The MLB season has arrived at its annual midsummer break, taking the next few days off to celebrate its best and brightest of the first half. We thought we’d join in the fun, as well, naming our fantasy baseball All-Star Team.
The construction of this team had a foot in both real-life and fantasy pools. On the former hand, we considered players only at their primary positions, not wherever they’re eligible in fantasy leagues. We also tried to keep it as close to a 25-man roster as possible. On the latter hand, we didn’t worry too much about name brands, always siding with bottom-line production. We also limited ourselves to eight pitchers.
We’ll list starters and backups for every position, but only write about the starters, who are listed first.
Catcher: Willson Contreras, Cubs; Yasmani Grandal, Brewers
Contreras and Grandal aren’t just on rival teams competing for the NL Central crown. They’ve also been the two best fantasy catchers this season. You can barely distinguish between the two, who are within spitting distance of one another in every single meaningful fantasy metric. We ultimately went with Contreras because his batting average is significantly better than Grandal’s, and that’s the one stat in which either player has a meaningful lead. Yes, right-thinking leagues use OBP, but there are still plenty out there using batting average, and that’s what puts Contreras over the top.
First Base: Josh Bell, Pirates; Freddie Freeman, Braves; Pete Alonso, Mets
What’s more surprising? That Bell and Alonso have been two of the three best fantasy first basemen this season, or that Bell is the starter on our fantasy All-Star Team? It has to be the latter, right? Bell has been an absolute monster this year, mashing 27 homers and 30 doubles, while driving in a league-leading 84 runs. He has a .308/.380/.662 slash line, and making it to his first career real-life All-Star Game, as well. Freeman and Alonso have both been great this year, and could very well end the season as the NL MVP and Rookie of the Year, respectively, but Bell has been better than both thus far.
Second Base: DJ LeMahieu, Yankees; Ketel Marte, Diamondbacks; Max Muncy, Dodgers
When the Yankees settled for DJ LeMahieu instead of paying up for Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, they couldn’t have believed they signed the one of the three who would have the most fWAR in the first half. That’s exactly what they did though, with LeMahieu racking up 3.4 fWAR, compared with 2.0 for Harper and 2.1 for Machado. Marte and Muncy have more homers than LeMahieu, but the latter has ridden one of the best offenses in baseball to 65 runs and 63 RBI, one of 10 players with at least 60 of each. In a year when homers are easier than ever to find, LeMahieu’s production in the other counting stats makes him fantasy’s best second baseman to date.
Third Base: Alex Bregman, Astros; Nolan Arenado, Rockies; Anthony Rendon, Nationals
This was the hardest decision to make, and would’ve been even harder if Rendon didn’t spend two weeks on the IL. We gave the nod to Bregman because he's ahead of Arenado in the standard 5x5 rankings, sitting eighth to Arenado's 15th. Arenado has one more run and 11 more RBI than Bregman, but the latter is ahead in homers (23 to 20) and comfortably ahead in OBP (.394 to .381). There’s no wrong answer, but there does have to be an answer. Ours is Bregman.
Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox; Javier Baez, Cubs; Trevor Story, Rockies
Story almost certainly would’ve been the guy here if he didn’t miss about half of June with a thumb injury. He still nearly won out because he’s the only one of the three with a meaningful steal total, but that time on the IL ultimately cost him. Baez is one of just 14 players with at least 20 homers, 55 RBI and 55 runs, but his .324 OBP is a drag on rates. Bogaerts, meanwhile, is hitting .295 with a .385 OBP, and, like DJ LeMahieu, is one of 10 players with at least 60 runs and 60 RBI. Plus, it’s not like his 17 homers are anything to hand-wave.
Outfield: Christian Yelich, Brewers; Mike Trout, Angels; Cody Bellinger, Dodgers; Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves; Charlie Blackmon, Rockies; Joey Gallo, Rangers
This was far and away the easiest position to slot, and that’s no knock on Acuña, Blackmon or Gallo. It may be just the second week of July, but it seems almost a lock that Trout will win the AL MVP, while Yelich or Bellinger will take home the NL version of the award. They rank first (Yelich), second (Bellinger) and third (Trout) in standard 5x5 fantasy leagues, and comprise the top three in some order in offensive WAR, OBP, OPS, OPS+ and wOBA. They’ve been not only the three best outfielders in the majors this year, but, without question, the three best hitters, period.
Starting Pitcher: Max Scherzer, Nationals; Justin Verlander, Astros; Hyun-jin Ryu, Dodgers; Lucas Giolito, White Sox; Charlie Morton, Rays
As great as Ryu has been, this one came down to Scherzer and Verlander. Scherzer jumped to the top of the fantasy rankings this weekend, leapfrogging Verlander, but we already had him tabbed as the starter for our fantasy All-Star Team for two main reasons. First, he has far more strikeouts, 181 to 153. Second, he has a better ERA (2.30 to 2.98) over a handful more innings. ERA may not be a perfect metric, but it’s still a key category in fantasy leagues, and Scherzer has given his managers slightly more than Verlander has his. They’re the two best pitchers from both real-life and fantasy perspectives, but our fantasy All-Star Team is giving the ball to Scherzer.
Relief Pitcher: Josh Hader, Brewers; Kirby Yates, Padres; Aroldis Chapman, Yankees
Hader is back as MLB’s most dominant reliever, posting 79 strikeouts, a 51% strikeout rate, and 0.65 WHIP in 43 innings this season, leading all relievers in each of those three key statistics. What’s more, he’s a true closer this year, racking up 20 saves to rank seventh in the league. He’s been the best reliever in baseball for two years, but, now that he’s a closer, he's the best fantasy reliever in all formats, as well.