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Predicting MLB All-Star teams at season’s quarter point

As we approach the quarter mark of the season, a chapter of MLB’s 2018 campaign comes to a close. Thus far, we’ve been fortunate to see historic milestones reached, multiple no-hitters and some fantastic starts to the season for dozens of players.

At the quarter mark, it gives us the opportunity to look at what players have done thus far and assemble an All-Star lineup that reflects the outstanding production provided by numerous players this season.

The construction of our American League and National League All-Star lineups focuses not just on a player’s reputation but even more so their overall production thus far. Some names might prove to be surprising and may not make the trip to Nationals Park when the actual event rolls around on July 17, but right now they are proving themselves worthy of the All-Star recognition.

Let’s take a look at the N.L. and A.L. lineups.

National League

C – Francisco Cervelli, Pittsburgh Pirates

Perhaps you expected Buster Posey to be here, but the top catcher in baseball thus far is actually Cervelli. At the plate, the 32-year-old is in the midst of a breakout season and is a driving force behind Pittsburgh’s unexpected success this season.

The veteran stands out amongst his peers in the N.L. and ranks first in OPS (.942), slugging percentage (.536) and is second in home runs (six), RBIs (24) and batting average (.286). We don’t often see a breakout season from a player in their 30s, but Cervelli is healthy after consecutive injury-plagued seasons and he showed this kind of ability prior to 2016.

While Posey will likely get the nod when it’s time for fans to vote, Cervelli’s play this season is more than worthy of a spot on the National League’s All-Star roster.

1B – Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants

San Francisco fans may be unhappy not seeing Posey named on this list, but another Giant makes it into this lineup. Through 41 games this season, Belt is in the midst of his best start in his career and delivering the kind of numbers many always thought he could achieve.

After a stretch of a home run in four straight games, all of which came at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, Belt now leads all first basemen with 10 home runs. Power isn’t the only component of his game. The left-handed hitter is sixth in RBIs (26), second in on-base percentage (.408) and leads first basemen in slugging percentage (.577).

For the 30-year-old, who missed the second half of last season with a concussion, health is now on his side as he establishes himself as the best hitter in a lineup with three multi-time All-Stars (Posey, Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen). Now Belt hopes he can join the club and earn a trip to the All-Star Game for the second time in his career.

2B – Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves

By the end of this season, Atlanta’s second baseman could take home several honors. A Silver Slugger award, All-Star honors and a potential Most Valuable Player Award. It would be quite the haul for the 21-year-old.

Albies doesn’t just lead the field in offensive production, he is lapping his peers at second base. Atlanta’s leadoff hitter is first in home runs (13), runs scored (40), slugging percentage (.581), extra-base hits (30) and is second in stolen bases (six) among second basemen with 150-plus plate appearances. He is the driving force behind Atlanta’s spot atop the National League this season.

At this point, his spot in the starting lineup for the All-Star Game should already be set in stone and the graphics by the team’s social media team already made. It’s scary to think he is only 21 and could have even more room to improve.

3B – Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

Kris Bryant

The race for this spot is close with Nolan Arenado’s resume very worthy of a spot in the lineup, but the numbers weigh slightly in Bryant’s favor and doing it away from Coors Field helps him earn the nod.

Chicago’s 26-year-old star made the All-Star team in 2015 and 2016, but fell just short last season of pulling off three straight appearances. Now he seems set on putting up numbers so good that he’ll have to be put into the game. Bryant is second among N.L. third basemen with 150-plus plate appearances in home runs (eight) and batting average (.305). He also leads his peers in runs scored (29), slugging percentage (.583) and OPS (1.010).

If the N.L.’s Most Valuable Player in 2016 keeps up with his hot start to May, in which he owns a .319/.410/.667 slash and 1.076 OPS, then Bryant seems primed to add another star to his already lengthy resume.

SS – Trea Turner, Washington Nationals

At shortstop, it becomes an early battle between Turner and St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong. However, Turner now gets a chance to create some distance in the race for the All-Star nod after DeJong fractured his hand late last week.

While Turner’s .262/.368/.407 slash may not stand out immediately, it’s weighed down by a slow start to the season. Since April 16, Washington’s shortstop turned things around at the plate with a .292/.375/.478 slash line, four home runs, 22 runs scored and seven stolen bases in 29 games. As the Nationals climb out from their sub-.500 start to 2018, Turner’s offensive production has been a major factor in that turnaround.

As Washington’s lineup gets healthy with the return of Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman in the coming weeks, Turner’s ability to get on base should lead to more stolen bases, runs scored and wins for the Nationals. When that all happens, it will only further strengthen his case to be one of the team’s representatives when it hosts this year’s All-Star Game.

OF – Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

The second MLB announced Washington would host the 2018 All-Star Game, Harper’s plans for the week were set in stone. Barring injury, he will serve as the host for the festivities throughout the week, including being in the lineup and potentially participating in this year’s Home Run Derby.

At the plate, Harper is still putting up the type of numbers that would back up his predetermined role. Among qualified N.L. outfielder, he leads N.L. in home runs (13) and ranks top six in OPS (.907), slugging percentage (.535) and runs scored (31).

However, Harper is in the midst of an awful stretch at the plate. The impending free agent holds a .200/.250/.500 slash line, but has kept the strikeouts down with just 11 whiffs in 60 at-bats. Once he turns it around, he will likely regain MVP consideration.

OF – Odubel Herrera, Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia’s offseason was headlined by the additions of Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta, but it’s the player the team selected in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft who stands out amongst them all.

Not only is Herrera their best player this season, he is also one of the league’s best outfielders in terms of production. The 26-year-old has the third-most RBIs (30) among N.L. outfielders, is second in on-base percentage (.420) and leads all N.L. outfielders in batting average (.353). Even more impressive, Herrera is riding a 45-game on-base streak.

Herrera may not receive a lot of recognition for early MVP discussions, but he is the team’s MVP thus far and he should only gain more attention nationally as he continues to propel the Phillies into the playoff hunt.

OF – Tommy Pham, St. Louis Cardinals

As the Cardinals seem to lose player after player to the disabled list, the one constant is Pham. The 30-year-old, who broke onto the scene last season in St. Louis, is on pace to surpass the numbers he posted in 2017 and earn his first trip to the All-Star Game.

In 39 games, the Las Vegas native carries a .321/.429/.547 slash line with eight home runs, eight stolen bases and 35 runs scored. On pace for 30-plus home runs, 90-plus RBIs and 25-plus stolen bases, Pham is proving last year wasn’t a fluke.

Given the strength and numbers of the Cardinals’ fan base, he shouldn’t have much problem racking up All-Star votes. If he can maintain anything close to his current numbers, he should make the trip to Washington D.C. for the All-Star festivities in July.

SP – Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

Max Scherzer

When you have a pitcher who is on a pace to make baseball history, you put him in the All-Star Game. It seems like the finest of wine, the 33-year-old just gets better with age and this season it’s even more apparent in his ability to miss bats.

In nine starts this season, the three-time Cy Young award recipient has already struck out 104 batters in 65 2/3 innings pitched. When a pitcher strikes out over 40 percent of the hitters he faces, it comes as no surprise to see a 1.78 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP from Scherzer.

As long as he stays healthy, Scherzer is well on his way to a three-peat as the N.L’s Cy Young award winner. On top of that, he’ll likely get to start in his home park for the All-Star Game. It’s just one more accommodation for his Hall of Fame resume.

RP – Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers

One of the top pitching prospects in baseball a year ago, Milwaukee addressed its need in the bullpen by moving him to the bullpen. A year later, though not in the traditional closer’s role, Hader has established himself as baseball’s most electric arm out of the bullpen.

The southpaw’s 2018 season is highlighted by a 1.32 ERA, 0.51 WHIP and 56 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings. In that time, Hader recorded six holds and six saves. He also joined an exclusive club, becoming the first pitcher to record eight strikeouts in less than three innings.

If this continues, more baseball organizations may have to consider turning pitching prospects with dynamic stuff but inconsistent command and stamina, into multi-inning relievers who can work in any situation. This could just be the beginning and for what he is doing, Hader deserves an All-Star spot.

American League

C – Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees

The catcher position in the American League isn’t nearly as deep as the National League. While the N.L. offers multiple contenders for the one starting spot, there is only one choice in the A.L.

Even as Sanchez plays through his worst season in the majors, he still leads his position in a plethora of offensive categories. New York’s rising star leads his A.L. peers in home runs (12), runs scored (27), RBIs (33), slugging percentage (.549) and OPS (.872). While the 25-year-old’s batting average (.225) may be a mammoth drop from his .278 average last season, the young catcher is still finding ways to produce in a loaded lineup.

His rep as the A.L.’s top catcher will only grow stronger from here. If he maintains his run production and power then can start making a little more contact to raise his batting average, he could punch his ticket to Washington D.C. in a matter of weeks.

1B – C.J. Cron, Tampa Bay Rays

When the Los Angeles Angels shipped off Cron to Tampa Bay this offseason, they never imagined the former top prospect would turn into this. The 28-year-old, who hit 16 home runs in each of his last three seasons with Los Angeles, is on pace to shatter his career-best numbers and potentially represent Tampa Bay in the All-Star Game.

Through 42 games this season, Cron leads A.L. first basemen in a number of categories. He is second in OPS (.856), slugging percentage (.517), home runs (11),  batting average (.285) and first in runs scored (27),

In a field with former All-Star hitters in Justin Smoak, Jose Abreu, Albert Pujols, Chris Davis and Hanley Ramirez, Cron is topping them all in production this season. Needless to say, the fresh start in Tampa Bay proved to be all he needed to turn his career around and establish himself

2B – Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics

While reigning league MVP Jose Altuve would seem like the favorite to start at second base for the A.L., it’s actually a former teammate that is deserving of the honor at this point in the season.

Lowrie, who could be a hot trade candidate in July, leads A.L. second basemen in home runs (nine), RBIs (37), batting average (.328) and OPS (.953). The 34-year-old is the engine behind the Athletics run production this season and a big reason why they have scored the 10th most runs (208) in baseball thus far.

There is still time for Altuve to turn things around and he may get the nod anyways given he’ll be the heavy favorite to win the popular vote. If fans vote just off numbers though, it’s difficult to justify letting in a hitter with a .312/.364/.418 slash line over Lowrie’s .328/.394/.559 slash.

3B – Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians

Every season it feels like we’ve seen the best from Ramirez and he couldn’t possibly top his previous marks, yet 2018 is proving otherwise as he takes it a step further with his offensive output.

The 25-year-old leads his fellow A.L. third basemen in home runs (13), runs scored (29), RBIs (31) and OPS (1.007). On top of that, Ramirez’s .302/.392/.615 slash line is even more impressive given he held a .086 batting average after his first 10 games.

Behind a .359/.453/.781 line with six home runs, 15 RBIs and a 1.235 OPS in May, Ramirez is now making his case to be not only an All-Star third baseman but a potential MVP candidate.

SS – Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles

There’s a chance when Machado suits up for the All-Star Game, he is either wearing an Orioles’ uniform for the last time or is wearing a new team’s uniform already. Baseball’s hottest trade candidate this offseason has only further driven enormous desires by opposing fans and GMs to add him to their ball club thanks to his scorching start to the season.

His decision to shift this season from third base to shortstop certainly seems to be paying off. Machado leads all shortstops in home runs (14), RBIs (42), batting average (.347), slugging percentage (.665) and OPS (1.089). On any playoff team, Machado’s numbers make him the favorite to win the league’s MVP award this year.

As he continues to rake at the plate, Baltimore’s potential return for him in a trade will only grow. For now, he will continue to club home runs and power Baltimore’s lineup, but it should only be a matter of time before he wears a new uniform.

OF – Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

There is plenty of debate about whether Betts or Mike Trout is having the better season. Fortunately, there are more than enough outfield spots in the All-Star Game for both of them to make it in.

Betts has taken his offensive output to another level this season. In one of baseball’s best lineups,  the 25-year-old stands out the most with MLB’s highest batting average (.368), on-base percentage (.439), OPS (1.205) and the most home runs (15) and runs scored (47). Simply put, teams don’t know how to get him out this year and are just happy if they can keep him to a single.

If Mookie can maintain his current pace, he will become just the fifth player in MLB history to join the 40-40 club with 40-plus home runs and 40-plus stolen bases. Even more impressive than that, he’d become the first to do it with 50-plus home runs.

OF – Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

Trout is enjoying his own tremendous success at the plate, though it isn’t quite at the level Betts is experiencing. While Angel Stadium isn’t quite as hitter-friendly as Fenway Park, the 26-year-old still makes it his comfortable home with outstanding numbers.

On the season, Trout ranks second among outfielders in home runs (14) and runs scored (36). He also backs it up with a .296/.433/.636 slash line and a 1.069 OPS in 203 plate appearances. If not for a rough stretch at the plate recently, a 12-game stint with a .189 batting average and just two home runs, his numbers could be even better.

The race between Trout and Betts over the remainder of the season is exactly what baseball needs. Two of its bright young stars competing for the league’s MVP award and helping drive their teams into the postseason. It’s hopefully something we’ll get from them for years to come.

OF – J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox

Boston fans anxiously awaited this offseason to see how the organization would respond to New York’s acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton. The response came in February when the Red Sox signed Martinez to a five-year, $110 million contract.

After over 40 games this season, it seems clear Boston added the better hitter. Martinez is right on the tail of his teammate in terms of offensive production with 13 home runs, 38 RBIs and a 1.041 OPS. Not only is Martinez delivering the power Boston hoped for, he also boasts the third-highest batting average (.339) in all of baseball.

If this continues, the Red Sox will achieve the rare honor of seeing two of their outfielders start in the All-Star Game. Martinez seems to have found the perfect landing spot in Boston, a place where he has the opportunity to get paid, post MVP-caliber numbers and contend for the World Series.

SP – Gerrit Cole, Houston Astros

One thing seems for certain, an Astros’  pitcher will start for the A.L. in the All-Star Game. The two-man race between Cole and Verlander could stretch into July with the potential for it to be decided by which of the two starts for Houston on the Sunday before the All-Star break.

For now, the edge will go to Cole. Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates this offseason, the 27-year-old is on pace to join Scherzer as new record holders for highest strikeout percentage in a season. Meanwhile, the righty sits at a 1.75 ERA with a 0.79 WHIP and the most strikeouts (93) among MLB pitchers through nine starts.

A change of scenery and working with a new pitching coach has made all the difference in the world for a pitcher that recorded a 4.26 ERA and 1.25 WHIP last season in Pittsburgh. Now he’ll just have to try and best Verlander to decide which of the two starts in Washington D.C. and who wins the Cy Young award.

RP – Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees

If there were any concerns about a potential decline after Chapman’s career-worst year in 2017, he seems to have erased those questions this year. The closer in a Yankees’ bullpen that earns their reputation as one of the best in baseball, the 30-year-old is as dominant on the mound as ever.

Through 19 innings pitched this season, Chapman converted nine of 10 save opportunities and struck out 36 of the 76 batters he faced in that span. While he doesn’t have as many save opportunities as Seattle Mariners reliever Edwin Diaz (15), that’s more the result of New York blowing teams out more often.

If the four-time All-Star closer can maintain his 1.42 ERA, it will be a career-best mark for him and will get him to the All-Star Game for the first time since 2015.

 

Stats updated as of Saturday night.