All-Star Game Final Vote: Who should you support in AL and NL?
Fans who haven't gotten enough of stuffing the virtual ballot box on behalf of their favorite potential All-Stars have one more means of doing so. Via the Final Vote balloting, one space on each league's already-swollen 34-man roster has been reserved for the winner from among five candidates. Via land, sea or air—or actually web browser, text message or Twitter—voters can express their preferences between now and Friday at 4 pm Eastern time. Here's a quick rundown of the five candidates in each league, as well as my pick for who should be the choice for the AL and NL.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Tigers
Season Stats: .293/.352/.496 (127 OPS+), 16 HR, 52 RBIs
The perennially underrated Kinsler is amid one of the strongest offensive seasons of his career: His OPS+ is his highest since 2008, and he's on pace to hit more homers than in any year since '01, when he bopped a career-high 32; he hasn't hit more than 19 in a season since. His OPS+ and 3.2 Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference.com version) both rank third among AL second-sackers behind the already-selected Jose Altuve (4.6) and Robinson Cano (4.1). It's not like this season is out of nowhere, either: Kinsler's 16.7 WAR from 2013 to '15 trails only Cano among all MLB second basemen, though he's made just one other All-Star team in that span.
Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays
Season Stats: .283/.333/.520 (129 OPS+), 18 HR, 45 RBIs
Longoria is amid his strongest offensive season since 2013, and he's on pace to surpass his career high 33 homers, set back in '09. Even so, his 2.2 WAR trails not only the already-selected Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado (who's spent more time at shortstop but is now back at the hot corner) but also the snubbed Kyle Seager (3.6) and Adrian Beltre (3.1), suggesting that he’s not the best choice here.
Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox
Season Stats: .305/.369/.441 (112 OPS+), 8 HR, 35 RBIs
After playing just 228 games over the past two seasons, the 32-year-old Pedroia has played all but two of the Red Sox' games thus far, and he's put together a very good season in line with his career marks. Still, his 2.8 WAR is a step down from Kinsler (the gap is about as wide using FanGraphs' WAR, 2.8 to 2.3, for what it's worth), and where the Tigers have just one other representative on the AL squad, the Sox are already sending six. All of which suggests Pedroia could well win this vote, even if he's not necessarily the most worthy winner.
Michael Saunders, OF, Blue Jays
Season Stats: .296/.369/.557 (143 OPS+), 16 HR, 40 RBIs
Saunders has been one of this season's top feel-good stories. Traded to the Blue Jays in December 2014, the Canadian-born outfielder stepped on a sprinkler head during spring training last year, tore cartilage in his left knee and played just nine games for the Jays before further complications sent him back to the DL. This year, he's emerged as a vital cog for the Blue Jays and is putting up by far the best numbers of his career. That said, his 2.0 WAR ranks 10th among AL outfielders.
George Springer, OF, Astros
Season Stats: .265/.362/.478 (126 OPS+), 19 HR, 51 RBIs
After a strong half-season as a rookie in 2014, Springer started slowly last year, then had his hottest stretch interrupted by a wrist fracture that cost him two months. He's been up and down this year, but despite a dreadful June, he's among the top six AL outfielders in the two flavors of WAR (Baseball Reference and FanGraphs), behind or alongside the already-selected Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Ian Desmond and the snubbed Adam Eaton. Cliff Corcoran also tabbed him for his best 25-man AL All-Star roster.
Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants
Season Stats: .300/.399/.519 (146 OPS+), 10 HR, 46 RBIs
In the absence of the injured Hunter Pence and the slight tail-off of Buster Posey (a deserving All-Star starter nonetheless), Belt has been the Giants' top hitter this year. His OPS+ represents a career high, and he's on pace to top his career best of 18 homers. That said, the NL roster is already stocked with first basemen: Anthony Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt and Wil Myers all outrank Belt in WAR.
Ryan Braun, LF, Brewers
Season Stats: .322/.378/.533 (139 OPS+), 13 HR, 44 RBIs
Braun's as healthy and productive as he's been since his 2012 season. He's tied for third among outfielders in bWAR (2.6), though a full win below that in fWAR thanks to a much less charitable assessment of his defense. He's also the only one among this group who's been suspended for performance-enhancing drug usage—usage that taints his 2011 MVP award. He's served his time and is free to continue his career, but there's no reason to prefer he gets another honor at someone else's expense. Pass.
Jake Lamb, 3B, Diamondbacks
Season Stats: .293/.371/.625 (156 OPS+), 20 HR, 61 RBIs
The 25-year-old Lamb's breakout has been a silver lining to the Diamondbacks' disappointing season, He not only leads the team in homers and OPS+—outdoing the great Goldschmidt—but also leads the NL in triples (seven) and slugging percentage, ranking fifth in homers and ninth in WAR. Further in Lamb’s favor: Matt Carpenter's oblique injury leaves the team with “only” two third basemen (Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado). You also have to appreciate the ridiculous promotional push that he's received from the team. A local petting zoo brought a live lamb to the team clubhouse on Wednesday night, and team radio announcer Mike Ferrin dressed up in a lamb costume that he will never, ever live down:
Starling Marte, OF, Pirates
Season Stats: .318/.362/.467 (122 OPS+), 6 HR, 31 RBIs
I chose Marte for the NL's best possible 25-man roster on the basis of his lead among Senior Circuit outfielders in bWAR (3.0), not to mention his career-best slash stats and 25-for-31 showing in stolen bases, all of which paper over his ghastly 69/8 strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio. From the standpoint of roster construction, his speed and defense could add extra dimensions to the NL's bench in the late innings, though to be fair, so does the presence of Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera.
Trevor Story, SS, Rockies
Season Stats: .257/.324/.530 (106 OPS+), 19 HR, 51 RBIs
Promoted to replace the suspended Jose Reyes, Story made history by homering in his first four major league games and hitting seven in his first six games. The league has caught up to him since, to the point that he has an NL-high 109 strikeouts. While that still doesn't undo what a pleasant surprise he's been—he boasts the highest home run total among NL shortstops—his 1.5 bWAR is less than half that of the snubbed Brandon Crawford (3.2) and is just in the middle of the pack for the league.
From here, Kinsler and Springer appear to be a cut above the other three AL candidates, with the choice boiling down to adding a third second baseman or a third reserve outfielder to the roster. There's no wrong answer, but I'd lean slightly toward the guy with the light-tower power who would be a first-time All-Star: Springer.
As for the NL, Lamb and Marte have the strongest cases, and both would be first-time All-Stars. Given that NL starting centerfielder Dexter Fowler’s status is in doubt due to injury—he’s hoping to go on a rehab assignment this weekend before being cleared for the game—Marte could make the roster as his replacement if he doesn’t win the vote. As for the roster construction angle, the already selected Herrera can provide speed and defense off the bench. Lamb was bypassed in favor of Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz to replace Carpenter, and the dismal Diamondbacks may have created their season highlight in promoting his candidacy. Close call, but I’d pick him in this context.