Selecting the 2014 All-MLB Team Through the All-Star Break
You've got the MLB All-Star teams, celebrating the best that the American League and National League have to offer, and there's no shortage of fictional midseason awards that have been handed out to some very deserving players.
But none of those things identify the best of the best at each individual position.
Stats, obviously, do most of the work in helping to answer that question, but inclusion on Bleacher Report's All-MLB Team isn't earned by numbers alone.
Production at the plate and with the glove carry equal weight among position players, though if someone's offensive numbers are just so off-the-chart good that we can overlook some shoddy defense, they're given serious consideration.
On the mound, it's about dominance. Which pitcher has had the filthiest stuff and made batters look foolish most often?
Here's a look at who made the cut.
Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
2014 Stats: .315 BA, .879 OPS, 42 XBH (9 HR), 44 RBI, 143 wRC+
If anyone still had doubts that Milwaukee's Jonathan Lucroy was the best catcher in baseball, they should be erased after his performance in his first career All-Star Game. He went 2-for-2 with a pair of RBI doubles as the injury replacement for St. Louis' Yadier Molina in the National League's starting lineup.
While Molina and San Francisco's Buster Posey remain fantastic backstops, Lucroy has surpassed them both.
Among the National League leaders in batting average (fifth), OPS (ninth) and doubles (32, second), the 28-year-old leads all qualified major league catchers with a 143 wRC+, 31 points ahead of second-place Salvador Perez of Kansas City.
He's been just as impressive behind the plate, where he's developing into one of the premier game-callers and pitch-framers, the latter of which FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan offers some fantastic video evidence of here.
Yadier Molina (STL): .287 BA, .751 OPS, 23 XBH (7 HR), 30 RBI, 110 wRC+
Salvador Perez (KC): .283 BA, .765 OPS, 28 XBH (11 HR), 36 RBI, 112 wRC+
Buster Posey (SF): .275 BA, .753 OPS, 25 XBH (10 HR), 46 RBI, 114 wRC+
First Base: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats: .292 BA, .972 OPS, 50 XBH (29 HR), 73 RBI, 159 wRC+
Two years ago, Grantland's Jonah Keri wrote the following:
A .453 batting average; .597 on-base percentage; .986 slugging percentage. Thirty-three homers and 93 runs batted in … in 212 at-bats.
You look at the numbers, squint, and then look again. These are Baseball Stars numbers, a video game creation, with abilities cranked up to the max. There’s no way a professional baseball player could have done this.
Except someone did. His name is Jose Abreu. He just might be the best hitter in the world. And you’ve probably never heard of him.
The initial first half of Abreu's MLB career hasn't seen him post quite those kind of video-game numbers, but the 27-year-old sits on the verge of rewriting parts of the record book for Cuban-born rookies.
He's on pace to shatter Jose Canseco's records for home runs (33) and RBI (117), set with Oakland in 1986, and he's got a realistic shot to finish the year with the highest slugging percentage and OPS.
Leading the majors in home runs and slugging percentage (.630) and within striking distance for the lead in RBI and OPS, Abreu's 159 wRC+ is tied with Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt for second among first basemen, seventh in all of baseball.
He's held his own defensively, certainly more than his stiffest competition for the starting spot on our All-MLB squad, Goldschmidt and Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion. Abreu has also been significantly more productive at the plate than Atlanta's Freddie Freeman, our third honorable mention.
Edwin Encarnacion (TOR): .277 BA, .959 OPS, 49 XBH (26 HR), 70 RBI, 161 wRC+
Freddue Freeman (ATL): .295 BA, .878 OPS, 44 XBH (13 HR), 52 RBI, 147 wRC+
Paul Goldschmidt (ARI): .308 BA, .949 OPS, 53 XBH (16 HR), 61 RBI, 159 wRC+
Second Base: Ian Kinsler, Detroit Tigers
2014 Stats: .303 BA, .806 OPS, 39 XBH (11 HR), 51 RBI, 121 wRC+
We all remember Ian Kinsler's less-than-flattering remarks about the end of his career with the Texas Rangers in a chat with ESPN's Robert Sanchez during spring training, but if we've learned anything, it's that Kinsler knew what he was talking about.
"I was bogged down," he told Sanchez. "They wanted me to lead these young players, teach them the way to compete, when the only thing I should be worried about is how I'm performing in the game."
Focusing only on his own performance, Kinsler is enjoying the best season he's had in years. Not only are his offensive numbers up across the board, but there's been a marked improvement in his defense, with the 32-year-old ranking third among second basemen in defensive runs saved (eight) and fifth in UZR/150 (8.0).
It's Kinsler's all-around game that gives him the edge over the rest of the field.
Jose Altuve (HOU): .335 BA, .809 OPS, 33 XBH (2 HR), 27 RBI, 127 wRC+
Robinson Cano (SEA): .334 BA, .855 OPS, 30 XBH (7 HR), 57 RBI, 138 wRC+
Chase Utley (PHI): .293 BA, .794 OPS, 35 XBH (8 HR), 46 RBI, 120 wRC+
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats: .345 BA, 1.048 OPS, 40 XBH (21 HR), 52 RBI, 175 wRC+
Were it not for some guy named Mike Trout, we'd be talking about Troy Tulowitzki as the best player in baseball. Aside from a lack of speed, there's not much Tulo can't do. He hits for average and power, and he plays Gold Glove-caliber defense at a premium position.
He leads baseball in batting average, on-base percentage (.435) and OPS, sitting second only to Chicago's Abreu in slugging percentage (.613), and third to Trout (181) and Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen (179) in wRC+.
Sure, his stats are padded by playing half of his games in the most hitter-friendly park in all the land, Coors Field, but that's hardly his fault or something that should be held against him—especially when there's not a team in baseball that wouldn't love to have him as its everyday shortstop.
Erick Aybar (LAA): .283 BA, .732 OPS, 31 XBH (6 HR), 50 RBI, 107 wRC+
Starlin Castro (CHC): .276 BA, .766 OPS, 38 XBH (11 HR), 52 RBI, 110 wRC+
Jhonny Peralta (STL): .253 BA, .783 OPS, 39 XBH (14 HR), 44 RBI, 120 wRC+
Third Base: Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Stats: .290 BA, .853 OPS, 37 XBH (19 HR), 53 RBI, 137 wRC+
Few positions presented quite as difficult a choice as third base, where there's no shortage of candidates deserving of the top spot on our All-MLB team.
Cincinnati's Todd Frazier doesn't have the highest batting average, OPS or wRC+, nor has he hit the most home runs or flashed the best leather at the hot corner. But he's been a consistent performer across the board, and his numbers are well above average for the position.
Neither Texas' Adrian Beltre (subpar defense by his own standards) nor Oakland's Josh Donaldson (not hitting for average) can say the same.
Seattle's Kyle Seager put up the stiffest fight, with nearly identical numbers to Frazier at the plate and in the field, but Frazier's speed—he leads the position with 14 stolen bases on the year—puts him just a step ahead.
Adrian Beltre (TEX): .337 BA, .917 OPS, 34 XBH (13 HR), 51 RBI, 148 wRC+
Josh Donaldson (OAK): .238 BA, .766 OPS, 35 XBH (20 HR), 65 RBI, 116 wRC+
Kyle Seager (SEA): .279 BA, .843 OPS, 40 XBH (15 HR), 63 RBI, 136 wRC+
Left Field: Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians
2014 Stats: .322 BA, .901 OPS, 38 XBH (15 HR), 63 RBI, 154 wRC+
Baseball's hottest hitter in the spring has yet to cool off, but don't let the numbers fool you, for they don't tell the whole story when it comes to Cleveland's Michael Brantley. His manager, Terry Francona, did so while talking to The Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes at the All-Star Game:
His stats are good to begin with, but he's better than his stats and that's a big compliment. He's a very good baserunner, outfielder, teammate and leader.
If you had to have a model, he's kind of what you're look for. You don't manage him, you just send him out to his position and let him play.
That last part might be the biggest compliment of all, and it shows just how far the 27-year-old has come in his sixth major league season. Brantley leads all left fielders in virtually every offensive category except on-base percentage and wRC+, trailing San Diego's Seth Smith by a thousandth of a point and one point, respectively.
Advanced defensive metrics—especially UZR/150—don't like his defense, but Brantley has been so good at the plate that it's nowhere near enough to knock him from the top spot.
Nelson Cruz (BAL): .287 BA, .923 OPS, 45 XBH (28 HR), 74 RBI, 150 wRC+
Seth Smith (SD): .283 BA, .895 OPS, 34 XBH (10 HR), 27 RBI, 155 wRC+
Christian Yelich (MIA): .274 BA, .783 OPS, 26 XBH (8 HR), 31 RBI, 119 wRC+
Center Field: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
2014 Stats: .310 BA, 1.005 OPS, 53 XBH (22 HR), 73 RBI, 181 wRC+
What else can I possibly say about Trout that hasn't already been said?
He's the best player in baseball, a once-in-a-generation talent—and the only person who could keep me from picking Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen as the center fielder on our All-MLB squad.
McCutchen, the reigning National League MVP, is actually on pace to have even better numbers than he did last year, and, as the official Twitter account for ESPN Stats and Information pointed out, he sits on the cusp of joining one of the game's most iconic figures in the history books:
Andrew McCutchen (324 BA/.420 OBP/.575 Slug pct) could be 1st CF since Mickey Mantle with 3-straight .300/.400/.500 seasons through age 27.
When a player is about to equal Mickey Mantle and you're keeping him from being called the best at his position, you're doing something right.
Carlos Gomez (MIL): .304 BA, .880 OPS, 41 XBH (14 HR), 48 RBI, 145 wRC+
Adam Jones (BAL): .301 BA, .810 OPS, 37 XBH (16 HR), 54 RBI, 121 wRC+
Andrew McCutchen (PIT): .324 BA, .995 OPS, 50 XBH (17 HR), 61 RBI, 179 wRC+
Right Field: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
2014 Stats: .295 BA, .933 OPS, 43 XBH (21 HR), 63 RBI, 154 wRC+
What Giancarlo Stanton does to a baseball when his bat makes contact is probably illegal in at least 15 states—and Puerto Rico. It's not yet in Minnesota, where he nearly cleared the roof at Target Field during the Home Run Derby, but chances are it will be soon.
Finally healthy after battling injury early in his career, the 24-year-old leads the National League in home runs and RBI while sitting among the league leaders in a host of other offensive categories.
Defensively, he's no Jason Heyward, but then again, nobody is. Stanton more than holds his own in the field, as he sits in a tie with Seattle's Michael Saunders in DRS with nine—the second-best total among right fielders.
Jose Bautista (TOR): .292 BA, .910 OPS, 33 XBH (17 HR), 54 RBI, 151 wRC+
Hunter Pence (SF): .297 BA, .819 OPS, 36 XBH (12 HR), 33 RBI, 136 wRC+
Yasiel Puig (LAD): .309 BA, .915 OPS, 44 XBH (12 HR), 52 RBI, 160 wRC+
Designated Hitter: Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
2014 Stats: .328 BA, .991 OPS, 40 XBH (21 HR), 55 RBI, 165 wRC+
He's been overshadowed by the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander since joining the Detroit Tigers in 2011, but those days are over for Victor Martinez. Look no further than his teammate Kinsler for proof.
“Every time he gets a hit or hits a home run, I tell our hitting coach Wally Joyner that I want to be like Victor Martinez when I grow up — every time,” Kinsler told Josh Katzenstein of The Detroit News. “So I think he’s getting sick and tired of hearing it because I say it pretty much every day he plays."
V-Mart's a pretty good choice of someone to emulate. The 35-year-old sits second in the American League in OPS, third in slugging percentage (.599) and fifth in both batting average and home runs.
Adam Dunn (CWS): .224 BA, .798 OPS, 28 XBH (14 HR), 36 RBI, 121 wRC+
David Ortiz (BOS): .255 BA, .844 OPS, 38 XBH (20 HR), 64 RBI, 123 wRC+
Honorable Mention: Starting Rotation
So many outstanding starting pitchers, so few spots to plug them into a rotation.
That's the problem that these starters face. While having outstanding seasons that are worthy of note, they fall just short of cracking our five-man rotation.
- Henderson Alvarez (MIA): 6-4, 2.63 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
- Mark Buehrle (TOR): 10-6, 2.64 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
- Yu Darvish (TEX): 8-5, 2.97 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
- Sonny Gray (OAK): 10-3, 2.79 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
- Tim Hudson (SF): 7-6, 2.87 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
- Scott Kazmir (OAK): 11-3, 2.38 ERA, 0.98 WHIP
- Jon Lester (BOS): 9-7, 2.65 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
- Garrett Richards (LAA): 11-2, 2.55 ERA, 1.06 WHIP
- Chris Sale (CWS): 8-1, 2.08 ERA, 0.84 WHIP
- Julio Teheran (ATL): 9-6, 2.71 ERA, 1.04 WHIP
No. 1 Starter: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Stats: 14 GS, 11-2, 1.78 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 96.1 IP, 67 H, 1.2 BB/9, 11.8 K/9
Not yet qualified for the league leaders after missing more than a month of the season with injury (he'd have baseball's lowest ERA and WHIP if he were), Clayton Kershaw has reminded us why he's the best pitcher on the planet since his return.
It's a sentiment that his catcher with the Dodgers, A.J. Ellis, agrees with wholeheartedly, as he told the Los Angeles Times' Steve Dilbeck after Kershaw picked up the first no-hitter of his career against Colorado on June 18:
He's the best pitcher on the planet right now. There's nobody even close. It's nights like this that help remind everybody that this guy is a special, once-in-a-generation guy. I'm blown away and blessed that I've been asked to catch him during this amazing run he's on.
That no-hitter, when Kershaw struck out 15 batters without issuing a walk—only one batter saw a three-ball count all night long, Dilbeck points out—is considered by some to be the most dominant no-no of all time.
Kershaw strung together a 41-inning scoreless streak, tying Luis Tiant for the fifth-longest run since 1961, and he became only the third player in the past 100 years to win eight consecutive starts, recording at least seven strikeouts in each outing.
His numbers across the board are equal to or better than they were in either of his National League Cy Young Award-winning campaigns.
No. 2 Starter: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
2014 Stats: 20 GS, 11-2, 2.12 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 144.1 IP, 105 H, 1.6 BB/9, 9.6 K/9
In 75 percent of Felix Hernandez's starts this year, the King has gone at least seven innings and allowed no more than two earned runs.
Seventy-five percent—that's 15 of his 20 starts.
Only one other pitcher, St. Louis' Adam Wainwright, has accomplished the feat as many times.
The 28-year-old Hernandez leads the American League in ERA and WHIP, sits second in innings pitched and strikeouts (154), and third in wins. His 1.6 BB/9 and 9.6 K/9 are career-bests, and he's holding the opposition to a .201 batting average and .520 OPS.
“He’s like a good wine: He just gets better with age,’’ Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon told Larry Stone of The Seattle Times. “He’s special. He’s in a different class. And not many in that class, either.”
You can't argue with that.
No. 3 Starter: Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Stats: 19 GS, 12-4, 1.83 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 138 IP, 99 H, 1.8 BB/9, 7.5 K/9
Once you get past the "outrage" over the Adam Wainwright fiasco/saga/scandal/whatever you want to call his comments at the All-Star Game—as relayed here by John Harper of the New York Daily News—you're still looking at one of the best pitchers in baseball.
The owner of baseball's lowest ERA and third-lowest WHIP, Wainwright, a perennial Cy Young Award contender, is enjoying the best season of his 10-year major league career.
As previously noted, along with Hernandez, Wainwright is the only other pitcher in baseball with 15 starts of at least seven innings in which he's allowed two earned runs or fewer.
No. 4 Starter: Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Stats: 20 GS, 10-6, 2.13 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 143.2 IP, 93 H, 2.2 BB/9, 8.8 K/9
As far as Cincinnati third baseman Todd Frazier is concerned, Johnny Cueto should have made his All-Star debut well before he did, as he told The Cincinnati Enquirer's C. Trent Rosecrans:
It should be his third or fourth (All-Star Game). It's unfortunate that things have happened, but he's a guy that goes out there and gives 100 percent, like myself, gives the emotion every day. He's been a guy that nobody over the last four or five years that nobody wants to face – whenever you face a guy like Johnny Cueto, they know they're in for a tough one. They understand he's going to bring it. Fortunately for him he's got one, but he should have three or four.
Injuries and, depending on the person you ask, a grudge against a division rival have kept Cueto away before, but there was no denying him a spot at the Midsummer Classic this time around.
Cueto has held opposing batters to an MLB-low .181 batting average and leads baseball in WHIP. He's thrown more innings than anyone else in the National League—including three complete games, something that we just don't see in the age of pitch counts and blown-out elbows.
He is second in the Senior Circuit in ERA and strikeouts. He has just been dominant nearly every time that he steps on the mound, allowing more than two earned runs in only four of his starts.
No. 5 Starter: Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
2014 Stats: 18 GS, 12-4, 2.51 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 129.1 IP, 111 H, 1.3 BB/9, 9.4 K/9
Whether he'll pitch again this season is one of the great unanswered questions heading into the second half (If I'm a betting man, I'm putting my money on "no," for what it's worth), but no injury can diminish what Masahiro Tanaka accomplished over the first three months of his MLB career.
He joined Washington's Stephen Strasburg as one of the only pitchers to record at least eight strikeouts in each of their first three career games, and his 16 consecutive quality starts to begin his career tied Steve Rogers for the MLB record, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Before the injury, Tanaka was well on his way to rewriting the rookie record books for Japanese-born pitchers.
The battle between him and Chicago's Abreu for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, as well as the race with Hernandez and Chicago's Chris Sale for the AL Cy Young Award, were shaping up to be two of the most entertaining storylines to follow over the season's second half.
Now, we can only wonder "what if?"
Setup: Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
2014 Stats: 40 G, 4-0, 1.46 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, 55.1 IP, 23 H, 2.6 BB/9, 13.7 K/9, 12 HLD
If you're looking for someone to put Dellin Betances' first half in its proper perspective, look no further than ESPN New York's Mark Simon:
The words to describe his numbers are spectacular, amazing and unbelievable. He’s got 1.46 ERA, an 0.70 WHIP and has 84 strikeouts, 16 walks and one home run allowed in 55 1/3 innings.
How many other pitchers have posted that ERA, that WHIP and that strikeout per nine rate (13.7) over that many innings prior to the All-Star Break?
In his first full major league season, the 26-year-old has done something that no other pitcher in the history of the game has been able to accomplish.
That's not too shabby, especially for a pitcher who, only two years ago, had seemingly gone from top starting pitcher prospect (remember the vaunted "Killer B's?") to an afterthought, a complete bust.
Now that he's among a talented field of failed starters who have found their callings as setup men—a field that includes another former highly thought-of prospect from the Yankees organization, Washington's Tyler Clippard—Betances' dominance allows him to stand apart from the pack.
Tyler Clippard (WAS): 6-2, 43 G, 2.03 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 40 IP, 31 H, 4.1 BB/9, 11.9 K/9, 19 HLD
Wade Davis (KC): 37 G, 5-2, 1.13 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 39.2 IP, 15 H, 3.6 BB/9, 14.1 K/9, 17 HLD
Tony Watson (PIT): 45 G, 5-1, 1.42 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 44.1 IP, 37 H, 2.0 BB/9, 10.2 K/9, 22 HLD
Closer: Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Stats: 29 G, 0-2, 2.12 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 29.2 IP, 13 H, 3.0 BB/9, 18.2 K/9, 21-of-23 SV
I gave serious consideration to Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel for this spot, but what Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman is doing this season teeters on the border of cruel and unusual punishment to opposing hitters.
Chapman is holding the opposition to a .131/.209/.212 slash line, striking out more than 54 percent of those foolish enough to step into the batter's box against him. His 18.2 K/9 rate not only leads baseball, but it's the highest first-half mark in MLB history since 1914* among pitchers who threw at least as many innings.
His 2.12 ERA may pale in comparison to some of his counterparts, but Chapman's 0.54 FIP and 0.71 xFIP are far and away the lowest in baseball—not only this year, but since 2002**, besting Eric Gagne's Cy Young Award-winning 2003 campaign by a wide margin.
Did I mention that Chapman has done all of this only months after taking a line drive to the face, an injury that easily could have ended his career—or worse?
That's what you call impressive, folks.
Greg Holland (KC): 36 G, 1-2, 1.82 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 34.2 IP, 2.6 BB/9, 13.8 K/9, 25-of-26 SV
Craig Kimbrel (ATL): 39 G, 0-1, 1.91 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 37.2 IP, 3.6 BB/9, 14.8 K/9, 29-of-33 SV
Fernando Rodney (SEA): 38 G, 1-3, 1.98 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 36.1 IP, 3.0 BB/9, 10.4 K/9, 27-of-29 SV
Huston Street (SD): 33 G, 1-0, 1.09 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 33 IP, 1.9 BB/9, 9.3 K/9, 24-of-25 SV
*1914 is as far back as the splits go on Baseball-Reference's Play Index (subscription required).
**2002 is the earliest that FanGraphs has data for both FIP and xFIP