Top Contenders to Be 2013 MLB All-Star Game's Starting Pitchers
Adam Wainwright has been the ace of a St. Louis pitching rotation that has carried the Cardinals to the best record in baseball.
Has he pitched well enough to be the starting pitcher in the 2013 MLB All-Star Game?
With that decision just one month away, let's take a look at the collection of candidates jockeying for the honor of starting an All-Star Game.
Based on what these pitchers have done to this point in the season, we've nominated a favorite, two contenders, three fringe candidates and four dark horses for each league.
Based on your rooting interests, you'll probably disagree.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.com and are accurate through the start of play on Tuesday, June 11.
4 NL Dark Horses
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Mike Minor (8-2, 2.44 ERA, 8.29 K/9, 1.81 BB/9)
In most seasons, Minor's numbers would be worthy of strong consideration for the starting job. Matt Cain started the 2012 Midsummer Classic after posting a 2.62 ERA, 8.83 K/9 and 1.80 BB/9 in the first half of last season—numbers that are very comparable to what Minor has done.
Unfortunately for Minor, too many guys have been even more incredible on the mound thus far in 2013.
Cliff Lee (7-2, 2.55 ERA, 7.84 K/9, 1.51 BB/9)
Lost in the obsession over pitchers under the age of 25, Lee is quietly having another phenomenal season at nearly 35 years of age. Lee has pitched at least seven innings in each of his last seven outings, compiling a K/9 of 8.22 and an ERA of 1.85 over that stretch of consecutive quality starts.
Stephen Strasburg (3-5, 2.54 ERA, 8.84 K/9, 2.54 BB/9)
He's on the disabled list right now, but if he comes back and makes four straight quality starts in the weeks leading up to the game, Strasburg could at least wiggle into the conversation.
Madison Bumgarner (5-4, 3.58 ERA, 8.57 K/9, 2.60 BB/9)
There's literally no evidence over the past five seasons to support this skepticism, but never rule out the possibility that the manager of the All-Star team (Bruce Bochy) will give the starting job to the ace of his own team.
4 AL Dark Horses
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Mariano Rivera (23 saves, 1.48 ERA, 8.51 K/9, 1.48 BB/9)
It won't happen, but it should. I loathe the Yankees as much as the next guy, but this is one of those signs of respect we deserve to see in the All-Star Game, like when Alex Rodriguez won the vote at shortstop but forced Cal Ripken Jr. to play the position in 2001. Remember that? Back when people actually liked A-Rod?
Hisashi Iwakuma (7-1, 1.79 ERA, 8.21 K/9, 1.32 BB/9)
Iwakuma has the second-lowest ERA in the entire league, but he gets a dark-horse vote because it's hard to imagine him being ahead of teammate Felix Hernandez in the pecking order.
Also, Iwakuma may be headed for some significant regression over the course of the next month. He has the second-lowest BABIP in the majors, and his FIP (3.07) suggests that he just barely belongs in the discussion about the top 10 pitchers in the AL.
Derek Holland (5-2, 2.82 ERA, 8.59 K/9, 2.37 BB/9)
Similar to the issue keeping Iwakuma almost outside of the conversation, if we're going to see a Texas Ranger start the game for the American League, one would have to assume it would be Yu Darvish.
Doug Fister (5-4, 3.28 ERA, 7.31 K/9, 1.27 BB/9)
James Shields and Chris Sale are probably more deserving of this last dark-horse nomination, but it would just be comical if Fister got the job and pegged the first batter of the game. Assuming both guys make the roster, I demand an at-bat between Fister and Shin-Soo Choo during this game.
3 NL Fringe Candidates
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Patrick Corbin (9-0, 1.98 ERA, 7.16 K/9, 2.42 BB/9)
It's been quite an unexpected two-plus months for the 23-year-old Diamondback. He's third in the NL in ERA and tied for the major-league lead in wins. But he's 21st among starting pitchers in WAR thanks to a 3.10 FIP and a few other statistics that don't bode well for the rest of his season.
Corbin leads the National League in LOB percentage and has the sixth-lowest HR/FB ratio after being below average in both categories in 2012. He's a legitimate candidate today, but I still maintain that he has been lucky to this point in the season and could very likely pitch his way out of consideration between now and July 16.
Jordan Zimmermann (9-3, 2.00 ERA, 5.8 K/9, 1.24 BB/9)
Zimmermann is in almost the exact same boat as Corbin. His ERA and FIP are both within two hundredths of a point of Corbin's. Zimmermann hasn't been quite as incredibly lucky as Corbin with LOB% and HR/FB, but he does have the second-lowest BABIP in the National League.
Certainly, part of that can be attributed to Zimmerman becoming more of a ground-ball pitcher—relying more on his defense than strikeouts—but no NL pitcher in the past five seasons has finished a season with a BABIP as low as Zimmermann has right now.
He's bound to regress to some extent, but whether it happens in the next month or after the All-Star break will determine whether he remains in this discussion.
Shelby Miller (7-3, 1.91 ERA, 9.68 K/9, 2.03 BB/9)
The 22-year-old from Houston, Texas has taken the baseball world by storm, already posting two outings this season in which he only allowed one batter to reach base against him. Those starts have helped carry him to the second-lowest ERA in the National League.
3 AL Fringe Candidates
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Felix Hernandez (7-4, 2.49 ERA, 9.40 K/9, 1.75 BB/9)
By most metrics, this is shaping up to be the best season of Felix Hernandez's career.
He did post a slightly lower ERA in his Cy Young season of 2010 than he currently boasts today, but his FIP (2.36) is 0.48 runs better than he finished in any of his other eight seasons. In 2012, he posted the highest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate of his career, amounting to a K/BB ratio of 3.98. This season, he's been even better in both categories and currently owns a K/BB ratio of 5.37.
If he maintains his current pace, there's a very good chance he could start the game. The fact that he's a fringe candidate today says a lot about the respect due to the early returns from the three guys ahead of him.
Max Scherzer (8-0, 3.24 ERA, 10.80 K/9, 2.16 BB/9)
The origin of the phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none" allegedly dates back to the 16th century, but it's extremely applicable to Scherzer today. He's in the top seven of so many categories, but can't seem to claim the lead in any of them.
He's third in the AL in K/9 and seventh in K/BB. Scherzer ranks fourth in FIP and fourth in xFIP, and he has been the third-least-fortunate pitcher in terms of LOB percentage. He's tied for second in WAR and simply seems destined for some sort of runner-up position in the race for the honor of starting the Midsummer Classic.
Justin Verlander (8-4, 3.71 ERA, 10.46 K/9, 2.93 BB/9)
Aside from a below-average ERA due to a pair of awful starts in late May, Verlander has actually been quite dominant this season. His K/9 rate is the highest of his career, and his FIP is the lowest it has ever been. Sadly for him, he currently has the fourth-highest BABIP in the majors, which is giving him worse-looking numbers than he arguably deserves.
Given another month to improve his ERA and distance himself from the rest of the amazing pitching rotation in Detroit, he could easily emerge as the best option to start the All-Star Game.
2 NL Contenders
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Clayton Kershaw (5-4, 1.88 ERA, 8.61 K/9, 2.51 BB/9)
It isn't Kershaw's fault that the Dodgers have been as bad as they are, but it just doesn't make sense to start a pitcher from a team nine games below .500 when you have an arguably better option from a team that is 19 games over .500.
I say let the starter of the game be someone for whom the outcome might play a huge factor in October.
Matt Harvey (5-0, 2.10 ERA, 9.50 K/9, 1.90 BB/9)
Even the most negative of naysayers can't possibly still be doomsday theorists when it comes to Matt Harvey.
For a while there, he had an incredibly unsustainable BABIP, which many read as impending regression for his ERA. On the contrary, his BABIP has ballooned from its previous spot in the .190s to a current clip of .260. And unlike the effect that an increasing BABIP had on Matt Moore's ERA, it hasn't caused any problems yet for Mr. Harvey.
The difference between the two youngsters is that Harvey has had a minimal walk rate all season, while Moore seems to be gunning for as many walks as possible.
Thanks to his 5.00 K/BB rate, Harvey not only has a 2.10 ERA, but also an FIP of 2.20. In the most literal sense of the word, he's expected to experience a little bit of regression, but his expected ERA is the third-best in the major leagues.
Should Kershaw and Wainwright take a step back in their dominance to this point in the season, Harvey would be a perfectly suitable starter for the All-Star Game.
2 AL Contenders
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Yu Darvish (7-2, 2.75 ERA, 12.02 K/9, 2.75 BB/9)
There are guys with more wins and lower ERAs, but who wouldn't want to see what the AL strikeout king has to offer against the best hitters the National League?
He's no longer quite on a record-setting pace, but if he can keep his K/9 at its current rate, it would be the highest that anyone has posted in the past decade.
However, since the AL's leading candidate for the starting gig is in third place on that list, Darvish's eye-popping numbers don't make him seem like such an outstanding outlier after all.
Clay Buchholz (9-0, 1.71 ERA, 8.64 K/9, 3.09 BB/9)
I went back and forth and back again on which currently dinged-up ace most deserves to be the favorite right now.
At the end of the day, I'm more concerned about Buchholz's neck injury and more impressed by Anibal Sanchez's WAR. Thus, Buchholz's league-leading ERA and number of wins are relegated to the contenders' page.
That's certainly no slight to Buchholz. We're dealing with some serious Cy Young candidates at this point in the article, and he is unmistakably one of them. He does have an incredibly high LOB percentage and an unbelievably low HR/FB rate, which suggest some regression is coming, but he has at least been good enough to be the second pitcher into the game for the American League.
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Anibal Sanchez (6-5, 2.65 ERA, 11.31 K/9, 2.19 BB/9)
Adam Wainwright (9-3, 2.34 ERA, 8.53 K/9, 0.66 BB/9)
If you don't think the starter of the All-Star Game should be the pitcher worth the most wins above replacement in his league, then I would like a legitimate explanation as to why you think WAR is a cockamamie statistic.
Choosing All-Stars is quite possibly the most applicable use of WAR.
Wainwright has been worth 0.8 more wins than any other National League pitcher. Sanchez has been worth 0.4 more wins than any other American League pitcher.
Perhaps most amazing of all is that they each have a BABIP in the .320s, indicating that they are among the 15 unluckiest pitchers to this point in the season. Not only have they been great, but they should only get better.
Yes, I'm a little troubled by the shoulder injury that caused Sanchez to miss a start this past weekend, but not concerned enough to start disregarding the amazing season he has had to this point. So long as he's able to get back on the mound in the next few days, I fully expect to see him in the starting lineup against Wainwright on July 16.