On Sunday, Hunter Pence was named to the National League All-Star team as a reserve outfielder. He was voted there by the players, which is a special kind of honor. Still, Zachary Levine pointed out that it's actually Michael Bourn who is ranked higher using FanGraph's Wins Above Replacement.
That doesn't mean Pence wasn't deserving, however. In that same article, Levine says that Pence was ranked 13th using that same fWAR. The 13th best outfielder in the National League may be a borderline All-Star, but what that doesn't take into account is how good Pence has been at the plate.
See, fWAR and even Baseball Reference's version both use fielding components. fWAR goes a step further and adds a baserunning component, which really helps Bourn out. But, Pence has been just as good as a hitter. Plus, Pence's stats are also a little more traditional, as he is one of the league leaders in batting average, RBIs and doubles. Bourn's got the league lead in steals, but that's about it.
I think Pence is probably the best player on the Astros right now, but I've since amended that statement. Pence is the best hitter on this team, but Bourn is probably the best all-around player for the Astros. They both have enough flaws to make them long shots to ever win an MVP award, but are clearly the class of this roster.
So, Pence is deserving of this honor. It's his second All-Star Game appearance, which already puts him in elite company in Astros history. Only four other outfielders in team history have been selected to two or more All-Star games. They include Moises Alou, Cesar Cedeno, Lance Berkman and Jose Cruz. He's already surpassed Jimmy Wynn, Terry Puhl and Kevin Bass, who only made one All-Star game apiece.
Of course, it's much easier now to make the team with expanded rosters, but it's still an impressive feat. Pence may not end up as revered as the other names ahead of him, but with one more selection, he'll pass Cruz for the third-most selections by an outfielder in team history. He's got to play a bit longer to get to Cruz' status with the team, but is on that path.
I wouldn't have been disappointed if Bourn had been selected again, but I definitely expected Pence to be the pick. I'd also make the case for two more players:
Wandy Rodriguez - He has been one of the absolute best pitchers in the National League going back to the second half of 2010. He's also got the ERA under 3.00, which looks good to All-Star selectors. Unfortunately, his strikeout numbers are down a little, which counteracts his low ERA. Plus, as I'll mention in the next case, Wandy suffers for the surplus of good pitching in the National League this season. The only player who Wandy could make a case against is Matt Cain, and the two are close enough statistically to throw a blanket over.
Bud Norris - You could also make the case that Bud Norris' first half of the 2011 season made him a more worthy choice than Wandy Rodriguez. While his ERA and walk rate is a bit higher, Norris has a much better strikeout rate and is allowing fewer home runs, which means his peripheral stats are better. He runs into the same problem Wandy does and may actually have the better case to make the team over Cain. The biggest reason Cain made it? His manager is the NL All-Star boss and he's got four more wins than Norris and an ERA half a run lower. Plus, I'm not sure the worst team in the major leagues deserved a second All-Star player.