MLB All-Star Game 2014: Power Ranking Every All-Star Starter
With the MLB All-Star Game nearly upon us, is there a better time than now to rank each of the 18 players that will comprise the starting lineups for the American League and the National League?
I can't think of one.
Ranking anything can be a difficult undertaking, especially when it's a small group of elite athletes that are widely considered to be the best in their field.
It'd be easy to look at a single statistic, such as WAR or wRC+, and put the player with the highest number at the top of our rankings. But if we've learned anything over the years, it's that sometimes statistics can be misleading.
So, how do we go about it?
While the primary focus is put on what a player has done this season, recent history does come into play here. A player who has seemingly come out of nowhere to put together an All-Star-caliber season, for example, isn't going to be ranked as highly as someone who has an established track record of success.
At the same time, what a player did, say, five years ago has no bearing on where he stands among his contemporaries today.
I've taken into account a player's overall profile—offense and defense—in putting these rankings together, but they remain highly subjective, as most rankings do.
So, who is the best of the best?
Let's take a look.
*Unless otherwise noted/linked, all statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and are current through games of July 14.
18. Derek Jeter, SS, American League
He's not the hitter that he used to be, and statistically speaking, he's the weakest member of either league's All-Star roster. But the Midsummer Classic wouldn't be complete without Derek Jeter, the face of baseball for nearly 20 years.
Making his 14th All-Star appearance, the 40-year-old shortstop looks at the game the same way he did when he made his All-Star debut in 1998, as he explained to ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand: "I'm going to just try to enjoy it. I always look forward to All-Star Games. I've never taken any of them for granted. They are all special to the city that they are in. It is exciting for us as players."
You can be sure that some of the loudest applause at Target Field will be for the Yankees captain, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him pull a Cal Ripken, putting together an MVP-worthy performance in this, his final All-Star Game.
17. Aramis Ramirez, 3B, National League
It's been six years since we've seen Aramis Ramirez in the All-Star Game, with the slugging third baseman last appearing in 2008, when he was still a member of the Chicago Cubs.
Among National League third basemen, Ramirez ranks third in OPS and fourth in home runs, RBI and wRC+.
While others at his position on the Senior Circuit may have been more deserving of the starting nod—the Cincinnati Reds' Todd Frazier and Washington Nationals' Anthony Rendon both come to mind—Ramirez is once again putting together a solid, albeit unspectacular, season.
16. Salvador Perez, C, American League (Injury Replacement)
While the fans may not have voted him into the starting lineup, Salvador Perez is well-deserving of a starting nod in the All-Star Game in place of the injured Matt Wieters.
Perez leads all qualified American League catchers in hits (92), OPS and slugging percentage (.437), trailing the Seattle Mariners' Mike Zunino by two home runs and the New York Yankees' Brian McCann by three RBI for the top spot in those categories as well.
Defensively, he's got the third-best catcher's ERA (3.43) and fourth-best caught-stealing percentage (39 percent) among his AL contemporaries.
Making his second consecutive All-Star appearance, the 24-year-old figures to be a fixture at the position for the American League in the Midsummer Classic for years to come, especially when you consider that he's yet to reach the prime of his career.
15. Adam Jones, OF, American League
As he told Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun, Adam Jones understands that he's quite lucky to be making his second consecutive start for the American League in the All-Star Game:
To start, it comes down to voting. First, you’ve got to do it on the field. If I’m not hitting, if I’m not playing good, then they’re not going to vote. I think the timing of it was good, playing good baseball and the voting. … At the end of the day, Baltimore, Birdland, fans across baseball, you want [to show] respect, a debt of gratitude. They took to the computers, whoever they vote, and they voted me in.
It really was perfect timing for the 28-year-old center fielder, who commanded the attention of fans around the game after a torrid June that saw him hit .348 with nine home runs, 20 RBI and a 1.026 OPS, powering a late voting surge that put him roughly 77,000 votes ahead of the Oakland A's Yoenis Cespedes for the AL's third and final starting outfield spot.
Jones has enjoyed another all-around strong season, hitting for average and power while providing the first-place Baltimore Orioles with above-average defense at a premium position.
14. Chase Utley, 2B, National League
Talk of 35-year-old Chase Utley's demise was grossly overstated heading into the regular season, as the former perennial MVP candidate has silenced his doubters (myself included) to make his sixth All-Star Game appearance, his first since 2010.
While he's cooled off substantially after a scorching start to the season, hitting only .262 with a .669 OPS since June 1, Utley remains one of the most productive second basemen in baseball. His 120 wRC+ ranks sixth among his contemporaries—third in the National League—and he's playing Gold Glove-caliber defense to boot.
13. Josh Donaldson, 3B, American League
One of the biggest snubs from last year's Midsummer Classic, Oakland's Josh Donaldson is the only member of the best team in baseball to earn a starting nod in this year's All-Star Game.
If you're one of those people who feels that batting average is a useless statistic, look no further than the 28-year-old Donaldson as the champion of your cause. He may only be hitting .238—the lowest batting average of any All-Star starter by far—but he ranks fifth in the AL in runs scored and seventh in both home runs and RBI.
He's also been the best defensive third baseman around, not just in the American League but in all of baseball, with an MLB-best 20.2 UZR/150 and 17 DRS, giving him a huge lead over the rest of the field.
12. Nelson Cruz, DH, American League
When Baltimore signed Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million deal during the winter, it looked like a solid investment, despite the slugger having served a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs last summer.
Nobody expected that Cruz would be the biggest steal of the offseason, however, which is exactly how things have played out. The 34-year-old ranks second in the American League in home runs and RBI, fifth in slugging percentage (.570) and OPS, eighth in wRC+ and 10th in runs scored.
He's played as big a part as anyone in Baltimore's rise to power (and the top of the standings) in the American League East, and the chance to showcase his talents in the All-Star Game is something that Cruz isn't taking for granted, as he told Tyler Kepner of The New York Times: “I had the chance to go last year, but there’s nothing better than to be elected by the fans. “To go because the fans want me there, it makes it more special.”
11. Jonathan Lucroy, C, National League (Injury Replacement)
Few players in the game have been as underrated as the Milwaukee Brewers' Jonathan Lucroy, who has hit a combined .301 with a .842 OPS since 2012 but finds himself making his first All-Star Game appearance in 2014.
The 28-year-old has easily been the best catcher in baseball this season, leading the way in nearly every statistical category. He's opened up sizable leads over his competition in a number of those categories, including OPS, where he enjoys a 114-point lead over fellow All-Star Salvador Perez, and wRC+, where he has a 29-point lead over the Minnesota Twins' Kurt Suzuki and San Francisco Giants' Buster Posey.
Throw in Lucroy's defensive chops and game-calling ability, and we might just be looking at the best all-around catcher in baseball.
10. Robinson Cano, 2B, American League
Sure, his defense has taken a step in the wrong direction, but Robinson Cano remains the best second baseman in baseball and one of the game's premier hitters, regardless of position.
For years, we've been saying that Cano was destined to win a batting title, and he heads into the All-Star break in the thick of the race in the American League. His .334 batting average ranks third behind only the Texas Rangers' Adrian Beltre (.337) and Houston Astros' Jose Altuve (.335). His 138 wRC+ leads all major league second basemen.
Making his fifth consecutive All-Star appearance (sixth overall), Cano told Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times that he still considers it to be a great honor—perhaps even more so than when he played with the Yankees:
It’s still special. It was something I was going to be excited for, something I was going to have in my heart. You don’t know now that I’m on new team. But they’ve been watching and appreciating what I’m doing here.
Despite a lack of power—which was to be expected when he moved to Safeco Field, one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball—Cano has been a driving force behind the Seattle Mariners' return to playoff contention.
9. Yasiel Puig, OF, National League
He might be the most immature player in the game, but 23-year-old Yasiel Puig is also one of the most naturally gifted athletes that baseball has seen come along in quite some time.
Whether it's his pronounced bat flips, chirping as he rounds the bases or, as was the case this past weekend, showing up an umpire, Puig has never struggled to find a way to rub people the wrong way.
But he's also never struggled to produce at the plate, with the National League's fifth-highest OPS, sixth-highest slugging percentage (.522) and seventh-highest batting average. His 160 wRC+ (the same number he put up in 2013) is the third-highest total by any major league outfielder, second to only fellow All-Star Andrew McCutchen (179) on the Senior Circuit.
Advanced metrics don't love his defense, but on more than one occasion, Puig has shown off his accurate, strong throwing arm. He's tied with Chicago's Nate Schierholtz and San Francisco's Hunter Pence with seven assists from right field, the fourth-highest total among right fielders.
8. Carlos Gomez, OF, National League
Carlos Gomez is not the best center fielder in baseball. That honor falls to the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout, with the Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen a close second.
But that takes nothing away from Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez, who, after a slow start to his career, has emerged as one of the most exciting players in baseball.
He can hit for average. He can hit for power. He can cause chaos when he gets on base with his speed, and few players are as gifted defensively—regardless of position—as Gomez is. He makes incredible plays look easy and routinely gets to balls that most other outfielders wouldn't have a chance at.
Among the National League leaders in OPS, runs scored, slugging percentage and stolen bases, Gomez's 145 wRC+ trails only McCutchen and Trout among qualified center fielders.
7. Giancarlo Stanton, DH, National League
Baseball's most prolific power hitter—his five home runs of at least 450 feet are more than any other team in baseball, per ESPN Stats & Info—Giancarlo Stanton has managed to stay healthy and put together the kind of MVP-caliber campaign that most people around baseball believed was inevitable.
The hulking 24-year-old leads the National League in home runs and RBI, has drawn the second-most walks (56) and ranks fourth in both OPS and slugging percentage (.538).
Stanton, the driving force behind the Miami Marlins' surprising success this season, is no slouch in the field, either. He has the second-highest DRS (nine) and seventh-highest UZR/150 (2.7) among qualified right fielders.
6. Jose Bautista, OF, American League
Few players in baseball have become as adept at working the count and drawing a free pass to first base as the Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista, captain of the American League's entry into the Home Run Derby.
The 33-year-old sits second in the AL with 62 walks—nearly 15 percent of the time—the fourth-best walk rate in baseball. He's one of only two players—along with the Oakland A's Coco Crisp—whose walk rate lands in the top 30 and is higher than his strikeout rate.
That'd be impressive on its own, but when you factor in Bautista's power and defense, there's a strong case to be made that he's the best right fielder in baseball.
5. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, National League
While few things have gone right in Arizona this season, the Diamondbacks can proudly boast that they've got the best first baseman in the National League.
In the midst of another MVP-caliber season, 26-year-old Paul Goldschmidt's name litters NL leaderboards in nearly every offensive category. But his numbers aren't special on just the Senior Circuit, as his 53 extra-base hits are tied with Los Angeles' Mike Trout for the major league lead.
His defense has been a bit shaky, even though he won the Golden Glove last season, but when you put up numbers like Goldschmidt does at the plate, it's a shortcoming that is easily overlooked.
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, American League
After a rather pedestrian start to the season—especially by his own incredibly high standards—Miguel Cabrera has gotten back on track, hitting .317 with 40 extra-base hits, 60 RBI and a .918 OPS over his last 60 games.
The move across the diamond from third base to first base has paid huge dividends, with the 31-year-old slugger dealing with far less wear and tear on his body than he did at the hot corner, and his defense has improved markedly.
Crazy as it sounds, given how terrible his defense was at third base, Cabrera leads all qualified first basemen with a 9.0 UZR/150. His three defensive runs saved put him in a tie with another future Hall of Fame inductee, Albert Pujols, for seventh in baseball.
Still one of the most feared hitters in the game, Cabrera has been outproduced by an equally dynamic trio of superstars, pushing him lower in the rankings than most would expect to find him.
3. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, National League
Yes, Troy Tulowitzki's home and away splits are extreme, and yes, his numbers are significantly pumped up by playing half his games in baseball's most hitter-friendly park, Coors Field.
Yet the 29-year-old remains the gold standard against whom all other shortstops are judged, and for good reason. Tulo leads all of baseball in batting average and OPS while pacing the National League in home runs, runs scored and slugging percentage (.613).
That he's doing so from a premium position, where he provides above-average defense, only makes his production on the season all the more impressive.
2. Andrew McCutchen, OF, National League
On a pace to shatter his numbers from last season, when he was named the National League's Most Valuable Player, Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen has established himself as the best all-around player on the Senior Circuit.
Among the league leaders in almost every possible statistical category—including walks, which he leads the NL in with 58—McCutchen has thrived despite having a less-than-stellar supporting cast around him in the heart of the Pirates lineup.
Only Mike Trout stands between McCutchen and the major league lead in wRC+—and the title of best player in baseball.
1. Mike Trout, OF, American League
Sure, he's running less and striking out more than he ever has before, but that's hardly reason enough to knock Mike Trout from the top of the mountain as the best all-around player in baseball.
He's the poster boy for the five-tool player, with a combination of athleticism, natural ability, power and speed that no other player in the game can contend with.
As dangerous, dynamic and explosive a player as baseball has seen come along in a generation, the 22-year-old has only begun to scratch the surface of his potential. That's downright scary.