tough to overcome. But, if you look at the Big Cat’s road splits – he hit 15 homers, 47 RBI and 75 hits (not bad – but not near from Bagwell’s numbers), but hit under .250 and had an OBP of .290 (bad – that’s minor league All-Star caliber). I don’t think you just double his road splits – he still had a very good year. But after looking the numbers over, I actually don’t think it’s much of a debate.
The Big Cat’s teammate was in a much closer race for the always difficult 3rd outfield spot. Bonds, with the 2nd 40-40 season ever, was clearly above the rest. Sheff was a pretty easy 2nd spot – I’d have voted Bonds the MVP, with Sheffield close behind. I think it’s easy that they should be in. And on the surface, Burks is right up with them – maybe even better – but that Coors effect has to be looked at. And 1996 was probably the peak of Coors – the average game had 15 runs scored in it whereas the average everywhere else in the NL was under 9. Aside from those 3 guys, 2 Mets were very good – Bernard Gilkey (30 HR / 117 RBI) and Lance Johnson (21 Triples, 227 Hits and 50 steals). But Burks was just too good in 1996. Unlike Galarraga – he had a very good batting average and OBP. And that average and on-base was really good away from Coors. His OBP (.367) and SLG (.535) away from Coors were certainly at an All-Star level. And he was phenomenal in Denver – I don’t think just because it was Coors either – so I’d consider some benefit he had from to Coors, but not that much. Altogether, he’s definitely ahead of Lance Johnson for that last spot on my team. I’d actually put him very close with Sheffield and Bagwell for the 2nd best player in the league in 1996.
Kevin Brown was the only thing keeping the Braves from having all of the top 3 pitchers – though he and Smoltz were the clear top 2 in my mind. Maddux and Glavine were both very good, especially considering the offensive output of the 1996 season. I’d love to give Jeff Brantley the selection – he did win the Rolaids Relief Award – but Hoffman was dominant.
My AL All-Stars: C – Ivan Rodriguez, TEX (.300/19/86)
1B – Mark McGwire, OAK (.312/52/113, .467 OBP, .730 SLG)
2B – Chuck Knoblauch, MIN (.341/13/72, 45 SB, 140 R, 14 3B)
3B – Jim Thome, CLE (.311/38/116)
SS – Alex Rodriguez, SEA (.358/36/123, 215 H, 54 2B, 141 R)
OF – Ken Griffey Jr., SEA (.303/49/140, .690 SLG, 121 R, 52 2B)
OF – Albert Belle, CLE (.311/48/148, 124 R)
OF – Brady Anderson, BAL (.297/50/110, 21 SB)
DH – Edgar Martinez, SEA (.327/26/103, 121 R)
SP – Pat Hentgen, TOR (20-10/3.22/177, 265.2 IP, 10 CG, 3 SHO, Cy Young)
SP – Charles Nagy, CLE (17-5/3.41/167)
SP – Alex Fernandez, CHW (16-10/3.45/200)
RP – Mariano Rivera, NYY (8-3/2.09/130, 5 SV, 26 Holds)
Roberto Alomar was very close, but Knoblauch was just a little better. It’s very close, though. First base was a complete logjam. McGwire, Mo Vaughn, Frank Thomas and Rafael Palmeiro all had excellent seasons. Vaughn and McGwire both played some DH, but not enough I’d feel OK counting them as that position. I went with McGwire – who was about to go on a historic home run spree over the next 5 years – as my top pick, though I’d have taken any of those other guys over Edgar if they had played some more DH. Paul Molitor was also pretty good at DH – he led the league in hits – but not quite as good as Martinez.
Interestingly, I left league MVP Juan Gonzalez off the team. He had some pretty ridiculous numbers – 47 homers 144 RBI – and beat out A-Rod in a really close race. But Griffey, A-Rod and Albert Belle were all much better than him, and in the outfield, Anderson was still a little better than him, too. I’d even put Kenny Lofton above him. I can’t remember why – but Griffey missed a little over 3 weeks in late June / early July in 1996 – if not for that, he’d have likely hit 55 homers and would probably have been the league’s MVP.
The 3rd pitcher spot was a tight race – despite going 10-13, Roger Clemens actually had a really good case to be ahead of Fernandez. Andy Pettitte was the Cy Young runner-up and was pretty good, too. Also interesting – Wetteland was the Yankees closer and was the best closer in the game. But Rivera was the best reliever in the game in 1996.
NL Silver Slugger: C – Piazza, 1B – Andres Galarraga (.304/47/150), 2B - Eric Young (.324/8/74, 53 SB), 3B – Caminiti, SS – Larkin, OF – Bonds, Sheffield, Burks, P – Glavine ATL (.289/0/3)
The Coors Field guys got some big time love in the Silver Slugger Awards but not in the MVP voting. I made my case about Galarraga above – the reasoning isn’t the same for Eric Young, but it’s still a bad pick in my mind. Biggio was actually about as close to being the best player in baseball than he was to the 2nd best player at his position.
AL Silver Sluggers: C – Rodriguez, 1B – McGwire, 2B – Robert Alomar (.328/22/94, 132 R), 3B – Thome, SS – Rodriguez, OF – Belle, Griffey, Juan Gonzalez (.317/47/144), DH – Paul Molitor (.341/9/113, 225 H)
Looking at Alomar’s numbers again made me really think about picking Knoblauch above – because Alomar won the Gold Glove, too and is generally considered one of the better defensive 2nd basemen of the time. But I’m still staying with Knoblauch – their slugging was about the same but he had an OBP nearly 40 points higher. I made my case about Gonzalez above – and, like I said, Molitor definitely had a good year. But Edgar Martinez was just much better.