The Most Dominant Player at Every Position at 2021 MLB All-Star Break

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJuly 14, 2021

The Most Dominant Player at Every Position at 2021 MLB All-Star Break

0 of 11

    Toronto's Marcus Semien and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
    Toronto's Marcus Semien and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.Steve Nesius/Associated Press

    Major League Baseball's All-Star Game is intended to identify the best and brightest of the first half of the season; however, it doesn't usually work out that way. Voting starts more than a month before the event, ends about two weeks before it and naturally skews toward the biggest markets. Plus, sometimes star players skip the proceedings, either because of injury or personal reasons.

    It's an entertaining exhibition, but the starting lineups for the Midsummer Classic aren't necessarily made up of the players who have been the most dominant.

    So, who are they?

    We set out to identify the most dominant player of the first half at each position, including DH and both a starting pitcher and relief pitcher.

    In most years, several of the picks would be difficult to make. Not this season, though. With the exception of maybe left field, there shouldn't be much of an argument with any of these 11 first-half stars.

Catcher: Buster Posey, San Francisco

1 of 11

    San Francisco's Buster Posey
    San Francisco's Buster PoseyJeff Chiu/Associated Press

    2021 Stats: .328/.421/.547, 35 R, 12 HR, 28 RBI, 3.1 FanGraphs WAR

    At 34 years old, Buster Posey is no longer an everyday staple behind the plate. Even before the recent thumb injury that landed him on the IL, he had missed 25 of San Francisco's first 83 games in order to reduce wear and tear.

    When he has played, though, Posey has looked an awful lot like the 25-year-old who was named NL MVP in 2012. His slash line is nearly identical to those from nine years ago (.336/.408/.549), and he is still throwing out would-be base stealers (29.2 percent caught stealing rate) nearly as well as he did back then (30.4 percent).

    Not too shabby for a guy who sat out the 2020 season to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure to his newborn twins.

    This year, Posey has had two short bursts of extreme dominance.

    From April 26 through May 7, he went 16-for-26 at the dish with four home runs, causing his batting average to skyrocket from .277 to .397. And then from June 3 to June 11, he had five consecutive multi-hit games. That even includes a contest against the Nationals in which both teams combined for six hits and one runa solo shot by Posey.

    Also Considered: Salvador Perez, Kansas City

First Base: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto

2 of 11

    Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
    Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero Jr.Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    2021 Stats: .332/.430/.658, 68 R, 28 HR, 73 RBI, 4.6 fWAR

    When I was just a wee lad growing up in central Pennsylvania, I got to watch Vladimir Guerrero play for the Harrisburg Senators for one season. He hit .360, mashed 19 taters and made multiple throws from right field that didn't even seem physically possible. I was a highly impressionable 10-year-old, but I was convinced he was going to become the greatest player in baseball history. He indeed became a Hall of Famer.

    Incredibly, his son might be even better.

    Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is nowhere near the baserunner that his dad was, nor does he possess quite the same cannon for an arm. Goodness gracious, he can hit, though.

    Guerrero Jr.'s home runs don't generate as much buzz on social media as Shohei Ohtani's seemingly nightly moonshots, but he is leading the majors in batting average, on-base percentage, OPS and RBI and is a manageable five home runs behind Ohtani for the league lead in that category.

    Among hitters, he is No. 1 in fWAR with a more than 10 percent cushion over his closest healthy challenger, Fernando Tatis Jr.

    Guerrero had a three-home run, seven-RBI game against the Washington Nationals in late April and has had three separate streaks of at least three consecutive contests with a home run.

    Also Considered: Matt Olson, Oakland

Second Base: Marcus Semien, Toronto

3 of 11

    Toronto's Marcus Semien
    Toronto's Marcus SemienJulio Cortez/Associated Press

    2021 Stats: .277/.345/.528, 67 R, 22 HR, 56 RBI, 10 SB, 3.9 fWAR

    The Blue Jays are barely a .500 club at 45-42, but you can't blame this half of the infield for that mediocrity. Guerrero and Marcus Semien were quite deserving of their spots in the starting lineup of the All-Star Game.

    Aside from the stolen bases, Semien's numbers pale in comparison to those of his teammate. But put him up against other second basemen, and there is no comparison. He leads everyone at his position in runs and home runs. Only Atlanta's Ozzie Albies has more RBI (60), and only Los Angeles' Max Muncy (who splits his time between first base and second base) has a better slugging percentage (.559).

    Perhaps most impressive is how well he has adjusted to his new spot in the field. Semien had not played a single inning at a position other than shortstop from 2015 to 2020, but he has only made four errors this season at second base.

    In addition to being the clear front-runner for the Silver Slugger among AL second basemen, Semien might be in the mix for the Gold Glove too, if his second half in the field is as mistake-free as the first. Considering he hasn't won either award, getting both in the same season as a 30-year-old would be quite the feat.

    Also Considered: Ozzie Albies, Atlanta; Whit Merrifield, Kansas City

Third Base: Rafael Devers, Boston

4 of 11

    Boston's Rafael Devers
    Boston's Rafael DeversTony Avelar/Associated Press

    2021 Stats: .282/.350/.564, 59 R, 22 HR, 72 RBI, 3.5 fWAR

    Rafael Devers was one of the many Boston Red Sox players who had a disappointing 2020, but he has bounced back in a big way to reharness his MVP-votes-generating 2019 form.

    Unless you want to count Patrick Wisdom slugging .617 in his 124 plate appearances, Devers is well ahead of all other third basemen in both slugging percentage and RBI. He's also No. 1 in home runs, though both Eduardo Escobar (20) and Jose Ramirez (19) are at least within striking distance.

    He has little to no hope of reaching his marks of 201 hits or 129 runs scored two years ago, but Devers is on pace for roughly 40 home runs and 130 RBI. If he reaches both of those marks, he would join Alex Rodriguez (2005 and 2007), Miguel Cabrera (2012 and 2013) and Nolan Arenado (2015 and 2016) on the short list of third basemen who have done so in the past two-plus decades.

    And there's little reason to assume he'll taper off considerably. His first-half vs. second-half splits throughout his career have been almost identical, and he's going to continue getting pitches to hit in the heart of that loaded Red Sox lineup.

    Also Considered: Manny Machado, San Diego

Shortstop: Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego

5 of 11

    San Diego's Fernando Tatis Jr.
    San Diego's Fernando Tatis Jr.Derrick Tuskan/Associated Press

    2021 Stats: .286/.364/.656, 67 R, 28 HR, 60 RBI, 20 SB, 4.0 fWAR

    It has been almost a century since the last time a player led his league in both home runs and stealsa feat Chuck Klein most recently achieved while earning the 1932 National League MVP.

    At the All-Star break, though, Fernando Tatis Jr. has hit three more home runs and has stolen one more base than anyone else in the NL.

    Now for the really outrageous part: He's leading the league in both categories (and slugging percentage and OPS) despite making two trips to the IL and missing 19 of San Diego's games.

    If he plays in each of his team's 69 contests in the second half, Tatis is on pace to finish the year with 54 home runs and 38 stolen bases. Even if he falls a bit shy of both marks and ends up with 50 home runs and 35 stolen bases, he would still be the first member of that 50/35 club. The only other players to even come relatively close to those thresholds were Larry Walker in 1997 (49 HR, 33 SB) and Alfonso Soriano in 2006 (46 HR, 41 SB).

    And, again, Tatis has missed more than 20 percent of the season. His 162-game pace after 74 games played is 62 home runs and 44 stolen bases. Just preposterous stuff.

    Also Considered: Trea Turner, Washington

Left Field: Kyle Schwarber, Washington

6 of 11

    Washington's Kyle Schwarber
    Washington's Kyle SchwarberAlex Brandon/Associated Press

    2021 Stats: .253/.340/.570, 42 H, 25 HR, 53 RBI, 1.8 fWAR

    Through the first 59 games of Washington's season, Kyle Schwarber wasn't anything special. He was hitting .218 with nine home runs, and let's just say the Nationals didn't sign him to a one-year, $10 million deal for his defensive prowess.

    And as the result of a significant hamstring strain suffered in early July, it's unclear if or when he'll take the field again this season.

    But from June 12 to 29, Schwarber had one of the most absurd, roughly 10-percent-of-the-season power surges in MLB history.

    In the span of 18 games (four of which were seven-inning doubleheaders, no less), the Nationals left fielder clubbed 16 home runs. Seven of those dingers were of the leadoff variety, as he almost single-handedly propelled the Nats to 14 wins in those 18 games by routinely putting them on the board immediately.

    Sixteen home runs in 18 games is a 162-game pace of 144 tatersnearly double Barry Bonds' single-season record of 73.

    Compared to the others on this list, Schwarber's dominance was much more of a sprint than a marathon. But he lapped the field during that sprint.

    Also Considered: Jesse Winker, Cincinnati

Center Field: Cedric Mullins, Baltimore

7 of 11

    Baltimore's Cedric Mullins
    Baltimore's Cedric MullinsAssociated Press

    2021 Stats: .314/.380/.541, 49 R, 16 HR, 35 RBI, 16 SB, 3.8 fWAR

    The "2021 All-IL Team" is practically overrun with talented arms and bats who have missed at least half this season, and center field has been a particularly star-studded hospital ward. Byron Buxton, Mike Trout, Ketel Marte, Brandon Nimmo and Luis Robert all have batting averages well north of .300. However, no member of that quintet has made so much as 150 plate appearances this season. Starling Marte also missed more than a month with a fractured rib.

    But at least one star center fielder has stayed healthy and has given the otherwise downtrodden fans in Baltimore a reason to cheer.

    Cedric Mullins has had a fascinating breakout year for the Orioles. Not only is he leading the team in both batting average (by a wide margin) and home runs (tied with Trey Mancini), but he also has more stolen bases than the rest of the roster combined (11).

    At his pace, Mullins would finish this season with 29 home runs and 29 stolen bases, which would be one heck of a feat in Baltimore lore. In franchise history, there have only been three members of the 25/25 club: Ken Williams (39 HR, 37 SB in 1922), Don Baylor (25 HR, 32 SB in 1975) and Reggie Jackson (27 HR, 28 SB in 1976).

    Even if he merely gets to 20/20, he would join 2015 Manny Machado (35 HR, 20 SB) and 2019 Jonathan Villar (24 HR, 40 SB) as the only Orioles to join that club since 2000.

    Also Considered: Adolis Garcia, Texas; Bryan Reynolds, Pittsburgh

Right Field: Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati

8 of 11

    Cincinnati's Nick Castellanos
    Cincinnati's Nick CastellanosAaron Doster/Associated Press

    2021 Stats: .331/.384/.585, 58 R, 18 HR, 59 RBI, 3.5 fWAR

    Nick Castellanos started 2021 scorching hot, mashing four home runs within his first six games and finishing that opening week with a .435 batting average and a 1.130 slugging percentage.

    Those numbers have come back to Earth, but not by much. He had a 21-game hitting streak from mid-May into early June, during which he batted .463. He's leading the National League in batting average and is leading the majors in doubles with 29.

    Thus, he landed on an All-Star Game roster for the first time at age 29.

    As far as FanGraphs wins above replacement are concerned, Castellanos could sit out the rest of the year and this would still be his best season.

    Provided he doesn't do such a thing, the big question about his second half is where he'll play those games.

    Along with a dominant NL Central reliever to be mentioned later, Castellanos figures to be one of the most intriguing names to monitor before the July 30 trade deadline. Cincinnati closed out the first half with three consecutive wins over Milwaukee and is 9-2 in July, but the star right fielder could become trade bait if the Reds sputter, considering he can (and likely will) opt out of the remainder of his contract after this season.

    Also Considered: Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta (get well soon)

Designated Hitter: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

9 of 11

    Los Angeles' Shohei Ohtani
    Los Angeles' Shohei OhtaniElaine Thompson/Associated Press

    2021 Stats: .279/.364/.698, 65 R, 33 HR, 70 RBI, 12 SB, 4.0 fWAR

    Much of the conversation about Shohei Ohtani is a product of his two-way uniqueness. Not only has he been arguably the best hitter in baseball during the first half, but he also slings filth on the mound when he's not too busy mashing upper-deck home runs. Unless you count the occasional MVP of the Little League World Series, we've never seen anything like this. At least not since Babe Ruth.

    But even if we temporarily ignore the pitching component of his game, there's still no question that Ohtani has been the preeminent DH of the 2021 season.

    He is leading the majors in home runs by five over his closest challengers and is 40 slugging percentage points ahead of No. 2 in that category. Assuming no changes to anyone else's slugging percentage, Ohtani could go hitless in his next 18 at-bats and still be leading the majors in slugging.

    Conversely, if he were to maintain this pace, Ohtani would be the first player to reach 60 home runs since Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa in 2001. And if he were to maintain his slugging percentage, it would be the highest mark since Barry Bonds in 2004.

    And Bonds wasn't striking out 11.7 batters per nine innings in his spare time between trips to the plate.

    Also Considered: No one, but Franmil Reyes and JD Martinez have had impressive seasons for mere mortals

Starting Pitcher: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

10 of 11

    New York's Jacob deGrom
    New York's Jacob deGromFrank Franklin II/Associated Press

    2021 Stats: 7-2, 1.08 ERA, 0.54 WHIP, 1.61 xFIP, 14.3 K/9, 13.3 K/BB, 4.8 fWAR

    In his final start before the All-Star break, Jacob deGrom allowed a leadoff home run to Luis Urias before retiring the next 13 Milwaukee batters. He ended the afternoon with a line of 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 10 K, which would easily be one of the best outings of the season for most starting pitchers.

    For deGrom, though, it caused his ERA to creep above 1.00 for the first time this year.

    Suffice it to say, he's not "most starting pitchers."

    From May 25 through June 26, deGrom had a streak of 32.1 scoreless innings. And he wasn't just scoreless. He was darn near perfect. His overall line during that stretch was 32.1 IP, 9 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 53 K. Those are "video game on the easiest setting" numbers for more than a month.

    Just for good measure, he also drove in four runs during that time.

    The ERA and K/BB rates are ridiculous, but that WHIP is downright comical. Including this season, there have been 16,461 instances in MLB history of a pitcher logging at least 90 innings in a season. The lowest recorded WHIP in any of those previous seasons was Clayton Kershaw's mark of 0.72 in 2016. Thus, if deGrom were able to maintain this rate for the rest of the year, it would be 25 percent lower than the lowest WHIP ever.

    What this man is doing is about on par with the 2015-16 NBA season when Stephen Curry had 116 more three-pointers than any single-season total in league history. Regardless of who you root for, every single deGrom start is appointment viewing television.

    Also Considered: Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee; Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox

Relief Pitcher: Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs

11 of 11

    Chicago's Craig Kimbrel
    Chicago's Craig KimbrelCharles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    2021 Stats: 31.2 IP, 0.57 ERA, 0.66 WHIP, 20 SV, 1.93 xFIP, 15.4 K/9, 5.4 K/BB, 1.8 fWAR

    For a couple of years, it looked like Craig Kimbrel was washed up. The velocity was fine, but he couldn't find the strike zone. And when he did, he couldn't keep the ball in the yard. In just 36 innings during the 2019 and 2020 campaigns, he had a 6.00 ERA, a 6.0 BB/9 and allowed 11 home runs.

    But he's back and better than ever.

    Kimbrel has only allowed two earned runs in his 33 appearances, one of which was a solo home run to Max Muncy right as the latter was starting to catch fire. The other one came May 15, since which time he has an unconscious pitching line of 16.0 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 29 K with 13 saves.

    Even in his five years finishing top-10 in the Cy Young vote, he was never quite this dominant.

    The added layer of intrigue with Kimbrel is that he might be on the move in the next few weeks.

    While the other top closers (Josh Hader, Ryan Pressly, Matt Barnes, Liam Hendriks, etc.) all pitch for teams in the thick of a pennant race, Kimbrel could be a shining jewel of a sub-.500 Chicago Cubs fire sale. Things will have come full circle ifafter dealing for Aroldis Chapman at the 2016 deadlinethe Cubs wind up trading a closer to the next World Series champions.

    Also Considered: Josh Hader, Milwaukee