As two more Royals lose their All-Star voting leads; here’s a statistical analysis of the Royals All-Star “candidates”

IMG_4347Yesterday, just four days before All-Star balloting ends and seven days before the All-Star starters are named, the Royals had five would-be starters, if that voting ended now. This is two weeks after the Royals peaked with EIGHT leaders.

Last week, Miguel Cabrera passed Eris Hosmer at first base, joining Mike Trout as the only non-Royals leading the fan voting. Seven is still an insane number. It hasn’t happened since the 1957 when the Reds had seven voted in, but MLB Commissioner Ford Frick stepped in and after an investigation claimed voting fraud on behalf of Reds fans, where half the votes came from Cincinnati, and took away two starters, Gus Bell and Wally Post, replacing them with legends Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Bell remained in the game as a reserve and Post missed the game with an injury. The five starters the Reds sent is still tied for the most for position players, tied with the Yankees in the very first game in 1933 (Yankees also had the starting pitcher in that game, so had six ‘starters’). MLB announced two weeks ago that it cancelled as many as 65 million All-Star ballots. But don’t worry Royals fans, its not a conspiracy to take our votes away.

Two weeks ago when the Royals had EIGTH guys out in front, everyone else freaked out when as Royals continued to dominate the All-Star vote. I’m sure the reaction and fallout would have been comical, too, if those results stuck, but it’s all going to work out for baseball, as it won’t be the Royals vs. the National League.

Now there’s stuff out, like this blog post, claiming that the All-Star voting process can easily be hacked, insinuating that Royals fans are doing just that. But, here’s the thing, it didn’t really happen.

Nelson Cruz regained the lead over Kendrys Morales at DH and Josh Donaldson, who has come from millions down to take a 1.4 million lead over Mike Moustakas at third base. Omar Infante hangs on to a slim lead at second base, although I expect him to be surpassed, avoiding the dilemma of being the worst All-Star starter, maybe, in history of the game – which spans 85 games. Trout passed Cain and Gordon in the outfield and will likely overtake Salvador Perez, as he should, as the top vote getter in the American League.

Now, let’s get to the point. Many – myself included – suggested that an All-Star case can be made for the seven of the eight Royals – everyone minus Infante – that have led at one point.

Let’s take a look if that is a credible claim.

Catcher

Salvador Perez is EASILY the leader here (5.2 million vote lead) and WILL be the starting catcher for the American League in the All-Star Game, barring a miracle. Does he deserve it?

Only four guys are qualified here, and they are the best four, at least offensively, at the position so far in 2015.

C Batting

Salvador Perez is a legit All-Star candidate. But, is the “worst” offensive player of the four players. That is saying a lot about the four guys, because Perez is having his best overall offensive year and is on pace for 28 HR – the only category he leads at the position (other than K rate), sharing it with Oakland’s Steven Vogt. He is last in three of the four slashline areas (counting OPS), only leading Brian McCann in batting average by a single point and Russell Martin by five. The only other areas he is not behind the other three is stolen bases (he is second with ONE), doubles (second) and his walk rate is brutal (but not as bad as MLB-worst teammate, Omar Infante). Despite having the best strikeout rate, his BB/K ratio is still poor. He also has the lowest WAR, BUT the highest clutch rating at 0.16, but barely above league replacement average. His 11 double plays are also last.

C Defense

Perez will never be the best offensive catcher, but his reputation as a plus-defensive player at one of the most important defensive positions propels him passed other candidates. But, Perez is not the best defensive catcher in this group, based on advanced defensive metrics. In fact, he ranks third with only Vogt (who is not a good defender, at all) behind him. His plus defensive tool is his arm, which likely registers in his high defensive runs saved (second best at the position behind Seattle’s Mike Zunino and first among the four candidates). Other defensive metrics, such as pitch framing and blocking are not on the high end. Per FanGraphs, Perez is among the worst, not just in the AL, but in MLB, in framing pitches, losing 100+ pitches per year for his pitchers. But, in the end, the All-Star Game is about who has the sexiest offensive stats for most (and they’re easier to measure) and Perez is the fourth best offensive catcher and third best defender. Defense is important at this position, maybe more than any other, and the combination makes it a close position to call. We’ll go with WAR, the metric that takes everything – hitting, defense and base running – into account as the tie-breaker, and Perez ranks fourth. Again, Perez is a fine catcher, but Vogt or Martin deserve to start and McCann probably should be the third catcher, but Perez would still be a worthy choice. But, it doesn’t really matter because he will be the starter and he is a legit candidate.

For the record, I would not trade Perez for any of these guys. But, RIGHT NOW, in this season, albeit surprising, the numbers are what they are. They don’t lie.

Who it SHOULD be: Vogt, Martin, McCann

Who it WILL be: Perez, Vogt, Martin

First Base

Miguel Cabrera continues to hold a slim lead over Eric Hosmer. I’ll continue to vote for Hosmer, but let’s take off our Royal Blue glasses off for a bit and be realistic for a moment. Miggy is an absolute stud and Hosmer has no business starting over him. That’s no knock on him, he’s still a very good player and a legit All-Star candidate for the first time in his career.

1B Offense

Offensively, he ranks sixth among 13 qualified first basemen. Basically, middle of the road. But, he does rank second in OBP and stolen bases, third in doubles and tied for first with three others in triples, but ranks in the lower half in every thing else, including second to last in HR, minus runs (5th). His walk rate, while second best on the Royals, is only better than Angels Albert Pujols and White Sox’s Jose Abreu. Meanwhile, Cabrera leads EVERY category except HR, where he ranks fifth and has nearly double the amount of Hosmer, runs (4th), triples, walk rate (2nd), strikeout rate (6th) and BB/K rate (2nd).

And, what has happened to Joe Mauer? Have fun with that contract, Minnesota.

I believe that first base is the least important defensive position on the field outside of pitcher, so defense doesn’t matter much here, as a lot of team’s give up some defense for dude’s who mash. While it is a nice luxury to have a Gold Glover in Hosmer, his defensive advantage (he is best in the AL at the position) isn’t enough to overcome Cabrera (ninth best defender, but makes the basic plays), who is the obvious choice here. Pujols (second best offensive 1B and surprisingly the second best defender) gets the next nod, if it were going strictly on numbers. The third spot, if there is one, comes down to the Yanks Teixeira and Hosmer. It’s close. Thanks to his defensive edge, Hosmer owns a 1.8 WAR to Tex’s 1.7, so, we’d go with Hosmer.

The good news here is Ned Yost is managing the game, and Hosmer will likely get selected by his manager. If Hosmer, the sixth best offensive player and best defender at the position, ends up losing the fan vote, he may not get selected if another manager was in charge of the AL roster. Now, another thing to consider, if Cabrera wins the fan and player vote, the No. 2 man in the fan vote, which would be Hosmer if he doesn’t pass Miggy, gets an automatic bid. Seems almost a sure thing that Hosmer makes it, then, under this scenario. Surely, Cabrera will win both. If we were picking the team, we’re keeping just two first basemen with Prince Fielder as the second DH, who could also play 1B, if needed.

Who it SHOULD be: Cabrera, Pujols,

Who it WILL be: Cabrera, Hosmer, Pujols

Second Base

Omar Infante, amazingly, still leads here. Houston’s Jose Altuve has slowly gained on him, and I expect him to make up the 200,000+ votes needed to earn the starting job by time its all said and done.

Neither player really deserves to be an All-Star, but Altuve can at least make a case, while Infante is the worst player at his position.

2B offense

A couple weeks ago, Infante was down near the Mendoza line, ranking as the WORST hitter among everyday players. Since, he has heated up, but he still ranks as the worst hitting second baseman among 11 qualified players. In 16 categories, he ranks last in half of them. The Yankees Steven Drew and A’s Eric Sogard are the ones giving him competition as the position’s worst, offensively. But hey, at least he ranks second in clutch factor, has the fewest double plays and tied for third in triples.

And, he’s the best defensive second basemen?

2B Defense

Our old friend Johnny Giavotella is last with the glove, No shock there.

So, who does deserve to be the position representatives? Cleveland’s Jason Kipinis leads half of the offensive categories and easily has the best WAR. Minnesota’s Brian Dozier is also having a fine season and is the next best offensive player at the position, across the board (and has the second best WAR), despite being a butcher in the field. They are the most deserving. A case could also be made for Dustin Pedroia and Altuve. Altuve will be a decent starting second basemen in the All-Star Game, but, there are other, more deserving guys.

Who it SHOULD be: Kipinis, Dozier

Who it WILL be: Altuve, Kipinis

Third Base

Mike Moustakas, after once appearing to be a lock at the position, is now at the mercy of being selected as a reserve if he’ll be a 2015 American League All-Star. With the backing of an entire country, Toronto’s Josh Donaldson has rallied and shot way ahead, up 1.4 million votes. Moose still has a decent shot to get into the game, like Hosmer, because his manager is selecting the team and Donaldson could win both the player and fan voting, giving Moustakas the automatic bid.

After being the one position in the American League where the most deserving players were the top vote getters, a red hot June (.414/.469/.724 – a 1.193 OPS – 6 2B, 7 HR, 20 RBI, 9 BB/9 K since 6/6) has propelled Manny Machado passed Moustakas in the American League third baseman pecking order.

That doesn’t change what Moustakas has done this year. In an amazing turnaround, he has went from the worst player at his position over the last three years to an All-Star worthy player. He’s the leader in batting average and OBP, but trails the other two in both slugging and OPS, mainly because Donaldson and Machado are 2-3 in HR (the .194/.274/.444 Luis Valbuena has 19 HR), while Moose only has two guys trailing him (tied with three others). Machado and Donaldson are also 1-2 in SB, RBI, runs and doubles. Of the three, Moustakas, in total Royals fashion, also walks the fewest, but strikes out the fewest. Moose also trails the two in WAR (fourth for the position) and is the lesser defensive player among the three.

3B offense

Donaldson deserves to start the game and Machado should be the reserve, but likely won’t because, Ned. The Orioles do need a representative, and if it’s not Adam Jones, or closer Zack Britton, then it could be Machado, which likely takes Moose’s spot away, unless they keep three at the position. Moose would be a deserving All-Star, but not more than these two. And, while we think some Royals on the edge will get in because of Ned, he can’t take everyone. This, like first base, could be a position that will be indicative of that. Moose, however, has a better case than Hosmer, but I think both will make it.

Who it SHOULD be: Donaldson, Machado, Moustakas

Who it WILL be: Donaldson, Moustakas, Machado

Shortstop

By far the worst position in the American League, it’s really slim pickings, here. Our very own Alcides Escobar will start the All-Star game and is a fine choice. But, what does the data show?

Screen shot 2015-06-30 at 12.08.55 PM

Slick fielding Jose Iglesias is doing more than just making highlight plays in the field. He doesn’t have much pop, but is posting a higher SLUG than Esky, while checking in with a healthy .330 batting average. He also has the highest WAR and OBP. Escobar is third in all the categories that Iglesias leads, and Boston’s Xander Bogaerts is second in all those areas, but also leads in SLUG and RBI and is second in OPS, while having the second worst walk rate behind, you guessed it, Escobar.

Escobar, who also has scored the most runs, ranks second in triples and doubles, is not a bad choice at shortstop. He is one of the guys where stats don’t tell the whole story on. Defensively, many of his errors are a result of getting to balls no one else can or rushing throws because of it. But, the eyes can also lie. Stats and numbers, don’t.

Screen shot 2015-06-30 at 12.15.36 PM

He’s not the best choice, either. Considered a great defensive player, Esky actually ranks out as a better offensive player (third best) than a defensive player (sixth of 11). Believe it, or don’t, whatever, but that’s what the number say. Again, some of his defensive metrics are skewed because of his ability to get to balls that most can’t. But, Detroit’s Iglesias and Bogaerts are both better options, statistically, at shortstop. The only other player under consideration would be Oakland’s Marcus Semien, who has the most HR, is second in SLUG, third in OPS and second in doubles, BUT, he’s an absolute butcher in the field with 23 errors and sports just a 0.9 WAR.

Escobar, this year, is the third best shortstop in the American League. Add in a guy like Houston rookie Carlos Correa, who has been up less than one month, is already the best player at the position, but I don’t think he’ll be considered as an All-Star. His 1.3 WAR indicates he is behind Escobar (1.4).

Who it SHOULD be: Iglesias, Bogaerts

Who it WILL be: Escobar, Iglesias

Outfield

Mike Trout, Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon will be your starters. Trout, of course, is the best player in the American League and the head of the class here, but what about the other two?

Gordon rates as the sixth best offensive outfielder in the AL – much better than I expected before I began my research, Lorenzo Cain 13th. Actually, lets change this to fifth and 12th, because Nelson Cruz is listed on the ballot as a DH.

Gordon and Cain are elite defensive players and that makes up for SOME of the ground they give up at the plate. As a result, their WAR (Cain 2.9 and Gordon (2.6) still ranks third and fifth, respectively, behind Trout (4.3).

Screen shot 2015-06-30 at 12.23.13 PM

Amazingly Tampa’s Kevin Kiermaier is flying under the radar with the second best WAR (3.1) among outfielders, BUT, is not an All-Star in my opinion, as he is heavily dependent on his defense (20 runs saved, 15.6 UZR, both easily best in the AL; Gordon and Cain rank 2-3 in UZR and Cain is third in runs saved), so we’ll eliminate him off the list. This opens the door for Detroit’s Yoenis Cespedes and JD Martinez, or Houston’s George Springer, Boston’s Mookie Betts or even Adam Jones for the final outfield spot.

Trout is a lock, and Cain and Gordon are worthy starters. Yes, both are better defensive players than offensive players, but, both are better offensive players than perceived. Rarely does one get into the All-Star game simply because of their defense, unless its Ozzie Smith, who continually got voted in. If you’re an elite defender – which Cain, Gordon and Keirmaier are – you have to be able to hit too, to be an All-Star. Cain and Gordon can. I’d start both, and no, I wouldn’t play Trout in CF. That position deserves to be Cain’s.

This, like third base, is a position that has the players right: Trout, Cain, Gordon, Brett Gardner, Jose Bautista, Cespedes

Designated Hitter

For whatever dumb reason, the Mariners have turned Nelson Cruz into an outfielder again, but, he’ll likely be the starter in All-Star game as a DH.

Screen shot 2015-06-30 at 1.14.41 PM

Morales, while having a fine season – on pace for 20 HR and 100+ RBI – rates as the fourth best DH in 2015 (fifth if you count Jose Bautista, who spent part of the season here while nursing an injury, but is on the ballot as an outfielder and is back playing RF, again). And, if he doesn’t get voted in, he won’t make it.

Cruz has been the head of the class here, but after hitting just one HR and three doubles in the entire month of June, the Rangers Prince Fielder is now the best DH in the AL. On the ballot as a first basemen, that position belongs to Mitch Moreland. In the meantime, Fielder has spent most of his time doing one thing, hitting. And, he’s doing a lot of it, leading the AL (.348), and is the leader among DH’s in OBP, OPS, RBI (tied with Morales). He has the third highest WAR, trailing Cruz and Alex Rodriguez, who based on what he has done at the plate, should also be an All-Star. Morales, however, is on the outside looking in. But, he has deserved being in the discussion throughout. Meanwhile, former DH Billy Butler rates last at the position, so it’s worked out well for the Royals. Cuban Breakfast > Country Breakfast.

Who it SHOULD be: Fielder, Cruz, ARod

Who it WILL be: Cruz, Fielder

***

What have we learned here? The Royals have two legit position player All-Star’s – Cain and Gordon – and a bunch of fringe candidates. Hosmer, Escobar and Moustakas are third best at their position. Perez and Morales, fourth best. It’s no knock on them, but they’re simply borderline candidates.

But, the statistical and sabermetric land I was just in is NOT the reality of the All-Star selection process, and the Royals have five shoe-ins – starters Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain and relief pitcher Wade Davis. Hosmer and Moose have circumstantial chances. Morales won’t make it unless he overtakes Nelson Cruz. Omar Infante still leads. The Royals are going to have AT LEAST five All-Stars. Probably six. Could have as many as nine. And then, there’s Greg Holland? Some will deserve it more than others.

AMAZING.

***

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