We're finishing out our posts on the Beyond the Box Score All-Star game picks with the American League reserves! These players have submitted the finest performances of the 2014 season, and we (as a group) are pleased to consider them worth of All-Star status.
First, let's recap our AL All-Star starters.
Not so bad. And though Brian Dozier hasn't exactly kept pace with Mr. Altuve or Mr. Kinsler since our first round of voting, he's still a good choice for this team.
To recap, here's our process for deciding on the reserves:
- We use a two-phased process of choosing All-Star reserves that's meant to match the player-voting and manager-selection phases in the real All-Star game.
- During the first phase, we asked our contributors to vote on a backup at each fielding position, aside from pitcher. That takes care of eight reserves, with the player getting the highest vote total making it to the All-Star team. In addition, each voter was asked to vote for five starting pitchers and three relief pitchers. Those eight pitchers receiving the most votes make it to the All-Star team as well.
- During the second phase, each roster gets an additional eight players to bring the total count of players for each team up to 34. While usually we would have asked the voters to vote for a player on any teams that did not, as of yet, have a representative in the game — we actually didn't have any this year! So all eight additional roster spots were open to "Wild Card" voting. For the AL, the eight players with the most votes earned a spot on the team — and we have an honorary All-Star (Jeff Samardzija) thanks to a trade.
That's it. So let's get to it — our American League position player All-Star reserves!
Here's a rundown on each of the players who've made the team.
Derek Norris - C
There are a boatload of Oakland Athletics on this team (six, including new acquisition Jeff Samardzija), and Derek Norris is probably as deserving as any of them. Norris has straight up murdered opposing pitching this season, striking out only as often as he's walked (15.3% of the time for both) — and he walks a LOT. While Norris isn't a world-beater as a defensive catcher, when you're this effective at scoring and producing runs, a lot can be forgiven. And if Derek remains even close to this productive for the rest of the year, the A's might be even scarier than we thought.
Yan Gomes - C
The best explanation for Yan Gomes being an All-Star is probably the one I make in the video at the bottom of this post. But here are the Cliff Notes: he's a pretty good hitter, a pretty good defender, and a pretty good pitch framer. If you're pretty good at everything, and a catcher, that's better than most of the folks playing catcher in the American League.
Edwin Encarnacion - 1B
Since 2012, Edwin Encarnacion has been one of the most powerful, effective hitters in baseball. The former E5 — it's tough to call him that now that he doesn't play 3B — was chugging right along before his leg injury, having logged 26 homers with a strong .277/.368/.591 triple-slash line. Even in hitter-happy Toronto, that's still good enough to run about 62% better than the league average.
Jose Abreu - 1B
This one's for you, Bryan Cole. Abreu is simply the most recent in a line of Cuban athletes who have come over to the U.S. and immediately found success. While Abreu isn't the all-round weapon that Puig is, he is the current king of dingers in the big leagues, tied for the major league lead in home runs — 28 — with Nelson Cruz. Unlike Cruz, Abreu has missed time to injury, so he's had this success in just 333 plate appearances.
Abreu's potent offense during his rookie season, along with the fact he hasn't been a complete butcher in the field, make him a no-brainer to join his fellow Cuban imports on our All-Star team. It's just a shame he isn't in the home run derby with Puig and Cespedes.
Brandon Moss - 1B
All it took was Oakland. After wandering in the "Quad-A" wilderness for years (and plenty of teams) Brandon Moss saw his production skyrocket upon arriving in an A's uni in 2012. This year, Moss's bat has been electric, and he's mashed 19 homers and reached base at a .355 clip. Even better, his defense hasn't been quite the drag (at least according to UZR) that it had been in previous seasons, keeping his overall value high.
Given that the team has four first basemen on it (Cabrera, Encarnacion, Abreu, and Moss), Brandon might not see a lot of time in a fictional game, but on the bright side, he can play some outfield as well. And there aren't a ton of outfielders on this AL squad.
Ian Kinsler - 2B
|Name||2014 fWAR||Years Remaining on Contract||$$ Remaining on Contract|
|Ian Kinsler||3.7||5||$92 million|
|Prince Fielder||-0.4||7||$138 million|
Note: Dollar amounts take into account a $30 million dollar payment from the Tigers to the Rangers from 2016-2020.
Yep. I think the Tigers won that trade so far.
Jose Altuve - 2B
Until this year, Jose Altuve has been useful — but not necessarily valuable — an average-ish hitter with defensive shortcomings but a propensity for base theft. This season, Altuve has ridden an improved strikeout rate to more contact, and more contact to a far better batting line: .339/.378/.437. Since some of this is BABIP-based — .357 is a pretty high BABIP, even for the fleet Altuve — it's not necessarily a predictor of what Jose can do down the line.
But this isn't necessarily a true-talent-level selection. It's a selection based on 2014 performance. And that performance has been very strong.
Alexei Ramirez - SS
The best part about Alexei Ramirez isn't the spelling of his name, it's his consistency. Year after year, Ramirez plays a full season and hits a bit under the league average. But he provides very good defense and baserunning — and at shortstop, that full package is typically worth between three and four wins per season.
It's funny that this year — a year when Ramirez is actually performing a little worse than normal — is one where he gets selected to the All-Star Game both in reality, and in our Beyond the Box Score version of the team. Sure, the AL shortstop position is kind of in a sad state of affairs this season, but if the voting had happened a slight bit later, perhaps the team might've selected Jose Reyes or near-miss Alcides Escobar.
Kyle Seager - 3B
Like a ninja, Kyle Seager is silent, but dangerous — at least when it comes to the national baseball discussion. There always seems to be something else to talk about in Seattle, whether it's the greatness of Felix and Cano or the disappointment of Ackley, Montero, and Smoak.
Seager's offensive prowess has been steadily climbing from about-league-average in 2012 to what's now substantially above league average (129 wRC+). He's also turning in a solid defensive performance at the hot corner, so hooray for him, the Mariners, and unheralded prospects everywhere. He's a keeper.
Adrian Beltre - 3B
It must be great, to be this great. Beltre's seen his vaunted defensive skills slip in recent years — at least according to the advanced metrics — but his bat remains red-hot. In fact, he's currently posting the second-best wRC+ of his career (147), though that's propped up a bit by a lucky .358 batting average on balls in play.
To many, Beltre's already a no-doubt Hall of Famer thanks to his consistency and skill — but if he continues to produce near this level into his late-30s, he's going to stand out even among those enshrined in Cooperstown. He's already 10th all-time in fWAR at the hot corner, and that counts SS-turned-3B Alex Rodriguez. He could pass both Scott Rolen and Ron Santo on that leaderboard within a year.
George Springer - RF
For Astros fans, Springer is probably meant to be the canary in the coal mine, if canaries brought tidings of baseball success instead of imminent death. The first major player of the Astros' new wave of prospects to hit the majors, Springer has gone bananas in his big league debut — at least when it comes to homer-hitting. With 18 dingers in his first 73 games, Springer is showing that his power tool is for real. Now, all he needs to do is start playing good defense and maybe, just maybe, not striking out one in three times he comes to bat.
If he can do that, he may even make more of our All-Star teams in years that there's not a dearth of right field talent.
Adam Jones - CF
As unbelievable as this sounds, Adam Jones is improving as a hitter over last season, despite giving up completely on the idea of taking a walk. Always possessed of power and a hefty batting average, Jones has watched his walk rate slip to a crazy 2.8% this season.
Naturally, he's having the best season of his career.
Jones has basically maintained the same offensive performance he had in 2013, but that looks a little better compared to the league average as the overall offensive environment dips. At the same time, the advanced defensive metrics are finally turning around for Jones, giving him credit for about half a full win via Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), and at least calling him a scratch defender via Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). If Jones is at least an average defender in center field, he goes from being slightly overrated to being slightly underrated, and quite worthy of an All-Star berth.
Michael Brantley - LF
It's a consensus opinion — perhaps not one that's supported by stats, I'm not sure — that once a player signs a big contract, the urgency to perform at a high level diminishes. Brantley is aggressively disabusing the world of the notion that the extension he signed with Cleveland was an indifferent or poor decision. He's trying to recoup every dollar of the $25 million, four-year contract he signed in Year One for his team.
The most interesting thing about Brantley's season isn't the fact that he's suddenly transformed from an average hitter to one of the best in baseball ... just kidding, that is the most interesting thing. With only 26 homers in 500+ previous games, Brantley has hit 14 dingers in just 80 this season. His combination of patience and high BABIP has always led to good OBP numbers, but this year things are through the roof. And when you add in his baserunning skills, he's a very good overall contributor.*
* - Fielding excepted. Why isn't he better at that?
Yoenis Cespedes - LF
It's time for the man who started this new run on Cuban hitters in the big leagues. Cespedes got a wild 10th-place showing in the 2012 MVP vote, and was selected to — and won — the 2013 Home Run Derby, but 2014 is his first All-Star nod, and we at BtBS agree with it.
While most famous for an unbelievable throw from left field, Cespedes has improved on his baserunning and defense year-to-year, and is hitting better than he did in 2013. Cespedes is emerging as kind of a do-it-all left fielder, and that's an extremely valuable asset, especially to an already well-rounded contending team like the A's.
Now, it's on to the pitchers!
* - Honorary AL All-Star, due to a trade from the National League.
Masahiro Tanaka - SP
Tanaka was an absolute no-brainer for our team, racking up unanimous votes in the first round of reserve balloting. Unless he completely implodes — and no, those last two outings weren't all that encouraging — he's the AL Rookie of the Year and a legit Cy Young candidate. All he needs to do is limit his home runs a little (a tough task at Yankee Stadium), and his stuff (26.6% strikeout rate) and command (3.7% walk rate), should make him a superstar.
Yu Darvish - SP
Darvish is old news compared to the newer model Japanese import in Masahiro Tanaka, but he may still be better than his countryman. His stuff is still filthy, and he's currently posting the best ERA (2.63) and FIP (2.74) of his major-league career. Darvish is an All-Star by any measure, and he's established himself as a real ace after doing this for two and a half seasons.
The Rangers can ill afford additional injuries to anyone on their team. But losing Darvish, who is certainly the best player on his team this year — and that's saying a lot with Adrian Beltre on the roster — would be a deathblow to the Rangers and a heartbreaker for fans of awesomeness everywhere. For the good of baseball, maybe Texas should deal him to a team without an injury curse?
Jon Lester - SP
Jon Lester is boring. He's boring because he's been remarkably successful, and very consistent, since 2008. He's boring because he doesn't show off the crazy, wild stuff as the hot new pitchers like Darvish and Tanaka. He's boring because all he does is throw 200 innings and create outs.
But Jon Lester is less boring in 2014, because he's having his best season to date, and because he's striking out nearly a batter per inning. Unfortunately for him, his timing is a bit off, as the rest of the Red Sox team isn't doing very well.
Unless the Sox suck it up and are ready to break the bank to keep him, he could be a boring All-Star in Cub / Dodger blue next season.
Corey Kluber - SP
And this year's award for "Magic Cleveland Starting Pitcher Performance" goes to ... Corey Kluber! Every year, it seems like some starting pitcher in the Cleve performs at a wickedly above-expectations level. Last season, there were three of them: Scott Kazmir, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Danny Salazar. This year, all the magic resides in never-prospect Kluber, who all of a sudden appears to have the real talent to be a mid-rotation starter for a team long-term.
While his 2013 numbers were good — quite good — Kluber's 2014 numbers sparkle. He has already racked up 125 innings of work, and his 2.86/2.65/2.80 ERA/FIP/xFIP line looks like one of the best in baseball. Nothing about the stat line screams "this guy is lucky," so there's a chance that Kluber has simply hit a mid-career renaissance — something the Indians desperately needed this season.
David Price - SP
It would not surprise me if Price was traded by the time this post goes up, but until that time, he's the best pitcher on the Rays. The Rays make it very easy for their pitchers to succeed via park, defense, and the Molina/Hanigan framing factor, but Price would be pretty great regardless of where he lands. The big lefty has upped his strikeout rate by quite a bit while keeping last season's walk rate. Though it hasn't translated to unbelievable ERA success yet, he's still a top starter and an All-Star in our book.
Phil Hughes - SP
Of course Phil Hughes has the third-highest FanGraphs wins above replacement (fWAR) at 3.5 of any pitcher in baseball. How could we have not seen this coming? I mean, just because he's been average at best, and replacement-level at worst with the Yankees?
Sorry, seems like my sarcasm filter isn't working today.
At any rate, Hughes has slashed his walk rate to bare bones, only walking 2.3 percent of hitters faced, which is far and away the best mark among qualified starters. His home run rate, always his Achilles' heel in pinstripes, is down by almost a whole dinger per nine innings. He, and the Minnesota Twins, have (at least for now) transformed him from a mid-rotation starter to a #1.
Max Scherzer - SP
Max Scherzer won the Cy Young Award last season.
Max Scherzer is posting almost the exact same peripherals as last season. His walk rate, strikeout rate, and home run rate -- they're almost identical.
Max Scherzer has seen his BABIP rise a fair bit — from .259 in 2013 to .321 in 2014 — which accounts for much of his ERA swing between the two seasons.
Pitcher BABIP is — mostly — driven by dumb luck.
So Max is basically still in Cy Young form. It's pretty easy to consider him an All-Star with that in mind, no?
Jeff Samardzija - SP
Samardzija gets an honorary spot on the team, thanks to being selected as an NL All-Star, then having the good fortune of being traded from the non-contending Cubs to the uber-contending Athletics.
Sean Doolittle - RP
Before the season, the Athletics inked Doolittle to a hefty contract extension and traded for more relief pitching, cementing their status as a team that values late-game innings. And while the trades haven't quite worked out, the Doolittle extension looks prescient.
Despite only 13 saves (ugh, saves), Doolittle has been one of the more effective relief pitchers in baseball, even despite a recent swoon. The trick? Striking out a bunch of guys while walking virtually none. And when I say "virtually none," I really mean that. In 43+ innings, Doolittle has walked TWO hitters. He makes Phil Hughes look like Brian Wilson.*
* - Not literally, though. That would be horrible.
Dellin Betances - RP
It's almost unsurprising that in the Yankees' first season without Mariano Rivera, a different former starting pitcher would come up big as a high-leverage reliever. Betances used to be a high-end starter prospect, but has found his true calling at the back of the New York bullpen.
Dellin has managed a 1.52 ERA and 1.33 FIP — impressive even in this reliever-excellence era — but even more impressive is that he's already racked up 53+ innings in relief. The Yankees aren't afraid to use Betances for more than just an inning, and with this level of effectiveness, that makes him a rare and valuable weapon.
Joakim Soria - RP
You may have forgotten about Soria due to the fact that the Rangers have been a Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within-size flop — yes, both critically AND financially — but he's been lockdown for Texas. Joakim's FIP is low — really low — at 0.79, which is buoyed by the fact that he's yet to give up a home run. Unfortunately, he's kind of the anti-Huston Street, in that his LOB% is terrible — 54.2% compared to Street's 100%.
Soria's reward for such an effective season? It may be a quick deal to a contender, if he's lucky.
All of our ballots through both phases of the voting can be found in a Google Doc here.
In the comments below, we want to hear from our readers. Who is the biggest omission on our AL team? (Spoiler Alert: It is Chris Sale.) Would you have voted the same way as any of our contributors? (Spoiler Alert: Not if they failed to vote for Chris Sale.) Leave us a comment below, or hit us up on Twitter, and we'll be happy to respond.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus.
Bryan Grosnick is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @bgrosnick.