MLB

Putting Together an Early All-Star Ballot

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It’s June 3rd, the MLB All-Star game isn’t until July 13th. To say that the current All-Star ballot would look like what it should be come game time would be a misleading farce at best. Alas, here we are and MLB has opened voting for the game as a way to promote the most fan involvement possible. Accordingly, I’ve put together the perfect All-Star ballot at this point into the season. Of course, the perfect ballot will always be a subjective one, yet I find a lot of fans usually aren’t as knowledgeable on players outside of their team, which often can lead to disaster ballots and big market bias. The Yankees offense, for example, hasn’t done much of anything at all outside of Aaron Judge and Giovanny Urshela. If Tyler Wade made the All-Star game because fans didn’t know who to vote for but he’s on their team, it waters down the game itself.

How does voting work?

The voting process for the MLB All-Star game has evolved over the years and this year it’s a little bit convoluted. From today to June 28th, you can vote for any player in the league, no matter what their numbers are. If for some strange reason you’d want to vote for Kean Wong, it’s your prerogative. After June 28th, there will be a second phase. The top three players for each infield position as well as the American League designated hitter and top nine outfielders in total votes will go to a final vote that begins at noon on June 28th and ends at 2 PM on July 1st. Fans do not select pitchers. Pitchers and reserves will be selected by the players across the league and the manager of the All-Star teams (Kevin Cash for the American League, Dave Roberts for the National League). Fans will receive five votes per email address over a 24-hour period.

It’s also worth noting that the ballot isn’t fit for players that play different positions, oddly enough, despite that being a big staple of modern baseball. For example, I had Austin Riley originally at third base and Kris Bryant in the outfield, yet when the ballot dropped Kris Bryant wasn’t eligible for the outfield despite playing more than double the amount of games in the outfield than he has at third base in 2021.

The American League Lineup

Catcher: Mike Zunino, Tampa Bay Rays.

This is such a Tampa Bay story, isn’t it? Mike Zunino, all things consider, is a subpar Major League hitter over the course of his MLB tenure with the Mariners and now Rays. His .672 OPS is well below the league-average mark across MLB over his nine seasons. OPS is the statistic we’ll most likely cite the most as it’s the most useful statistic to gauge a hitters production. On-base plus slugging combines how much a player gets on base and how much they slug, hitting for power. This is where the story changes for Zunino, because if you’re a batting average savant then you probably won’t have Zunino on your ideal ballot. Zunino’s .207 batting average falls in line with his lifetime .201 batting average, yet his WAR is 1.9 so far. Why? His defense is excellent, but his numbers of skyrocketed. Zunino’s SLG is up almost .200 points from the shortened 2020 season. Zunino’s .839 OPS is the highest mark among catchers. The Rays have always tapped into Zunino’s power, as his 12 homeruns are almost tied with his homerun total (14) in the previous two seasons. Zunino’s finding more barrels than usual and a power stroke coincides with it. The Rays have taken a 30-year old catcher whose career has been underwhelming and turned him into an All-Star. This is after they turned down his 2021 option and signed him for less money. That’s what they call “The Rays Way.”
Second best choice: Salvador Perez, Royals.

First Base: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays.

I’ve notoriously been one of Vladdy Jr.’s most strident critics, but there’s nothing to critique so far this season. The son of the MLB Hall of Famer has officially arrived to the hype in a major way and has most likely been the league’s top offensive performer thus far. Tied with Braves’ Ronald Acuna for the lead in homeruns at 17, Jr’s offensive prowess in 2021 is far more impressive than any year previously. Vladimir Jr. has seen a big rise in walk rate and plate discipline and right now only has one more K than he does BB on the season. This has led to a .440 OBP and gaudy 1.105 OPS, both top marks in baseball this season. His .335/.440/.665 slashline leads the American League in all three categories. If you can win an MVP in June, Jr. would win it unanimously.
Second best choice: Jared Walsh, Angels.

Second Base: Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays.

I really liked the Semien signing when the Blue Jays nabbed him on a low-risk, one year pact. A shortstop by trade, Semien has moved second base to second base with shortstop phenom Bo Bichette locking it down up the middle. Semien has been one of the most under-the-radar players for most of his career and surprisingly has yet to make an All-Star team, despite finishing third in AL MVP voting just two years ago. After a down 2020 hurt his free agent market, Semien has rebuilt his stock hitting to a robust .918 OPS, with a .301/.372/.546 slash and 13 homeruns. Semien, much like his 1st base counterpart, has been great both in a traditional and analytical sense all season. Semien has also stolen eight bases so far this season, showing off baserunning prowess in a style that a lot of older fans wish would make a comeback. Semien recently won the AL Player of the Month for the month of May. Rays Joey Wendle was almost my selection here, but a down stretch the last few weeks have put a damper on an otherwise stellar season where Semien has gotten better as the season has progressed.
Second best choice: Joey Wendle, Tampa Bay Rays.

Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox.

The Boston Red Sox have been one of MLB’s most pleasant surprises of the season so far. The team, anticipated by many to be in fourth at season’s end, is currently in second place at 32-23, only two games behind reigning AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays. At the forefront is the always steady superstar Xander Bogaerts. The 28-year-old will be bidding for his third All-Star selection and has posted a 2.1 BBRef WAR so far into his 2021 campaign. With 10 homeruns and a .301/.372/.536 slashline, there isn’t a better offensive shortstop in the American League this season.
Second best choice: Bo Bichette, Toronto Blue Jays.

Third Base: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians.

Perhaps the most difficult choice for me here, I’ve opted to go with Jose Ramirez over Rafael Devers and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. The Rangers’ Falefa has only posted a .732 OPS, but has been so stellar defensively that he has a 2.8 WAR on the season and it’s incredible how much of a difference maker his glove is. Devers, a member of the Red Sox, is hitting to a .928 OPS and a 2.1 WAR. I don’t think Kiner-Falefa has done enough offensively to warrant an All-Star selection despite how much superior his defense has been to both players. At a premium position, I’ve opted to find the best hybrid of both. Devers has been slightly better offensively, with 14 homeruns and a .928 OPS but also hits in a more hitter friendly ballpark. Ramirez, who has 13 homeruns and an .882 OPS, is still among the league’s top hitters but has the same exact value to his club as Devers has. Ramirez is a more reliable and steady defender, giving us the more well rounded player. This vote, however, is a coin flip right now. It will be interesting to see which player can run away statistically over the course of the next month.
Second best choice: Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox.

Outfield: Adolis Garcia, Texas Rangers.

A surprise frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Adolis Garcia is having a coming out party at 28 years of age. With 23 mediocre at best at bats in the Majors, the Rangers didn’t know what to expect out of the slugger. What they’ve received so far? A 2.8 WAR from 16 homeruns and a .284/.320/.574 slashline and .893 OPS. Garcia has a 144 OPS+ in his first 194 plate appearances on the season. For reference, league average OPS+ is 100. Garcia at the plate has been 44% better than the league average hitter.

Aaron Judge, New York Yankees.

The Yankees are arguably the most disappointing team in baseball so far this year and the offense has been mired in a season long slump. Players such as Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton have underperformed every expectation mark. The player that’s kept them afloat, despite team wise struggles is Aaron Judge. Thanks in part to Judge, the Yankees are still 31-25 just 3.5 games behind the Rays for first place in the East. Judge played in only 28 games last season but is now relatively healthy and raking. Judge has an awe-inspiring .980 OPS in 53 games this year. With 13 homeruns and a .393 OPS, it’s evident that pitchers are still pitching around him and he’s still hitting the ball out of the ballpark. Judge’s OPS+ is 162, as Judge performs 62% better at the plate than the average player in MLB. If you take away Aaron Judge from the Yankees offense, they’ve combined to be slightly more productive rate wise than Astros’ ace Zack Greinke has been during his career.

Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners.

Yes, an All-Star ballot without Mike Trout. While Trout was great when playing, he’s already missed ample time and is out for the foreseeable future. In his place in the third outfield spot? Mariners’ Mitch Haniger. It was difficult to determine whether the final outfield selection should go to Haniger or another AL West outfielder in A’s Ramon Laureano. While Laureano’s most value is his defense, the recent injury and the fact that Haniger has been a bit better offensively gives him the edge. The 2018 All-Star has an .857 OPS, one of the highest in the league outfield positions. For an otherwise awful Mariners team, Haniger’s been carrying the team on his back all season.

Other fine selections: Michael Brantley (Houston Astros), Cedric Mullins (Baltimore Orioles), Ramon Laureano (Oakland Athletics).

Designated Hitter: Austin Meadows, Tampa Bay Rays.

Rays’ Austin Meadows, who seeks out his second All-Star game in three years. Meadows doesn’t have the traditional numbers in areas such as batting average as opposed to a hitter like Mitch Haniger, but his .882 OPS is among the top in the American League and there arguably hasn’t been a more clutch hitter in the AL this season than Meadows, who’s hitting to a 1.271 OPS with 2 outs and RISP. Meadows walk and homerun rates are higher than league average this season and it seems as if the Rays go how Meadows goes. In team wins, Meadows has 12 homeruns and a 1.107 OPS, whereas in losses he has 1 homerun and .542 OPS. His productivity is night and day in team wins and team losses, yet he’s on the team with the best record in baseball. He’s the most influential aspect of that record.

I originally had Shohei Ohtani here, but for whatever peculiar reason Austin Meadows wasn’t outfield eligible when MLB released the voting ballot. I’ll have Shohei on my team as a pitcher.

Second best choice: Shohei Ohtani (Los Angeles Angels).

American League Lineup as of June 3rd:

3B Jose Ramirez.
RF Aaron Judge.
1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
LF Adolis Garcia.
SS Xander Bogaerts.
DH Austin Meadows.
CF Mitch Haniger.
2B Marcus Semien.
C Mike Zunino.

National League Lineup

Catcher: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants.

Just a year after opting out of the 2020 season due to concerns about league COVID-19 protocol, the Florida State Seminole is back to his winning ways. The three time World Champion and former NL MVP has led the Giants back into contention in a major way. Buster hasn’t made an All-Star team since 2018, but the 6x All-Star has had an incredible bounceback campaign with a .987 OPS, albeit in only 37 games. Buster’s hitting .315 with 10 homeruns in a season where the catching options haven’t been that impressive.
Second best option: Carson Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks.

1st Base: Max Muncy.

It’s not fair how out of this world Max Muncy is in 2021, and yet he doesn’t even get as much love as he deserves. Muncy has 13 homeruns and a .964 OPS so far during this campaign. The 30-year-old slugger has an incredible 19.7% BB rate. Muncy’s statline in 2021 to this point is .268/.428/.536. His .428 on base percentage is top in the National League.
Second best choice: Rhys Hoskin, Philadelphia Phillies.

Second Base: Ryan McMahon, Colorado Rockies.

The fans in Denver don’t have much to cheer about in 2021, but one bright spot is Ryan McMahon, who has finally arrived at the level they were anticipating. Leading the league in games played, McMahon’s been durable but he’s also been robust: posting an .820 OPS with 13 homeruns at a position that historically isn’t an offensive juggernaut.
Second best selection: Adam Frazier, Pittsburgh Pirates.

Shortstop: Trea Turner, Washington Nationals.

Okay, a lot are going to have to hear me out on this. Yes, Fernando Tatis Jr. has been incredible at the plate this season. It’s inherently difficult to argue his success or his merit to be here. My stance is that he’s already missed a number of his team’s games and with his exit yesterday exit the Cubs, could be banged up some more in the coming days. Tatis is also one of the worst defenders in baseball this year. Trea Turner plays every day, plays excellent defense and is hitting .315/.335/.502 with ten homeruns. While Tatis is hitting at a far more exceptional rate, there’s something to be said about credible defense and being able to play every day for your ballclub when you man arguably the second most premium position on the field.

Second best choice: Fernando Tatis Jr.

Third Base: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs.

The 2015 National League MVP is certainly an intriguing All-Star candidate because he’s a surefire All-Star…at a different position. Bryant, despite planning to play third this year, has played more than double the amount of games in the outfield than he has at his natural position and thus most of his contributions to his club came as an outfielder. When putting my ballot together, I had Austin Riley of the Atlanta Braves as my third baseman. Riley has a .913 OPS and 10 homeruns and is certainly a deserving player, but he’s just not been as good as Kris Bryant who I had in an outfield spot. Alas, Bryant has to be on any ballot realistically speaking. Bryant has 12 homeruns with a line of .317/.398/.598, a .996 OPS despite currently in a slump. That’s how insane his first few weeks of the season were. Austin Riley can be the designated hitter, should Dave Roberts choose as that isn’t up to fan vote.
Second best choice: Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves.

Outfield: Jesse Winker, Cincinnati Reds.

Jesse Winker is probably the best player most fans haven’t heard of and it’s time to change that. Jesse Winker does it all and may be the frontrunner for NL MVP so far this season. His .341 BA is second, he also has a .403 OBP and a SLG over .620, posting an OPS over 1.000. Winker has found his power stroke, launching 13 homeruns already this year, only three homeruns shy of a career high in that category. He’s also flashed the leather this year.

Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds.

The former Tiger third baseman and Cubs outfielder has been so controversial this season that he was even suspended for taunting at one point. Surprisingly, he’s never been All-Star despite a dazzling reputation that precedes him as a major league hitter. That’s certainly about to change this year, his second season in a Reds uniform. The slugger has a 1.060 OPS with a league leading .361 batting average and 12 homeruns on the season. If anybody is Winker’s competition so far for MVP, it’s his own teammate. Castellanos is currently on a tear with an 18 game hitting streak, the longest streak in MLB in 2021.

Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves.

Is there a more dynamic or exciting player in baseball than number 13 for the Braves? If there is, I haven’t seen them play yet. Though Tyler Naquin made a bid for all three Reds outfielders to be featured, Acuna has to be the third and final selection. Despite a major slump in early May, Acuna is still tied for the most homeruns in MLB and still has an OPS over 1.000 and OPS+ of 165. Acuna is the definition of a five tool player as he hits for average, hits for power, has excellent defense and is a 40/40 candidate whenever he’s healthy. The 23-year-old sensation should have any easy time making this game.

Other fine selections: Bryce Harper (Philadelphia Phillies), Tyler Naquin (Cincinnati Reds), Tyler O’Neill (St. Louis Cardinals).

National League Lineup as of June 3rd:

CF Ronald Acuna Jr.
3B Kris Bryant.
RF Jesse Winker.
LF Nick Castellanos.
1B Max Muncy.
2B Ryan McMahon.
C Buster Posey.
SS Trea Turner.

Obviously, neither of these lineups will likely be the final product nor will they likely be my final vote. However, seeing as MLB opened voting this early, this is how my ballot looks as of right now a month and change in advance. Who do you think I snubbed? Do you agree with my list? Sound off.

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