By Chris Emma–
(CBS) Four summers ago when I unveiled my first midseason All-Sabermetrics Team at the All-Star break, the purpose was to poo-poo the often arbitrary selection of baseball’s All-Stars by using the wonderment of sabermetrics to instead identify the game’s top talent.
Future Hall of Fame shortstop and Yankees legend Derek Jeter was selected to the 2014 Midsummer Classic as a salute to his tremendous career, despite the fact that he ranked among the bottom tier of players at his position in wins above replacement and many other metrics.
Major League Baseball could instead honor its declining greats — in the case of 2017, Ichiro or Albert Pujols, for example — with a lifetime achievement selection to the All-Star Game separate from regular voting. Because usually, fans are quick to stuff the ballot boxes for a player of Jeter’s status.
However, baseball fans got their voting right this summer, with only one member of the All-Sabermetrics Team not being chosen to the All-Star team. In fact, seven of the nine selections are starters in Tuesday’s game being played in Miami.
That lone snub is Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon, who fell shy of Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner in the “Final Vote” competition last week. His 4.1 WAR this season tops that of AL starting third baseman Jose Ramirez and fellow Final Vote participant Kris Bryant. In fact, it ranks fourth in baseball behind only Aaron Judge, Jose Altuve and Mookie Betts. That’s pretty good company.
Nolan Arenado, the NL’s starting third baseman, was even with Bryant with a 2.9 WAR. Arenado’s WAR rating is a reflection of his excellent defense at the hot corner in addition to his big bat, while Bryant falling short of All-Star status likely came in part due to frustrated Cubs fans managing the emotions of a 43-45 first half to the season.
The Brewers’ Travis Shaw — he of a 2.8 WAR this season — could also make a case for the All-Star Game, but he and Bryant lost out to the Diamondbacks’ Jake Lamb for the reserve placement as selected by the commissioner’s office. But there’s no snub quite like Rendon, who’s having a career year in Washington.
Rendon has a slash line of .304/.407/.552 along with 16 homers and 54 RBIs. His 148 wRC+, which measures cumulative offensive value, is second to only Ramirez. Rendon does it in the field, too, leading all third basemen with 9.3 defensive win shares.
Nationals fans should’ve used some of the votes they placed toward Ryan Zimmerman for Rendon. Instead, Zimmerman was named the NL’s starting first baseman despite ranking seventh in WAR. That’s more of an indictment to his defensive deficiencies at a fairly new position. Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo can cry foul over this. A southern Florida native, Rizzo was a worthy All-Star who wasn’t honored.
Robberies in this All-Star voting selection seem more like petty theft, with the voting mostly fair. There are no Jeters who have been voted in with a lifetime achievement honor.
The All-Sabermetrics Team is here once again, a grouping of baseball’s best at each position in midseason as measured by true cumulative value.
Note: All metrics are courtesy of FanGraphs.com.
C – Buster Posey, Giants (WAR: 2.9) — third All-Sabermetrics Team selection
The catching position now lacks some elite names, with baseball executives now valuing defense behind the plate and moving their big bats from the backstop to the field for preservation. But Posey remains the top catcher in baseball once again.
Posey has a wRC+ of 142, which is far above the rest of his position. He remains the biggest bat at catcher, boasting a slash of .324/.406/.498 on the season, and his work behind the plate remains positive. On the NL All-Star team, Yadier Molina earned the reserve spot in what was more of a popularity decision given his 0.9 WAR and dwindling OPS. There’s no doubt that Posey was worthy of his placement.
1B — Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (WAR: 4.0) — third All-Sabermetrics Team selection
Casual fans of the game don’t get to appreciate how great Goldschmidt is because of the location factor. The Diamondbacks play few games on national television and most in the Pacific time zone. But Goldschmidt remains a tremendous player at first base.
Zimmerman earned his way to Miami because of his popularity among Nationals fans. An NL reserve, Goldschmidt has an OPS of 1.005, second to only Votto among first basemen. His WAR is higher because of his BsR of 5.2 — a FanGraphs measure of base-running value — which is tops among all first basemen. Goldschmidt continues to impress with his play.
2B — Jose Altuve, Astros (WAR: 4.4) — third All-Sabermetrics Team selection
Altuve resides in a place of his own. He’s far above the rest at his position, once again an AL All-Star and All-Sabermetrics Team selection.
Altuve has a weighted on-base percentage of .409 and a wRC+ of 161, the latter of which hasn’t been topped in a full season since Joe Morgan in 1976. Though Altuve is one-tenth of a defensive win share below replacement level, his value shouldn’t be questioned. He continues to play at a clip that will rank him among the greatest second basemen of all time.
3B — Anthony Rendon, Nationals (WAR: 4.1) — first All-Sabermetrics Team selection
While Rendon watches the All-Star Game from Washington, he can do so knowing that his terrific first half of the season is appreciated by the sabermetric community. He’s second in wOBA and wRC+ and boasts an impressive .959 OPS on the season.
There are a lot of big bats playing third base, but only Arenado and Ramirez — both All-Star Game starters — have played like Rendon in the field in addition to the plate. He leads all third basemen in defensive win shares at 9.3 and is also a plus base runner. Rendon should be in Miami this week, there’s no doubt about that.
SS — Carlos Correa, Astros (WAR: 4.0) — first All-Sabermetrics Team selection
The childhood of mine and so many others saw a class of elite shortstops in the late 1990s, with names like Jeter, Rodriguez, Larkin and Garciaparra, to name a few. Baseball now boasts its next class of great shortstops, with the 22-year-old Correa looking to be the best of the bunch.
Correa has been named to his first All-Sabermetrics Team by edging out the Dodgers’ Corey Seager. His wRC+ of 161 — the same number as his teammate Altuve — is on pace to be the best since Rico Petrocelli in 1969. The Astros have a middle infield on a historic surge.
OF — Aaron Judge, Yankees (WAR: 5.5) — first All-Sabermetrics Team selection
Meet baseball’s newest star if you haven’t already. Judge is simply incredible to watch. To put it in perspective, the Yankees have gotten a larger batting cage so his 6-foot-8 frame can feel comfortable hitting 500-foot shots in batting practice. Judge is on pace for a 10.4 WAR, which would top Mike Trout for the best rookie season in baseball history, according to FanGraphs’ metrics.
Judge boasts an astronomical 1.139 OPS on the season, which would be the best since Barry Bonds in 2004. His 30 home runs and 66 RBIs at the break speak for themselves, but it comes with an impressive 49 percent hard contact clip. Judge also has the four hardest-hit home runs in StatCast exit velocity. He also has a wOBA of .466, also the best since Bonds in 2004.
OF — Mookie Betts, Red Sox (WAR: 4.2) — first All-Sabermetrics Team selection
The 24-year-old Betts is enjoying the best season of his young career, ranking among the game’s best players this season. Betts has the same offensive and defensive value at 14.4 win shares, an example of his rounded game.
What’s most impressive about Betts’s game is that he boasts a league-best 8.3-percent strikeout rate. He also gets on base with a .354 wOBA and is the best defensive outfielder this season, with his 14.4 defensive win shares and 18.3 ultimate zone rating. He’s an all-around superstar and a year younger than Judge.
OF — Bryce Harper, Nationals (WAR: 3.8) — second All-Sabermetrics Team selection
After a down season in 2016 in which he posted a 3.5 WAR, Harper is already ahead of that pace by returning to his usual form. Harper once again looks like Harper, leading the core of Zimmerman, Rendon and more in Washington. It’s also worth remembering that the six-year MLB veteran Harper is younger than Judge and Bryant.
Harper has a slash of .324/.431/.590 on the season, rounding out an OPS of 1.021. Though his value in the field and on the base paths is below replacement level, Harper’s excellence with the bat is certain. His .432 wOBA is third behind Judge and Votto, and his 161 wRC+ is tied for third.
P — Chris Sale, Red Sox (WAR: 5.3) — first All-Sabermetrics Team selection
In his debut season in Boston, Sale has been excellent and earned the nod as the AL All-Star starter. In fact, his numbers have been good enough to top Max Scherzer as the game’s best pitcher to this point.
Sale has a 2.09 FIP (fielding independent pitching) to his 2.75 ERA, which would suggest that his numbers would be even better with improved defensive play and ballpark factors behind him. Such is life when pitching in Fenway Park. Of course, Sale mitigates damage with a league-best 12.55 strikeout-per-nine rate, and he ranks fourth with a 9.1-percent home run-to-flyball rate. His moment on the mound is coming Tuesday night in Miami, and it’s well deserved.