BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI
For the Sun-Times
When fan voting for the All-Star Game ends July 2, the Royals might or might not have seven American League starters, depending on how much difference is made by the cancellation of more than 60 million votes revealed last week. Angels outfielder Mike Trout and Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera have been the only non-Royals players among the leaders so far.
If vote cancellation changes the starting lineup, it won’t be the first time Major League Baseball has had to intervene. Reds fans stuffed the ballot box in 1957, and Cardinals first baseman Stan Musial was the only non-Reds electee. Commissioner Ford Frick stepped in and appointed outfielders Willie Mays of the Giants and Hank Aaron of the Braves to replace the Reds’ Gus Bell and Wally Post.
Voting was taken away from the fans and given to the players from 1958 to 1969. Fans resumed voting in 1970.
MLB badly wants to send the message that this is the fans’ game. Putting players fans want to see in the lineups matters more than honoring the best half-season players. Still, it’s by no means a perfect process when the Indians’ Jason Kipnis (.345 batting average, .932 OPS, AL-leading 4.4 rWAR) can’t top the Royals’ Omar Infante (.229, .549, 0.2) in second-base voting.
If we were to make out an AL lineup by rWAR, the only Royals starter would be Lorenzo Cain (3.3), who is 14th among qualifying AL outfielders with a .793 OPS but is a strong defender with nine defensive runs saved by the Baseball Info Systems metric. He’d be joined in the outfield by Trout (4.2 rWAR, .967 OPS) and the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier (3.1, .717).
Kipnis would be at second, the Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson (3.9, .911) at third and the Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts (2.0, .734) at shortstop. The Athletics’ Steven Vogt (3.0, .938) would catch, and the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez (1.9, .908) would be the designated hitter.
The only White Sox position player at better than one win above replacement is first baseman Jose Abreu (1.3, .829 OPS), but his numbers can’t touch Cabrera’s level (3.6, 1.043).
Among the Royals, Alex Gordon ranks eighth among AL outfielders with a 2.5 rWAR, within hailing distance of third-place Kiermaier’s 3.1. Third baseman Mike Moustakas (2.9), catcher Salvador Perez (2.0) and DH Kendrys Morales (0.9) each are a full win behind the rWAR leaders at their positions. Shortstop Alcides Escobar (0.9) and second baseman Infante are even further back.
What if we went strictly for offense and ranked by OPS, not a perfect metric but one with widespread public acceptance? The Rangers’ Prince Fielder (.929) would replace A-Rod at DH, and Trout’s outfield partners would be the Mariners’ Nelson Cruz (.954) and the Jays’ Jose Bautista (.936). Other rWAR leaders would remain in the lineup.
All-Star teams aren’t chosen strictly by the numbers. Fans should get to see their favorites. Nonetheless, if there’s one number that should be pared back, it’s seven
Royals starters in the All-Star Game.