Assembling the Most Well Balanced Starting All-Star Lineups for Both Leagues
There’s only a couple of ways to officially vote for the All-Star game’s starters, but certainly no shortage of evaluation techniques that could go into the thought process for making the picks.
For example, if you’re a die-hard New York Mets fan, there’s a good chance you possess a slight hometown bias. While casting a vote for star third baseman David Wright is within reason, perhaps writing-in back-up catcher Anthony Recker isn’t.
Yet, there has to be some method to the madness. If viewers truly want to watch the best matchup possible, you can’t pick all Mets or all sluggers—believe it or not, but non-Mets players and slick-fielding catchers help win games too.
Below is an attempt to field the most well balanced All-Star lineups for both the American League and the National League.
AMERICAN LEAGUE: MIKE TROUT (LF)
Mike Trout has followed-up his sensational rookie campaign (169 OPS+, 30 HR, 49 SB) with another great season so far. In 2013, the right-handed hitter has posted a 161 OPS+ with 12 home runs, 15 stolen bases, and has even cut down on strikeouts (from 21.8 percent K% to 18.1 percent K%). Advanced fielding metrics haven’t been as kind to Trout this year (-1.3 fWAR, -2.4 UZR/150) as they were in 2012 (2.1 fWAR, 13.0 UZR/150), but perhaps the young outfielder is simply a better fit in left field (12.2 UZR/150 in 2013) than he is in center (-10.4 UZR/150 in 2013).
The 21 year old is also one of the most feared leadoff hitters in baseball: he can burn you with a dinger, swipe a bag or two if you walk him (10.9 percent BB% in 2013), and doesn’t swing and miss often (6.6 percent SwStr%). There’s good reason why critics mused about Trout being the first $300 million extension candidate.
On a side note, how happy are the Los Angeles Angels that Mike Trout didn’t turn out to be another Brandon Wood?
NATIONAL LEAGUE: MATT CARPENTER (2B)
Far too many people have been astonished by Matt Carpenter’s output in 2013. Yet, the only hurdle ever preventing Carpenter from success has been opportunity. Even though Carpenter did not begin the 2012 season as starter, the versatile infielder managed to collect 340 plate appearances—and a 125 OPS+—mostly by filling in for David Freese and Allen Craig at third base and first base, respectively.
In 2013, the 27 year old hasn’t been a surprise—he’s just been given a chance. Tabbed as the starting second baseman to begin the season, Carpenter has rewarded the St. Louis Cardinals' good faith with a 144 OPS+ as well as an improved Line Drive% (from 23.8 percent to 27.1 percent) and K% (from 18.5 percent to 12.6 percent). The first year starter is also gloving a 0.7 dWAR and an 11.8 UZR/150.
While Carpenter’s .324 batting average could be a little inflated (given the 18-point BABIP spike from .346 in 2012 to .364 in 2013), even if he comes down to earth to his 2012 levels (.294 BA in 2012), earth is still pretty darn good.
AMERICAN LEAGUE: ROBINSON CANO (2B)
Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia are always worthy candidates—and Jose Altuve could become a contender in the near future—but none of these guys hold a candle to Robinson Cano. Cano is the only second baseman that produces like a corner infielder. In 2013, the 30 year old has posted a 132 OPS+ with 16 home runs and a 9.0 percent BB%--which is a career best rate.
With Derek Jeter sitting on the disabled list, Cano is also the longest tenured New York Yankee (with nine seasons) playing the field. Given his impending free agent status—and unique skill set—the Bombers are going to have to pay up for a guy who has the potential to be the new face of the franchise once Jeter hangs ‘em up.
NATIONAL LEAGUE: CARLOS GOMEZ (CF)
There’s no shortage of great center fielders in the National League.
Off-season acquisition Shin-Soo Choo has been a Godsend for the Cincinnati Reds, boasting a 143 OPS+ with 10 home runs, seven stolen bases, and a whopping 15.2 percent BB%. That said, Choo, who is new to center field, has been pretty terrible there defensively, gloving a -1.0 dWAR and -24.3 UZR/150.
Perfectly convincing arguments could also be made for either Andrew McCutchen or Dexter Fowler, who have posted a 132 OPS+ and 129 OPS+, respectively, and can field their position quite well—but perhaps Carlos Gomez’s season has just been a notch better, overall.
Even though Gomez can’t take a walk (4.2 percent BB%), the right-handed hitter has posted an elite 154 OPS+ (and a .324 BA) with 11 home runs, eight triples, 13 stolen bases, and sterling defensive metrics (1.9 dWAR and 35.0 UZR/150).
Do you think the New York Mets sort of wish they had Gomez right now instead of Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Johan Santana’s remaining $30.5 million salary (including his $5.5 million buyout for 2014)?
AMERICAN LEAGUE: MIGUEL CABRERA (3B)
The reigning 2012 MVP also happens to be a shoo-in for the 2013 All-Star Game. Like last season, Miguel Cabrera is absolutely raking: 186 OPS+ (and .352 BA), 18 home runs, and a 13.5 percent BB%. Miggy is also leading the league in batting average (.352), SLG (.447), RBI (69), walks (42), intentional walks (9), and runs (54).
The 30 year old third baseman only trails Chris Davis by five home runs and 11 OPS+ points—otherwise, he would be the omnipotent offensive force in the American League. If Davis starts to slow down a bit, it’s possible Cabrera could become the only hitter in baseball history to win back-to-back Triple Crowns. Not too shabby.
Miguel Cabrera might not be as nimble defensively as Evan Longoria at the corner, but needless to say, his offensive more than makes up for it.
NATIONAL LEAGUE: TROY TULOWITZKI (SS)
The National League has seen an emergence of quality shortstops, with Jean Segura, Everth Cabrera, and Brandon Crawford most notably enjoying fruitful seasons. But even though said players are exceeding expectations, Troy Tulowitzki is still sovereign.
Recent rib injury aside—which will knock him out for the next 4-6 weeks—Tulo has posted a league-leading 166 OPS+ (and has a .347 BA) with 16 home runs. The 28 year old is also an elite fielder, gloving a 0.8 dWAR and 17.1 UZR/150 for the Colorado Rockies.
The likes of Segura, Cabrera, and Crawford (most likely the latter) will all fight for Tulowitzki’s vacant All-Star starting spot, but make no qualms about it—Tulo is by far the most deserving shortstop option.
AMERICAN LEAGUE: CHRIS DAVIS (1B)
With each home run that Chris Davis hits, he pulls further and further ahead of incumbent starting All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder. Davis is currently leading the league in home runs (23), SLG (.697), OPS (1.111), and OPS+ (197).
The 27 year old slugger’s peripherals support his entrance into elitehood too. Davis is swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone (from 39.8 percent O-Swing% in 2012 to 33.9 percent O-Swing%), whiffing less (from 15.5 percent SwStr% in 2012 to 13.4 percent SwStr%), and is hitting fly balls with more authority (from 25.2 percent HR/FB% in 2012 to 29.5 percent HR/FB%).
Needless to say, the 2011 trade that sent Davis and Tommy Hunter (who owns a sterling 222 ERA+ over 38.6 innings this season) from the Texas Rangers to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Koji Uehara, is beginning to look historically bad.
NATIONAL LEAGUE: JOEY VOTTO (1B)
The actual All-Star vote is getting close for a reason: Paul Goldschmidt is the real deal. The 25-year-old Goldschmidt has socked more home runs (his 15 HR vs. Votto’s 11 HR) and has even been a notch better defensively (his 0.5 dWAR vs. Votto’s 0.2 dWAR)—but Joey Votto is still the better overall player.
Votto has posted an incredible 16.7 percent BB%, while Goldschmidt has walked at an 11.5 percent BB%. The 29 year old Cincinnati Reds first baseman also owns a slightly superior OPS+ (Votto’s 151 OPS+ vs. Goldschmidt’s 149 OPS+) too. The disparity between those two categories is wide enough to hand the starting honors to Votto.
AMERICAN LEAGUE: JOSE BAUTISTA (RF)
Jose Bautista’s rise-to-glory is one of the best stories in the major leagues. After toiling in five different organizations from 2000 to 2008 (and owning a mere 88 OPS+ over 1,210 major league plate appearances), Bautista found a sense of home with the Toronto Blue Jays. In his first full-season with the Blue Jays, in 2010, the then 29-year-old Bautista surprised everyone when he swatted a 164 OPS+, and led the league with 54 home runs.
While most critics understandably screamed “fluke,” Bautista has proved—year in and year out—that he’s simply an elite hitter. The right fielder is currently sporting a 134 OPS+ with 15 home runs, and a 13.26 percent BB%. Bautista is also even handy with a mitt, gloving a 0.6 dWAR and 17.7 UZR/150 in right field this season.
Interesting to note: in parts of five seasons (or 1,520 plate appearances) with the Kansas City Royals, Bautista owned a mere 91 OPS+, but in parts of six seasons (or 2,481 plate appearances) with the Blue Jays, the outfielder’s career OPS+ sits at the 148 mark.
NATIONAL LEAGUE: CARLOS GONZALEZ (LF)
Whenever people discuss whether Colorado Rockies’ outfielder Carlos Gonzalez would succeed outside of Coors Field, the conversation always comes back to Gonzalez’s home vs. away splits. Including this season, Gonzalez owns a .997 OPS at Coors Field, but a pedestrian .772 away.
Yet, in 2013, CarGo has flopped the trends. The 27 year old left-handed hitter has posted a 1.110 OPS away from Coors this year, while “just” hitting a .950 OPS at home. As a result, CarGo is leading the league in home runs (20), runs (57), and SLG (.650). Gonzalez is also uncharacteristically holding his own defensively in left field (career -1.6 UZR/150 vs. 2.3 UZR/150 in 2013).
Gonzalez’s marked improvement on the road indisputably entitles him to a trip to New York for this year's All-Star Game.
AMERICAN LEAGUE: JOE MAUER (C)
Joe Mauer might be a hair model for Head & Shoulders, but luckily for his street cred, he’s also the American League’s best catcher.
Carlos Santana, Mauer’s main competition, is exhibiting more pop (his .203 ISO vs. Mauer’s .153 ISO) and walking at a higher rate (his 14.2 percent BB% vs. Mauer’s 12.9 percent BB%), but Mauer is still enjoying the better overall season.
Even though Santana owns superior ISO and BB% rates, the pair of catchers have still posted equivalent OPS+’ (Santana’s 146 OPS+ vs. Mauer’s 145 OPS+). Also, Mauer’s batting average (.321 BA) is a whopping 37 points higher than Santana’s (.284 BA).
The other important deciding factor is defense. Santana has posted a pathetic -0.7 dWAR and 14.0% percent CS%, while Mauer has posted a studly 0.6 dWAR and 41.0 percent CS%. Maybe there's something in that shampoo...
NATIONAL LEAGUE: DAVID WRIGHT (3B)
Pablo Sandoval might be more popular, but there is no doubt David Wright deserves to represent the New York Mets on their hometown turf this All-Star game.
In the first season of Wright’s new eight-year, $138 million contract, the right-handed hitter has earned every cent of it (at least, the first year of it). Wright has posted a 148 OPS+ (vs. career 135 OPS+) with nine home runs, 12 stolen bases, and a 12.1 percent BB%. The 30-year-old is even gloving a 0.7 dWAR too.
By comparison, “Kung Fu Panda” has swatted a 117 OPS+ (vs. career 128 OPS+) with eight home runs, zero stolen bases, and a 5.0 percent BB%. Sandoval can't depend on defense to be his saving grace either, as he's only gloved a -0.2 dWAR at third base.
But if you're still not convinced Wright deserves the nod over Sandoval, then perhaps this set of GIFs will.
AMERICAN LEAGUE: JHONNY PERALTA (SS)
J.J. Hardy might have the most home run power (13 HR) and Elvis Andrus the most speed (16 SB), but Jhonny Peralta has stood tall in an otherwise shallow class of all-around American League shortstops this season. In fact, the 31-year-old Peralta has posted a superior 133 OPS+ (vs. Hardy’s 107 OPS+ and Andrus’ 60 OPS+), .329 batting average (vs. Hardy’s .264 BA and Andrus’ .245 BA), and 8.7 percent BB% (vs. Hardy’s 5.9 percent BB% and Andrus’ 6.9 percent BB%) to his two competitors.
And while both Hardy (1.1 dWAR) and Andrus (0.9 dWAR) are significantly better defenders than Peralta (0.5 dWAR), considering the Detroit Tigers’ shortstop doesn’t “boot” any category, it makes him the better overall pick to represent the American League.
NATIONAL LEAGUE: YADIER MOLINA (C)
Picking between Buster Posey and Yadier Molina to represent the National League is no easy feat, but like Highlander, “There can only be one.”
If you’re looking from a pure home run perspective, Posey is your man, as the 26 year old has swatted eight dingers compared to Molina’s four. Heck, even Posey’s .199 ISO and 161 OPS+ trumps Molina’s .135 ISO and 143 OPS+, respectively. But Molina still has a few strong arguments going for him too.
The 30 year old St. Louis Cardinals’ star is currently leading the league with a .352 batting average (vs. Posey’s .316), and of course, is a historically fantastic defender. Unlike the comparatively smaller disparities between the tandem’s ISO and OPS+, Posey isn’t close to the defender Molina is. Molina has posted an elite 0.7 dWAR and 41 percent CS% behind the dish, while by contrast, Posey has gloved a putrid 0.0 dWAR and 17.0 percent CS%.
AMERICAN LEAGUE: COCO CRISP (CF)
Jacoby Ellsbury is leading the league with 31 stolen bases and even has a great glove (0.9 dWAR) too, but his lack of pop (1 HR) and park-adjusted hitting skills (95 OPS+) lose the All-Star battle for him. Like Ellsbury, Alex Rios is also enjoying a good 2013 season, posting a 118 OPS+ with 11 home runs, 10 stolen bases, and 0.3 dWAR. But there’s still one guy who has bested him: Coco Crisp.
At age 33, Crisp has posted career bests in OPS+ (147) and BB% (12.9 percent BB%), while also still flashing good home run pop (8 HR), speed (13 SB), and a nifty glove (0.4 dWAR). The center fielder’s exhibition of power, speed, patience, defense, and a superb all-encompassing hitting metric should entitle Crisp to make his first trip to the All-Star game.
NATIONAL LEAGUE: GERARDO PARRA (RF)
Sure, the popular vote here would be Bryce Harper (he qualifies in right field)—and who’s to say the left-handed hitting stud doesn’t deserve it. Honestly, he does. Harper is enjoying an excellent sophomore campaign, swatting a 166 OPS+ with 12 home runs and a 14.0 percent BB%--but compared to his rookie season, Harper’s speed (from 18 SB to 2 SB) and defense (from 1.4 dWAR to 0.0 dWAR) have regressed. The latter of which is due to the Washington Nationals’ acquisition of Denard Span, who pushed Harper from center (19.1 UZR/150 in 2012) to left field this season (-10.6 UZR/150 in 2013). Even though Harper has actually fared better in limited time in right field (26.9 UZR/150), Jayson Werth and his remaining $83 million over the next four seasons might stand in the way.
But what is Bryce Harper’s loss, is Gerardo Parra’s gain. Parra is perhaps the most well-rounded—and unsuspecting—right fielder in the National League right now. The big knock on Gerardo Parra has always been how he—despite being a defensive master—doesn’t produce enough offensively to warrant a starting job. Considering Parra has posted a career best 134 OPS+, 9.4 percent BB%, 14.9 percent K%--and even a 1.5 dWAR this season--the 26 year old has quietly emerged as a bright young star for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
And hey, if Ozzie Smith was able to garner eighteen All-Star appearances mostly due to his glove (i.e. career 87 OPS+), then perhaps Gerardo Parra should be rewarded for his accomplishments so far in 2013.
AMERICAN LEAGUE: YU DARVISH (P)
It’s difficult to turn down Chris Sale, Anibal Sanchez, Felix Hernandez, and even Clay Buchholz, but clearly the most dominant starting pitcher in the American League has been Yu Darvish.
The 26 year-old hurler leads all pitchers in baseball with 127 strikeouts—or a 12.00 K/9. Darvish’s 2.64 ERA vs. 2.53 xFIP (from 3.90 ERA vs. 3.52 xFIP in 2012) and 2.74 BB/9 (from 4.19 BB/9 in 2012) also illustrates how drastically the ace pitcher has improved in just one season—his second major league season.
If anything, the American League should throw the type of pitcher whom most National League hitters have not experienced; one who has 23 more strikeouts than the leading NL pitcher.
NATIONAL LEAGUE: ADAM WAINWRIGHT (P)
Sure, both Matt Harvey and Clayton Kershaw have a few more strikeouts (Harvey’s 102 vs. Kershaw’s 104 vs. Wainwright’s 97), lower ERAs (Harvey’s 2.04 vs. Kershaw’s 1.98 vs. Wainwright’s 2.18), and even average faster heaters (Harvey’s 95.4 MPH vs. Kershaw’s 92.6 MPH vs. Wainwright’s 90.7 MPH)—but Wainwright is still the better pitcher.
Wainwright’s masterful control of the strike zone is exemplified by his league-leading, and eye-popping 0.8 BB/9 (vs. Harvey’s 1.9 BB/9 and Kershaw’s 2.6 BB/9) as well as his remarkable 0.2 HR/9 (vs. Harvey’s 0.4 HR/9 and Kershaw’s 0.4 HR/9). Perhaps what is most extraordinary is that the 31-year-old Wainwright has achieved his surface feats with an inflated .325 BABIP (vs. career .298 BABIP). By comparison, Kershaw’s .249 BABIP (vs. career .281 BABIP) is so deflated, that his xFIP stands at 3.21 (vs. 1.84 ERA).
Throwing any one of Harvey, Kershaw, or Wainwright on the hill at the All-Star game would give the National League a good chance to win, but Wainwright’s season—from a surface and peripheral standpoint—have been airtight.
- LF Mike Trout
- 2B Robinson Cano
- 3B Miguel Cabrera
- 1B Chris Davis
- RF Jose Bautista
- C Joe Mauer
- SS Jhonny Peralta
- CF Coco Crisp
- P Yu Darvish
- 2B Matt Carpenter
- CF Carlos Gomez
- SS Troy Tulowitzki
- 1B Joey Votto
- LF Carlos Gonzalez
- 3B David Wright
- C Yadier Molina
- RF Gerardo Parra
- P Adam Wainwright