The inaugural All-MLB Team was announced on Tuesday, and two Oakland A’s players made the cut. Shortstop Marcus Semien and relief pitcher Liam Hendriks were both named to the Second Team. Click here to see the full lineups.
The All-MLB Team is decided by a vote, split 50/50 between fans and a panel of experts. The result is a First Team lineup of the best MLB player at each position, including five starting pitchers and two relievers. The runners-up at each position make up the Second Team.
At shortstop, Semien finished behind Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox, who got the First Team nod. The two relief spots on the First Team each went to NL arms, between Kirby Yates of the Padres and Josh Hader of the Brewers. Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees joined Hendriks on the Second Team.
Two other A’s players received nominations but did not get picked for spots on either team. At first base, Matt Olson finished behind Pete Alonso of the Mets (1st) and Freddie Freeman of the Braves (2nd). At third base, Matt Chapman finished behind Anthony Rendon of the Nationals (1st) and Alex Bregman of the Astros (2nd).
Semien got robbed. He absolutely should have made the First Team, and I don’t think it’s even close. Just like it wasn’t when Semien finished way ahead of Bogaerts in the MVP vote.
There is no statistical case for Bogaerts over Semien. Well, unless you’re living in 1989, and all you see is Bogaerts’ .309/33HR/117RBI against Semien’s .285/33HR/92RBI. But it’s not 1989, it’s 2019, and we know more about stats and analysis now.
For example, we know that different hitting environments like Fenway (friendly) and the Coliseum (difficult) need to be accounted for, which is why we know that Bogaerts’ 141 wRC+ and Semien’s 137 wRC+ are basically even. If you want to nitpick the 4-point difference, then remember Semien put up an extra 50 plate appearances to make up for it. They were extremely similar hitters who put up virtually identical production, enough to call it a wash.
But another thing we know in 2019 is that defense must be taken into account, and this produces an overwhelming tiebreaker. Semien was rightfully a finalist for a Gold Glove, and every single defensive metric loved him. He was unquestionably a significant positive factor with the glove. Bogarts, meanwhile, was either average (per UZR) or literally the worst defensive shortstop in the league (per DRS and SDI and FRAA). In fact, two of those metrics (DRS and FRAA) had Bogaerts so deep into negative value that he was the single worst defensive player in the majors at any position.
So, similarly great hitters, but one almost won a Gold Glove and the other was arguably the worst defender in the sport. Seems like an easy call.
One final thing we have in 2019 is a way to combine these offensive and defensive factors, called WAR. Using fWAR, you might think the comparison is close, as Semien (7.6) and Bogaerts (6.8) are within a win of each other. But that’s using the most favorable version possible of Bogaerts’ defense, which is also the most outlier version, and bWAR tells a different story: Semien (8.1) is nearly three wins ahead of Bogaerts (5.2).
But there is one other factor: Bogaerts is on the huge-market Red Sox, where he’s been a star for over half a decade and already won two rings. He has the name power over the quiet Oakland standout, and that is the only explanation for how he won this vote. Unfortunately, it turns out the All-MLB team is just a popularity contest, like the midseason All-Stars. And this is why you shouldn’t have a fan vote for this kind of thing, because it renders it pointless.
As for the other positions, Hendriks probably got snubbed but only slightly. I would have picked him and Yates for the First Team, but Hader is a long-term established star who struck out 138 batters (Hendriks had 124 in more innings) and spent all year as a closer en route to 37 saves (he went 43-for-50 in save/holds, while Hendriks was 33-for-40). Hendriks had the better ERA and WAR, but I consistently rail against using both of those stats for relievers so I can’t complain now. And Hader had a WPA more than twice as high. Again, I would have picked Hendriks, but Hader is a fair choice too.
At third base, we all know that Chapman is the best defender in the world, but Rendon and Bregman were such superior hitters that the gloves weren’t enough to make up for it. Chappy was a solid third-best at third base this year, and I agree with these results. He’ll get a nod one of these days. Same is true of Olson at first base, whose fate was probably sealed when he missed a month to injury — he didn’t deserve this nod despite a great year, but he’ll get one eventually.
Congrats to Semien and Hendriks on their Second Team selections!