Picking the best possible 25-man All-Star Game roster for the NL
From 1933—the year of the first major league All-Star Game—through '97, the roster sizes for each side in the Midsummer Classic never topped 28 men. Starting in '98, when MLB’s latest round of expansion increased the number of teams to 30, the size of the All-Star squad began to balloon: to 30 that year, 32 in 2003, 33 in '09 and 34 in '10.
The result has been a game filled with more and more players who don’t deserve to be called All-Stars. Starters and reserves for this year’s game, which will be held at Petco Park in San Diego, were announced Tuesday, and the Final Vote results will be revealed next week. We already know some players—like the injured Clayton Kershaw and Wade Davis—will need to be replaced, so by the time of the game on July 15, there will be at least 70 men who are officially designated All-Stars this season. Last year, the final total was 76 All-Stars, more than 10% of all players in the majors.
With that in mind, Cliff Corcoran and I have decided to slim down the All-Star Game by constructing 25-man rosters for each league with the following setup: eight starting position players, one designated hitter, one backup catcher, three backup infielders, two backup outfielders, six starting pitchers and four relievers. Not every team is required to have a representative (apologies to the Braves, Padres, Phillies and Reds). Instead, both Cliff and I focused on fielding the best possible team right now, though there are cases where a player's established levels beyond the past half-season were used to make tough choices. Here are the players I chose to make up the National League's squad; Cliff's picks for the AL are here.
All stats are through Tuesday, July 5. League leaders are in bold; major league leaders are in bold and italics.
1B: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
Season Stats: .281/.401/.563 (155 OPS+), 20 HR, 61 RBIs
No complaints about the voters' choice here. Rizzo doesn't have quite the track record of Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt, but he does have the highest slugging percentage, OPS+, Defensive Runs Saved (+7) and Wins Above Replacement (3.2) among first basemen, and he's fifth in the league in the last of those categories.
2B: Daniel Murphy, Nationals
Season Stats: .349/.388/.581 (152 OPS+), 14 HR, 56 RBIs
Elected starter Ben Zobrist is having a fine season, but despite cooling off in June, Murphy has gone bananas ever since last year’s late-season makeover at the plate; he's crowding it now and hitting the ball in the air more often. He leads the NL in batting average and hits (110), ranks third in slugging percentage and has already matched his career high in homers.
SS: Corey Seager, Dodgers
Season Stats: .304/.362/.539 (142 OPS+), 17 HR, 41 RBIs
"It's not that he's hot. This is who Corey Seager is," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts on Sunday, when the 22-year-old rookie was furthering what's now an 18-game hitting streak. From the moment he came up last August, Seager looked like he belonged in the majors. He's quickly become not just Los Angeles' best position player but also one of the best in the NL; he's third in hits (101) and fourth in total bases (179) and WAR (3.5)—a far superior performance to elected starter Addison Russell.
3B: Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Season Stats: .290/.365/.579 (128 OPS+), 23 HR, 69 RBIs
Arenado is second in the league in WAR behind only Kris Bryant, 4.0 to 3.8, but given that Bryant (who's here, don't worry) is the lesser fielder and has split his time at third and the outfield, the Rockies' third baseman gets the nod here. Simply put, this is a guy worth paying money to watch play defense, and he’s among the best with the bat, too. He currently leads the league in total bases (186) and ranks second in homers.
C: Buster Posey, Giants
Season Stats: .289/.360/.473 (123 OPS+), 10 HR, 40 RBIs
While Yadier Molina led the balloting by just over 5,000 votes as of June 27, in the end, the voters made the right call in tabbing Posey as the NL's starter. Though his offensive numbers are a bit off his career marks thanks to a slow start, he leads NL catchers in WAR by more than half a win by combining robust offense with typically strong defense. He's thrown out a league-high 59% of would-be base thieves, leads the majors in pitch framing (+19 runs) and is seven runs above average according to DRS. Molina may still be an expert handler of the pitching staff, but his offense has been even more sickly than last year; he's hitting .259/.326/.331 for a 77 OPS+, down from 80 last year.
LF: Starling Marte, Pirates
Season Stats: .320/.365/.471 (124 OPS+), 6 HR, 31 RBIs, 25 SB
Though his 67/8 strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio is ghastly, Marte is currently boasting career bests in all three slash stats, is 25 for 31 in stolen bases and leads NL outfielders in WAR (3.1). He's more than worthy of a trip to San Diego, but he'll need to win the Final Vote or be named as an injury replacement to get his due.
CF: Marcell Ozuna, Marlins
Season Stats: .314/.367/.547 (145 OPS+), 17 HR, 47 RBIs
It was just around this time last year that the Marlins sent a slumping Ozuna and his .249/.301/.337 line back to Triple A and kept him there for over a month as a means of gaming his service clock. His defense (-7 DRS) may need some work, but his immense talent has been on display in 2016, helping to pick up the slack for Giancarlo Stanton's struggles.
RF: Bryce Harper, Nationals
Season Stats: .258/.402/.487 (134 OPS+), 17 HR, 48 RBIs, 11 SB, 66 BB
The 23-year-old reigning NL MVP has been in in a bit of a funk since the Cubs' walk-a-thon two months ago, batting .254/.416/.401 in that span, but he's been a bit hotter than that of late. While I'm largely reliant on Baseball-Reference's version of WAR, it's worth noting that Harper is still second among NL outfielders in FanGraphs' version (2.9). Unless he's missing a limb, there's no way he isn't one of the NL's top 25 players at any given moment.
DH: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
Season Stats: .292/.416/.508 (143 OPS+), 15 HR, 58 RBIs, 11 SB
Goldschmidt is putting together another fine season, though it's short of his MVP-caliber performances of 2013 and '15. He's second in the NL in on-base percentage; the big separator between him and Rizzo at the moment is 15 points of OPS+.
C: Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
In a close call between Lucroy and the Nationals' Wilson Ramos, who came into Wednesday separated by 0.3 WAR (1.9 to 1.6), the latter has the advantage at the plate (146 OPS+) but is nine runs in the hole according to DRS. Ultimately, I went with Lucroy due to the track record: He was an MVP candidate in 2014 and still hit for a 98 OPS+ in an injury-plagued '15. Ramos, who has played more than 90 games just twice in the past five seasons, hit for a 76 OPS+ in 2014 and '15 combined after a strong '13.
IF: Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
Though he's 0 for 2 in stolen bases, Carpenter's been nothing short of the best leadoff hitter in baseball, with the NL's highest OBP and OPS+—oh, and he's also second in slugging percentage. While on the ballot as a third baseman, he's shown his versatility by playing regularly at second base since mid-June to accommodate Jhonny Peralta's return from injury and the emergence of Aledmys Diaz at shortstop. I’ll need him at the keystone here, since Murphy is not the one I want there in the late innings.
IF: Kris Bryant, Cubs
Talk about a power surge: With 10 homers in his past 18 games, the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year has taken the NL lead in both homers—he's one shy of last year's mark—and WAR (4.0). Thanks to manager Joe Maddon's mixing and matching, Bryant has started only 47 games at third base, plus 31 in the outfield corners and three at first base; in the context of a 25-man roster, that versatility goes a long way.
IF: Brandon Crawford, Giants
While Earl Weaver may have kept his backup shortstop in Rochester, an All-Star team doesn’t have that luxury, so as much as it pains me to leave the versatile former shortstop Zobrist off, I’m going with a real one for this bench. Crawford is a fielding whiz (+17 DRS already this year, +20 last year) whose maturation with the bat has made him a fine all-around player; his 3.2 WAR currently ranks sixth in the league.
OF: Yoenis Cespedes, Mets
Nobody could maintain the blistering pace that Cespedes set when he first arrived in Queens, but he has followed through by remaining The Man for the Mets as the superstar who puts fannies in seats and has the knack for rising to the big moment.
OF: Gregory Polanco, Pirates
You can make a case for Christian Yelich, Carlos Gonzalez or Stephen Piscotty here instead, and it would be thoroughly defensible based on certain numbers. But watching Polanco live up to the prospect hype via his speed and athleticism has been a thing to behold, and FanGraphs has him tied with Harper for second in NL outfielder WAR. So with apologies to the other contestants, that's my pick here.
RHP: Jake Arrieta, Cubs
LHP: Madison Bumgarner, Giants
RHP: Johnny Cueto, Giants
RHP: Jose Fernandez, Marlins
LHP: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers*
RHP: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
RHP: Noah Syndergaard, Mets
The injured Kershaw is the only starter in the league with both an ERA and FIP under 2.00 (1.79 and 1.69, respectively), and while none of the other half-dozen here can touch him in those departments, they're well represented on the leaderboards. In my book, Syndergaard (fourth in ERA at 2.41, second in FIP at 1.88 and WAR at 3.5) gets the nod to start in Kernsaw's absence, and the guess here is that NL manager Terry Collins will feel the same way.
As for the rest, Arrieta and Cueto are among the top five in both ERA and FIP and within the top 10 in WAR. Fernandez is first in strikeout rate, third in FIP and 10th in ERA, and Bumgarner is second and eighth, respectively (not to mention tied with Syndergaard in WAR). While the general public is focused on his 11–0 record, Strasburg is sixth in FIP, third in strikeout rate and tied for fourth in WAR despite his brief DL stint. For anybody who still cares about pitcher wins, all of the choices here are among the NL's top 10 there, too. Among the actual All-Star selections, Julio Teheran is the one I regret leaving off; he'd get the call in the event of another pitcher bowing out.
RHP: Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
RHP: Jeurys Familia, Mets
RHP: Mark Melancon, Pirates
RHP: Seung-hwan Oh, Cardinals
Familia leads the majors in saves (29) and has yet to blow one while pitching to a 2.68 ERA and 2.35 FIP; he's an easy choice. So is Jansen, who leads in WAR (1.6) and FIP (1.44) among relievers with at least 30 innings, is second among that set in ERA (1.30) and is tied for second in saves with Melancon and Miami's A.J. Ramos (25). Melancon isn’t striking out many hitters (7.9 per nine), but his 1.31 ERA is third among relievers. On a staff with a dearth of lefties, he gets the nod, as he's held them to a .167/.235/.202 line in 196 plate appearances over the last two seasons for an MLB-low .201 wOBA in that span.
The unorthodox choice here is Oh. He just took over closer duties from the struggling Trevor Rosenthal, but the Korean rookie has the second-best FIP (1.69), fourth-best ERA (1.71) and fifth-best strikeout rate (12.2 per nine) among NL relievers, not to mention the best nickname, "The Final Boss."