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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Monday, January 30, 2023
Jack Baer

Column: Let's classify the MLB All-Stars

The rosters for the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Minnesota were released Sunday night, so now it's time to wade through the rosters and separate the wheat from the chaff and the Jeter from the young baseball players.

The unicorns

SS Troy Tulowitzki

CF Mike Trout

Barring injury or finding some way to anger the Angels in the Outfield, these guys are winning their league's MVP and it’s not going to be close. Trout will surpass Miguel Cabrera officially for the first time and sabermetrically for the third time. Tulowitzki is finally healthy, and that should make non NL West fans very happy.

Deserving starters

C Salvador Perez

1B Miguel Cabrera

1B Paul Goldschmidt

2B Chase Utley

3B Josh Donaldson

OF Jose Bautista

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OF Adam Jones

OF Andrew McCutchen

OF Carlos Gomez

DH Nelson Cruz

These position players are cream of the crop, there’s really nothing more to it.

Starters not on the list are Yadier Molina, Aramis Ramirez and Robinson Cano. Derek Jeter is touched on in another section. Cano is probably the most okay of the three, but the existence of Ian Kinsler, Jose Altuve and Brian Dozier meant that the starting AL second baseman was going to be picked over three equally deserving candidates.

There’s no excuse for Yadier Molina being voted over Jonathan Lucroy. For starters, the difference in their triple slash lines is massive.

Lucroy: .333/.402/.522

Molina: .294/.347/.416

I get that Molina is the consensus best defensive catcher in baseball, but that doesn’t make up for 163 points of OPS especially when you consider Lucroy isn’t any slouch behind the plate and is the best pitch framer in baseball according to Baseball Prospectus. This is a simple case of a recognizable star beating a more deserving candidate.

Ramirez winning a fan vote is puzzling, especially with Lucroy losing. It’s as if Brewers fans like declining (but still pretty good) third basemen more than MVP-candidate catchers. I’d take Todd Frazier, Anthony Rendon or Matt Carpenter over Ramirez, but it’s close enough that I’m not too miffed. Third base is really weak this year and Ramirez has been a quality player for a very long time.

Established stars

C Yadier Molina

C Jonathan Lucroy

1B Freddie Freeman

3B Matt Carpenter

SS Starlin Castro

2B Robinson Cano

DH Victor Martinez

1B Edwin Encarnacion

3B Adrian Beltre

OF Yoenis Cespedes

OF Alex Gordon

OF Giancarlo Stanton

OF Hunter Pence

These are all players who have been good in the past and are having great seasons.

It’s tempting to say Gordon should have been a starter over Jones considering that both versions of Wins Above Replacement like him more than Jones and Bautista, but a lot of that comes from defensive metrics, which can be iffy.

Castro’s odyssey from top young player to worst hitter in the National League back to franchise cornerstone is very interesting. The Cubs glut of shortstop talent with Javier Baez, Addison Russell and Arismendy Alcantara means another cycle around could spell doom for him.

Let’s play a game: who is the Tigers’ best hitter? Miggy? Wrong, it’s Victor Martinez. In the last calendar year, V-Mart has had the better batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

Breakout seasons

C Derek Norris

2B Dee Gordon

3B Todd Frazier

1B Jose Abreu

2B Jose Altuve

OF Michael Brantley

Any number of these players could just be having fluky seasons, but they’re all still deserving.

I’m particularly suspicious of Gordon given his mediocre track record and unusually high batting average on balls in play, which suggests he’s benefited from some batted ball luck.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about Jose Abreu. The Cuban has been raking to the tune of an AL-leading 27 home runs. Coming in to MLB, the question with Abreu was “How much can you fall from a .453/.597/.986 triple slash line in the Cuban leagues?” Read those numbers again. .453 batting average. .597 on-base percentage. .986 slugging percentage. The answer has turned out to be “Quite a bit, but it’ll still leave enough to form the best new power hitter in baseball.”

Established stars, pitcher edition

Adam Wainwright

Johnny Cueto

Zack Greinke

Jordan Zimmermann

Madison Bumgarner

Yu Darvish

Felix Hernandez

David Price

Jon Lester

The debate here is who should be starting. For the National League, it’s a race between Wainwright and Cueto. Wainwright holds the edge in ERA and Fielding Independent Pitching, but Cueto has thrown 7.1 more innings. There’s really no wrong answer, they’re both fantastic pitchers having fantastic seasons.

There is, however, a correct answer in the American League. Hernandez leads the league in ERA and innings pitched. I don’t really know what more you could want.

Breakout seasons, pitcher edition

Julio Teheran

Jeff Samardzija

Masahiro Tanaka

Scott Kazmir

Kazmir’s is really more of a second breakout. His return from a brutal string of injuries to once again become one of the best pitchers in a loaded division is the reason why every player in any sport slogs through rehab and low recovery rates for another shot at stardom. Putting him in the All-Star games sends a good message. His 2.53 ERA is also a pretty good reason.

Also, the A’s rotation is loaded with some darn good pitchers. Samardzija, Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Jason Hammel, and Jesse Chavez form a rotation that will almost definitely allow the A’s to hold off the Angels in the division race and maybe, just maybe, finally beat the Tigers in the playoffs.

Relievers

Glen Perkins

Dellin Betances

Greg Holland

Pat Neshek

Tony Watson

Francisco Rodriguez

I really do hate that Major League Baseball feels the need to stuff relievers into the All-Star game. Pretty much every reliever in baseball is a failed starter. Throwing a single inning at a time allows a pitcher to throw a few miles per hour harder and mask the fact that he only has one or two quality pitches. Take any starter that throws harder than 90 mph, drop him in the bullpen, and chances are he could make the All-Star game as a reliever.

There are also so many other relievers who play at the level that we apparently define as the All-Star threshold. Joakim Soria, Joaquin Benoit, Wade Davis, Jake McGee, Steve Cishek, Koji Uehara, Andrew Miller, Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and probably a dozen more pitchers could be swapped in for Neshek or Watson and nobody would bat an eye. This volume of alternatives suggests many All-Star relievers aren't really all that special.

Part of the fun of the All-Star game is seeing baseball’s best pitchers give it their all for a single inning, playing a role that makes them even more exciting to watch. With relievers, you just get some guys doing their day job.

Relievers who do actually deserve it

Sean Doolittle

Craig Kimbrel

All of that said, Doolittle and Kimbrel can shove the ball at historic levels and definitely deserve in. Doolittle’s rocking a 30 strikeout-to-walk ratio while throwing nothing but fastballs. I can’t explain it, but it’s awesome. Kimbrel hasn’t had the best year for him, but that just means he isn’t using the curveball from hell to turn in one of the most dominant reliever seasons in baseball history, as he did in 2012.

Derek Jeter

SS Derek Jeter

Jeter won his starting spot when he announced 2014 would be his final season as a player. On the strength of his play, he doesn’t deserve a starting spot. The day an on-base percentage of .319 and the shortstop defense of, well, a 40-year-old Derek Jeter is All-Star level in baseball is the day I switch to cricket.

On the other hand, it’s Derek Jeter. Any All-Star game is fan-service at heart. Fans want to see the swan song of legendary players, meeting their peers from the top of the league for a final time. The only time I’ve ever liked Derek Jeter is when he was raking for my Backyard Baseball team and I’m still going to miss that smile with enough self-confidence behind it to dump Minka Kelly. Basically, I’m going to miss him in a really weird way.

Yeah, he missed some time from injury but those are some pretty good stats

C Devin Mesoraco

SP Clayton Kershaw

RP Aroldis Chapman

Mesoraco is an iffy selection when you consider Buster Posey was right there for Mike Matheny to select. The Reds catcher is hitting .300 plus with good on-base and great slugging, but he’s received less than half of the catcher plate appearances for his own team. I guess Matheny prefers rate over volume, but that’s okay.

With Kershaw, all you really need to know is he missed an entire month and he’s still the undisputed Cy Young front runner.

Chapman throw ball hard, Chapman get strikeouts.

Ehhhh…

C Kurt Suzuki

3B Aramis Ramirez

2B Daniel Murphy

SS Alexei Ramirez

SP Mark Buehrle

SP Tyson Ross

OF Charlie Blackmon

1B Brandon Moss

Most of these guys are long-time mediocre players that are happening to have decent seasons. None of them scream All-Star, nor will they attract viewers July 16. They’re just, meh.

Blackmon might be the most exciting of the bunch, but he seems to be the product of a transcendent April and has been declining ever since.

I'm not saying these guys don't deserve to play in the game, I just think the game would have been more entertaining if we substituted these guys for some younger, more popular players.

wat

OF Josh Harrison

“When you have the chance to add a BABIP-inflated utility man over any number of exciting and recognizable players, you do it.” —Mike Matheny, apparently.

Take a look at the NL All-Star Final Vote and tell me if you would prefer Harrison at the plate over any of those five guys. Harrison’s inclusion doesn’t really make sense, but there’s one of those in every All-Star game. So baseball goes.


Now, let’s get into the best part of any All-Star season, arguing over who got snubbed.

The wrong side of 50/50

SP Josh Beckett

SP Hyun-Jin Ryu

SS Erick Aybar

SP Garrett Richards

SP Tim Hudson

If you asked me Saturday if any of these guys could make the All-Star roster, I’d have given them each a 50/50 chance. The coin came up on the wrong side in their case. They’re quality players, with some old, some young and oddly, all from California teams.

Guys who are a lot better than you think

3B Anthony Rendon

3B Kyle Seager

SP Stephen Strasburg

2B Brian Dozier

C Yan Gomes

Rendon’s played quality second and third base defense for the Nationals all season, while supplying a quick and powerful bat. He’s on the way to perennially hitting .300 and you’d think fans would want to see that in Minnesota. His is the spot Josh Harrison stole, that of a super-utility guy.

Seager might be a better third baseman than the AL starter, Josh Donaldson. Both major versions of Wins Above Replacement love him and he’s a primary reason the Mariners are contending despite a total lack of prospect development in the last few years.

Strasburg has been a quiet little monster, striking out 10.50 and walking only 1.92 per 9 innings. Some bad innings inflated his ERA to a more pedestrian 3.50, but he still possesses some of the nastiest stuff you will ever see.

Dozier has been one of the biggest surprises of the season, leading the AL in runs, providing ace defense at second for the Twins and catching the eye of every sabermetrically inclined writer in baseball. Putting him in the game would have made the hometown crowd and the stats nerds very happy.

Gomes is a darn good catcher and probably should have taken Suzuki’s spot, but hey, Minnnesota All-Star game.

These guys could have been fun

OF Billy Hamilton

1B Anthony Rizzo

OF George Springer

Billy Hamilton is a 90 runner, which is pretty impressive considering the baseball scouting scale only goes up to 80. Seriously though, Hamilton could be the fastest player in the history of baseball and is already a Rookie of the Year favorite. That’s the kind of player that deserves a spot in Minnesota simply for the entertainment value.

Rizzo and Springer are future stars and serve as vanguard for an insanely deep wave of talent coming to the Cubs and Astros respectively. They might not be that deserving of a spot, but they’re still fun to talk about.

Straight-up inexcusable

SP Chris Sale

SP Corey Kluber

2B Ian Kinsler

Cue the Batman-style “Where are they!?” Sale is fifth in the majors in ERA. Kluber is a breakout ace on par with Masahiro Tanaka. Kinsler leads all second basemen in weighted on-base average, a catch-all statistic from fangraphs that identifies the hitter quality much better than OPS. I could argue for another 1000 words for how bad these snubs are. Root for some pull-outs in the All-Star game because these three not playing at Target Field would just be wrong.

If I missed any player you think was a snub, I hate that player and think he’s terrible.

Did any of the All-Star selections surprise you? Are you upset with fan votes deciding starting lineups or does Derek Jeter deserve to take the field one last time? Email jack.baer@dailycardinal.com and tell him your thoughts.

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