Baseball's All-Star Game is a popularity contest.
Fans can vote up to 25 times to determine the game's starting rosters, resulting in widespread ballot stuffing that ensures undeserving fan favorites (read: overrated players) get the nod while deserving players get shut out. There's a reason Derek Jeter has only missed the Midsummer Classic twice in the last 15 years. Fans picked him to start the 2011 All-Star Game even though he was the 20th most valuable player at his position, based on Wins Above Replacement (WAR), through the midway point of that season.
(Don't know what WAR is? Read a helpful primer here.)
The annual gripes about ballot snubs are as regular an occurrence as the game itself. The debate over who should start at each position can be something of a pointless argument based on arbitrary criteria, cherry-picked to validate the players from one's favorite team.
Eschewing such backward reasoning, the proposed ballot below uses only WAR (wins above replacement) to make an objective, uniform evaluation of who should start at each position. Is it arbitrary to apply WAR as the only metric here? Absolutely. But at least this method considers the entire performance of each player versus his competition.
So, here's what each league's starting roster would look like if fans voted in the player deemed most valuable at each position, per Fangraphs' calculation of WAR, over the first half of the season.
Fans: Chris Davis, Orioles, 4.6 WAR
WAR: Chris Davis
This one is tough for fans to mess up. Davis is punishing baseballs to the tune of a .329/.405/.721 slash line, with 31 home runs, earning him comparisons to Barry Bonds. Davis' WAR is more than twice that of the next most valuable player at his position, Toronto's Adam Lind. Where fans have gone wrong, however, is voting Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols second and third, respectively. The two rank 14th and 20th among first baseman in WAR.
Fans: Robinson Cano, Yankees, 2.9
WAR: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox, 3.3
Cano is having a good start to his season, but Pedroia is doing even better. Pedroia has the best batting average and on-base percentage of any second baseman, while Cano leads everyone at the position in home runs. Yet fielding metrics say Pedroia is playing elite defense, while Cano ranks as the seventh-worst defensive second baseman in the AL.
Meanwhile, the Indians' Jason Kipnis sits just a tenth of a percentage point behind Pedroia in WAR. However, he plays in small market Cleveland, and doesn't even crack the top five in fan voting.
Fans: J.J. Hardy, Orioles, 1.7
WAR: Jhonny Peralta, Tigers, 2.5
Simply put, home runs are more exciting than OBP, and Hardy has 15 of them — twice as many as any other shortstop.
Peralta, on the other hand, has been getting on base at a better rate than all but three other AL shortstops while also swatting seven home runs, second only to Hardy.
Fans: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers, 5.4
Like Davis at first base, this one is also a no-brainer. Cabrera won the first Triple Crown in 45 years in 2012, and he's on pace to potentially do it again this year. His .368 batting average, .458 OBP, and 5.4 WAR are all the highest in the game at any position.
Fans: Mike Trout, Angels, 4.7; Adam Jones, Orioles, 1.5; Jose Bautista, Blue Jays, 3.2
WAR: Trout; Bautista; tie between Brett Gardner, Yankees, and Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox, 2.8
Two for three? Not bad, except Jones (tied for 17th among AL outfielders in WAR) has no business being there. While he's batting a healthy .291 with 15 home runs, he's not even in the top five among outfielders in either category. Meanwhile, his .314 OBP ranks 41st among AL outfielders with at least 100 plate appearances.
Fans: David Ortiz, Red Sox, 2.4
WAR: Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays, 2.5
Encarnacion, who splits time between DH and first base, has a slim lead in WAR thanks to his 23 home runs. Ortiz, who missed the start of the season recovering from a nagging heel injury, and who now leads all regular DHs in the Saber Triple Crown of batting average, OBP, and slugging, could close that gap by the time the All-Star Game rolls around.
Fans: Joe Mauer, Twins, 3.5
Mauer, healthy for once, is tops among catchers in WAR and a whole slew of more traditional offensive stats, too. It's no surprise he's also the runaway leader in fan voting.
Fans: Joey Votto, Reds, 3.3
WAR: Tie between Votto and Paul Godschmidt, Diamondbacks
This one is a total tossup. Votto has the better batting numbers — he leads in average, OBP, slugging, and wRC+ (weighted runs created) — but defensive metrics rate Godschmidt as the superior fielder. Votto did, however, save Homer Bailey's no-hitter with a great defensive play Tuesday night.
As of the last tally, Votto led Godschmidt by just 600,000 votes.
Fans: Brandon Phillips, Reds, 2.0
WAR: Matt Carpenter, Cardinals, 4.1
Phillips has played in two of the last three All-Star Games, and he's not a bad choice to start in this year's edition, since he currently ranks third in WAR. But Carpenter, who has the highest wRC+ among second baseman and is also playing stellar defense, has been twice as valuable as Phillips through the first half.
Fans: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies, 3.9
Colorado's fragile shortstop has been the most valuable of anyone at that position in the NL despite missing three weeks with a broken rib. Tulowitzki, who went on the disabled list in mid-June, will almost certainly miss the All-Star Game. He's slated for a mid- or late-July return.
Fans: David Wright, Mets, 4.3
Wright is a pretty solid lock to start the All -Star Game before his home crowd at Citi Field. As of Tuesday, he led the Giants' Pablo Sandoval by almost one million votes — and for good reason.
Wright has by far been the best all-around third baseman this year. Among everyday NL third basemen, he ranks first in OBP, stolen bases, and runs scored, and second in home runs, batting average, and slugging. As a result, his 4.3 WAR is nearly double that of the next best everyday third baseman, Cincinnati's Todd Frazier, who sits at 2.2
Interestingly, the second leading vote getter, Sandoval, comes in as the 22nd most valuable third baseman with just 0.3 WAR.
Fans: Carlos Beltran, Cardinals, 1.6; Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies, 3.5; Justin Upton, Braves, 1.7
WAR: Carlos Gomez, Brewers, 4.3; Andrew McCutchen, Pirates, 3.5; Gonzalez
Two men named Carlos should start the All-Star Game, but Beltran is not one of them. Despite Beltran's enormous lead in the vote tally — as of Monday he had over 5 million votes, two million more than the next leading vote getter, Gonzalez — he ranks 23rd among NL outfielders in WAR.
Upton is another peculiar choice. He got off to a fantastic start this season, hitting 12 home runs in April; he has hit three since then, and his batting average has sunk way down to .252.
Gomez, meanwhile, is getting no love from fans despite doing everything this year. He's hitting for average (.309), power (12 home runs), and stealing bases (16). He's also playing tremendous defense, making ludicrous plays this:
Still, he ranks just 12th among NL outfielders in the voting.
Fans: Yadier Molina, Cardinals, 3.5
Molina has been an All-Star four years running, and this year should be his fifth selection. After finishing fourth in the NL MVP voting in 2012, he's actually putting up better numbers this year.
Despite playing a premium defensive position, Molina has the second highest batting average in the NL among all players with at least 100 plate appearances, trailing only superhuman Yasiel Puig. His 26 doubles lead the league; he had 28 in all of 2012.
The Giants' Buster Posey, who trails Molina by about 400,000 votes, is a close second in WAR, too, with 3.4.