Summer is officially here, and while there is still more than half a season’s worth of baseball left to play, Smash Mouth season is entering the stretch run. Under MLB’s eternally silly but absurdly fun voting system that nearly allowed Omar Infante to start the 2015 All-Star Game rocking a negative win above replacement, we the fans have our say in selecting who will take the field for the first few innings of the Midsummer Classic. And this year, the competition is more entertaining than ever. Instead of just one election, the first round of voting, which ended June 21, advanced the top three vote-getters at each position (top nine in the outfield) to a two-day runoff that will determine the starter (three starters in the outfield). My eternal thanks to the honorable men and women at the league offices who contributed to the decision to let us get truly wild.
Unsurprisingly, our Yankees, boasting the American League’s second-best winning percentage through June 20, are well represented in the final vote. Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, Gary Sanchez, and Aaron Judge garnered enough support to compete for the starting nod at their respective positions on the Junior Circuit’s squad. Of course, if it were up to me, Progressive Field would be pockmarked with pinstripes in the top of the first on July 9. I’d send all these guys right through. But that doesn’t make for a very interesting article! So let’s examine each of the candidates more closely and evaluate who truly deserves to start the game and who might be left on the bench or even out of the contest entirely. And let’s do it in a ridiculous way befitting this ridiculous exercise. Paying homage to the 1999 hit song made famous by the movie Shrek, I’ve developed a three-tiered ranking system for our contenders.
- You’re An All-Star: pack your bags and get ready to play. You’re starting the game.
- You’re A Rock Star: another year you might’ve started, but the competition is too fierce, and you’re likely not quite there. The players will choose you as a reserve.
- Only Shooting Stars Break the Mold: better luck next year. You’re not starting – keep your fingers crossed for the players’ vote.
Without further ado, let’s begin! Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me…
First Base – Luke Voit
Brian Cashman, man. Let that dude start the All-Star Game. Does anyone even remember Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos? In case you don’t, and I certainly wouldn’t blame you for that, those two middling relief pitchers were the price for Voit last summer. 471 plate appearances into his Yankees career, Voit’s slashing .290/.395/.563 for a wRC+ of 156. Not bad. Not bad at all.
This year, Voit has regressed a bit in a way we all anticipated. But he’s still provided a solid and reliable presence in the middle of the Yankees lineup, a veritable Rock of Gibraltar against the tidal wave of injuries and uncertainty. His wRC+ sits at a lofty 138 for the season, he’s slugged 17 home runs, and he’s posted a gaudy 14.9 percent walk rate. The savvy of the Voit trade cannot be overstated. Another question: does anyone remember Greg Bird?
Among hitters who could reasonably qualify as full-time first basemen, Voit ranks second in the league in total WAR to Carlos Santana, and sadly, the margin is pretty large (2.4 to 1.6). Santana’s in the midst of a renaissance in his return to Cleveland, and he’s putting up even better offensive numbers than Voit in 2019, all while being less of a liability in the field and on the basepaths. Especially as a hometown representative, Santana probably deserves the starter’s nod. But there’s no doubt Voit is going to be in Cleveland, and hopefully we’ll see him at the Home Run Derby, too. Verdict: You’re A Rock Star
Second Base – DJ LeMahieu
This really should be a four-horse race. LeMahieu, Brandon Lowe, Tommy La Stella, and Whit Merrifield are virtually inseparable atop the AL second base rankings. Here are their respective WARs: 2.2, 2.2, 2.1, 1.9. All four are having great seasons. All four would be good selections to start the All-Star Game.
Because of the nature of this beast, it’s possible, if not probable, that none of them will. Lowe and Merrifield didn’t even make the final vote cut. A real shame, as Lowe has a real shot at winning Rookie of the Year with a slash line of .276/.335/.528 and a 130 wRC+ mark. Too bad the Rays have so few fans to vote for this thing that they’re trying to flee St. Pete for half the year. Merrifield’s putting together another signature solid season (wRC+ of 121) but probably suffers for playing in the baseball cesspool that is Kansas City at the moment.
La Stella and LeMahieu made the cut, along with perpetual All-Star and fanned favorite José Altuve. This would normally be fine, except that Altuve has only played in 41 games this year, and posted pretty mediocre stats to boot. He’s recently returned to action and has been spotted flailing wildly at a Tommy Kahnle changeup for a strikeout in their June 20 showdown.
LeMahieu has been flat out unbelievable atop the Yankees lineup this year. He’s hitting for solid contact, barely whiffing, and providing plus defense and baserunning as well across multiple positions. He’s posted a 14.6 ultimate zone rating per 150 games as a second baseman, by far the best mark among regulars at that position. La Stella’s been a little better offensively and strikes out even less but is nowhere near the defender and baserunner that LeMahieu is. Odds are Altuve wins this vote, because we can’t have nice things. But the best season of the three belongs to LeMahieu. He should be the starter. Verdict: You’re An All-Star
Third Base – Gio Urshela
I wrote about Urshela earlier this year – what a pleasant surprise he’s been! A 117 wRC+ is more than any Yankee fan could have possibly expected from a player previously known only for his glove. When Miguel Andújar went down with a torn labrum, Urshela was called upon to fill the void, and boy did he. Now that Didi Gregorius has returned to the fold and LeMahieu is having a career year, there’s less of a need for Urshela to play every day. In addition, Urshela’s bat has come back down to earth somewhat. He’s hitting just .213 in the month of June as his batting average on balls in play has plummeted to .200. The correction was expected, and I believe Urshela will still be a useful bench piece for the Yankees moving forward. In a final vote competition with Alex Bregman, however, there’s simply no doubt who deserves to start the All-Star game. Verdict: Only Shooting Stars Break the Mold
Shortstop – Gleyber Torres
A few reminders: Gleyber Torres is 22 years old, has a full season barely under his belt and has been playing a position that he hadn’t seen regular time at since his minor league days this year. What an absolute stud he is. Torres is slashing .287/.347/.535 (129 wRC+) and both the advanced metrics and the eye test show that he’s been a plus defender at shortstop, and looks far more comfortable there than he did at second last season.
Torres is fifth among qualifying American League regular shortstops in WAR, trailing Xander Bogaerts, Marcus Semien, Jorge Polanco, and Adalberto Mondesi. Bogaerts is putting together a career season on both sides of the ball, Semien’s glove is otherworldly, and Mondesi is a quickly rising young star. But fan vote!!! None of those three made the cut. Bogaerts, in particular, is a tremendous player, and it’s downright hilarious to me that there wasn’t enough Sox fan enthusiasm to let him even sniff the runoff.
Torres joins the final vote along with Polanco and the recently-injured Carlos Correa, who was himself having a great year before cracking his rib doing who knows what. Polanco’s got the slight edge for me here. He’s putting up the best offensive numbers of the bunch, and he’s not the baserunning liability that Gleyber is (though I’m confident Gleyber can improve in this regard). But Torres has the numbers to make the team. There’s stiff competition, so no guarantee he will, but he’s going to be one of the best players in baseball soon. Verdict: You’re A Rock Star
Catcher – Gary Sánchez
Not much needs to be said here. Sánchez is the best offensive catcher in baseball and is leading all American League catchers in WAR. The margin is slimmer than you might think because James McCann has a .407 BABIP that’s going to regress hard and Christian Vazquez is a whiz with the glove. But Vazquez isn’t in the final vote, and McCann isn’t half the player Gary is. He’s vying to become just the sixth catcher ever, and the first since Javy Lopez in 2003, to hit 40 home runs. Johnny Bench and Mike Piazza did it twice each, and Roy Campanella, Lopez, and Todd Hundley once each. That’s insane company. Game, set, match The Kraken. Verdict: You’re An All-Star
Outfield – Aaron Judge
What to do about Aaron Judge? Since he appeared in only 20 games before joining the parade to the IL with a strained oblique, there’s absolutely no way Judge should start the All-Star game this year. It’s too bad because he was putting up typical Judge numbers before he went down, slashing .288/.404/.521 for a 145 wRC+ and a 15.7 percent walk rate. Exactly in line with his 2018 season, in which he started the Midsummer Classic. Bad, bad luck.
I didn’t vote for Judge in the preliminary selection process, and I won’t vote for him in the runoff. Not because I don’t love him more than any other human being outside of my immediate family – I do. But I think that the All-Star Game serves to highlight the best performances of the season in which it’s held. I don’t think Judge should get a spot just because he’s one of the best players in the game and the face of MLB. He very well could win this thing, especially if he returns to the fray and really tears things up this week. And I wouldn’t be disappointed to see him out there, by any stretch. It’s just not my philosophy to vote that way. I’m not going to grade Judge on the Smash Mouth scale because of his long absence. Either way, he’s an All-Star forever in my heart.