The 2014 MLB All-Star Game is almost here. With only 17 days to the All-Star Game, I have decided to vote for the National and American Leagues' squads. Without further ado, here are my 2014 MLB All-Star Game rosters and why I have selected them.
First Base -- Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
Goldschmidt is the best first baseman in the National League. He leads National League first baseman with an .918 OPS, helped by his fourth-highest on-base percentage and the league-lead slugging percentage. Goldschmidt, known as "Goldy," has the highest WAR of any National League first baseman with a 3.0 mark and has posted a 149 wRC+, good for fourth. Not to mention, he is a class act off the field, as he spent a good ten minutes talking baseball with me when I ran into him in New York last year.
Second Base -- Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
Utley is enduring one of his best seasons in a long time, and deserves an All-Star appearance to cap it off. His batting average, which was over .300 on June 21, has dipped to .295, but Utley's stats are too good to not net him his sixth All-Star selection. Utley leads all National League second baseman with a 2.6 WAR, has hit a third-highest six home runs, posted the third-highest wRC+, and has the second lowest strikeout percentage. The Phillies second baseman is playing as well as anybody.
Shortstop -- Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
This one is a no-brainer. Tulowitzki has been the first-half's National League MVP, if there was such an award. Forget where he stands against the National League shortstops, Tulowitzki has the highest batting average in the major leagues. His OPS is just as good, as his 1.060 mark leads everyone. Even with the Coors Field effect, Tulowitzki's OPS+ (which is known to take the ballpark effects out of a player) ranks behind only Mike Trout, posting a 176 mark. If Tulowitzki is not voted in as shortstop in the National League, I have no idea why.
Third Base -- Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds
Todd Frazier is the best third baseman in the National League. His .284 (5th among NL third baseman)/.350 (4th)/.508 (1st) slash line might not be the best of National League third baseman, but Frazier has done enough to make him worthy of an All-Star nod. How can the leader in National League OPS of third baseman not crack the top five in the voting (as of June 23)? Frazier's strikeout rate is extremely high, but he still has provided the most WAR of any third baseman in the NL and has the highest wRC+. Vote Todd Frazier to the All-Star Game.
Catcher -- Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
I have really enjoyed watching Lucroy tear up any pitching this season. This season, Lucroy has been the best catcher in the National League, hands down. He has a 3.7 WAR (1st among NL catchers) and a 156 wRC+ (1st). His defense is highly underrated. While he might not be Yadier Molina behind the plate, Lucroy has been absolutely invaluable to Brewers' pitching. His .336 batting average alone should be enough to earn him All-Star status, but for good measure he also leads all NL catchers in on-base percentage, and is second to only Evan Gattis in slugging percentage.
Outfield -- Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is the best in the National League. There is no doubt in my mind. Besides his fantastic power numbers (21 home runs, .596 slugging percentage; both first among National League outfielders), Stanton is a very underrated all around hitter. His .316 batting average is also tops among NL outfielders, and his on-base percentage is only behind Andrew McCutchen. He actually plays average defense and his overall WAR ranks first in the National League. As of the last update, Stanton ranked fourth among outfielders. That is unacceptable.
Outfield -- Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers
Carlos Gomez is another class act off the field. While he has started some scuffles on the field, I truly believe that is because he is passionate about his job and what he does. Gomez reads my website, and has followed me on Twitter for a long time. Not to mention, he is on my fantasy team. Before bias takes the best of me, look at Gomez's numbers. They are definitely All-Star caliber. He has a .310/.375/.525 triple-slash line, while posting the second-highest WAR, behind only Giancarlo Stanton, among National League outfielders. Gomez is a very good defender and is the cornerstone in the Milwaukee Brewers offense. He is as deserving as anyone for an All-Star appearance.
Outfield -- Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Andrew McCutchen continues to provide MVP-type numbers in Pittsburgh. His .943 OPS is second among NL outfielders, along with his 167 wRC+. His WAR is good for third, but his UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating; measures how many runs a player is worth on defense) on defense ranks second to last. That could be what really hurts McCutchen's stock and might make the fans choose Yasiel Puig, but I am still a fan of what McCutchen brings to the table every day, and what he has brought to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization as a whole. Nearly single-handedly, he has turned them into a winning organization, which I absolutely applaud.
First Base -- Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
How hard is it to come from a foreign country to the United States and then thrown into a game where as many as 40,000 fans show up to watch you play? That has been the story of Jose Abreu, who has taken the majors by storm. Abreu, 27, was given $68 million to come to the United States and play for the Chicago White Sox and already he has paid dividends. Abreu, even after sitting on the DL for some time, leads the American League (not just first baseman) with 25 home runs and is fourth with a .959 OPS (second among AL first baseman). He strikes out a lot, but as long as he keeps his power numbers high and continues to get on base, there is nobody more deserving than Abreu.
Second Base -- Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
Jose Altuve has the most hits in the major leagues, with 113. He is behind only Troy Tulowitzki in batting average, but leads all American Leaguers with a .343 mark. The 5'6" Altuve does not provide top-notch power numbers, as he has only homered twice, but, according to Moneyball, what is most important of any major leaguer? To get on base. With a .383 on-base percentage, Altuve does exactly that. He also leads the American League in stolen bases with 34 to cap it off. Since being signed as an amateur free agent in 2007, Altuve has, and will be, the leader on the Astros.
Shortstop -- Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox
Just because Derek Jeter is retiring this season does not automatically make him an All-Star. He is batting just .272/.329/.330 this season. Alexei Ramirez, without Jeter in the running, would be the starting shortstop for the American League team, which is why I am voting for him. He has a .295 (1st among AL shortstops)/.327 (4th)/.422 (1st) slash line with eight home runs and 39 RBI. While Jeter has barely stretched 0.5 in the WAR department (he has a 0.6), Ramirez is second in the pack with a 2.0 WAR. Of deserving shortstops for the All-Star Game, Ramirez is number one.
Third Base -- Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics
I am so happy that Donaldson has a sizable lead for the All-Star Game. As I wrote not too long ago, Donaldson is the most underrated player in baseball, let alone American League third baseman. He has a good lead in nearly every metric of American League third baseman, including a 3.6 WAR. His wRC+ ranks third at 125. His defense, however, may be his most underrated of all his attributes. His UZR is 11.8, which ranks first over Manny Machado by 7.6 points! That is just, well, fantastic. Donaldson is the best third baseman in the American League, if not in the major leagues.
Catcher -- Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
If Matt Wieters was not hurt, he would be my selection here. But he is, and I believe that Salvador Perez is the best all-around catcher in the American League. His combination of offense and defense is excellent, all while helping to lead the Royals into second place in the American League Central. He has posted a .785 OPS, which ranks third among AL catchers. His 117 wRC+ also ranks third. But it is his defense that truly separates himself. In the overall defense metric, Perez ranks above Yadier Molina for first in the major leagues. That is what sets him apart and what gives him the nod at starting catcher in the American League.
Designated Hitter -- Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
People love the power that Nelson Cruz supplies, but how is Martinez third in the AL designated hitter voting? While Cruz has homered 25 times, Martinez is a close second, with 20 bombs. He also has a .323/.383/.592 triple slash line, which he ranks first in all three categories. Martinez has one of the lowest strikeout percentages in the major leagues, behind only Jose Altuve. He has a 160 wRC+, nine points better than Neslon Cruz's 151. With all these fantastic stats, why is Martinez not leading the voting? Vote for him now and put him as the starting designated hitter.
Outfield -- Mike Trout, Los Angles Angels of Anaheim
Mike Trout is the best outfielder in all of baseball. That's enough said. Regardless, I will continue with the stats. He is atop all outfielders with 18 homers and leads them with a .611 slugging percentage. He is second in both on-base percentage and batting average, but is nearly an entire WAR point ahead of second place Alex Gordon. He also leads all American League outfielders with a 182 wRC+. Trout does not really need a description to show why he is an All-Star, he does that enough on all the highlight reels we see on MLB.com and on ESPN. Trout is a fantastic player and deserves to go to his third consecutive All-Star game.
Outfield -- Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Most people think of Jose Bautista as the guy that homered 54 times back in 2010, but he has completely evolved his game since. He still has power (Bautista has homered 18 times this season thus far.), but Bautista gets on base a lot more than he did, posting an AL-leading .433 on-base percentage. How did he do it? He has brought his strikeout percentage down and his walk percentage up. In 2010, Bautista stuck out in 17% of his plate appearances and walked in just 14.6%. Now, they have practically reversed roles, as he walks in 17.5% of his plate appearances and strikes out in 14.2%. Bautista continues to make adjustments, making himself a better hitter. That is a true All-Star.
Outfield -- Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics
Cespedes' throw of the year sold me for voting for him. Cespedes' UZR ranks 11th in the American League with a 2.7 mark, but his ARM (runs saved via a throw) ranks second with a 6.3 mark. And that is just his defense. Cespedes is one of the primer power hitters in the American League, showing us what he could do in the Home Run Derby last year. Cespedes has 14 home runs this season, which ranks seventh in the AL among outfielders and has a .502 slugging percentage which ranks sixth. His OPS of .827 is also sixth. Cespedes is one of the best pure power hitters in the American League and deserves his first ever All-Star nod.
It's been a tough year for Atlanta Braves pitching.
It started with Kris Medlen. Arguably the best Braves pitcher in 2013, Medlen took the hill in a Spring Training game against the New York Mets. During his start, Medlen ran off the hill in pain. He didn't return. He has not returned since. He will not return until 2015. Medlen was the third major league pitcher to have Tommy John surgery in 2014, but wasn't the only Atlanta Brave to do so.
Brandon Beachy, Medlen's teammate, also felt elbow pain. He was removed for "precautionary reasons." After seeing Dr. James Andrews, Beachy, like Medlen, would be scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery. Opening Day hadn't come, and the Braves were already down two pitchers thought to be in the starting rotation.
In spite of the news, the Braves signed pitcher Ervin Santana to a contract, in hopes to patch up some issues with their rotation. Santana started off the season hot, but has cooled off quite a bit lately, settling in with a 4.12 ERA.
And so the Braves trudged on. However, that wasn't the end of their starting pitching woes.
Just on Thursday, Atlanta starter Gavin Floyd was dealing. He had pitched six innings, allowing just two hits, striking out six Washington Nationals, while just walking one. However, Floyd had to leave the game, because, you guessed it, elbow problems. While Floyd did not have any ligament issues in his elbow, he fractured the bone. So, he'll be out for some time as well.
What am I getting at by sharing all the Braves pitching woes?
July 31 isn't too far away. That is the MLB trade deadline. The Braves, with all their starting pitching issues, might want to make a move. They are in the thick of the pennant race on the summer solecist. Heck, they're in first place! The Braves, at 38-35, lead the Nationals by a half of a game, the Marlins by one, Phillies by three and a half, and the Mets by five and a half.
The two best pitchers on the trade market, David Price and Jeff Samardzija, might just be on Atlanta's radar in the coming weeks. As the Washington Nationals start to get healthy and give them a run for their money, the Braves might want to pursue either Price or Samardzija to solidify their chances of not only going into the postseason, but deep into it.
While salary cap and prospects are always issues for teams at the trade deadline, the Braves acquiring Samardzija or Price could save their season. If their entire rotation was healthy, I honestly could see the Braves in first place by five or six games. While their offense isn't great, there have been plenty of games that, with a little more pitching, the Braves could have pulled away from their division rivals.
Samardzija might be the more realistic of the two pitchers. I was talking to Robert Murray of Sports Injury Alert (he's a great follow on Twitter, by the way) not too long ago about where Samardzija might land. We both agreed that the Braves could make a serious run at the pitcher if they wanted to.
The only issue for the Braves is their lack of prospects. Their most major league ready prospect is catcher Christian Betancourt, currently posting a .667 OPS at Triple-A Gwinnett. However, the Chicago Cubs have catchers in their organization, especially after drafting Kyle Schwarber in the first round of this season's draft. The Braves might not be able to fill the Cubs wants, or even offer something close to what other teams might. It looks like it could be an uphill battle for Atlanta.
Then, there is always the issue of salary. The Braves have an estimated (according to BaseballReference.com) $108.7 million committed to their current roster. While taking on Jeff Samardzija's $5.35 million won't hurt them towards the salary cap by any means (Samardzija is due for arbitration again at the end of the year), the question becomes, do the Braves want to become a bigger-market team and spend more money? If the answer is yes, Samardzija could be headed to Atlanta.
The lack of starting pitching is definitely there for the Atlanta Braves. How they want to fix it is their problem, but do not be surprised if Jeff Samardzija or even David Price are on their radar with the upcoming trade deadline quickly approaching. It might be the only antidote to the Braves version of the "Tommy John epidemic."
Move over Detroit Tigers. There is a new sheriff in town. And there is only room for one.
The Kansas City Royals are hot. After beating the Detroit Tigers again today, the Royals have won 10 games in a row. They lead the American League Central by 1.5 games and look determined to make a postseason run for the first time in nearly 30 years. It seemed like just yesterday when people were making fun of Jose Abreu having more home runs than the entire Royals team. It practically was. In the Royals first 61 games, they hit 26 home runs. In their past nine, however, they have 12.
On Friday, June 6, the Royals were a respectable 29-31. They were sitting five games out of the then first-place Tigers, who were 32-25. The Royals were in last place. Since June 6, the Royals have leapfrogged everyone (quite literally). On June 18, merely 12 days later, the Royals lead the American League Central by 1.5 games. This has been quite a run.
The one thing that had been haunting the Royals has finally coming alive. Their position players have provided nearly an entire fWAR point ahead of the second-highest team, providing 3.1 wins over the past week (coming into today's game). Their wOBA (weighted on-base average) is sitting at .400, 17 points ahead over the second-place team. The Royals have scored 48 runs and have posted a .351/.403/.516 triple-slash line. This torrid pace is just amazing, and the Royals are getting ready to make a run.
While I keep praising the Royals' hitting, their pitching has made huge strides over the past couple of weeks or so. During the beginning of the season, their pitching was just keeping the Royals alive and near contention, but now it has thrived. In that same seven day span, the Royals ERA ranks sixth-best in baseball, while still allowing the seventh-highest BABIP. They did it by keeping the ball down in the zone and getting ground-ball outs, posting the fifth-highest ground-ball percentage in the majors.
The Royals offense has taken a big step. A giant step. A humongous step. But, can it keep up this pace? Or even a pace similar to this? Using advanced metrics, the only alarming thing about the Royals run is that a ton of balls in play are falling for hits. Just over 38% of balls put into play are falling for hits for the Royals team, far above the 30% that is considered average, or normal. They, in short, are ridiculously lucky right now. But at the pace they are playing at, it is expected.
Their hottest hitter right now is by far Billy Butler, although he is having an overall down season. But over the past week, Butler is on fire, just like the rest of the Royals, posting a .455/.536/.682 line with one homer and eight runs batted in. Butler has a wRC+ of 234, 46 points higher than his teammate Alcides Escobar, who has "only" a 188 wRC+. When Butler has a hit, the Royals are 32-15, when he doesn't, the Royals are 6-17. If he can play well for the rest of the season, the Royals may just be able to take the American League Central crown.
The Royals recorded a record better than .500 for the first time last season. They wanted to take that momentum into a postseason appearance this season. While there still is a long way away from making the playoffs, the Royals are on fire, and should enjoy their moment in the spotlight. Because right now, they are the only sheriff in town, leading the American League Central.
**All stats through June 17, 2014.**
Two of the hottest commodities at the trade deadline season will be Cubs pitchers Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija. Both have had fantastic seasons, which only adds to their value come July 31. The Cubs are sitting at 28-39; they will not be contending this season. It seems like it is time to sell. And they should. But, they should only sell Jason Hammel, and not Jeff Samardzija. Please, let me explain my case.
In how many years from now will the Cubs contend? The Cubs had SEVEN top prospects on Baseball America's top 100, including number five Javier Baez and number eight Kris Bryant. Many experts believe that the Cubs will be at the top of the National League Central in 2015 or 2016. Of those seven top prospects, only two, C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson, are pitchers. In order to contend, you need pitching. The Cubs are developing few pitchers, so why not keep a guy that will be almost guaranteed to be at the top of your starting rotation?
Jeff Samardzija is 29. He has a 2.77 ERA in 91 innings pitched this season. In 2015, Samardzija will be 30. Samardzija is still under contract for that season. However, he is up for arbitration, something the Cubs may not want to pay. But other than that, I do not see any other reason on why the Cubs want to trade Samardzija away. Sure, they'll get prospects for Samardzija. But prospects are not full-proof. Many top prospects have faltered, and are too risky. Who is more likely to be performing at a high level, in the major leagues, in 2016, Jeff Samardzija or some top prospect? I would go with Samardzija in a heartbeat. He isn't old, he's talented, and he's already in the major leagues.
That brings me to Jason Hammel. I have the exact opposite opinion on Hammel. He signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Cubs this past offseason and wanted to prove that he still had something left in the tank. He's more than proved that this season, posting the lowest ERA and highest ERA+ in his entire career, and only allowing 6.9 hits per nine innings pitched. Hammel is pitching like an ace. And there has never been a time to sell him higher than now.
There still is a chance Hammel won't be back in 2015 with the Cubs, let alone 2016. He won't see them contend, and won't be apart of the team that makes it to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. It is time for the Cubs to jump the gun and trade him. The only issue with trading Hammel is his history. He has never been pitching like he is now, and many executives are nervous that he can't help them down the stretch. Regardless, there always has to be one team that thinks Hammel is worth a shot. He might not get the prospects that Samardzija would get on the market, but the value of the deal is much higher.
The Cubs have to start worrying about contending, and not dealing players away for younger talent. They have already done that. If they were to hold Jeff Samardzija to this trade deadline, it could pay huge dividends into 2015 and 2016. It could make the difference from being a wild card team to a pennant winning team. That mentality needs to start now, by dealing Jason Hammel and holding Jeff Samardzija.
We are roughly one and a half months away from one of the most exciting times during the baseball season. That is the trade deadline. During "trade deadline season" (as many like to call it), rumors are shared on whether teams are buying to go into the playoffs, whether teams are selling to rebuild for the future, or just standing pat with their current roster.
The Philadelphia Phillies have had a tough season. Actually, it's been a tough three seasons. For many fans, their 102-60 record in 2011 feels like an eternity, when they boasted the likes of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt in their rotation. It feels like an eternity since Ryan Howard was hitting over .250 and hitting 40 homers a year, and it feels like an eternity since Jayson Werth was playing right field and being Howard's protector.
There's no other way to put it: it's finally time for the Phillies to sell every good player they have on their roster. The baseball world now understands that it is not the leadership in the clubhouse (with the change of managers from Charlie Manuel to Ryne Sandberg) or anything else many people like to blame for the Phillies struggles. The issue is truly the players they are putting out onto the field.
Chase Utley, Marlon Byrd, A.J. Burnett, Jimmy Rollins and even Carlos Ruiz would be fantastic additions to a young, talented roster and perhaps take them deep into the postseason. But as a team? These players cannot produce; they need the production from others to add on to. That is why the Phillies are struggling. Yes they have stars, but no they do not have the firepower to take them into the playoffs.
If the Phillies had even a decent farm system, my opinion might be somewhat shifted. Arguably their best prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford, is still down in full season Single-A. Their other "savior," Maikel Franco, has a .612 OPS in Triple-A, one season following his .926 mark with 31 home runs. And Jesse Biddle, the Phillies first round pick in 2010? He has not seen action above Double-A, where he has a 3.78 ERA in 207 innings pitched there.
The prospects they receive might not be top notch, but as long as they have a future, this deadline could pay huge dividends for the team. With the money and market size the Phillies have, they'll be back in the postseason in not too long, as long as they don't give out one-year, $16 million contracts to aging starting pitchers.
Many complain about the job Ruben Amaro Jr. has done as general manager, but his first real test will come this trade deadline, when he is faced with the situation to either sell his players now, or stand pat and almost have to pray for a postseason appearance. The choice does not seem to hard.
The players on the Phillies are like cars. They have milage on them, but their value will continue to go down the longer the team holds them. It's time to pull the trigger, Ruben Amaro Jr., and sell your team for the future. It could be the one decision that gets the Phillies back to the postseason sooner, rather than later, and perhaps save your job. It's the only logical answer for the mess that is going on in Philadelphia.