It’s hard to believe that I’ve been doing these All-Star Roster fixer-uppers for six years now. And while this year’s set has one of the dumbest overall choices I’ve seen in my entire time doing this, we’re getting fewer and fewer totally inexplicable decisions. In fact, there are so few major changes to the rosters that I could actually combine them into one piece this year. But to do so in a concise manner, we’re going to need to jump right in, so let’s do just that.
AL Position Players
It looked like we’d be in for an all-Royal affair, which would have been pretty bad. But instead, we got a pretty well-chosen set. At catcher, Russell Martin, Stephen Vogt, and Salvador Perez are definitely three of the four best catchers. Brian McCann is also good, though. How do they compare? (reminders: triple slash is batting average/OBP/slugging, wRC+ is like OPS+ but with properly-weighted OBP and slugging, and FIP is fielding independent pitching, which is on the same scale as ERA)
Perez: 74 games, .263/.275/.446 line, 96 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR, 1.8 bWAR
Martin: 71 games, .251/.345/.476 line, 127 wRC+, 2.8 fWAR, 2.1 bWAR
Vogt: 80 games, .290/.380/.502, 145 wRC+, 2.6 fWAR, 3.0 bWAR
McCann: 67 games, .261/.332/.471, 120 wRC+, 2.2 WAR, 1.8 bWAR
Vogt is easily the best hitting catcher in the AL, so he looks safe. Meanwhile, Perez’s OBP is shockingly low. Maybe Perez has defense on his side? Well, the biggest part of catching defense that’s not in WAR but still quantifiable is pitch framing. You can look at the 2015 leaderboard here, but the results are Vogt at +0.1 runs, Martin at -0.1, McCann at -1.9, and Perez at -3.5. With all of that, I feel comfortable with bumping Vogt to starter and putting McCann in the third slot, but Perez would be my first alternate catcher.
First base looks pretty much fine, to me. Second base, I can live with. Jason Kipnis should probably be starting (first in AL in fWAR, tied first in bWAR, third in wRC+), so I guess you can swap him with Jose Altuve to optimize the roster. I’d add Brian Dozier with the Final Vote slot, and with him out of the way, Altuve looks like a fine third second baseman. He’s pretty close to runners-up Logan Forsythe and Dustin Pedroia, so I feel like leaving the fan choice in is defensible.
On the left side, third base is well-represented with Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado, and either Evan Longoria and Mike Moustakas could be fine back-ups. At short stop, I’d take Xander Bogaerts (.302/.339/.414/107 wRC+/2.2 fWAR/2.4 bWAR) over elected starter Alcides Escobar (.276/.314/.357/85 wRC+/1.3 fWAR/1.1 bWAR), although Jose Iglesias (.323/.374/.384/113 wRC+/2.0 fWAR/1.5 bWAR) can stay. I just don’t see any way to argue that Escobar's better than them. And though there’s no chance he gets a call with as few games as he’s played, Carlos Correa could be a fun alternate in case of injury (.315/.339/.593/160 wRC+/1.7 fWAR/1.9 bWAR in 25 games).
And finally, outfield and DH seem fine. Mookie Betts, Brett Gardner, and the injured George Springer would all make fine alternates, but they’re all pretty close to the group that made it, so I’m not sure it’s worth getting too bent out of shape over their snubs unless you’re a fan of those teams.
AL Pitching Staff
This was the moment where I smacked my forehead. The roster definitely got the six best starters, I will say that. They also got the three best relievers (the bare minimum required). However, then they went and picked four more relievers. Generally speaking, I’m in favor of picking starters over relievers when available. Most relievers are failed starters anyway, and most starters would dominate in a one-inning role. Plus, the starters just have so much more quantity to their resumes that picking relievers over them seems almost insulting.
So, I’ll keep the three relievers I think are the best (Dellin Betances, Wade Davis, and Glen Perkins, thanks to a combo of WAR, Win Probability Added, and Shut Downs, with Zach Britton as first alternate). I mean, Brad Boxberger, Kelvin Herrera, and Darren O’Day (my three outright cuts) have 97 innings combined, fewer than every individual starter I considered except one. And it’s hard to justify not taking Corey Kluber (118.2 IP, 10.69 K/9, 1.82 BB/9, 0.68 HR/9, 3.65 ERA, 2.45 FIP, 3.5 fWAR, 1.6 bWAR), who’s second in innings, FIP, fWAR, and top eleven in all three per-9 stats. Clay Buchholz (110.2 IP, 8.51 K/9, 1.88 BB/9, 0.41 HR/9, 3.27 ERA, 2.55 FIP, 3.1 fWAR, 2.4 bWAR) is also doing pretty well. For the last two slots, I was down to five names.
Michael Pineda: 99.2 IP, 9.48 K/9, 1.17 BB/9, 0.81 HR/9, 3.79 ERA, 2.57 FIP, 3.5 fWAR, 1.5 bWAR
Carlos Carrasco: 97.1 IP, 10.17 K/9, 1.94 BB/9, 0.83 HR/9, 3.88 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 3.0 fWAR, 1.5 bWAR
Ubaldo Jimenez: 94.1 IP, 8.87 K/9, 2.77 BB/9, 0.76 HR/9, 2.96 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 2.0 fWAR, 2.0 bWAR
Scott Kazmir: 98.1 IP, 8.42 K/9, 3.02 BB/9, 0.64 HR/9, 2.56 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 1.8 fWAR, 2.4 bWAR
Yovani Gallardo: 102.0 IP, 6.35 K/9, 2.74 BB/9, 0.62 HR/9, 2.56 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 1.8 fWAR, 2.8 bWAR
I don’t think you could go wrong with any combination of those five, but I went with Jimenez and Kazmir, with the other three as the inevitable reserves for when all the pitchers who start next Sunday drop out.
So, a summary of the AL moves:
Salvador Perez->Brian McCann
Alcides Escobar->Xander Bogaerts
Brad Boxberger->Corey Kluber
Darren O’Day->Clay Buchholz
Kelvin Herrera->Scott Kazmir
Zach Britton->Ubaldo Jimenez
NL Position Players
First, catchers. Buster Posey (149 wRC+ and 3.2 WAR in 79 games) and Yasmani Grandal (150 wRC+ and 2.1 fWAR in 64 games) are great and pretty obvious choices. But I’m not convinced with regards to Yadier Molina.
Yadier Molina: 75 games, .292/.333/.373 line, 97 wRC+, 1.4 fWAR, 1.4 bWAR
Francisco Cervelli: 63 games, .301/.376/.406 line, 125 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR, 1.4 bWAR
And while Molina has been a great pitch-framers (6.5 runs above average), Cervelli has been the best in the league (13.4). I think I’m going to have to relegate Molina to being Cervelli’s alternate.
At first, Joey Votto has been great, but the position is crowded with Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, and Adrian Gonzalez, all of whom have been hitting better. It’s a shame, since the game is in Cincinnati, but carrying four first basemen on the roster doesn’t make a ton of sense. Moving over, Dee Gordon and Joe Panik are fine, but D.J. LeMahieu is the second biggest headscratcher after the AL Reliever conundrum. Just to make a direct comparison with Cardinals keystone Kolten Wong:
Wong: .279/.337/.443, 117 wRC+, 2.2 fWAR, 2.0 bWAR
LeMahieu: .298/.351/.387, 90 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR, 1.2 bWAR
Coors Field has masked that D.J. has been a below-average hitter, and his slight edge on defense isn’t enough to make up for the gulf between the two on offense.
Meanwhile, the left side of the infield is pretty solid. You might be able to make an argument for Justin Turner given his ability to play multiple positions and the level at which he’s hit this season, but given that the positions he mostly plays have three guys already, maybe we won’t take him.
The outfield is also actually pretty solid. There are just two areas I want to mention here, really. First, the last vote slot. Given that we have three infielders at most positions, it makes sense to add a seventh outfielder for balance purposes. There are several good choices, but in the end, I went with Starling Marte (120 wRC+, 1.8 fWAR, 2.2 bWAR). Second, there’s the question of what to do with Matt Holliday. He’s missed a lot of games, but won the fan vote and says that he intends to play in the All-Star Game. I thought about replacing him, but in the end, I stuck with him. He’s been the fifth-best hitter in the outfield by wRC+, at 136. I think the bat and the fan vote are good enough reason to keep him, but maybe bump him to the bench for Joc Pederson. For a back-up (or alternative, if that doesn’t sound like compelling reasoning), why not Jason Heyward? He’s hit .281/.331/.439 (a 114 wRC+) with his usual stellar defense, good for 2.0 fWAR and 2.2 bWAR.
NL Pitching Staff
Most of the pitchers here are pretty solid choices. I have no issue with Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, Jacob deGrom, or Shelby Miller. And I have my usual qualms about relievers; using the same methods as in the AL, I’ve got Trevor Rosenthal, Aroldis Chapman, and Mark Melancon as the top three. That leaves four slots open.
Clayton Kershaw gets the first crack at a slot, obviously. He’s as good as ever, with 114 innings, a league-leading 11.61 K/9, 2.13 BB/9, 0.87 HR/9, a 3.08 ERA, and the second-best FIP and fWAR in the NL at 2.55 and 3.1, respectively.
The last three slots were tougher, though. My list of considered was long, but the finalists were:
Jake Arrieta: 106.0 IP, 9.34 K/9, 1.95 BB/9, 0.68 HR/9, 2.80 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 2.8 fWAR, 2.2 bWAR
Cole Hamels: 113.1 IP, 9.45 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, 0.87 HR/9, 3.02 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 2.2 fWAR, 3.5 bWAR
Jordan Zimmermann: 106.2 IP, 6.50 K/9, 1.69 BB/9, 0.51 HR/9, 3.04 ERA, 3.02 FIP, 2.4 fWAR, 2.1 bWAR
Madison Bumgarner: 113.1 IP, 9.05 K/9, 1.67 BB/9, 1.03 HR/9, 3.34 ERA, 3.22 FIP, 2.1 fWAR, 1.4 bWAR
Michael Wacha: 101.1 IP, 7.11 K/9, 2.04 BB/9, 0.62 HR/9, 2.66 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 2.0 fWAR, 2.4 bWAR
Carlos Martinez: 100.0 IP, 9.45 K/9, 3.69 BB/9, 0.90 HR/9, 2.70 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 1.3 fWAR, 2.5 bWAR
Lance Lynn: 92.1 IP, 9.45 K/9, 3.02 BB/9, 0.49 HR/9, 2.53 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 2.4 fWAR, 2.1 bWAR
Johnny Cueto: 104.2 IP, 8.60 K/9, 1.72 BB/9, 0.95 HR/9, 2.84 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 2.2 fWAR, 2.3 bWAR
That’s a tough list to cut down to just three. First, we do need to put some consideration in to keep one player per team and adhere to the rules. Since I cut Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia is without a representative. So there’s one. I don’t think you could go wrong with any of the last two. Objectively, I guess I’d go Arrieta and Zimmermann, but if I’m picking with my wants as a fan, I’m going with Johnny Cueto (who will be pitching in front of his home town) and Lance Lynn (who’s been as good as the rest despite losing some time to injury, so he’s better on a rate basis). Zimmermann, Arrieta, Martinez, and Wacha get to be our back-ups.
If you noticed, there’s one last issue with this list. I cut the sole Brewer (K-Rod) and never replaced him. Looking at the best Brewers, Adam Lind leads the team in WAR, but he’s stuck behind a crowded first base. None of their starters are great, so that leaves a reliever. I’d add Francisco Rodriguez back, since he made the team in real life, and he could replace either Trevor Rosenthal or Mark Melancon. I’d end up keeping Rosenthal, since I think he’s a hair better, but it’s very close, and I could probably be persuaded. Melancon becomes the first alternate for the pen.
A summary of the NL moves:
Yadier Molina->Francisco Cervelli
D.J. LeMahieu->Kolten Wong
Madison Bumgarner->Clayton Kershaw
Michael Wacha->Lance Lynn
Jonathan Papelbon->Cole Hamels
Mark Melancon->Johnny Cueto