The starers for the 2014 MLB All-Star game will be announced Sunday night on ESPN. Those starters are selected by the fans, with the reserves and pitchers to be selected later by the players and managers. We know that fan voting can turn into a popularity contest, which doesn't always reward the most deserving players. To some extent, the player and manager voting can have a similar bias.
You won't find any of that same bias here. This isn't a prediction of which players will appear in Minneapolis later this month for the All-Star festivities, but rather an examination of which players should be there.
We'll start with the American League roster. Keep in mind that each team will have 34 roster spots and each team must be represented.
C: Derek Norris, A's – .309/.408/.509, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 2.4 WAR
Baltimore's Matt Wieters may end up winning the fan vote, but he's injured. Even if he wasn't, Norris has been the league's best catcher this season, with an OPS nearly 80 points higher than Wieters. Nobody else is even close at the position. Salvador Perez leads AL catchers in WAR (3.1) due to his superior defense and should claim a reserve spot on the roster.
1B: Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays – .281/.370/.603, 26 HR, 69 RBI, 3.4 WAR
It's tough to argue with the fans for voting in two-time reigning MVP winner Miguel Cabrera, but Encarnacion is having the better season and is tied for the league lead in HRs with rookie sensation Jose Abreu. Encarnacion actually appears as a DH on the ballot, but he's played most of his games at first base this season.
2B: Ian Kinsler, Tigers - .308/.343/.482, 10 HR, 43 RBI, 3.8 WAR
The Tigers new second baseman leads all AL players at the position in WAR and slugging, while tying for the lead in doubles (25). Robinson Cano will win the fan voting, but his numbers this year don't warrant that spot. Granted moving to Seattle's Safeco Field has suppressed his power numbers, but even going based on WAR (which accounts for park effects), he's still only 4th in the AL among second basemen (2.8). Houston's Jose Altuve deserves a spot ahead of Cano for leading the league in batting average (.343) and steals (37). If the team ends up having a third player at the position added, it should be Boston's Dustin Pedroia, who's recent surge has moved him into 2nd in WAR (3.3) at the position.
3B: Josh Donaldson, A's – .245/.325/.489, 18 HR, 61 RBI, 4.6 WAR
Oakland's slugger at the hot corner was snubbed last year, but he'll make his first All-Star appearance this time. His triple-slash line has dipped a bit lately, but he still leads the league at his position in WAR, HR and RBI. Texas' Adrian Beltre is the next best choice, but an early season DL stint hurts his counting numbers, which could put Seattle's Kyle Seager in the conversation for a reserve spot.
SS: Alexei Ramirez, White Sox – .294/.327/.421, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 2.4 WAR
Look, we get why Derek Jeter is going to get voted in as a starter. He's a future Hall of Fame shortstop taking the final victory lap of his legendary career. But let's face it – he's not even close to one of the league's best players at his position anymore. His 0.5 WAR ranks a distant 13th among AL shortstops and he's having the worst season at the plate of his career. So Jeter will get in as a lifetime achievement award, but Ramirez is having the best season at this position, with the Angels' Erick Aybar close behind.
OF: Mike Trout, Angels – .311/.405/.609, 19 HR, 62 RBI, 5.0 WAR
Jose Bautista, Blue Jays – . 304/.431/.539, 17 HR, 51 RBI, 3.9 WAR
Yoenis Cespedes, A's – .272/.326/.494, 14 HR, 55, 3.0 WAR
Trout is the best all-around player in baseball, so he's a lock to highlight this group of outfielders. Bautista may be overshadowed by the power surge from Encarnacion, but he's having a great season in his own right and actually has a better WAR than his teammate. Cespedes recently pulled ahead of Melky Cabrera in the fan voting – and with good reason. While their offensive numbers are similar, Cespedes is a far superior defender. Who wouldn't want to see him use that rocket arm to try to gun down runners at the plate at this All-Star game?
DH: Nelson Cruz, Orioles – .280/.346/.569, 26 HR, 68 RBI, 2.4 WAR
He's not a full-time DH, but he does have nearly half his at-bats this season in that spot and it's where he appears on the ballot. His 26 home runs is tied for most in the league and he's second in RBI. Not bad for a guy that had to settle for a 1-year, $8 million contract at the end of February. He leads the fan voting over Boston's David Ortiz by a wide margin and will most likely get the starting spot. If a backup DH is selected, Victor Martinez would be a more worthy choice than Ortiz. The Tigers DH is having an MVP caliber season with numbers that dwarf Big Papi's in just about every category except HRs and RBIs.
C: Salvador Perez, Royals – .283/.332/.448, 10 HR, 29 RBI, 3.1 WAR
C: Yan Gomes, Indians – .267/.309/.422, 9 HR, 30 RBI, 2.2 WAR
1B: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers – .311/.368/.542, 14 HR, 67 RBI, 2.7 WAR
1B: Jose Abreu, White Sox – .280/.331/.624, 26 HR, 67 RBI, 2.2 WAR
2B: Jose Altuve, Astros - .343/.383/.445, 2 HR, 26 RBI, 3.2 WAR
2B: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox – .282/.351/.351, 4 HR, 32 RBI, 3.3 WAR
3B: Adrian Beltre, Rangers – .335/.381/.508, 9 HR, 44 RB, 2.7 WAR
SS: Erick Aybar, Angels – .277/.316/.417, 6 HR, 42 RBI, 2.8 WAR
OF: Adam Jones, Orioles – .307/.330/.510, 16 HR, 52 RBI, 3.0 WAR
OF: Brandon Moss, A's – .274/.358/.534, 19 HR, 62 RBI, 2.7 WAR
OF: Michael Brantley, Indians – .312/.380/.500, 12 HR, 54 RBI, 3.1 WAR
DH: Victor Martinez, Tigers – .323/.384/.589, 20 HR, 52 RBI, 2.4 WAR
SP: Felix Hernandez, Mariners – 11-3, 2.10 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 137 K
SP: Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees – 10-2, 2.10 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 127 K
SP: Yu Darvish, Rangers – 8-4, 2.42 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 128 K
SP: Mark Buehrle, Blue Jays – 10-5, 2.50 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 67 K
SP: Scott Kazmir, A's – 9-3, 2.61 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 91 K
SP: David Price, Rays – 7-7, 3.50 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 153 K
SP: Jon Lester, Red Sox – 9-7, 2.92 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 115 K
RP: Koji Uehara, Red Sox – 18 SV, 1.40 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 49 K
RP: Greg Holland, Royals – 23 SV, 1.93 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 50 K
RP: Fernando Rodney, Mariners – 24 SV, 2.16 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 38 K
RP: Glen Perkins, Twins – 20 SV, 3.41 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 46 K
RP: Dellin Betances, Yankees – 1.50 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 76 K
RP: Wade Davis, Royals – 1.23 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 58 K