Which All-Star Team Is More Talented?

Despite Major League Baseball’s attempts to add urgency to the All-Star game, there are factors which ensure that winning isn’t the only objective for its participants. It is, after all, an exhibition game. And yes, while most of the league’s best players will be present, deserving players will be absent. Finally, managers will make an effort to use nearly all players on each roster — both for the players’ benefit and the benefit of those fans who voted on the players’ behalves. There are, in other words, expectations placed both on the players and managers which surpass mere winning or losing.

Even if winning were the only objective of either team — and if the players on each roster were deployed optimally — using the results of tonight’s game as a proxy for determining which league is stronger would be foolish, not unlike using World Series results to do the same. Calculating strength of league requires an evaluation of interleague records and some greater evaluation of entire group of players in each league. That would be the most equitable way of doing things.

However, given that the All-Star game is tonight and given that it includes an equal number of players on both teams, we can compare the respective talents of those squads as a small way of comparing the leagues. That’s the goal of this post.

While both teams have had injury replacements over the past week, the National League has been hit considerably harder, losing Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Carpenter, and Yoenis Cespedes. Those players have combined for 18.1 WAR so far this season and Kershaw leads the NL and is tied at 5.5 with Mike Trout in MLB. Even with those losses, the NL has put together a talented squad.

NATIONAL LEAGUE ALL-STARS 2016 WAR (1)

Poor Jay Bruce. While his defensive numbers likely aren’t entirely representative of his talent level in the outfield, he’s still a win and a half below the next-lowest position player in the National League. There are actually two players who’ve recorded 1.5 WAR. One of them is Bruce’s teammate, Adam Duvall and the other was elected by the fans, as Addison Russell is the starting shortstop. Every other position player is at or near a five-win pace on the season. If not for pitcher injuries, four of the top seven players in the NL by WAR would be pitchers.

The American League has lost a few talented players, as well, but going from Marco Estrada, Danny Salazar, and Craig Kimbrel to Jose Quintana, Corey Kluber, and Aaron Sanchez is actually a net gain for the American League.
2016 AMERICAN LEAGUE ALL-STARS WAR
The American League is heavy on position players, especially at the top, with Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson leading the way. While the National League has just one player who’s recorded more than four wins, the American League has six such players. That advantage evens out in the middle and end. Adding¬†up the WAR on both sides, the teams come up virtually even: 85.8 WAR for the AL squad and 84.6 WAR for their NL opponents. That means, on average, the AL player bests the NL player by 0.04 WAR. Basically indistinguishable.

Combining the leagues together for a better visual comparison should provide some indication where the strengths of teams lie. The graph below shows position players for both leagues.

2016 POSITION PLAYER ALL-STARS WAR

The graph bears out the advantage that the American League possesses at the top so far this season, but also reveals the depth of the National League. Of the bottom 14 players, just three are from the National League. The biggest example of the NL’s depth is evident at the catcher position, where Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy and Wilson Ramos are all ahead Salvador Perez, Stephen Vogt, and Matt Wieters. Overall, the top end of the American League leads to a small advantage, 61.4 to 58.9.

Even without Clayton Kershaw and Noah Syndergaard, the National League has a pitching advantage, particularly among the starters.

2016 ALL-STAR PITCHER WAR (2)

With Kershaw, Syndergaard, and Bumgarner, the NL would have the top four pitchers by WAR and six of the top seven. As it stands, the NL still has the top two pitchers and a slight overall advantage: 25.7 WAR to 24.4 WAR. Where the AL has the advantage on the pitching side is in relief. The five NL relievers have produced 5.5 WAR, averaging 1.1 WAR per pitcher. On the AL side, the seven AL relievers have put up 9.9 WAR, for a 1.4 WAR average. The NL starting pitchers averaged 2.5 WAR while the AL starting pitchers averaged 2.4 WAR so far this season, as Bartolo Colon’s inclusion keeps the NL average down.

If we are going to estimate talent, looking at projections might be a more accurate representation. Sometimes All-Stars put together somewhat fluky half-season runs to get them in the game, and sometimes bigger stars get to the All-Star game based on their name with a slow first half, perhaps even getting better over the course of the season. Projections even out both of these effects, focusing on expected production over the course of the rest of the season.

First, the position players:

2016 POSITION PLAYER ALL-STARS REST OF SEASON PROJECTIONS

That Mike Trout is a pretty good ballplayer. That one-win edge Trout has over every other player is the difference for these totals between the two leagues. The American League projections come in at 32.7 WAR while the National League comes in at 31.7 WAR.

Now, the pitchers:

2016 ALL-STAR PITCHERS REST OF SEASON PROJECTIONS

As would be expected given the sheer number of starting pitchers on the National League team, the NL holds a decent advantage here, with 19.5 WAR compared to 16.1 for the AL. The eight NL starting pitchers average 2.0 WAR per player while the six AL starting pitchers average 1.8 WAR per starter. In the bullpen, the eight AL relievers and their five NL counterparts both average 0.7 WAR the rest of the way.

Overall the numbers look like this:

2016 All-Stars: National League v American League
AL 2016 WAR NL 2016 WAR AL ROS WAR NL ROS WAR
Position Players 61.4 58.9 32.7 31.7
Pitchers 24.4 25.7 16.1 19.5
Total 85.8 84.6 48.8 51.2
AVG/Player 2.52 2.49 1.44 1.51

If you were to pick a team to have the rest of the season, you would probably pick the National League side. Having eight starters seems like a pretty big advantage when trying to navigate the course of a season. If we are talking about talent level for one game, however, you maybe side with the American League, with their superior position players and bullpen. In either case, it’s going to require some¬†hair-splitting. For me personally, I’d probably lean toward the American League and their top-tier of position players. Either way, a ton of great players are all going to get together to play what should be a good game. Hope you enjoy it.





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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rauce1
5 years ago

Yep, it looks like TC chose his pitchers with tradition (reward the best/most valuable arms) as his guide, whereas Eddard Yost chose to build an All-Star staff around 1 inning pitchers – which of course may prove beneficial given the short leash on the game’s starters.
Those differing strategies would affect a WAR-based analysis, as the author notes here.

ab
5 years ago
Reply to  rauce1

Upvoted for “Eddard”