Major League Baseball announced Tuesday the rosters for next week’s All-Star Game in San Diego.
The final spot is selected in a vote by the fans, resulting in a 34-man roster for each side.
With that out of the way, here’s a user’s guide to the rosters, with kudos and omissions, oddities and errors. (All stats through Monday.)
What the fans got right: Buster Posey, Giants
Not so much because San Francisco’s Posey is the clear-cut choice as the National League’s starting catcher. (In fact, you could make a strong argument that Washington’s Wilson Ramos, whose .958 on-base-plus-slugging percentage is 154 points higher than Posey’s, deserved the start.) But the important development here is that as of last week, St. Louis’s Yadier Molina led the voting to be the NL’s catcher (albeit by only 5,000 votes). Molina has a well-earned reputation as a superior game-caller and handler of pitchers. But his offensive numbers this year are abysmal — a .259 average with one homer, and his .657 OPS is the worst among the 11 NL catchers with at least 200 plate appearances. Posey’s numbers (.291 average, 10 homers, 48 RBI and 2.7 wins above replacement according to FanGraphs, which is tops among NL catchers) and reputation likely mean he would have been named anyway. The fact that the fans voted him in, and not Molina, means Ramos and Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy could deservedly be named as reserves.
What the fans got wrong: Addison Russell, Cubs
The Cubs are struggling over the past week or so, but they have been far and away baseball’s best team, so in some ways their seven all-stars — most of any club — are understandable. The difference: Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant and Dexter Fowler (all voted in by the fans) and pitchers Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester all have good cases. Russell, the Cubs’ shortstop, doesn’t. He is hitting just .238 with a .336 on-base percentage and .392 slugging percentage, meaning his OPS is just 10th among all NL shortstops — behind Pittsburgh’s Jordy Mercer, Asdrubal Cabrera of the Mets and Cincinnati’s Zack Cosart, among others.
Shortstop, of course, could be a position in which defense trumps offense. But while Russell is a superior, sure-handed defender, San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford and others rate above him in advanced defensive metrics such as defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating. Russell is an exceptional talent who will be an all-star many times in the future. He shouldn’t have been this year, and his inclusion meant it was tough for Crawford or rookies Aledmys Diaz of St. Louis or Trevor Story of Colorado to make the team.
Feel best for: Wilson Ramos, Nationals; Ian Desmond, Rangers
Some home-cooking? Sure. But if there’s another all-star who has been kidnapped and held hostage in his home country who underwent offseason Lasik surgery to clear up his vision after posting a career-low .229 average and .616 OPS — and then had his grandfather die early in the season — well, I don’t know who that is. So welcome to the NL team for the first time, Ramos.
And if there’s another all-star who went into his walk year expecting to break out, only to struggle so severely at the plate and in the field that you wondered whether he would ever be himself again, then was forced to sign a one-year, $8 million contract when it once seemed likely he’d make more than $100 million — and had to switch positions, from shortstop to outfield? Can’t find anyone like that, other than Desmond.
Both are more than deserving. Ramos, the Nationals catcher, is fifth in the entire NL in OPS at .958 — better than Bryant, Yoenis Cespedes, Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez and Paul Goldschmidt. Who had that in spring training? Desmond is now the Rangers center fielder and second-place hitter, and not only are his offensive numbers the best of his career across the board (.321 average, .374 on-base percentage, .526 slugging percentage, .900 OPS), his defense has been good enough that he ranks fifth among all AL players in WAR (4.0), according to FanGraphs.
Feel worst for: Jake Lamb, Diamondbacks; Gregory Polanco, Pirates
Lamb, Arizona’s third baseman, is hitting .290 with 19 homers, 59 RBI, a league-leading six triples and a league-leading .609 slugging percentage. His .974 OPS is not only better than both Bryant and Colorado’s Arenado, the two third basemen on the NL roster ahead of him, but it’s the best among any player who didn’t make an all-star team.
Polanco joins fellow Pittsburgh outfielder Starling Marte as a notable snub. Though Marte is a Gold Glove winner who is hitting .321 — status and numbers that would be worthy of inclusion — I find it harder to leave out Polanco, who has driven in 50 runs, and whose .895 OPS entering Tuesday night was not only better than Marte’s .841, but better than those of Bryce Harper, Fowler, Cincinnati’s Adam Duvall and Philadelphia’s Odubel Herrera, all NL outfielders who made the team.
Some thoughts out to Crawford, who is so brilliant defensively, and Houston right fielder George Springer.
We’ll see too many: Red Sox
No problem with: David Ortiz and his MLB-leading 1.112 OPS being voted in as the AL’s designated hitter, or Xander Bogaerts as the shortstop, because he’s quietly been Boston’s best player, or Jackie Bradley Jr. and his .927 OPS as one of the league’s three best outfielders. Fine. And sure, Steven Wright and his knuckleball have been a stabilizing force for Boston’s rotation, and his 2.42 ERA is second in the league to Cleveland’s Danny Salazar. Again, no problem.
But both Bradley and Mookie Betts, as starters is something of a stretch. Yes, Betts is third among AL outfielders in WAR (according to FanGraphs, trailing Mike Trout and Desmond), but he’s ninth in OPS. And was there a real need to name closer Craig Kimbrel? Sure, he has saved 17 of his 19 opportunities, but 10 AL relievers allow fewer walks and hits per inning pitched and 20 have a better ERA. Kimbrel and his electric stuff are exciting, but his inclusion makes six Red Sox — more players than any other AL team, which seems a bit much.
We won’t see enough: Indians
The American League’s two best teams (Texas and Cleveland) will be represented by a total of four players, while two teams with worse records (Boston and Baltimore) will be represented by a total of 11. Cleveland’s choices: Salazar, who should be a candidate to start the game on the mound, and shortstop Francisco Lindor. But what of 2014 Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber? His raw numbers (8-8, 3.79 ERA) might not seem sexy, until you realize he leads the AL in WHIP as well as fielding independent pitching (which translates to expected ERA) and is fourth (trailing only all-stars) with a .214 batting average against.
The Rangers, who have the league’s best record, will send Desmond and lefty Cole Hamels. While that might seem short for a team that is now 53-32, it’s hard to make a case for any other individual there.
All-star most likely to be traded: Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers or Andrew Miller, Yankees
Lucroy, Milwaukee’s catcher, falls in this category because he has a team option next year for a bargain $5.25 million and because the Brewers, under first-year General Manager David Stearns, badly need to rebuild. (Outfielder Ryan Braun’s name would be in this paragraph had he made the all-star team, though he could have.) Lucroy plays a valuable defensive position, has rebounded from a lousy 2015 to post an .839 OPS, and could bring multiple prospects in return.
Miller appears here despite the fact that the Yankees reportedly told him he wouldn’t be traded. Still, New York would be dealing from a strength because it has Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman (another trade candidate) at the back end of the bullpen, and the Yankees badly need to add some juice to a stagnant and aging offense. Miller also has two years at $9 million per remaining on his deal, meaning he would be appealing to a team that needs a long-term solution at closer. (Hello, Washington.)
All-star who’s already been traded: Fernando Rodney, Marlins
At the time he was named, Rodney had appeared in three games — and allowed two earned runs in three innings — for Miami, who acquired him last week for a minor-leaguer. Yes, his 17 saves in 17 chances to go along with just one earned run allowed in 28 appearances for the Padres, for whom he had a 0.872 WHIP, make him deserving. But his just-before-the-all-star-break trade confused the process, too. Had Rodney remained in San Diego, he could have been the Padres’ representative. With the trade, Manager Terry Collins had to select San Diego’s Wil Myers — a fine selection with 19 homers, 57 RBI and a 3.2 WAR, best among NL first basemen. But had Myers been left off, a more deserving position player (Lamb, Polanco) might have made it.
Who should win the final vote in NL:
(Remember, the fans get one more crack to vote in another player from each league.)
The candidates: San Francisco first baseman Brandon Belt, Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun, Arizona third baseman Jake Lamb, Pittsburgh outfielder Starling Marte, and Colorado shortstop Trevor Story
For the reasons stated above, we’ll take Lamb, though Marte and Braun both have strong cases.
Who should win the final vote in AL:
The candidates: Detroit second baseman Ian Kinsler, Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria, Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Toronto outfielder Michael Saunders, Houston outfielder George Springer
Longoria is having a nice season but ranks just sixth among AL third basemen in OPS. Kinsler falls victim to Houston’s Jose Altuve, the deserved starter, and Seattle’s rejuvenated Robinson Cano at second — but is a more deserving candidate than Boston’s Pedroia (in part because of the aforementioned onslaught of Red Sox). Though by some measures Saunders is having a better offensive season than Springer (.910 OPS to .842), we’ll take Springer’s 19 homers, 50 RBI and excellent defense in right.
It’ll be weird without: Yadier Molina, Cardinals; Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
We’ve been over the reasons Molina was rightly left off. Still, he has been an all-star for seven straight years — further back than Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, who will make his seventh consecutive appearance this year. McCutchen, a former MVP, had five straight all-star selections coming into this season, but he is hitting just .236 with 32 RBI this year. Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher on the planet, also will miss the game — but only because he’s on the disabled list with a back injury.
Welcome back: Robinson Cano, Mariners
Seattle’s second baseman had six previous selections, and five straight, before missing out last summer. His miserable first half of 2015 — a .251 average and .660 OPS — made him an easy omission. But he turned that around after the break a year ago (.331 and .926, respectively) and carried that momentum into this season, in which he is hitting .303 with an .894 OPS to go along with 19 homers (he had 21 all of last year).
Strange thing to remember: The game will be held in San Diego, home to the National League’s Padres. But the American League will be the “home” team — meaning it will bat last. The reason? Because the All-Star Game is in the midst of a four-year run in NL parks — Cincinnati last year, San Diego, Miami in 2017 and Washington in 2018 — MLB had to find a way to make the competitive element of the game equal given the fact that the winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series.