By Matt Whitener & Reverend Paul Revere
Major League Baseball announced the rosters for the 2016 MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday evening, showcasing the results of the fan ballot for starters, as well as the elected reserves and pitchers. And while there have been some adjustments to both league’s rosters since, due to injuries, there still are some debatable elements to how it sorted out.
This provides a perfect time for TSFJ’s head baseball editor, Matt Whitener, to face against one of its most passionate baseball aficionados, Reverend Paul Revere, in a debate on what the starting lineups for both leagues should be.
The road toward selecting a "correct" All-Star team is a difficult task, and hats off to Ned Yost and Terry Collins, as well as the millions of fans who logged on to assist their efforts, in attempting to do so.
However, we here at TSFJ have simplified that entire effort and just done it for you all. Next year, all you really have to do is ask. Trust us, we will get it right, here is why…
National League Catcher—Buster Posey, Giants (Both)
Whitener: It is hard to go away from Posey here. After getting off to a slow start, he’s pulled himself up to his usual spot among all catchers in the game today on his individual merit alone. Outside of that, his constant value is the level of elite play that he keeps the Giants at, as they have surpassed the much more hallowed Chicago Cubs and are the top team in the National League headed into the break.
Rev: Leads all catchers in WAR, runs and doubles while handling one of the best staffs in baseball. Oh, and he’s Buster Posey, year in and year out the class of the position.
NL First Base—Anthony Rizzo, Cubs (Both)
Whitener: Rizzo is the most important part of the Chicago offense and has quietly become a nearly perennial presence at All-Star week. Finally, he will make his first start in the Midsummer Classic this year. For all of the reasons that Rev mentions below, he is the right choice for this honor thus far in the season.
Rev: With the likes of Paul Goldschmidt and a revitalized Wil Myers holding down first, it’s hard to go wrong, but no one has the total game of Rizzo. His 20 homers are second only to Chris Davis, and his 61 RBI, slugging percentage and OPS all pace the position. He’s also a slick fielder at first, bringing the most well-rounded game at the position.
NL Second Base—Daniel Murphy, Nationals (Both)
Rev: Murphy has simply taken his 2015 MLB postseason hot streak and carried it over into the first half of his first season in Washington. He leads the NL in batting average and hits, and he basically leads or is right behind Jose Altuve in every offensive category for second basemen. The Nats aren’t underachieving, and Murphy is a big reason why.
Whitener: Staying in lockstep with Rev here as well. Murphy has stayed atop the National League batting race for the entire first half, hitting .370 in April, followed by .416 in May. Ever since, he has remained north of .350 for the year, and while Ben Zobrist has been a crucial part of the Cubs’ rise, it is Murphy who has been the sorely missed, non-Bryce Harper impact bat for the Nats.
NL Third Base—Nolan Arenado, Rockies (Whitener) vs. Kris Bryant (Rev)
Rev: Bryant has the highest WAR of any position player in the NL, and his versatility has been key with Joe Maddon in the dugout. He also leads the NL in home runs, while keeping pace with Nolan Arenado, a very worth choice, in just about every offensive category.
Whitener: Finally, something to debate. True, Kris Bryant has been the king of the counting stats thus far this season, and he very well could push for close to 50 home runs by the time his sophomore season is complete. However, on a daily basis, there is no better all-around third baseman in the game than Arenado. He has bested Bryant in nearly every category save for home runs (where he is only two behind) and has posted the highest defensive Wins Above Replacement impact of any third baseman in the game. Small market, marginal team association hurts him here, because he is a superstar’s superstar anywhere else.
NL Shortstop—Corey Seager, Dodgers (Both)
Whitener: The fan vote screwed Seager, who is in the process of running away with the NL Rookie of the Year nod in a season in which there is no shortage of competition. In addition, the shortstop position is loaded this year, with phenomenal performances from Brandon Crawford, Trevor Story, Aledmys Diaz and Jonathan Villar as well. But Seager is head and shoulders above this group so far… as well as the fan-elected Addison Russell, who is having roughly the fifth best season in his league at the position this year.
Rev: He’s the best player on the Dodgers not named Kershaw, and he also happens to be the best shortstop in the National League at the moment here in his first full season. He’s the real deal, and expect Seager to be a perennial Midsummer Classic participant for the next decade or so.
NL Outfield—Bryce Harper, Nationals; Starling Marte, Pirates; Yoenis Cespedes, Mets (Whitener) vs. Starling Marte, Pirates; Christian Yelich, Marlins; Ryan Braun, Brewers (Rev)
Whitener: We departed in multiple different directions here, so let's start with the agreed upon element then split into the differences.
It is criminal that Marte is not on the All-Star roster at all, let alone not starting. He has continued his rise as one of the elite outfielders in the game, leading all NL outfielders in WAR at 3.0, as a byproduct of being in the top three in hits, batting average and stolen bases. He should be in the starting lineup but instead is on the Final Vote ballot. Injustice, served.
Moving along, the other two selections were no-brainers for me. Bryce Harper is only having a bad season by the standards of the phenomenal one he had last go-around. He is leading all outfielders in on-base percentage, sits in the top three in home runs and just outside of it in RBI. He had a dip in production in May but has remedied it with an .882 OPS since June 1. Yes, he is a face of the game, and yes, this is where he should be — but flat out, he’s earned it as well.
Finally, Cespedes. He’s been one of the most balanced top-tier producers in the NL, is back in the MVP hunt that it only took him two months to insert himself into as a Met last year and is on pace for his first 40-home run season, while keeping his average close to .300 for a very competitive Mets club. He’s a no-doubter.
Rev: None of my guys are starting, and that’s what’s wrong with the voting. OK, I understand Harper gets there for his MVP season last year, hot start and name recognition, and Cespedes deserves it. But you know what? I don’t care. Marte, Braun and Yelich have some of the highest WARs of any NL outfielders, and with Marte and Yelich, we get some new blood. I’m here to rock the boat, and the vote, and I say make baseball fair again — it’s already fun.
NL Pitcher—Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (Whitener) vs. Clayton Kershaw (Rev)
Rev: He won’t pitch due to injury, but in good conscious I can’t put anyone else’s name here. He’s the best pitcher of his generation already, and he’s perhaps the best player in baseball not named Trout. Even if it’s just warm-up tosses, even an injured Kershaw deserves to be the first pitcher out there.
Whitener: Kershaw is the right pick, and he should be here, but for the sake of the fact that he cannot and will not, I’ll move on to the best alternative choice.
And Strasburg is the right answer there, even in an insanely strong year for NL starting pitchers. The San Diego native is undefeated on the year, has solidified much of the unbelievable hype around him from years back and has reached double digits in Ks in 11 of his 15 outings this year. If that’s not enough, he’s a Tony Gwynn-coached disciple who would be a great addition to extend the kickoff of appreciation for the departed Hall of Famer in the stadium he built.
**Addendum: Shortly after this went live, it was announced that Stephen Strasburg would not be participating in the All-Star Game and has been replaced by Max Scherzer. In his place, I put forward that Madison Bumgarner should take the ball instead, however it is likely that Noah Syndergaard will be named the starter by his manager Terry Collins, who has the pencil for the game - M. Whitener.**
American League Catcher—Salvador Perez, Royals (Both)
Rev: Some catchers have more power, some hit for higher average and others are more nimble, but no catcher in the AL is as well-rounded and well-regarded as Perez. Much like Posey owns the backstop in the NL, Perez is the class of the AL behind the plate.
Whitener: The catching position is in an awful condition currently, and it could be argued that no player in either league is further away from the pack than Perez is vs. his AL catching contemporaries. He’s the easy pick here.
AL First Base—Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (Whitener) vs. Chris Davis (Rev)
Rev: He may not be known for his defense, but Chris Davis produces runs, plain and simple. He leads all first basemen in runs and homers. He’s also tops in the AL WAR and second in RBI — yes, even over the great Miguel Cabrera.
Whitener: As he is referred to above, this is the "great" Miguel Cabrera, and he is yet again doing phenomenal things at the plate. Although he is behind Davis in home runs and RBI, he is well ahead of the rest of the pack in slugging percentage and carries a batting average that is nearly 60 points greater and an on-base percentage 30 points better than Crush’s. Davis makes the impact, but Cabrera is better more often.
AL Second Baseman—Jose Altuve, Astros (Both)
Whitener: It could be argued that Altuve is the most underrated player in the game, despite being hands down the best second baseman in it today. He leads all AL 2Bs in hits, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, WAR and tops the Majors in batting average currently. Added on to all of that, he is only one home run shy of his career best already. He is the only answer to this question in a year where there are multiple MVP-worthy second base candidates.
Rev: Forget being the best second baseman in the game — Jose Altuve is up there with the Trouts and Harpers at present. He has the fourth highest WAR in baseball and leads MLB in hits and batting average. He’s also first among second basemen in doubles, steals, on-base and OPS.
AL Third Baseman—Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays (Both)
Rev: Quick, name the player with the second best WAR in baseball behind some guy named Trout? No, it’s not Harper or Machado or even Kershaw. It’s Josh Dolandson, the MLB leader in runs who is hitting .305 with 22 home runs, 60 RBI and has an OPS over 1.000. Plus, he’s the best of the best defensively at the hot corner, making him a no-brainer at third.
Whitener: The undeniable Donaldson keeps on chugging. He has been on an all-out assault since June, topping 30 RBI, nine home runs and is hitting an eye-popping .404 over the past two months. The MVP is primed to defend his crown.
AL Shortstop—Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox (Whitener) vs. Francisco Lindor (Rev)
Whitener: At a time when there is a renaissance taking place of young talents at shortstop in the AL, arguably the best since the days of Jeter/A-Rod and Nomar competing for All-Star digs, the hitting machine that is Xander has pulled himself apart from the pack. The 23-year-old is on pace to drive in 100 runs, top 220 hits and crank out 40 doubles. Add in his 26-game hitting streak, and he’s the easy call here.
Rev: With the likes of Bogaerts and Correa, short is plain loaded in the junior circuit. A case could be made for either of those two over Lindor, but the man behind the hottest team in baseball gets my vote. He trails Bogaerts offensively, but his superb defense makes up for it, considering he’s a damn good hitter too.
AL Outfield—Mike Trout, Angels; Mookie Betts, Red Sox; Ian Desmond, Rangers (Whitener) vs. Mike Trout, Angels; George Springer, Astros; Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox (Rev)
Whitener: When it comes to Mike Trout, allow me to lean on the immortal words of Marshawn Lynch: “You know why (he’s) here, boss.” Mike Trout is Mike Trout, and I am not going to waste time justifying it. He’s a two-time defending All-Star Game MVP, and he’s the best the game has had to offer in a very long time. He’ll be here for another decade at least, so moving along….
Mookie Betts has put his all-around buffet of skills on display nightly, and it has come back with him leading baseball in total bases, with 197, and he is on pace for 40+ doubles, 200+ hits, 35 home runs, 110 RBI and probably a Gold Glove nod as well. He’s the future that the Red Sox will be built around.
Desmond has been one of the best stories of the year after being deserted on the free agent market, forced to swap positions and fit in (initially) on a trial basis before returning to free agency to look for a second chance. Fast-forward four months and not only has he re-established his stock, but he has rewritten it. He his carrying the best batting average of his career and has maintained his plus power as well. Desmond will return to free agency as one of the most sought-after players on the market this winter, with his point proven.
Rev: Mike Trout is the best player on the planet, just as he has been since basically his first full season. If you need an argument to be made for him, you probably just need to take up a new hobby because you don’t know a damn thing about baseball.
Now with Springer and Bradley, things get interesting. Mookie Betts and Ian Desmond are great choices, but to me, Springer and Bradley have been just a little bit better. The Astros outfielder is probably the most underrated player in the game. He’s not just All-Star worthy, he’s elite. He does a little of everything, with speed, power, a good eye and great defense. The world needs more Springer. Meanwhile, Bradley and Betts are pretty much neck and neck, but as teammates I could only go with one. I went with the one who is on my fantasy team. Yeah, I’m that guy.
AL Designated Hitter—David Ortiz, Red Sox (Both)
Whitener: Big Papi is having one of (if not THE) best farewell seasons ever. He is at the heart of the MVP chase and could set a record for the most extra-base hits in history. An encore is unlikely, but it certainly would be deserved.
Rev: He’s the best DH ever and still one of the best power hitters in baseball in his final season. He has 20 homers, 69 RBI and is batting .337, plus he leads baseball in doubles, on-base, slugging and OPS.
AL Starting Pitcher—Chris Sale, White Sox (Whitener) vs. Danny Salazar (Rev)
Whitener: The All-Star Game is a spectacle, a chance to put some of the best "what if" matchups on paper to the test. And with all due respect to Danny Salazar, I am far more excited by the chance to see Chris Sale stare down Anthony Rizzo and Bryce Harper to kick off the game than anybody else in the AL.
Sale’s record is 12 games over .500 approaching the All-Star break and is the sole reason why the White Sox appeared to be a force to be reckoned with earlier in the year. While his teammates have faded, he has remained brilliant as ever, leading the AL in innings pitched, WHIP and complete games, in addition to his far and away victories totals. He’s a game changer every time he’s involved and is the rightful choice to have the same impact against the best the National League has to offer.
Rev: Chris Sale has been fantastic, but during this epic Cleveland run, Salazar has become a true No. 1 ace. He also happens to lead all AL pitchers in ERA, and he’s the head man for the hottest team in the game.
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