We're coming up on the halfway point of the season, which means it's that time again: Time to make you outraged about a bunch of picks for an exhibition game that shouldn't mean anything, but does, because Bud Selig got humiliated 14 years ago and wasn't going to let that stand. That's right, it's time to pick the 2016 MLB All-Stars!
The rules here are simple: 34-man rosters, at least one player from every team, at least one backup per position. Beyond that, consider this an exercise in subjective objectivity. I aimed to pick the best players, but with a loose definition of what defines "best." Longer track records mostly beat three months of sudden excellence, but a couple of 2016 wonders snuck in there too. And if two players with similar qualifications came up for consideration, you're damn right I went for the one who's just more fun to watch.
Ready...set...commence accusations of bias!
Traditionally overrated due to a high-AVG/low-OBP profile, a defensive reputation that outstrips what both advanced metrics and people in the game suggest, and the Royals' excellence over the past two years, Perez actually earns the accolades this time with a huge first half.
Eric Hosmer currently leads the balloting because of the Kansas City effect, but Cabrera's the best first baseman in the AL both by long-term track record and 2016 numbers...even with his numbers at their lowest point in eight years.
A batting average-and-steals dynamo for the first four full seasons of his career, Altuve's added power and patience to his profile: He's already just three away from a career high in homers, two away from a new personal best in walks, and a serious MVP candidate. Not bad for a guy whose small stature spawned a whole new unit of measurement.
Machado vs. Josh Donaldson was the single toughest call when it comes to starting lineup decisions. They're both defensive superstars, and Machado's in the midst of an offensive breakout that puts him right there with Donaldson offensively too. In fact, Machado's slightly ahead on offensive numbers, with a 40-point edge in slugging that tips the scales just barely in this favor.
And this one's a close second on the tough call scale, with Francisco Lindor's two-way game an absolutely thing of beauty. Bogaerts is a helluva two-way player in his own right, though: A shortstop batting .351/.402/.514 can't be denied a starting All-Star spot, unless he's time-warped back to Alex Rodriguez's prime.
He was nearly dealt to the Reds before the start of the season, before squirrely reports on Saunders' knee scuttled the deal. Even with Bruce smoking the ball, the Jays have to be happy with that outcome: Saunders has stayed consistently healthy for the first time in his career, he makes millions less than Bruce, and among AL hitters only David Ortiz has been better than Saunders by park-adjusted offense.
When .297/.401/.529 qualifies as a disappointment, you're damn right you're starting on my All-Star team.
Batting .305/.391/.577...and offense isn't even the best part of his game.
Chris Sale has the far more impressive track record, of course. But dammit, he's a knuckleballer with a 2.01 ERA (even if his peripheral numbers don't entirely support it). Also, LOOK AT THIS:
AL catcher is a wasteland this year. If you prefer Chris Iannetta, or an inanimate carbon rod, I won't fight you.
Read Fangraphs' August Fagerstrom (one of my favorite baseball writers) on Hosmer, and you'll better understand why there's been a big gap this year between the first baseman's 2016 defensive numbers, and his overall defensive reputation. Still, Hosmer's raking and the AL's first-base class is weak, so he's ostensibly the 34th man on the roster.
Second base is absolutely loaded in the AL, so much so that a second baseman on pace to smash more than 40 homers is the clear number-two at his position right now.
Like really, really loaded. Kinsler is on pace to score approximately 90 billion runs. (Still can't believe I couldn't get Dustin Pedroia on this team.)
He's actually been a tiny tick better offensively this year than he was when he won the damn MVP award last year...and Donaldson still can't make the starting nine. By law, I might have to turn in my Canadian passport.
A big bounceback season, after two straight down years.
Derek Jeter offense, with Ozzie Smith defense. Combine the Cavs' incredible Finals comeback with the Indians' all-world starting rotation and Lindor's greatness...maybe God really does love Cleveland.
Someone from the Twins had to make it, might as well be the journeyman having one of the great surprise seasons in baseball.
Texas is running away with the AL West, and somehow Desmond's the only Ranger to make this squad. That's a tribute to the team's remarkable roster balance, and also to Desmond kicking ass at a new position, making him one of the best free-agent signings by any team in years.
As intriguing as an all-pitchers home run derby would be, give me an all-little guys derby, with Altuve and Betts launching upper-deck shots in the finals.
We're building a bench full of mashers to scare the hell out of the NL's bullpen.
He's going to hit a walkoff, then declare San Diego his f'ing city too. And no one will fight him on it.
As great as Sale's been, he's actually striking out fewer batters than he has in any other season of his big league career. That might be more of a feature than a bug. Either way, following the butterfly-throwing Wright with Sale's sidearm fastball-slider nastiness qualifies as a damn war crime.
By fielding-independent metrics, Quintana's actually been an eyelash better than Sale in 2016. I think the White Sox have another run in them this year.
Started terribly, now mowing down everyone in sight. Again. When this happens again next year, let's just punt on the "What's wrong with Corey Kluber?" thinkpieces altogether.
Striking out 29.5 percent of the batters he's faced this season. That leads all American League starters.
His incredible career renaissance started with four dominant starts to end last season for the Red Sox, and continued his copious curveballs of death this year in Oakland. Rooting hard for him to come off the disabled list soon: 36-year-olds who explode on the league after nine years of injuries and ineffectiveness don't come around every day.
He's punched out 47.4 percent of opposing batters this year. Nearly one in two. Let that sink in for a minute.
You could probably just make the Yankees' three-headed bullpen monster the entire AL All-Star bullpen, and be in great shape.
In 100 appearances for Houston since Opening Day 2015, Harris owns a 1.56 ERA, with 63 hits allowed in 103 2/3 innings. All it cost the Astros was a waiver claim.
He's a (not that) poor man's Mariano Rivera: Throws only one pitch (sinker, 91% of the time), and nobody can hit it (opponents are batting .150 and slugging .200 against it).
The Jays' relief corps has been in flux for most of the season, with previously reliable veterans failing to live up to expectations. No such problems for the 21-year-old Osuna, who's struck out nearly six times as many batters as he's walked this year.
Wade Davis is still the closer, but Herrera's been the big gun in Kansas City's pen this year, with 44 strikeouts and just six walks in 35 2/3 innings pitched.
He might not be the best catcher in the NL this year. But a .277/.338/.450 line in a pitcher's park, with the usual outstanding defense, plus a long and impressive track record, gets Posey the starting nod.
Slugging better than .550, getting on base more than 40 percent of the time, walking more than he's struck out, on pace to top 35 homers...and Rizzo just barely beats out Paul Goldschmidt for starting honors. The NL should loan the AL a first baseman or two.
Neil Walker's been a nice pickup for the Mets, but Daniel Murphy signing with their chief rival, then batting .347/.390/.575, is a pretty effective way to swing the balance of power in the NL East.
A two-way terror, and a helluva story.
Look at the NL West standings, and you could argue that the Dodgers' avoidance of long-term deals for big-ticket free agents, and the club's pointed emphasis on youth, hasn't worked as well as hoped. That's certainly not because of the young guys themselves, though: The 22-year-old Seager's been the team's best position player this year, and you could argue 24-year-old Joc Pederson as number two.
The $35 million contract that binds Polanco to the Pirates through at least 2021 (2023 if the Bucs pick up their two club options on him), making him one of the most valuable commodities in baseball.
Remember when Jeffrey Loria grew so fed up with Ozuna he forced the outfielder's demotion to the minors, then nearly got him traded away for pennies on the dollar? By Wins Above Replacement, Ozuna's been the best position player in the entire National League this year.
He's not a top-three NL outfielder this year by the numbers, given the slump that followed his monstrous start. But he is Bryce Freaking Harper. Let's not overthink this.
Using Jay Jaffe's JAWS metric, which combines a player's peak and career value, Kershaw's already surpassed the likes of Sandy Koufax, Early Wynn, and Three-Finger Brown, and is coming up fast on Hall of Famers Don Sutton, John Smoltz, and Jim Bunning. Considering this is just Kershaw's ninth big league season, and that this year he's better than he's ever been, there's no telling how high he'll climb on the list of all-time great pitchers.
The only Brewer on the squad, though Ryan Braun and out-of-nowhere shortstop Jonathan Villar were also considered.
The best offensive catcher in the majors this year is batting a cool .330/.376/.577.
Goldschmidt is a metronome of excellence, and also the only Diamondback on the squad. Just know that I see you, Jake Lamb.
Wil Myers made a strong case, but Belt's been the NL's second-best hitter this season on a park-adjusted basis, and thus had to make the cut.
Jason Heyward will need to start hitting to justify his $184 million megadeal, but the four-year, $56 million contract given to Zobrist and the one-year, $13 million deal for Dexter Fowler look like colossal steals right now.
By advanced metrics, Bryant's been the 18th-best hitter in the National League this year...which places him fourth on his own team. Even with their recent slide, the Cubs are still reeeaaalllly good.
The Cubs and Giants figure to battle for the title of baseball's best infield for years to come. Given that Crawford is the oldest of San Francisco's dynamic quintet at 29 years and five months old, that makes San Francisco's crew tough to beat.
Adam Duvall might have a better case in light of his 21 homers. But a crowded NL outfield talent pool combined with a short list of top NL shortstops tilts the pick toward Cozart. With 11 homers, a .506 slugging average, and elite defense (by Defensive Runs Saved only Lindor and Andrelton Simmons have been better this year), Cozart is a worthy pick regardless.
Good thing Cespedes can rake. Sticking with Defensive Runs Saved, Cespedes ranks 29th defensively among all center fielders this year. Put another way, he's playing out of position, and the Mets would do well to move him, either this season or by Opening Day 2017.
With a recent pullback and then a trip to the DL, Fowler's been everything the Cubs could've hoped for and then some: Only five NL players have reached base at a more prolific clip than Fowler's .398.
This one is a tie with ...
Tied with Fowler at that .398 OBP mark? Yelich and Herrera, two emerging stars.
We now live in a world where Andrew McCutchen is the Pirates' third-best outfielder. The emergence of Polanco and Marte as stars does make it easier to avoid getting overly sentimental and overpaying for Cutch's decline phase, though.
The only Brave on the roster started the season in rough shape, flashing a 6.35 ERA through three starts. Since then? A 1.89 ERA, and a microscopic opponents' batting line of .168/.222/.297.
11-2 with a 1.74 ERA, and by one measure he's just the fifth-best starter in the NL this year? If Kershaw didn't exist this might've been the best Cy Young race in baseball history.
While many teams tried to build a superpen to match the Royals' recent exploits, the Giants went the old-school way, spending big bucks to build a superrotation instead. Jeff Samardzija has been a bit erratic as the number-three starter. But San Francisco's big investment in Cueto has paid off beautifully. Cueto doesn't have the off-the-charts strikeout numbers that some of his fellow NL aces have, but seeing a batter square up any of his pitches and drive it with authority feels like a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Thank goodness Syndergaard looks like he's going to be OK. I was at Citi Field for his start on Wednesday. Had his elbow ache turned into something more serious, I doubt I'd ever be allowed back into Queens again.
A 2.36 ERA, even better fielding-independent numbers, and the highest strikeout rate of any starter in the majors. Yet another pitcher who should be eternally grateful to the late Dr. Frank Jobe.
This is the guy the Cubs figured would be worth $155 million. Still, if I'm using him in this game, it's at the start of an inning, and I'm probably pulling him the minute he puts someone on first. With this staff, there's no need to put up with the yips.
The NL's crop of elite lefty relievers is nearly non-existent, so we might end up saving Bumgarner for a Game 7 2014 World Series type of relief appearance.
The best closer in the big leagues is also the new all-time saves leader for the Dodgers, having passed Eric Gagne. "California Love" and "Welcome to the Jungle" might be insurmountable as a pair of closer entrance songs too.
One of the most unheralded of our All-Star picks makes up for a lack of brand-name value with blistering numbers: 37 innings pitched, 50 strikeouts, seven unintentional walks, and just one home run allowed.
Sans Andrew Miller/Zach Britton types to lean on, we're going with Buchter for any late-inning matchup against a lopsided left-handed hitter. Lefties are batting just .140/.255/.233 against the 29-year-old rookie.
Rodney's streak of not allowing a run all season finally came to an end Tuesday against the Orioles. His streak of being the most entertaining relief pitcher in the game remains solidly intact.