The second half of the season is about to get underway, but what say we examine who were the Junior Circuit’s top position players through the All-Star Break, according to WAR?
As most of you know (and the rest of you really ought to catch up), WAR stands for “wins above replacement.” It is a useful (not to be confused with “perfect”), all-in-one approximation combining both offensive (including baserunning) 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.
Here are the AL’s top performers to date:
1B: Jose Abreu (3.2 WAR)
Writing at CBS Sports, Chris Cwik believes the odds are good that Abreu’s power stroke is here to stay:
What we have here is a pretty unique player. While there are a number of stats that scream regression, we also have some evidence that Abreu just hits the ball really hard when he makes contact. Both his approach and his average fly ball distance give some hope that he can remain an elite power hitter. Regression should be expected, as he’s on a ridiculous pace right now, but there’s no reason to think Abreu will suddenly turn into a pumpkin.
2B: Ian Kinsler, Robinson Cano (3.5)
Now a Mariner, Cano hasn’t exactly been crushing the ball — he’s hit only seven home runs — but is reaching base with greater frequency (.393 OBP). Meanwhile, Kinsler has been reborn in Detroit and James Krueger of Call to the Pen thinks he knows why: Kinsler loves the four-seam fastball and, lo and behold, he’s seeing more of the pitch at a frequency not seen since the 2009 season.
SS: Erick Aybar (2.9)
Aybar was a late addition to the AL All-Star Game roster. The 30-year-old Angel is having a solid season at the plate, and the advanced defensive metrics rate him highly.
3B: Kyle Seager (3.7)
There’s no bigger surprise on this list than Seattle’s Seager, who edged out division rival Josh Donaldson. Safeco Park may intimidate many sluggers, just not him. All but two of his 15 home runs have been hit at home.
LF: Alex Gordon (4.6)
A sore thumb convinced Gordon to pull out of the Midsummer Classic, a shame because he’s one of the more underrated outfielders in the game. Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan explains the principal reason why he’s so popular in Kansas City:
Alex Gordon‘s always had a great arm. Alex Gordon’s always piled up the kills. Between 2011 — 2013, Gordon led all outfielders in UZR’s [Ultimate Zone Rating] arm rating. He led all outfielders in DRS’ [Defensive Runs Saved] arm rating. He led all outfielders in assists, with 54. The next-best was Jeff Francoeur‘s 40. Gordon was drafted as a third baseman but he’s become an all-around star in left field. This season, Gordon has just five outfield assists, almost halfway through. The last three years, he’s finished with 20, 17, and 17. This season, Gordon’s also on pace for career-best arm ratings. Alex Gordon is showing the value of having a gun you seldom use.
CF: Mike Trout (5.5)
The All-Star Game Most Valuable Player (.310/.400/.606) may have finished runner-up in the AL MVP voting in the past two seasons but, barring injury, the Millville (New Jersey) Meteor will almost certainly run away with the trophy in 2014.
RF: Jose Bautista (3.1)
Only Trout and Bautista are repeat AL WAR-Stars. The latter’s .397 wOBA in an offense-starved environment is nothing short of eye-popping. On a related note, Will Leitch, writing in Sports on Earth, described what happened when Joey Bats took his swings during Monday’s Home Run Derby:
During Jose Bautista’s first-round display — in which he hit 10 homers, including two upper deckers in a row that were essentially hit to the same fan — the whole American League dugout went apesh-t. It was like their heads all exploded at once, and then reconstituted themselves so that they could explode again.
C: Salvador Perez (2.9)
Watch the 24-year-old’s cannon of an arm nail an unsuspecting Kevin Kiermaier at first base last week:
DH: Victor Martinez (2.5)
Baseball Prospectus’ Matt Sussman believes that V-Mart, who snuck past Nelson Cruz, is due for serious regression in the second half; still, the 35-year-old switch-hitter is only four home runs away from surpassing his single-season high of 25, accomplished way back in 2007.
The NL WAR-Stars will be announced tomorrow. Last year’s champions may be found here.