I checked in on American League early All-Star debates Wednesday night. Here's a look at the National League. Again, my general guidelines: A player's past history matters, and I'm not a big fan of players who've had just two great months in the majors (the Bryan LaHair Rule).
Should start: Molina.
Potential debate: Jonathan Lucroy is having a great season; he leads Molina in both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs WAR and has been an underrated player in recent seasons, but this is one where I defer to past history and give Molina the edge. The other potential situation is if the players vote in Posey as the backup it's possible Lucroy gets left off altogether, but this looks like a year where three catchers may make it.
Should start: Freeman or Paul Goldschmidt. Close one. Similar numbers this year, although Freeman has a .395 OBP compared to Goldschmidt's .356 while playing in a tougher hitters' park. The defensive metrics don't like Freeman's defense so Goldschmidt rates a little higher in WAR, but I'd give the slightest of nods to Freeman.
Potential debate: If Gonzalez wins the starting nod, Freeman or Goldschmidt may draw the short stick unless the team has three first basemen. I could see the loser ending up in the final player vote. Morneau will have his supporters and it would be a nice return to Minnesota, but his Coors-inflated numbers shouldn't be taken on the same level as Freeman's and Goldschmidt's.
Likely starter: Chase Utley. He started each year between 2006 to 2009 and Brandon Phillips started last year, but Utley's big start has propelled him to a huge lead in the fan voting over Dee Gordon.
Should start: Utley.
Potential debate: It will be interesting to see who gets the players' nod as the backup. Were they impressed by Gordon's good start and stolen base totals? Does Phillips get in despite his .301 OBP? Does Daniel Murphy (.313/.361/.433) get any respect? Really, there isn't a clear No. 2 guy behind Utley just yet.
Should start: Wright. Todd Frazier (.264/.338/.478) actually leads in WAR, but this is where I mention it's an All-Star Game. Wright is a proven star. I'll go with him since no third baseman is cleaning up with the numbers.
Potential debate: Wright and Murphy are the Mets' only solid All-Star candidates (plus maybe Jonathon Niese), so one of them probably makes it as a reserve anyway. There may be a heated debate on who deserves to start at third base, but it's not exactly one to get too worked up over.
Likely starter: Troy Tulowitzki.
Should start: Tulowitzki. The easiest call on the board in either league.
Potential debate: Jimmy Rollins is having his best season in years so could get the backup vote from the players, although I suspect they may go for Hanley Ramirez based on his terrific numbers from 2013. You know I love Andrelton Simmons, but the defensive metrics suggest he's not having another historic year on D so it's hard to argue for him.
Likely starters: Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Yasiel Puig. Hard to say here -- Charlie Blackmon actually leads the early voting (it appears Rockies and Brewers fans have done the best job of early ballot stuffing). No offense to Blackmon, but the idea of him starting ahead of these guys or Carlos Gomez or Justin Upton is a joke. He had a great month. One great month does not make an All-Star. I mean, do Rockies fans really think Blackmon is a better player than Carlos Gonzalez? Anyway, I suspect the fans will come around, but it's still a crowded field. McCutchen, Stanton and Puig currently rank second, fourth and fifth in the voting. Does Stanton have a big enough fan base? Do too many fans dislike Puig? I think the numbers for them will be too good to ignore.
Should start: Stanton, Puig, McCutchen. With apologies to Gomez, Upton, Hunter Pence and others. The NL is loaded in outfielders -- eight of the top 11 position players in Baseball-Reference WAR are outfielders. Luckily, the loser can serve as the DH, although you'd hate to waste Gomez as a DH.
Potential debate: Things could definitely get ugly here, especially if Blackmon gets voted in ... or even Ryan Braun (third in the voting right now). Imagine a starting outfield of Braun, Gomez and Puig. The most controversial starting outfield ever! Seth Smith may make it as the Padres' rep, but at least he's having a strong season.
Likely starter: Adam Wainwright. Obviously, a lot can change between now and July, but Wainwright is 8-2 with a league-leading 1.67 ERA.
Should start: Wainwright. Other starters who could make the squad would include Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke, Julio Teheran, Tim Hudson, Jeff Samardzija (hey, don't blame him for his 1-4 record) and Michael Wacha. The interesting guy will be two-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who has made just five starts. My normal rule is the stars go unless they've been horrible, but I do think you need to have played. He should have 11 or 12 starts by the All-Star Game, so I would lean to putting him on the roster.
Potential debate: There are currently 16 qualified NL starters with an ERA under 3.00, which doesn't even include guys like Madison Bumgarner, Cliff Lee or Stephen Strasburg. More than one guy with a good case will be left out.
Likely choices: Craig Kimbrel, Francisco Rodriguez, Kenley Jansen. As with the AL, just guessing here on whom the players will select. Kimbrel is a lock and maybe Jansen after his dominant 2013. The player vote tends to lean toward guys who had a strong first six weeks, so K-Rod maybe makes it even though he's allowed seven runs in his past eight innings.
Should make it: Kimbrel, Steve Cishek, Adam Ottavino. This year's middle reliever with 25 hot innings is Ottavino, who has a 1.52 ERA and outstanding peripherals pitching for the Rockies. Huston Street could be the Padres' rep and Jean Machi of the Giants is 5-0 with a 0.36 ERA. Then you have closers like Trevor Rosenthal, Sergio Romo, Jonathan Papelbon and Rafael Soriano who could all factor into the mix. Soriano (0.90 ERA, 11 saves) could actually be the Nationals' only rep as they lack a clear position player and Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann don't really warrant selection right now.
Potential debate: With so many good starters in the NL, it would be a shame if six or seven relievers make it but that's what will probably happen.
Prediction for biggest snub
I think three first basemen make it -- Goldschmidt almost certainly will be Arizona's rep -- and I think Lucroy will get on the roster, so I'm guessing an outfielder ends up getting squeezed, maybe Justin Upton or, more likely, a slightly lesser snub like Braun, Blackmon, Pence or Angel Pagan.