|Image courtesy of Sporting News|
With Brett Gardner, one of the five American League candidates, already getting the call to replace Alex Gordon, who will miss eight weeks with a strained groin, the AL field has already been reduced to four, which makes the voting somewhat easier. All American Leaguers are position players, which makes comparisons easier, but hardly easy as they all play different positions (one outfielder, a second baseman, a third baseman, and a shortstop).
Not surprisingly, the National League ballot is dominated by pitching. There are three starting pitchers up for election, all of whom are having fantastic years and all of whom just strengthened their cases with outstanding efforts this week. They're easy to compare, but there's also a closer and a shortstop throwing a wrench into the debate. Given that there are entirely too many relief pitchers named as All-Stars every year, I can tell you right now the closer won't be getting my vote and shouldn't be getting yours, either.
Surprisingly, this ballot is devoid of first basemen, who typically show up on these things due to the plethora of players having strong offensive seasons at the position. I'm not at all surprised by their omission on the AL ballot, as the only worthy candidates were Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols (not the still-adjusting Jose Abreu, shockingly), but there absolutely should have been a place for Joey Votto in the NL.
Anyways, on to the analysis. Candidates for each league are presented in alphabetical order, and I have included their WAR totals (Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs) in parentheses besides their names. All WAR really shows is that most of these guys have been remarkably similar in terms of value up to this point, which makes the decisions that much tougher.
|Gardner is going to his first All-Star Game (River Ave Blues)|
Xander Bogaerts (2.6 bWAR/2.3 fWAR)
Bogaerts has been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise disappointing Red Sox roster. He's also been, according to FanGraphs, the best shortstop in the American League. Granted, that's not saying a lot when Jose Iglesias, Brad Miller, and Alcides Escobar are your closest competition (and Carlos Correa has barely played a month), but someone's gotta be number one. He's hitting over .300 and flashing improved defense at short, though his average is largely empty as he's managed just three home runs and 16 walks to date. Bogaerts should go by virtue of being the best at his position outside of Brandon Crawford, but he's simply not the best on this ballot. Despite being a big Red Sox fan who does not want Brock Holt to be my team's sole All-Star, I must pass.
Yoenis Cespedes (2.9 bWAR/2.8 fWAR)
Cespedes has been outstanding in his Detroit debut, making Ben Cherington look foolish for giving him and two minor leaguers up for the dreadful remains of what was once Rick Porcello. The Cuban slugger is on pace for his best season since his now-forgotten stellar rookie year. He still hasn't figured out this thing called patience, but that's fine so long as he keeps hitting close to .300 with top-shelf pop (he's third in the AL in doubles and fifth in extra base hits). The hard-hitting outfielder's power is second to a fellow candidate's, however, making him an indefensible choice in light of his .318 OBP.
AL Brian Dozier (3.2 bWAR/fWAR)
An All-Star snub last year, Dozier was again shut out this year despite being the best player on what was a first place team for much of the first half. The Twins second baseman has been one of the league's best power sources, pacing the AL in extra base hits and ranking second in doubles (one behind Jason Kipnis), fifth in total bases, and tenth in home runs and slugging. He's also second in runs with 64--as many as Mike Trout and just one behind Josh Donaldson for the league lead. Dozier has also made an impact on the bases, stealing nine bags in a dozen attempts, and is playing well defensively, leading the league at his position in range factor, assists, and double plays turned while placing second in fielding percentage. Put it all together, and you have the second-best second baseman in baseball. I think we have a winner.
Mike Moustakas (2.7 bWAR/2.1 fWAR)
Absolutely not. We already have enough Royals going to the All-Star Game. Plus he's come crashing back to earth since his fluky April, batting .276/.329/.397 since. Sorry. but that's not an All-Star third-baseman, unless we want to invite Pablo Sandoval, too.
|Dozier deserves to be an All-Star (Twin Cities)|
Johnny Cueto (2.9 bWAR/2.6 fWAR)
Cueto is coming off his best start of the season, a two-hit shutout of the Nationals in which he struck out a season-high 11 batters. Last year's NL Cy Young runner-up has been phenomenal again this year, posting a 2.61 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, and 5.29 K/BB ratio to date. The numbers say Cueto is worthy of his second straight All-Star nod, and it would be nice to see the hosting Reds get another representative.
As great as Familia has been for the Mets, you can toss him out immediately. The last thing the All-Star Game needs is more relief pitchers.
Clayton Kershaw (2.3 bWAR/3.7 fWAR)
The reigning NL MVP and Cy Young winner has slipped a bit only compared to last year's historic numbers. In a vacuum, though, his stats can only be considered otherworldly. With an ML-leading 160 strikeouts in 123 innings, he's currently whiffing nearly a dozen batters per nine innings and is on pace to threaten 300 K's for the season. He also boasts a 2.85 ERA, 2.40 FIP, 1.02 WHIP, and 5.93 K/BB ratio, all of which are quite impressive. Though Cueto's numbers are slightly better, Kershaw has been the best pitcher in baseball over the past five years, and you can't have the All-Star Game without him. Furthermore, he's pitched better than his ERA and 6-6 record would indicate.
Carlos Martinez (2.5 bWAR/1.5 fWAR)
The 23 year-old Cardinal has been sensational in his first season as a full-time starter, going 10-3 with a 2.52 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning in the first half. He's been incredibly dominant lately, allowing just nine earned runs over his past ten starts and providing ace-level production in Adam Wainwright's absence. He doesn't have the name recognition or mind-blowing peripherals of Cueto and Kershaw, which is why I'm going to pass, but there's no shame in finishing behind those two.
Troy Tulowitzki (1.5 bWAR/1.2 fWAR)
It's been a strange year for Tulo, who's taken a notable dive in his age-30 season. His power is down, strikeouts are up, and plate discipline has disappeared. His formerly Gold Glove defense has also deteriorated. On the bright side, he's hitting well over .300 and has hit safely in 33 of his past 34 games, including his last 21 straight--a major league season-high. More importantly the injury prone shortstop has stayed on the field, missing just eight Rockies games to date. If he were in the American League he'd be a no-brainer, but against the Senior Circuit's more formidable field he doesn't quite make the cut. It also must be said that his numbers would be much more impressive if he didn't play half his games in Coors Field.
Vote: Like last year's AL Cy Young race between Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber, it's a virtual toss-up between Cueto and Kershaw. Both have their arguments--Cueto pitches for the hometown team but Kershaw has the better reputation, and their performance has been almost indistinguishable. Both are worthy and I'm sure both will get to go once somebody inevitably backs out or decides he's unavailable to pitch. I simply can't fathom an All-Star Game without Kershaw, who's pitched tremendously this year and my gut tells me has been more dominant (Cueto's benefiting from a .229 BABiP), so that's why I'm going with him.
|Cueto's numbers are a bit better, but Kershaw's the bigger star (Rant Sports)|