With the lead-up to the 2021 All-MLB teams announcement, who should get the nod on the third ever set of these teams? For those unfamiliar with the process, one player is selected at each of the fielding positions plus a designated hitter. For pitchers, five starters and two relievers are chosen. There are two distinct teams, the All-MLB First Team and the All-MLB Second Team, similar to the three All-NBA teams chosen each season.
Catcher: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey had a throwback season with the San Francisco Giants, helping them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Posey was a star at the plate, posting his best OPS+ (140) since 2014. He was an all-Star for the first time since 2018. He had the highest home run rate since his rookie season, and his 12.3 percent walk rate was a career-best. Posey had a 4.9 fWAR, leading all catchers. The likes of Will Smith or J.T. Realmuto could beat out Posey based on counting stats, but Posey had the superior season, and he should make his first All-MLB team.
First Base: Paul Goldschmidt, Saint Louis Cardinals
Paul Goldschmidt‘s second full season with the Saint Louis Cardinals was his best. After receiving low-ballot Most Valuable Player votes in 2019 and 2020, Goldschmidt returned to his Arizona form, and he could finish in the top ten for the fifth time in his career. Goldschmidt slashed .294/.365/.514, finishing with a 143 OPS+. He finished with 6.2 bWAR and 4.9 fWAR. Among all National League position players, Goldschmidt finished fifth in bWAR. He tacked on a tenth place finish in batting average, fifth place in runs, and fourth place in hits.
Second Base: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
Previous: 2019 2nd Team
Jose Altuve answered after a tough 2020 campaign. He launched 31 home runs, tying his career-best. Altuve slashed .278/.350/.489, earning a 127 OPS+. He had the highest walk rate of his career, and his home run rate and isolated power were his second best. He notched 4.4 bWAR and 5.2 fWAR. Altuve finished third in the American League in runs scored and was tenth in runs created. He’s not quite MVP-caliber as he was in 2016 and 2017, but this power-centric Altuve is still one of the best players in baseball. Excluding 2020, he has an OPS+ of 125 in seven straight seasons.
Third Base: Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves
Austin Riley ended both 2019 and 2020 with an OPS+ of 86. He entered 2021 with a negative career bWAR. However, all Riley did in 2021 was play his way to being one of the best infielders in baseball. Riley did have an extraordinary BABIP (.368), but his batted-ball data was among the best in baseball. He was in the top 20 percentiles in xwOBA, expected batting average, barrel percentage, and excepted slugging percentage. For counting stats, Riley mashed 33 doubles and 33 home runs. He had an impressive .303/.367/.531 slash line. He finished second in the NL in both total bases and RBI.
Shortstop: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
Carlos Correa timed his career season perfectly. He racked up 7.2 bWAR after an elite offensive and defensive season. He had the lowest strikeout rate of his career matched with the highest walk rate of his career. Correa slashed .279/.366/.485 for an OPS+ of 131. He also played elite defense at a premium position, ranking in the 97th percentile in outs above average. Correa has an outside shot of winning both the AL Silver Slugger and Gold Glove. Correa’s (potential) final act with the Houston Astros was likely his best.
Outfield: Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles
Cedric Mullins came from nowhere to be a premier outfielder in 2021. He mashed 30 home runs and stole 30 bases, both marks that obliterated his 2018-2020 totals. He had a strong slash line of .291/.360/.518 for an OPS+ of 135. Defensively, Mullins was undermined by a poor arm, but his fielding was exceptional. Despite negative value from his throwing arm, Mullins posted 5.7 bWAR and 5.3 fWAR. Mullins was ranked in the 96th percentile of outs above average. The first-time All-Star is not a guarantee to make an All-MLB Team, but he should.
Outfield: Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
Finally, Aaron Judge was on the field for much of the season. He was once again spectacular in all facets. Judge posted 5.9 bWAR and 5.5 fWAR, the best season since his mythical 2017 season. Judge clobbered 39 home runs, tacked on 24 doubles, and he played his usual brand of Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field. Among position players in the AL, he ranked sixth in bWAR, fourth in OPS, and OPS+. Judge is a batted-ball darling, finishing in the top 10 percentiles in just about every hitting metric. Judge will get some MVP consideration for the first time since 2018.
Outfield: Bryan Reynolds, Pittsburgh Pirates
Bryan Reynolds was a good player in 2019, finishing with 4.2 bWAR. He took a step in the wrong direction in 2020, but he answered the call in 2021. Reynolds was a first-time All-Star, and he had an impressive 6.0 bWAR for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Reynolds had 67 extra-base hits, setting his career marks in triples and home runs. He slashed .302/.390/.522 for a ridiculous 146 OPS+. He was nominated for a Gold Glove, a case bolstered by his 10 outs above average. By oWAR, only Juan Soto had a better season among outfielders.
Designated Hitter: Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros
Previous: 2019 2nd Team
Yordan Alvarez had a great bounce-back season after missing most of the 2020 campaign. He whacked 35 doubles and 33 home runs, both career-bests. He slashed .277/.346/.531 across 598 plate appearances for the AL West-winning Houston Astros. Alvarez finished in the top 10 in the AL in OPS, doubles, runs batted in, and OPS+. Designated hitters are difficult to measure by WAR, but Alvarez did post a respectable 3.2 oWAR in 2020. Alvarez should make his second All-MLB team this offseason.
Starting Pitcher: Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
Previous: 2019 1st Team, 2020 2nd Team
Gerrit Cole narrowly misses out on the first team after a “down year.” Cole’s version of a down year will likely net him a top-three Cy Young finish. Cole worked to a 3.23 ERA across 181.1 innings pitched. He struck out 243 batters, a rate of 12.1 per nine. He posted a FIP below 3.00, nearly a run lower than his 2020 season. Cole led the American League in strikeout to walk ratio, and he had his third 5.5-or-better bWAR season in four seasons in the AL. His 5.6 bWAR was second in the AL.
Starting Pitcher: Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers
Thankfully, baseball has moved beyond caring about win-loss record. Brandon Woodruff had a 9-10 record that hid his dominance on the mound. He worked to a 2.56 ERA and 2.96 FIP, both marks being career-highs. Woodruff was even more unhittable than he was in the abbreviated 2020 season as he shaved 0.026 off his already elite WHIP, whittling it to an incomprehensible 0.965. Woodruff nearly doubled his career bWAR, posting 5.6 in 2021.
Starting Pitcher: Freddy Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers
Freddy Peralta only threw 144.1 innings, but he was as electric as any pitcher in MLB in 2021. He had a microscopic 5.2 hits per nine allowed, and his 0.970 WHIP was right in line with the aforementioned Woodruff. Peralta was a first-time All-Star, and he struck out 12.2 batters per nine. Peralta had an ERA+ of 152, an ERA of 2.81, and a FIP of 3.12. Peralta walks more hitters than other elite pitchers, but few limit contact as much as Peralta does.
Starting Pitcher: Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox
Had Carlos Rodon qualified for the ERA title in the AL, he likely would have run away with the Cy Young. Instead, he will likely settle for lower-ballot votes. However, this is burying the lede. Rodon was sensational in 2021. He opened the season with a no-hitter, and he seemed to maintain that level of dominance for the whole season. Rodon posted a 2.37 ERA, 183 ERA+, and 2.65 FIP. His WHIP of 0.957 was a career-best by 0.303. Rodon set his career marks in just about every metric imaginable.
Starting Pitcher: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
Previous: 2019 and 2020 1st Team
Jacob deGrom pitched just 92 innings in 2021. Keep that in mind. He posted 4.9 fWAR and 4.4 bWAR. He led the NL in strikeout rate in 2020, and then he added 0.5 more strikeouts per nine in 2021. His ERA and FIP both began with a one. His WHIP was so dominant that if a pitcher doubled it, he would have had a great season. Sure, deGrom only finished half of the season, but there was no pitcher in MLB that touched the air that deGrom was pitching on in 2021. It is a shame that he missed so much of the season, but this is no different from a pitcher that switches leagues halfway through the season. If the likes of Manny Ramirez and CC Sabathia can finish in the top-six in MVP races after playing half the season in the NL in 2008, deGrom should earn some award votes this offseason
Relief Pitcher: Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox
Previous: 2019 1st Team, 2020 2nd Team
Liam Hendriks had another strong season in 2021. He should be in line for a third straight All-MLB spot after leading the AL in saves. He set a career-high in strikeouts per nine, posting 14.3. His WHIP was even lower than his 2019 season, but a handful of home runs keep Hendriks from the first team. Hendriks made his second All-Star team in a row, and he could be in play for another Rivera Relief award coming soon.
Relief Pitcher: Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
In 28 save opportunities, Ryan Pressly converted 26 of them. He posted the lowest ERA of his career, and his FIP was nearly half of a run lower than any other season. He struck out 11.4 batters per nine, and he only walked 1.8 per nine. Unlike Hendriks, Pressly avoided the long ball like the plague. All told, Pressly posted a WHIP below 1.000 for the second time in three years. Pressly finished ninth in the AL in win probability added and first in championship win probability added.
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