Everybody knows that when you vote in an election, it’s important to be informed about the candidates. This June, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to cast their ballots in a very important election. No, I’m not talking about the New York City Mayoral Primaries, I’m talking about the preliminary round of the 2021 MLB All-Star Game, which starts this Thursday, June 3rd.
For those who don’t remember, since it’s been two years since we’ve had an All-Star Game and the system was only implemented for the first time in the 2019 season, the All-Star ballots are no longer a straight vote. Instead, the top-three vote-getters at each position from a first round of voting, which takes place this year from June 3rd to June 24th, engage in a run-off election to determine the starters. So, before the first round of voting begins, let’s take a look at each position in the AL, and see which players might expect to find themselves as finalists for this year’s All-Star Game starting lineup.
Unless otherwise noted, stats are as of the end of play on Sunday, May 30th.
Arguably one of the weakest positions in the American League, at the moment, only two catchers even qualify for the batting title: Kansas City’s Salvador Pérez (0.9 fWAR, 118 wRC+) and Boston’s Christian Vázquez (0.6 fWAR, 78 wRC+). Despite the benefit of additional playing time, however, neither are near the top of the rankings.
From a purely statistical perspective, Tampa Bay’s Mike Zunino (1.4 fWAR, 137 wRC+) and Chicago’s Yasmani Grandal (1.1 fWAR, 124 wRC+) are at the top of the list, the former seeing his low batting average (.212) bolstered by 12 home runs, the latter his extremely-low average (.135) by an absurd walk rate that leads to a .393 OBP. Minnesota’s Mitch Garver (1.0 fWAR, 132 wRC+) probably splits the difference a bit.
In a normal year, Los Angeles’s Jared Walsh (11 HR, 156 wRC+), Chicago’s José Abreu (11 HR, 144 wRC+), and Oakland’s Matt Olson (13 HR, 146 wRC+) would be in for a dogfight at the top of the ballot, while Trey Mancini (11 HR, 143 wRC+) would be the league’s feel-good story.
Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr., however, has made all these debates moot, as he has been arguably the best hitter in baseball, with a league-leading 16 long balls and a .331/.440/.652 slash line that is good for 3.2 fWAR and a league-best 197 wRC+.
Coming into the season, many pegged Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu as a leading candidate to start for the American League. Unfortunately for Yankees fans, he’ll only be able to force his way into a conversation for a bench spot with an outstanding June. With a 97 wRC+ after Monday afternoon’s game, it’s been a big step down from his 2019-20 form.
There’s a good chance that we will see an all-Toronto right side of the infield, as Marcus Semien (.286/.351/.537, 144 wRC+) has been far and away the best second baseman in the league this year, and his 13 home runs are four more than the second-best, Tampa Bay’s Brandon Lowe.
The Central Division looks to put up multiple leading candidates for the starting third base job, as Chicago’s Yoan Moncada (2.2 fWAR, 145 wRC+) and Cleveland’s José Ramírez (1.8 fWAR, 138 wRC+) have put together strong seasons so far. Boston’s Rafael Devers (2.1 fWAR, 156 wRC+) has also made a case for himself, as his 14 home runs lead the position, and may in fact have the inside track due to playing in the AL East and the Boston market.
The competition for a bench spot among shortstops will be brutal, as Texas’s Isiah Kiner-Falefa (1.7 fWAR, 109 wRC+), Houston’s Carlos Correa (1.6 fWAR, 132 wRC+), and Toronto’s Bo Bichette (11 HR, 1.5 fWAR, 120 wRC+) will be competing for at most two spots, and possibly only one. Barring something unforeseen, however, Boston’s Xander Bogaerts (10 HR, 2.5 fWAR, 160 wRC+) will be named an All-Star starter for the second time in his career.
Perhaps more so than any other position, the starting outfield for the American League will come down to injuries. The widely-accepted best player in the game, Mike Trout, may earn an All-Star nod from the fans due to his exalted status in the game and a phenomenal 36 games (2.4 fWAR, 198 wRC+ in 36 games), but there’s little reason to think that he will play in the game due to a right calf strain that will sideline him until roughly the All-Star Break. Byron Buxton, meanwhile, appeared to be having his long-awaited breakout season (2.6 fWAR, 224 wRC+, 9 HR in 24 games), but he has been out since May 7th with a right hip strain, and his return is far from imminent.
Of those that are healthy at the moment...well, take a look for yourself.
There are a lot of talented outfielders having great seasons. Does national popularity give Aaron Judge a leg up? Will Adolis García’s great comeback story resonate with voters? Will fans still angry at the Houston Astros vote for Ramón Laureano because he sparked a brawl with the Astros last season? We’ll find out soon enough.
Earlier in the season, Giancarlo Stanton put himself into the conversation with a monstrous twelve games in which he hit six long balls and a .481/.509/.904 slash line, good for a 292 wRC+ and 1.2 fWAR. However, his overall performance — 9 dingers and a 127 wRC+ after Monday’s hitless outing — has put him out of the running in a stacked DH category, although, once again, a strong June could put him in position for a bench spot.
With all due respect to Chicago’s Yermin Mercedes (seven HR, 1.1 fWAR, 148 wRC+) and Houston’s Yordan Álvarez (seven HR, 1.2 fWAR, 143 wRC+), this battle is going to go down to two very different players, Boston’s J.D. Martinez (12 HR, 2.0 fWAR, 168 wRC+) and Los Angeles’s Shohei Ohtani (15 HR, 1.7 fWAR, 156 wRC+). Personally, I am hoping for Ohtani to be the AL’s starting pitcher — he has a 2.72 ERA and is worth 0.6 fWAR in 7 starts — in addition to being the designated hitter, just for the novelty.
Other Candidates: The Pitchers
Although not directly voted on by the fans, there are still two more Yankees who have a strong chance at making the All-Star team. Gerrit Cole, in truth, is probably the favorite at the moment to be the starting pitcher, as he leads the American League in fWAR by a full win with 3.0 (Nathan Eovaldi of Boston is in second with 2.0), has the lowest FIP in the AL (1.72) among starting pitchers, and has an otherworldly 33.5 K-BB%. Corey Kluber was beginning to pitch himself into the conversation for a spot, culminating in his no-hitter — his 1.0 fWAR in May was tied for third in the AL, courtesy of a 2.27 ERA (2.62 FIP); however, the shoulder injury has put an end to that dream.
In a similar vein, Aroldis Chapman is almost certainly going to be one of the pitchers anchoring the AL bullpen, as he is second among relievers in fWAR with 1.0, behind only Boston’s Matt Barnes, and his 0.45 ERA is second only to Kendall Graveman of Seattle among relievers who have thrown at least 10 innings. If an All-Star team was being picked tomorrow, it seems that the only Yankee locks would be Cole and Chapman, with Judge in “very likely but not definite” territory.