The All-Star Game, no matter its home-field implications on the World Series, still has plenty of room for some sentimentality and some emphasis on the "Star" section of its label. That's why many of us have absolutely no issue with Derek Jeter getting the start at short for the American League in his final season, despite subpar 2014 statistics.
And in general, there is such a thing as overemphasizing a three-month sample when it comes to All-Star roster construction. (Bryan LaHair was a 2012 member of the NL squad. Need I say more?)
That said, if the 2014 AL and NL lineups, which will be unveiled during Sunday's Taco Bell All-Star Selection Show (7 p.m. ET, ESPN), were based 100 percent on in-season statistical merit, who would be the starters at each position?
Fans can cast their own votes for starters at MLB.com and all 30 club sites -- online or on a mobile device -- using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until tonight at 11:59 ET. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field on Tuesday, July 15.
Fans may submit up to 25 online ballots, but they can also earn a one-time bonus of 10 additional online ballots. To access these additional online ballots, you must be logged into your MLB.com account when you submit any online ballot. If you do not have an MLB.com account, register on the site in accordance with the enrollment instructions for a free MLB.com account.
You don't have to wait until Sunday to find out who should make the squad. With the season past the halfway point and with voting down to its final hours, here are the "Actual All-Stars.":
If Oakland's Derek Norris or Cincinnati's Devin Mesoraco had more at-bats, they'd figure prominently into this conversation. But Perez seized this imaginary AL slot with his torrid June (.347/.383/.535) that brought his season totals to a respectable spot that pairs well with his status as one of the best defensive catchers in the sport. And though Lucroy shares a division with the game's most respected catcher in Yadier Molina, he has been statistically superior to Molina (and Buster Posey) in nearly every way this year, with a .331/.399/.511 slash line, eight homers, 43 RBIs and a league-best 29 doubles for the Brew Crew.
It's hard to believe Miguel Cabrera (.311/.368/.542, 14 homers, 67 RBIs) isn't cemented into this spot, but Encarnacion (.281/.370/.603, 26 homers, 69 RBIs) simply has better numbers this season. If anything, the White Sox's rookie Cuban sensation Jose Abreu (.280/.331/.624, 26 homers, 67 RBIs) is the one pushing Encarnacion, but the Toronto slugger gets the nod here because he has more than twice as many walks (43 to 19). Goldschmidt, meanwhile, had a legit MVP case last year and has an easy All-Star case this year -- a .931 OPS, 15 homers, 53 RBIs and typically terrific defense, with Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rizzo also in the conversation.
Let's hear it for the speedsters. Really, take your pick between Ian Kinsler, Robinson Cano and Altuve in the AL and between Chase Utley, Daniel Murphy, Scooter Gennett and Gordon in the NL. They're all deserving in their own way. Here, I'm giving Altuve the AL edge for a speed skill set (a league-high 37 steals) that pairs well with a league-best .343 average and position-best .383 OBP. Gordon's .764 OPS is only the fifth-highest in the NL, but Gennett's leading .835 mark has come in 75 fewer at-bats and Utley's .786 mark (which ranks second) is significantly inflated by an absurd March/April (.355/.408/.570). Gordon gets the nod for offensive performance that rates well at this position and baserunning impact (40 steals) that is off the charts.
It's July 3, and there's a shortstop with a 1.056 OPS, 18 homers and 47 RBIs. Tulo could not make this any easier. It's a bit more challenging in the AL, where Jeter (.654 OPS) is the sentimental pick while Alexei Ramirez (.748), Alcides Escobar (.746) and Erick Aybar (.733) are all superior statistically. Because no one in that group has far exceeded the others offensively, I'll give Aybar the nod for his defensive play, which very well might be the best in the league.
Donaldson's downturn at the plate (.181/.223/.286 slash in June) made this a more challenging pick in the AL than it looked to be a month ago, but he's still got 18 homers and 61 RBIs to go with his dazzling defense at the hot corner, so there's no shame in putting him here, just ahead of division mates Kyle Seager and Adrian Beltre. Frazier, with a .289/.356/.503 slash line, 17 homers and 47 RBIs, is chosen over Anthony Rendon, who, come to think of it, would be a great choice at second base had the Nats' first-half circumstances not prompted a temporary shift to third.
Tough choices abound here, and that's a good thing. Ultimately, power wins out for that contestable third AL slot (Trout and Bautista are conclusive locks). Cruz has played more games in the outfield than at DH, and, while Michael Brantley or Adam Jones, Yoenis Cespedes or Alex Gordon are better all-around players, the 26 homers, 68 RBIs and .916 OPS are simply impossible to ignore.
In the NL, Stanton and McCutchen are the cemented selections, and for me it comes down to a pick 'em between Puig and Carlos Gomez (A.J. Pollock would be in the mix with more at-bats). The slash lines are very similar (.314/.401/.518 for Puig, .306/.372/.516 for Gomez), as are the homer (11 for Puig, 13 for Gomez), double (21 for Puig, 20 for Gomez) and RBIs (46 for Puig, 45 for Gomez) tallies. Puig gets the nod by virtue of his 39 walks to Gomez's 25.
AL: Victor Martinez, Tigers
Again, classifying Cruz as an outfielder makes this a slam dunk. V-Mart still, amazingly, has nearly as many home runs (20) as strikeouts (23), and he's batting .323 with a .974 OPS and 52 RBIs. At 35, he remains one of the best pure hitters in the sport, and he's turning in the best power performance of his career.
This exercise only reinforces how difficult the Cy Young selections could be this fall. As the era of pitching dominance continues, we've got an overwhelming number of clear candidates for the All-Star honors. On top of that, our imaginary squad does not have to take into consideration the possible unavailability of guys slated to start the Sunday before the Midsummer Classic, so the field is loaded.
By the tiniest of margins, we'll take King Felix over Masahiro Tanaka right now. Tanaka's 2.10 ERA matches that of Hernandez, but he's made two fewer starts and, ergo, amassed 12 2/3 fewer innings. Felix is 10-2 and has a 1.95 FIP (fielding independent pitching) mark that is second to none in the bigs. Flip a coin here. You can't come out wrong.
In the NL, Clayton Kershaw has the near-perfect game and the astounding June, but that early-season absence due to injury costs him some All-Star points and leaves Julio Teheran, Johnny Cueto and Wainwright fighting for the starting slot. Waino became the NL's first 11-game winner Wednesday night, and his 1.89 ERA is now the best in baseball. There's your winner.