Who Would Win a Team USA vs. the World MLB All-Star Game Battle?
To spark interest in the MLB All-Star Game, perhaps baseball should rethink its AL vs. NL concept.
With international stars becoming so prevalent, wouldn't it be more compelling to see Team USA take on the best that the rest of the world has to offer?
Our first task is assembling the rosters. We'll adopt the same ridiculous 34-player limit that the sport presently uses (just in case this contest lasts a zillion innings).
However, the existing voting process has no place in this fantasy. Obsessive fans who send 25 submissions with a dozen different e-mail addresses—you know who you are—often support individuals based on reputation or marketability. Instead, let's fill each position (including designated hitter) with those who actually deserve recognition based on 2013 first-half production.
The rule about removing pitchers from All-Star rosters who started the previous Sunday is also bogus. The best pitchers will be chosen without taking that into consideration.
Then, we'll simulate the game itself, assuming it's being played at Citi Field on July 16, 2013, the same date as the actual Midsummer Classic.
USA All-Star Selection: Position Players
Two American catchers have distinguished themselves from the pack: Joe Mauer and Buster Posey. They're adequate defensive players and Hall of Fame-caliber producers at the plate. Both have been flirting with a .400 on-base percentage in 2013.
Amid career years, first basemen Chris Davis and Paul Goldschmidt are no-brainers. Allen Craig sneaks on the roster for versatility—he can play corner outfield positions—and his "clutch" gene. Lacking their game-changing power, Craig has excelled thanks to outstanding production with runners in scoring position.
In this pitcher-dominated era, it takes a very special player to walk and strike out in equal amounts. Dustin Pedroia has done that this season while contributing as a spectacular fielder. Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals as a 23-year-old, Matt Carpenter continues to make up for lost time. Just like Craig, he boasts a .300 batting average and the potential to help at various positions. Compensating for a slow start to the summer, Jason Kipnis was virtually unstoppable in June, writes Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer.
We'll need to substitute Troy Tulowitzki off Team USA as he recovers from a broken rib. Adjust his .347/.413/.635 batting line for the high altitude, and it's still way beyond what other American-born shortstops are capable of. Jed Lowrie is a switch-hitting on-base machine, while Ian Desmond does significant damage with his raw tools.
Including every deserving American third basemen wasn't doable, even under the generous constraints of a 34-man roster. The man-child of many doubles, Manny Machado, gets the nod alongside franchise cornerstones Evan Longoria and David Wright.
Mike Trout has replicated his AL Rookie of the Year-worthy season in 2013 to merit a starting assignment. Michael Cuddyer's miraculous—albeit recently expired—hitting streak covers up his stint on the disabled list, while Coco Crisp has excelled in all facets to make up for missed time.
A breakout year has vaulted Domonic Brown near the top of the NL leaderboards in home runs (21) and total bases (166). Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew McCutchen complete the outfield with their defensive prowess and electrifying baserunning.
During a year in which full-time designated hitters haven't been particularly effective, we'll slide Prince Fielder over from first base. Same story with third baseman Josh Donaldson. He's slashing .318/.386/.534 with 14 HR, not to mention a 1.125 OPS against southpaws. In any other season, he wouldn't have had to change positions.
Billy Butler, Dexter Fowler, Brett Gardner, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Howie Kendrick, Ian Kinsler, Adam Lind, James Loney, Nate McLouth and Hunter Pence.
USA All-Star Selection: Pitchers
The U.S. produces a disproportionately high percentage of world-class pitchers. Clay Buchholz was the best of the starting variety...when healthy. However, with no timetable for him to return from a trapezius injury, per Alex Speier of WEEI.com, we must settle for other homegrown options.
The obvious picks include undefeated Max Scherzer, second-year stud Matt Harvey, imposing workhorses Cliff Lee and Adam Wainwright and Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
Pitiful run support is not deterring Chris Sale from competing admirably. Exactly 80 percent of his 2013 starts have lasted seven-plus innings, and four have been double-digit strikeout games.
While generating fewer whiffs than ever, Jordan Zimmermann continues to be the unheralded leader of the Washington Nationals. He ranks second to Harvey and Wainwright in National League WHIP and BB/9, respectively.
Patrick Corbin has stabilized an otherwise dysfunctional Arizona Diamondbacks rotation. Of his 17 outings this season, 14 of them have been considered quality starts.
We'll comprise the Team USA bullpen with more setup men than closers, reflecting the pitchers' dominance rather than the innings when their managers choose to use them.
Baseball's best team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, wouldn't be nearly as formidable without Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon nailing down close contests. FanGraphs believes they are the top two American bullpen arms in terms of FIP and WAR.
Drew Smyly, on the other hand, is being used in unorthodox ways. The former starter averages 1.2 innings per appearance—usually in high-leverage situations—and still maintains 9.18 K/9. Another transformed rotation member, Brett Cecil overwhelms his opposition, evidenced by their .151/.219/.240 slash line against him.
Flamethrower Trevor Rosenthal will occasionally make mistakes over the middle of the plate, but both this season and last October, his strikeout-to-walk ratio has been through the roof.
Rex Brothers, Steve Delabar, Gio Gonzalez, Greg Holland, Casey Janssen, Craig Kimbrel, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Jeff Locke, Justin Masterson, Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins, Robbie Ross, James Shields and Stephen Strasburg.
World All-Star Selection: Position Players
Yadier Molina is already the game's best game-caller and overall defender behind the plate. In 2013, he's a legitimate batting title threat, looking to become the third catcher in the modern era (since 1900) with a 200-hit season. A distant second-stringer, Russell Martin has unusual athleticism for the position and respectable power. Further down the depth chart, Carlos Santana joins the roster because of his strike-zone judgement and switch-hitting ability.
Since taking home the 2010 NL MVP award, Joey Votto has been a part of the "best hitter in the game" conversation. He refuses to miss a game in 2013. Though Adrian Gonzalez isn't leaving the ballpark as frequently since turning 30, his reputable glove work and tendency to spread line drives to all fields could come in handy.
Without Robinson Cano, it's easy to imagine the New York Yankees in last place and experiencing larger attendance and ratings drops than the New York Times' Zach Schonbrun reported. Fortunately for them, no other second baseman rivals Cano in terms of home-run potential and arm strength. Marco Scutaro bolsters Team World with his versatility and bat control.
A dynamic breakout season has introduced us to Jean Segura, even though there's very little talent surrounding him. He's the only MLB shortstop with double-digit long balls and stolen bases in 2013. Everth Cabrera generates similar excitement on the basepaths and in the field. The .305/.382/.418 hitter is on the verge of returning from a hamstring injury, Joe Morgan of MLB.com reports. We'll also include Jhonny Peralta despite his late-June slump. A sure-handed defender, Peralta continues to add depth to the Detroit Tigers lineup.
Miguel Cabrera's 2013 performance is simply beyond superlatives. It's arguably been the best individual season that a third baseman has ever had. Through the first month of the summer, Adrian Beltre wasn't productive at all. He's still struggling with inconsistency, but he benefits from the shortage of foreign-born players at the hot corner.
The easy outfield picks all bear the same first name: Carlos Beltran, Carlos Gomez and Carlos Gonzalez. Jose Bautista and Nelson Cruz also belong on Team World as terrific sluggers with cannon arms. It's quietly shaping up to be a career year for Gerardo Parra. His defensive prowess makes him usable at all three outfield positions. And after more than 100 plate appearances, Yasiel Puig has proven that he belongs on the international stage.
David Ortiz and Edwin Encarnacion make for two dangerous designated hitters. In emergencies, Encarnacion could shift to one of the corner infield spots.
Shin-Soo Choo, Jose Iglesias, Omar Infante, Salvador Perez, Albert Pujols and Alex Rios.
World All-Star Selection: Pitchers
Seattle Mariners Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma have thrown more innings in 2013 than any other non-Americans. Even over their large samples, Hernandez boasts a 2.51 FIP, while Iwakuma has an extraordinary 0.88 WHIP (second in MLB).
Yu Darvish is another lock for the Team World, rotation as he threatens for 300 strikeouts and does it with improved command. His .190 BAA in the American League speaks volumes about the filthiness and diversity of his repertoire.
Before Anibal Sanchez went down with a shoulder strain, the Detroit Tigers were cruising toward a division title. It's no coincidence that they have hit the skids in recent weeks without his .285 OBP against and 11.1 K/9. However, James Chipman of the Detroit News explains that he could return to MLB action prior to July 16.
Star pitchers come in all sorts of different shapes and ages. Bartolo Colon and Jose Fernandez have reminded us of that.
As a 20-year-old rookie, Fernandez has had his workload closely monitored, but his performance since the beginning of May has been unmistakably outstanding. Opponents have slashed only .182/.251/.255 during that stretch. Colon, who's more about precision than power, tops the AL in walk rate and percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone. He tossed complete-game shutouts against the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox.
Two Comeback Player of the Year candidates, Ervin Santana and Jorge De La Rosa, round out this group of international starters.
The only knock against Mariano Rivera in his 19th and final major league season has been his elevated batting average against (personal worst as reliever). On the flip side, he continues to break bats constantly, hence the microscopic Isolated Power for his opposition. The Sandman remains elite because his contact-to-damage ratio is so impressive.
Edward Mujica solidified a shaky St. Louis Cardinals bullpen upon being promoted to the closer's role. An otherworldly strikeout-to-walk ratio attests to his impeccable control.
This 2013 season also marks the first time that Sergio Romo has entered the All-Star break as a full-time bullpen anchor. The Brawley, California, native was born into a Mexican family, and he affirmed his commitment to the country south of the border by pitching for it in the World Baseball Classic.
Jesse Crain, the only "white guy" to crack this pitching staff, hails from Ontario, Canada. He maintained a scoreless innings streak from mid-April into deep June and boasts a sub-1.00 ERA overall.
Through three-plus months of the regular season, Kenley Jansen is among the hardest-working setup men in the industry. His strikeout rate, which has dipped from previous years, still puts him in excellent company, per FanGraphs.
Joaquin Benoit, Jhoulys Chacin, Aroldis Chapman, Hyun-jin Ryu, Jim Henderson, Hiroki Kuroda, Francisco Liriano. Oliver Perez, Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, Julio Teheran, Alex Torres and Koji Uehara.
|Jose Bautista||Dominican Republic|
|Carlos Beltran||Puerto Rico|
|Adrian Beltre||Dominican Republic|
|Robinson Cano||Dominican Republic|
|Bartolo Colon||Dominican Republic|
|Nelson Cruz||Dominican Republic|
|Jorge De La Rosa||Mexico|
|Edwin Encarnacion||Dominican Republic|
|Carlos Gomez||Dominican Republic|
|Yadier Molina||Puerto Rico|
|David Ortiz||Dominican Republic|
|Jhonny Peralta||Dominican Republic|
|Carlos Santana||Dominican Republic|
|Ervin Santana||Dominican Republic|
|Jean Segura||Dominican Republic|
|Patrick Corbin^||New York|
|Mike Trout||New Jersey|
*Replaced due to injury
Major League Baseball has a longstanding tradition of using the previous year's pennant-winning managers in the MLB All-Star Game.
Let's keep that going.
Despite his all-American features, Bruce Bochy was actually born overseas in a French military base. Leading Team World unites him with two current San Francisco Giants: Sergio Romo and Marco Scutaro.
By default, Team USA will install Jim Leyland as skipper.
Prediction: World 5, USA 4
With this event taking place on American soil, Team World steps to the plate first.
Matt Harvey mows down the top of their lineup in order and gets through the second inning with similar ease. David Ortiz draws a walk, but a ground-ball double play and strikeout end the threat.
Felix Hernandez doesn't cruise through Team USA quite as smoothly. Mike Trout leads off with a triple, then comes around to score on Buster Posey's sacrifice fly. The next inning, David Wright doubles to the right-center gap, and Andrew McCutchen brings him home with a base hit when Carlos Gomez's throw is offline.
Always reluctant to make pitching changes, Jim Leyland sends Matt Harvey to the mound again for the third inning. The strategy backfires, as Robinson Cano rips a double and Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez load the bases with infield hits. Miguel Cabrera ties the score with a line drive to right field, but Gomez gets greedy. Michael Cuddyer guns him out at the plate on the play, so it remains 2-2.
USA squanders opportunities in the third, fourth and fifth innings against Bartolo Colon and Yu Darvish. The home team is glad to see Yadier Molina replaced for a pinch-runner (Everth Cabrera) in the top of the sixth after nailing Trout and Coco Crisp attempting to steal.
Puig has chance to contribute with runners on the corners and one out, Everth Cabrera running for Molina at third base. Los Angeles Dodgers teammate Clayton Kershaw gets him to chase a high fastball for strike three, however. Going to the bottom of the sixth, we're still knotted at two runs apiece.
That's when the Americans seemingly seize control. Crisp, who stayed in the game to play center field, hits a blooper off Kenley Jansen that finds the outfield grass. Jed Lowrie gets hit by a pitch and new second baseman Matt Carpenter brings them both in with a clutch double, making it a 4-2 USA lead.
Neither side threatens in the seventh, and Leyland brings on Drew Smyly for the eighth. Adrian Gonzalez clobbers his first-pitch fastball into the upper deck. World 3, USA 4.
The rally doesn't end there. Everth Cabrera singles and moves to third following a Carlos Beltran double that gets by the outstretched glove of a hobbling Evan Longoria.
With the go-ahead run in scoring position, Leyland pulls Smyly for Jason Grilli. Russell Martin digs into the batter's box. This is only their sixth matchup ever, but first since 2009.
Martin falls behind in the count, then pokes a base hit to center field, bringing both runners in and putting Team World in front, 5-4.
Sergio Romo puts his shortcomings on the international stage behind him by striking out the side. Mariano Rivera pitches around a broken-bat single and shuts the door on the local players.