With the turn of the calendar from June into July, baseball collectively diverts its attention, albeit briefly, from the games on the field to the ballots for the All-Star Game, which will be played July 15 at Target Field in Minneapolis. It is theoretically a matchup pitting the best of the best of each league against one another for not only bragging rights, but also for home-field advantage in the World Series (thanks, Bud Selig!).
It’s a heavily hyped process and endeavor, but also one rigged so that each MLB team will have a representative, no matter how dire the season might be during the first half for a given team. On the other side of the coin, the nature of the voting process, which puts the voting for starting position players in the hands of the fans and the reserves in the hands of players themselves, is also such that many deserving players will get looked over. The dreaded All-Star snub. OK, so “dreaded” might be a bit hyperbolic, but the point still stands that many talented players having All-Star worthy seasons never get the nod.
For the Nationals, this snubbing situation might be afoot. While usual suspect and national darling Bryce Harper will get his share of the ballots with his name punched for Minneapolis, plenty other position players will get overlooked, either a victim of the success of the team or the overwhelming success of another player at the position. For every Paul Goldschmidt or Troy Tulowitzki on the ballot - guys who are clearly deserving of votes and selection - there’s a guy like Adam LaRoche, quietly having an All-Star worthy half-season on a successful squad.
Let’s look at where the most recent ballot counts stand for position players - pitchers have yet to be voted on by the respective American and National League managers - and see where the Nationals players stand. As of June 23, the top-five vote-getters for infield positions and top-15 vote-getters for the outfield are as follows:
Bryce Harper, 15th place, 680,930 votes.
That’s it. The sole Nationals representative in the top 15 thus far is Harper, whose star power is driving those votes more so than the minus-0.2 wins above replacement (WAR) in a little under 100 plate appearances he’s racked up in a half-season interrupted by a thumb injury. With this in mind, let’s take a look at who might be deserving of a trip to the Twin Cities off of the Nationals, using WAR as our guide. Since this stat is easily referenced and includes both offensive and defensive contributions, it’s a quick and dirty way to figure out where the team’s players lie in the land of All-Stars to be in the National League. For our purposes, let’s keep the selection to players with at least 90 plate appearances (PA).
Let’s start with the catchers. Wilson Ramos, despite an injury-shortened 2014, ranks 10th in the NL with 0.9 WAR in 114 PA; pretty darn good. But with the top five vote-getters at catchers also the top five catchers by WAR, Ramos probably doesn’t get a shot at this year’s All-Star Game.
The aforementioned LaRoche has had quite a season thus far, both with the bat and glove, which puts him in a prime spot to be smiled upon favorably by WAR. Tied for fifth place with Milwaukee Brewer Mark Reynolds at 1.5 WAR, LaRoche has a reasonable shot to make it to Minnesota, at least as a reserve. Throw in the fact that Reynolds sits in fourth place in the voting with roughly 1.07 million votes and fifth place going to St. Louis Cardinal Matt Adams, he of the fourth-best first baseman WAR at 2.1, and things get a touch dicey for LaRoche’s chances for his first All-Star appearance.
At shortstop, Ian Desmond is a star in the making, but is having a rough 2014, currently sitting at 1.2 WAR, good for ninth place in the NL. While four of the top five vote-getters at shortstop sit well above Desmond per WAR, Brewers shortstop Jean Segura’s second-place standing in the balloting is a bit curious given his 0.4 WAR, good for 11th among NL shortstops. Despite appearing to turn things around, the seasons of Troy Tulowitzki, Jhonny Peralta and Hanley Ramirez probably block Desmond out of an All-Star appearance.
Third base has Anthony Rendon’s name written all over it, with his 3.0 WAR eclipsed only by Todd Frazier’s 3.2-WAR breakout season. Neither has sniffed the top-five All-Star votes, but both are just as deserving, if not more so than the likes of Aramis Ramirez, David Wright or Pablo Sandoval, who are the three highest vote-getters for the position.
For the outfield and Harper’s less-than-stellar season notwithstanding, Jayson Werth and Denard Span share 1.2-WAR seasons, which ties the teammates for 23rd place in the NL for outfielders by WAR. Considering Michael Morse is in the top 10 for All-Star votes with 0.8 WAR, tied for 32nd with Michael Cuddyer, who currently ranks 14th in outfield All-Star votes, needless to say the seasons by the two Nationals have gone under the radar by most fans of the game.
While the voting for the All-Stars has and always will be more popularity contest than a strict determination of whose stats truly deserve the honor, the use of WAR does show that while many of the Nationals will fall short of All-Star selection once all of the votes are tallied, there is plenty of All-Star worthy talent up and down their lineup.
Stuart Wallace blogs about the Nationals at District Sports Page. Follow him on Twitter: @TClippardsSpecs. His work appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.