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'll cover the AL on Wednesday and NL on Thursday, because the AL is the superior league and deserves to go first. (I kid!) The players are listed alphabetically, so don't read anything into the order.
Only twice in 14 starts has Estrada allowed more than three earned runs, and only six times has he allowed more than two earned runs. The veteran finesse right-hander is 5-3 with a 2.70 ERA (156 ERA+) in 93 1/3 innings, and he currently leads the league with 5.2 hits allowed per nine innings as well as a 0.98 WHIP. He's fourth in ERA, fourth in ERA+, and seventh with +2.7 WAR.
Quintana is not even the ace of his own staff, but that doesn't make him any less deserving of the All-Star Game start. The southpaw is third in ERA (2.63), fifth in ERA+ (152), and fourth in WAR (+2.9) among AL starters so far this season. His 5-7 record could work against him, though I hope not. Quintana has excelled at keeping runs off the board this season and, at the very least, he deserves to be an All-Star. Yost should strongly consider him for the starting assignment too.
The first-place Indians have some truly excellent pitchers in their rotation, including Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, but Salazar has emerged as the best of the bunch this year. He's 8-3 with a 2.23 ERA (204 ERA+) in 13 starts and 80 2/3 innings while striking out 96 batters. Salazar leads the AL with +3.7 WAR -- his lead is +0.6 WAR over the next-best pitcher -- and is second in both ERA and ERA+.
Sale became the first pitcher this season to reach 12 wins Tuesday night, and while we all know wins are not the best way to evaluate performance, they do get a lot of play in All-Star Game settings. More importantly, Sale leads the league in innings (105), is second in both WAR (+3.1) and WHIP (0.99), fourth in strikeouts (102), fifth in ERA (2.83), and seventh in ERA+ (141). He has been off-the-charts good so far.
Perhaps it is due to the injuries the past two years, but Tanaka seems to be one of the most underappreciated great pitchers in baseball. He is 4-2 with a 2.91 ERA (146 ERA+) in 92 2/3 innings this season, and he's tied with Sale for second in the league with +3.1 WAR. Tanaka is also sixth in ERA+, seventh in ERA, and third in WHIP (1.00). Among AL hurlers, only Salazar (11) has more starts with two or fewer runs allowed than Tanaka (10) this year.
Wright, a knuckleballer, is unquestionably the biggest pitching surprise in the AL this year. He 8-4 in 14 starts and he currently leads the league in ERA (2.01) and ERA+ (219). Wright is fourth with +2.9 WAR and fifth with 98 1/3 innings. When a guy like Wright gets off to a hot start, you kind of wait for the other shoe to drop. It hasn't. He has legitimately been one of the two or three best pitchers n the AL in 2016.