Pujols vs. Berkman: 2008 NL 1B All-Star Vote

Pujols vs. Berkman: 2008 NL 1B All-Star Vote

The National League Central Division is the home of the best first basemen in MLB. Which one of them should get the starting nod in the 2008 All-Star Game?

There was a time not so long ago when one Barry Lamar Bonds was the yardstick against which all National League hitters were measured. The all-time home run champion was the league's Most Valuable Player seven times, including four consecutive seasons from 2001-2004.

In 2005, that mantle formally passed to Jose Alberto Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals, though some would argue it occurred a year or two too late. That season, the Cards' slugger took home his first MVP award after having finished among the leaders in the voting during each of his first four seasons in the major leagues – the same years in which Bonds brought home the iron his final four times.

An NL All-Star in each of his first seven seasons with the lone exception of his sophomore year in 2002, Pujols is again among the favorites to anchor the NL squad in the 2008 Mid-Summer Classic. The 79th installment is scheduled July 15 at the (soon to be former) Yankee Stadium.

Yet, like every season, no player is a lock, with formidable competitors for the NL All-Star first base spot. Here are the first basemen selected in the league each year since Pujols' debut.

NL All-Stars – First Base – 2001-2007
(includes players replaced due to injury)

Year Starters Reserves
2007 Prince Fielder Albert Pujols, Dmitri Young, Derrek Lee
2006 Albert Pujols Lance Berkman, Nomar Garciaparra, Ryan Howard
2005 Derrek Lee none
Albert Pujols (DH)
2004 Albert Pujols Sean Casey, Todd Helton, Jim Thome
2003 Todd Helton Richie Sexson
Albert Pujols (LF)
2002 Todd Helton Richie Sexson
2001 Todd Helton Sean Casey, Ryan Klesko
Albert Pujols (3B)

During this time, Pujols had the most selections with six, two more than his closest competitor, Colorado's Todd Helton, though one was at designated hitter and the other in left field. Albert also leads in starts in this period with four. Helton had three, all at first base.

Player Selections Starts

Pujols

6

4

Helton

4

3

Lee

2

1

Casey

2

0

Sexson

2

0

7 others

1 each

0

Younger first base stars like the Philadelphia Phillies' Ryan Howard and Milwaukee Brewers Prince Fielder' are each aiming for their second career All-Star selection in 2008.

The reality is that each is going to have a very tough time cracking the NL roster, however.

In their favor is the fact that in each of the last two seasons, the squad representing the Senior Circuit had four players at the position. Yet, that is not a lock. In three other years during this period, only two NL first basemen were rostered.

This year, observers would have to agree that the top three first basemen in the NL and perhaps in all of MLB hail from the NL Central Division, a set of teams some consider to be inferior overall to their brethren from the other five divisions.

These three do not even include Fielder, the League's starter at the position just last summer, who is having a subpar season based on his standards, mirroring that of his disappointing, second-division Milwaukee Brewers club.

To no one's surprise, the big three are Pujols, Chicago's Derrek Lee and Houston's Lance Berkman.

Let's look at how the three stack up in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging this season, among all MLB first basemen as well as in the National League only.

2008 First Basemen
(data through May 22)

2008

Pujols

Berkman 

Lee

Average

0.351

0.388

0.301

NL rank

2

1

3

MLB rank

2

1

6

 

 

 

 

OBP

0.479

0.466

0.364

NL rank

1

2

7

MLB rank

1

2

12

 

 

 

 

SLG

0.602

0.770

0.549

NL rank

2

1

3

MLB rank

2

1

4

The data clearly shows that Berkman is having the superior 2008 season, not just in the NL Central or the League, but across all 30 teams in MLB. Pujols has the edge in on-base percentage and trails only Berkman in the other two categories among all first basemen.

Lee got out of the gates quickly, with a line through April of .364/.437/.682 that would have put him right up with the other two. To say the Cubs' first sacker has cooled in May is putting it mildly. This month, Lee's line is a shortstop-like .217/.261/.373, relegating him to a distant third in the season-to-date derby.

There's more!

We could end the discussion right there, as every Houston fan would prefer. Yet, I am not. Instead, I am continuing my long-standing, one-man crusade.

I firmly believe that the All-Star Game should not just recognize the first half of any given season.

Think about it. All of the successes earned on the field between last July and the end of the 2007 season in terms of All-Star consideration are as if they never happened – except for here, that is.

Taking another look at the stats of the MLB first basemen since summer's last All-Star Game paints a different picture when comparing Pujols and Berkman. As already noted above, consistency is Pujols' game. To that end, check out Albert's results between 1H08 above and his aggregate numbers since last July below.

Since '07 ASG

Pujols

Berkman 

Lee

Average

0.350

0.333

0.302

NL rank

1

2

4

MLB rank

1

2

6

 

 

 

 

OBP

0.462

0.417

0.377

NL rank

1

2

5

MLB rank

1

2

7

 

 

 

 

SLG

0.620

0.656

0.552

NL rank

2

1

4

MLB rank

2

1

4

More importantly, Pujols swapped places with Berkman in batting average, increased his lead in OBP and closed much of the gap between the two in SLG.

Using the criteria that I believe should be followed, Pujols should again be the starting first baseman for the National League in the All-Star Game, with Berkman as a reserve, not the other way around.

Given our society's "What have you done for me today?" mindset, I doubt many fans know, would take the time to find out or care what happened in the latter half of 2007. As a result, the masses probably aren't going to modify their voting behavior.

That's a crying shame, but at least now you know better.

NL All-Star manager Clint Hurdle, the skipper of last year's NL champion Colorado Rockies will receive a lot of help, but ultimately will be responsible for selection of seven of his eight positional player reserves. Hurdle should need no assistance in picking for his club the loser of the popular vote between Pujols and Berkman.

Yet those who know the whole story and are open-minded enough to consider all the information available to them know that despite Lance Berkman's hot start, Albert Pujols deserves to be the National League's starting All-Star first baseman.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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