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White Sox Tue Jul 06 2010

Does Konerko Really Deserve an All-Star Spot?

SoxLogoSmall.jpegWhite Sox players, coaches and fans have been talking up Paul Konerko for weeks now: He's our best hitter, our leader, our heart and soul. He's the reason we saved our season over the past month. He clearly deserves to play in the All-Star Game.

They're right on all of that except the last part. That depends how you define "deserves."

Konerko is thus far enjoying a remarkable season, arguably the best of his 14-year career and undoubtedly his best since his peak years of 2004-06. Despite going hitless in Tuesday's 4-1 win against the Angels -- a win marred by a Jake Peavy back muscle injury we'll discuss further tomorrow -- Konerko has a career-high .383 on-base percentage and a career-high .558 slugging percentage. If you like counting stats, he's got a .297 batting average with 20 home runs and 58 RBIs.

konerko mug.jpgAccording to the invaluable database at FanGraphs.com, Konerko has been the sixth most productive hitter in the American League in the first half of the season. The only problem is that group includes three other first basemen who clearly have been better. Justin Morneau, Miguel Cabrera and Kevin Youkilis -- each with an OPS over 1.000 -- come out ahead however you slice the numbers.

Morneau and Cabrera have been perhaps the best hitters in baseball this season, and they're rightfully already on the All-Star team. Youkilis and Konerko are among five AL players eligible for fan votes in a runoff election for the final roster spot. They both deserve to be there -- far more than Blue Jays flash in the pan Jose Bautista, for one -- but if forced to choose one, it's hard to make a logical case for Konerko.

The two sluggers are nearly even in power production: Konerko has a slight edge in home runs (20-17) and RBIs (58-55) while Youkilis has a slightly higher slugging percentage (.584-.558). But Youkilis gets on base more (.415-.383) because he walks more (51-38). He's also a better defensive player -- a 2007 Gold Glove winner, while Konerko is a good receiver and thrower whose range, at 34, is very limited.

Does Paul Konerko deserve to be an All-Star? Unquestionably.

Does he deserve to win a runoff election over Kevin Youkilis? Not especially.

But really, there's no reason the AL couldn't have found room for them both, particularly with a couple DH spots available. Did we need Bautista or Baltimore's Ty Wigginton on the roster?

It might not matter anyway. Youkilis left Tuesday's Red Sox game with an odd ankle injury, and though he says he'll be back in the lineup tomorrow, it might not be worth risking in the All-Star Game.

Could that open the door for Konerko? His fans in Pauliewood are eager to find out.

 
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