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The All-MLB Team Project: Re-Evaluating Baseball’s Best From 2000-Now – Part IV: 2012-2018

Read Part I for an explanation of this project.
Catch up with the All-MLB Teams of 2000-2005 in Part II.
Check out the All-MLB Teams of 2006-2011 in Part III.

As a reminder: each graphic will show the All-MLB First Team, second team and third team for each given season. Players in bold were award winners that year, and if a pitcher swept the MVP and the Cy Young they are bold and underlined. Players in italics are players that I myself chose to fill out the rosters – they did not receive Cy Young or MVP votes that season. Players highlighted in gold have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The fourth column will name the players in each season that produced the highest fWAR that season, for the sake of posterity. Again, fWAR is the Wins Above Replacement calculation used by Fangraphs, an explanation of which can be found here.

2012:

THE WHO’S WHO: After a two-year absence, Derek Jeter is back – his last great season, in which he leads the league with 216 hits, sees him on the All-MLB team for an eighth time, but only the second time on the First Team. David Ortiz is the third team DH for his seventh All-MLB selection, and Matt Holliday and Cliff Lee are six-time All-MLB players. Joining the five-timers club are second team DH Joe Mauer and a quartet of First Team picks – Cano, Cabrera, Braun, and Verlander. Cano, Braun, Verlander, and Kershaw are the four players who repeat on the First Team from 2011.

Conspicuous by his absence for the first time in his great career is Pujols, who posts career lows in average, OPS, and home runs in his first season as an Angel. It’s not enough to keep him an All-MLB first baseman, not ahead of NL OPS leader Joey Votto for the third team spot. Still, eleven consecutive All-MLB teams is a remarkable run, particularly when you consider they were the first eleven seasons of his, and I’d wager there are some inner circle Hall of Famers who wouldn’t have been able to match it. In those eleven seasons, Pujols hit .328/.420/.617 (a 1.037 OPS) with 445 home runs and 1,329 RBI, and averaged nearly 8 fWAR per year.

This is the first year so far in which there are no players who are currently enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Of course, that will change. Jeter is a lock once he joins the ballot for consideration this year. Adrian Beltre’s 3,000 hits and sterling defensive reputation will earn him enshrinement one day, as well. How many others on this team will join them? Cabrera, Ortiz, Verlander, Sabathia and Kershaw would seem to be the best bets, with Trout well on his way.

The first three seasons of this exercise – 2000-2002 – saw an average of 10 Hall of Famers per season make the All-MLB team, and that’s not including players like Bonds and Clemens who would already have joined their peers in Cooperstown if not for the BBWAA’s ongoing moral crusade regarding the Steroid Era. By my count, the 2000 All-MLB team should end up with 15 stonewall, no-doubt Hall of Famers, with further consideration earned by guys like Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, and Todd Helton, among others. How many will ultimately be part of the teams of this decade?

THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: This guy.

Michael Nelson Trout is here and he’s not going anywhere, not for the rest of this exercise and probably not for a while after. Trout hit .326 with a .963 OPS, smoked 30 homers, stole 49 bags, was brilliant defensively, and was one of two 10+ fWAR players this season (Buster Posey, a first time First Teamer this year and the NL MVP, was the other). Had it not been for Miguel Cabrera winning the Triple Crown, Trout would have coasted to AL MVP honors in addition to his Rookie of the Year spoils. Instead, here, he’ll have to settle for his first First Team All-MLB nod.

The Trout-Cabrera debate was another critical point in the ‘traditional stats vs sabermetrics’ debate, with Trout’s vast superiority in fWAR, among others, frequently cited as the reason he should have claimed that MVP award. But even the most ardent advanced stats devotees had to concede that a Triple Crown – baseball’s first since Carl Yastrzemski pulled it off in 1967 – was an incredibly cool feat. 

It was also a breakout year for a young outfielder in the NL, as Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen slashed .327/.400/.553 (7.3 fWAR) and earned his way onto the First Team.

THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: Adam LaRoche, a perfectly fine player, had a perfectly fine season, bashing 33 homers and driving in 100 runs (3.4 fWAR) as the offensive star for a Nationals team that won the NL East. (They lost in the NLDS that year, because the Washington Nationals have never won a playoff series. People forget that.) Why that was a good enough season to earn him enough MVP votes to tie for sixth in the NL MVP race, and earn him First Team honors, I don’t know. But here he is anyway.

R.A. Dickey’s life story is truly remarkable, and to try and summarize all of his journey here would fail to do it justice. All you need to know is that at 37 years old, with no ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and with a knuckleball he’d learned to throw along the way during a nomadic and largely unsuccessful pro career, Dickey went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA for the Mets and led the NL with 230 strikeouts (4.6 fWAR), winning the Cy Young in the process.

MOST STACKED POSITION(S): Great third baseman continue to fall short of this list, with no room for David Wright or Ryan Zimmerman. Baltimore’s Jim Johnson and the Yankees’ Rafael Soriano earn MVP consideration but there’s no room for either of them as an All-MLB closer.

BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): David Wright, 3B, NYM; Jonathan Lucroy, C, MIL; Miguel Montero, C, ARI; Aramis Ramirez, 3B, MIL; Michael Bourn, OF, ATL; Jason Heyward, OF, ATL; Austin Jackson, OF, DET; Giancarlo Stanton, OF, MIA; Stephen Strasburg, P, WAS

Excellent defensive players at third base, behind the plate, and in the outfield, as usual.

ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (9): Carlos Gonzalez, Melky Cabrera, Carlos Beltran, Pablo Sandoval, Dan Uggla, Rafael Furcal, Jose Bautista, Mike Napoli, Curtis Granderson

ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (19): Adam LaRoche, Edwin Encarnacion, Ben Zobrist, Kris Medlen, Brandon Phillips, Jimmy Rollins, Adam Jones, Yoenis Cespedes, Martin Prado, Johnny Cueto, David Hernandez, Aaron Hill, Chase Headley, Alex Rios, Allan Craig, Zack Greinke, Kyle Lohse, Cliff Lee, Matt Belisle 

The 2012 San Francisco Giants tie the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals with the fewest All-MLB selections from any championship team, even though it was by far the best of their three title-winners with 94 regular season victories. The Giants have just two All-MLB players, Posey and Matt Cain, but they handily swept the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. The Tigers have three All-MLB players, with Cabrera and Verlander on the First Team. They tie with the Rays, Rangers and Angels among AL clubs for most All-MLB selections. The team that leads the league with five All-MLB players is the Cincinnati Reds. They won 97 games and held a 2-0 lead in the NLDS over the Giants before blowing the series, and the core formed by the likes of Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips never won another playoff game together.

2013:

THE WHO’S WHO: After a six-year absence from the First Team, David Ortiz reclaims the throne as the game’s best DH for the fifth time in his career and makes his eighth All-MLB team thanks to a .959 OPS and 30 homers for the World Champion Red Sox. Miguel Cabrera becomes a seven-time All-MLB honoree as he repeats not only as the First Team first baseman but as the AL MVP thanks to a higher batting average, the same number of homers, and only two fewer RBI (.348, 44, and 137 respectively) as his Triple Crown-winning season the year prior. It’s the seventh All-MLB nod for Cliff Lee, the sixth apiece for Robinson Cano and Joe Mauer, and the fifth for Yadier Molina, who finally makes a First Team behind the plate. Molina, a nine-time All-Star, hasn’t made an All-MLB team since, though he would have had a solid argument in 2016, and Cardinals fans will argue that he should have been on it every year of his career.

Trout (whose 10.2 fWAR is the best in baseball) and McCutchen repeat as First Team outfielders, Craig Kimbrel is again the First Team closer, and Clayton Kershaw manages something that only Randy Johnson has equaled since 2000 – he makes his third consecutive First Team as a starting pitcher. Kershaw goes 16-9 with a miniscule 1.83 ERA and an NL-best 232 strikeouts (8.0 fWAR), and his status as the Best Pitcher Alive is unquestioned.

Adam Wainwright, who earned a first place Cy Young vote in the NL ahead of Kershaw for some reason (I’m guessing it was his 19 wins to Kershaw’s 16 – the old guard isn’t going quietly just yet), and Hanley Ramirez, who finished eighth in MVP voting despite playing just 86 games for the Dodgers (a .345 average and a 1.040 OPS are to thank) are both on the First Team for the third time in their careers.

THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: Max Scherzer had won 43 games over the previous three seasons with the Tigers and led the AL in strikeouts per nine innings in 2012, but hadn’t cracked an All-MLB team until his dominant 2013 season. ‘Mad Max’ went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and fanned 240 batters in 214.1 innings (5.9 fWAR) to help the Tigers claim another AL Central crown. It’s the start of him becoming a First Team staple.

For the first time since starting this exercise, all three of the All-MLB first basemen are first time honorees. Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt finishes a distant runner-up to McCutchen in the NL MVP vote but earns First Team status with a .952 OPS, 36 homers, and an NL-leading 125 RBI. Baltimore’s Chris Davis slugs 53 homers and is the second team choice, and a 23 year-old Freddie Freeman of the Braves hits .319 with 23 dingers and 109 RBI to make the third team.

The Miami Marlins lose 100 games, but their bright spot is 20 year-old Jose Fernandez, who wins the NL Rookie of the Year and finishes third in the Cy Young vote. Fernandez goes 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA and limits opponents to just 111 hits in 172.2 innings – a .182 batting average against. The native Cuban, who defected to the United States as a teenager, becomes the favored son of the sizable Cuban fan population in Miami.

THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: The flashy, flamboyant Carlos Gomez enjoys a breakout season for Milwaukee, batting .284 with 27 doubles, 10 triples, 24 homers and 40 steals to crack the top 10 in MVP voting in the NL and the First Team outfield for the first, and to date only, time in his career. Had MLB rolled out a ‘Let The Kids Play’ ad campaign in 2013, Gomez would have been one of the ebullient faces of the game. Here’s video proof.

It’s OK to be ‘old school’ and have a different idea of how you might like to celebrate your own accomplishments, were you on the field of play. But how can you not smile watching this guy play? How can you not enjoy a bat flip/drop/toss when it’s executed with so much exuberance? If baseball is just a kid’s game, at heart, how can you not appreciate somebody who brings that childlike joy and excitement to every moment?

Carlos Gomez rules, is what I’m trying to say here, and if you don’t agree, I’d have to assume you’re probably not super fun at parties.

MOST STACKED POSITION(S): Will it shock you if I say third base again? No room for veteran stars Adrian Beltre or David Wright, and no room for young sensation Manny Machado. On the mound, Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore, Kansas City’s James Shields, and Pittsburgh’s Francisco Liriano receive Cy votes, but not All-MLB recognition.

BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Jonathan Lucroy, C, MIL; Joey Votto, 1B, CIN; Russell Martin, C, PIT; David Wright, 3B, NYM; Jason Kipnis, 2B, CLE; Manny Machado, 3B, BAL; Cole Hamels, P, PHI; Mat Latos, P, CIN

ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (9): Jose Bautista, JJ Hardy, Brandon Phillips, Carlos Beltran, Joey Votto, David Wright, Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer, Bryce Harper

ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (17): Hanley Ramirez, Josh Donaldson, Andrelton Simmons, Jay Bruce, Shin-Soo Choo, Jayson Werth, Jose Iglesias, Anibal Sanchez, Trevor Rosenthal, Koji Uehara, Carlos Santana, Evan Longoria, Yasiel Puig, Hunter Pence, Evan Gattis, Zack Greinke, Nate Jones

Ramirez was an All-Star snub because he only appeared in 39 games in the first half of the season, but still, he had a 1.137 OPS in those games and it’s ludicrous that someone named Everth Cabrera is forever a 2013 All-Star over Hanley. That’s what these All-MLB honors are meant to fix.

Twenty-seven of the thirty MLB teams are represented on the All-MLB roster this year, the most so far. The St. Louis Cardinals claim a league-high five All-MLB players, including four on the First Team, but they lose the World Series to Boston, who goes worst to first and claims three All-MLB players. The Dodgers, Tigers and Braves have four apiece. Interestingly, the Dodgers only had one All-Star in 2013 – the great Kershaw. Ramirez, Puig and Greinke joining Kershaw on the All-MLB team makes for a much more accurate accounting of a 92-win, NL West champion season for the Dodgers.

2014:

THE WHO’S WHO: The standard bearer in this exercise returns for one final bow. It’s not a vintage season for Albert Pujols, but his 28 homers and 105 RBI for the AL West champion Angels earn him some down-ballot AL MVP votes and the third team slot as a DH, his twelfth, and likely final, All-MLB honor.

Miguel Cabrera dips from the First Team to the second team, displaced by star White Sox rookie Jose Abreu, but still makes his eighth All-MLB team. It’s the seventh All-MLB nod for First Team second baseman Robinson Cano (his third First Team selection and first as a Mariner) and third team outfielder Matt Holliday, who posted an .811 OPS and drove in 90 runs for the NL Central winners.

Of all the players to appear on the All-MLB teams frequently over this 19-year span, none was a more pleasant surprise to me than Holliday. He was never a hyped prospect as he came up through the Rockies system, but from his debut in 2004 he was a consistently great hitter. His 2007 season is the stuff of lore in Denver – a 1.012 OPS, league-leading numbers in batting average (.340), RBI (137) and doubles (50), and 37 homers as he led the Rockies to their first and thus far only pennant. From 2006 – his first appearance on an All-MLB team – to this 2014 season, Holliday posted a .917 OPS and averaged 40 doubles, 26 homers, and 101 RBI per season. He’s likely done after a brief cameo with the Rockies in 2018, and if that was it for him, he retires with a .299 average, 2,096 hits, 316 homers, and two fan bases in Colorado and St. Louis who will remember him fondly always.

Joining the five-timers club this year are Victor Martinez (a first-time First Teamer as the AL MVP runner up, hitting .335 as the Tigers DH), Felix Hernandez (his third First Team honor), Troy Tulowitzki, Adrian Beltre, and Cole Hamels.

Both Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen do something nobody other than Barry Bonds has done since 2000 – make three straight First Teams in the outfield. Trout finally wins an AL MVP, and does so unanimously (.939 OPS, 36 HR, 8.3 fWAR).

Clayton Kershaw matches Randy Johnson’s feat from 2000-2003 by making his fourth consecutive First Team, sweeping the NL Cy Young and MVP with a 21-3 record, 1.77 ERA, and 239 strikeouts, and his 8.4 fWAR leads all of baseball. He just misses the pitching Triple Crown, finishing three strikeouts behind fellow First Teamer Johnny Cueto from Cincinnati. 

Adam Wainwright is also back on the First Team, making it four All-MLB selections, all on the First Team, in a six-year span. The St. Louis righty had an interesting career, breaking in as a reliever by necessity and helping the Cardinals win the World Series in 2006. His move to the starting rotation in 2007 started a seven-season stretch in which Wainwright went 117-65 with a 2.99 ERA in 217 starts. But in that stretch is an injury-interrupted 2008 (only 20 starts) and a completely lost 2011 after Tommy John surgery. Wainwright made the First Team in 2009 and 2010, missed a whole year, pitched his way back into form in 2012, and resumed being one of the game’s best in 2013 and 2014. Injury and a less-than-graceful decline mean Wainwright won’t earn real Cooperstown consideration, but I’d bet he’s the last Cardinal to wear the number 50 on his back.

Firmly entrenched as the game’s dominant closer, Craig Kimbrel becomes the first reliever to make three straight First Teams. He saves 47 games and fans 95 hitters in 61.2 innings and narrowly edges Kansas City’s Greg Holland for the top slot.

THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: Joining Trout and McCutchen in the outfield is Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, the runner up in NL MVP voting thanks to 37 very loud, outrageously long home runs. You should watch all of them!
 

Nobody hits more awesome home runs than Stanton, and this is the year he becomes a superstar.

It’s also an All-MLB and First Team debut for Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, who defeats Felix Hernandez in a narrow AL Cy Young vote (Kluber had 17 first place votes, Hernandez the other 13). Kluber is a workhorse for the rising Tribe in 2014, hurling 235.2 innings and going 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA and 269 strikeouts (7.1 fWAR). He missed out on the All-Star Game but went 9-3 with a 1.73 ERA in the second half of the season.

Jonathan Lucroy has been one of the game’s most valuable catchers for a while, but this is his first All-MLB and First Team selection as well. It didn’t hurt that he led the NL with 53 doubles, but he did once again post the best fWAR among catchers (8.1) thanks to fantastic framing work behind the dish.

THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: Troy Tulowitzki wasn’t just the best shortstop in baseball this year, he might have been the best player, period. Sports Illustrated thought so, anyway!

I still have my copy at home! Anyway, Tulo hit .340 with a 1.035 OPS through 91 games (5.1 fWAR) – but that was all he did, as injuries cut his season short. As a result, he got just one tenth-place NL MVP vote and settles for a spot on the second team behind St. Louis’ Johnny Peralta (4.6 fWAR in 66 more games than Tulowitzki). He’s only settling because I’m being very rigid with my criteria, here, but I do think, given the chance to truly vote for All-MLB teams in 2014, the voters would have done right by the Rockies’ star and put him on the First Team, especially considering that this was the only year of his career that Peralta received MVP consideration. He had been a solid player, maybe even an underrated one, in Cleveland and Detroit prior to becoming a Cardinal in 2014. He enjoyed two decent seasons there, then one sub-par one, and hung it up after the 2017 campaign.

Back to Tulo for a second. The Rockies traded him to Toronto in a deadline deal in 2015 and he helped the Blue Jays to the ALCS that year, but by that point all the injuries he had accumulated had begun to take a significant toll. He’s currently on the injured list for the Yankees, and surplus to requirements on their roster, so it’s fair to wonder if he’s already played his final major league game. The five-time All-MLB player has to settle for one of the bigger ‘what if?’ careers of his ERA, as he compiled five 5+ fWAR seasons (and one at 4.9 fWAR) in his first eight campaigns. I firmly believe he’d be well on his way to Cooperstown if his body hadn’t betrayed him. Only Derek Jeter has made more All-MLB teams at shortstop than Tulowitzki during this century.

MOST STACKED POSITION(S): Some really excellent outfielders in the NL get left out this year, including Carlos Gomez, Justin Upton, Jayson Werth and Yasiel Puig. There’s no space on the pitching staff for Cy Young vote-getters Jake Arrieta and Stephen Strasburg. And the league’s best first baseman by fWAR, Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo, misses out. First base ended up being the toughest position to crack out of all of the positions – only 24 different players earned All-MLB honors at the position in this exercise.

BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Carlos Gomez, OF, MIL; Yasiel Puig, OF, LAD; Anthony Rizzo, 1B, CHC; Rene Rivera, C, SDP; Yan Gomes, C, CLE; Jayson Werth, OF, WAS; Jake Arrieta, P, CHC

The Cubs were 73-89 in 2014, but with two players on this list and the addition of second team pitcher Jon Lester in the offseason, you can see them coming.

ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (7): Yasiel Puig, Paul Goldschmidt, Aramis Ramirez, Chase Utley, Carlos Gomez, Derek Jeter, Salvador Perez

Of this group, only Perez hasn’t previously been an All-MLB selection. Gomez and Puig clearly enjoy the benefits from having had excellent 2013 seasons.

ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (15): Anthony Rendon, Johnny Peralta, Corey Kluber, Wade Davis, Buster Posey, Russell Martin, Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, Jose Reyes, Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols, Danny Santana, Cole Hamels, Phil Hughes, Doug Fister, Jake McGee

We’ve seen scenarios where all but one of the First Team members were All-Stars, but this is the closest we’ve come to seeing all the second team picks make the Midsummer Classic. The only one left out was Posey – and the NL team had four catchers this year! Lucroy started, and the reserves were Yadier Molina, Miguel Montero, and Devin Mesoraco. Meanwhile, the AL Cy Young winner didn’t make the All-Star team. Do you see the problem with using All-Star appearances as barometers of a player’s career success yet?

Nine different teams have at least three All-MLB players, with no team having more than Detroit’s four. The Giants, with three All-MLB players, defeated the Royals, who also had three All-MLB players, in a World Series that featured just one First Team pick, Royals reliever Wade Davis. Other teams with three All-MLB players are the Pirates and Cardinals, who tie the Mariners with two First Team selections apiece, along with the Angels, Dodgers, Nationals and Reds.

2015:

THE WHO’S WHO: The clearest sign that a new generation of stars is beginning to take over is that the most tenured All-MLB player this time around is Felix Hernandez, who finds his way onto the third team for his sixth All-MLB nod. There are three new members of the five-timers club, all on the First Team – Buster Posey (his second First Team selection), Zack Greinke (also now a two-time First Teamer), and Clayton Kershaw, who now becomes the first pitcher and only the second player overall to make five consecutive First Teams, joining Barry Bonds. He also ties Roy Halladay for the most times selected to the First Team as a starting pitcher. Kershaw finishes third in the Cy Young voting despite leading all MLB pitchers with 8.7 fWAR and striking out 301 batters in 232.2 innings.

Speaking of repeat performers, it’s Mike Trout again. Though he is once again short of an AL MVP award (it goes to Toronto’s Josh Donaldson), Trout’s .991 OPS and 9.3 fWAR are both tops in the league. It’s Trout’s fourth straight First Team. He, Kershaw, and Wade Davis are the lone repeaters from 2014’s First Team. Paul Goldschmidt, David Price and Mark Melancon each make their second career First Team appearance.

THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: In his fourth big league season, 22 year-old Bryce Harper appears to become the superstar that was promised ever since he was a travel ball mercenary as a 12 year-old and a Sports Illustrated cover boy at 16. Harper’s 9.3 fWAR is equal to Trout atop all of baseball. He slashes .330/.460/.649 with an NL-best 42 home runs and is the unanimous NL MVP choice. This is, to date, his only First Team season, but the Phillies didn’t give him well in excess of $300 million this February not to make a lot more of them.

Both Cy Young Award winners this season are brand new to the All-MLB team, never mind the First Team. In Houston, lefty Dallas Keuchel goes 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA and leads the AL with 232 innings pitched (5.7 fWAR) for the upstart Astros, who earn a Wild Card berth. That Astros breakout also leads to first-time All-MLB honors for Carlos Correa and a first First Team berth for Jose Altuve.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, Jake Arrieta’s career transformation since arriving from Baltimore in an at-the-time unremarkable trade blossoms into the best season of his career. He goes 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA, fanning 236 hitters in 229 innings (7.2 fWAR), and puts the Cubs on his back with an epic second half of the season on their way to reaching the NLCS for the first time since 2003.

Finally, it took putting on the pinstripes to get Brian McCann recognized as All-MLB for the first time. He’s the third team catcher, hitting 26 homers for the Wild Card Yankees. At present, McCann is 35 years old, and everyday duties are a thing of the past for him, so he won’t make any more of these teams. That means that the disparity between All-Star appearances and All-MLB appearances is largest for McCann, who made seven trips to the Midsummer Classic in what has been a very good career. Why MVP voters never gave McCann much love is a mystery to me. I mentioned his defensive prowess earlier, but he was also a productive hitter who averaged 22 homers, 81 RBI, and an .806 OPS per season over the first ten full years of his career from 2006-2015.

THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: I haven’t had to fill a lot of spots on these teams outside of the relief pitcher spots, but this year there was a tough choice to make at third team shortstop. I tabbed Brandon Crawford of the Giants. This was a bit of a reputation pick, but Crawford did hit 21 homers and win a Gold Glove for the defending champions, so I think it’s justified to give him his first All-MLB nod.

MOST STACKED POSITION(S): You’re never gonna believe this, but it’s third base! Mike Moustakas and Kris Bryant (who did win NL Rookie of the Year) both miss the cut.

BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC; Chris Davis, 1B, BAL; Curtis Granderson, OF, NYM; Matt Carpenter, 3B, STL

For the first time since 2008 and only the second time overall, all of the top 10 starting pitchers by fWAR are on the All-MLB team.

ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (9): Albert Pujols, Adam Jones, Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, Todd Frazier, Anthony Rendon, Johnny Peralta, Joc Pederson, DJ LeMahieu

Sometimes the voters are a little behind the times. Rendon and Peralta were First Team in 2014 but didn’t make the All-Star Game. The fans voted them as starters in 2015, and neither of them made the All-MLB cut. Also, this was the year Royals fans went nuts on the All-Star Game vote and made an entirely too self-serious portion of the baseball media hate them just a little bit.

ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (15): Carlos Correa, Jung-Ho Kang, Jake Arrieta, Joey Votto, Xander Bogaerts, Yoenis Cespedes, Edwin Encarnacion, Ben Zobrist, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Addison Russell, Corey Kluber, John Lackey, Sergio Romo, Andrew Miller

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – a Cy Young winner didn’t make the All-Star Game. Arrieta was excellent in the first half – 10-5, 2.66 ERA – but it was his 12-1. 0.75 ERA in the second half that took his season from great to ‘stuff of legends’. 

After falling one run shy of a championship in 2014, the Royals finish the job and win their first World Series in 30 years, thanks to the efforts of three All-MLB picks and two First Teamers – my two personal favorites from the pennant-winning squads, the elegant Lorenzo Cain and the dominant Wade Davis.

Kansas City beat the Mets, who had just two All-MLB players, but the one they acquired mid-season, Yoenis Cespedes, was awfully good and might just have edged out Cain for a First Team outfield spot had voters considered his entire body of work for 2015 and not just his time in the Big Apple. AL runners-up Toronto had the most All-MLB players, with five (including First Teamer David Price, acquired at the deadline). The Giants and Pirates had four apiece, and the Astros, Cubs and Cardinals each claimed three.

2016:

THE WHO’S WHO: In David Ortiz’s final season, he goes out in style. Big Papi leads the AL with a 1.021 OPS and ties for the league lead with 127 RBI, earning his sixth First Team selection and ninth All-MLB honor, all of them at DH. Ortiz’s consistent brilliance in the spotlight, combined with his legendary feats of clutch hitting in Boston’s October triumphs, will likely make him a rarity – a career designated hitter who gets elected to the Hall of Fame without difficulty or debate.

Robinson Cano makes his eighth All-MLB team as the third team second baseman. Buster Posey, Justin Verlander, Ryan Braun, Clayton Kershaw and Adrian Beltre all make their sixth All-MLB squads. For Kershaw, it’s his first time not making the First Team, as a crowded AL Cy Young race combined with an injury shortened campaign bumps him to the second team, though his numbers (12-4, 1.69 ERA, 172 K in 149 innings, 6.5 fWAR) are certainly First Team caliber.

Mike Trout equals the feat of Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, and Kershaw by making his fifth consecutive First Team, as he’s far and away the best player in baseball in 2016 (.991 OPS, 29 HR, 30 SB, 100 RBI, 9.7 fWAR). He and Chris Sale join the five-timers club, with Sale having yet to make a First Team despite consistent excellence on Chicago’s south side. The White Sox lefty has made five consecutive All-MLB teams; only Kershaw, Cliff Lee (2008-2013), Roy Halladay (2006-11) and Johan Santana (2003-2008), who each made six straight, have made more among pitchers to this point.

In addition to Trout, repeaters from the 2015 roster are Buster Posey, Jose Altuve and Josh Donaldson. Verlander’s First Team appearance is the fourth of his career, Posey is on the First Team for a third time, and Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber are two-time First Teamers. 

THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: The new stars at shortstop are arriving. After Houston’s Carlos Correa was First Team at the age of 20 in 2015, he’s supplanted by this year’s First Team choice, Corey Seager, the 22 year-old Dodger star who OPSes .877 with 26 homers (6.9 fWAR) in his rookie campaign. On the second team at short is 22 year-old Francisco Lindor, who posts a .794 OPS with Gold Glove-winning defense (5.5 fWAR) for the AL Champion Indians.

Kris Bryant just missed All-MLB honors in his NL Rookie of the Year season in 2015, but there’s no denying the versatile 24 year-old a spot this year. Bryant bashes 39 homers with a .939 OPS (7.8 fWAR) and plays six different defensive positions for the Cubs, earning First Team honors at the utility spot.

Though Trout is head and shoulders above the rest of his peers, he doesn’t win unanimous AL MVP thanks to a breakout year from 23 year-old Mookie Betts, who posts an .897 OPS, 31 homers, 26 steals, 122 runs scored, and 8.3 fWAR to go along with a Gold Glove.

THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: Zack Britton saves 47 games (without blowing a save) and posts a preposterous 0.54 ERA for the AL Wild Card winning Orioles, placing fourth in the Cy Young and 11th in the MVP voting. The left-handed sinkerball specialist isn’t the game’s most dominant reliever – that’d be his First Team relief mate, Andrew Miller – but in the ninth inning, nobody is better. The Orioles end up playing extra innings on the road in Toronto in the Wild Card game, but rather than use his star reliever to prolong the game, Orioles manager Buck Showalter… doesn’t do that, instead allowing Ubaldo Jimenez – not an All-MLB pitcher this year, wouldn’t you know – to face Edwin Encarnacion. I’m sure it turned out fine!

Ah, well, nevertheless. At least Britton can laugh about it:

MOST STACKED POSITION(S): Shortstop is so loaded that there’s no room for Correa, or 22 year-old Cubs All-Star Addison Russell, or 23 year-old Trevor Story of the Rockies (27 homers). Excellent second basemen such as Minnesota’s Brian Dozier, Arizona’s Jean Segura, and Colorado’s DJ LeMahieu miss the cut as well. And the starting pitching crop is good enough to bump great seasons from the likes of Kershaw, Sale, and Madison Bumgarner to the second team, and young stars Jose Fernandez and Noah Syndergaard to the third team.

Early in the morning of September 25th, Fernandez and two of his friends died in a boating accident just off the coast of Miami Beach. He had just turned 24 years old and was as dominant as anybody in 2016, going 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA and striking out 253 hitters in 182.1 innings for a league-best 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings. His talent, flair, and zest for life and the game he excelled at are sorely missed. His is an incalculable loss, not just for the Marlins and the city that adored him, but for baseball fans everywhere.

BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Brian Dozier, 2B, MIN; Ian Kinsler, 2B, DET; Jose Quintana, P, CHW

ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (9): Ben Zobrist, Bryce Harper, Wil Myers, Marcell Ozuna, Carlos Gonzalez, Addison Russell, Xander Bogaerts, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez

ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (17): Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Freddie Freeman, Ryan Braun, Christian Yelich, Adam Eaton, Kyle Hendricks, Yasmani Grandal, Joey Votto, Adrian Beltre, Brandon Crawford, Charlie Blackmon, Nelson Cruz, Jose Ramirez, JA Happ, Chris Devenski, Aroldis Chapman

There’s another postseason award winner snubbed, as Boston’s Rick Porcello narrowly beat out Verlander (also an All-Star snub) for the AL Cy Young. Porcello went 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA and won the award despite receiving fewer first place votes than Verlander. fWAR prefers both Verlander and Sale to Porcello, but a 22-4 record still stands out, and it’s a defensible choice.

Thirty of the 51 All-MLB honorees this season come from seven teams, the start of a trend that we’ll encounter again in the next two years. Tops among all teams are the World Champion Cubs, a phrase that still looks a little weird in print. The Cubbies claim seven All-MLB players, with three on the First Team. Fellow playoff teams Cleveland, Boston, San Francisco, Toronto, and the Dodgers have four apiece, with Boston’s three First Teamers matching Chicago’s. NL East champion Washington has three All-MLBers, and the other three playoff teams (Baltimore, Texas, and the Mets) combine for five, meaning 35 All-MLB players played in October, and only one First Team player (Verlander) doesn’t see the postseason. Eight teams do not have a single All-MLB player, a record low that will stand for all of one year.

2017:

THE WHO’S WHO: Two new records are set, as Mike Trout is the first to make six consecutive First Teams at any position (despite finishing a career low fourth in the AL MVP voting – his 1.071 OPS still leads the league) and Clayton Kershaw is the first pitcher to make both seven straight All-MLB teams and six First Teams. Only Pujols (11 straight seasons) and Cliff Lee (seven in a row) have made more consecutive All-MLB teams than Kershaw.

Joining Kershaw as seven-time All-MLB players are Justin Verlander (a second team choice in another really strong starting pitching crop) and Buster Posey (whose seven All-MLB teams are most among catchers, as he surpasses Jorge Posada). Zack Greinke and Chris Sale, both First Team starting pitchers (Sale’s first, Greinke’s third), are six-timers, and into the five-timers club this year are fellow First Team choices Joey Votto and Max Scherzer, plus Edwin Encarnacion and Craig Kimbrel (who joins Mariano Rivera as a five-timer as a reliever).

For the first time since 2004, all five members of the First Team rotation have previously been on a First Team, with Scherzer and Corey Kluber, the two Cy Young winners, returning from the previous season. AL MVP Jose Altuve is the only position player to repeat, continuing the streak of having at least one repeat position player on every team since we started. It’s his third First Team, and the second each for NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton and Seattle DH Nelson Cruz.

THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: 2017 began as a year of atypically low expectations for the New York Yankees, but it ended where their seasons typically end – in October. That was thanks in large part to two young hitters who make their All-MLB and First Team debuts – Aaron Judge (1.049 OPS, 52 HR, 114 RBI, an MLB-best 8.2 fWAR) and Gary Sanchez (.876 OPS, 33 HR, the only catcher in either league to receive so much as a single MVP vote). Judge in particular is a phenomenon, built like an NBA power forward and hitting the ball harder and farther than just about anybody. Let’s watch some strong home run slams!

Judge is the AL Rookie of the Year, and his NL counterpart, Los Angeles’ Cody Bellinger, just misses the First Team, settling for second team at the utility spot behind Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez.

THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: A fun fact is that the First Team reliever, Arizona’s Archie Bradley, got to bat against Colorado’s Pat Neshek, the third team reliever, in the Wild Card game. The outcome of the at-bat was not fun at all, and actually I regret even bringing this up and now I’m crying.

OK, this fact is a little more fun – Minnesota’s Ervin Santana, a third team selection, makes his second All-MLB team nine years after he made his first one. The 34 year-old went 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA for the playoff-bound Twins. In 2018, he was popped for PEDs, suspended for 80 games, and he’s 0-3 with an 8.53 ERA in eight MLB starts since. He’s still kicking around AAA as I write this, and probably follows you on Twitter. #SMELLBASEBALL

MOST STACKED POSITION(S): It’s another great year for young shortstops, meaning Corey Seager and Didi Gregorious of the Yankees fall short of All-MLB honors, and the third base crop is so loaded that Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson miss out.

BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Corey Seager, SS, LAD; Tyler Flowers, C, ATL; Justin Turner, 3B, LAD; Justin Upton, OF, 2TM, Josh Donaldson, 3B, TOR; Jimmy Nelson, P, MIL

ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (7): George Springer, Justin Smoak, Salvador Perez, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman, Marcell Ozuna, Zack Cozart

I love Salvador Perez. You love Salvador Perez. Everybody loves Salvador Perez. And Salvador Perez has had an excellent career, winning Gold Gloves, the 2015 World Series, and bopping 20+ dingers a year. But Salvy’s never made one of these All-MLB teams, and with his future up in the air following Tommy John surgery this April, it’s fair to assume he probably won’t.

ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (16): Archie Bradley, Yasmani Grandal, Brian Dozier, Andrelton Simmons, Tommy Pham, Carlos Carrasco, Justin Verlander, Gio Gonzalez, Chad Green, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, JD Martinez, Marwin Gonzalez, Marcus Stroman, Jacob deGrom, Pat Neshek

We have never seen all 17 members of the First Team represented on the All-Star team of the same season, but this year, only the relief pitcher, Bradley, misses out.

In 2016, 35 of the 51 All-MLB players were on playoff teams. That number grows even higher this year, with 39 All-MLBers seeing action in October. That leaves 10 teams unrepresented on this year’s list, which is a record. The Astros and Dodgers meet in a memorable seven-game World Series, with Houston taking home their first ever championship. Both teams have five All-MLB selections, as do the Diamondbacks, Indians, and Nationals. The Yankees have four, Colorado and Boston three apiece, and the Cubs and Twins each have two. 

The gap between baseball’s best teams and the rest of the field is expanding. The top teams are spending the most money, trading prospects the most aggressively, and pursuing championships, while the rest of the league is content to hang back, not spend, and trade their best players for future assets, all under the guise of ‘rebuilding’. It’s a strategy that’s worked wonders for each of the last two World Series winners, so mid-sized and small market franchises are more able to sell that strategy to their fans. There’s no real value in an 81-81 season any longer. Either you’re winning, or you’re losing, and if you’re losing, you want to at least be able to show the light at the end of the tunnel. Not only is this paradigm shift reflected in the standings, it’s also reflected in the composition of the All-MLB teams as well, in a way I didn’t necessarily expect going in.

2018:

THE WHO’S WHO: Mike Trout continues to stand alone, making his seventh consecutive First Team with another superlative season (1.088 OPS, 39 HR, 24 SB, 9.8 fWAR). Only Albert Pujols and Vladimir Guerrero can match Trout’s total of First Team appearances. Though he’s claimed just two MVPs in this stretch, these imagined All-MLB teams do much better to capture his reign as the best player in the game.

The most tenured member of this year’s All-MLB team is Justin Verlander, who makes his fifth First Team appearance as the anchor of the Houston rotation and his eighth All-MLB roster. Along with Trout, Chris Sale makes his seventh All-MLB team and his second consecutive First Team. Max Scherzer is a six-time All-MLB pick and four time First Teamer (his fifth All-MLB team and his third First Team in a row), and Jose Altuve (First Team for the fourth straight year), Corey Kluber, and Jon Lester each make All-MLB for a fifth time.

Altuve’s in good company. Only Trout, Bonds, Kershaw, and Pujols have been on more consecutive First Teams, and only Ortiz can match the feat. Only nine second baseman were named to the First Team over this 19-season span, by far the least amount of variance at any position. I’m not sure if there’s any reason this is the case other than that Altuve, like Robinson Cano and Chase Utley before him, has been consistently outstanding on consistently good teams. In his five straight All-MLB seasons, Altuve has hit .331 with an .873 OPS and has averaged 35 steals, 95 runs, 39 doubles and 17 homers per season. Injuries have marred his 2019 to the point where I think he’ll be dethroned this season, maybe by 2018 second-team pick Whit Merrifield or Brewers slugger Mike Moustakas. But it’s hard to be the very best at your position for a whole half a decade.

Trout, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez (First Team at third base after being First Team utility in 2017), Sale and Scherzer repeat on the First Team. And AL MVP Mookie Betts (10.4 fWAR to outdo Trout) is a First Teamer again, for the second time, and makes his third straight All-MLB team. Betts is the first real threat to Trout’s ‘best player in the league’ supremacy since Miguel Cabrera was winning Triple Crowns. An electrifying presence in the field and at bat, he’s exactly the kind of player MLB should push as one of the faces of this generation of players.

THE ‘WHO’S NEW?’: For the only time in this exercise, I had to determine all three spots at an entire position that wasn’t the utility or relief pitcher spot, as no catchers received an MVP vote. My First Team choice was Miami’s JT Realmuto, who posted an .825 OPS and socked 21 homers and was, in my view, the game’s most complete catcher this season (though Dodgers backstop Yasmani Grandal did top him in fWAR). I think if you asked baseball writers, broadcasters and fans ‘Who’s the best catcher in baseball?’ at the conclusion of last season, Realmuto would have been the pick of the majority. Realmuto was one of just three First Teamers not to make the postseason with their team, and he was traded to Philadelphia before the start of the 2019 season, making it three former Marlins on the 2018 All-MLB squad.

THE ‘WHO’S THAT?’: At this point, if you’ve read this far, you know all these guys, so let me take a moment to point out the one guy I’m most likely to have forgotten about 20 years from now, and he’s in the most easily forgotten All-MLB roster spot – the third team reliever. Texas righthander Jose Leclerc struck out 85 batters in 57.2 innings in 2018 and posted a 1.56 ERA and made my list over a number of increasingly dominant setup relievers.

MOST STACKED POSITION(S): Third basemen are so, so good. Matt Chapman and Justin Turner are among those who have a case for All-MLB consideration. And some outstanding starting pitchers – Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, and German Marquez to name a few – fall short of the roster.

BIGGEST SNUBS (Top 20 position players/top 10 pitchers in fWAR who missed the cut): Matt Chapman, 3B, OAK; Manny Machado, SS, 2TM; Andrelton Simmons, SS, LAA; Carlos Carrasco, P, CLE

For the second time in three years, there are only three position players on this list. Is it a reflection of voters being more wise to advanced metrics, or is it just the league’s best players being more self-evident because they’re better athletes and better defenders, so that their greatness is better captured by the metrics?

ALL-STAR STARTERS, BUT NOT ALL-MLB (6): Manny Machado, Jose Abreu, Salvador Perez, Matt Kemp, Brandon Crawford, Willson Contreras

ALL-MLB, BUT NOT AN ALL-STAR (12): Yasmani Grandal, Whit Merrifield, Ronald Acuna Jr., Khris Davis, Matt Carpenter, Kyle Freeland, Adam Ottavino, Francisco Cervelli, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, Max Muncy, Jose Leclerc

A tie for the smallest number in this category yet, and for the first time, everyone on the First Team was accounted for at the Midsummer Classic. This would not have been the case had I tabbed Grandal over Realmuto at catcher, but you’ll have to take me at my word that this outcome was not on my mind when I chose the teams in the first place.

This year, thirty-seven of the All-MLB picks come from the ten playoff squads, with seven different teams claiming four All-MLB players. One of them is the Boston Red Sox, who defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers (just two All-MLB picks, none on the First Team) in the World Series. The other six with four All-MLB reps are Milwaukee, Houston, Cleveland, Colorado, Atlanta, and the Yankees. The Brewers, Astros and Indians each have two First Team players.

IN PART V: My conclusions, and the All-MLB Teams by the numbers.


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