Votebook: Plenty of big bashers at first base

Votebook: Plenty of big bashers at first base

The All-Star Game voting process can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be. If your allegiance is strictly to your favorite team, then the clicks or punches it takes to make your voice heard take mere seconds.

But if you're a particularly discerning voter whose choices are the byproduct of the study of statistics, then voting is more of a deliberate process. And first base is, traditionally, the place with the most meat on the bone.

That's because first base tends to be the position that fulfills our most basic All-Star instincts. Sure, we appreciate the Gold Glove winners and the premier pitchers, but, by and large, we gravitate toward the big bashers. The sultans of swat receive a lot of votes, and 2011 has already given us plenty of choices to consider when casting ballots.

The 2011 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Sprint is available online until 11:59 p.m. ET on June 30. The American and National League rosters will be unveiled on July 3 during the 2011 MLB All-Star Game Selection Show on TBS, and the game will take place July 12 at Phoenix's Chase Field.

Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols has, rightfully, dominated the NL tallies at first base in recent years. The fans have elected Pujols to start in four of the past seven and each of the past two Midsummer Classics. But Pujols' uncharacteristically human start to the season has perhaps opened the door for reigning NL MVP Joey Votto of the Reds, robust run-producer Ryan Howard of the Phillies or Brewers free-agent-to-be Prince Fielder to swipe the starting spot.

The AL is just as deep. What Detroit's Miguel Cabrera has done can't be discounted, especially given that nobody seems willing to pitch to him, but you can't ignore the likes of New York's Mark Teixeira, Chicago's Paul Konerko and Boston's Adrian Gonzalez, either.

So it is, as usual, a crowded field. And those who take their votes seriously have much to consider when doing their homework.

Out of respect, you have to start with Pujols, who is generally regarded as the class of all position players, let alone first basemen. His April was abnormal, by his own gargantuan standards, and yet he remained potent in the power (seven homers) and run-production (18 RBIs) departments.

Still, Pujols entered the week ranking eighth among all qualifying NL first basemen in OPS, with a .743 mark. He was batting .248 with a .322 on-base percentage.

"He's getting closer," manager Tony La Russa told reporters last week, "but I never believe he's that far away."

Indeed, few would bet against Pujols finding his master stroke, but will his slow start hurt him in the vote tallies?

If it does, then you'd better believe Votto will be there to scoop up some of them.

Votto emerged into the mass public consciousness last year, when he beat out Pujols in the MVP voting and his Reds edged Pujols' Cardinals in the NL Central standings. So perhaps this will be the year when Votto's popularity takes that next, natural leap, with an All-Star starting nod.

Already, Votto has proven his 2010 season was no fluke, as he's begun 2011 by batting .333 with a 1.005 OPS (tops among NL first basemen), five homers, eight doubles and 18 RBIs. His underrated on-base streak of 33 games came to a close on Sunday.

You don't have to leave the NL Central to find another prime first-base ballot option in Fielder, who had hit .283 with seven homers, nine doubles, 27 RBIs, a .368 on-base percentage and a .535 slugging percentage.

Shifting outside the Central, Howard has been the most effective run-producing first baseman in baseball thus far, cranking out 30 RBIs in his first 127 at-bats to go with seven homers. He was batting .268 with an .842 OPS. Another notable name, the Rockies' Todd Helton was right ahead of him in OPS, with an .851 mark.

But the NL first-base scene is evolving, with some young guys like the Marlins' Gaby Sanchez (.328 average, five homers, 20 RBIs, .926 OPS), the Mets' Ike Davis (.293, 7, 23, .922) and the Astros' Brett Wallace (.339, 2, 11, .879) all on the rise. The Braves' Freddie Freeman hopes to join the pack once he finds his big league footing at the plate, as does the Giants' Brandon Belt, who is on the ballot but was sent back to Triple-A.

The Twins' Justin Morneau topped the AL voting tallies at first base last year, but his return from a concussion has featured a slow start at the plate, where he's hit just .202 with a .561 OPS that ranked last among qualifying AL first basemen.

The leader in OPS was Cabrera, who had MVP-type numbers in 2010 and picked up where he left off. Cabrera was batting .320 with a 1.010 OPS, seven homers, nine doubles and 24 RBIs. All this despite being walked 27 times, including a league-high nine intentional free passes.

"To me, hands down, he's the most scary hitter in the American League," Indians manager Manny Acta said.

Teixeira is pretty scary, too, especially in a season in which he finally solved his past April struggles. Teixeira's nine homers were the most among AL first basemen. He's hit .259 with a .954 OPS and 21 RBIs.

Also in the East, you can't overlook Adam Lind, who had seven homers and 27 RBIs in the early going for the Blue Jays. And after a slow start with his new club, Gonzalez has begun to live up to the hype, batting .314 with four homers and 24 RBIs.

The White Sox captain, Paul Konerko, remains a dangerous threat, too, as evidenced by his .323 average, eight homers, 27 RBIs and .927 OPS.

And when it comes to rising stars, the Mariners' Justin Smoak (.293 average, five homers, 21 RBIs, .929 OPS) certainly deserves attention. The Angels' Mark Trumbo has filled in nicely for Kendrys Morales and the Royals' much-heralded prospect Eric Hosmer has arrived, but neither are on the ballot.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.