My philosophy on the All-Star Game is simple: It’s a marketing event for baseball — not a popularity contest and not a way to reward first-half flukes.
A lot of folks have grown up thinking selection is about who has the best stats on the day you vote, even if it’s someone who has just had the best 50 games of his life, rather than getting the actual stars — the word that is in the name of the game — on one field at one time.
With that in mind, here are five players I think belong in this year’s All-Star Game but might be omitted and five players who could be included but wouldn’t make the cut for me.
Five players who belong
Jose Quintana, LHP
Chicago White Sox
2016 WAR: 2.9
This is some sort of sick joke at this point. Quintana is fourth in the AL in innings pitched, eighth in ERA and second in FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). He’s a top-five starter in the American League this year, a top-10 starter in the AL in both 2014 and 2015 and a top-20 starter in 2013. If he isn’t an All-Star, just shut the whole thing down.
Gregory Polanco, OF
2016 WAR: 2.5
Polanco belongs in the game every which way from Sunday. He’s an emerging superstar and a former top prospect having a clear breakout season. He is currently ranked third among NL outfielders in FanGraphs WAR and sixth in Baseball-Reference’s version. He’s sixth among NL outfielders in OBP, eighth in slugging and sixth in wRC+, not to mention that he’s a very good to great defensive outfielder. He’s 24 years old and about to become one of the best players in baseball; if the Pirates trade Andrew McCutchen anytime soon, it’ll be in part because Polanco and Starling Marte have become so good.
Corey Kluber, RHP
2016 WAR: 2.1
I’d be more angry online about Kluber if I weren’t busy being angry online about Quintana. Kluber’s ERA is unsightly at 3.79, but he has the best FIP in the AL at 2.96, and the gap is really about Kluber’s having a bizarre, probably flukish time with men on base, especially with men in scoring position: Hitters have slugged .529 off him in 82 such plate appearances. That’s well above his career slugging percentage allowed with men on base (.430), which is why I say it’s likely a fluke and not a good reason to leave off the roster someone who is clearly one of the top 10 pitchers in the league. Of course, AL manager Ned Yost picked five relievers for the AL roster, on top of the three the players chose, so we’re left with way too few starters — you know, the names, the stars, the players fans show up to watch.
Brandon Crawford, SS
San Francisco Giants
2016 WAR: 3.2
I wrote last year that Crawford belonged in the game, and I’ll say it again this year. He’s a grade-70 defender (on the 20-80 scouting scale) with pop at a position where any offense is a bonus, and even if you dismiss his 2015 power spike as a fluke, he still has been All-Star-caliber for a few years now. His problem, I assume, is that so much of his value is wrapped up in his glove, so he doesn’t have the high batting average or home run total to get the fan or player vote. Look, Addison Russell is a longtime favorite of mine, but he shouldn’t be starting the All-Star Game. Corey Seager should start, with Crawford as the backup at short.
Jake Lamb, 3B
2016 WAR: 2.8
I might seem like the president of Lamb’s fan club, making him my lead breakout pick for 2016 and celebrating his every homer with inexcusable puns on Twitter, but the guy is leading the NL in slugging percentage and is third in wOBA and sixth in wRC+, and he is playing about average defense at third base (good range but too many errors). He’s 25 and in his first full, healthy season in the majors, and he appears to be breaking out as a star. The only real argument against his inclusion is that he’s behind Kris Bryant (voted in as a third baseman) and Nolan Arenado at his position, and though Lamb is having a better year than Arenado on offense, I wouldn’t put Lamb in the game over an established superstar such as Arenado.
Five who don’t belong
Brad Brach, RHP
2016 WAR: 2.5
What the hell is Brad Brach doing on an All-Star roster? He was replacement-level until last year and barely better than that in 2015, and he has had a fluke performance of 1.01 ERA in 44 innings this year, so he gets to go to San Diego while many better, more valuable, more deserving pitchers, such as Quintana and Kluber, are left off the roster. Brach is emblematic of the worst tendencies of the All-Star decision-making process — I don’t mean fans here, as Brach was a manager selection — with both the emphasis on current-year performance and the overrating of middle relievers, the most fungible class of players in baseball. Worst of all, Brach isn’t a token player from a team without a better option; he isn’t even the only Orioles reliever on the roster, to say nothing of the fact that one of the best players in baseball will represent Baltimore at shortstop. This spot should have gone to Quintana, to pick just one of a few dozen more deserving players.
Adam Duvall, OF
2016 WAR: 2.2
Duvall is a 27-year-old journeyman with a .291 OBP this year — an improvement over his .268 career OBP coming into 2016 — who has fluked into 22 homers this year without doing anything else of value. He doesn’t get on base (obviously), isn’t a good fielder and has a hilarious 2-for-7 “success” rate on stolen bases. He’s here because the Reds needed a representative — it should be Zack Cozart, an elite defender for his entire big league career who happens to be having his own fluky first half — and because, ooooh, home runs. Duvall is a good story, but his All-Star selection will look comically bad in hindsight, like the late Mike Sharperson’s turn as the token Dodgers representative in 1992.
A.J. Ramos, RHP
2016 WAR: 0.8
THE SAVEZ!!! Ramos has thrown 33 innings and walked 19 guys. Even if you want to consider just his ERA and ignore the fact that he’s kind of bad at the most fundamental thing pitchers are asked to do (throw it over the white thing on the ground), he’s 15th in the NL in ERA among pitchers with at least 30 innings. Why not put Seung Hwan Oh in the game, as he has been much more effective this year, with a lower ERA and FIP, half the walk rate, a higher strikeout rate and nine more innings pitched? Oh would also likely make the game a bigger TV draw in South Korea — and let’s not forget that this game serves one basic purpose: to market Major League Baseball. Ramos’ selection seems like NL manager Terry Collins just looked at the saves column and picked the top two guys who weren’t already on the team.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF
2016 WAR: 2.5
He’s here because people still don’t quite know what to do with Coors Field numbers. Arenado is on the roster, and he should be, as he’s the best third baseman in the National League and one of the best all-around players in baseball. We didn’t need another Rockie on the roster, and Gonzalez hasn’t been very good in recent years or even this year. FanGraphs ranks him ninth among NL outfielders in WAR this season, which gives you some sense of how much we need to discount his offensive production for the environment in which he plays half his games. But even without that, do you need to know park effects to see that Gonzalez’s .317/.366/.561 in Coors isn’t going to be worth as much as, say, Christian Yelich‘s .317/.366/.561 in Miami? Or that Gonzalez, a once-plus defender who is now just average, hasn’t been as valuable as Starling Marte’s very similar .321/.366/.474 line considering Marte is also a plus baserunner and plays better defense? This was a lazy choice by the players, and I don’t even have to go into how Gonzalez wasn’t even close to All-Star-caliber in 2015 or 2014. There are better players having better years right in front of our faces.
Eduardo Nunez, SS
2016 WAR: 1.2
Brian Dozier belonged in the game last year — he was No. 1 on my list of snubs — and he belonged in the game this year, if only as the token Twins representative. Nunez is a utility infielder and a bad defender at shortstop who has had a high-BABIP-induced fluky first half. He also walks once per solstice and steals a few bases. Dozier is actually having a better season now than he did in 2015 as a whole, and he averaged more than 4 WAR in 2014-15 total, so I don’t get his omission at all. If I showed you the Twins’ active roster without any stats, and asked you to point and ask who was the closest thing they had to a legit All-Star, you’d say Dozier. It wouldn’t even be close. Snubbing him for Nunez for that token Twins spot must be from some excessive fealty toward batting average.