Grading the Fan Vote: NL Primaries

We’re just two weeks away from the All-Star game, and the Starter Elections begin today. That means the primary stage is over, and the top three vote-getters at each position have a shot at being elected an All-Star starter this year in Cleveland. Over the past few years, Statcast and analytics have been able to develop accurate methods of evaluating players, but history shows that the most deserving player doesn’t always get the most votes. A prime example came as recently as 2015 when a hyperactive Royals fanbase stuffed the ballot boxes to the extreme, eventually prompting Major League Baseball to cancel millions of votes to even the playing field.

In the primary stage of this year’s new format, there have already been some prominent snubs, but at some other positions the fans pretty much nailed the top three. Let’s take a look at how they’ve done so far, first in the National League:

Catcher: A-

Finalists: Willson Contreras, Brian McCann, and Yasmani Grandal

Biggest snub: J.T. Realmuto

Make no mistake, McCann has been great for this year’s exciting young Braves team. The problem is that he just hasn’t been on the field as much as the Phillies’ Realmuto. Realmuto is second among NL catchers with 2.5 fWAR, while McCann is in twelfth with 0.7. McCann’s .278/.346/.474 slash line is better than Realmuto’s pedestrian .260/.317/.426, but McCann has barely had half as many plate appearances. With so few candidates to choose from, it’s hard to mess up voting for catchers, but since Realmuto doesn’t exactly stand head-and-shoulders above the crowd, the voters get an A- here.

First base: B

Finalists: Freddie Freeman, Josh Bell, Anthony Rizzo

Biggest snub: Pete Alonso

Bell and Freeman have been pretty special at the plate this year, but Alonso has been just as good, if not better. The Mets rookie leads all NL first basemen in HR (27), fWAR (3.2), and wRC+ (161), and he needs to be in the conversation with Bell and Freeman to start the All-Star game. Rizzo has been his reliable self for the Cubs, but that just isn’t enough to be a part of this elite group. Voters were right about Bell and Freeman, but with Alonso being one of the biggest snubs of the All-Star primaries, the first base voting gets a B.

Second base: A

Finalists: Ozzie Albies, Mike Moustakas, and Ketel Marte

Biggest snub: Nobody (Jeff McNeil)

Albies led the voting by over 400,000 votes without doing all that much at the plate, batting .282/.343/.460 with a 106 wRC+. It’s good, but not as good as Moustakas or Marte. Still, the order of the voting isn’t a big deal, as the votes collected in the primary stage are thrown out the window as soon as the Starters Election begins. The biggest issue, however, is that Jeff McNeil isn’t on this list. The 27-year-old is proving that last year’s partial season was not a fluke with a .342 batting average and 143 wRC+, both of which would lead NL second basemen. The only problem is that he’s classified as an outfielder, where he didn’t get any All-Star recognition and fell below 15th place in primary voting. What he has done this year can’t be ignored, and it’s a shame he couldn’t have racked up votes as a second baseman. Regardless, out of the qualified candidates, the voters picked out the best three. A.

Third base: B-

Finalists: Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, and Josh Donaldson

Biggest snub: Anthony Rendon

Third base is another elite position in the National League, but there are really only three players that deserved to lead the primary voting. Unfortunately, Josh Donaldson is not one of them, as Anthony Rendon steps up to challenge Pete Alonso for the honor of being the biggest snub in the primary stage of voting. Yes, Rendon missed a few weeks with an elbow contusion. Yes, he has 50 fewer plate appearances than both Bryant and Arenado. Nevertheless, he’s been unstoppable this year. His counting numbers are right up there with both Bryant and Arenado, and his 161 wRC+ puts him third in the NL behind Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich. To make matters worse, Rendon leads Donaldson in every single measurable offensive category other than walk rate. The voters get another B- for this one.

Shortstop: B+

Finalists: Javier Baez, Dansby Swanson, and Trevor Story

Biggest snub: Paul DeJong or Manny Machado

Shortstop is one of the tougher positions to rank in the NL. Braves fans did it again, getting Dansby Swanson all the way to second in voting. Swanson has been fun to watch, on track for career highs in almost every offensive category, but his wRC+ sits at just 103. His spot should probably go to a more deserving candidate like DeJong or Machado, who have better offensive numbers. DeJong, in fact, has more than doubled Swanson’s fWAR (2.9 to 1.4). Close, but not quite perfect, the shortstop voting gets a solid B+.

Outfield: C-

Finalists: Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich, Ronald Acuna Jr, Nick Markakis, Charlie Blackmon, Albert Almora Jr, Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, and Joc Pederson

Biggest snubs: Juan Soto, McNeil, Hunter Renfroe, Michael Conforto, David Dahl, and more

Well, this is a mess. There are so many things that have to be accounted for when trying to rank these guys – injuries (Scott Kingery), playing time at different positions (McNeil), or minor league call-ups (Austin Riley, Bryan Reynolds). That being said, this is still a mess. The Braves fanbase has announced their presence once again, giving a spot to Nick Markakis and his 103 wRC+. The Cubs also have all three outfielders on this list, even though they have combined for a measly 1.7 fWAR. Voters missed on Soto’s incredible sophomore season (.305/.399/.534), Renfroe’s breakout campaign (23 HR, .617 SLG), and the campaigns of young players like Dahl, Conforto, Alex Verdugo, Reynolds, and Kingery. Of course, it’s impossible for all of these guys to fit into the nine spots in the Starters Election, but all of them deserve more recognition than many of the names up there now. C.

As the Starters Election continues, stay tuned for part two, where we take a look at the American League vote!

Featured Photo: Lorie Shaull, Flickr

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