2011 MLB All-Star Game: 5 Most Unexpected All-Stars of 2011

Zac ThompsonContributor IJuly 9, 2011

2011 MLB All-Star Game: 5 Most Unexpected All-Stars of 2011

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    For the most part, the MLB All-Star game roster selections are popularity contests, and everyone knows what big-name players will be voted in.

    However, every year there seem to be at least a few players that make the team who no one expected to be there.

    Some of the players on this list may not be known among baseball fans across the country—but they should be.

    Making the All-Star game by putting up terrific first-half numbers proves that.

    Here are the five most unexpected first-half 2011 All-Stars.

Honorable Mentions

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    Infielder Howie Kendrick of the Los Angeles Angels is having an amazing first half.

    He is currently batting .306 with eight home runs (his career high for a season is 10) and a career-high .469 slugging percentage.

    The only reason he did not make the top five is that he batted .322 in 2007 and .306 in 2008, so it was clear this guy could hit, which makes his appearance in this year's All-Star game not so unexpected.

    Washington Nationals relief pitcher Tyler Clippard is also having a career first half in which he has posted a 1.79 ERA and struck out 62 batters over 50-plus innings. Anytime a pitcher is averaging over a strikeout per inning, it is clear that he has good stuff. There is no question why he is an All-Star this year.

    He also had great numbers last year—a 3.07 ERA and a little higher number of strikeouts per inning—which made him a relatively decent guess for the NL All-Star team this year. 

    Seattle Mariners closer Brandon League is having quite an impressive first half, successfully converting 23 of 27 saves.

    However, at 3.44, his ERA is a little high for a closer, so he could not be placed above the five guys on this list, who are having better years.

5. Matt Joyce

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    Matt Joyce is having the best year of his career in Tampa Bay.

    He is second on the team in home runs (12)—trailing only B.J. Upton (14)—and he has already met or surpassed his season highs in at-bats, runs, home runs, hits and RBI.

    These breakout numbers are what got him on this list. At the beginning of the season, most people would have guessed that Upton and Evan Longoria would make the AL All-Star team before Joyce.

    Yet in his fourth season, Joyce is proving himself a force to be reckoned with and is on pace to set a new career high in batting average at .292.

4. Asdrubal Cabrera

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    Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera had an impressive year for the Cleveland Indians in 2009, but based on his 2010 numbers, not many when the season started would have predicted him to be an All-Star in 2011.

    Yet so far he has passed his season averages in runs, hits, home runs, RBI and stolen bases. Cabrera is currently on pace to improve on his career batting average, slugging percentage and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).

    It is no wonder that he was named the starting shortstop for the American League in this year's Midsummer Classic (fan-voted starter Derek Jeter will not play due to injury concerns).

3. Aaron Crow

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    No one expects rookies to make the All-Star team, especially not rookie pitchers. Aaron Crow, reliever for the Kansas City Royals, is having a phenomenal first year of his promising young career.

    Over 42-plus innings, he has a 2.13 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP and has averaged just over a strikeout per inning. These numbers are particularly impressive in the American League, in which all nine guys in the lineup can hit.

    Crow was recently named the closer in Kansas City, though with the Royals sitting at 17 games below .500, he probably will not have many save opportunities. His ERA, WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio (which is slightly over 2:1) make him a perfect candidate for a closer.

    Being selected to the All-Star game and being promoted to closer are beyond expectations for any major league player in his first year, but Crow is proving himself capable so far.

2. Alex Avila

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    Coming up in this league as a young catcher is probably the most difficult thing to do. Not only do catchers have to learn how to hit at the major league level, but they also must learn how to call a big league game and catch some of the best pitchers in the world.

    Anytime your team's catcher is starting in the All-Star game, you know the guy is impressive. It is even more impressive if he does it in his first full season as the starter behind the dish, which is exactly what Alex Avila is doing this year for the Detroit Tigers.

    With names like Joe Mauer, Matt Wieters and Russell Martin clogging up the headlines, it would have been hard to predict Avila as the AL's starting catcher this year in Arizona.

    Being only 25 years old, Avila is setting career highs in virtually every category. He is blistering the ball this year, batting .289 and slugging .590 with a .883 OPS. His 10 home runs and 46 RBI this season are each already around half of his career total.

    Avila may have caught the baseball world by surprise this year, but after being an All-Star, he surely will start to get some more national recognition.

1. Ryan Vogelsong

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    Ryan Vogelsong has to be one of the best stories this year in baseball—in all of sports, even.

    The 33-year-old started out with the San Francisco Giants in 2000 but was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates the next year in a deal for Jason Schmidt

    Vogelsong then had to have Tommy John surgery, which kept him out of the major leagues until late in the 2003 season.

    After his return, Vogelsong simply could not find his way and was bumped from the starting rotation to the bullpen.

    By the end of the 2006 season, he was out of professional baseball completely.

    In 2007 Vogelsong was signed to play for the Hanshin Tigers of Japan, where he played through 2009.

    Then, after two short stints with the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Angels, the Giants invited Vogelsong to spring training before the 2011 season.

    He pitched so well that he was called up to replaced injured starting pitcher Barry Zito.

    Since then, Vogelsong has been putting up the best numbers of his life and is 6-1 on the year with a 2.17 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP and a strikeout-to-walk ratio better than 2:1 over the course of 91-plus innings.

    This comes from a guy with a career 5.03 ERA over six years in the big leagues.

    Playing in Japan two years ago and being out of a job in the offseason, neither Vogelsong nor anyone else could have known he would be starting for the defending World Series champions and representing them in the 2011 All-Star Game.