Picking the 2017 National League All-Stars

The All-Star game is just a few weeks away, and on Sunday, we’ll find out the results of the fan’s voting for the starters, as well as most of the reserves. In advance of the announcement, I’m going to give you my selections for how I would fill out both squads if MLB granted me totalitarian authority and let me fill all 32 spots. I’m sticking with the rules agreed to in the CBA, so I’m taking 20 position players and 12 pitchers, with each team sending at least one representative.

And while I’ll generally defer to players who are established stars over guys who are off to strong starts this season, I also believe that the game is designed to reward the players who are having the best seasons, so 2017 performance is the primary factor in determining who goes and who stays home. It’s not the only factor, but you have to be playing well this year to make my squad, and even if we expect significant regression in the second half, I’m still putting you on the team if you’re clearly either the best or second-best player at your position this year.

Today, we’ll start with the National League, and we’ll do the American League tomorrow. Thankfully, the infield corners aren’t as crowded over there, so that one should be a little easier.

The Starting Nine
Position Player Team BA OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
C Buster Posey Giants 0.344 0.422 0.529 155 3.0
1B Paul Goldschmidt Diamondbacks 0.323 0.438 0.589 160 3.8
2B Daniel Murphy Nationals 0.339 0.391 0.578 146 2.4
3B Justin Turner Dodgers 0.379 0.466 0.535 173 3.3
SS Corey Seager Dodgers 0.298 0.403 0.506 143 3.2
LF Marcell Ozuna Marlins 0.315 0.378 0.565 145 2.7
CF Charlie Blackmon Rockies 0.314 0.369 0.575 125 2.4
RF Bryce Harper Nationals 0.319 0.422 0.589 157 3.2
DH Joey Votto Reds 0.303 0.418 0.592 157 3.1

Most of this group was actually pretty easy, with six spots being fairly obvious choices in my view.

Posey, Murphy, Seager, Blackmon, and Harper are clearly the best players in the league at their respective positions, and each is having the kind of year that looks right at home starting in the All-Star Game. Goldschmidt hasn’t separated himself entirely from a deep pack of great first baseman, many of whom would be credible starters in their own right, but he’s been the best player in the NL to date and simply can’t be left out of the starting nine given what he’s done this year.

The tougher calls were at third base and left field, because one is overloaded with talent and the other is a bit short of what we’d generally like in an All-Star starter.

There are four viable starting options among the league’s group of third baseman, and you can’t really go wrong with any of them. At the end of the day, I went with Turner because, well, he’s nearly hitting .400 in a time when strikeouts are at an all-time high. Even with just five home runs and a trip to the disabled list holding his counting stats down, he’s been the best offensive third baseman in the NL this year, and he’s an above-average defender at third, too. With all respect granted to the the other candidates, I think Turner’s just been too great this year to not reward with a starting spot.

Justin Turner is one of four entirely reasonable options at third base. (Photo: Arturo Pardavila III)

Left field isn’t brimming with the same kind of options. Ozuna has had a great first half, but he’s already set his career high in WAR, which isn’t usually what you want from an All-Star starter. Maybe this is his legitimate breakout, but more likely, we’ll look back and say “Huh, Marcell Ozuna was good enough to start in an All-Star Game once” when his career is over. But the other two legitimate contenders for this spot are a rookie and a guy who has yet to play a full season, so there’s no real established star on which to lean, and Ozuna has had the best first half of the short-track-record group.

At DH, you can’t go wrong with basically any of the corner-infield options. All these guys can really hit, and you’d be just fine putting a bunch of other guys in this spot if you wanted. But Votto has reinvented himself at 33, and somehow has more extra-base hits than he has strikeouts at a time when the latter have never been more common, so he gets the call here for me.

The Reserves
Position Player Team BA OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
C Tyler Flowers Braves 0.333 0.430 0.480 146 1.7
1B Freddie Freeman Braves 0.341 0.461 0.748 203 2.6
1B Ryan Zimmerman Nationals 0.338 0.381 0.632 159 2.1
2B Josh Harrison Pirates 0.291 0.370 0.457 122 2.3
SS Zack Cozart Reds 0.320 0.404 0.562 149 2.8
3B Nolan Arenado Rockies 0.294 0.346 0.547 110 2.6
3B Anthony Rendon Nationals 0.299 0.404 0.551 148 3.3
OF Kris Bryant Cubs 0.264 0.395 0.520 139 2.7
OF Cody Bellinger Dodgers 0.268 0.341 0.656 152 2.4
OF Michael Conforto Mets 0.285 0.405 0.548 150 2.2

This was more of a juggling act, and as you can see, I’m taking a little bit of a liberty with the positional assignments. As noted, it’s not a great year for outfielders, and I had no desire to leave any of the the other elite third baseman at home, so Kris Bryant gets to play the outfield in Miami, allowing me to bring him, Arenado, and Rendon. The game simply would feel wrong without all of them there. They are stars in every way you can interpret the word, with Rendon quietly putting together a legitimate MVP-caliber first half that forces his placement on this team.

Loading up on third baseman meant I didn’t have a lot of room for depth elsewhere, so we get just one reserve at each middle-infield spot, so let’s hope there aren’t late-game injuries to either Harrison or Cozart, both of whom have played well enough this year to earn a spot and don’t have a lot of competition from a weak group of middle infielders in the NL.

In terms of more legitimate outfielders, both Bellinger and Conforto have played enough center field that I’m comfortable not bringing a true flycatcher here. This won’t be a first-rate defensive outfield or anything, but the NL’s reserves might outhit the AL’s starters, so I think they’ll be okay.

At catcher, Flowers got the nod as much for his defense as his bat, which is mostly being driven by a .403 BABIP, the sort of mark you don’t expect from a slow-footed pull-heavy catcher. But fluke or not, Flowers has hit well so far, and he has graded out as the league’s best framer by both BP’s and Statcorner’s measures, and his work behind the plate is one of main reasons the Braves are still hanging around .500.

I gave the last of the 20 position-player spots to Freeman, who has still been just about as valuable as everyone else here despite going on the DL in mid-May. That’s how good his first six weeks were. If he hadn’t gotten hurt, he’d be in the starting lineup. Since it sounds like he’s going to be back the week before they play the Midsummer Classic, though, I’m putting him on the roster.

The Pitchers
Position Player Team IP ERA- FIP- WAR RA9-WAR
SP Max Scherzer Nationals 114 47 64 3.8 4.4
SP Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 109 60 80 2.5 3.9
SP Carlos Martinez Cardinals 106 67 76 2.7 3.0
SP Zack Greinke Diamondbacks 102 67 75 2.6 2.7
SP Robbie Ray Diamondbacks 94 63 82 2.1 3.2
SP Alex Wood Dodgers 68 45 50 2.6 2.8
RP Kenley Jansen Dodgers 33 20 13 2.0 1.8
RP Felipe Rivero Pirates 42 20 58 1.2 1.7
RP Corey Knebel Brewers 39 26 45 1.7 2.3
RP Greg Holland Rockies 29 30 51 1.1 1.6
RP Pat Neshek Phillies 31 14 47 1.2 1.8
RP Brad Hand Padres 42 61 72 0.8 1.2

This isn’t as strong a group as I’m used to. The last few years, figuring which legit aces you wanted to bring and which ones to leave home was the hardest part of picking out the rosters, but the starters in particular are not as deep as they have been.

I’m still on Team Kershaw on the question of best pitcher in baseball, but I’ll give Scherzer the first couple of innings since he’s been better this year. Martinez allows us to not feel bad about some odd pick here just to fill the Cardinals quota, so thanks for existing, Carlos. Greinke’s rejuvenation and Ray’s breakout are two of the main reasons the Diamondbacks are playoff contenders this year, so all of them are pretty easy picks for the first five starter spots.

But after that, it got a little more challenging. In the end, I went with Alex Wood’s dominance in fewer innings over pitchers who have been good-not-great with a larger workload. There are definitely other guys who you could put here and not think it’s weird that they made the team, but this sixth starter spot felt more like a choice between quantity versus quality than picking a guy who clearly fits the definition of an easy All-Star selection.

In the bullpen, Jansen is definitely a legitimate star, and is an easy call to handle the final three outs for the NL if they have the lead. In front of him are five guys pitching like All-Stars this year, but maybe not names you’d have penciled in as obvious choices back in March.

Rivero, though, belongs here. He’s the best left-handed reliever in the NL, and if he keeps pitching like this, might be in the discussion for best lefty reliever in baseball before long. Like his teammates, Holland has struggled a bit lately after a very strong start, but he’s one of the main reasons the Rockies will enter the break as contenders. And Knebel isn’t just some token Brewers pick, as he’s been the dominant late-game reliever the team needed to stabilize their bullpen.

The last two on the list, though? Yeah, they’re good pitchers whom you’d happily have in your bullpen, but I’d be lying if I said they weren’t here because every team gets a representative. Neshek has had an amazing first half, but there’s a closer in Chicago who would get this spot if I already had someone from Philadelphia, but I don’t, because the Phillies are bad. And if the Padres somehow trade Brad Hand before July 11th, well, good luck finding anyone else on that roster who isn’t a laughable pick. Hand isn’t one of the six best relievers in the NL, but he’s a very good reliever on a team that doesn’t have many players that can be described using those words.

So, those are my picks. We’ll end with the guys I’m sorry I couldn’t find room for. There’s no way to get every deserving player into 32 spots, especially with the one-per-team rule, so these guys would have gone if I just had a little more room. Maybe next year.

With Apologies To
Position Player Team BA OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
1B Anthony Rizzo Cubs 0.258 0.387 0.505 132 2.1
1B Eric Thames Brewers 0.241 0.368 0.542 131 1.5
3B Jake Lamb Diamondbacks 0.286 0.382 0.544 131 2.2
OF Ender Inciarte Braves 0.309 0.357 0.407 101 2.2
OF Giancarlo Stanton Marlins 0.270 0.354 0.541 130 1.5
OF Adam Duvall Reds 0.284 0.328 0.558 124 1.9
Position Player Team IP ERA- FIP- WAR RA9-WAR
SP Chase Anderson Brewers 90 64 76 2.3 2.9
SP Stephen Strasburg Nationals 103 80 72 2.7 2.4
SP Jimmy Nelson Brewers 90 78 71 2.4 2.1
SP Ivan Nova Pirates 108 73 91 1.8 3.0
RP Wade Davis Cubs 27 46 44 1.1 1.0
RP Raisel Iglesias Reds 38 37 60 0.9 1.5
RP Archie Bradley Diamondbacks 35 23 58 1.0 2.1

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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6 years ago

I don’t think Greg Holland is a Dodger

Paul Swydanmember
6 years ago
Reply to  FrodoBeck

Fixed. Thanks for the catch.

The Ghost of Stephen Drews Bat
6 years ago
Reply to  FrodoBeck

Not yet.

Dave knows more than us.