Had this been a normal season, the 2020 All-Star Game would have been played last night in Dodger Stadium. In the absence of the normal 2020 season, Baseball-Reference has been using Out of the Park Baseball 21 to give us an alternate universe in which the pandemic did not occur.
In lieu of the typical weeks’ worth of arguments over the All-Star Game rosters, I’ve decided to dive into the stats generated by the site’s simulation to determine what the All-Star Game starting lineups might have looked like, and which Yankees would have had a chance at cracking the roster.
New Chicago White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal has been the best virtual catcher by far, posting a .268/.391/.540 batting line with 19 homers and 17 doubles in 77 games. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez has also put up a respectable season, with a .254/.347/.511 line that includes 20 homers but only 10 doubles; nonetheless, his OPS falls more than 60 points behind Grandal’s. The starting nod clearly goes to the catcher having a career year.
On the National League side, J.T. Realmuto is the clear starter, with his .889 OPS more than 100 points above that of the second-place finisher, Buster Posey’s .787.
No American League first baseman truly established themselves as the bona fide best in the league, although the virtual Carlos Santana put himself in a position to repeat as the starter (.309/.384/.518, 17 homers, 24 doubles). Luke Voit would probably be the best candidate to challenge him (.273/.366/.509, 21 homers, 13 doubles).
In the National League, a neck-and-neck race would have emerged between Pete Alonso and Freddie Freeman, who have virtually identical OPS marks at .884 and .885, respectively. Both also accumulated exactly 3.0 WAR. They got there, however, by vastly different methods. Alonso posted a .237/.353/.532 slash line and is second in the league with 31 home runs; Freeman, meanwhile, has only 13 dingers, but a .300 average (.393 OBP) and 30 doubles, fifth most in baseball. Alonso might win the fan vote because of the 2019 hype, but honestly, it’s a coin flip.
Yankees fans will surely be happy to learn that Jose Altuve has been playing below his career averages in the OOTP sim (a .793 OPS), putting him well behind the two leading candidates for the American League starting second-base job. As the incumbent, DJ LeMahieu probably sits at an advantage, with a .301/.353/.493 slash-line and 17 homers. The Cleveland Indians’ new second baseman Cesar Hernandez, however, is having a breakout season in the simulation (.304/.374/.471), and challenges LeMahieu for the honor.
Ozzie Albies ran away with it in the senior circuit, with a .337/.382/.539 batting line, 15 homers, 24 doubles, and seven triples. Nobody else comes close, although defensive value brings Kolten Wong closest in WAR (4.5 vs 4.2) despite only a .796 OPS.
A stacked American League third-base class sees two rise above the rest, one for overall performance, one for pure offensive capability. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been one of the best hitters in the simulation, with a .291/.367/.556 slash-line (.922 OPS), 27 homers, and 15 doubles. However, his defensive woes, which has caused the real-life Toronto Blue Jays to shift him to first base in 2020, brings his total WAR down to only 3.5. Matt Chapman, on the other hand, has led AL third basemen with 4.7 WAR due to his defense (although his .844 OPS is not too shabby). Who wins here depends on how you value the position.
Nolan Arenado combines both elite defensive and elite offense in the National League, hitting 30 homers, 19 doubles, and a triple, good for a whopping .965 OPS. His 5.4 WAR is the best for any third baseman, and fifth in all of baseball.
No shortstop has started the All-Star Game for the American League in consecutive seasons since Derek Jeter in 2009-2010; that does not expect to change. Francisco Lindor (.301/.366/.543) leads AL shortstops with 5.5 WAR, but he has been outhit slightly by Gleyber Torres (.300/.385/.540). In many respects, it becomes a question of whether or not Lindor’s national popularity or Torres’s ascendance in New York wins out in the popular vote.
Rockies shortstop Trevor Story (.281/.335/.579) likely joins his teammate to create an all-Colorado left side of the infield.
Perhaps by default, we can pencil Mike Trout (.278/.439/.571) in as the starting center fielder in the American League. But who starts beside him? Were we to sort purely by WAR, that answer would surprisingly be Michael Brantley (.379/.431/.590, 4.1 WAR) and Mike Tauchman (.315/.382/.580, 3.7 WAR), despite the fact that they have only played 70 and 74 games out of the more than 90 that have been simulated, respectively. Focusing on OPS, Trey Mancini (.314/.420/.566, 2.5 WAR) slightly edges out Tauchman. Aaron Judge (.314/.420/.566, 3.1 WAR) misses out from a starting job in both categories, although he likely makes the squad as a backup.
Cody Bellinger (.308/.431/.651) and Juan Soto (.341/.444/.676) easily earn two of the National League outfield spots, as they arguably are having the two best offensive performances in the league, and each of them are worth more than 6 WAR. The third spot, however, is a toss up between Christian Yelich (.314/.420/.566) and Victor Robles (.295/.368/.521), who have 4.5 and 4.4 WAR, respectively. Yelich would appear to edge out Robles, but in an actual vote, how much would Nationals fans push to get both Soto and Robles in as starters?
Yordan Alvarez emerges as the clear favorite for the starting DH job in the AL almost by default. His .297/.384/.552 slash-line is the best at his position, and he leads full-time designated hitters with 25 home runs. Had anti-Astros bias among voters occurred — and had there been a true fan vote, there likely would have been — then Nelson Cruz (271/.363/.510) likely would have taken the job, in large part due to relatively down years by the league’s other full-time designated hitters.
Had the OOTP computer managers used common sense, Shohei Ohtani probably wins this spot, partially due to his novelty, partially due to his .282/.348/.522 that gives him 15 homers in only 58 games. However, in its infinite wisdom, the computer decides that Ohtani best fits in the lineup as a right fielder despite never playing there in his Major League career.
That’s not the only bad DH decision by the computer, however: with Giancarlo Stanton used as the starting left fielder, Mike Ford assumed the majority of DH duties, splitting time with Brett Gardner (my hunch is that the computer fills out the eight fielders first and then selects a DH, and doesn’t bother to determine if a better defensive lineup can be created out of those nine, giving weird results).
Going strictly by WAR, the OOTP simulation gives us a very fitting matchup for its All-Star Game: Gerrit Cole vs. Max Scherzer — i.e., the same matchup projected to open the 2020 season on July 23.
Virtual Cole has been everything that the Yankees wanted, posting an 11-3 record with a 3.09 ERA at the All-Star break, striking out 171 batters (leading the AL) while throwing 131 innings, among the most in baseball. Scherzer, meanwhile, continues his run as a top-five arm in all of baseball; he leads the league in WAR (5), innings pitched, strikeouts (207), K/9 for starting pitchers (13.6), K/BB for starting pitchers (9.86), and quality starts (16).
Two Other Potential Yankee All-Stars
For the most part, the Yankees listed in the position breakdowns represent the players who have a shot at cracking the All-Star roster. While All-Star relievers can be difficult to predict, Aroldis Chapman (1.89 ERA, 54 strikeouts, 23 saves in 33 innings) and Adam Ottavino (2.11 ERA, 49 strikeouts in 38 innings) have strong cases to make the hypothetical virtual squad.