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Grading the Fan Vote: AL Primaries

Just days away from this year’s All-Star game, the Starters Election is underway. That means the primary stage is over, and the top three vote-getters at each position have a shot at being chosen to start this year in Cleveland. Over the past few years, Statcast and analytics have been able to develop more and more accurate ways to evaluate players, but history has shown that the most deserving player doesn’t always get the most votes. In 2015, we saw a hyperactive Royals fanbase stuff the ballot boxes to the extreme, eventually prompting Major League Baseball to cancel millions of votes to even the playing field.

This year, there’s not exactly anything as extreme, but some fanbases have evidently shown up more than others. After grading the NL fan vote, we have already seen 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 with the American League:

Catcher: A

Finalists: Gary Sanchez, James McCann, and Robinson Chirinos

Biggest snub: Omar Narvaez

It’s tough to go wrong here. Sanchez is in the middle of a fantastic season (23 HR, 139 wRC+) and is currently the only qualified catcher in the league. McCann is another obvious pick, having put together a pretty impressive campaign himself (.328/.387/.520). Chirinos has been solid behind the plate for the Astros, although not quite as good as Narvaez. At first glance, Chirinos’s numbers don’t look nearly as good, given the stark difference in batting average (.232 to .293). Despite that, however, they stack up pretty closely. I would give the third spot to Narvaez, but the difference isn’t big enough to give the voters anything but an A.

First base: A-

Finalists: Luke Voit, Carlos Santana, and CJ Cron

Biggest snub: Edwin Encarnacion

Generally, the AL voting scene happens to seem more clear-cut than in the NL, so the fans are getting better grades for their American League voting. In this case, this is a relatively clear top three considering Dan Vogelbach’s classification at DH. Cron, who has been having a career year and continued to prove himself in Minnesota. Encarnacion, the AL leader in home runs, also deserves some recognition, but hasn’t done quite enough to completely take over the spot from Cron. The fan vote gets a solid A- here for their choices.

Second base: B

Finalists: Tommy La Stella, Jose Altuve, and DJ LeMahieu

Biggest snub: Brandon Lowe

Another young star snubbed, another B for the fan vote. Lowe is probably in the lead for the AL Rookie of the Year award, and he has amassed an impressive 2.3 fWAR. On another note, Astros fans are the American League’s version of the Braves fanbase this year, who voted eight Atlanta position players into the Starters Election. On almost no reasonable ground, Jose Altuve collected almost two million votes having only played 46 games this year. By his standards, he has not nearly been himself, batting just .251 with a 15.8% strikeout rate, which would both be career-worsts. For the sake of Lowe, the voters get a B here.

Third base: B

Finalists: Alex Bregman, Gio Urshela, and Hunter Dozier

Biggest snub: Matt Chapman or Rafael Devers or Yoan Moncada

Not to say that Urshela doesn’t deserve to be in the conversation here, but one of Chapman, Devers, or Moncada need to be here. Bregman and Dozier make an undebatable one and two, but Urshela’s spot is really up for grabs. Third base is a supremely talented position in the American League, and it’s unfortunate that Yandy Diaz and David Fletcher don’t really have a shot at getting recognition, but that’s just the way it is. Urshela was a lifesaver for the Yankees in the absence of some of their biggest bats, but it’s hard to compete with so many talented bats at the hot corner this year. B.

Shortstop: B

Finalists: Jorge Polanco, Carlos Correa, and Gleyber Torres

Biggest snub: Xander Bogaerts

These four have had really similar success this year, which makes them hard to rank. Despite Correa’s current IL stint that has already lasted a month, Astros fans got him into the top three, and his numbers are very impressive nonetheless (.295/.360/.547). Playing time is the issue here, because Bogaerts, Polanco, and Torres have all had similar offensive production in many more games played. Xander leads all American League shortstops in fWAR (3.7), runs scored (61), RBI (55), OBP (.389), and wRC+ (138). He’s simply been too good to snub, so the voters will have to settle for yet another B.

Outfield: A-

Finalists: Mike Trout, George Springer, Michael Brantley, Austin Meadows, Mookie Betts, Eddie Rosario, Aaron Judge, Josh Reddick, and Joey Gallo

Biggest snub: Tommy Pham, Max Kepler, Shin-Soo Choo

This is pretty impressive. It’s difficult to put together a top nine in any position, and the voters did miles better here than with the NL outfielders. Astros fans still managed to get all three of their outfielders into the top nine even though Reddick (110 wRC+, 1.0 fWAR) doesn’t exactly stack up with the other names on the list. Pham and Kepler probably deserve Reddick and Judge’s spots, while Rosario and Betts are borderline. Overall, the best players are here, and this should be one of the more interesting Starters Elections to follow this week. A-.

DH: B-

Finalists: JD Martinez, Hunter Pence, and Nelson Cruz

Biggest snub: Dan Vogelbach

Since they’re all primarily designated hitters, we’re looking exclusively at the offensive numbers (discounting defensive metrics and overall fWAR). With that being said, one of the biggest snubs of the primary stage was Dan Vogelbach, who has been having a special season. The 26-year-old has finally broken out and shows no signs of slowing down. His 18.3% walk rate trails only Mike Trout for the Major League lead, and his 146 wRC+ puts him right below Santana (147) among AL first basemen. As for the odd man out, it’s a very close call between Martinez and Cruz. The offensive production is pretty similar, but Cruz’s missed time gives JD a clear advantage. At the end of the day, this a really close race, but for missing out on Vogelbach the fans get a B- here.

If you liked this, check out the first half of this piece, where a few major snubs gave the National League fan vote some significantly worse grades.

Featured Photo: Keith Allison, Flickr

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