We're about a month out from the All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York, so it's a good time to take stock of how the All-Star rosters might be shaping up -- after all, the debate of who goes to the game is usually much more interesting than the game itself.
The most heated discussion in the National League might be at starting pitcher. New York Mets fans will undoubtedly be vociferous about hometown hero Matt Harvey deserving the start, but, as Bill Baer outlined here a couple days ago, the Cy Young race is crowded, which means the All-Star assignment is a crowded field. With apologies to Harvey and rookies Shelby Miller and Patrick Corbin, I think the starting pitcher should have a little longer track record than a couple good months. Harvey does have 23 career starts with a 2.35 ERA going back to his 2012 call-up, although we've seen some dents of late with 31 hits allowed in 26 innings over his past four starts.
With further apologies to Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright, right now I'd give the nod to Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, who pitched seven scoreless innings against the Twins on Sunday to improve to 9-3 with a 2.00 ERA. Some remain skeptical of Zimmermann's success because his strikeout rate -- 5.8 per nine innings -- doesn't match the elite starters in the league. But Zimmermann is a master of movement, location, command and deception. He doesn't second-guess his stuff; his fastball has averaged 93.7 mph, and the great sinking and cutting action he gets on it induces a lot of ground balls.
As ESPN Stats & Information's Mark Simon points out, Zimmermann limits hits not by generating strikeouts but by generating weak contact. His line-drive rate allowed ranks eighth among qualified starters, and batters have hit just .207 off that fastball, even though they often know it's coming.
He's also the master of efficiency, ranking third in the NL in innings even though he's topped 100 pitches just five times this season -- his 111 on Sunday was his season high. You hate to compare anybody to Greg Maddux, but Zimmermann is the most Maddux-like in the game today: He's walked just 13 batters in 13 starts and has allowed more than two runs just twice in those starts. He's consistent and very, very good. Don't be surprised if he's on the mound at Citi Field next month.
Here's how the rest of the roster is looking right now. All-Star rosters consist of 34 players, with the eight position starters voted in by the fans, eight backups chosen by the players and the first eight pitchers (five starters, three relievers) also chosen by player balloting. For the purpose of this run-through, I'll use the fan starters but ignore player voting, which is usually the part that messes things up the most (like voting in Bryan LaHair last year at first base because he had 70 hot plate appearances in April). My own personal philosophy is to factor in some combination of 2013 stats with previous track record; you need to weigh both.
Should start: Molina.
If you want to argue that Posey should start, I'm not going to put up a strong debate. They're close in hitting value, although they've done it in different ways, with Molina relying on a high batting average and Posey hitting more home runs and drawing more walks. But Molina's masterful handling of the St. Louis pitching staff has to be recognized.
Should start: Votto.
Like the debate at catcher, this can swing either way. Goldschmidt has the huge edge in RBIs -- 58 to 29 -- and he has hit .431 with runners in scoring position (Votto has hit .333), so if you want to say Goldschmidt deserves the start, I'm not going to fight. But if the statistical record is close, I like to go with the guy with the longer track record, and that's Votto.
Don't fret, Diamondbacks fans, as Goldschmidt would get my starting nod at the designated hitter slot (which is now used in NL parks as well).
Should start: Phillips.
Carpenter leads Phillips in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), but this is another track-record vote. But Carpenter has played so well -- including with the glove after playing little second base before this season -- that he should garner an automatic bid.
Should start: Wright.
Wright should be the obvious starter in another weird season at third base in the NL. Sandoval's numbers are mediocre, as are 2012 RBI champ Chase Headley's. Freese and Ryan Zimmerman have missed time with injuries, and Martin Prado hasn't hit. Todd Frazier is actually second in WAR, and he's hitting .250 with six home runs. If Sandoval holds on to his lead in the vote, it will probably be just him and Wright on the squad.
Should be: Tulowitzki.
Automatic: Segura, Everth Cabrera.
Segura is a rookie, but he's been so good that he earns the backup slot. Cabrera is also a deserving All-Star, hitting .298 with a .374 OBP, leading the NL with 29 steals and playing solid defense. He's among NL leaders in WAR at any position. He might be the only Padres All-Star, but he's not a token rep.
Automatic: Carlos Gomez.
Upton and Harper lead the fan voting due to their hot starts, but neither is a deserving starter at this time. Harper is on the DL with a knee injury, and Upton is hitting .206 with just two home runs in 36 games since April 28. I would go with Gonzalez, McCutchen and Braun as my starters -- three proven stars who rank second, seventh and eighth among NL outfielders in FanGraphs WAR. Gomez is the one must-be-there outfielder with his power/speed/defense combo giving him the top WAR among NL position players via both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.
Considering my three starters are different from the fan starters, and combined with the inclusion of Gomez, that's seven outfielders.
Considering there are currently 17 starters in the NL with sub-3.00 ERAs, somebody is going to get the shaft. But the above guys have combined their low ERAs with low batting averages allowed and excellent strikeout-to-walk ratios.
The rules state the players' vote will include the top three relievers. I'd go with the above three, and I'm guessing they'll win the player vote as well.
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Where does that leave us? With fan starters added to my should-be starters and other automatic selections, we're at 29 players.
We're going to need at least two more pitchers, since rosters usually include at least 13 pitchers; we also need reps from the Marlins and Cubs. But the first guy I want to add is Domonic Brown, who might be riding a hot streak, but what a streak. He leads the NL in home runs and ranks fourth in RBIs. Of the top six leaders in slugging percentage, he's the only one who doesn't get to play his home games in a hitter's paradise in Colorado, Milwaukee or Arizona.
We better do the Marlins and Cubs reps. With Giancarlo Stanton injured -- and as much as I would like to try, I couldn't really justify his inclusion since he hasn't played much -- the Marlins lack a good candidate. Their only two players with a 1.0 or greater WAR on Baseball-Reference.com are rookie outfielder Marcell Ozuna and starter Ricky Nolasco. We'll give the nod to Nolasco, although you could probably make a case for rookie Jose Fernandez being the team's best starter. For the Cubs, it's either Travis Wood or Jeff Samardzija. Wood is 5-4 with a 2.65 ERA while Samardzija is 3-7, 3.18 ERA with more strikeouts and a better K/BB ratio. Samardzija is my choice -- he was very good last season -- but if you want Wood, that's fine.
That leaves two spots to fill. Based on consistency of WAR across both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference, the top guys are probably Pirates catcher Russell Martin and Pence. Works for me -- especially Martin -- who also earns raves for the leadership he's brought to Pittsburgh. Relievers Edward Mujica and Sergio Romo have cases but get squeezed out. I'd love to add defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons, but it's tough finding room for four shortstops.
So, as of now, my 34-man roster would look like this:
C Buster Posey, Giants*
C Yadier Molina, Cardinals
C Russell Martin, Pirates
1B Joey Votto, Reds*
1B Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
2B Brandon Phillips, Reds*
2B Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
3B Pablo Sandoval, Giants*
3B David Wright, Mets
SS Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
SS Jean Segura, Brewers
SS Everth Cabrera, Padres
OF Justin Upton, Braves*
OF Bryce Harper, Nationals*
OF Carlos Beltran, Cardinals
OF Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
OF Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
OF Ryan Braun, Brewers
OF Carlos Gomez, Brewers
OF Domonic Brown, Phillies
OF Hunter Pence, Giants
SP Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals*
SP Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
SP Matt Harvey, Mets
SP Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
SP Shelby Miller, Cardinals
SP Mike Minor, Braves
SP Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks
SP Cliff Lee, Phillies
SP Jeff Samardzija, Cubs
SP Ricky Nolasco, Marlins
RP Jason Grilli, Pirates
RP Craig Kimbrel, Braves
RP Aroldis Chapman, Reds
Disagree? Debate below and then check back tomorrow for the American League.