We’ve officially entered the summer of the sports calendar. The Rites of Spring, the NHL-NBA playoff run is over. Earlier this week, TheSportsNotebook took a look at some historical fallout of the Washington Capitals’ breakthrough Stanley Cup and the Golden State Warriors cruising to a a third crown in four years and what that means for the legacy of Kevin Durant.
Between now and Labor Day, our weekends are about regular season baseball, with some golf and tennis majors mixed in to spice up the party. One of those is this very weekend, with the U.S. Open golf tournament happening in Long Island. Dustin Johnson opened as the 11-1 betting favorite and had a good first day on Thursday. Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy each went off at 14-1 odds and will have to dig themselves out of early holes.
What we’re going to do here in our weekend reports for the next two weeks is stir the pot in anticipation of the MLB All-Star Game. Washington D.C. will host the game on July 17 and the voting runs through July 5. TheSportsNotebook’s choices will be listed here, with a couple caveats.
The first is that I’m including more here than what the actual ballot at MLB.com allows the fans to vote on. I go beyond the standard position player voting and list a complete rotation of starting pitchers, along with a closer. Given the importance of a deep bullpen in today’s game, I also choose two setup relievers who specifically fill that role—as opposed to the current MLB practice of just loading up on 4-5 closers to go the All-Star Game.
When picking outfielders, I do require that at least one be a legitimate centerfielder so this can be a team that could actually take the field. Although as we’ll see with today’s discussion of the American League, that’s an unnecessary distinction.
Finally, one of the things that annoys me the most about MLB is that it’s the only league that only has All-Star teams at midseason. There is no official postseason All-Star team announced, the way there is in every other sport. I’ll do my own personal choices in early October. The reason I bring that up here, is that I’ll note players who don’t have a good argument to be voted in right now, but are close enough to make a run at a postseason honor.
With all that, out of the way, here’s the American League All-Stars. The core stats of on-base percentage and slugging percentage are in parentheses…
C: Wilson Ramos, Tampa (.327/.440)
The struggles of Gary Sanchez in New York have created a watered-down race and Ramos is a pretty easy choice. Jonathan Lucroy in Oakland and Kansas City’s Salvador Perez could make a run at this spot between now and the July 5 deadline.
1B: Jose Abreu, Chicago (.346/.515)
This is a shockingly weak field, given the American League used to routinely turn out MVP candidates at this spot. Boston’s Mitch Moreland is the only one who can match Abreu’s numbers. Moreland’s stat line is .354/.556, but Abreu has nearly 100 more at-bats and does it without Moreland’s lineup support. There are four big home-run hitters—Joey Gallo (Texas), C.J. Cron (Los Angeles), Matt Olson (Oakland) and Ryan Healy (Seattle), but they’re all one-dimensional sluggers, not complete offensive threats.
2B: Jose Altuve, Houston (.388/.465)
Last year’s American League MVP is far and away the choice again here this year. Given that Oakland’s Jed Lowrie is the top competition, Jose might as well not make any mid-July vacation plans for the next ten years.
3B: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland (.384/.611)
Ramirez is the easy pick for voting this summer, but when we do this in October, I’m looking to see if Houston’s Alex Bregman (.372/.441) can get in position. There’s also two up-and-comers. Detroit’s Jeimer Candelario (.348/.489) and Matt Chapman in Oakland (.346/.447) have good numbers in parks where it’s not easy to hit.
SS: Francisco Lindor, Cleveland (.367/.540)
By far the most intriguing vote. Manny Machado has better numbers (.378/.579) and is an extraordinary defender. Do you reward him for having to hit on a Baltimore team that has collapsed. Or do you pin at least some of the collapse on the obvious chemistry problems that Machado’s inevitable departure is causing? For the long-term, look for Houston’s Carlos Correa (.360/.483) to be in this conversation come October and keep an eye of Seattle’s Jean Segura (.363/.482).
Mike Trout, Los Angeles (.444/686)
Mookie Betts, Boston (.423/.726)
Aaron Judge, New York (.396/.564)
Should we just plan on punching these three names for the next decade? Trout plays centerfield, so that takes care of my one little extra rule. If you want to argue against Betts on the grounds that he’s only played 51 games due to an injury, I suppose that’s not unreasonable. I don’t buy it though—he’s back and healthy now and those missing games will be statistically insignificant in a month.
But if you want to rebel against the Red Sox and Yankees and are looking for a candidate, let me offer you Houston’s George Springer. He’s come off his World Series heroics to produce at a .367/507 rate and play some terrific defense. Mitch Haniger in Seattle is a big reason his team is such a surprise, with numbers of .354/.522 in a pitcher-friendly park. And how about at least a shout-out to Khris Davis. He’s consistently hit home runs in the big Oakland park and already has 20 so far this year. The .322 OBP is way too low to be considered for a vote, but he’s an underrated player.
DH: J.D. Martinez, Boston (.388/651)
There is no other logical candidate to choose. The Red Sox have found their replacement for Big Papi’s production.
Justin Verlander, Houston (9-2, 1.61 ERA, 15 starts)
Corey Kluber, Cleveland(10-2, 1.99 ERA, 14 starts)
Gerrit Cole, Houston (8-1, 2.40 ERA, 14 starts)
Luis Severino, New York (9-2, 2.27 ERA, 14 starts)
Chris Sale, Boston (6-4, 2.75 ERA, 15 starts)
Verlander and Kluber have clearly separated themselves from the field. Verlander leads right now, although two-time Cy Young winner Kluber is close enough to make this a real decision for AL manager A.J. Hinch on who gets the honor of starting.
Cole and Severino were easy choices for this list. You can debate #5. Tampa’s Blake Snell (8-4, 2.58 ERA, 15 starts) has a case. But Sale has to pitch in the more hitter-friendly environment of Fenway, so that mitigates his marginally higher ERA. He’s the one pitcher that Boston hitters take the night off for, so his superior team is not the advantage you might think. And he’s pitched eight additional innings in the same number of starts. This is close enough though, that it could change with a single start by either one.
Setup: Chad Green, New York (33 IP, 1.89 ERA)
Setup: Chris Devenski, Houston (26 IP, 1.69 ERA)
Closer: Aroldis Chapman, New York (19 saves in 20 chances, 1.21 ERA)
All of these were easy choices. Boston’s Craig Kimbrel and Seattle’s Edwin Diaz each have more saves than Chapman, but Aroldis’ 95 percent closing rate is the best, and I think more pertinent statistic, so long as the save numbers are reasonably comparable. Diaz does have 25 saves, but a closing rate below 90 percent just doesn’t cut it for me. Kansas City’s Kelvin Herrera (14/16, 1.05 ERA) is doing fantastic work, but there’s just not enough volume—not just save opportunities, but even just getting into games. Let’s see if gets traded somewhere and can pitch meaningful innings.
And there’s your American League All-Stars as of June 15. Everybody enjoy your weekends.