MLB All-Star Game fan voting update: NL outfield still the biggest problem area
Fan voting for this year's All-Star Game ends at midnight one week from Thursday, and, per the updates provided by Major League Baseball over the weekend, there's still more work to be done to get the best team on the field in each league.
As was the case two weeks ago, the American League squad is shaping up well with Chris Davis, Robinson Cano, J.J. Hardy, and Miguel Cabrera around the infield and Joe Mauer behind the plate. Dustin Pedroia, who leads AL second basemen in on-base percentage (.394), runs (48), walks (42), doubles (20) and Baseball-Reference.com's wins above replacement (3.5), should be giving Cano more of a challenge, but it's hard to argue against Cano as the AL's starting second baseman; he leads his peers in OPS (.850), slugging (.497), home runs (16) and RBIs (45). Cano also leads Pedroia in OPS+ (129 to 119).
The AL outfield situation is a bit more muddled, but if Jose Bautista can pass Nick Markakis for the final outfield spot, then the resulting trio of Adam Jones, Mike Trout, and Bautista would be a properly representative one. Bautista trailed Markakis by fewer than 50,000 votes (out of nearly two million) per Saturday's update. The key here is for Orioles fans to stop stuffing ballot boxes. Markakis, who has never made an All-Star team, is hitting just .289/.341/.414 in right field and grades out as only slightly above average at the position.
Over in the National League, things have improved over the last two weeks, with David Wright now leading Pablo Sandoval at third base, albeit by an uncomfortably small margin of fewer than 130,000 votes out of nearly three million, or less than five percent of Wright's vote total. The NL also has a new deserving leader at catcher, as Yadier Molina has pulled in front of Buster Posey, reflecting Molina's similarly superior showing on the field.
Joey Votto has a 400,000-odd vote lead on Paul Goldschmidt at first base. Goldschmidt probably deserves to start based on the relative performances of the two players thus far this season, but Votto is the more established star and together they are the two best first basemen in the league. As long as both go to the game -- and they will -- it's not all that important which of them starts.
Elsewhere things are a bit trickier. Troy Tulowitzki has a deservingly large lead at shortstop, but he won't be able to play because of his broken rib. Replacement players are chosen by the league manager and the commissioner's office, but it would help if the clear choice to be Tulowitzki's replacement, the Brewers' Jean Segura, could get the extra 125,000-odd votes needed to slip past the Giants' Brandon Crawford and into second place in the fan vote.
The most contentious non-outfield position in either league is the NL's second base spot, where leader Brandon Phillips and runners-up Marco Scutaro and Matt Carpenter are all separated by fewer votes than Votto and Goldschmidt. Phillips is the established All-Star (he made the team in 2010 and '11), the elite glove man and the leader among the trio in home runs (11) and RBIs (60, second in the league to Goldschmidt). However, Phillips has been merely average per OPS+ (99) and his RBI total has been inflated by hitting behind Votto and Shin-Soo Choo, who rank first and second, respectively, in the NL in on-base percentage. Votto and Choo have scored 23 of the 60 runs Phillips has driven in.
Carpenter, meanwhile, leads NL second basemen in on-base percentage (.403), slugging (.472) and thus OPS (.875) and OPS+ (143), hits (92), runs (56), doubles (21) and bWAR (3.4). Scutaro leads in batting (.332) and also ranks ahead of Phillips in OBP (.386 to .318), slugging (.438 to .425) and thus OPS (.823 to .743) and OPS+ (139 to 99), hits (85 to 76), doubles (17 to 13), walks (22, none intentional, to 20, three intentional) and bWAR (2.3 to 1.6).
One knock against Carpenter is that he has played a lot of third base, but much of that came earlier in the season when David Freese was on the disabled list and before the team had full confidence in Carpenter at the keystone, a position at which he played just 18 major league innings last year. That has changed. Carpenter has started 53 of the Cardinals last 68 games at second, including 20 of their last 21. Also, for those who see the 27-year-old's current .322/.403/.472 line in 327 plate appearances as a fluke, consider this: He has now hit .302/.380/.459 in 686 plate appearances in the major leagues.
Those still inclined to balk at Carpenter's underdeveloped résumé should have no such qualms about Scutaro given his performance for the Giants down the stretch and in the postseason last year. Scutaro has been viewed in good standing as a desirable middle-infield option over the last half decade-plus.
Still, at least the fans have the top three candidates vying for the NL's second base spot. In contrast, the NL outfield situation remains a mess. Carlos Beltran maintains a lead of more than a million votes, while Justin Upton and the injured Bryce Harper flesh out the current leaders. Upton has hit just .208/.322/.298 with three home runs since the end of April. Harper is an understandable pick given his hot start and star power, but he's also a second-year player who has missed a month of the current campaign due to injury. Beltran has great triple-crown stats (.305-17-46), but he's not drawing walks (just 16), hitting for non-homer power (just eight doubles) or playing good defense -- all of which undermines those old-school stats.Two men who need to be in this starting outfield are Carlos Gomez and Carlos Gonzalez. Gonzalez has been gaining; he's now a close fourth, up from seventh two weeks ago, and trails Harper by just more than 300,000 votes. Gomez, however, is way down in 11th, nearly a million votes away from a starting spot, having barely budged from his 12th place ranking two weeks ago. One could have a pretty good argument about who the third outfielder in the NL should be: Choo, Dexter Fowler, Domonic Brown, Andrew McCutchen, Gerrardo Parra, Jay Bruce, Hunter Pence are all in that mix with Beltran and Harper (though Fowler, and Parra, the latter of whom has to be written-in, are not in the top 12 of the NL voting). But I can see no argument against Gonzalez and Gomez as the top two, and it seems clear now that Gomez won't be able to generate enough fan support for a starting spot.