Most teams have played 42 or 43 games at this point in the season, enough to at least begin to evaluate player seasons. We know that Josh Hamilton’s excellence is more than a streak. Albert Pujols’s futility is more than a slump. Let’s take this chance to put together a 25-man All-Star team in each league based on stats from the first 40+ games. Keep in mind that this does not represent my hypothetical ballot, as I wouldn’t vote for All-Stars based on so few games. This is just a chance to call out some great performances over almost two months of baseball.
In the National League, a few catchers have had surprisingly great seasons so far, and four catchers are probably worthy of playing in the All-Star game. I’m going to give the starting nod to Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies, who has hit .347/.400/.581 so far and has an excellent defensive reputation. Ruiz trails my backup pick, LA’s AJ Ellis in fangraphs WAR, primarily because Ellis is a far better baserunner, which is legitimate, and because UZR prefers Ellis’s defense, which is questionable given the complexity of rating catcher defense. Ellis walks more than Ruiz, which is a sustainable skill, but he’s also unlikely to keep up his .388 BABiP. Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy has hit .339/.386/.545, and Yadier Molina may be the best of them all between his bat and his glove, but it’s hard to ignore what Ruiz and Ellis have done so far.
In the American League, the race comes down to two young catchers building on their breakout seasons in 2011 and the guy who might have been the best player in the game a few years ago. Matt Wieters, my starter, does it with his glove, compiling 3.0 fielding runs above average per fangraphs so far. FRAA should be taken with a grain of salt, particularly in a small sample, but since the beginning of 2011, Wieters has saved 14.6 runs, while the next best catcher in baseball, Chris Stewart, has saved 9.4. It doesn’t hurt that Wieters has eight home runs, is walking in almost 10% of his plate appearances, and has been central to the Orioles’ suprising surge to the top of the AL East. Backup Joe Mauer does it with his bat, hiting .293/.395/.401 and barely edging out Cleveland’s Carlos Santana, who’s having a great all-around year.
With Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, and Prince Fielder moving to the AL, the NL is down to one great first baseman, Joey Votto, who’s hitting .304/.461/.580 and may contend for the MVP Award every year for the next decade. Don’t tell the Cubs’ Bryan LaHair that the first base field is weak though. LaHair is hitting .307/.407/.614, good for a .428 wOBA and 1.7 fWAR, second to Votto’s 2.3 at the position. Adam LaRoche and his .405 OBP deserve an honorable mention.
The American League is loaded with first base talent, but of all the stars, only Paul Konerko is outplaying LaHair. Konerko is hitting .367/.463/.604 and the fielding metrics love him. Despite Prince Fielder’s bat, Adrian Gonzalez’s glove, and a little of both from Mitch Moreland, no other first baseman is worthy of a 25-man roster at this point.
Three NL second basemen have identical 1.4 fWARs so far. Mark Ellis is doing it with his glove, racking up 3.4 FRAA so far. Since offensive numbers are more dependable at this point in the season, I’ll limit the team to one Dodger named Ellis and go with Miami’s Omar Infante as a starter and Houston’s Jose Altuve off the bench. Infante is the only 2b in baseball with a .400 wOBA so far, and Altuve has hit .310/.360/.437 with adequate defense and outstanding baserunning in leading the Astros to respectability.
It’s the same old three-man race in the American League, with Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, and Ian Kinsler having the best seasons so far. Last year, Pedroia’s offense was a hair better than Cano’s, but the defensive metrics loved the little guy. This year, they’ve been the same player with the bat, but the defensive numbers prefer Cano. Pedroia’s offensive edge (.363 wOBA vs. .350) over Kinsler has been enough to offset Kinsler’s superior glove.
As seems to be the case so often, Rafael Furcal‘s move to the Cardinals revitalized his career. He’s hitting .350/.407/.466 with eight stolen bases to lead all shortstops in fWAR. Jed Lowrie has hit nearly as well as Furcal and grades out as the best defensive shortstop in the NL with 3.88 FRAA. Starlin Castro might make this team if he’d taken more than four walks this year.
In the American League, it’s another case of bat vs. glove, and because of the small sample, I’ll take Asdrubal Cabrera‘s bat (.309/.404/.504) over Elvis Andrus‘s all-around game. Andrus leads AL shortstops in fWAR thanks to a .365 wOBA, 2.8 FRAA, and excellent baserunning, including eight steals in nine attempts. Mike Aviles has done a little bit of everything as well, and actually ranks ahead of Cabrera in fWAR, while Derek Jeter (.380 wOBA) has hit well, but grades out once again among the worst defensive players in baseball.
There’s no contest in the National League. After a rough year for NL third basemen in 2011, David Wright has been the most valuable player in the league through the first quarter of 2012, slashing .415/.515/.622 and rating well in fielding and baserunning, all of which adds up to 3.3 fWAR. Chase Headley has been about half as valuable, which is no small feat, but we’ve got enough infielders on the NL team without a second third baseman.
Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas has been the best third baseman in the American League, his 2.0 fWAR a full half win ahead of the field. With 7.4 FRAA, Brett Lawrie has been the best fielder in the game at any position, but he hasn’t hit enough to put him ahead of Kyle Seager of the Mariners, the last infielder on our team.
We need a true center fielder on each team, so let’s get Matt Kemp out of the way right now. He was slugging .726 when he hit the DL, and he’s getting a lot of credit for the Dodgers having the best record in baseball (though that credit should be shared with Clayton Kershaw, the Ellises, and their cupcake schedule). At the corners, we’ll take Ryan Braun and Carlos Beltran, who have 25 home runs and 4.6 fWAR between them so far, as starters.
Reserves have to include the Braves’ Martin Prado, who’s getting on base at a .392 clip and leading left fielders in FRAA, along with Michael Bourn, who’s so valuable with his glove (5.2 FRAA) and on the bases (13 steals) that he wouldn’t have to hit to be on this team, but he’s been 10% better than league average with the bat. Andrew McCutchen‘s defensive numbers have slipped, but he’s hitting well enough (.340/.398/.556 in a dismal lineup) to be the last reserve on the NL team.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the AL’s best player in 2012, Josh Hamilton. .379. .432. .765. Yup. Our center fielder will be Adam Jones, who’s slugging .602 and getting to every ball in Baltimore. The league’s best-hitting right fielders have been awful defenders, so we’ll let Austin Jackson of the Tigers play there. While he still strikes out a lot (18.3% of PAs), Jackson has added walking (12.6% of PAs) to his growing skillset, which also includes power (.544 slugging), speed (1.2 BRAA), and defense (3.7 FRAA).
Josh Willingham is more of a DH in outfielder’s clothing, but I can’t leave his .431 wOBA off this team. Josh Reddick gets bonus points for compiling his .277/.335/.536 line in a pitcher’s paradise in Oakland. We’ll give the final spot to Mike Trout, who should have been the Angels’ opening day right fielder, but instead waited until Bobby Abreu was shipped across town to start slashing .350/.413/.600, while showing off his excellent defense and speed.
I’m of the belief that every professional baseball team should have a designated hitter, so let’s add one to each team. In the NL, the best hitter not already on our team is Andre Ethier, with a 160 wRC+, helped by his nine homers and 12 doubles.
In the AL, it’s got to be David Ortiz, who has 10 homers, 15 doubles, and a 169 wRC+. Apologies to Adam Dunn, the next-best actual DH, and Mark Trumbo, who has OBPed .403 in a utility role for the Angels.
We’ve got room for nine pitchers per league, so I’ll choose eight starters and one reliever, since starters always accumulate more value than relievers, but we can’t neglect the guy who’s done his job better than anyone.
The best pitcher in the National League in 2012 has been Zack Greinke. His 2.70 ERA somehow places him 20th in the league, but if we ignore the shortcomings of the hideous defense behind him, Greinke has been phenomenal, striking out 9.37 batters per nine innings, while walking less than two and giving up one total home run. Gio Gonzalez would be an excellent choice to start the game as well, as he leads the league in strikeout rate (11.36 per 9) and has kept his ERA and FIP under 2.
After those two, there’s a small gap before we get to an impressive group of aces (or aces-in-the-making). Let’s add another National in Stephen Strasburg (10.87 K/9), ERA leader Brandon Beachy (1.33),usual suspect Roy Halladay (2.66 FIP), Halladay’s teammate Cole Hamels (5.8 K/BB), defending Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw (1.90 ERA), and FIP-defier Johnny Cueto, who trails only Kershaw with a 2.22 ERA since the beginning of 2011, depsite a 3.44 FIP. Apologies to the Pirates’ James McDonald and the Giants’ Matt Cain, among others.
Our NL closer can’t be anyone other than Aroldis Chapman, who has struck out an astonishing 15.72 batters per nine innings, and hasn’t given up a run in 22 1/3 innings. If Mike Matheny is creative in managing the real All-Star game, he’d get bonus points from me for starting Chapman, who has been the most dominant pitcher in baseball in 2012 and is criminally absent from the Reds’ starting rotation.
In the American League, the only viable starter is Justin Verlander, who picked up where he left off in 2011, striking out more than a batter per inning and walking fewer and leading the majors with 7.48 IP/start.
There’s a sizeable drop-off to the next few guys, but that doesn’t mean Jake Peavy hasn’t been a revelation in the White Sox’s rotation, with a 2.66 FIP to support his 2.39 ERA. Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver have been their dominant selves, each carrying ERAs and FIPs under 3.
There’s another sizeable drop to the next group, where Chris Sale has been great in a hybrid starter/closer role, striking out almost a batter per inning. Brandon Morrow has turned in two of the best single-game performances of the year en route to a 2.63 ERA. Yu Darvish has had problems with walks, but leads the AL with 10.13 K/9. Finally, old stand-by CC Sabathia edges out division rivals David Price and Jon Lester by virtue of his 7.15 IP/start.
The AL’s closer is Tampa Bay’s Fernando Rodney, whose 0.46 ERA is supported by a 1.64 FIP, which trails only teammate Jake McGee. Apologies to Alexi Ogando and David Robertson, whose numbers are very different, but each dominant in his own way.
Let’s line them up.
1. Rafael Furcal, ss, Cardinals
2. David Wright, 3b, Mets
3. Matt Kemp, cf, Dodgers
4. Joey Votto, 1b, Reds
5. Ryan Braun, lf, Brewers
6. Carlos Beltran, rf, Cardinals
7. Andre Ethier, dh, Dodgers
8. Carlos Ruiz, c, Phillies
9. Omar Infante, 2b, Marlins
p. Zack Greinke, p, Brewers
Jose Altuve, Astros
Michael Bourn, Braves
AJ Ellis, Dodgers
Bryan LaHair, Cubs
Jed Lowrie, Astros
Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
Martin Prado, Braves
Brandon Beachy, Braves
Aroldis Chapman, Reds
Johnny Cueto, Reds
Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
Roy Halladay, Phillies
Cole Hamels, Phillies
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
1. Adam Jones, cf, Orioles
2. Robinson Cano, 2b, Yankees
3. Josh Hamilton, lf, Rangers
4. David Ortiz, dh, Red Sox
5. Paul Konerko, 1b, White Sox
6. Austin Jackson, rf, Tigers
7. Asdrubal Cabrera, 2b, Indians
8. Matt Wieters, c, Orioles
9. Mike Moustakas, 3b, Royals
p. Justin Verlander, Tigers
Elvis Andrus, Rangers
Joe Mauer, Twins
Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
Josh Reddick, A’s
Kyle Seager, Mariners
Mike Trout, Angels
Josh Willingham, Twins
Yu Darvish, Rangers
Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays
Jake Peavy, White Sox
Fernando Rodney, Rays
CC Sabathia, Yankees
Chris Sale, White Sox
Jered Weaver, Angels
If you’re keeping score at home, the only team in baseball with four players on one of these teams is the Dodgers, with Kemp, Kershaw, Ellis, and Ethier. No other team from the NL West is represented. Three Braves, three Phillies, and three Reds made the NL team, along with two Nationals, two Cardinals, two Astros, and two Brewers.
Only two AL teams- the Rangers and White Sox- had three players on the team, while the Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, Twins, Angels, and Mariners had two. Coincidentally, every AL team was represented.
Who’d I miss?