2014 MLB All-Star Roster: Breaking Down the NL and AL Selections
Major League Baseball has done its part by revealing the rosters for the 2014 All-Star Game.
Now we must do our part by talking about them as they deserve to be talked about: In depth!
Ahead, we're going to break down the starters, the benches and the pitching staffs that the American and National League squads will be taking to Target Field on July 15. Once that's done, we'll make a few comparisons and predict which club is going to win.
If that sounds good to you, start the show whenever.
American League Starters
Behold the American League starters:
The most surprising reveal on Sunday was Adam Jones cracking the AL's starting outfield. The Baltimore Orioles center fielder was fifth in the outfield voting upon last check, needing to pass both Melky Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes to slide in next to Jose Bautista and Mike Trout.
That Baltimore fans came out in droves in support of Jones is a fine look indeed. What's less of a fine look is that the Orioles faithful also continued to vote for Matt Wieters, who was selected to start at catcher despite playing in only 26 games before season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Oh well. Kansas City's Salvador Perez getting the start instead is a good silver lining, as he's an excellent defensive catcher who's also rocking a .785 OPS.
The other standout is that Derek Jeter did indeed end up fending off Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez at shortstop. It will be fun to fare him well at Target Field, but the downside is that he's a clear weak spot in a strong lineup.
Emphasis on "strong." With Jeter and Robinson Cano being notable exceptions, there's going to be plenty of power in John Farrell's starting lineup. Add in the athleticism that Trout and Jones bring to the table, and much fun should be had.
National League Starters
Now behold the National League starters:
What's surprising here is...well, nothing. This is what the National League's starting lineup was projected to be as of the most recent voting update.
Worth noting is how strong the National League is going to be up the middle. Yadier Molina is having a down year offensively, but he's still an outstanding defender. Troy Tulowitzki is pretty good in his own right at short, and Mike Matheny can't go wrong with Andrew McCutchen or Carlos Gomez in center.
As far as weak spots go, your eyes go straight to Chase Utley and Aramis Ramirez. Utley was hot early on, but has been slumping ever since the calendar turned to June. Ramirez is having a good season, but his flaw is that his name isn't Todd Frazier.
All the same, it's a good lineup. All-Star lineups usually are.
American League Bench
Backing up the American League starters will be these guys:
One guy here is a good bet to be replaced before long, and that's Edwin Encarnacion. The Toronto Blue Jays slugger suffered a leg injury on Saturday, and is likely headed to the disabled list.
That would rob the American League's bench of some serious power. Fortunately, it would still have plenty of that in the form of guys like Jose Abreu, Adrian Beltre, Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss and Victor Martinez.
I'm also already hoping for an outfield featuring both Cespedes and Alex Gordon in some arrangement. If a National Leaguer tried to take an extra base, that National Leaguer would swiftly perish.
If the American League's bench has a weakness, it's versatility. Moss is the best Farrell has in that department, so I wonder if Encarnacion's replacement will be somebody Farrell could move around.
To that end, hey, there's always Ben Zobrist.
There is only one reserve second baseman on the A.L. squad, and Twins beat writer Rhett Bollinger feels that Brian Dozier got a raw deal, tweeting, "Brian Dozier is an All-Star snub. Guessing his .234 average didn't help. But still third among all MLB second basemen in WAR."
National League Bench
And now for the National League's bench:
First things first: Don't expect Giancarlo Stanton to actually open the game on the bench. With him being awesome and the game taking place in an American League park, he'll likely get the start at designated hitter.
Outside of Stanton, what stands out is the sheer National League-ness of this bench. Mike Matheny has a couple of guys whom he can plug in at more than one position, including Dee Gordon, Matt Carpenter, Josh Harrison and Charlie Blackmon.
The big surprise here is one of the names I just dropped: Harrison. I can't say I ever saw an All-Star player in watching him before 2014, but here he is hitting .299 and helping the Pirates out all over the field.
However, his spot probably would have been better served going to someone else. Anthony Rendon comes immediately to mind, or Matheny could have gone with an extra outfielder. In that regard, Billy Hamilton or Justin Upton would have been good choices.
American League Pitching Staff
Here's the American League's pitching staff:
I don't know if I'd tab any of these guys as a "surprise" selection, necessarily. Max Scherzer sort of is in light of his 3.47 ERA, but less so in light of his 10 wins, 139 strikeouts and the hardware that he won last year.
As for who will start for the AL, you can likely count out Masahiro Tanaka. He definitely has numbers worthy of the gig, but he's slated to start for the Yankees two days before the All-Star Game on July 13.
With Tanaka likely out of the mix, the best pick is Felix Hernandez. It's happened somewhat under the radar, but he's in the middle of maybe the best season of his career.
Regardless of who starts, you have to love the balance that John Farrell's going to have to work with—six good righties and six good lefties. If he uses them wisely, any lead the AL might get should be safe.
As far as relievers, few have been as truly dominant as Yankees flamethrower Dellin Betances. He will be a weapon for the A.L. if they have a late lead, and he was thrilled to hear the news, per Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News:
"I was at a loss for words," Betances said. "It’s been a long journey from all the years in the minor leagues, all the ups and downs, just to have such a good first half and for the players to vote for me, I’m truly humbled. It’s a crazy feeling for me right now."
National League Pitching Staff
And now for the National League's pitching staff:
This is some kind of outstanding collection of pitchers, and it only looks better once you consider that Jeff Samardzija was going to be a part of it before the Chicago Cubs traded him to the Oakland A's.
As for who will start, there's a pretty good chance it will be baseball's best pitcher. Whereas Johnny Cueto is slated to start July 13 and Adam Wainwright is slated to start on July 12, Clayton Kershaw's last start before the break will be on July 10. He'll be good to go.
Elsewhere, I was somewhat surprised that two lesser-knowns in Pat Neshek and Tony Watson made it into the National League's bullpen. But they are having All-Star-worthy seasons, and that's what counts.
If there's a weakness here, it's that Mike Matheny doesn't have the balance of arms that John Farrell has. And in an All-Star Game, even the slightest inability to create favorable matchups could be costly.
If you bothered to count up the WAR totals I provided, you counted 27.9 WAR in the AL's starting lineup and 25.3 WAR in the NL's starting lineup.
It's more even if you consider the averages instead, though, as the NL's eight players are averaging 3.2 WAR, while the AL's nine starters are averaging 3.1 WAR.
That has much to do with the weakness the AL has at shortstop, and the NL's lineup is going to stack up even better if Giancarlo Stanton is indeed added to the mix.
All told, the NL is looking at having baseball's best defensive catcher behind the dish, baseball's best first baseman and best shortstop in the infield, one of the more explosive outfields we've seen in recent memory and the most powerful slugger in the game at DH.
I'll take the NL's starters.
Advantage: National League
The average WAR of the National League's bench is 2.8 to the American League's 2.6.
And yes, the advantage still holds even if we remove Giancarlo Stanton from the equation. Do that, and the NL's average bench WAR only drops to 2.7.
That's one reason to like the NL's bench, and another reason is that versatility we talked about. While John Farrell's going to have to be pretty rigid with his roster management, Mike Matheny's going to be able to make all sorts of moves.
Also: Do not underestimate the impact Jonathan Lucroy could have coming off the bench. Beyond being a great hitter, he can afford pitchers plenty of extra strikes with his framing ability. He'll help make what's already a strong pitching staff stronger.
Advantage: National League
Here's where the American League fares better. The average AL pitcher's WAR is 2.6 to the National League's 2.0 WAR.
Part of that has to do with the collective superiority of the AL's starters, who average 3.2 WAR to the NL starters' 2.5 WAR. It looks even better that the AL should have Felix Hernandez, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish, while the NL could be without Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright.
That and the balance of the AL staff is enough for me to side with the Junior Circuit, but I will say this: If it comes down to a reliever battle, the NL having Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman could count for a lot.
Advantage: American League
So Who's Going to Win?
After the National League snapped out of a 13-year funk by winning three All-Star Games in a row between 2010 and 2012, the American League was able to fight back with a 3-0 win last year.
But I'm picking the National League to get back on top in 2014.
Reason No. 1: Meh, what the heck.
Reason No. 2: I like that it has a better starting lineup and a better bench.
Reason No. 3: I'm not sure the AL's pitching advantage is big enough to overcome the NL's other advantages plus the presence of Clayton Kershaw, Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel.
Regardless of what happens, remember that the first priority for everyone is to have fun. It's not like the All-Star Game coun...
Uh, never mind.
Pick: National League, 4-3