Several years ago, my friend Dan McCloskey, whom I hadn’t met then, introduced me to the concept of the past-calendar-year All-Star team. His theory, if I may paraphrase, goes something like this: for those who believe an All-Star Game appearance should reward recent excellence, as opposed to lifetime achievement, the first two or three months of a season aren’t a significant enough sample size to justify such honors, and that second-half accomplishments tend to go unrewarded when fans vote for the guy batting .340 in April and May over the guy who’s been very good since last summer.
It may be a little early to fill out an All-Star ballot, but mlb.com is already telling us who’s winning (hint: it’s the Royals), and a calendar month just ended, so why not take a look at the guys who put up the best numbers from last June to this May?
We’ll start in the American League.
Catcher- Russell Martin, Blue Jays and Stephen Vogt, Athletics
Martin’s only been back in the American League for two months of our sample, but he’s been nearly the best catcher in the game over the past year and it would be awkward to put him on the NL team. Vogt has been a revelation this year, hitting .322/.411/.611 so far, and he accrued all of his 1.4 fWAR in 2014 over the last four months of the season. Sal Perez could get the nod here for his game calling skills, but since raking last April and May, he’s actually been a below-average hitter for a year now.
First Base- Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Yeah, he’s still pretty good. .314/.392/.530 since last June, with 27 homers. The AL is light on great first basemen, so we’ll save the second 1B spot for someone else.
Second Base- Jose Altuve, Astros and Brian Dozier, Twins
These two have identical 4.7 fWARs, and both have earned those wins with their bats. Altuve’s hitting .333 with 51 steals and Dozier has 21 homers and 12 steals over the past year. Ian Kinsler’s been worth similar value, almost entirely with his glove. There’s plenty of depth here- Ben Zobrist and Robinson Cano top 3.5 WAR almost entirely based on their 2014 finished, and Jason Kipnis is the AL WAR leader this year.
Shortstop- Erick Aybar, Angels
I wanted to give this nod to Jose Iglesias, who’s hitting .338 this year and plays the best defense this side of Andrelton Simmons, but Aybar’s got over four times the plate appearances and almost three times the fWAR since June, thanks to nearly league-average offense and 10.3 fielding runs above average. Brad Miller’s another limited-action candidate, his 114 wRC+ topping all AL shortstops other than Iglesias.
Third Base- Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays, Adrian Beltre, Rangers, and Kyle Seager, Mariners
I keep wondering when Donaldson’s going to stop being the best non-Trout player in the American League. I should probably stop wondering. He’s hit 29 homers over the last year, adding a decent .339 OBP and the best third-base defense in the American League (13.5 FRAA). Age can’t seem to stop Beltre, who’s hitting .309/.363/.471 with his typical great defense this last year. And Seager’s 5.2 fWAR, which are also heavy on defense but reflect 26 bombs of his own, made it an easy choice to take three third baseman on my 25-man AL roster. Any of these guys could serve as the backup shortstop.
Outfield- Mike Trout, Angels, Alex Gordon, Royals, Adam Jones, Orioles, Lorenzo Cain, Royals, Michael Brantley, Indians, and Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
You don’t need me to tell you what Trout’s done. Brantley’s here for his offense (.326/.387/.495). Cain and Kiermaier have been two of the best defenders in the game by DRAA (21.3 and 24.7, respectively), while holding their own with the bats, and Gordon and Jones are excellent on both sides.
Designated Hitter- Jose Abreu, White Sox
Despite a rather modest start to this year (125 wRC+), Abreu’s hitting .323/.390/.544 with 29 homers over the past year. That’s a better wRC+ (158) than Nelson Cruz’s (140), without the legendarily bad outfield defense.
Starting Pitchers- Corey Kluber, Indians, Felix Hernandez, Mariners, David Price, Tigers, Chris Sale, White Sox, Dallas Keuchel, Astros, Chris Archer, Rays, and Sonny Gray, Athletics
By FIP WAR, Kluber (7.0) has been the league’s best. By RA9-WAR, it’s Felix and his 1.90 ERA. Price’s 244 K are second to Kluber, while Sale’s K/BB (231/45) are even more impressive. Keuchel (2.60) and Archer (2.70) are here for their ERAs, knocking Jose Quintana and his 4.9 fWAR (5th best, .1 behind Felix) just off the page.
Relief Pitchers- Dellin Betances, Yankees and Wade Davis, Royals
Betances in 86 2/3 innings: 128 K, 26 BB, 3 HR, 0.93 ERA, 1.65 FIP. Davis in 69 2/3 innings: 91 K, 20 BB, 0 HR, 0.52 ERA, 1.41 FIP, 4 runs allowed.
…and then the National League…
Catcher- Buster Posey, Giants and Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
Posey, when healthy, has never been anything but a superstar. The game-calling metrics don’t love him, but he’s hit .322/.374/.508 and has 7.9 DRAA over the past year. Lucroy’s been injured and ineffective this year, but he was the best player in the National League last year.
First Base- Anthony Rizzo, Cubs, Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks, and Lucas Duda, Mets
As great as Goldschmidt, Adrian Gonzalez, and Joey Votto have been this year, it’s Rizzo who laps the field with 6.4 WAR since last June. He’s hitting .305/.402/.575 with 33 homers and non-terrible defense. Goldschmidt missed mush of last year due to injury, but he’s still hitting a crazy .325/.450/.617 in 445 PA. Duda, with 5.1 WAR, looked like he might be the most valuable player to get cut from one of these teams, but with a dearth of great NL outfielders, he makes this one.
Second Base- Dee Gordon, Marlins
Where did this guy come from? His .319 average is diluted by a subpar late-2014 (he’s hitting .377 in ’15), but he’s stolen 50 bases since last June 1 and the defensive metrics like him. No need for a second keystone sacker.
Shortstop- Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals and Brandon Crawford, Giants
Peralta has a .355 OPB and 20 home runs over the last year, and one of the NL’s best gloves. Crawford’s more than just the arm that kept Alex Gordon from scoring the tying run in Game Seven last year. He’s got a .346 OBP and 8.3 DRAA.
Third Base- Todd Frazier, Reds, Anthony Rendon, Nationals, and Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
Carpeter gets plenty of screen time in October, but would you have guessed that Frazier has hit 36 dingers and stolen 22 bases since last June? Or that Rendon’s 145 wRC+ is the best among all third baseman over that stretch? Third base is just as deep in the NL as in the AL, which is why you’ll see the fourth guy on the next list.
Outfield- Andrew McCutchen, Pirates, Bryce Harper, Nationals, Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins, and Josh Harrison, Pirates
There’s a clear delineation here between the starters and the backups. Cutch is the NL’s best player for the full term (163 wRC+, 6.3 WAR), while Harper seems to have assumed that title in 2015, and Stanton, who has 36 homers since last June, always seems poised to make a run. Harrison’s here for his bat (.304 average), legs (20 steals), and his defensive versatility.
Starting Pitchers- Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers, Max Scherzer, Nationals, Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals, Jake Arrieta, Cubs, Cole Hamels, Phillies, Jacob deGrom, Mets, Jon Lester, Cubs, Zack Greinke, Dodgers, , and Johnny Cueto, Reds
I’ll start with this- it feels ridiculous to leave Madison Bumgarner and his postseason heroics off this team, but I couldn’t cut any of these nine guys. Each of the nine has a better ERA than Bum’s 3.07 and all but Cueto has a better FIP than Bumgarner’s 3.33, and Cueto pitches his home games in a far more challenging environment than San Francisco.
Kershaw’s tops in both FIP WAR (8.1) and RA9 WAR (8.1). Scherzer’s been the best in the NL this year, and has a 2.36 FIP despite having pitched 2/3 of the games I’m counting in the tougher league. Lester has a 2.36 ERA with the same handicap. Hamels (7.8) is second in RA9 WAR, while Arrieta (6.1) trails only Kershaw and Scherzer in FIP WAR. deGrom’s given up just 10 homers in 183 2/3 innings. Zimmermann, with a 2.42 ERA in over 200 innings, been the best pitcher in the best rotation in the game. Greinke’s 2.48 ERA over 203 1/3 innings is nearly as good.
Relief Pitcher- Aroldis Chapman, Reds
It’s hard to believe Craig Kimbrel doesn’t make this team, but at least a handful of NL relievers have been better over the past year. The most notable is Chapman, who’s struck out an absurd 17.11 batters per nine innings, good for a league-best 1.01 FIP despite more than half a walk per inning. Drew Storen (1.07 ERA) and Ken Giles (1.61) have been even better at run prevention, but Chapman’s thrown more innings (67 1/3) and has struck out 1 of every 2.1 batters he’s faced.
Just for fun, some starting lineups:
1. Trout, cf
2. Cabrera, 1b
3. Abreu, dh
4. Donaldson, 3b
5. Jones, rf
6. Gordon, lf
7. Altuve, 2b
8. Martin, c
9. Aybar, ss
1. McCutchen, cf
2. Harper, lf
3. Stanton, rf
4. Goldschmidt, dh
5. Rizzo, 1b
6. Frazier, 3b
7. Posey, c
8. Peralta, ss
9. Gordon, 2b
I’ll take the National Leaguers.