Picking the 2016 American League All-Stars

The All-Star Game is just a couple of weeks away, so it’s time for the annual tradition of deciding which really good players get acknowledged and which really good players get left out. The fact that there’s no shortage of ways to define who should make the All-Star team doesn’t help; is it about just gathering as many big namem players as possible every summer, about rewarding the players who have performed the best so far this year, or some combination of the two?

I tend to lean towards rewarding in-season performance, while using career track record as secondary variable to help make the decision when picking between multiple worthy players. Yes, some guys are going to have great half-seasons and end up on the team despite not truly being long-term stars, but I prefer that over jogging out the same 34 names every summer just because they’re the guys we’re used to recognizing as stars, regardless of what they’ve actually done that season. To me, the All-Star Game is a reward for the players who are playing at a high level, and what you’ve done this season is the most important variable in selecting the rosters.

For my selections, I’m adhering to the MLB rules, so we’re picking 22 position players and 12 pitchers, and every team has to have a representative. Yes, even the Twins. Because some positions are performing much better than others — I’m looking at you, sorry sack of 2016 AL catchers — I did take some liberties with how many players get carried as reserves at each spot, but overall, I tried to pick a team that would satisfy the requirements of how the game is managed and still rewards 34 guys who deserve to make the trip to San Diego this summer. And injured players aren’t eligible for my picks, as I’m just going with players who are healthy enough to play in the game in a couple of weeks.

On to the roster!

The Starting Nine

2016 AL All-Star Starters
Position Player Team 2016 WAR Past Year WAR
C Salvador Perez Royals 2.3 2.8
1B Miguel Cabrera Tigers 1.8 2.9
2B Jose Altuve Astros 4.4 7.5
SS Manny Machado Orioles 4.2 7.4
3B Josh Donaldson Blue Jays 4.3 9.3
LF Ian Desmond Rangers 3.9 5.3
CF Mike Trout Angels 4.9 9.7
RF Jackie Bradley Jr. Red Sox 3.1 5.8
DH David Ortiz Red Sox 3.1 6.3

Perez is having a nice year, but he also wins by default; there is no other option for the position this year. The Red Sox really need to hurry up and trade for Jonathan Lucroy, because the AL catching crop is currently a disaster.

On the infield, I went with Machado at shortstop, given that’s where he’s played most of his games this year, and both he and Donaldson are among the very best players in the game, and both deserve to be in the starting line-up. The decision to put Machado at SS does mean that there isn’t a starting spot for two other young shortstops having amazing years, but such is life at the position right now; what the league lacks behind the plate it’s more than making up for at SS.

In the outfield, you’re only ever really making two picks; which guys should flank Mike Trout? Bradley has more than earned his way into a job, and Desmond’s resurgence as a terrific outfielder — while also having the best offensive season of his career — makes him worthy of recognition, though there are plenty of other terrific options who could also be good picks in left field. But Desmond’s MVP-caliber first half — if he played in a league without Mike Trout, anyway — has been a huge reason the Rangers are running away with the AL West, and he gets the nod from me here.

The Reserves

2016 AL All-Star Starters
Position Player Team 2016 WAR Past Year WAR
C Stephen Vogt Athletics 1.1 0.8
1B Chris Davis Orioles 2.1 6.4
1B Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 2.0 5.6
2B Robinson Cano Mariners 3.1 5.9
2B Ian Kinsler Tigers 2.6 5.6
2B Brian Dozier Twins 1.7 2.3
SS Xander Bogaerts Red Sox 3.9 6.7
SS Francisco Lindor Indians 3.6 8.1
3B Evan Longoria Rays 2.8 4.8
OF Mookie Betts Red Sox 2.7 5.6
OF Mark Trumbo Orioles 1.6 2.8
OF Nelson Cruz Mariners 1.6 4.4
OF Michael Saunders Blue Jays 1.7 1.7

Yeah, I’m only carrying one backup catcher, and yes, Stephen Vogt is only really here because the A’s need a representative; Marcus Semien got aced out at shortstop by the ridiculous group of peers he’s up against, though he’d be the A’s rep if there weren’t a crowd at his position already. You could make a case for Matt Wieters or Brian McCann, but let’s be honest, none of these guys are really having amazing seasons, and taking another catcher would mean we’d have to cut a more worthy hitter from another position. So I went with one backstop and four outfielders, given that two of the OFs I’m carrying probably shouldn’t play the field.

I feel bad not finding a starting spot for Bogaerts or Lindor, but really, there are just too many great AL middle infielders right now. They definitely deserve recognition, but Machado has just been a little bit better, and for a little bit longer.

Dozier makes the team as the token Twin, as his hot streak allows us to not have to send Eduardo Nunez to the All-Star Game. Thanks for getting hot, Dozier! Given the three second baseman ahead of him on the depth chart, though, he might end up just pinch-running.

In the outfield, Trumbo and Cruz have slugged enough to overcome their defensive deficiencies, especially since we’re starting three guys who can play center field. Betts and Saunders are the real backups in the OF, though I would have liked to find room for George Springer and Carlos Beltran; both are having good years but just can’t quite crack the 34 man roster.

The Pitchers

For the listed WARs, I’m just using a 50/50 mix of FIP-WAR and RA9-WAR, since showing both would make the table cumbersome.

2016 AL All-Star Starters
Position Player Team 2016 WAR Past Year WAR
SP Chris Sale White Sox 3.3 5.5
SP Danny Salazar Indians 3.2 5.4
SP Steven Wright Red Sox 2.5 2.7
SP Jose Quintana White Sox 3.0 6.3
SP Aaron Sanchez Blue Jays 2.6 3.2
SP Corey Kluber Indians 2.8 5.2
RP Wade Davis Royals 1.1 2.3
RP Andrew Miller Yankees 1.6 2.5
RP Zach Britton Orioles 1.4 2.5
RP Dellin Betances Yankees 1.2 2.6
RP Kelvin Herrera Royals 1.4 1.8
RP Will Harris Astros 1.7 2.1

The starting pitching options are a bit lackluster this year, while the AL is overflowing with great relievers. Even going with six of each, I still had to leave Craig Kimbrel at home, but I don’t feel too bad about any of the starters who didn’t quite make the cut; Masahiro Tanaka would be the seventh starter if I wasn’t allowed to carry equal numbers of SPs and RPs.

The toughest pick was actually deciding which Blue Jay to take, as Marco Estrada is also having an excellent year, but in the end, Sanchez is doing it in a more sustainable way, and his stuff will play up more in a one inning appearance. Estrada could certainly be here, but since it’s close, I’ll take the guy throwing 98 to help the AL get another shutdown arm coming out of the pen.

As for who gets the start, the next few appearances by Sale and Salazar should settle that, but it’s close enough to argue for either one. On track record, I’d lean Sale, but Salazar has certainly pitched himself into the conversation.

So that’s my AL squad. Tomorrow, we’ll tackle the NL, and try to sort through the 50 deserving starting pitchers over there.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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7 years ago

Beltran > Saunders….hes better than him in every category accept OBP. Then again this is a saber site and everyone here masturbates to OBP so ill probably get a billion downvotes for this

7 years ago
Reply to  jimbo

I actually happen to agree with you but you can still have a downvote for being an ass about it.

7 years ago
Reply to  jimbo

Ask and ye shall receive!

7 years ago
Reply to  jimbo

I think here in Fangraphs we like wRC+ more than pure OBP, and Saunders > Beltran in that category, as well as defensive metrics and WAR, so it’s not as simple as you put it. Either one could fill that spot.

7 years ago
Reply to  jimbo

Also, he’s better than Saunders by .007 in AVG and .010 in SLG. This is the hill you’re going to die on?

If FG being a “saber site” gets you so worked up, why are you here?

7 years ago
Reply to  sabrtooth

you must be a pretty cool customer if you describe what i wrote above “getting worked up”….and yeah I’m perfectly fine dying on this hill.

7 years ago
Reply to  jimbo

If that post is indicative of the way you act when you’re NOT “worked up”, you must have some certifiable personality disorders. You have my sympathies.

Jason Bmember
7 years ago
Reply to  jimbo

Agreed, I like that you just preemptively whine about “getting a million down votes” just to try and head off any legitimate discussion.

And red is right, you’re absolutely “worked up”. Had to rush to register your consternation with the very first comment.

7 years ago
Reply to  jimbo

I masturbate to WHIP because I’m into S&M.

7 years ago
Reply to  jimbo

it’s not saunders who you want to boot out for beltran.

it’s mookie.

7 years ago
Reply to  jimbo

Despite Beltran having a good case Saunders has a 145 wRC+ to Beltran’s 136 and defense actually matters too. But sure pin it on 1 thing that you don’t agree with. By the way the gap in average is .004 and the gap in slugging is .010 while the gap in OBP is .033 so way to complain about nothing.

7 years ago
Reply to  jimbo

I gave you a downvote because you spelled “except” as “accept”

7 years ago
Reply to  jimbo

Jimbo, just accept OBP.

7 years ago
Reply to  jimbo

No love for Kole Calhoun? Better defensively and playing in a home park that crushes left handed hitters. Easily the better player overall.

Baron Samedi
7 years ago
Reply to  jimbo

Roll your bones into the sea.

J Black
7 years ago
Reply to  jimbo

It’s an All Star game and Beltran is most likely a Hall of Fame player. Beltran is greater than Saunders in star power and this season in ACTUAL production on the field.

7 years ago
Reply to  J Black

When I go to sort by “ACTUAL” I get a NaN error.