Picking the 2017 American League All-Stars

Yesterday, I put on my dictator hat and suggested how I would fill out the National League All-Star team, if it was entirely up to me. Today, we’re going to do the American League, which is, in comparison, underwhelming. Actually, underwhelming is an underwhelming description for what it was like to assemble this roster after doing the NL yesterday. It was essentially an exercise in saying “wait, really, these are my choices?” over and over.

There are, of course, some really exciting talents in the American League. And there are guys having really great All-Star caliber seasons. But there are shockingly few players who fit both of those criteria, as basically all the big names that you’d expect to be here haven’t had seasons good enough to justify their presence. Mike Trout? Injured. Miguel Cabrera? 115 wRC+. Manny Machado? 86 wRC+. Josh Donaldson? Missed a good chunk of the first half, and hasn’t been great since coming off the DL.

As I noted yesterday, I lean towards the All-Star game being a reward for a player’s performance to this point, with track record a factor but a less important one than how you’ve played this year. That’s why they have the event every year; to honor the players playing like stars this season. In the first half of the 2017 season, the stars of the AL mostly haven’t played like stars, and the guys who have are not guys you would have pegged for the All-Star team before the year started.

So, prepare to be underwhelmed by the names to follow. This is just what the league has given us.

The Starting Nine
Position Player Team BA OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
C Gary Sanchez Yankees 0.284 0.373 0.530 141 1.9
1B Logan Morrison Rays 0.254 0.357 0.564 140 2.5
2B Jose Altuve Astros 0.327 0.400 0.527 149 3.5
3B Jose Ramirez Indians 0.321 0.376 0.556 144 2.9
SS Carlos Correa Astros 0.309 0.388 0.537 147 3.1
LF Mookie Betts Red Sox 0.275 0.349 0.485 115 2.8
CF George Springer Astros 0.286 0.365 0.579 151 3.2
RF Aaron Judge Yankees 0.333 0.452 0.704 201 5.1
DH Alex Avila Tigers 0.315 0.431 0.586 170 2.4

Aaron Judge! Mookie Betts! Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve! George Springer! Gary Sanchez! Look at all that amazing young talent, with many of the best young players in baseball represented here. They’re all having good years, and are among the players who will likely carry the sport for the next decade.

I would like you to look at them, because if you start glancing around, you’ll notice Logan Morrison is here too. That +2.5 WAR he’s put up so far this year is more than his career total entering the season. Few players in baseball have gotten a bigger bump from the “home runs for everyone” philosophy of 2017, and now that he’s hitting for power, he’s been one of the game’s best hitters. But I’ll forgive you if you’re still not that excited to watch LoMo start in an All-Star game.

That said, he’s probably still not as unlikely a starter as Alex Avila. Sure, there are some other first baseman having good years who are more likely to actually get this spot when the line-ups are revealed, but on a rate basis, Avila has been the AL’s third best hitter this year, behind only Trout and Judge. While we’re used to the Tigers sending a slow-footed slugger to DH at the Midsummer Classic, I don’t think any of us thought it was going to be the guy they signed to be their backup catcher over the winter.

Jose Ramirez is a bit less of a surprise, given that he was a +5 WAR player last year, but it’s still kind of odd to see him here given the depth of superstar third baseman in the AL. But with the big names struggling or injured, Ramirez has stepped up and been the league’s best player at the hot corner so far, and with newfound power, he looks like every bit the franchise cornerstone as his teammate on the left side of Cleveland’s infield.

So, yeah, there are good players here. A lot of them, in fact, and many of them at the beginning of what should be long, highly productive careers. But as established star power goes, this starting nine doesn’t quite match up to the NL starters.

The Reserves
Position Player Team BA OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
C Salvador Perez Royals 0.289 0.319 0.532 118 1.7
1B Justin Smoak Blue Jays 0.296 0.362 0.581 146 1.9
1B Yonder Alonso Athletics 0.283 0.377 0.570 151 2.0
2B Robinson Cano Mariners 0.282 0.339 0.480 118 1.7
2B Jonathan Schoop Orioles 0.297 0.352 0.541 132 1.9
SS Xander Bogaerts Red Sox 0.312 0.366 0.456 114 2.6
SS Francisco Lindor Indians 0.253 0.316 0.468 102 2.0
3B Miguel Sano Twins 0.270 0.370 0.539 136 2.1
OF Lorenzo Cain Royals 0.283 0.354 0.452 113 2.3
OF Avisail Garcia White Sox 0.318 0.362 0.512 131 2.1
OF Corey Dickerson Rays 0.330 0.371 0.577 152 3.0

You thought LoMo and Avila were surprising All-Stars? Well I’ll see your puzzled faces and raise you a Yonder Alonso, Justin Smoak, Corey Dickerson, and Avisail Garcia. Remember how we noted that Morrison’s 2017 WAR to date was more than his career total? Well, Garcia’s +2.1 WAR first half has raised his career total all the way up to +0.7 WAR. Congratulations on not being replacement level anymore, Mr. Garcia, and welcome to the All-Star Game.

Like I said, it’s just that kind of year. These four disappointments-turned-sluggers are emblematic of the entire league right now. Whether it’s the baseball — it’s probably the baseball — or just a flattening talent curve, the league leaderboards make no sense.

Well, they make some sense. Bogaerts and Lindor are also two of the game’s best young players. Cano isn’t quite what he used to be, but he’s still good, and the Mariners needed a representative, so here’s still here. Perez and Cain are keeping the Royals hanging around .500, whether that’s a good thing for their franchise or not. Sano can crush the baseball like few others. Not everyone here is a surprising selection.

If you wanted to add some star power and didn’t care about 2017 performance that much, you could up the Q score of this group by bringing Donaldson and Cabrera instead of, say, Smoak and Schoop. But I like to reward players having All-Star seasons, and right now, that’s guys like the latter pair.

The Pitchers
Position Player Team IP ERA- FIP- WAR RA9-WAR
SP Chris Sale Red Sox 114 61 47 4.7 4.0
SP Lance McCullers Astros 82 60 63 2.4 2.8
SP Yu Darvish Rangers 107 69 85 2.0 3.5
SP Jason Vargas Royals 94 51 80 2.2 4.0
SP Michael Fulmer Tigers 102 73 67 3.1 2.8
SP Luis Severino Yankees 94 72 68 2.7 2.7
RP Craig Kimbrel Red Sox 35 23 9 2.3 2.2
RP Andrew Miller Indians 41 35 36 1.8 1.9
RP Chris Devenski Astros 48 53 53 1.7 1.9
RP Roberto Osuna Blue Jays 31 53 33 1.5 1.2
RP Dellin Betances Yankees 25 41 39 1.0 1.0
RP Blake Parker Angels 35 49 32 1.4 1.1

This is less weird. Chis Sale is the best pitcher in the American League, and he’s pitching like the best pitcher in the American League. If the AL MVP vote was held today, he’d be the only realistic challenger to Aaron Judge. So he’s an easy choice to start the game.

After that, Darvish and McCullers are two of the nastiest starters in baseball, and both are pitching well in the first half of the season. McCullers wouldn’t be the only Astros starter here if Dallas Keuchel were healthy, but since he’s not supposed to return to the rotation until after the break, I had to leave him off the list.

His absence opens the door for some more surprising names, with Jason Vargas having a great season in Kansas City, and it hasn’t been KC’s defense propping him up; his .287 wOBA allowed is exactly equal to the .287 expected wOBA that Baseball Savant has based on the exit velocities and launch angles of the contact made against him. Fulmer and Severino are two of the AL’s better young pitchers, and both have been fantastic in the first half, so they round out the staff.

But what the AL’s starters might lack in depth, their bullpen makes up for. Kimbrel, Miller, Betances, and Osuna are dominant relief aces, and Devenski is pitching himself into that group with his success this year. Between those five, the AL shouldn’t need to get many innings from its starters. You could realistically go Sale/Darvish/McCullers for the first five innings, then hand it over to this group, then hand it over to this group, and even the NL’s great crop of hitters might get tired of all the high-90s fastballs and nasty breaking balls by the end of the night.

And yes, Blake Parker is here in part because the Angels need a representative, but he’s also pitched like an All-Star this year, and is one of the main reasons the Angels didn’t fall apart in Trout’s absence.

The NL has a huge offensive advantage, but this AL pitching staff is pretty great, so the game may very well be interesting. At least, more interesting than you’d think when you lined up Paul Goldschmidt against Logan Morrison.

With Apologies To
Position Player Team BA OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
SS Andrelton Simmons Angels 0.280 0.333 0.420 105 2.2
SS Elvis Andrus Rangers 0.300 0.347 0.468 113 1.8
OF Brett Gardner Yankees 0.254 0.335 0.459 111 2.1
OF Jackie Bradley Jr. Red Sox 0.272 0.361 0.484 118 1.9
OF Justin Upton Tigers 0.267 0.351 0.500 125 2.0
OF Steven Souza Jr. Rays 0.260 0.366 0.473 128 2.0
Position Player Team IP ERA- FIP- WAR RA9-WAR
SP Ervin Santana Twins 106 63 104 1.2 3.8
SP Corey Kluber Indians 80 69 59 2.7 2.3
SP Chris Archer Rays 110 93 72 3.0 2.0
SP James Paxton Mariners 68 82 67 2.0 1.5
RP Tommy Kahnle White Sox 31 52 28 1.3 0.8
RP Mike Minor Royals 38 42 56 1.1 1.5
RP Will Harris Astros 33 51 62 1.0 1.4
RP Ryan Madson Athletics 31 56 62 0.7 1.0

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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5 years ago

Needs more Trout. Who cares that he’s hurt? I want Trout.

5 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

I agree. How can it be an ALL-Star game w/o ALL of the stars? Especially the brightest!

They should leave CF vacant, leaving only LF and RF to cover ground and have his deserving spot in the lineup be an automatic out. Maybe that’ll help us realize how special Trout is to the game of baseball and how we all take his greatness for granted.

I’m starting a petition to rename it the “Mike Trout Summer Classic”.