So when it comes to making an All Star ballot I like to go with the best option THIS SEASON at each individual position. I don’t like to reward past achievement and don’t care about how popular a player is. I’m certainly not the only person to feel this way, but can still lament the popularity contest that is the fan vote each season. I’m also not crazy about the way the game is designed, but for more about the issues with the game and how to fix it you can click on the link in my previous article, or read Jeff Passan’s 2012 article about how to fix the All Star Game. As I see it, major league baseball is one of the few professional sports franchises that actually has an All Star game that people want to watch. The Pro Bowl was almost cancelled due to the apathy football fans felt towards it. The NBA All Star game has had low ratings the past few years and the NHL requires their guys to show up and play or risk a one game suspension for not being there. So the Mid-Summer classic is one of the few All Star Games left that has any clout.
However the All Star game hasn’t been immune to fan disinterest, suffering a drop in ratings the last few years. It’s doing better than the other All Star games, but it is in no way completely safe from cancellation. Part of the issues the All Star game faces are purely of baseball’s own creation. The novelty of seeing NL players facing AL players was weakened with the introduction of inter-league play. In my opinion the biggest obstacle facing the All Star Game’s relevance is that, but interleague play is Bud Selig’s baby and is also fairly popular with the fans. My distaste for it puts me squarely in the minority and so that obstacle is likely going nowhere anytime soon. That means the Mid Summer Classic will have to find a way to subsist in the midst of losing it’s biggest draw, the novelty of seeing Justin Verlander face Matt Kemp or Clayton Kershaw pitching to Josh Hamilton.
Bud Selig tried to bring some importance back to the game after the 2002 debacle where the game ended in a tie. He came up with the asinine idea that the winner of the All Star game would get home field advantage in the World Series. The player’s union agreed with little coaxing, because the former concept of rotating between leagues each season was also fairly arbitrary. (I guess rewarding it to the team with the best record makes too much sense to work). But the added weight of home field advantage has done little to bring in more fans, and all the fans that watch the game regularly know that it’s a dumb idea. Perhaps back in the day when players stayed with one team their whole careers that could have worked. But I doubt Jose Reyes, the Mets representative last season, had much incentive to win the game because he thought that he could be helping out the Phillies, the presumptive NL rep for the World Series last season. And with the way players move between teams and leagues each season, there’s little reason to believe that they would really care who got home field advantage. And even back in the time I earlier referenced where players spent the majority of their careers with one team, the true rivalries were inter-league. So if the Cardinals were likely going to the playoffs, why would the rival Cubs want to do anything to help them out, even if they were facing the Yankees or Orioles of another league? But the home field advantage rule is here for a while, and there’s nothing we can do about it. So with those issues firmly in place, I still try to do my best to put together a good ballot of players so that at least part of the game is entertaining and worth my watching.
Each year I take a lot of time to work on my All Star ballot. It doesn’t matter as the fan vote holds little sway (and it shouldn’t) and the managers are pigeonholed into making certain decisions due to roster requirements and picking a player from each team. I agree that you should have to have a player from each team (otherwise we’d see a team of Red Sox and Yankees play the Phillies) but I don’t try to fill out the bloated lineups that the MLB actually requires. So for this post, I’m listing one player at each position for each league, and a couple alternates.
So that brings us to the way I try to elect my team. I look at the stats, but that’s not always the best way to compare. Some guys have lower AVG, but hit a ton of HR and drive in lots of runs for their team, which makes them more valuable than another player at the same position who hits for a higher AVG. However, that’s not always better, as some don’t hit for a lot of power but can still get on base and score runs. In addition, you can’t compare all stats as equal. For example, some second basemen hit for a low AVG but help out in other categories such as HR and RBI (Dan Uggla). To overlook them because of their low AVG isn’t fair. However, some guys get lots of votes because they hit lots of home runs and drive in a ton of guys, but have low average and bad defense (Dan Uggla). To elect them based on that and ignore the other aspects of their game is also unfair. I'll call it the Dan Uggla rule because it seems appropriate for this paragraph. So the question is, is there a stat out there that compares players at the same position taking into account their AVG, power, speed, defense and other important aspects of the game?
The answer is….yes( of course it is…otherwise this article would be on a long road to nowhere). That stat is Wins Above Replacement, commonly referred to by WAR (as far as the concept of commonality can refer to anything having to do with sabermetrics). The idea behind WAR (what is it good for?) is to try to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one numbered statistic. WAR is a stat used to show how many more wins a player in a certain position would give a team verses a replacement level player, generally categorized as a minor leaguer or bench player. So the replacement level player is valued at 0, and a good player brings in a positive WAR as opposed to someone who is not great at their position and would bring in a negative WAR. It’s considered a non-standardized statistic because there are multiple ways to calculate it. Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs (in my opinion two of the best sabermetric websites out there) both measure it differently.
Essentially, you add up all a players’ offensive stats, factor in his defensive metrics, give different weights to different positions (it’s harder to play shortstop than first base), and convert runs to Wins. 10 runs equal 1 win. You factor the runs and then what you know about a player’s defense and his other offensive stats to get his WAR number. 0 is what a replacement level is worth and good players are worth more while bad ones are worth less. Here’s an example of different levels 2011 WAR measurements according to Baseball Prospectus:
Excellent: Jose Bautista 10.3
Great: Hunter Pence 5.2
Average: Gaby Sanchez 2.0
Poor: Adam Lind 0.5
Horrendous: Adam Dunn -1.7
It’s not a perfect stat, as pitcher’s measurements are based on IP, not games played. In addition, people use different equations to measure defensive metrics and no one has a good way to quantify the production of the replacement players. However for All Star selection, it’s probably one of the best stats you can use, as it’s one of the only ones that compare players in the same position. So using that stat in addition to a look at each player’s stats is a good way to pick the players you think should go to the Mid-Summer classic. And that’s what I’ve done below.
(For a look at one of the equations used to measure WAR [they are all different] you can click here. For a more in depth look at WAR, check out the breakdown on Big League Stew.)
C: Yadier Molina STL- This one was tough for me. He’s got a 2.9 WAR, the second best amongst catchers. The best WAR is 3.4 for backstops, and that belongs to Carlos Ruiz, the other guy I considered. Ruiz leads all MLB catchers with a 351 AVG. His WAR is the best and he’s a great defensive catcher. He’s first in RBI in the league and tied for first in R. He’s tied with the guy I chose, Yadier Molina. Molina is second in RBI, one behind Ruiz. They have the same number of HR. And he’s second in the league in AVG. Even though his WAR is second to Ruiz, I went with him because he’s a better defensive catcher, who can completely shut down the running game. While Ruiz has a good arm, no one compares with Molina right now. And, ironically, Molina is first among all catchers in the MLB with 7 SB. So the speed (which came out of nowhere) and the superior defense (though Ruiz is a good defensive catcher) is the difference for me here. The current vote leader in the NL is Buster Posey. But Posey’s WAR is 5th in the league (amongst catchers). He has the same number of HR and is right behind these two guys in RBI and R. But he has fewer hits (Molina leads with 76), and a lower AVG. He’s not as good a defender. He’s more popular because he recently won a Rookie of the Year award and his numbers aren’t bad. But I think Ruiz and Molina are better choices, and this vote looks like it’ll go down to the wire.
1B: Joey Votto CIN- This one was easy. Votto has the highest WAR in baseball. He leads the majors in AVG (360), OBP% and is second in SLG%. He’s slugged 13 HR, has 45 RBI and 46 R. He’s quickly overtaking Josh Hamilton for the title of best hitter in baseball this year. With one MVP already under his belt, he’s signed a long-term deal with the Reds and hopes to continue anchoring that club with plenty of talent for years to come. I think he’s got a legitimate shot to win another MVP and should absolutely be the National League’s representative in the All Star game this season. Luckily he’s the current leader in votes (as of 6/21) and should be a lock to start the game in Kauffman Stadium this July.
2B: Aaron Hill ARI- The Diamondbacks second baseman is tied with Dan Uggla with the second highest WAR out of all second basemen (2.4), but first in the NL. He’s tied with Brandon Phillips for the third highest AVG at 287 (the Astros Jose Altuve leads, hitting 311), and is second in the league in HR with 10, one behind league leader (for second basemen) Dan Uggla. Uggla is the current vote leader in the NL, and he wouldn’t be a bad choice with the same WAR. But with Hill having more hits, better defense and 6 SB to Uggla’s 0, I think he’s got to be the winner here (and that’s coming from a Braves fan).
SS: Starlin Castro CHC- I think he’s the obvious choice at a weak position. He’s got the second highest positional WAR in the league, behind Jed Lowrie of the Astros. This is an example of how WAR sometimes doesn’t work. I have no idea why Lowrie’s WAR is higher than Castro’s. Maybe it has something to do with his defense. And Lowrie is certainly playing well. But Castro has the highest AVG of all NL shortstops and is second in the NL in stolen bases with 16 (Dee Gordon’s 22 is fairly ludicrous and is obviously the tops in the senior circuit). He’s also first among NL shortstops in RBI and Hits. He trails Rafael Furcal who recently overtook Troy Tulowitzki for first in the fan voting. And that’s a perfect example of why the fan vote shouldn’t count for much because Tulo has played in only 47 games. Furcal is playing pretty well, but outside of leading all shortstops in R, his numbers are inferior to Castro’s in all areas. He’s probably a better defender, but those two stats aren’t enough for him to be the leader in my opinion. Castro is young and makes some bonehead plays in the field, but he’s got more power, hits for a higher AVG and is stealing more bases than his counterpart in St. Louis. He could still make the team, but he might be a backup, when I think he should start.
3B: David Wright NYM- Another easy one, as Wright has the second highest WAR in the MLB at 4.3. He’s having a monster season, leading the NL hot corner in AVG (357), R (47) and is third in RBI and SB. He’s anchoring a young, overachieving team in New York and is playing lights out defense. He contributes in every single category at the plate and is a strong defender. He’s the vote leader, and should be. Wright will be the starter for the NL, and is on track to have one of the best seasons of his life.
OF: Matt Kemp LAD- Kemp was the best player in baseball not named Josh Hamilton before he got hurt. He was easily the hottest hitter in the national league and was trying to make good on his promise to be the first 50-50 player in baseball (that’s 50 HR and 50 steals in one season). He was on a good pace for most of it with 12 HR, 28 RBI and 30 R in only 36 games. He was off on the SBs with only 2, but when you forecast that you’re trying to swipe 50, pitchers make it pretty tough to run on them. However an injury and then a setback has kept him out of the running for a very long time. But unlike other players who haven’t played much this season (Troy Tulowitzki) Kemp was so hot before he went down that he has to be considered in the running. His 2.3 WAR at this point is still 16th best, and he’s missed the majority of the season (yes that number goes down as you play less). It is currently the 9th best in the league. So if he’s healthy he has to be put in the game. He’s currently the lead vote getter in the NL amongst outfielders, and I think that’s justified.
OF: Ryan Braun MIL- The reigning MVP is having a fantastic follow up season. He’s hoping to make people forget his newsworthy offseason, where he got out of an MLB suspension for PEDS on what looks like a technicality. He was the first player to win an appeal against MLB, but it looks like it may have hurt his popularity even more (although in an attempt to win the title for most petulant, MLB fired the arbitrator who heard the case which has rankled some fans, this one included). But you can’t argue with the way he’s played this year. His 4.3 WAR is the best amongst all outfielders in the major leagues. He’s hitting 320 with 20 HR, 52 RBI and 47 R. He’s also stolen 13 bases, while playing a very solid defense. Braun has been one of the best hitters in baseball the last few years and is keeping it going this season. He’s currently fourth in the voting behind the guy I just wrote about, the guy I’m about to write about and Carlos Beltran. No offense to Beltran, but I think Braun belongs in this game more.
OF: Melky Cabrera SF- Melky is having an out of control season. He leads the majors with 102 hits playing the corner outfield positions for the Giants. He can play all three positions, though he’s played no games in center this year and 62 games in left. Still, he’s a valuable piece for an All Star team based on his outfield flexibility. But that’s not how a vote for players. I look at the numbers. His 2.9 WAR is 5th best amongst NL outfielders. He leads all outfielders in the MLB with a 355 AVG while chipping in 6 HR, 35 RBI, 49 R and 10 SB. He can hit anywhere in the order and has a very strong 13% K rating. (He only strikes out 13% of his at bats). A lot of people think it’s a fluke (though after a career year for the Royals last season I think that’s unlikely) and they don’t like his defense. But as far as left fielders go he’s pretty solid, even above average. You can’t fault him for his bad play in center in the past, as he hasn’t played center field at all this season. And since this is the only season that matters to me (as far as All Star voting) the MLB hits leader pretty much has to be in the game. He’s just jumped into third place in the NL OF voting, and it looks like those spots will be close till the end.
Bench: I’m going to add 5 bench spots to each team. This is based purely on numbers, not on positions. But if it’s a tie between two hitters, I’ll likely take a second catcher before a 6th outfielder.
1. Michael Bourn ATL: The man with the 4th best WAR in the majors deserves to go to Kauffman Stadium. The Braves speedy center fielder has played in every game this year and is one of the best leadoff men in the game. He’s 4th in the league in R, second in SB (20) and is hitting 313 with a 359 OBP. He plays a very good centerfield and is probably the best base stealer in the game. In a year with weaker outfielders, he’d be a shoo-in to start. As it is, I think he should be a reserve player.
2. Carlos Ruiz PHI: I already gave a strong rundown of the Phillies’ catcher’s year and why I almost picked him to start. He should certainly be on the club as a reserve.
3. Martin Prado ATL: Yeah I know, this is getting a little Braves heavy. But try as I might, I couldn’t get around this pick. He’s got the 6th best WAR in the league and is one of the best number 2 hitters in the game. He is the Braves’ starting left fielder, but can also play 2B, 3B, 1B and (in a pinch) SS. He’s likely going to get the nod from Tony LaRussa anyway due to his position eligibility and the fact that he’s hitting 316 with 5 HR, 28 RBI, 42 R and 8 SB. Unlike the Commissioner’s office, if it makes too much sense, I don’t run from it.
4. Carlos Beltran STL: The current number two man in the NL OF fan vote, Beltran is having a fantastic year. He’s second in the NL with 19 HR (Braun has 20…. interestingly second in the NL only has the buying power of 8th overall). He’s also second in the league with 53 RBI not to mention a 310 AVG with 43 R and 7 SB. His 2.8 WAR is solid, and he belongs in the game, though I not as a starter in my opinion.
5. Andrew McCutchen PIT: Well what do you know I picked 7 outfielders. It’s a very strong year in the NL grass this season. And now that Martin Prado pick looks a lot better since he backs up the entire infield. I’m not too worried about this roster actually working, as the real roster will have another 74 players on it. Were I to keep going, I’d be looking at A.J Ellis (catcher), Dan Uggla (second baseman…and another Brave….FYI as far as WAR goes all three Atlanta outfielders have WARs in the top 10 of the league), Jed Lowrie (SS), Chase Headley (3B) and more outfielders (Andre Ethier, Matt Holliday, Carlos Gonzalez). But for now, let’s focus on McCutchen. Andrew has a WAR of 3.0, 8th in the league. He’s hitting 500 over his last 6 games and can do anything you need on a baseball field. He’s hitting an incredible 345 with a 404 OBP. He’s got 13 HR, 45 RBI, 39 R and 14 SB for a Pittsburgh team that is in the middle of the NL Central race. He’s a fantastic, exciting player that is going to be the nucleus for a young Pirates team that is coming closer and closer to competing (last year at this time they were first in the NL Central). The crazy thing is, last week I leave him off this ballot. But after the week he had, it would be insane not to list him. And that’s the trick with this game. Things can change so quickly. Right now, this is my team. But in the next few weeks before the game A.J Ellis could hit his way into the catcher conversation, or Paul Goldschmidt could slug his way into a reserve spot backing up Joey Votto or maybe Adam LaRoche or Bryan LaHair makes some noise. Things can change before the game happens. And with the size of these rosters, you’ll likely see all these guys in the game, though not all of them will play.
SP: R.A. Dickey NYM- Yeah I figured I may as well throw in 3 starters and 2 relievers. Dickey’s 2.5 WAR is tied for 6th in the NL. I’m not sure what else he’d have to do to be first, but he’s had a fantastic season. He’s got the best record in baseball at 11-1 (the 11 Wins are best in the majors). His 2.31 ERA is among the top 10 in the league. He’s third in the league in strikeouts, had back to back one hitters and is the best pitcher in the NL right now. You can make arguments for other guys, but I think he deserves to start the All Star game.
SP: Matt Cain SF- Cain’s 2.8 WAR is the 4th highest in the NL. He leads the league in IP, has a 2.27 ERA and a perfect game. His 9-2 record is great, especially on a team that can’t score runs. I think there are a ton of good pitchers in the NL this season. It’s hard to decide who should start. But if it’s not Dickey, it’s this guy who is often overlooked playing out west and living in the shadow of teammate Tim Lincecum. For years scouts have said Cain has better stuff. We are seeing it this season.
SP: Stephen Strasburg WAS- The most heralded pitching prospect of all time is already a star in D.C. He’s 9-1 with a 2.46 ERA this season. He also leads the league with 110 Ks in only 84 IP. He’s got a tidy 1.04 WHIP and a 214 BAA. His 2.9 WAR is third in the league behind teammate Gio Gonzalez and Zach Greinke. But Gonzalez still walks too many guys, has a higher ERA and has incredible luck on balls in play. I’m not saying he’s not having a great season and shouldn’t be on the team, but I’m picking Strasburg over him. And while Greinke is also great, he doesn’t have the strikeout numbers, ERA or dominance of hitters that Strasburg possesses. There are a ton of good pitchers who should be in the game. Among them the three I’ve listed, Gonzalez, Greinke, James McDonald, Johnny Cueto, Wade Miley and Cole Hamels. And I bet they will all make it, since the rosters are enormous. But if I can only pick three, these are my guys.
RP: Craig Kimbrel ATL- The other reason WAR is an iffy stat is that it hurts relievers. It’s not wrong, a man who only throws an inning a game can only do so much to help his club. But Craig Kimbrel of the Braves has the highest WAR of all relievers in baseball this year, and it’s only 1.5. Still good, but for these guys I have to look at other numbers. Kimbrel has been lights out. His 21 Saves lead the league. He’s got a 1.33 ERA and 44 Ks in 27 IP. His 129 BAA is infinitesimal and his 0.84 WHIP shows that he’s dominant. He’s easily the best reliever in the NL this season, and WAR says he’s the best reliever in baseball.
RP: Joel Hanrahan PIT- This was a little tough, but I think this is the right answer. According to WAR, Aroldis Chapman should have been my next choice. But he just took over the reliever job and has 8 Saves. In addition he blew 2 in a row last week. We are rewarding the best seasons so far. And that has to go to Hanrahan of the Pirates in my opinion. His 19 Saves are third in the league, behind Kimbrel and Santiago Casilla of the Giants. But his 2.25 ERA is better, as is his 163 BAA. He really does shut people down at the end of games. With 34 Ks in 28 IP, he has a bit of that unstoppable mentality to him and he’s kept the Pirates in the Central race. I don’t understand why his WAR is 0. In this case the WAR is good for absolutely nothing (you knew it was coming). He’s a great reliever, and belongs in the All Star game.
Up next…AL All Star Ballot