Phase 1 of MLB All-Star voting ends today, so I decided to put together the all-deserving American League All-Star team. These guys may not make the all-star team due to a multitude of reasons, but they have all been the best players at their positions to start the 2021 season. 32 players will make the American League All-Star team, but this team will only include the starters at each position and the starting pitcher.
Starting Pitcher – Gerrit Cole
Gerrit Cole has been the best starting pitcher in the American League so far in 2021, and he’s the best pitcher in the American League in general, landing him on the American League All-Star team. Fans don’t have the privilege to vote for pitchers for the all-star game, but there’s no doubt Cole would be leading the pack, as he has a 2.33 ERA (3rd in AL), 2.59 FIP (2nd), 2.67 SIERA (1st), and 33.8% K% (2nd), while trailing just Zack Grienke and Aaron Civale in innings pitched. Cole finished 2nd in Cy Young Award voting in 2019, and his 2021 season has been just as good, arguably better.
The sticky substance crackdown is especially concerning for Cole, whose strikeout numbers skyrocketed in 2018 after being traded to Houston, but in his last two starts, since his spin rate has gone down about 150 RPMs, he has still thrown 15.0 innings giving up just four runs, despite a decrease in strikeouts, as he only struck out 17.9% of the batters he’s faced, down from 36.7% prior to the crackdown. He has credited this to his Pittsburgh days when contact management was the key to his success.
Catcher – Sean Murphy
As a huge proponent of advanced stats, I’d love to see Yasmani Grandal start the All-Star Game with his .172 AVG, but at this point, Sean Murphy is the clear runaway favorite for this position. It may have been too early to rank Murphy as one of the best catchers in baseball, but he has absolutely proven that he is among the league’s elite in 2021. He has turned himself into one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, as his 6.1 FRM and 11.1 DEF both lead the American League. His 122 wRC+ ranks 4th among catchers with at least 200 PAs, as he only trails Salvador Perez, Grandal, and Gary Sanchez. A hot week has really put him on the map for all-star voting, as he had just a 97 wRC+ through June 13th.
1st Base – Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
This is the most obvious of any picks, as Guerrero Jr. is putting up unbelievable, all-time great numbers, as his improved plate discipline and getting the ball in the air has made him one of the best hitters in baseball. He leads the entire American League in OBP, SLG, wOBA, wRC+, WAR, xwOBA, and HRs. Guerrero Jr. is one of two runaway candidates for the AL MVP Award, as he has cemented the 2nd best lineup in baseball with a true superstar hitter in the middle of the lineup. He has walked at a 14.3% while striking out just 16.6%, also providing a 14.8% Barrel% and 54.5% Hard-Hit%, a level of power and plate discipline only rivaled by Juan Soto.
2nd Base – Jose Altuve
The second base spot is one of the hardest to pick, as Jose Altuve and Marcus Semien are both very deserving of this spot. Semien has been a huge addition alongside George Springer in Toronto, but Jose Altuve’s numbers are tough to look past. The 2017 AL MVP leads AL second basemen in each of the triple-slash stats, as well as wOBA, xwOBA, and wRC+ while tying Semien for first in fWAR. Altuve has also gotten hot as the Astros have, as he has a 177 wRC+ and .606 SLG since the Astros wrapped up their series in New York on May 6th.
3rd Base – Rafael Devers
Rafael Devers, Yoan Moncada, and the deserving 2020 MVP Jose Ramirez are all incredibly close, but Devers’ edge at the plate gives him a slight advantage for the American League all-star team. Devers has all the raw numbers that all-star voters love, while Moncada leads in the less eye-opening stats, like OBP, and defensive metrics like DRS, UZR, and OAA. Devers has a .579 SLG, .384 wOBA, .397 xwOBA, 142 wRC+, and 2.7 WAR, which all lead the position. Devers’ 17.6% Barrel% and 56.5% Hard-Hit% also both lead AL third basemen and both rank third in the entire American League.
Shortstop – Carlos Correa
Carlos Correa is currently fourth in all-star voting for American League shortstops, which can likely be attributed to his public perception as a villain and the team he plays for, more than his actual on-field performance. Correa leads American League shortstops in OBP and wRC+, while only trailing Xander Bogaerts in SLG, wOBA, and xwOBA. Bogaerts and Correa are very comparable offensively until the park factors are added, considering that Bogaerts plays in the hitters’ paradise of Fenway Park. What separates Correa from the pack is his incredible defense. Correa has 6 DRS and 6 OAA, which are both among the leaders, and he’s the only American League shortstop that combines strong offense with strong defense.
Outfield – Cedric Mullins II, Mark Canha, Michael Brantley
Cedric Mullins II has been the best outfielder in the American League in 2021, as he has 3.1 fWAR (1st among AL OF), with a .379 OBP (3rd), .539 SLG (2nd), 151 wRC+ (2nd), and .391 wOBA (2nd), while adding more defensive value as a center fielder, despite being a slightly below average defender at the position. Of course, Byron Buxton and Mike Trout would also be here as the outfielders if they were healthy, but they’ve missed time and won’t be ready for the all-star game when the time comes, so who ends up being the other two starters flanking Mullins II in the outfield?
My picks are Mark Canha and Michael Brantley, two of the top-four left fielders in baseball. Brantley has also missed some time, but he has been one of the best hitters in baseball, while his batted ball data is among the league’s elite. Brantley’s .402 OBP leads all AL outfielders as does his 159 wRC+. He is also putting the ball in play a lot, with just a 6.6% BB%, and 10.8% K%, but he still has a 7.6% Barrel% and 47.7% Hard-Hit%, as well as a .414 xwOBA that only trails Aaron Judge. Brantley also brings a solid glove, as he has 1 OAA so far in 2021. The 34-year-old professional hitter is continuing to do what he does, as one of the most consistently great bats in baseball.
Mark Canha deserves to be an all-star. He probably won’t be, but he absolutely deserves it solely based on the numbers he’s put up so far in 2021. Canha has been one of the best hitters in baseball for the past few seasons, as his 140 wRC+ is tied for the 13th best in all of baseball since 2019. This season, Canha has a 137 wRC+, .378 OBP, .454 SLG, and .362 wOBA. OPS doesn’t like him as much as wOBA, due to his 12.4% BB% and .197 ISO, making him more of an OBP guy than a SLG guy, so it’ll hurt his chances of actually making the all-star teams, but if they get it right, Canha will play for the American League all-star team, even if he doesn’t start.
Designated Hitter – Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani absolutely deserves to make his first all-star appearance this year, as he’s having by far the best year of his career. He now has 5.0 rWAR on the season, which by far leads the league. fWAR doesn’t favor him as much due to his inflated walk rate, but he still has 3.9 fWAR on the year. Ohtani has been doing what no one thought he could do, as he has been able to stay in the lineup every day while pitching once a week, and he now has thrown 59.1 innings this year.
At the plate, Ohtani has a .633 SLG and .367 ISO to go along with his league-leading 23 HRs, as well as 1.1 BsR (10 SBs). Ohtani isn’t a DH because he’s old, he’s not a DH because he’s slow, and he’s not a DH because he’s a bad defender. He defies any and all traditional positions of baseball, and he’s showing why he’s one of the best, most exciting players in baseball in 2021. His 162 wRC+ is seventh in MLB among players with as many PAs, and his 2.58 ERA is 19th among players with as many IP.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images