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Monday, September 28, 2020

Who Deserves to be an All-Star? 2020 Edition

Back on my old site I used to run a series of articles about who deserves to be an All-Star (as well as Pro Bowlers). What can I say, I'm a big fan of rankings, even when it comes to sports. In this shortened, pandemic season, MLB has opted not to have an All-Star game. Makes sense, because there's no reason to risk getting COVID-19 to play in an exhibition game. Also, the sample size for 2020 is so much smaller than normal. But all that being said, this season still counts. Counting stats will still be attributed to players and division and league champions will still be crowned. We still (unfortunately) still use All-Star appearances as a measure for legacy greatness. Even if there won't be a game, there's no reason we still can't have selections. Truthfully, IRL, there's no reason we can't have the players vote (or sports writers or really anyone competent) on who should have deserved an All-Star selection, even if there's no actual game to play. The NBA has First Team, Second Team, and Third Team honors as well as All-Star selections. Why can't the MLB do something analogous? Players should still be honored if their actions still count - which they do. That's where this post comes in. I will give out First Team and Second Team honors for each league. As the DH exists for both leagues, each League will get a selection for the eight individual defensive positions, DH, and one relief pitcher spot. I will also honor five starting pitcher spots for each Team (seeing as all teams have a five-man rotation normally). Below are my lists for who I believe deserves to be an All-Star for the 2020 MLB season:


First Team:

C: Salvador Perez (KC) 1B: Jose Abreu (CWS)* 2B: DJ LeMahieu (NYY) SS: Tim Anderson (CWS) 3B: Jose Ramirez (CLE) RF: Teoscar Hernandez (TOR) CF: Mike Trout (LAA) LF: George Springer (HOU) DH: Nelson Cruz (MIN) RP: Liam Hendricks (OAK) 

Jose Abreu, Jose Ramirez, Mike Trout, and DJ LaMahieu are all legitimate AL MVP contenders by year's end. To me, Mike Trout is clearly 4th on this list. He's last among these players in WAR and the Angels were never competitive for a playoff spot, despite the fact that 2020 saw the most teams per league ever earn one (and the other three players are on teams that did make it). But, he's still Mike Trout and he's, in Larry David voice, pretty, pretty, pretty good. After a close battle with Tim Anderson for most of the season, LaMahieu ended the season with the best batting average in baseball. DJ has been great when he played, but I don't think you can miss 10 games in a 60 game season and still win the MVP award. It's a super, super close contest then between Ramirez and Abreu. Feel free to call me a White Sox homer, but I'm going with Abreu. I think he's been the slightly better offensive player this year, and he's been more consistent throughout the year. Abreu led the AL in hits and RBIs - an incredible 60 RBIs in 60 games - and has the batting average, slugging percentage, wRC+ and home runs advantage to Ramirez. Abreu also has the better WPA (2.01 to 1.45) than Ramirez, which means Abreu's offense meant more within the context of his individual games than Ramirez's. The Cleveland third baseman led all of baseball in WAR, but a big reason his WAR is better than Abreu's is due to the nature of the position each player plays. By their inherent value, a first baseman is the least valuable defensive player, only to a DH. WAR takes their defensive positions into account. However, as Jayson Stark wrote in The Athletic for his case for Abreu as the AL MVP, "Abreu is tied for the AL lead in Defensive Runs Saved at first base (+5) - while Ramirez is -6 at third base. So does Abreu deserve to have points deducted just because of the position he plays? I couldn't convince myself of that." 

I definitely cheated a little with my outfield, but since both Trout and George Springer play center field and both finished 1 and 2 among AL outfielders in WAR, I thought both deserved First Team considerations. Since I didn't feel any left fielders play well enough to earn First Team honors, I slotted Springer in left. Plus, because Springer plays the hardest outfield position well, if this were a real game, he should have no issue playing the easiest position well. Teoscar Hernandez finished 3rd in the AL among qualified right fielders in WAR, but first among them in wRC+, wOBA, home runs, and OPS. Plus, I wanted to honor the Blue Jays who played well enough to earn a playoff spot in 2020. 

Second Team:

C: James McCann (CWS) 1B: Luke Voit (NYY) 2B: Brandon Lowe (TB) SS: Xander Bogarts (BOS) 3B: Anthony Rendon (LAA) RF: Alex Verdugo (BOS) CF: Kyle Lewis (SEA) LF: Eloy Jiminez (CWS) DH: Mark Canha (OAK) RP: Brad Hand (CLE)

Anthony Rendon had the second best WAR in the American League, but because he happens to play the same position as the leader in the League, Rendon gets relegated to Second Team honors. I could have made him a DH, but that didn't seem fair to Nelson Cruz who was by far and away the best actual DH in the AL in 2020. Luke Voit is also in a similar situation. While he had an excellent year and led the league in home runs, he also happens to play the same position at the AL MVP.

After Perez, there were a few catchers vying for a spot for second best with Oakland's Sean Murphy (1.5 WAR), and Chicago's duo of Yasmani Grandal (1.5 WAR) and James McCan (1.4 WAR). Grandal has the home runs advantage (8 to Murphy's and McCann's 7), but I ultimately chose McCann because he had the better OPS, wRC+ and wOBA of this group. I think a good argument could have been made to put Mark Canha over Teoscar Hernandez for the third First Team outfield spot, but because Hernandez had a better offensive season, I awarded it to him. That leaves Canha as the second best DH in the AL. Canha had an excellent season and this honor is deserved, but also, I'm not quite sure who his legitimate competition was. After Trout, Springer, Canha, and Hernandez, the three best outfielders in the AL were Kyle Lewis, Alex Verdugo and Eloy Jimenez, all with 1.7 WAR. The fact that each of these players plays center, right, and left, respectively, made my Second Team ballot a lot easier than my first. I really wanted to put Chicago's Luis Robert on this list somewhere, and for the longest time he deserved it, but after an awful September, he dropped out of the running and made all voters' decision for Rookie of the Year (Kyle Lewis) that much easier.


1) Shane Bieber (CLE)** 2) Zach Grienke (HOU)
3) Kenta Maeda (MIN) 4) Dylan Bundy (LAA) 5) Lucas Giolito (CWS)

Shane Bieber was so good that not only is he going to win the AL Cy Young, he has a good shot to win the MVP as well. The remaining four pitchers are the best four pitchers in the AL per WAR.
1) Dallas Keuchel (CWS)
2) Gerrit Cole (NYY)
4) Hyun-Jin Ryu (TOR)
5) Marco Gonzalez (SEA) 5) Lance Lynn (TEX)
Outside of Shane Bieber, Dallas Keuchel had the best ERA in the American League in 2020. He's not a strikeout pitcher (and he missed some starts this year) so he has a tendency not to top the WAR leaderboard (though he was still top 10 among AL SP), but his 52.8% groundball rate (good for 3rd in the AL) and low hard hit rate (25.3%, again good for 3rd in the AL) make him well-deserved for Second Team honors. Gerrit Cole didn't let up from his 2019 almost Cy Young bid during his first stint with the Yankees. He had a K/9 of 11.59 (3rd in the AL) to go along with his 7 wins and 2.84 ERA. Hyun-Jin Ryu was 4th in the AL in ERA, 6th in FIP, 9th in K/BB, and 8th in WAR. Marco Gonzalez, among AL starting pitchers, was 8th in ERA, 9th in FIP, 1st in K/BB, and 7th in WAR. Texas Rangers Lance Lynn ended the season best in the American League in WPA behind Shane Bieber, Top 10 in WAR, ERA, and K/9, and just outside the Top 10 in K/BB, among starting pitchers.


First Team:

C: J.T. Realmuto (PHI) 1B: Freddie Freeman (ATL)* 2B: Jake Cronenworth (SD) SS: Fernando Tatis Jr (SD) 3B: Manny Machado (SD) RF: Mookie Betts (LAD)
CF: Mike Yastrzemski (SF) LF: Juan Soto (WAS) DH: Marcell Ozuna (ATL) RP: Devin Williams (MIL) 

Mookie Betts, Manny Machado, and Fernando Tatis, Jr. all have legitimate cases for why they deserve to win NL MVP, but considering Freddie Freeman leads the NL in WAR AND has the disadvantage of playing first base, this seems like a no-brainer. 

As the National League doesn't generally have a DH, many teams in this COVID afflicted season didn't have a player that played DH full time the way Nelson Cruz did for the Twins (or to a much, much lesser extent, Edwin Encarnacion for the White Sox). However, Marcell Ozuna played 39 games at DH for the Braves, which was significantly more than the 21 games he played in the outfield (19 at left, 2 at right), and he had an excellent offensive season, so he gets the nod at DH. That leaves Juan Soto to earn the left field selection. Soto played 36 games at left (vs. 5 at DH) and led the National League in batting average. Soto is also the first player not named Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds to slug over .700 and have an OPS of at least 1.189 in the past 25 years. 

Second Team:

C: Willson Contreras (CHC) 1B: Paul Goldschmidt (STL) 2B: Robinson Cano (NYM) SS: Trea Turner (WAS) 3B: Justin Turner (LAD) RF: Michael Conforto (NYM)
CF: Trent Grisham (SD) LF: Ronald Acuna, Jr. (ATL) DH: Jesse Winker (CIN) RP: Rasiel Iglesias (CIN)

Trea Turner suffers from the same situation that Luke Voit and Andrew Rendon did in the NL. Turner was tied for 4th with the best WAR in the NL, but just happens to play the same position as Fernando Tatis, Jr. who is most likely going to the NL MVP runner up. Since Acuna was *this* close to earning First Team honors, his Second Team honors is a no-brainer to me. I chose Grisham over Ian Happ of the Cubs in center. Happ has better offensive numbers than Grisham, but it's not by much, and Grisham has been significantly the better defender. I also feel more comfortable honoring a Padre, a team with the second best record in baseball, over the NL Central champion Cubs, a team which had a worse record than three teams in the AL Central. It was razor thin margin for the right field spot, and I chose Conforto over San Diego's Wil Myers. Ultimately, Conforto edged out Myers in WAR, wRC+, and wOBA. I was tempted to honor Pirates rookie Ke-Bryan Hayes at third considering he led NL third baseman in wRC+ and had the second best WAR among the group, but he only played 24 games (which honestly makes these stats even better). He freaking mashed when he came to the majors, but play at least half the games in a 60 game season before you can get recognized. Luis Robert would have probably gotten AL ROY honors based upon his first 24 games. As such, I went with Turner who finished 3rd in WAR among NL third basemen.

1) Yu Darvish (CHC)** 2) Jacob DeGrom (NYM)
3) Trevor Bauer (CIN)
4) Dinelson Lamet (SD) 5) Luis Castillo (CIN) It's hard to blame any voter if they put Jacob DeGrom or Trevor Bauer at the top of their NL Cy Young ballot, but for me though, it came down to the guy that ultimately led NL pitchers in WAR and had the best FIP out of the three, and that's Chicago's Yu Darvish. And I know wins are a meaningless stat, but the fact that Darvish received 8 of them this year, on frankly just an okay Cubs team means Darvish put this team on his back and carried them to an NL Central title.


1) Max Fried (ATL)
2) Max Scherzer (WAS)
3) Aaron Nola (PHI)
5) Brandon Woodruff (MIL) 5) Zach Wheeler (PHI) Colorado's German Marquez ended up 6th in WAR among NL pitchers, but 7th place Brandon Woodruff and 8th place Aaron Nola had better strikeout numbers than Marquez, a better ERA and a better FIP than Marquez. The Braves don't really have anyone else outside of Fried, and his sub 2.3 ERA and 3.10 FIP means he earns a spot on my list. Next, I compared Marquez to Max Scherzer and frankly, their numbers are similar, but Scherzer strikes out way more batters (3rd in the NL behind deGrom and Bauer). Last spot, I again, compared Marquez to Zach Wheeler. Wheeler struck out even less guys than Marquez, but he also walked less guys, gave us less home runs, and frankly, Wheeler's sub-3.00 ERA and 3.22 FIP beat out Marquez' 3.75 ERA (a really tough hurdle for him to overcome for these purposes) and 3.28 FIP.

* Denotes MVP selection
** Denotes Cy Young selection