If you spent last week in a World Series hangover, or caught up in the excitement of the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards, you may have missed news about the five-game series in Taiwan between a team of MLB “All-Stars” and the Taipei National Team.
The headlines give you the basics: the MLB team won all five games, most of which were fairly competitive. The players enjoyed the cross-cultural experience, as did the Taiwanese fans, particularly the children who participated in skills clinics with the likes of Pablo Sandoval. Here’s a taste of the atmosphere at the ballpark in Taipei.
But the headlines don’t tell the real story. We need to go behind the headlines to unlock the secrets of the All-Star Taiwan Series: just who are these players masquerading as MLB All-Stars.
In fairness, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and center fielder Curtis Granderson were All-Stars in 2011 and they headlined the MLB team in Taiwan, playing in all five games. Cano started four games at second and one as the designated hitter. Granderson did the same: four games in center and one as the DH.
Both lived up to their billing. Indeed, in the week when Cano and Granderson received Silver Slugger Awards, each did his share of slugging in Taiwan. Overall, Granderson was 5-for-17 including a double and a grand slam home run. Cano was even better, going 7-for-16 with two walks and a home run.
The other offensive heroes for the MLB “All-Stars”? Two members of the Florida (soon to be Miami) Marlins, including one player who was demoted to the minors two-thirds the way through the season. That’s right. Logan Morrison, the twitter-loving left fielder who spent a month in the Marlins minor-league system in late August and early September, transformed into an “All-Star” by November. And he acquitted himself well, going 5-for-11 with two doubles.
LoMo’s Marlins teammate, Emilio Bonifacio, had an even bigger series, with six hits in 12 at bats, including one double and a walk. As he did with the Marlins in 2011, Bonifacio played all over the field in Taiwan, logging time in right field, center field and second base. No shortshop, however, which was the position Bonifacio played most often for the Marlins after Hanley Ramirez suffered season-ending injuries.
Three players handled first base duties for All-Star manager Bruce Bochy: the Nationals’ Michael Morse, the Rockies’ Ty Wigginton, and Pablo Sandoval. The Kung-Fu Panda, as Sandoval is affectionately — and on this trip, appropriately — called, also started two games at third base and talked his manager into letting him play left field for one inning. Apparently Sandoval felt left out of all the fun Giants players had in left field in 2011. Wiggington played mostly third base for the Rockies, with a bit of time in the outfield. But that didn’t deter Bochy, who put Wiggington at second base in one game, a position he hadn’t played since 2010. At the plate, Morse went 5-for 12 with two doubles and one home run. Sandoval had two singles and one double in 10 at bats. Wiggington was 2-for-9 with one home run.
Ryan Roberts, who had a breakout year with the Diamondbacks, was Bochy’s jack-of-all-infield-trades in Taiwan, logging time at second base, third base and shortstop, a position he’d played for all of three innings in 2011. Perhaps the changes in the field affected Roberts at the plate, as he had only two hits in 11 at bats, with three walks.
The real star at shortstop for Bochy’s squad was American League Gold Glove winner Erick Aybar. Oh, you hadn’t heard that Aybar won the Gold Glove? Maybe you heard it but stuck your head in the sand after reminding yourself that Aybar had the 11th-best RZR for American League shortstops who logged at least 200 innings at the position in 2011. Aybar committed no errors and was helpful at the plate, getting three hits in 12 at bats with two walks. His three hits were two doubles and a triple.
Which brings us to the catchers. Yes, I know that Mike Napoli and Yadier Molina were a bit busy at the end of October. And Brian McCann needs rest to full recover from his oblique strain. Even A.J. Pierzynski was tied up doing commentary for FOX before and after World Series games.
But Bochy couldn’t find more capable catchers to represent MLB than Jeff Mathis, Drew Butera and Ronnie Paulino? Of the 50 major league catchers who had at least 150 at bats in 2011, Drew Butera ranked dead-last in wOBA (.202). Dead last. Mathis ranked 49th. So Paulino was an improvement, I guess. His wOBA for the season was .289, good for 33rd out of 50. Not surprisingly, these catchers combined to go 1-for-16 in the five-game series, with one walk.
The “All-Star” pitching staff was a veritable pantheon of “who the heck is that?” (Hat tip to Alton Brown of Food Network for the phrase “veritable pantheon”). The starters were led by the Orioles’ Jeremy Guthrie, who pitched twice in the short series, Dillon Gee of the Mets, the Nats’ Ross Detwiler and Felipe Paulino of the Royals. Yes, the Felipe Paulino who the Rockies essentially gave to the Royals in May for “cash considerations.”
Statistically speaking, the best pitchers on the “All-Star” squad were relievers LaTroy Hawkins of the Brewers, Ramon Ramirez of the Giants and Mark Melancon of the Astros, each of whom posted an xFIP below 3.50 in 2011. Ramirez and Melancon pitched well in Taiwan.
There you have it. The next time you feel the urge to complain about MLB superstars skipping the Mid-Summer Classic, just be thankful that the players in the actual All-Star Game are at least above replacement level.