By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
First Base: Mike Piazza. Choosing between Tino Martinez and Todd Zeile is like choosing between Curly Joe and Shemp. If they're not the worst first basemen in baseball, they're close. Taking one for the team as he's done so many times in the past, Piazza goes from being the best-hitting catcher in historythe Subway Series, with his clutch home run and awful throws to second, show why we need to place hitting between best and catcherto simply the best-hitting first baseman in baseball. Let's dwell for just a moment on Piazza's offensive greatness. Compare his career numbers (.328 average, .392 on-base percentage, .580 slugging) to Yogi Berra (.285, .348, .482) and Johnny Bench (.267, .342, .476). And then remember that he put up these numbers while playing in two of the worst hitter's parks in the majors. The take-home lesson? Pay attentionsomeday you'll be telling your grandchildren you saw Mr. Mike play back in the day.
Second Base: Edgardo Alfonzo. Since between the two teams there are four middle infielders who can play short or second, we'll stage a fair fight: The top dogs and the also-rans will square off. First, Jeter vs. Fonzie. We like Derek Jeter a lot. But we like Fonzie better. Step back from their slow starts, and Alfonzo's back injury, and examine their three-year splits. Jeter has a surprising edge in power (.505 slugging vs. .490), while Fonzie's been more patient (4.08 pitches per plate appearance vs. 3.82) and considerably steadier in the field. Give a slight edge to Daddy Jee. But look more closely. Jeter hits better away from home, but Fonzie loves the road more than Willie Nelson. Take him away from Shea, and he adds 60 points to his batting average and 100 points to his slugging percentage. Which leads us to believe that in the same park, Fonzie would be a more productive hitter. The other significant number? Salary. Even for big-market teams this makes a difference, and while Jeter may be worth his $12.6 million, Alfonzo is a real New York bargain at $5.75 million per.
Shortstop: Alfonso Soriano. Now the also-rans: Rey Ordoñez vs. Alfonso Soriano. Remember that New York Times Magazine piece that paired off Jeter and Ordoñez? Forget about being Jeter's equal, Ordoñez is peerless. He is hands-down, honest to Joe Girardi, the worst hitter in baseball. It's no coincidence that last year with Rey-Rey gone bye-bye, the Mets made the World Series. Soriano's better, but not a whole lot. Sure, he's got a little more popso does Luis Sojoand he's as exciting a base runner as this town has seen since, oh, Vince Coleman. He's also got as much patience as Mike Francesa. For a couple of weeks early in the season, Sori was living that stat maven's wet dream: an on-base percentage that was lower than his batting average. The silver lining is that he's only 23, so he might end up being something more than a poor man's Juan Samuel.
Third Base: Robin Ventura. Ahhh, sweet desperation. Is it any coincidence that two thirtysomething players who were only one more subpar season away from a job selling real estate are the only players in the city who are overachieving? Haunted by the specter of Drew Henson, Scott Brosius has been very good this year, but Ventura has been Chipper Jones good. Toss in his longer-than-Joe DiMaggio hitting streak, and the fact that he's not related to Jesse, and Robin wins a squeaker.
Catcher: Jorge Posada. Although he's slipped some since last year's I-Rod-esque campaign, Jo-Po is quietly leading the Yanks in homers, RBIs, and slugging percentage. That's enough to earn him a solid nod over Todd Pratt.
Center Field: Bernie Williams. In a year or two, this could actually get interesting, as Met über-prospect Alex Escobar has been posting Bernie-like numbers in the minors. But until then, Bernie's the top dog in the outfield. But will Sunday night be a microcosm of his career3 for 5 with a homer in a game that will be remembered for Piazza's heroics? He's got four rings, a shelf full of Gold Gloves, a batting title, and a .309 career average. But look at the fine print, and you'll discover that he's only halfway to 3000 hits and 400 homers. He'll get to Cooperstown. As Piazza's guest.
Left Field: Tsuyoshi Shinjo. The good news: in moving to left, Chuck Knoblauch has learned to hit like an outfielder. The bad news? That outfielder is Lenny Harris. (Rhetorical question: Has any 31-year-old potential Hall of Famer lost this much value this quickly while snagging three World Series rings?) As for Shinjo, it's not clear if he's goodthat .321 on-base percentage should make you afraid, very afraidbut he is better. The $64 million question: Why can't we pencil in Ichiro Suzuki? Bobby Valentine, who managed in Japan, claims that he knew that the Mariners star was one of the top five players in the game. If that's the case, why in the name of Benny Agbayani didn't he stage a hunger strike until Steve Phillips dipped into the Alex Rodriguez fund and got Ichie in blue and orange?