Tuma: Early 2022 MLB All-Star Selections

Jun 14th 2022

Brendan Tuma

I'm going to make a big ask of the internet. Are you ready? Here it goes.

Don't overreact to these early All-Star selections. Deep breaths, folks.

The reason I preface the article with this request isn't because I shy away from constructive feedback. In fact, I embrace it. If you feel I'm missing something obvious and have rationale to back up your claim, I'd love to hear it. Please don't hesitate to reach out on Twitter @toomuchtuma.

I promise that I put a lot (too much) time and consideration into these All-Star choices, so it isn't as if I threw them together at the last minute. Getting hit with replies of "no Fried? LOL!" isn't pushing forward the conversation. I'm here for the conversations. Let's have them.

But let's have the highest quality conversation that we can. It's all I ask.

Here is my process for making these (fake) All-Star teams in mid-June:

  1. Off the top of my head, go position-by-position for each league and write down who might be deserving from each team.

  2. Look at Fangraphs' positional leaderboards leaderboards (WAR, wRC+, OAA, traditional counting stats) for each league.

  3. Compare notes to other baseball writers doing a similar task, such as MLB's Mike Petriello.

While factoring in...

  1. Every team must be represented, even if it means choosing a slightly less deserving player (ex. Mancini vs Ward/Julio).

  2. The threshold for a superstar player to make the team is a tad lower than it is for a journeyman having a hot two-month start to the year. It just is. Juan Soto hasn't been Juan Soto this season, but he's still been pretty damn great. He's an All-Star.

  3. 20 position players and 12 pitchers per league, per MLB's guidelines.

As always, there are more good/deserving players than there are actual spots. We're here to celebrate these guys, even those who just missed out on making the team.

Finally - I promise I don't hate your favorite players. I just love my favorites more.

All stats are entering Tuesday, June 14th.

American League Selections

First Base: Ty France Alternate(s): Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Here's a fun one to kick things off! Vlad is obviously the bigger name and finished 2nd in the AL MVP voting last season. He's been good this year, posting a 131 wRC+ with 15 homers (tied with Anthony Rizzo for the AL lead among 1B).

However, his launch angle is at 4.0 degrees, which would be the lowest of his career if the season ended today. Last year's breakout stemmed from him hitting less grounders and more fly balls. In 2022 those fly balls have dried up. The performance has been enough to send him to LA, but not as the starter.

And that's because France leads AL first basemen in fWAR (2.3) and wRC+ (163). His hot-hitting dates back over the past calendar year. Since June 15, 2021 France has the 8th highest wRC+ (152) among all qualified hitters. This year's ASG will be a great opportunity to recognize him on a national stage.

Second Base: Jose Altuve Alternate(s): Andres Gimenez

The Altuve selection is boring but he just keeps hitting. His 154 wRC+ leads AL second basemen and would actually be the second highest mark of his career, only behind his 2017 MVP campaign. This is due to the continuation of last year's trend to hit more fly balls. It's working. It's the type of adjustment the great ones makes in their 30s.

As for Gimenez, he's playing elite defense and has made considerable strides as a hitter this spring. I covered his development more thoroughly here, but in short he's chasing less, hitting more line drives, and hitting the ball harder than ever before.

Third Base: Jose Ramirez Alternate(s): Rafael Devers

Today, Aaron Judge is my choice for AL MVP, but J-Ram is right behind him. Fresh off his hometown-discount, five-year extension to remain in Cleveland, Ramirez is operating as one of the best hitters in baseball. What makes him so special in 2022 is that he's posting elite power and production numbers while barely striking out.

Ramirez enters Tuesday with a 13.5 BB% and a 7.0 K%. He's one of 11 MLB hitters with more walks than strikeouts (min. 100 PA), but he's one of just two with an ISO above .155. Juan Soto is at .228 and J-Ram is at... .349. The amount of power he's hitting for while walking more regularly than he's striking out is preposterous.

Devers, meanwhile, has also been excellent, batting .335 with 14 homers and 3.4 fWAR (J-Ram is also at 3.4). The bat-to-ball skills that Devers possesses are out of this world. He's a very overqualified All-Star reserve.

Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts Alternate(s): Tim Anderson, Jeremy Pena

Anderson has the third most fWAR among American League shortstops despite appearing in just 40 games. In another frustrating year for the White Sox, TA has been invaluable. We've seen the best version of him this year as he's running another high BABIP but with a wildly reduced K%. Whether or not he actually winds up as an All-Star will come down to how quickly he returns from his groin strain.

That leaves the starting spot to one of Pena or Bogaerts, the latter of which is obviously the more established star. So he gets the nod for now (better offense too), but I really want to highlight how special Pena has been as an overall player.

Defensively, he ranks in the 99th percentile of Statcast's Outs Above Average metric. Houston has grown accustomed to this sort of defensive production in recent years, with Carlos Correa consistently ranking in the 93rd percentile or higher during his time with the Astros. Pena is very fast and has always been viewed as a good defender. When he added muscle without sacrificing mobility turning the pandemic shutdown, it led to his offensive breakout.

He's already had a lot of big moments and looks like a star. We're going to be talking about him a lot throughout the summer, likely culminating in an epic Rookie of the Year debate between him and Julio Rodriguez.

Catcher: Alejandro Kirk Alternate(s): Salvador Perez

Kirk has the second most fWAR in baseball among backstops. Neat!

What makes him special is that he never strikes out. Similar to J-Ram he has walked more often than he has K'd in 2022. His swinging strike rate isn't just low for a catcher. It's low, period. His peers in this regard are names like Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman, and it has led to Kirk producing an AL-leading 145 wRC+ (among catchers).

Perez isn't nearly as deserving based on his season thus far. He's actually been 15% worse than league average, though he leads AL backstops in homers (9) and RBI (29). His value to the Royals also can't be questioned as he's still playing literally every day as their organizational leader. Plus we need to send someone from Kansas City and this was as good of a spot as any to fit a Royal in.

Outfield: Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Yordan Alvarez Alternate(s): Kyle Tucker, Byron Buxton, Trey Mancini, George Springer

Choosing the American League outfielders as a whole was probably the toughest part of making these teams. The starters were easy. Judge and Trout are obvious. Alvarez could've been the starting DH but I wanted to fit in both JDM and Ohtani. There will be plenty of time to discuss this trio's greatness this summer.

As for the reserves, Buxton is the Twins' representative. Minnesota is giving him regular time off since an awkward knee injury suffered in early April, but only Judge has more homers in baseball this year.

Tucker has simply been tremendous for one of baseball's best teams, as has Springer. I really wanted to give Julio Rodriguez or Taylor Ward a spot, but J-Rod is still crawling out of a sluggish April and Ward has missed time. This leads us to Mancini, who has been on a scorcher since April ended, as our lone Baltimore representative.

Designated Hitter: JD Martinez Alternate(s): Shohei Ohtani

JDM had a stretch from May 31st through August 26th of 2021 where he posted just a 99 wRC+. It looked like the beginning of the end for an aging slugger, but the 34-year-old has come back with a vengeance this spring, posting a 174 wRC+ that is the 6th best mark among all AL hitters. This has been due to a freakish run at the plate where he's basically hitting everything on the sweet spot.

As for Ohtani, no he hasn't been as good offensively this year, but he's still been pretty damn good. It's the All-Star game. Ohtani is a superstar TWO-WAY PLAYER having a rock-solid year. He's in.

Starting Pitcher: Shane McClanahan Alternate(s): Kevin Gausman, Justin Verlander, Alek Manoah, Nestor Cortes, Tarik Skubal, Frankie Montas, Martin Perez

Shane McClanahan was the one player I had to have in fantasy this year and my goodness is he making me look good. He leads American League starters in K-BB% and xFIP while ranking second in ERA. Building on his rookie campaign, McClanahan is locating his fastball better and has optimized his pitch mix (including using his changeup more against righties). I'd argue that as of this moment he's the favorite AL Cy Young honors.

Competition for that award will come from Toronto's deadly 1-2 punch of Gausman and Manoah. Gausman leads AL hurlers in FIP and therefore fWAR. It took him until May 7th to allow a walk.

And then there's Manoah, who's K% is down from 2021 (8.1 K/9) but he's still getting swinging strikes and the BB% is down too. Manoah's first-pitch strike rate is up so I think his approach is intentional. He's proving to be an outlier in terms of inducing weak contact, and he's totaled 11 quality starts in 12 appearances this season.

Skubal, Montas, and Perez are all having good seasons and are their team's lone representatives. "Nasty Nestor" is an amazing story. Verlander has his lowest K/9 since 2015 and a 3.49 FIP, but his 1.91 ERA says it all. He leads the AL in innings. There are several SPs who were difficult to leave off the roster. They're listed at the end of this piece.

Closer: Clay Holmes Alternate(s): Liam Hendriks, Jordan Romano, Emmanuel Clase

What the Yankees have done with Holmes has been outstanding. Acquired in a minor deal with the Pirates at the 2021 trade deadline, NYY simply had him start throwing his sinker more, which attacks batters with an elite vertical approach angle.

In 2022 he's throwing the pitch even more while locating it better than he ever has. The sample size is small but he's become a top-5 closer in baseball. Among AL relievers with at least 25 innings, Holmes leads everyone in ERA (0.31), FIP (1.75), and GB% (84.3%).

National League Selections

First Base: Paul Goldschmidt Alternate(s): Pete Alonso, Freddie Freeman, CJ Cron

No, this isn't ideal roster construction having four first basemen. Goldy, Alonso, and Freeman are all locks, however, and Cron is easily the Rockies' best option.

The 34-year-old Goldschmidt gets the starting spot as he's reached another level offensively so far this season. His 186 wRC+ is currently the best mark of his career. He has achieved this by leaning even more heavily into the fly ball approach he began in '21. Specifically, he's swinging (and pulling) at inside pitches while obliterating sliders as the league keeps throwing more and more of them. Similar to how we described Altuve's transformation, Goldy is simply doing what the great ones eventually do.

Second Base: Jazz Chisholm Alternate(s): Tommy Edman

So Edman technically leads in fWAR thanks to his 98th percentile OAA and for going 15-for-16 in stolen base attempts. Jazz has been the better bat, though, swatting 12 homers and swiping 10 bags of his own. He simply brings electricity to the All-Star game.

Edman is actually playing a lot more shortstop as of late, which gives this NL club some additional infield flexibility.

Third Base: Manny Machado Alternate(s): Nolan Arenado

Ke'Bryan Hayes and Austin Riley were two tough names to leave off, but Machado is playing like the NL MVP and Arenado has discovered the fountain of youth, both at the plate and in the field (after a strange down season at third base in 2021).

Machado grossly under performed his expected stats in 2021 (.350 wOBA vs .380 xwOBA) and that has corrected through mid-June, 2022. He's quietly pacing towards a HOF-esque career and I plan to write about him more this year.

Shortstop: Francisco Lindor Alternate(s): Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson

There's a case to be made for all 3 of these guys as the senior circuit's starting SS (and even Edman!) but I went with Lindor because of what he has meant to the Mets this season. It's a very subjective take and I'll have to dive in deeper as the real ASG approaches.

Catcher: Willson Contreras Alternate(s): Tyler Stephenson

Contreras was one of the easiest calls of this process as he's unquestionably been the best backstop in baseball this season, hitting .268/.396/.503 with 10 homers entering Tuesday. He's a near-lock to be traded at the deadline with the Astros, Yankees, and Giants the likely favorites to acquire him.

Yes, Stephenson is hurt right now and will probably miss enough time to where he isn't as deserving as some other players. We need someone from the Reds, though, and Stephenson was fantastic while healthy. I'll have to re-evaluate this situation as we get closer to July.

Outfield: Mookie Betts, Ronald Acuña, Juan Soto Alternate(s): Daulton Varsho, Brandon Nimmo, Ian Happ

This group of starters is quite different from the alternates. Betts, Acuña, and Soto are the true stars and I can't really picture the NL All-Stars without these 3 in the outfield. Mookie is having the best season of the trio, though Acuña has been the best offensive player on a per-AB basis. As I mentioned previously, Soto isn't Soto right now. He still has the 7th highest wRC+ among NL outfielders with at least 150 PAs. A dreadful .226 BABIP should turn his fortunes around sooner rather than later.

As for the reserves, they don't scream superstar but they've all been solid and this position isn't as stacked as you'd expect. Varsho and Happ are squeezed in as representatives for their respective teams while Nimmo has been awesome for the Mets when healthy. He's a free agent at end-of-season and will be in line for a considerable payday from Mr. Steve Cohen.

Designated Hitter: Bryce Harper Alternate(s): N/A

Harper hasn't played the field since April 16th. Fighting through an elbow injury, his hitting production hasn't suffered. Bryce currently has a 171 wRC+ that's a tick better than his MVP-winning 2021. He has 15 homers to go along with 7 stolen bases and is hitting for power as well as he ever has. Curiously, his BB% has plummeted. Perhaps it has something to do with the elbow? Regardless, great players will always find a way to be great.

Starting Pitcher: Sandy Alcantara Alternate(s): Corbin Burnes, Joe Musgrove, MacKenzie Gore, Kyle Wright, Zack Wheeler, Carlos Rodon

Am I biased in selecting Alcantara as the ASG starter since he was my preseason NL Cy Young pick? No! Alcantara has simply been amazing for Miami, registering a MLB-leading 91 1/3 innings entering Tuesday. Last year's Cy Young battle between Burnes and Wheeler somewhat centered around efficiency versus volume. We could be in for another round of the same discussions this summer, as Sandy's workload is approaching herculean levels for the modern game.

The rest of the SPs that were chosen are pretty self explanatory. Perhaps I could've gone with Max Fried over MacKenzie Gore. I've just been so impressed with the rookie southpaw. I'll take a closer look in July, for sure.

Closer: Josh Hader Alternate(s): Edwin Diaz, Ryan Helsley, AJ Minter, David Bednar

This was a fun group to work through as there are multiple non-closers who are deserving. These 5 arms are the top 5 NL relievers in K-BB%. I didn't choose them for that reason, but it works out.

Hader remains our RP King until further notice, posting a 0.92 ERA a NL-best 37.5 K-BB% entering Tuesday. Minter leads in fWAR and FIP and has a ridiculous 15 holds already! I covered Helsley more in depth earlier this season.

Toughest Players to Leave Off (both leagues):

In no particular order

  1. Taylor Ward, OF, Angels

  2. Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners

  3. Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pirates

  4. Willy Adames, SS, Brewers

  5. Harrison Bader, OF, Cardinals

  6. Kyle Schwarber, OF, Phillies

  7. Mike Yastrzemski, OF, Giants

  8. Max Fried, SP, Braves

  9. Kenley Jansen, RP, Braves

  10. Luis Severino, SP, Yankees

  11. Logan Gilbert, SP, Mariners

  12. Dylan Cease, SP, White Sox

Final All-Star selections coming prior to the actual game!