Ranking the best thing about every 2017 MLB All-Star – SweetSpot

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Last year, I ranked all the All-Stars by how fun they are to watch and was immediately and deservedly destroyed by Phillies fans for the low ranking of Odubel Herrera. Hey, would you watch Phillies games if you didn’t have to?

This year, I was going to rank the players by ability, but that’s too similar to the MLBRank Top 100 we just did.

Instead, I’ve ranked them based on something akin to the “it” factor, based on my own complicated proprietary formula that I’m not going divulge. Suffice it to say, in some regards this is the “Star” part of “All-Star.” Each player description includes something that they’re the best at or what makes them so good.

All-Star ranks: 1-10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50 | 51-60 | 61-70

1. Bryce Harper, RF, Washington Nationals: He has to be No. 1, right? After all, he led all players in All-Star votes, he’s putting MVP-caliber numbers on a first-place team and he even praised his wife a few days ago for waiting out what he called a “lame rain delay” –- when it didn’t rain for two hours. But what’s he the best at? He doesn’t hit the most home runs. He doesn’t hit the ball the longest or the hardest. He isn’t the best defensive right fielder or the fastest guy. You know what he’s the best at? Hair. He has wonderful, charismatic hair — the kind of hair to dream about. It’s almost a shame he can’t play without a hat, just to see that hair.

2. Aaron Judge, RF, New York Yankees: The second-leading vote-getter and the best player in the American League in the first half, the rookie is a large human with the strength of a dozen men. You know what he’s best at? Hitting the ball hard. He has the highest average exit velocity in the majors, the four hardest-hit balls of the season and the longest home run.

3. Max Scherzer, RHP, Washington Nationals: He’s the best bad boy in the league. Clayton Kershaw seems like a nice guy out there, a laid-back dude from Texas who will crush your spirit with fastballs on the corner and unhittable breaking stuff. Indeed, Kershaw is like a businessman doing his job. But Scherzer, he’ll glare at opponents or the umpire and stomp around the mound and sometimes just challenge batters with a fastball down the middle, because, you know, he just wants to see if they can hit it or not. Ultimately, he’s the best at not allowing hits: His .163 average allowed is easily the lowest among starting pitchers.

4. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers: I mean, he’s pretty good at doing his job. He has given up more home runs this season, but his ERA remains low because he has the highest strand rate among starting pitchers.

5. Cody Bellinger, OF/1B, Los Angeles Dodgers: The other rookie sensation has been one of the best at pulling the ball in the air, which explains all the home runs. He has hit 18 of his home runs to right field; only Mike Moustakas has hit more to the pull field.

6. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels: He is injured, and he won’t play in the game, but Trout is simply the best at being the best. If Judge falters in the second half of the season and Trout comes back after the break and hits like he did before hurting his thumb (1.203 OPS), don’t be surprised if Trout ends up as part of the MVP conversation.

7. George Springer, RF, Houston Astros: Springer makes his first All-Star appearance after entering the final two days before the break on pace for 50 home runs, 112 RBIs and 138 runs. Considering he has done all that from the leadoff spot, he can become the best ever at producing power from the top of the lineup. The record for most home runs from the leadoff spot is 39 by Alfonso Soriano in 2006. The most RBIs: 100 by Darin Erstad in 2000.

8. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros: He’s the best at getting hits and is on his way to leading the American League for the fourth straight season, all while aiming for his third batting title.

9. Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros: You might have noticed the Astros are having a good season. After hitting .233 without much power in April, Correa has had an OPS well over 1.000 ever since. Don’t fall behind to him: In hitters’ counts, he’s absolutely deadly, ranking third in the majors with a 1.686 OPS.

10. Chris Sale, LHP, Boston Red Sox: Well, he’s the best at harnessing passive-aggressive attitudes toward throwback jerseys. And thanks to that deadly fastball/slider combo and the ability to command both pitches within the strike zone, he has the highest strikeout rate in the majors. He also leads the league with 12 double-digit strikeout games and has a chance at the record of 23 in one season, a total shared by Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson (twice).

All-Star Ranks: 1-10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50 | 51-60 | 61-70

11. Mookie Betts, RF, Boston Red Sox: By the defensive metrics, he has been the most valuable defensive player in the majors, leading all players in both defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating. Oh, he can hit a little too, and he is younger than Judge.

12. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies: He hasn’t had an explosive season at the plate but also hasn’t had one of his patented hot streaks. Is anyone better at charging bunts or fielding those little tricklers? I mentioned this in a recent post: Arenado has a chance to become the best defender of all time. He’s that good. Old-timers will say nobody will ever be better at third base than Brooks Robinson; but a couple of years ago, Orioles announcer Jim Palmer, who would know of such things, said Manny Machado makes plays Robinson couldn’t. And Arenado is better than Machado, so …

13. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants: Don’t blame him for the season the Giants are having. I know this: Posey might be sick of baseball players doing baseball-related things in commercials, but he’s good at doing baseball-related things on the field. Most notably, he has more walks than strikeouts, which makes me happy.

14. Kenley Jansen, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers: He’s the best at this mind-boggling statistic: 56 strikeouts and two walks. Insane.

15. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks: I would say he’s getting so much attention for not getting attention that he’s no longer underrated, except he didn’t win the All-Star vote at first base. So he’s still the best at being underrated.

16. Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins: He still exudes the scent of superstar, even if he’s not quite at that level. He remains much-watch TV, because you never know when he might crack the longest home run ever hit. Also, Google “Giancarlo Stanton shirtless” and you’ll realize he’s the best at resembling a Greek god.

17. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds: He’s the best at the most important thing a hitter can do: getting on base. He leads all hitters in on-base percentage over the past three seasons. Of course, we know what makes him so good: He has the second-lowest chase rate in the majors. He also is taking advantage of the lively ball, leading the National League in slugging percentage while on pace for 47 home runs. And keep this in mind: He has had monster second halves over the past two seasons.

18. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians: He has had a weird season. He jumped out of the gate with a .309 average and seven home runs in April. But the bat has tailed off since, perhaps as he got too homer-happy. Still, nobody exceeds his joy and enthusiasm or his flair in the field. And he became one of the faces of the game in October.

19. Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: He has been compared to Cal Ripken for his size and ability to play shortstop and, like Ripken, he’s not flashy. Bellinger’s hot start also has stolen some of his thunder, even though Seager is producing a .900 OPS. What makes Seager so good: Even though he rarely pulls the ball, he has the strength to power the ball out to center and left-center; nine of his 13 home runs have gone to center and two to left field.

20. Corey Kluber, RHP, Cleveland Indians: Since he started on Sunday, he won’t pitch in the All-Star Game, which means we won’t get to see the most unhittable curveball in the game. Batters are hitting .099 against it, with a 58.7 percent strikeout rate. As Mark Simon recently detailed, Kluber’s curveball is the best put-away pitch in the majors for starting pitchers.

All-Star ranks: 1-10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50 | 51-60 | 61-70

21. Yu Darvish, RHP, Texas Rangers: Like Kluber, he pitched on Sunday and is ineligible for the game. His best weapon these days is his slider, which he’s throwing a lot more than last season. He might have the deepest repertoire of pitches in the game (although I don’t know why he doesn’t ditch the cutter, which has never been his best pitch and off which batters are slugging .589 this season).

22. Daniel Murphy, 2B, Washington Nationals: He’s the best at showing us the importance of launch angle. A slightly-below-average starter for the Mets, he transformed his swing mid-career to become one of the best hitters in the game.

23. Justin Turner, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers: Like Murphy, a mid-career swing change has turned him into an All-Star. He’s crushing left-handers this season to the tune of a .418/.505/.734 line with a home run every 13.2 at-bats, compared to one every 71 at-bats vs. righties.

24. Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners: The future Hall of Famer toils in obscurity these days, but still puts up big numbers. You appreciate his greatness watching him on a regular basis. He can look terrible on one pitch, with a weak, half-hearted swing, and then crush the next pitch for a home run. It has long been said about him, but he’s the best at making the game look easy. It’s not easy.

25. Zack Greinke, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks: He’s maybe the smartest pitcher in the game, not just with his ability to manipulate velocity –- taking a little off here, adding a little bit here -– but he’s also the master of getting batters to swing at pitches off the plate. Greinke has the third-best chase rate in the majors even though he doesn’t have a splitter or high-powered slider like Scherzer or Kluber that typically get batters to chase.

26. Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals: He’s not much of a threat with the bat these days and even failed last season to win a Gold Glove for the first time since 2007, but his reputation for defensive excellence is cemented in history and will eventually be rewarded with a call from Cooperstown.

27. Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees: He was all the rage down the stretch last year after being called up in August. Although Judge has stolen all the attention in 2017, Sanchez quietly earned an All-Star berth. When he connects, the ball goes: He actually has the second-longest average home run distance behind only Kendrys Morales.

28. Dallas Keuchel, LHP, Houston Astros: He was having another Cy Young-caliber season before getting injured. Nobody pounds the bottom of the strike zone and gets ground balls like this guy, a refreshing change of pace in this era of pitchers trying to strike out everybody.

29. (Tie) Andrew Miller, LHP, Cleveland Indians; Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Boston Red Sox: Fastball, breaking ball, swing, miss, sit down.

30. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Washington Nationals: He still throws hard and still has the great curveball, but his changeup has now become his dominant pitch. Batters hit .109 against it last year and are .101 against it this season, and it’s the reason he has been a little better against left-handed batters the past two seasons.

All-Star Ranks: 1-10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50 | 51-60 | 61-70

31. Charlie Blackmon, CF, Colorado Rockies: I mean, it’s a stiff field, but nobody beats him for bushiest beard, in part because he also complements it with an impressive mullet — which he pronounces “mu-lay.” I am not making that up. As teammate Carlos Gonzalez said, “He’s weird.”

32. Jose Ramirez, 3B, Cleveland Indians: He’ll be moving up on this list if he keeps ripping the cover off the ball. Ramirez’s contact skills make him one of the best two-strike hitters in the league; only Harper and Judge have a better slugging percentage.

33. Nelson Cruz, DH, Seattle Mariners: Nobody has more home runs since 2014, and only Arenado and Edwin Encarnacion have more RBIs. Few are better at hunting out fastballs than Cruz, who is hitting .341 and slugging .627 against them in 2017.

34. Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins: Few players have all-field power like Sano. He has pulled eight home runs, hit seven to center and five to the opposite field.

35. Robbie Ray, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks: Too high? Hey, watch him pitch. He’s good. He’s also on my fantasy team, and it’s my list. Only James Paxton and Sale have a higher fastball velocity among left-handed starters.

36. Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays: Great personality, big-time fastball and that wipeout slider. And, please, stop with the trade rumors on this guy.

37. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B, Washington Nationals: Once a star, Zimmerman battled injuries and looked washed-up last season. Then again, maybe he just had a hot April. His OPS by month: 1.345, .905, .791, .583. He’s aggressive at the plate but has been one of the best in production on pitches out of the strike zone, hitting .311/.411/.547.

38. Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals: He’s making his fifth consecutive All-Star appearance and having his best season at the plate, which is pretty amazing because the notoriously aggressive hitter is swinging at more pitchers than ever. In fact, at 47.4 percent, he has the highest chase rate on pitches outside the strike zone. That makes him the best at having a terrible approach and yet still being on pace to hit 34 home runs.

39. Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals: At times, he seems ready to make the leap and become a Cy Young contender, but his inconsistent changeup means left-handers can still do some serious damage against him. When he’s on, his mid-to-upper 90s fastball (he has third-best average fastball velocity among starters) and devastating slider are enough to dominate.

40. Marcell Ozuna, LF, Miami Marlins: The fans recognized his .316/.374/.566 first half by voting him in as a starter, which means he’ll start for the second straight All-Star Game (he started as an injury replacement last year). He’s at best feasting on fastballs, so don’t fall behind in the count. After a 1-0 count, he has the second-highest wOBA in the majors after Judge.

All-Star ranks: 1-10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50 | 51-60 | 61-70

41. Dellin Betances, RHP, New York Yankees: He has to be the most intimidating pitcher in baseball, especially this season when he doesn’t always know where his upper-90s heater is headed. He’s averaging 16.8 K’s per nine innings (and 8.3 walks!), but his fastball/slider combo is almost unhittable: When batters do swing, they miss 45 percent of the time.

42. Lance McCullers Jr., RHP, Houston Astros: The son of the former big leaguer is a rising star thanks to one of the best curveballs in the business: a hard, sharp-breaking pitch that averages 86 mph and thus resembles a slider. He throws it 46 percent of the time, and with good reason: batters are hitting .204 against it, which is part of why he’s so effective against left-handed batters. It also has helped him to the highest ground ball rate among qualified starters.

43. Luis Severino, RHP, New York Yankees: Remember when everyone wanted to move him to the bullpen? This is why you give a pitcher every opportunity to prove himself as a starter. Severino pitches off his fastball — at 97.2 mph average velocity, it’s the fastest of any starting pitcher –- which sets up a wipeout slider that has held batters to a .205 average with 38.5 percent strikeout rate.

44. Michael Brantley, LF, Cleveland Indians: One of the best All-Star stories after missing almost all of 2016 with shoulder problems, including a second surgery in August that involved re-anchoring the muscle to the bone. The power numbers are a little thin, but he’s hitting .300 again because he’s one of the best contact guys around, ranking in the top 10 in lowest swing-and-miss rate.

45. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals: So this is interesting. The year the Royals won the World Series, a big deal was made about Moustakas salvaging his career by finally learning to hit to the opposite field. Well, he’s back to pulling everything and has already hit a career-high 25 home runs, including 22 to right field, the most pulled home runs in the majors.

46. Michael Fulmer, RHP, Detroit Tigers: Isn’t it something that of all those Mets pitching prospects, the one they traded away ends up being the best? Fulmer is a bit of an oxymoron in today’s game, succeeding despite ranking 56th of 74 qualified starters in strikeout rate. He’s not a finesse guy, however, as his bread-and-butter pitch is a sinking fastball that averages 95.8 mph, making him one of the hardest-throwing starting pitchers.

47. Wade Davis, RHP, Chicago Cubs: Over the past four seasons, he’s 21-4 with a 1.27 ERA. What makes it so hard to score runs off him? He has allowed just four home runs in 212 innings in that span. Unlike most closers, he has three pitches: fastball, cutter and curveball, all with a strikeout rate of 30 percent or higher, so he’ll throw any of them at any time.

48. Justin Upton, LF, Detroit Tigers: He’s making his fourth All-Star appearance. Is that surprising? He still has that elite bat speed that allows him to go on some notorious hot streaks. Need an example? He had a good April and good June, sandwiched around a 40-strikeout May.

49. Jake Lamb, 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks: The players voted him in as the backup at third base over Kris Bryant, Anthony Rendon and Turner. What he does best is murder right-handed pitching, with a .317/.413/.601 slash line to go with 16 of his 20 home runs.

50. Michael Conforto, OF, New York Mets: For a young hitter, Conforto has a smart, advanced approach, with a high rate of pitches per plate appearance that allows him to get into hitters’ counts. And that’s when he rakes, with the seventh-highest OPS, including a .438 batting average and .969 slugging mark.

All-Star ranks: 1-10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50 | 51-60 | 61-70

51. DJ LeMahieu, 2B, Colorado Rockies: The 2016 NL batting champ is a throwback, a guy who sprays line drives around the field and doesn’t try to jack home runs every swing. Only Joe Mauer hits the ball to the opposite field more often.

52. Ervin Santana, RHP, Minnesota Twins: The 13-year veteran made his first All-Star team since 2008 thanks to three first-half shutouts and a 2.99 ERA. He leads all starting pitchers with seven scoreless starts thanks to a slider that he has kept down in the zone this season and that has limited batters to a .160 average.

53. Greg Holland, RHP, Colorado Rockies: He’s a big name from his days with the Royals, and he has bounced back from Tommy John surgery to post a 1.62 ERA and record 28 saves in 29 opportunities. Guess what? He’s a reliever with a fastball/slider combo. His velocity is down a couple ticks from his Royals days, but he always has been hard to hit as he pounds the bottom of the strike zone with his slider.

54. Ender Inciarte, CF, Atlanta Braves: One of the hidden gems in the game, stolen from the Diamondbacks in the Shelby Miller deal. He’s hitting .300, but his game is defense. He won a Gold Glove last season, and his metrics are once again excellent with plus-9 defensive runs saved. He has plus range and a plus throwing arm.

55. Starlin Castro, 2B, New York Yankees: Now this one surprises me. This is Castro’s fourth All-Star selection, a pretty remarkable achievement for a guy with 13.1 career WAR in eight seasons. He’s injured and won’t be able to play, but he’s hitting .300 for the first time since he was a 21-year-old with the Cubs in 2011. Castro has remained largely unchanged as a hitter, still expanding the zone too often, and his fly ball rate is right at his career average. As you might guess for a free swinger, he hits fastballs (.361) and struggles against wriggly stuff.

56. Zack Cozart, SS, Cincinnati Reds: While he made the All-Star team based on a strong first half at the plate and has shown the best plate discipline of his career, Cozart has always been a plus defensive shortstop. He lacks the flash of some others but has always been reliable with good hands, making him quick on the double play. He’s plus-58 defensive runs saved in his career and above average every season, including plus-4 in 2017.

57. Josh Harrison, 2B, Pittsburgh Pirates: Harrison makes his second All-Star appearance, and versatility has always been his biggest strength. This season he has started 46 games at second, 29 at third and six in left field. He also has added a new twist to boost his OBP: He leads the majors with 20 hit by pitches. He’s having one of the greatest hit-by-pitches seasons of all time!

58. Alex Wood, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers: He’s 10-0 with a 1.67 ERA, with just two home runs allowed in 80⅔ innings, and as you might guess from those numbers, he pounds the bottom of the zone. The one thing he has done this season, at the urging of the Dodgers analytics department, is throw his fastball less often. He threw it 66 percent of the time with the Braves in 2015, but that’s down to 52 percent. He’s throwing his changeup more often — 30 percent of the time against right-handed batters — and batters are hitting .127 against it.

59. Jason Vargas, LHP, Kansas City Royals: Baseball is weird. How does a guy with the slowest fastball velocity among non-knuckleballers lead the AL in ERA? A great changeup, of course. But this guy has been around forever, so what’s the deal in 2017? When Vargas returned from Tommy John surgery, his release point had dropped a couple inches, which added movement to his fastball and made his changeup one of the best in game, maybe the best. According to FanGraphs, his changeup has created the most run value of any in the game at plus-16.6 runs saved.

60. Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles: Schoop’s calling card has always been good power for a middle infielder, but he has been better able to tap into it — 18 home runs — because he’s showing more discipline. His chase rate has decreased from 42 percent the past two seasons to 31 percent. That’s still high, but it’s a huge improvement.

All-Star ranks: 1-10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50 | 51-60 | 61-70

61. Corey Dickerson, DH, Tampa Bay Rays: Trivia! Dickerson becomes just the fourth Rays player to start an All-Star Game, joining David Price, Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford, who all did it in 2010. Dickerson loves to hack. I mean, this guy is like some explorer trying to find his way through the Amazon with a machete. He swings at everything, so it’s not a surprise that he’s hitting .420 with a .942 slugging percentage with no strikes.

62. Justin Smoak, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays: Is he the worst player ever to make an All-Star team? Not this year. He has been amazing and deserves it based on 2017 numbers. What I mean is a player who has had the worst career and then became an All-Star. He entered the season with 1.5 career WAR in seven years. Now he’s up to 3.9 career WAR. What’s he doing? I have no idea. One thing is he’s hitting well from the right side. He always has been better from the left side, but is hitting .389/.444/.653 against lefties. Like I said, baseball is weird.

63. Yonder Alonso, 1B, Oakland Athletics: Like Smoak, another longtime vet having a career season. Alonso changed his swing to add more lift, but he has been effective when attacking first pitches. In 33 plate appearances when putting the first pitch in play, he’s hitting .697 and slugging 1.212, the highest OPS in the majors.

64. Chris Devenski, RHP, Houston Astros: How good is his changeup? They call it the “circle of death.”

65. Roberto Osuna, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays: The 22-year-old’s amazing season has been lost in the dust of Jansen and Kimbrel, but he has posted 47 strikeouts with just three walks. He throws a 95 mph fastball as well as a cutter and slider and pounds the outside corner to righties and inside corner to lefties with all three pitches. Reminds me of a certain famous closer …

66. Avisail Garcia, RF, Chicago White Sox: Another surprising All-Star given his track record, Garcia is riding a career-best .371 BABIP to hit .310 at the break. There aren’t any big changes in his hitting profile other than he’s pulling the ball slightly more often and hitting a few more fly balls, but not enough to turn his production around this time. So, really, the thing he’s doing well so far is finding a lot of holes. For example, he has 14 infield hits compared to eight all last season.

67. Corey Knebel, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers: Hey, it’s a closer with an upper-90s fastball and slider! Or slider/cutter. Or curveball. Whatever you want to call his breaking ball, it’s one nasty pitch; batters are hitting .135 against it with a 53.8 percent strikeout rate. Hitters mostly try not to swing at it, which they do only 21 percent of the time. When they do swing, they miss 43 percent of the time. Good luck.

68. Brandon Kintzler, RHP, Minnesota Twins: Kintzler is an oddity for a closer with only 24 strikeouts in 39⅓ innings, but it’s because of one pitch: a 93 mph sinker with movement that he throws 80 percent of the time. Because of that, he gets a lot of ground balls — 62 compared to 29 fly balls.

69. Pat Neshek, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies: That’s two-time All-Star Pat Neshek, coming soon to a contender near you! The sidearmer with the funky delivery has always been tough on righties — allowing just a .188 average in his career -– but this season he also is holding lefties to a .188 average.

70. Brad Hand, LHP, San Diego Padres: This isn’t an insult, because like Neshek, Hand will probably be traded and maybe help a team win a World Series. But he plays for the Padres, is not a closer and was dumped on waivers by the Marlins, so he’s not exactly a household name. He has, however, turned into a dominant reliever by going to that old reliever standard: fastball/slider, as he has junked the changeup and curveball he also used as a starter.



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