There's an obvious choice for an All-Star to represent the Diamondbacks. Paul Goldschmidt, the best first baseman in the major leagues. He's having a great season, batting .343 with 16 home-runs, and an OPS+ of 202. Let that sink in: 202. No qualifying major-leaguer has had a 200 OPS+ since 2004, and you have to hold your nose through the steroid era, and go back at least another decade before that to find a legitimate season. Goldie will be going to Great American Ball Park next month, if there's any justice, voted in as the starter for the NL at the position.
But having virtually as good a season, yet flying almost entirely under the radar, is A.J. Pollock. He's batting .324, owns an OPS+ of 134, has stolen 14 bases and plays stellar defense at a premium position. By bWAR, he has been the third most valuable outfielder in the major-leagues this season, notching three wins already: and when you only have Bryce Harper and Mike Trout ahead of you, you're doing pretty well for yourself. Yes, Pollock has been more valuable than Giancarlo Stanton. Joc Pederson, Justin Upton and Andrew McCutchen.
Yet, inexplicably, he isn't even in the top 15 outfielders to this point. He trails such stellar performances as Matt Kemp and his .641 OPS for the Padres - someone who has actually been worse than replacement level this season. Part of this is likely the result of the ridiculously early opening. While that made sense, to a certain extent, when there were still paper ballots to be counted, now it's entirely online, there is no real purpose to having voting open until the beginning of June. Anyone casting a ballot before that, is doing so based on rampant homerism and/or trivial sizes. Looking at the results thus far, both have been pandemic, as usual.
But it's the ongoing lack of attention being paid to Pollock that's particularly irritating. Maybe it's because he doesn't hit monstrous bombs, though with McCutchen and Pedersen the only NL center-fielders with more this season, it's not as if Pollock is some slap-hitter with an empty .300 average. Defense, perhaps Pollock's greatest skill, is certainly something that's under-rated, because the truly good outfielders make the difficult plays look routine or even ridiculously easy. Those don't show up on SportsCenter, which values banging into walls and flying through the air, far more than reading the ball and getting a good first jump.
Certainly, not playing in a major market hurts. Here's a stat for you. Since the start of 2014, Mike Trout has 11.3 bWAR in 945 plate-appearances, which works out at an average of 7.2 per 600 PA. Pollock missed a significant chunk of last time after having his hand broken by a pitch [we lost him and Goldie the same way last season; no wonder we're a bit aggrieved by such things...], so has only 515 PA in that time, but has still put up 7.0 bWAR. That's a rate of 8.2 wins per 600 PA. In other words, From the beginning of 2014 to now, and allowing for playing-time, A.J. Pollock has been more valuable than Mike Trout.
Pollock is hardly any less the complete player than Trout at the present time. A.J's average over that time is better (.312 vs. .286) and Pollock's .499 SLG is behind only two qualifying CF (McCutchen and Trout). Despite having significantly less playing time, he has more stolen bases than Trout (28-24) and twice as many outfield assists (12-6). Obviously, Trout is an absolute phemom for his age; Pollock spent his 23-year-old season in Double-A, rather than the majors; and Trout may not, scarily, have reached his ceiling yet. However, the All-Star Game is not about ceilings, it's about honoring the best, and Pollock is certainly there right now, whether sustainably or not.
This isn't just my rampant homerism, either. Over on Beyond the Box Score, (the probably more neutral!) Joe Vasile wrote that Pollock "has very quietly been one of the best centerfielders in the game over the past two years", and wonders, along the same lines as I have done, "How is he not on the tip of everyone’s tongue as one of the elite players in baseball?" He concludes that "A small market, lousy teams and his 2014 being cut short owing to injury have kept him more anonymous than he should be."
Certainly, A.J. has basically no chance of making it in through the popular vote and that's a shame. He's loved by Arizona fans, and even on the SnakePit, in just the past week we have seen both preston.salisbury and freeland1787 deliver their "for your consideration" pieces, touting Pollock's merits. Unfortunately,, like many of the best sermons, it's more or less preaching to the choir, though I'm surprised the team has apparently had much more of a campaign to #VoteGoldy than #VotePollock, when Goldschmidt has the advantage of far higher national recognition, and certainly appears to need the help a great deal less.
The three remaining options are player voting, where players get to choose a backup at each position. Assuming Harper, Matt Holiday and Stanton retain their current positions, it will be interesting to see who the players pick. McCutchen, despite a down season, is perhaps the most likely center fielder, though perhaps they'll also buy into the hype and reward Pederson for his hundred major-league games. Beyond that, we would really be looking at Bruce Bochy choosing him as a manager's selection. That is likely his best bet: as the manager of a divisional rival, he should be familiar with Pollock. A good series for A.J. next weekend in San Francisco would be helpful!
Arizona has been blessed with some great center-fielders over the years, in particular Steve Finley, who won 2.64 Gold Gloves here [partial credit for the one won in the season during which he was traded!], and Chris Young, who both appeared in the All-Star game while here. But Pollock is the first everyday center fielder we've had who was drafted by Arizona, and came up through our farm system. There's something particularly appealing about seeing home-grown players make it to the All-Star Game, and if Pollock makes it, alongside Goldschmidt, it will be a thoroughly well-deserved achievement for a player who has impressed in all facets of the game this season.
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