The 2012 Major League Baseball All-Star Game takes place tonight at 7:30 ET at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, where the National League will try to win their 3rd Mid-Summer Classic in a row over the Junior Circuit—a notion that was utterly unthinkable just 5 years ago. And if you’re under the impression that the game doesn’t matter just because the managers treat it like a coed company softball game (I think they even give participation trophies), think again: the league that wins the AS Game gets home field advantage in the World Series, and the last two WS were won by underdog National League teams. So, yeah.
Anyway, as we’ve come to expect, there was a ton of debate over the selections and omissions for the 2012 squads—hello, Dusty Baker—and some feelings were hurt. But it’s all pretty silly, because there’s no way to make everybody happy.
That being said, it is fun to talk about the other great players you won’t be seeing in Kansas City tonight. So today I’ve put together this official team of Non-All-Star All-Stars, a team made up of the guys who didn’t make the cut for one of the official squads. And while I don’t think this team would beat either of the real All-Star Teams, I do think they’d probably win any division in baseball.
So check it out. I don’t think I missed any obvious choices, but if I did, let me know.
I know what you're thinking: "James MacWho?" And I probably wouldn't have believed it, either, if you told me back in April I would select Pittsburgh's James MacDonald to be the starting pitcher on my Non-All-Star All-Star Team over guys like Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, and Jeremy Hellickson. But through 17 starts the guy in 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA (5th best in baseball), 100 Ks, and a 0.97 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched—the 6th best in baseball). He definitely needs to improve his stamina to go longer into games (he's pitched a whole 10 innings less than Cueto this year), but this is the All-Star Game we're talking about, so he's not going go more than 3 innings anyway. So MacDonald's my guy.
13. SP: James MacDonald (Pirates)
After MacDonald goes his three innings, then I'd go with Johnny Cueto of the Reds. Through 18 starts the guy has a 2.39 ERA and a solid 1.16 WHIP. He's not quite as good as his manager Dusty Baker thinks he is, but he is good.
12. RP: Johnny Cueto (Reds)
For the third starting pitcher spot we've got Colby Lewis of the Texas Rangers. His ERA isn't as low as the other two guys, but you have to remember he pitched half his games in a hitters' ballpark in the American League. So his 3.50 is actually just about as good as MacDonald's 2.37. More importantly, Lewis has a measly 1.08 WHIP and a Halladay-esque strikeout-to-walk ratio of 7.50. That's tops in all of baseball by 2 whole points, meaning you just aren't going to get any free passes from Colby Lewis.
Really, it's unfair that I didn't give the SP gig to Colby Lewis. But with his control he's a much better choice to come into the game later, when guys are already on base. Let the less-experienced MacDonald start with the clean slate.
11. RP: Colby Lewis (Rangers)
Jason Motte isn't the best closer in baseball, but he is good (1.02 WHIP, 20 saves, a strikeout per inning), and the guy can bring the heat. Plus, he closed out an NLCS and a World Series last year, so that's gotta count for something. So with Jim Johnson, Craig Kimbrel, and Fernando Rodney on the real All-Star Game, Motte's the next-best choice.
10. CP: Jason Motte (Cardinals)
Can you guess who is the second-best hitting catcher in baseball this season? Yep, the White Sox's A.J. Pierzynski. He's only 6th in BA, but he's 1st in HRs (16) and 2nd to N.L. All-Star Carlos Ruiz in OPS (.865), so it's pretty silly that he's not on the real squad. But hey, we'll take it.
9. Starting C: A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox)
The Diamondback's Miguel Montero is a good hitter. This year he's hitting .272/.378/.419 with 8 HRs. But Montero's greatest value is behind the plate, where this year he has thrown out 47% of attempted base-stealers. The next closest guy has thrown out 38%, and he's no slouch—it's 4x gold glove winner Yadier Molina. So yeah, Montero is a real steal for our Non-All-Star All-Star Team.
8. Backup C: Miguel Montero (Diamondbacks)
You see an "M. Cabrera" that's second in all of baseball with a .353 batting average this year and you assume it's Detroit's Miguel Cabrera. But that's incorrect. It's San Francisco's Melky. And the guy isn't just hitting for average. He's also sporting a robust .391 OBP and a .519 slugging percentage for an OPS of .910. So I think we'll have hitting leadoff for the NASASs (pronounced "en-ay-ess-ay-esses").
7. OF: Melky Cabrera (Giants)
The American League has a lot of really good outfielders right now. The result is that Austin Jackson somehow didn't make the All-Star Team. But we'll take him and his .332/.408/.545 batting line and happily leave Trumbo and Trout (who have numbers very similar to Jackson's) for the real All-Stars.
6. OF: Austin Jackson (Tigers)
This year, Curtin Granderson of the Yankees is starting in the outfield for the actual AL All-Stars. He has 23 HRs and a .248/.352/.502 line. So we'll happily take Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays, with his 23 HRs and .295/.382/.565 line, and consider it an improvement. Sure, he's played a lot of 1B this year, but he also plays left field, so that's where we'll stick him.
5. OF: Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays)
Maybe you think it's unfair to put Allen Craig on here when he's only played 46 games. I say, who would you rather have at first base: Bryan LaHair (who actually is a National League All-Star) or a guy who has almost as many home runs as the top-hitting first basemen, and who hit 3 home runs in the World Series last year?
Yeah, I thought so. This year Allen Craig is hitting .313/.377/.614 with 13 HRs in only 176 at-bats. Even if it is a smaller sample size, it's still considerably better than anyone else at first base. (Mark Teixeira has 15 HRs in 300 ABs with a line of .250/.334/.473, and Prince Fielder has 15 HRs in 321 ABs with a line of .299/.380/.505.)
4. 1B: Allen Craig (Cardinals)
Well, it's been a good comeback season for Aaron Hill. After the Yankees' Robinson Cano (who is amazing), Aaron Hill has been the best-hitting second baseman in baseball pretty much any way you slice it. He's hitting .300/.355/.505 with 11 HRs and 21 doubles. (By comparison, Cano is hitting .313/.374/.578 with 20 HRs and 26 doubles.) On top of that, Hill is a solid defender—not as good as Brandon Phillips, but decent. So we could do worse than Hill at second base.
3. 2B: Aaron Hill (Diamondbacks)
I did not expect to choose Blue Jays third basemen Brett Lawrie for this team. I mean, he's having a good rookie year, batting .291/.334/.425 with 8 HRs, but it's not really amazing.
But here's the thing: when I looked into his defense, it turns out that the guy is off the charts. Both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference rank Lawrie as the best-fielding 3B in baseball. The former gives Lawrie an Ultimate Zone Rating of 9.1 (0.6 ahead of Mike Moustakas), and the latter lists his defensive WAR as 3.6 (0.7 ahead of everybody at every position). In fact, Baseball Reference has Lawrie's overall WAR at 5.0, which is tops in all of baseball. So that, apparently, is how good his defense has been.
Thus, with Lawrie's solid offensive credentials, he was the logical choice for our Non-All-Star All-Star Team.
2. 3B: Brett Lawrie (Blue Jays)
Shortstop was without a doubt the hardest position to fill on our Non-All-Star All-Star Team. There are very few shortstops having exceptional seasons offensively, and they're all on the actual All-Star Team. So I decided to find the best combination of offense and defense. And that search yielded Toronto's Yunel Escobar. His offensive numbers are way down this year (.254/.299/.355 compared to .290/.369/.335 last year), but his defense is still top-notch. Baseball Reference has him 4th in defensive WAR at 2.3, and he's third behind Seattle's Brendan Ryan and Boston's Mike Aviles in Ultimate Zone Rating.
Now, I could have gone with Houston's Jed Lowrie, who has an OPS of .803 and 14 home runs this year, but his defense is mediocre. So I figured, if you can't have an elite offensive player, you might as well have an elite defensive player. And that's what Escobar is.