Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Real AL All-Stars

Cabrera is worthy of what would be his 10th career All-Star selection (Scout)
Today is the final day for fans to submit their All-Star ballots, which means today's your (and mine) last chance to determine who gets to start this year's Midsummer Classic.

I always wait until the last possible second to see how the stats shake out so I can make the most accurate comparisons possible. I'm a firm believer that the All-Star Game should reward the best players in the first-half, not necessarily the biggest names in the game. As such, I vote based on who I believe has been the top player at each position.

C Stephen Vogt
Vogt and Russell Martin are neck-and-neck in terms of overall value, but since Vogt's offensive numbers are clearly superior (he holds a 70 point edge in OPS despite playing in a much tougher ballpark) and defensive metrics, especially for catchers, are still somewhat murky, I'm taking the 30 year-old breakout. He's been the best-hitting backstop in baseball this year, surpassing even Buster Posey.

1B Miguel Cabrera
Whereas the National League has a glut of qualified first-sackers this year, Cabrera's clearly the top choice in the AL. After a "down" 2014, he's reclaimed his title as the best hitter in the Junior Circuit, if not baseball. In addition to batting .344 with 15 home runs and 53 RBI, he currently leads the league in OBP (.448), OPS (1.023) and OPS+ (182).

2B Jason Kipnis
Kipnis--the league leader in fWAR and bWAR--should be an easy call. Not only is he leading the league in hits (106), average (.346), and doubles (26), but he just had one of the greatest May performances of all-time. Brian Dozier, Jose Altuve, and Dustin Pedroia have been great too, but to me there's no excuse for picking anyone other than the league's best player. I swear if Omar Infante winds up as the starting second baseman, I'm never watching another All-Star Game again.

3B Josh Donaldson
Donaldson and Manny Machado are about even offensively, but I give the slight edge to Donaldson because of his superior power numbers. That, and he's been the most valuable third-sacker in the sport.

SS Jose Iglesias
As tough as it was to overlook his meager counting stats (16 runs! 11 RBI! Nine extra base hits!), I picked Iglesias over his only serious competitor, former teammate Xander Bogaerts, because Iglesias has been a better defender, baserunner, and hitter on a per at-bat basis. No, I don't think his .320/.372/.378 line is going to hold, but right now that's better than Bogie's .289/.324/.404. And while Bogaerts has made great strides in the field this year, he's still nowhere near the elite gloveman that Iglesias is.
The All-Star Game was made for players like Trout (Hardball Talk)
OF Mike Trout
An All-Star Game without Mike Trout would be, well, boring. The reigning MVP is currently pacing the league in slugging (.590) and bWAR (tied with Kipnis) while ranking second in OPS (.983), OPS+ (178), home runs (to teammate Albert Pujols), and total bases (171).

OF Jose Bautista
Ignore the .241 batting average and marvel instead at his .385 OBP and .510 SLG--good for a 148 OPS+. The AL-leader in walks has since recovered from his slow start and is on track to top 30 homers and 100 RBI again. Joey Bats has been an All-Star each of the past five years, and I'm inclined to think he deserves a sixth straight nod.

OF Brett Gardner
Gardner might seem like a surprising choice (I also considered J.D. Martinez and Adam Jones), but he's quietly having a great season for the Yankees. His well-rounded game (sixth in the league in oWAR, eighth in position player WAR) has produced a .304/.373/.495 (139 OPS+) batting line, 58 runs, and 15 steals in 18 attempts. He's been phenomenal in Jacoby Ellsbury's absence, flashing a .925 OPS out of the leadoff spot and manning center field. Suffice it to say, he's a big reason why the Yanks are only half a game out of first.

DH Nelson Cruz
Cruz is proving that his monster season with Baltimore last year was no fluke, especially now that he's playing in a much tougher ballpark in Seattle. He's continued to be among baseball's best sluggers, ranking third among American Leaguers in home runs (20), slugging (.557), total bases (160), and adjusted OPS+ (164).

And while I'm at it, the starting pitcher should be Chris Sale. Only one other guy has ripped off eight straight starts with 10 or more K's, and he's going into the Hall of Fame this summer.

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