In a little less than three weeks, baseball's best and brightest will convene in San Diego for the 2016 All-Star Game. The game will played in Petco Park on Tuesday, July 12. As always, home-field advantage in the World Series will be on the line.
Fans have the opportunity to vote for the starting position players in each league, but the starting pitchers will be up to managers Ned Yost and Terry Collins. Obviously availability will be a factor in the decision -- pitchers who start the Sunday before the All-Star break are not eligible to pitch in the All-Star Game -- but mostly it will come down to performance. It always does.
So, with the All-Star Game less than a month way, let's look at the potential starting pitcher candidates in each league. We covered the American League on Wednesday, so now it's time to cover the inferior National League. (I kid!) The players are listed alphabetically, so don't read anything into the order.
Jake Arrieta's 2015 and 2016 seasons are shockingly similar so far. ERA? 1.77 and 1.74. FIP? 2.35 and 2.50. Hits allowed per nine? 5.9 and 5.6. Homers allowed per nine? 0.4 and 0.3. Strikeouts per nine? 9.3 and 9.8. The only significant difference between this season and last season for Arrieta is his walk rate. After walking only 1.9 batters per nine innings last year, that rate has shot up to 3.2 per nine this year. Even with that jump in walk rate, the Cubs' ace has been one of the very best in the business in 2016.
Remember when teams were scared away from Johnny Cueto in free agency because he had a subpar second half with the Royals? Well he's gone back to being vintage Cueto this season, shimmying his way to a share of the league lead in wins, the second most WAR, and the second most innings (109 1/3). The Giants seemed to "settle" for Cueto after missing out on Zack Greinke, and boy, I can't imagine they are disappointed with the way things turned out.
Reminder: Jose Fernandez is only 23 years old. He's now in his fourth season and showing there are no lingering effects from his 2014 Tommy John surgery. Fernandez leads the league in strikeout rate and is seventh in WAR even though the Marlins have been cautious with him in his first full season with his new elbow ligament. Over the last month the young right-hander has allowed six runs in 40 innings while striking out 56 and walking four.
With all due respect to every other pitcher in baseball, Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet, and it's not all that close right now. He leads baseball -- not just the NL, I'm talking all of baseball here -- in WAR (by 1.1), ERA (by 0.17), ERA+ (by 16), WHIP (by 0.24), FIP (by 0.27), strikeouts (by 13), innings (by 5 2/3), and K/BB ratio (by 10.9). Kershaw has 141 strikeouts and seven walks. His last calendar year rivals peak Pedro Martinez. Kershaw is the best pitcher in the world and he's somehow getting better each year. He's going to go down as an inner circle Hall of Famer when it's all said and done. Should he start the 2016 All-Star Game? That's a no-brainer. Sorry, rest of the NL.
The Stephen Strasburg hype got out of control during his days in college and as a prospect in the minors, so much so that he's been considered a disappointment despite pitching to a 3.09 ERA (125 ERA+) in 776 2/3 innings from 2010-15. This year Strasburg is having a Cy Young caliber season, one that lands him in the NL top 10 in just about every meaningful pitching statistic, including ERA and WAR. A back injury forced Strasburg to miss his last start, however, and that could throw a wrench into his All-Star candidacy. The Nationals figure to play it safe to make sure he's healthy for a postseason push.
I'm not sure we've ever seen a pitcher quite like Noah Syndergaard before. It's not only that his fastball averages 99.2 mph, it's that his slider averages 92.0 mph as well. That's unheard of. He's thrown a slider as hard as 95.5 mph this season. How is that possible? Humans shouldn't be able to do that. Syndergaard's results are commensurate with his unmatched power stuff, as he ranks fourth in the NL in WAR, sixth in ERA and ERA+ (189), and second in FIP (1.85). It's worth noting Syndergaard's elbow started barking Wednesday, and while tests showed nothing serious, the Mets figure to be cautious with their young ace. That could affect his All-Star Game status.
On other thing worth noting: Mets manager Terry Collins will manage the NL All-Star team this year. As deserving as Kershaw is, Collins could go with his own guy and start Syndergaard in the Midsummer Classic. It wouldn't be the first time a manager has picked his player to start the All-Star Game. Hey, that's one of the perks of winning the pennant.