The position player starters for this year’s All-Star Game will be announced next Sunday. Chosen by the fans who vote early and often, many of those selected will be rewarded for their superior play over the first three months of the season, while others may get their tickets punched to Queens mostly as a result of their popularity.
That’s all well and good, but who are the Junior Circuit’s top position players through last night’s action, according to WAR?
As most of you know, WAR stands for “wins above replacement.” It is a useful (not to be confused with “perfect”), all-in-one statistic combining both offensive and defensive performance. For those who require a primer, Alex Remington offered up a few years ago on Yahoo’s Big League Stew an easy-to-digest yet pretty thorough explanation of Fangraphs’ version of WAR – which we are using here.
So who are the outstanding performers to date?
1B: Chris Davis (4.6 WAR)
Davis (.332/.406/.728) is the first MLB player to have clocked 31 home runs and 25 doubles before July. Any questions?
2B: Dustin Pedroia, Jason Kipnis (3.2)
This does not explain Pedroia’s inclusion on this list:
Pedroia is what he is — a hungry, dirty (as in getting his uniform dirty) ballplayer who would come out of his body if he could to make a play. No team in baseball can boast anyone quite like him.
However, this does:
Taking Pedroia’s 104 hits, 44 walks, four sacrifice flies and one hit by pitch in his 323 at bats, we can calculate that Pedroia is currently sporting an OBP of .401, good for fifth in the American League. With a look at the names above him (Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, Baltimore’s Chris Davis, teammate David Ortiz and Minnesota’s Joe Mauer) you can see why OBP is a strong way of determining a player’s value on offense.
As for the 26-year old Kipnis:
He struggled in April, but he’s hitting a robust .333/.421/.618 with 19 doubles, three triples and 11 home runs since the beginning of May. He’s also stolen 14 bases in that stretch and has only been caught three times. Best of all, the Indians’ offense has been one of the best in the league, so his run and RBI totals have also been stellar.
SS: Jhonny Peralta (2.5)
J. J. Hardy (1.8) is almost certainly going to receive the most votes at shortstop, but Peralta (.310/.369/.456) is the unsung hero in Motown in 2013.
3B: Miguel Cabrera (5.3)
With a .369/.456/.672 slash line and .472 wOBA, Miggy is on his way to having a better season than he did last year, when he won the Triple Crown and MVP award.
LF: Mike Trout (4.7)
Trout got off to a slow start (.261/.333/.432) but has been en fuego ever since, as his current .315/.392/.545 slash line demonstrates. Does anyone doubt that the not-yet-22-year-old is heaping scorn on the earlier concerns about a sophomore slump?
CF: Brett Gardner (2.9)
Gardner (.288/.347/.453) has been one of the few bright lights in the Bronx. In early June, Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan noted:
Gardner’s hitting way more balls in the air. He’s swinging a lot more aggressively, and that’s basically the whole of it. More swings at balls out of the zone, more swings at balls in the zone, more swings at first pitches. Gardner hasn’t seen a dip in fastballs, nor has he seen a marked dip in in-zone pitches. He’s generating completely different results. . . .
Gardner isn’t a free swinger, but he’s a more free swinger, and that makes a difference since everything’s relative.
These observations remain valid. Gardner’s 2013 swing percentage is seven points higher than his career average (42.2 percent versus 35.2 percent). Menwhile, his isolated power (ISO) of .165 is more than 50 points higher (.114).
RF: Jose Bautista (3.3)
Joey Bats is back with a robust .256/.355/.505 slash line. Although Bautista performed poorly at the plate in June (.213/.280/.435), going an anemic 7 for 43 during the Jays’ recent 11-game winning streak, he has slugged .591 over the past two weeks.
C: Joe Mauer (3.5)
While his brief power surge (28 home runs in 2009) hasn’t returned, Mauer (.319/.402/.478) remains an on-base machine for an otherwise unimpressive Twins lineup.
DH: David Ortiz (2.3)
Although the video below is from May, the views of Eric Karabell and David Schoenfield (of ESPN’s SweetSpot blog) on Big Papi (.317/.404/.604) are hardly outdated.