Is the All-Star Game about the fans? Is it a major marketing event to draw more fans? Is it about the players with the best current seasons, to be remembered as a snapshot of the stories that will forever define that year in a historical context? Is it about stars with a proven record of success and sustained fame? Is it about winning now that the game determines home field advantage in the World Series? It seems that everyone has an opinion, and few are satisfied with the reality. Immediately after rosters are announced, the internet is flooded with articles about who was snubbed, who’s unworthy, who’s hot, who’s not. It’s a response reminiscent of resentful cheerleaders passed over for Homecoming royalty. Some of the most prestigious publications with the highest profile “analytical” articles are little more more than thinly-veiled opinions on the “true significance” of the All-Star Game.
As long as it’s not taken too seriously, it’s part of the fun, really. It’s fun to squabble over who should or should not be in the game. It’s fun to talk about why some players made the roster and why others didn’t make the cut. And, without a doubt, it is fun to complain about a favorite player getting shafted.
This year, though, the American League All-Star Team has something for everyone. The team is obviously good, but it’s also wisely built to win. Many backups were picked with usefulness in mind, not just for home runs and RBI totals.
The starters are all pretty deserving and appropriately Superstar studs. Joe Mauer is having another monster year for the Twins, hitting .309/.391/.461 and has thrown out 46% of base-stealers. He has the solid track record, with an MVP under his belt and a career 135 OPS+.
At first base, Chris Davis matched his home run total for all of last year before the all-star break. He made the roster over the protestations of those who want “proven” stars, but he slugged .500 last year. He currently has a .703 SLG for 2013, which is almost exactly what he hit over the last 37 games of 2012. This monstrous season didn’t come out of nowhere. He’s been way too good not to include. He should also be in the Home Run Derby.
Robinson Cano was awesome last year. He was awesome the year before. It is unsurprising that he’s awesome this year (.293/.375/.524). He’s also a gold glove defender, which is an attribute that the other good-hitting selections lacked.
Third base: Miguel Cabrera.
Shortstops can either good hitters or good fielders in the American League. The only player who seems to have a little of both this season is J.J. Hardy. Like Cano, he plays gold glove defense. He has the customary shortstop .294 OBP, but has an impressive 15 home runs.
The only player who might not deserve to start is Adam Jones. So far, he’s only walked nine times and struck out 73 times. His lowly .314 OBP is heavily informed by his .291 batting average. His sixteen home runs and (above?) average defense for the first place Orioles got him plenty of votes.
Mike Trout is probably the second best defensive center fielder in the American League, right behind teammate Peter Bourjos, which is why he’s had some playing time in left field this year. Like last season he’s a stud. He has 27 doubles and 15 home runs. He’s already stolen twenty bases and is replicating his season from last year.
Jose Bautista has a cannon arm, 20 home runs and a .364 OBP. He’s definitely the best pick for right fielder.
American League backups are predictably heavy on the powerhouse Detroit Tigers. The players picked the ever-worthy Prince Fielder, who is a legitimate superstar power-hitter; Torii Hunter, a four-time All-Star with 300 home runs, nine Gold Gloves, a winning personality and a slash line of .325/.367/.453 in the last 365 days; and Jhonny Peralta, whose hot bat at an offensively weak position (.304/.360/.445 this season) was too much to ignore. These are good picks, no matter what anyone thinks.
The two Royals All-Stars were brilliant peer-chosen additions. Alex Gordon is one of the most underrated players in the majors. He has placed himself in the top ten in WAR for the past two season, won back to back Gold Gloves, led the league in runs saved in the outfield in 2012, has a 130 OPS+ since 2011, and since the last All-Star Break has hit .304/.365/.467. Salvadore Perez might be the best defensive catcher in the American League. He has 80-grade arm strength, picks off runners when they’re not paying attention, shuts down the running game and endlessly blocks pitch after pitch in the dirt from Ervin Santana, Luis Mendoza and Greg Holland. He’s no slouch on offense either. His career slash is .305/.332/.449 with a stout 24% line drive rate. He may not hit the ball out of the park much right now, but he always hits the ball hard. Both Royals players will make great late-inning defensive subs if the AL leads. They can also light up pitchers with their bats.
In a smart move by manager Jim Leyland, he picked Ben Zobrist as what can only be described as an All-Star utility player. Zobrist can play every infield and outfield position except catcher, and play them well. Depending on which players have entered and exited the game, Zobrist can come in as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement and take up almost any spot in the batting order. He’s finished in the top twenty in MVP voting three times and is no slouch with the bat. He’s hitting .277/.365/.435 since the last All-Star Break.
Houston needed a representative, and Jason Castro was the only choice. That certainly doesn’t make it a bad choice. He’s a good defender with a strong arm and has swung the bat well this year (.812 OPS).
Jason Kipnis didn’t get to start this year because it’s hard to knock Robinson Cano off his perch atop AL second basemen, but he’s hitting just as well so far. He is within one home run of matching his previous season total and has a stunning .379 OBP.
Dustin Pedroia, like Cano, is an All-Star Gold Glover. He hits twenty home runs and steals twenty bases almost every year. For the past year, he’s been hitting .320.
Edwin Encarnacion didn’t make the team last year despite hitting 23 home runs before the break. He hasn’t let up since and is having another powerful season with another 23 home runs before the break. He can replace a left handed hitter if need be. He has a career slash of .270/.374/.506 against left-handed pitchers.
Nelson Cruz is surely the second best hitting right fielder this season, but amid a flurry of steroid accusations, and an off-year last season, it’s surprising that the lovable Raul Ibanez wasn’t chosen. Nonetheless, Cruz has 22 home runs and a proven track record of production when healthy.
In the biggest surprise, Manny Machado was the only backup third baseman chosen this season. Josh Donaldson continues what he started in the second half of last season and is becoming one of the best hitters in the game. Evan Longoria hits as about as well and defends better. Adrian Beltre wasn’t chosen either. However, this may have made a smart peer choice. Miguel Cabrera will get three chances to hit before being replaced by the defensive wizard Machado–offense up front and defense to protect the possible lead.
By assessing the All-Star Game’s steadily declining viewership, it seems that few care about the game itself. With fans, it’s all about player selection. They want their favorite guys, and if they don’t get them, they will let their displeasure be known. Not everyone will be happy. Some will even treat the game as some sort of travesty for not selecting [insert their favorite player here]. This is a good American League All-Star Team and, with the addition of some fine pitching choices, every team has at least one worthy representative. No fan should feel slighted. A few players, maybe, but no fans.