B/R's 25-and-Under MLB All-Star Game: Which League's Young Stars Would Win?
What if MLB's All-Star teams were comprised entirely of players 25-and-under, and what if those teams met in a completely hypothetical contest?
Who would win?
That's the question we're setting out to answer. First, a few ground rules:
- Both teams will feature 25 players, including 14 position players and 11 pitchers. The starting lineups must be populated by eight players who have logged at least an inning at the position in question in 2018, but we're not worrying about balancing the benches (like with a backup catcher, say).
- Players must be 25 years old or younger as of this writing (duh).
- Guys don't have to be healthy, but they need to have accumulated enough WAR while they were on the field this season.
- Speaking of which: Rosters were selected based on FanGraphs' WAR rankings for 2018 entering play Monday. Yes, WAR is an imperfect measure of player value. Granted, this inevitably sparked some controversial calls (for example: ride the pine, Bryce Harper). But we didn't have a big, fancy fan vote—and it's tough to argue WAR didn't help us pick two pretty darn good squads stocked with some of the most exciting burgeoning talent in the game.
- In cases of a tie, we broke it based on career WAR.
As for who would win? We'll tally up the totals and save that for the end.
American League Starters
C Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees (age 25, 1.2 WAR)
1B Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics (age 24, 1.6 WAR)
2B Alex Bregman, Houston Astros (age 24, 4.5 WAR)
SS Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians (age 24, 5.3 WAR)
3B Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians (age 25, 6.5 WAR)
OF Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox (age 25, 6.3 WAR)
OF Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox (age 24, 3.6 WAR)
OF Daniel Robertson, Tampa Bay Rays (age 24, 2.2 WAR)
We fudged a little sliding the Houston Astros' Alex Bregman from his natural position at third base to second, but he did log one start there this season.
That said, he rounds out a superb infield that includes the Oakland Athletics' Matt Olson and Cleveland Indians cohorts Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, who have hit like a latter-day Babe Ruth/Lou Gehrig tandem in 2018.
Behind the dish, New York Yankees receiver Gary Sanchez is out with a groin injury but is expected back after the All-Star break, per Marc Carig of The Athletic. He's hitting a subpar .190 but has cracked 14 homers with 41 RBI in 63 games.
In the outfield, Boston Red Sox teammates Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi bring their enviable, toolsy skill sets and are joined by Daniel Robertson of the Tampa Bay Rays, a versatile wild card who's played left field, every infield position and even pitched a scoreless frame.
National League Starters
C Jorge Alfaro, Philadelphia Phillies (age 25, 1.1 WAR)
1B Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers (age 23, 2.1 WAR)
2B Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves (age 21, 3.4 WAR)
SS Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies (age 25, 3.0 WAR)
3B Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs (age 25, 3.4 WAR)
OF Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs (age 25, 2.6 WAR)
OF Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets (age 25, 2.5 WAR)
OF Brian Anderson, Miami Marlins (age 25, 2.1 WAR)
That's one heck of an emerging infield.
Occasional struggles aside, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Cody Bellinger and Trevor Story boast a combined 37 homers and 112 RBI at first base and shortstop, respectively.
Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies was recently called "one of the best hitters I've ever seen" by no less an authority than the Astros' Jose Altuve, per Gabriel Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Cubs' Javier Baez was a stretch at third considering he's spent far more time at the keystone sack and shortstop, but he's manned the hot corner, and his 19 homers, NL-leading 72 RBI and .892 OPS are too good to ignore.
On the subject of Cubbies, Baez is the only North Side player with a higher WAR than Kyle Schwarber, who's cracked 18 home runs with an .873 OPS and gets a nod in the outfield next to the New York Mets' Brandon Nimmo (13 HR, .863 OPS) and Miami Marlins' Brian Anderson, who CBS Sports' R.J. Anderson said might be "the most underappreciated rookie in the game" for his all-around play.
American League Bench
INF Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox (age 25, 3.2 WAR)
INF Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics (age 25, 3.0 WAR)
INF Carlos Correa, Houston Astros (age 23, 2.4 WAR)
OF Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers (age 25, 1.9 WAR)
INF Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox (age 25, 1.8 WAR)
INF Jeimer Candelario, Detroit Tigers (age 24, 1.8 WAR)
Baltimore Orioles superstar (for now) and likely trade deadline wave-maker Manny Machado turned 26 on July 6.
That leaves the Boston Red Sox's Xander Bogaerts, the Houston Astros' Carlos Correa and the Chicago White Sox's Tim Anderson to form one of the most impressive collections of 25-and-under shortstops you'll ever see. Period.
Rounding out the AL bench are the Detroit Tigers' Jeimer Candelario, A's first baseman Matt Chapman and Texas Rangers' utilityman Jurickson Profar.
It's a versatile collection you'll be hearing a lot more from in the near future.
National League Bench
INF Trea Turner, Washington Nationals (age 25, 2.7 WAR)
INF Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs (age 24, 2.0 WAR)
INF Jose Peraza, Cincinnati Reds (age 24, 1.8 WAR)
INF Paul DeJong, St. Louis Cardinals (age 24, 1.6 WAR)
OF Albert Almora Jr., Chicago Cubs (age 24, 1.6 WAR)
OF Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals (age 25, 1.5 WAR)
Cue the superstar controversy.
Harper is having an uneven year for the Washington Nationals. He's also won a Rookie of the Year and MVP award, has 23 home runs and an .833 OPS and is one of the most famous baseball players on the planet.
If this were based on past accomplishments or jersey sales, he'd be in the starting nine. As it is, he scarcely squeaked onto a solid bench that features his speedy fellow Nat Trea Turner, Cubs teammates Addison Russell and Albert Almora Jr., plus the St. Louis Cardinals' Paul DeJong and Cincinnati Reds' Jose Peraza.
Harper should be OK hanging with those guys while he waits to get in the game.
American League Pitchers
RHP Luis Severino, New York Yankees (age 24, 4.0 WAR)
RHP Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners (age 24, 2.4 WAR)
RHP Jose Berrios, Minnesota Twins (age 24, 2.3 WAR)
LHP Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays (age 25, 2.3 WAR)
RHP Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels (age 24, 2.1 WAR)
RHP Lance McCullers Jr., Houston Astros (age 24, 1.9 WAR)
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox (age 25, 1.9 WAR)
RHP Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers (age 24, 1.4 WAR)
RHP Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers (age 25, 1.4 WAR)
RHP Joe Jimenez, Detroit Tigers (age 23, 1.3 WAR)
RHP Reynaldo Lopez, Chicago White Sox (age 24, 1.2 WAR)
Yankees righty Luis Severino is the undisputed ace of this staff and obviously should start our imaginary contest.
After that, the AL can turn to a bevy of emerging starting stars such as the Rays' Blake Snell and one of the best closers in the game in the Seattle Mariners' Edwin Diaz.
The most eyebrow-raising addition here is the Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani, who came on strong as a two-way star before succumbing to elbow trouble and is back with the bat in Anaheim but hasn't pitched in a game since June 6.
The assumption is the 24-year-old will again take the mound in the majors, so we combined his WAR as a hitter and hurler and gave him a nod.
National League Pitchers
RHP Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies (age 25, 4.2 WAR)
LHP Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers (age 24, 2.1 WAR)
RHP Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets (age 25, 2.0 WAR)
RHP Zach Eflin, Philadelphia Phillies (age 24, 1.9 WAR)
LHP Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies (age 25, 1.8 WAR)
RHP Nick Pivetta, Philadelphia Phillies (age 25, 1.7 WAR)
RHP Seranthony Dominguez, Philadelphia Phillies (age 23, 1.5 WAR)
RHP Luke Weaver, St. Louis Cardinals (age 24, 1.5 WAR)
LHP Andrew Suarez, San Francisco Giants (age 25, 1.4 WAR)
RHP Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers (age 23, 1.4 WAR)
RHP German Marquez, Colorado Rockies (age 23, 1.2 WAR)
Noah Syndergaard returned to action July 13 for the Mets and threw five innings of one-run ball at home against the Nationals. It was a positive step forward for Thor, who missed extended time to a finger injury.
Let's say he's fully healthy and throwing triple-digit bolts. He's your guy. If not, it's Phillies righty Aaron Nola, who has fanned 24 while allowing only three earned runs in 20 July frames.
Oh, and after that the NL can hand the ball to the Milwaukee Brewers' Josh Hader, who pairs his 1.50 ERA with a no-that's-not-a-typo 16.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
Might want to save him for the late innings. Or not.
And the Winner Is...
Games are played on the field, not on the stat sheet, to recycle one of sports' oldest cliches. Baseball, though, thrives on numbers. We love to play with the stats.
In case you didn't dust off the abacus, here's how this one shook out:
National League: 52.1 WAR
American League: 69.5 WAR
That's a decisive edge for the AL, based largely on the strength of its glitziest under-25 stars such as Ramirez, Lindor and Betts. On top of that, the Junior Circuit posted a better collective WAR in every category.
Is that how it would end up on an actual ballfield? We'll never know. But it's a fun thing to chew on while we await the actual Midsummer Classic in the nation's capital.
All statistics current as of Monday and courtesy of FanGraphs.