Derek Jeter on pace to start All-Star Game for AL, an honor his performance doesn't merit
The early American League voting results for the 2014 All-Star Game have been announced, and if the numbers so far are any indication, Tigers and Yankees fans have been heavily active in voting. Every position but third base has a Detroit or New York player among the top three, including all six starting outfielders among the top 15 at that position. That includes early leads for the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera (first base) and Ian Kinsler (second base) and the Yankees' Derek Jeter (shortstop) and Jacoby Ellsbury (outfield).
The two Tigers are deserving of their respective leads. The same can't be said of the two Yankees.
It's easy to understand why the popular Jeter, who is retiring at season's end, is in position to start the Midsummer Classic. But while his Hall of Fame career means he absolutely should be a part of this year's All-Star Game, he has no business being a starter based on his performance to date. In fact, Jeter's .273/.339/.326 line thus far has him 10th among qualified AL shortstops in OPS, 11th among that group in OPS+ and barely above replacement level overall. Making him an honorary captain would be a completely appropriate way to get him to Target Field in mid-July, one comparable to the way the retiring Tony Gwynn was included in an honorary capacity in 2001. Jeter, who has been named to 13 All-Star teams and started the game eight times, doesn't need to be patronized here. He is not an All-Star shortstop this season and thus should not be the AL's starting All-Star shortstop this season.
There are other head-scratching results from the early voting. Cabrera, who has recovered from a slow start to hit .380/.414/.636 over his last 31 games, has earned his lead at first base, but the absence of AL total bases-leader Edwin Encarnacion (.262/.338/.574, 15 HR, 41 RBI) of the Blue Jays from the top five is eye-opening. Among those in front of him is New York's Mark Teixeira, who is seventh in OPS+ among AL first baseman with 125 or more plate appearances.
Curiously, the Tigers' strong showing in the vote has not extended to designated hitter Victor Martinez, who is the AL's batting and OPS leader (.341 BA, 1.004 OPS). Martinez has clearly been the best DH in the majors this year, but is a distant third in the All-Star voting thus far. That speaks to vote-leader David Ortiz's dominance of that position over the last decade — he's a default choice that few fans seem to question at this point.
The DH spot is also complicated by the ballot's lack of flexibility. Baltimore's Nelson Cruz is second in the league in OPS (.972), leads the AL in slugging (.610) and RBIs (45), and leads the majors with 16 home runs, but has started eight more games in the outfield than at DH. Nonetheless, he is listed at DH on the ballot, meaning he's forced to do battle with Martinez and Ortiz rather than slot into the AL outfield, where he would be a welcome replacement for the third-place Jacoby Ellsbury (another underachieving Yankee) behind outfield leaders Mike Trout and Jose Bautista, who are the top-two vote recipients in the league thus far at any position.
The early date at which the ballots are set (voting began April 25, but teams have to submit their projected starting lineups at the start of the season) also means that Yankees rookie third baseman Yagervis Solarte, who is second among AL third baseman in OPS with a .292/.368/.447 line, is not on the ballot at all. That may be a moot point given that Oakland's Josh Donaldson is both the obvious pick at that position and the early leader, but it's nonetheless unfortunate that Solarte's only route to a vote is as a write-in candidate. Detroit's Nick Castellanos, however, is on the ballot, and is fifth in the voting despite a .233/.276/.360 line and a sub-replacement grade from Baseball-Reference's wins above replacement.
One early voting error that should be corrected as the July 3 voting deadline approaches is Matt Wieters' lead at catcher. Wieters got off to a great start this season and was legitimately the top choice at catcher when the ballots were released, but he has been on the disabled list with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow since May 11 and has no target date for a return. The problem is that the Yankees' Brian McCann (.216/.270/.364) is currently second in the voting. Third-place vote-recipient Derek Norris (.316/.416/.513 with more walks than strikeouts on the season) would be a far better choice, as would Cleveland's Yan Gomes (.273/.323/.455 in 30 more plate appearances than Norris), who isn't even in the top-five. Results like that that affirm my belief that any fan serious about his or her All-Star vote will wait as long as possible before casting it. Basing All-Star selections on a half-season is problematic enough; basing them just one month of play is akin to picking names at random or, as with Jeter and Ortiz, out of habit.