Few surprises or major mistakes among AL, NL All-Star rosters
On Sunday evening, the rosters and starting lineups for the 2014 All-Star Game — to be played on July 15 in Minneapolis — were announced. Fans voted for 17 lineup spots (nine on the AL side, including designated hitter; eight on the NL side), while players got their say via 33 choices (16 AL, 17 NL), and managers John Farrell and Mike Matheny rounded out the rosters to 33 apiece, leaving one spot open for the winner of each league’s Final Vote. Jon Tayler ran down the lineups and full rosters here.
Leaving the game’s inherent contradiction — an exhibition driven by fan choices, yet one that determines home field advantage for the World Series — aside, critiquing the choices of the fans, players and managers depends a whole lot upon one’s definition of what makes an All-Star. While I don’t mind seeing a good player having a great first half get the nod over a great player having a merely good season, I do believe that it’s fair to consider a larger body of work when choosing the most deserving All-Stars. With that point in mind, what follows are six take-home points from my first look at the rosters.
In a season short on dominant teams, it's fitting no one club dominated the AL starting lineup. Through Sunday, eight Junior Circuit clubs have winning records and each will be represented among the starting nine. It took an injury substitution for that to occur, because no Royal was elected by the fans, but Matt Wieters' season-ending Tommy John surgery paved the way for player-elected Salvador Perez to get the call. Even without Wieters, the Orioles will be the league's only team with two position players in the starting lineup, as Nelson Cruz outdistanced David Ortiz in the voting among designated hitters.
It's difficult to find a whole lot to complain about among the AL starters, save for two spots, (more on that below); by and large, the fans did an excellent job with their selections. Based on their 2014 performances and their recent seasons, Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout all have cases that they're the best in the league at their individual positions and the irony of the catching substitution is that the same can be said about Perez, who is a stronger selection than Wieters would have been. Adam Jones isn't the league's best center fielder given the presence of Trout, but he's putting together his third strong season in a row, giving him a longer track record than the league's top left fielder, Michael Brantley, who was selected as a reserve.
Based on his 2014 performance, Derek Jeter is far from the AL’s best shortstop, and his .273/.323/.328 performance at the plate is nowhere close to his career standard. And that's without even mentioning his defense. But in the final season of a storied 20-year career featuring 3,400 hits and a guaranteed ticket to the 2020 Hall of Fame induction ceremony, he's the people's choice. The fans choose the starting lineups and if they want to see one of the game's icons take a victory lap in an exhibition game, that's their prerogative and it's hardly a travesty if Erick Aybar (.278/.315/.416, 2.9 WAR) or Alexei Ramirez (.288/.320/.412, 2.5 WAR) — the league's two most valuable shortstops this year according to WAR — have to take a back seat. The former was snubbed, but has to be on the short list of potential injury replacements, while the latter made the squad as a reserve.
Cruzin' Past the Biogenesis Factor
Cruz leads the AL in home runs (27) and RBI (71) while batting .290/.356/.582, but some will see his selection as a travesty given that he's less than a year removed from a 50-game suspension for his links to the Biogenesis clinic. Leaving that issue aside for the moment, he's having a much better 2014 than Ortiz (.252/.353/.485 with 19 homers), though the latter has the edge on performance if you expand the window beyond the season's first 80-something games to include the recent past. Ortiz had a fantastic 2013 season culminating in a World Series MVP award, and before that strong 2011 and 2012 showings following a mid-career dip.
By voting Cruz into the lineup, the fans appear far more forgiving of his PED transgression — and those of others — than many members of the media or even other players, though it shouldn't be forgotten that Ortiz himself has benefited from a certain amount of forgiveness on the PED front as well. Meanwhile, the previously suspended Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta all ranked among the top-five at their positions when the vote totals were last announced, with more than one million votes apiece. None of them made their squads, likely because they didn't receive comparable support from their peers.
The Wrong Brewer
The NL wasn’t nearly as equitable as the AL, at least by the standard I used above. Among the eight teams above .500, the Nationals, Giants and Reds have no representative starter, while the sub-.500 Rockies, Phillies and Diamondbacks do. The only team with more than one starter is the Brewers and though one choice was an obvious one in Carlos Gomez, the other was the biggest head-scratcher in either starting lineup: third baseman Aramis Ramirez
Ramirez is hitting a respectable .286/.339/.476 with 11 homers for the Brewers, but he's played in just 62 games this season due to a hamstring strain and just 92 last year due to knee problems. His 0.8 WAR ranks 13th among NL third baseman in 2014, miles behind Todd Frazier (3.5) and Anthony Rendon (3.1), and if you include last year for a longer-term snapshot of the league's best third baseman, he's 12th at 1.7, behind David Wright (7.2) and Frazier (6.0), with an asterisk for the position-shifted Matt Carpenter (8.8).
Ramirez's teammate, Jonathan Lucroy, may be the most glaring snub from the NL starting lineup. Not only is he having a phenomenal season at the plate (.333/.402/.522) and behind it, but his 4.5 WAR is also third-best among all NL position players. His 2013-2014 WAR edges starting catcher Yadier Molina, 8.0 to 7.7 and with the latter having a comparatively off season at the plate (.294/.347/.416), it would have been nice to see Lucroy get the nod.
Elsewhere, the NL lineup choices are quite reasonable. Paul Goldschmidt and Troy Tulowitzki are clearly the class at their positions. Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gomez and Yasiel Puig are the league's three most valuable outfielders over the 2013-2014 range according to WAR, and they're three of the game's most exciting players. Chase Utley may be the league's top second baseman according to WAR this year (2.5, edging Dee Gordon's 2.3), though he's not the player he once was; had Carpenter stayed at second base, he'd be more deserving of the nod. This year's outfield WAR leader, Giancarlo Stanton (4.9 WAR, on a .307/.405/.568 line and 21 homers), might be considered a potential snub, but he’s the obvious choice to slot in as the team's DH, even if he hasn’t yet officially been designated as such.
Reserve Your Ire
Space doesn't permit nitpicking every reserve spot here. By and large, the AL choices look quite reasonable. My biggest beef is Minnesota's Kurt Suzuki (.308/.366/.400 in a rare outburst of passable offense) getting the nod over Cleveland's Yan Gomes (.265/.310/.419) given Gomes' big edge in pitch framing and I do think Ian Kinsler (.306/.342/.486 with 11 homers and 3.9 WAR) deserves a spot on the roster.
The NL side has more dubious choices. Gordon, Pittsburgh's Josh Harrison and Colorado's Charlie Blackmon are out-of-nowhere guys who have parlayed the best half-season of their careers into roster spots at the expense of others with more solid credentials, such as Justin Upton and Anthony Rendon. Upton and Rendon are among the NL’s five Final Vote candidates, but they shouldn’t be on the bubble.
Kvetching About Pitching
Leaving aside the issue of which pitchers are most deserving of getting the starting nods, a decision that at least on the AL side will be affected by the Sunday assignment of Masahiro Tanaka, there's room to gripe about the way the two rosters are set up. On the one hand, it's nice to see a heat-throwing setup man like Dellin Betances and relievers like Tony Watson and Pat Neshek get invited to the party, but with so many strong starting pitchers snubbed, it seems unfair to have them there instead.
All five AL Final Vote candidates — Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Dallas Keuchel, Garrett Richards and Corey Kluber — rank among the league's top-10 in WAR, and some would have made better choices than the starters who actually made the team, at least if 2014 performance is the basis. If we’re going by 2013-2014 performance, Hisashi Iwakuma is somebody who deserves to be in the picture but is not. Even if Iwakuma did miss the season’s first five weeks due to a strained tendon in his right middle finger, he leads all AL pitchers in WAR (7.0) dating back to the start of the 2013 season
That said, the likelihood is that Tanaka won't be the only pitcher ruled out of actually playing, leaving room for more than one of those five to make their way to Minneapolis. Likewise on the NL side, where a bump or two might get the deserving Tim Hudson or Henderson Alvarez to the festivities.
More To Come
The rosters have been announced, but that doesn't mean the All-Star coverage is over. Check SI.com over the course of the next week, as Cliff Corcoran and I will have more to say on the Final Vote candidates, the choices for starting pitcher, and likely a few other topics related to the game.