We’ve more or less reached the one-third mark of the regular season, which means the All-Star Game voting season is just around the corner. It fact, it’s here, with the fan ballot opening tomorrow at 12:00 P.M. EDT. Earlier in the day, John ran down a list of Yankees hitters who have a shot at making the team, which means it’s my turn to review the pitchers who could represent the AL in Los Angeles on July 19th.
Although fans unfortunately can’t vote in this category, AL skipper Dusty Baker and the rest of the players around the league are all but guaranteed to take several of the Yankees’ potent arms into consideration.
As Joe wrote last week, Nestor Cortes has a strong claim to start the All-Star Game for the American League. It’s no stretch of the imagination to say that he has been one of the best starters in baseball and currently sports the lowest ERA (1.50) among all qualified pitchers in the league while sitting fourth in fWAR (1.9) and FIP (2.49) and sixth in K-BB% (23.6 percent). And he’s doing it all with a fastball whose average velocity places it in the fifth percentile of the league. His combination of elite raw stuff from a movement standpoint, craft, and moxie are a breath of fresh air compared to stereotypical image of the hulking starter storming around the mound in a huff.
Gerrit Cole is the other Yankees starter who’s a lock to make the All-Star team. After a putrid start to the season that saw him allow eight runs in 11.1 innings across his first three starts, Cole is right back to looking like the most dominant pitcher in the AL. In those intervening eight starts, Cole is tops in MLB in fWAR (2.2) and second in K-BB% (29.5 percent). Overall, he sits tied with teammate Cortes for fourth in fWAR (1.9), fourth in K-BB% (25.7 percent), and seventh in FIP (2.58). He averages the highest velocity on his fastball (97.8 mph) of any starter in baseball which along with the addition of a cutter has allowed him to tally the third-most strikeouts (81) in the first third of the season.
Jameson Taillon has a borderline case for being a lock for the All-Star Game — he’s been that good to start the season. He owns the lowest walk rate (2.2 percent) among all qualified pitchers, allowing him to be pitch efficient and go deep in games — he’s lasted at least seven innings in each of his last three starts. He won’t wow you with the strikeout totals, but he leverages his six-pitch mix to keep hitters off-balance. He currently sits seventh among AL starters in fWAR (1.6), and eighth in ERA (2.30) and FIP (2.88). That he has quietly transformed himself into a top-ten starter in the AL is made all the more impressive given the injuries he’s had to overcome in his career.
Like teammate Taillon, Luis Severino is one of the feel-good stories in MLB. To see him reclaim some of the form that made him a dominant ace in the league before losing the majority of three consecutive seasons to injury is inspiring. But this isn’t the same pitcher that terrorized opposing lineups in 2017 and 2018. Severino’s evolution — including reshaping his slider, adding a cutter, and diversifying his changeup usage — makes him arguably a better pitcher even if he’s not routinely hitting triple digits on the radar gun. Speaking of that cutter, it’s already one of the best in the game, inducing the third-highest whiff rate (54.8 percent) of any in baseball. He is comfortably in the top-20 among AL starters in ERA, FIP, K-BB%, and fWAR
Jordan Montgomery has probably the slimmest chance of his rotationmates at making the All-Star Game, but I was surprised to learn that he is actually out-pitching Severino in a handful of categories. Stylistically, he doesn’t feel like your normal All-Star Game pitcher, relying on changeup and curveball for almost half his pitches. Then again, neither does Cortes. Like Severino, Montgomery is in the top-20 among AL starters in ERA, FIP, K-BB%, and fWAR, so it’s a matter of whether voters can look past his win-loss record (he’s 1-1 after receiving some of the worst run support of any starting pitcher) and recognize how effective a pitcher he’s been.
Clay Holmes has been arguably the most dominant reliever in baseball to start the season. After giving up a run on Opening Day against the Red Sox, Holmes has not surrendered another in the 24 games across 26 innings since. His demon sinker grades out as the third-best pitch in baseball at -11 runs according to Statcast and a .190 xwOBA against. As if that wasn’t enough, he was one of the first Yankees pitchers to adapt the whirly slider, and it already features some of the most horizontal movement of any slider in baseball. He is third in MLB behind only Josh Hader and J.P. Feyereisen (who have yet to give up a run this season) in ERA (0.34) and inside the top-10 in walk rate and FIP.
The only other pitcher who could challenge Holmes for the crown of most valuable reliever in baseball is teammate Michael King, who currently sits atop the MLB reliever leaderboard with 1.4 fWAR and 42 strikeouts. He also leads all pitchers in called-strike-plus-whiff rate (38.3 percent) and is sixth in put-away rate (percent of two-strike pitches resulting in strikeout) (32.8 percent). Among AL relievers, King is third in K-BB% (30.3 percent) and sixth in FIP (1.85). If not for a rocky stretch in May that saw him give up nine runs on 15 hits in 11.1 innings, we’d be talking about King as the unequivocal best reliever in MLB.
This one’s definitely a stretch, but Wandy Peralta may have an outside shot at sneaking into the All-Star Game, especially if some of the pitchers ahead of him in the AL pecking order miss the game due to injury or opt-out. Thanks to a fastball-changeup combo that feature well-above-average horizontal movement, Peralta has thrived at inducing weak contact. He is currently in the 94th percentile in opponent wOBA, 93rd percentile in average exit velocity, and owns the 16th-highest groundball rate (55.6 percent) of any AL reliever. His 1.96 ERA is good for 24th among AL relievers, so it’ll undoubtedly be an uphill battle for the lefty to receive an invite to Los Angeles.