Who's In, Who's Out: The Should-Be MLB All-Stars (6/30/17)
The All-Star Game is a unique experience where the fans are able to choose who they want to see play on each team. Too frequently, you'll see columnists explaining why a player deserved a better fate within the All-Star voting, treating the event almost as Hall-of-Fame voting, because of their batting average, number of home runs, or WAR total.
However, the goal of the fan isn't to pick the best first halves of the current baseball season. They are deciding who they want to see play, not only on a true value level but an excitement level.
That being said, let's look at the latest update from the fan voting and find who should be on the All-Star roster based on performance, popularity, and excitement of their style of play.
Expected NL Vote: Buster Posey
Buster Posey is the best catcher in baseball seemingly every year. This year is no different. He leads all catchers with a 3.0 WAR and 155 wRC+ while slashing .344/.422/.529. He is and has been the best catcher in baseball for some time and deserves another All-Star Game start.
Expected AL Vote: Salvador Perez
Salvador Perez is another fine pick for the catching position. He's benefited greatly from the home run and juiced baseball revolution, already hitting 16 home runs this season after an impressive 22 last season. Given that, his 119 wRC+ is a bit low considering his power output. He's only walking in 3.6% of his plate appearances, which considerably lowers his run creation. Gary Sanchez is an honorable mention in the AL catching category. He's more of a complete hitter than Perez and actually has a higher fWAR, 1.9 to 1.7, but he's only played in 49 games due to injuries this season.
Expected NL Vote: Ryan Zimmerman
Arizona Diamondbacks fans should be rightly angered about this pick, if it turns to be correct. Goldschmidt is yet again being snubbed and not just in the WAR category. Sure, Zimmermann lit the world on fire for the first few weeks of the season but Goldschmidt actually caught him in home runs, hits for a similar average, produces slightly more runs, and actually steals bases. Most would be surprised to know he has 13 steals this season. I'm not taking anything away from Zimmermann, but he ranks 3rd in offensive run creation and 5th in fWAR.
Expected AL Vote: Justin Smoak
The American League first base position is filled with guys who seemingly came out of nowhere. Logan Morrison, Yonder Alonso, and Justin Smoak have all seen huge upticks in value this season. There isn't much resume at the position, either. Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis are having unusual down years and these three less-known guys have filled the void. Morrison, Alonso, and Smoak are essentially tied, in my books.
Expected NL Vote: Daniel Murphy
As a Pirates fan, it would have been great to see Josh Harrison, the current WAR leader, start in the All-Star game given his story to and through the Major Leagues. However, Murphy is another solid choice. The two are within 0.2 in fWAR, but Murphy is the much better hitter. Harrison makes up a lot of his value over Murphy in the field and on the bases. Not only is Murphy the better, more exciting hitter, he's shown multiple years of sustaining this success. He's the bigger name and has the better odds of making a big splash in the game.
Expected AL Vote: Jose Altuve
Altuve is an easy choice for the starting spot in Miami. He's far and away the best second baseman in all of baseball and has been for some time. Altuve supports a 150 wRC+, 14 bags, and a .327/.400/.527 slash line adding up to 3.5 wins above replacement. This season nearly mirrors his previous season for Houston as he continues to shine. Jed Lowrie's comeback, second in AL fWAR for second baseman, deserves an honorable mention with his 129 wRC+ and .287/.359/.486 triple slash.
Expected NL Vote: Nolan Arenado
Before anyone accuses me of being unfair, I think Nolan Arenado is good player, even a great player. Nolan Arenado is also a part of a unique group of players that have somehow benefited from so many screaming about how underrated they've been. This is particularly true at the plate for Arenado. His raw numbers look very impressive, but we need to add the context that he plays in a stadium that more closely resembles hitting on the moon. For example, his last two and a half seasons included 98 home runs, but once we control for the park he plays half of his games in, Arenado creates only 20% more runs than the average player. Not to mention, that rate has dropped to 10% this season. Outside of Bryant, who is somewhat having a down season at the plate while simultaneously drastically outperforming Arenado at the plate, he has the highest name recognition to fans. A decent chunk of Arenado's value comes from defense, and I would not assume fans want to see a ton of defense in Miami. I would much rather see Anthony Rendon or Kris Bryant represent the National League considering they have more home runs this season as Arenado and have produced more runs. And what Justin Turner is doing at the plate this season is nothing short of incredible either.
Expected AL Vote: Miguel Sano
Miguel Sano hits the ball the second hardest in the MLB behind Aaron Judge. He's hit 18 home runs in a decent-size ballpark with a .909 OPS and 137 wRC+. The only player with a gripe is Indians' Jose Ramirez. Ramirez makes up a lot of value on Sano on defense, but only has 12 home runs this season. He is slashing an impressive .321/.376/.556 and leads third baseman in WAR at 3.0. However, in the terms of All-Star Games, I'd rather see Sano hit a juiced ball through the roof.
Expected NL Vote: Zack Cozart
There are two worthy starters in the NL shortstop category, Zack Cozart and Corey Seager, with two very different stories. Seager is the up and coming youngster with a huge future. Cozart is 31, got into the league in 2012, and has never seen a season quite like this. Cozart has a career 86 wRC+ to this point, which has bumped all the way up to 149 wRC+ this season. With only 9 home runs, Cozart's jump is mostly aided by a .367 batting average on balls in play compared to his career mark of .282. Cozart has also missed a bit of time due to injury this season, only playing in 58 games thus far. Seager, on the other hand, is nearly mirroring his season from last year. He leads Cozart in fWAR although he's trailed in run production. Seager is the better, more exciting player for an All-Star Game, but I have no issue with the Reds' fanbase jumping behind Cozart's huge year.
Expected AL Vote: Carlos Correa
Carlos Correa is the best hitting, most exciting shortstop in baseball. Unlike most slap hitting shortstops, Correa is able to keep up an impressive .309/.388/.537 slash line while pumping out 16 home runs. It would be unfair to not mention Xander Bogaerts and Francisco Lindor in the conversation, but Correa is the most recognized name and is having the better year, to this point.
Expected NL Vote: Bryce Harper, Charlie Blackmon, Giancarlo Stanton
You won't get much of an objection with the three NL expected starters above. Harper and Blackmon are having incredible seasons and Stanton is the hometown favorite. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Miami fans push for Marcell Ozuna, who is actually ranked higher than Stanton in run production and home runs, into the third spot and unseat Charlie Blackmon. Next to Harper, Ozuna is second in fWAR and excels in every part of the game. He's gone from being exiled to the minor leagues by the Marlins to one of the most valuable outfielders in baseball.
Expected AL Vote: Aaron Judge, George Springer, Mookie Betts, Nelson Cruz
The AL vote isn't much different. Judge, Springer, and Betts are the most exciting outfielders in the American League. Judge hits the ball harder than anyone in the history of baseball and looks more like an Avatar on the field than a human being. He's cranked 27 home runs already, but Springer isn't far behind with 24. Mookie comes in third for outfielders in this list but he's been victimized a bit by a .267 batting average on balls in play. He'll almost certainly improve that mark throughout the rest of the season and raise his offensive output.
Nelson Cruz takes the DH spot, for now. Corey Dickerson was very close in voting, and rightfully so. Dickerson is currently third in fWAR when we look at AL outfielders, but the DH won't have to play the field. When simply examining hitting ability, Dickerson has had a much better year while producing 17% more runs than Cruz. However, Cruz has the name recognition and the resume outside of just this first half of the season. The DH spot is close and it deserves to be as such.
As the managers tend to pick the starting pitcher for the game, I won't speculate too much on who will get snubbed, but it's a safe assumption to pencil in Chris Sale for the American League. Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw, as one would have expected in April, will likely get the ball for the National League.
Just remember, the All-Star Game is a truly democratic process and typically honors the players who are the most popular at the time. Insisting on yelling at fans over an exhibition game about who they should want to see in Miami doesn't change anyone's opinions.