According to the numbers, Pablo Sandoval deserves to be an All-Star. If not for Charlie Manuel’s slight favor to Ryan Howard, Sandoval would have made the roster.
As an unbiased baseball writer, I cannot tell you that Shane Victorino deserves to be in the Midsummer Classic more than the Giants portly third baseman does, but there is no denying that Victorino has had a first half worthy of winning the final vote.
Simply put, Victorino is having the best season of his young career. He is experiencing career highs in on-base percentage (.369) and slugging percentage (.464.) He is on pace to set career marks in runs and RBI, as well, even in a season where the hitter in front of him has struggled to get on base.
The most evident signs of Victorino’s development, however, are his walk and strikeout rates. The Flyin’ Hawaiian is walking more and striking out less than he ever has, two necessities for a hitter in the two-hole. As a result of getting on base more in front of the power-packed middle of the Phillies lineup, Victorino has scored 60 runs, a number second to only Albert Pujols on the NL leader-board.
Not only has Victorino been putting the ball in play more than years past, but he has been making better contact. His line-drive percentage this season is 23%, by far his best figure since becoming a full-time starter. In 2008, it was 19%, and in 2007, it was 16.6%. Victorino has cut down on fly balls, too, going down from 36% in 2007-08, to 32% in ’09.
Think of the two things we always clamor for Jimmy Rollins to do – walk more and hit fewer balls in the air. Well, Victorino has indeed recognized the importance of plate discipline and putting the ball on the ground in order to utilize his blazing speed. He has 12 infield hits this season and is on pace to beat last year’s mark of 23. Victorino has improved his patience and the type of contact he makes every year. You can’t ask for much more than that.
In addition to improving every aspect of his game at the plate, Victorino is, as usual, playing tremendous defense. He is a vacuum in center field, always closing quickly on balls hit to the gaps and preventing singles from turning into doubles because of his speed. This is evidenced by his zone rating of 11.29%, tops among major-league center fielders. Zone rating represents the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his specific defensive zone. In Victorino’s case, he has the highest ZR in the most expansive zone on the field. The next highest center fielder is Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox, who’s zone rating is 10.89%.
All of these numbers are those of an All-Star center fielder. Victorino doesn’t have the sexy power numbers that Pablo Sandoval has, but he would be much more valuable to the NL All-Star team than Sandoval. Victorino could be a great late-inning pinch-runner/defensive replacement, and if this game really “counts,” he adds more to the team than a hard-hitting, weak-fielding corner infielder.
The All-Star game determines home-field advantage in the World Series, so we should be putting homers and RBI aside in favor of what’s best for the team.
In this case, that would be Shane Victorino.