Posted: Monday April 30, 2012 12:00PM ; Updated: Monday April 30, 2012 12:00PM
Cliff Corcoran
Cliff Corcoran>INSIDE BASEBALL

Kemp, Hamilton are rare easy selections for April All-Star team

Story Highlights

The Los Angeles Dodgers' Matt Kemp is having one of the best Aprils ever

Josh Hamilton is playing like an MVP again after an injury-marred 2011

David Ortiz had three terrible Aprils from 2008-10 but is off to a terrific start

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Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP, leads the league in home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and OPS.
AP

Matt Kemp isn't the only player off to a hot start this year. Inspired by Kemp's monster month -- which I cover in greater detail here -- and the fact that the All-Star Game voting is already underway, here is a look around the diamond at the 2012 April All-Stars.

First Base

Paul Konerko, White Sox

Season Stats: .383/.444/.679, 5 HR, 15 RBIs

The 36-year-old veteran enjoyed two of his finest seasons over the last two seasons, hitting .306/.391/.551 with 70 home runs and 216 RBIs across the 2010 and 2011 seasons, making the All-Star team both years despite a deep pool of quality American League first basemen. Thus far this year, he's leading major league first basemen in all three slash stats and is tied with the Royals' Eric Hosmer for the positional lead in home runs.

Second Base

Jose Altuve, Astros

Season Stats: .373/.418/.566, 1 HR, 10 RBIs, 4 SB

Ian Kinsler's hot start (.297/.390/.582, 5 HR, 12 RBIs, 13 walks) is more likely to continue given its solid grounding in power and patience compared to Altuve's heavily hit-dependent line above, but in terms of raw production, Altuve has had the better month. Altuve is getting on base more often, is slugging just 23 points lower in a less power friendly home ballpark (though, again, Kinsler has a huge advantage in isolated power: 289 points to 193), and has stolen those four bases without being caught, while Kinsler has been caught twice in four attempts, a net loss in terms of production.

Shortstop

Derek Jeter, Yankees

Season Stats: .396/.440/.593, 4 HR, 13 RBIs

Jeter has had better Aprils than this one, but those (.378/.485/.732, 5 HR, 15 RBIs in 1999 and .398/.505/.648, 3 HR, 20 RBIs in 2006) came in arguably his two best seasons, which makes this one seem significant. It's hard to believe that Jeter could have another peak-quality campaign in the season during which he'll celebrate his 38th birthday, but he did finish last season by hitting .331/.384/.477 over 314 plate appearances after reworking his swing while on the disabled list last June, so don't count the old man out yet.

Third Base

David Wright, Mets

Season Stats: .397/.506/.588, 3 HR, 14 RBIs

Wright just edges out Evan Longoria here thanks in part to his vastly improved plate discipline, which has been further supplemented by a major league-leading four intentional walks. Wright also has 16 walks against 11 strikeouts; he has never struck out as infrequently over a full season as he has this April, and even if you factor out intentional walks, he has never walked as frequently or had a lower strikeout-to-walk ratio over a full season.

Catcher

Buster Posey, Giants

Season Stats: .353/.413/.603, 4 HR, 9 RBIs

To be fair to the candidacies of Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters, Posey has done a lot of damage in his four starts at first base: 7-for-15 with four doubles, a homer, and a walk. As a catcher, he's hitting "just" .327/.397/.519. For our purposes here, however, it all goes into the same pot, and with the aid of those four monster games at first base, Posey is the runaway leader at his primary position.

Leftfield

Josh Hamilton, Rangers

Season Stats: .395/.438/.744, 9 HR, 25 RBIs

This is a bit of a cheat. Hamilton has been the Rangers' primary centerfielder, but he's been too good to leave off this team, so I'm using his five starts and 62 total innings in left to put him here. Kemp is the only hitter who has out-played Hamilton thus far this year.

Centerfield

Matt Kemp, Dodgers

Season Stats: .425/.495/.888, 11 HR, 24 RBIs

As linked above, I go into much greater detail on Kemp's historic April in this story. Suffice it to say, Kemp, last year's NL MVP frontrunner and the clear leader for that award this season, has been the best player in baseball since Opening Day 2011.

Rightfield

Matt Joyce, Rays

Season Stats: .323/.400/.677, 5 HR, 9 RBIs

Putting Hamilton in left squeezes out the Twins' Josh Willlingham, who has hit .333/.447/.667 with 5 homers and 13 RBIs. If you prefer taking three outfielders to taking one center, one left, and one right fielder, feel free to substitute Willingham in here, but among right-fielders, Joyce edges out Corey Hart. Joyce hit .370/.430/.636 through May 31 a year ago before fading away, and has fallen back into a platoon role this year in the week since B.J. Upton came off the disabled list.

Designated Hitter

David Ortiz, Red Sox

Season Stats: .395/.444/.654, 4 HR, 18 RBIs

Ortiz hasn't had a monster April since 2007 and hit .191/.280/.329 in April (and nine March plate appearances) from 2008 to 2010. Ortiz has looked so old in April for so long that it's actually a bit of a surprise to realize that he's still only 36.

Righthanded Starting Pitcher

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals

Season Stats: 2-0, 1.13 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 9.6 K/9, 5.67 K/BB

Strasburg leads all pitchers with five starts in ERA and WHIP. The worst pitching line you could assemble from picking through those five starts, all quality, is: 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 5 K, 0 HR. He has allowed two runs in a game just once, has allowed as many hits as innings pitched just once, has yet to allow a home run and has twice struck out nine men. Even after the Tommy John surgery that sidelined him from August 2010 to last September, he's living up to the hype. He has faced relatively weak competition in general, but in three confrontations with Kemp on Saturday he produced four outs via a double play and two strikeouts. In two plate appearances after Strasburg left the game, Kemp drew a base on balls and hit a walk-off homer.

Lefthanded Starting Pitcher

Joe Saunders, Diamondbacks

Season Stats: 2-1, 0.90 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 5.4 K/9, 2.57 K/BB, 1 SHO

In four starts, Saunders has recorded one less out than reigning NL Cy Young winner and triple crown champion Clayton Kershaw has in five and pitched more innings than Gio Gonzalez has in five. That's how he gets this spot despite taking one less turn and having inferior peripherals. Saunders has gone at least seven innings in each of his four starts, all quality, only once allowed more than one run, never allowed more hits than innings pitched and twice held his competition scoreless, including a three-hit shutout of the Marlins on Friday. Not bad for a pitcher the Diamondbacks non-tendered in December.

Closer

Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies

Season Stats: 7 SV, 1.00 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 4.50 K/BB

Craig Kimbrel leads the majors in saves with eight, has struck out 16 men in nine innings, and hasn't blown a lead or taken a loss, but he's done all of that with a 1.44 WHIP. Papelbon has been nearly perfect, facing the minimum three batters in five of his nine appearances, converting all seven of his save chances, allowing just one run (on a solo home run while the Phillies were already down 5-2) and allowing just two baserunners in his last five outings.

 
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