Turns out MLB's All-Star Game starters aren't as Royals-dominated as expected. Here are three thoughts on the American and National League starters for the Midsummer Classic.
On Sunday night, the starters for the 86th All-Star Game were announced (you can find them all here), and after all the worry that the Midsummer Classic would have a decidedly Royal-blue tint to it, the final tallies weren't as Kansas City-centric as some had feared. Instead, the AL and the NL got a healthy mix of players in their starting lineups, with superstars like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper leading the way in Cincinnati.
The reserves, pitching staffs and Final Vote candidates will be announced Monday night, so here are some quick thoughts on the players who were chosen by the fans to represent their respective leagues (as well as the voting results).
All OPS+ and WAR figures are as of Sunday morning.
AL fans aren't Royal
Just three weeks ago, it looked like the AL roster would just be the Royals' starting lineup: Eight Kansas City regulars were leading their respective races, with only rightfielder Alex Rios missing in action—and he was fourth in the outfield voting despite having missed a huge chunk of the season with a hand injury. But the fans (with MLB's help) spoke loudly and often in the last month of voting, and as a result, only four Royals will be taking the field as starters in Cincinnati: Salvador Perez behind the plate, Alcides Escobar at shortstop, Lorenzo Cain in center and Alex Gordon in left. Eric Hosmer lost out to Miguel Cabrera at first base, Mike Moustakas fell to Josh Donaldson (the top vote-getter overall) at third, Kendrys Morales lost a close battle to Nelson Cruz at designated hitter, and—most thankfully—Omar Infante lost to Jose Altuve at second base.
In all four cases, it's hard to argue against those results. Hosmer has been good (117 OPS+, 1.7 WAR), but he had no business being a starter over Cabrera (an AL-high 186 OPS+, 4.1 WAR). Ditto with Moustakas (120 OPS+, 2.8 WAR) versus Donaldson (143 OPS+, 4.3 WAR) and Morales (120 OPS+, 1.0 WAR) against Cruz (162 OPS+, 2.6 WAR). The selection of Infante over anyone, meanwhile, would have been a joke: His 51 OPS+ is the lowest mark of any regular this season.
Are four Royals starters still too many, though? Both Cain and Gordon deserve their nods. Cain is one of baseball's best defensive centerfielders, and his offense has taken a massive leap forward (129 OPS+); his 4.1 WAR is seventh among all major leaguers. Likewise with Gordon, whose offense (121 OPS+) complements his sterling defense in left. But at catcher, Perez's season (95 OPS+, 1.9 WAR) can't hold a candle to either Stephen Vogt (149 OPS+, 3.1 WAR) or Russell Martin (130 OPS, 2.0 WAR). Escobar, meanwhile, is one of the league's top defensive shortstops, but the AL had another option who is Escobar's equal, if not better, with the glove and also far superior with the bat: Jose Iglesias.
Despite not getting starting spots, Vogt, Martin and Iglesias will likely be named to the All-Star team as reserves, as will Moustakas and Hosmer, with the latter becoming the starter at first base anyway due to Cabrera's calf injury. But thanks to an influx of votes and some behind-the-scenes work by MLB, the AL's starting lineup will be as close to the best collection of talent as possible, and not simply an exhibition starring the Royals.
National League voters get it (mostly) right
While most of the hue and cry over the All-Star ballots centered on the Royals' domination in the AL, voting in the NL went off with nary a hitch. The resulting starting lineup reflects that, with the correct players in just about every spot, except for two places where the over-enthusiasm of Cardinals fans overshadowed deserving players.
Start with the infield, where voters gave Paul Goldschmidt his due recognition for his quietly brilliant season. Goldschmidt (194 OPS+, 5.5 WAR) hasn't just been the best first baseman in baseball this year; he's also put together one of the best seasons for a first baseman in the last 40 years. At third base, meanwhile, Todd Frazier rallied past Matt Carpenter to grab the starter's job there, and it's hard to argue against that result. Frazier (158 OPS+, 3.8 WAR) leads the majors in total bases with 192 and all third baseman in home runs, and his just reward will be an All-Star start in front of his hometown fans. Dee Gordon's career year (119 OPS+, 3.2 WAR) made him the top choice at second, and Buster Posey (147 OPS+, 3.9 WAR) was a no-brainer at catcher. Likewise in the outfield for Harper (an MLB-best 224 OPS+, 5.9 WAR) and the injured Giancarlo Stanton (158 OPS+, 3.8 WAR).
The only problems were at shortstop and the third outfield spot. At short, Jhonny Peralta easily bested all comers in the voting, but by OPS+, he and Brandon Crawford are dead even (127), and by WAR, Crawford is easily ahead (3.8 to 2.5). Nonetheless, Peralta beat his Bay Area counterpart by more than three million votes. In the outfield, Matt Holliday hung onto a starting spot despite missing the last four weeks with a quad strain, and while his offense has been strong this season (133 OPS+), his lackluster defense has left him with just 1.1 WAR on the year. Contrast that to Andrew McCutchen (145 OPS+, 2.7 WAR) or Joc Pederson (145 OPS+, 3.1 WAR), either of whom would have made a better choice than Holliday. Both should make the team as reserves, but only McCutchen will get to start as the replacement for Stanton, as Holliday said he hopes to come off the disabled list before the All-Star break.
Kipnis gets snubbed
The AL dodged a bullet by having Altuve pass Infante in the voting at second base, but let's take a moment to protest the snub of Jason Kipnis, an MVP candidate who deserves a starting spot as much as the likes of Harper, Trout and the rest of MLB's stars.
It's not that Altuve is a bad pick at second: The Astros' diminutive second sacker is a dynamic player who plays good defense, runs the bases brilliantly and has been strong at the plate (.301/.344/.418, 115 OPS+), albeit not as good as he was last year. But Kipnis absolutely blows Altuve's numbers out of the water: He leads all second basemen in average (.341), on-base percentage (.419), OPS+ (157) and WAR (4.9) and is second in slugging percentage (.506, five points behind Brian Dozier). Kipnis should have been the automatic choice at second; instead, he finished almost five million votes behind Altuve and an embarrassing four million behind Infante.
Kipnis is a near lock to make the All-Star team anyway as a reserve, but annoyingly enough, that may push another equally deserving player off the roster in Dozier. His season shouldn't be overlooked either: He's second only to Kipnis in WAR among AL second basemen (2.9), and his 127 OPS+ is tied for fourth in the league (behind Kipnis and two players who've missed substantial time due to injury in Jonathan Schoop and Devon Travis). But Dozier didn't even register in the top five at the position in voting. He's no lock to be the Twins' designated representative—Glen Perkins, Mike Pelfrey and Torii Hunter will all likely be under consideration there as well—and manager Ned Yost may not see the need to add a third second baseman behind Altuve and Kipnis. That means Dozier's likeliest road to an All-Star roster spot is through the Final Vote ballot and he deserves far better than that.