The position player starters for this year’s All-Star Game will be announced on Sunday afternoon. Chosen by fans who voted early and often, some of those selected will be rewarded for their superior play over the first three months of the season, while others will get their tickets punched to Kansas City 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” player. It is a useful (not to be confused with “perfect”), all-in-one statistic combining both offensive and defensive performance. For those who need a primer, Alex Remington offered up an easy-to-digest yet pretty thorough explanation of Fangraphs’ version of WAR — which we are using here — a few years back.
So who are these outstanding performers?
Until you have watched a Blue Jays game this season, it is highly doubtful that you knew about Encarnacion’s move across the diamond. His fielding has been adequate and the 29-year-old’s offensive power, including a .579 slugging percentage going into last night’s game, has never been more impressive.
A late bloomer, Konerko’s Cooperstown credentials are getting stronger.
As Fangraphs’ Cris Cwik explained late last month:
Pre-2010, Konerko looked like any other aging player. He put together a pretty strong peak between ages 23 to 30, but his age starting catching up with him in 2007. . . . But then things changed. And since 2010, Konerko has been phenomenal. Before turning 34, Konerko hit .277/.352/.491. During the past two-and-a-half seasons, he’s hit .318/.402/.568. This type of late career surge is nearly unprecedented.
2B: Robinson Cano, 3.9
A slow start has given way to a hot June for Cano, which has included 10 Don’t Ya Knows, bringing up his slash line to an impressive .308/.372/.580, and leaving his peers far behind.
SS: Elvis Andrus, 3.0
Derek Jeter was Mr. April but Andrus and, to a lesser extent, Asdrubal Cabrera, have owned the first half. Signed to a long-term extension before spring training, Andrus has not disappointed the Rangers organization, hitting .303/.381/.410, with 10 net steals, and exciting the fans with his leather.
3B: Mike Moustakas 2.8
Yup, you read that right. Moustakas, armed with a .277/.346/.496 slash line and superior defense in only his second big-league season, has edged out monsters Brett Lawrie, Adrian Beltre, and Miguel Cabrera.
While Moustakas may be a relative unknown beyond eastern Kansas and western Missouri, you may have watched his role in this “crazy, crazy” end to a game against the Cardinals.
LF: Alex Gordon, 3.0
Gordon may look like a beefy slugger, but he has started 39 games in the leadoff spot. After slumping through much of May, he has since returned to form, slugging .511 in June. Still, were it not for Gordon’s exceptionally high defensive rating, Josh Willingham would be ranked ahead of him.
CF: Mike Trout, 3.8
Josh Hamilton’s 3.5 WAR would make him the top left fielder, but he spends most of his innings in center and is currently no match for the wunderkind in Anaheim (.344/.401/.509), whose play has helped catapult the Angels into contention.
Jon Morosi of Fox Sports puts it plainly:
Trout isn’t merely the clear favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year — with apologies to Yu Darvish, Will Middlebrooks and Tom Milone. And he’s more than an increasingly safe bet to make the All-Star team. Trout has reshaped the race in one of baseball’s most competitive divisions, in a style just as breathtaking as the last player to pull off the MVP/ROY combo: Ichiro Suzuki.
RF: Mark Trumbo, 2.6
Trumbo has played five defensive positions this season as the Angels try to keep his monster bat (.610 slugging percentage) in the lineup. It took teammate Torii Hunter’s lengthy trip to the restricted list to give him enough time in right field to qualify for the WAR-Star list and edge out Jose Bautista.
C: Joe Mauer, 2.2
One may be forgiven for thinking that Mauer has given up catching for dermatology. In reality, the Twins have given him playing time at first base and as designated hitter in order to keep him reasonably healthy. In 66 games played, he has performed well, including a .321/.414/.433 slash line. A. J. Pierzynski and Matt Wieters trail at 2.0.
Look for the midseason NL WAR-Stars on Monday.