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MLB revealed Thursday which hitters the fans voted in as starters for the league’s 91st All-Star Game, set to take place July 13 at Denver’s Coors Field. After each position was cut down to three finalists Sunday, the vote count for each player reset to zero so fans could cast their vote this week with a clean slate based on a more updated set of statistics.
By and large, there were very few nits to pick. But there were certainly some interesting developments worth discussing.
MVP favorites got the support they deserved
As a pitcher, Jacob deGrom’s All-Star fate isn’t up to the fans. But the three other leading figures in the MVP races received the equivalent of a standing ovation for their fabulous first halves, finishing with the three most lopsided victories in phase 2 of voting.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who ranks second in the American League in all three Triple Crown categories, finished as the leading vote-getter across both leagues to become the youngest player to ever lead MLB in All-Star voting. He raked in 75% of votes while his closest competition at first base, the Astros' Yuli Gurriel, drew 15%—the largest gap between first and second place across voting. José Abreu, 2020 AL MVP, finished third at 10%.
The next-biggest margin of victory was achieved by leading National League vote-getter Fernando Tatis Jr., who’s seen as the favorite among position players to take home the NL MVP as the league leader in home runs (26), slugging percentage (.705) and OPS (1.092). Tatis received 64% of votes, with the Cubs' Javier Báez collecting 19% and the Giants' Brandon Crawford getting 17%.
Guerrero’s top competition in the MVP race, Shohei Ohtani, has transcended the sport as the first true two-way star since Babe Ruth. He accordingly received the lion’s share of designated hitter votes (63%), with the Red Sox' J.D. Martinez (20%) and Houston’s Yordan Alvarez (17%) having no real shot at overcoming the biggest story of the season.
Fans aren’t ready to forgive the Astros
The AL West–leading (and current SI power ranking leaders) Astros are learning that winning clean doesn’t earn forgiveness—at least not yet.
Despite sending an MLB-high seven players to the second phase of voting, not one was voted in as a starter, marking the first time since 2014 that no Houston player will start at the Midsummer Classic.
This wasn’t all about an anti-Astros crusade among the sport’s spectators. If you look at each individual race, only Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Michael Brantley stood a real shot at cracking the starting lineup. But the margin by which Houston’s candidates lost—especially Altuve and Correa, perhaps the two Astros most associated with the sign-stealing scandal—indicates they are still not in the good graces of the average fan.
Both Altuve and Correa possessed extremely similar stat lines to the players they lost to (the Blue Jays' Marcus Semien and Boston’s Xander Bogaerts, respectively). But they each finished at least 20% behind them in the voting, and Correa even drew fewer votes than Toronto’s Bo Bichette for third place at shortstop.
Brantley, meanwhile, finished fifth in the nine-man outfield race with 10% of the vote—behind two injured stars in Mike Trout and Byron Buxton—despite leading the American League in batting average (.340) entering Thursday. The four-time All-Star wasn’t even playing for the Astros when they were stealing signs, but it certainly seems possible he was penalized by fans for his mere association with the club. Brantley could still end up starting for the injured Trout, though he wouldn’t be my choice (more on that later).
Canada stuffed the ballot box
Every year, one fan base separates itself from the rest by punching above its weight in the voting booth to stack the lineup with players from the hometown team. In 2021 that distinction belongs to Blue Jays fans.
The population of Toronto (and perhaps all of Canada) put its collective finger on the scale and elected three Blue Jays to the starting lineup—as many as all six first-place teams in the league combined. That’s quite a statement from fans of a third-place team behind the Mariners in the AL wild-card race.
Guerrero is obviously a deserving starter at first base. Semien is, too, even if Altuve’s numbers and past success merited a closer voting battle at the keystone. But the election of Teoscar Hernández, whom Jays fans pushed over the line by 5,000 votes after he ranked fourth in the final voting update behind injured Twins star Buxton, stands out as the most egregious error in this year’s fan vote.
The 28-year-old Dominican is undoubtedly having a solid year at the dish, slashing .302/.344/.492 with 11 homers. But the first-time All-Star ranks 15th among AL outfielders in fWAR (1.1), and there were several more appealing choices, including a player who qualifies as the biggest snub from the initial starting lineups.
Cedric Mullins deserved better
Before this season, even the most hardcore baseball fans likely didn’t know of Mullins, a former 13th-round pick who accumulated 418 plate appearances over the last three seasons for the hapless Orioles. It seems that lack of name recognition is what hurt Mullins most in his quest to start in Denver, because his numbers certainly merited higher than his sixth-place finish in AL outfield voting.
Mullins, who turned around his career by giving up on switch-hitting during the offseason, has been a force from the left side. He’s leading the AL in hits (99) and is one of just four players—along with Tatis, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Trea Turner—with at least 14 home runs and 14 stolen bases. He’s the most valuable AL outfielder by Fangraphs’ version of WAR by nearly a full win, and ranks the second-most valuable player in the entire American League by the same metric. The speedy center fielder also ranks third among AL outfielders in Statcast’s outs-above-average metric.
The good news is that with Trout injured, the AL has a starting outfield spot to fill alongside Hernández and Aaron Judge. Here’s hoping Mullins is the one called on to fill Trout’s big shoes in center, even if no one would have ever guessed a few months ago he’d be the one to do it.
Fans favor the present
There’s always a delicate balance to be navigated when it comes to All-Star voting: Should a player’s past accomplishments or current performance weigh more heavily?
That debate was best personified this year by the NL outfielder vote, which saw a pair of first-time All-Stars from the Reds (Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker) chosen over four-time All-Star, two-time World Series champ, 2018 AL MVP and 2020 NL MVP runner-up Mookie Betts.
Betts is the type of player fans watch the All-Star Game for—a five-tool guy with a magnetic personality who just helped his team win the World Series with some sparkling plays in the field and clutch hits at the dish. But Castellanos and Winker have undoubtedly been more valuable this season, ranking near the top of the leader board in almost every hitting category since Opening Day. And it’s not as if they came out of nowhere; Winker enjoyed a stellar-albeit-shortened 2020 breakout campaign, and Castellanos is a nine-year veteran who’s stepped up his game during his first full season in Cincinnati’s bandbox of a stadium.
It’ll be interesting to see if Betts’s peers respect his place in the game and vote him in as a reserve. But the fans have spoken, and they chose to recognize this year’s standouts over the stars playing below their standards.
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