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Who should have been 2020 NL All-Stars?

The short season was nearly as long as a normal All-Star audition. Who would have gotten the call?

League Championship - Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Two Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The 2020 MLB season was unusually short due to the coronavirus pandemic, and one thing missing from a normal year was the annual All-Star teams. Let’s take our best guess at who might have made those midsummer rosters.

We already looked at the American League in a previous post. This time, let’s do the National League.

We’re following real-life rules here, which means at least one rep for every club, special treatment for contending teams, an emphasis on offense over all-around WAR, and a splash of name power, while remembering the players also get to vote on some spots and the fans get their Final Vote.

In 2019 there were 32 roster spots, split between 20 position players and 12 pitchers. Since there was a universal DH this year, we’ll assume both leagues have one in their starting lineups, though I won’t be choosing backup DHs. The position splits on the bench otherwise follow normal precedents. Here’s what I came up with, followed by some notes, explanations, and snubs.

Starting lineup

  • C: J.T. Realmuto, PHI
  • 1B: Freddie Freeman, ATL
  • 2B: Jake Cronenworth, SDP
  • SS: Fernando Tatis Jr, SDP
  • 3B: Manny Machado, SDP
  • OF: Ronald Acuna Jr, ATL
  • OF: Mookie Betts, LAD
  • OF: Juan Soto, WAS
  • DH: Marcell Ozuna, ATL
  • SP: Trevor Bauer, CIN

The Padres and Braves dominate here, though I’m sure the Dodgers will be perfectly happy with their rings instead. Most of these are easy calls — Freeman was the MVP, and Betts, Machado, Tatis, Soto, and Ozuna were second through sixth. Bauer was the Cy Young and deserved it.

That leaves three more picks to defend. Realmuto doesn’t have any serious challengers as the best catcher in the NL, and his upcoming free agent contract will demonstrate that. Acuna is a massive star who had a monster season on one of the best teams in the league, so he would have been voted in for sure (also finished 12th for MVP, behind only one other outfielder who isn’t in my lineup above). And Cronenworth’s rookie breakout year is enough to make him a front-runner by the numbers, with a bump for being on a popular team.

Reserve position players

Now things get trickier. Here are my picks, with the key snubs highlighted in bold text in the writeup below:

  • C: Travis d’Arnaud, ATL
  • 1B: Paul Goldschmidt, STL
  • 1B: Dominic Smith, NYM
  • 2B: Donovan Solano, SFG
  • SS: Miguel Rojas, MIA
  • SS: Corey Seager, LAD
  • SS: Trea Turner, WAS
  • 3B: Ke’Bryan Harris, PIT
  • OF: Michael Conforto, NYM
  • OF: Trent Grisham, SDP
  • OF: Mike Yastrzemski, SFG

Let’s start with the absolute locks. Solano has the best hitting stats at 2B, and could even have an argument to start over Cronenworth, though I don’t think the fan voting would have gone that way. Seager and Turner were each Top 10 for MVP and there’s no way to leave them out here. Even though we already have Solano as a Giants rep, we still have to include Yastrzemski, who had a great year and finished eighth for MVP. We need Harris as a lone rep for Pittsburgh.

At catcher, d’Arnaud’s main competition is Will Smith of the Dodgers. The advanced numbers prefer Smith’s bat, but the traditional stats are slightly in favor of d’Arnaud, as is fWAR overall. Both of their teams are well-represented either way. I went with d’Arnaud, but this is basically a coin flip.

At first base, (Dominic) Smith has to be in there between his numbers and his 13th-place MVP finish. He could also have taken an outfield spot, but he fits better here and he did play slightly more at 1B anyway. Then it’s down to Goldschmidt against Brandon Belt of the Giants, who had an enormous year (173 wRC+). Goldy matched everything except Belt’s power, and beat Belt in fWAR thanks to superior defense and more playing time (and also in MVP voting, thanks to name power and being on a better team).

This is another coin flip. I chose Goldschmidt because he ended up being my lone rep for the Cardinals, which seems weird since they made the postseason. If you prefer Belt, you could always swap out Solano for St. Louis’ Kolten Wong at second base, but Wong’s value is mostly tied up in defense (with a modest bat) and that doesn’t usually get you All-Star berths (example: this is your annual reminder that Andrelton Simmons has never been an All-Star).

The shortstop position is packed, but again, Seager and Turner are locks. That leaves one more spot, and I went with Rojas so that the postseason Marlins could have a second rep (they’re also getting a pitcher). Rojas has the next-best batting line among reserve candidates, with his WAR only falling short because he missed time to Miami’s coronavirus outbreak. Apologies to Didi Gregorius (PHI), Trevor Story (COL), and Dansby Swanson (ATL).

For Miami, I also could have gone with Brian Anderson at third base, but Harris made too much sense as the Pirates rep. There could be two third basemen, but the shortstop class is just too strong to be snubbed.

It’s around here that I should also mention Chris Taylor of the Dodgers, who served as a super-sub at multiple positions (SS, LF, 2B, CF). In real life, I have to wonder if they’d find room for him, or maybe he’d win a Fan Vote, but I already have four Dodgers and I didn’t fit him in.

In the outfield, I actually had space for everyone I wanted. There’s a case for Wil Myers, but I already have five Padres and I chose Grisham over him. Kole Calhoun could have been the D’Backs lone rep, but I went with a pitcher instead. Ian Happ could have given the Cubs a second rep, and Bryce Harper the same for the Phillies, but they didn’t quite make my cut. Yaz and Conforto were too good, and San Diego needed at least one of their outfielders.

Reserve pitchers

My pitchers in alphabetical order, remembering Bauer is also there as the starter. There are usually 3-5 relievers, so I went with four:

  • SP: Yu Darvish, CHC
  • SP: Jacob deGrom, NYM
  • SP: Max Fried, ATL
  • SP: Zac Gallen, ARZ
  • SP: Clayton Kershaw, LAD
  • SP: Dinelson Lamet, SDP
  • SP: German Marquez, COL
  • RP: Edwin Diaz, NYM
  • RP: Kenley Jansen, LAD
  • RP: Brandon Kintzler, MIA
  • RP: Devin Williams, MIL

The Top 5 for Cy Young were Bauer, Darvish, deGrom, Lamet, and Fried, and they are all locks. I also insist on Williams, who won Reliever of the Year and ends up being my lone rep for the Brewers. Gallen is my lone rep for the D’Backs. The rest are up for debate.

One other spot is a lock, with the only question being the name. I’m taking a pitcher as my Rockies lone rep, but you could swap out Marquez for Antonio Senzatela if you want. I picked Marquez because the advanced stats prefer him and I perceive him to be a bigger name.

If you agree with Gallen as Arizona’s lone rep, then there’s one spot left for a starter. I went with Kershaw, the super-duper star on the best team in the sport who had great numbers and a tiny ERA. The toughest snubs are Corbin Burnes (MIL) and Luis Castillo (CIN), but I’m going with Kershaw’s name power. Apologies also to Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler (PHI), Max Scherzer (WAS), Kyle Hendricks (CHC), and Brandon Woodruff (MIL).

Bummer to see the Phillies, Brewers, Cubs, and Reds reduced to lone reps alongside the Cardinals (who could have offered Adam Wainwright on the pitching staff), but there’s just no room with a few other clubs hogging tons of space.

In the bullpen, with Williams locked in, three spots remain. Kintzler led the league in saves with a low ERA, so he’s in as a second Marlin. Jansen was runner-up in saves and is a superstar Dodger, so he’s in just like Kershaw. Mark Melancon tied Jansen in saves, with a better ERA, but we already gave the Braves the nod over the Dodgers at catcher and Jansen is a bigger name anyway.

That leaves Diaz, a former Reliever of the Year who struck out two batters per inning with a 1.75 ERA. He wasn’t a full-time closer, but I can’t resist that resume. If you think the Mets are over-represented and want to spread the love a bit, then you could take Jeremy Jeffress of the Cubs, or Raisel Iglesias of the Reds. Honorable mention to A.J. Minter of the Braves, with his 0.83 ERA, but he’s not even the top snub from the Atlanta bullpen.

***

I’m not thrilled with my team distribution, as a few heavyweights steal the show. But dang, the NL Central was just so bad this year, and the best West/East teams were so good and so popular.

The Padres and Braves lead the way with five apiece, which makes sense, as do the champion Dodgers with four. The Mets are a surprise with four, but even if you replace one of their hitters, it will just further overload some other team rather than helping one of the under-represented ones (making Diaz a potential bullpen cut).

The Giants, Marlins, and Nats each have two reps, leaving one for everyone else: D’Backs, Rockies, Phillies, and the entire Central.

What do you think, Athletics Nation? Should one of my snubs be subbed in for somebody else I picked? Is there somebody else I didn’t even mention? Would you re-arrange my lone reps to reshape the roster in another way?

Vote in the four polls below, and then keep reading for a review of the AL results. Then let’s debate the NL in the comments!

Poll

Which hitter would you swap out?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    d’Arnaud (for W. Smith)
    (4 votes)
  • 20%
    Goldschmidt (for Belt)
    (4 votes)
  • 5%
    D. Smith (for Belt)
    (1 vote)
  • 15%
    Solano (for Wong)
    (3 votes)
  • 10%
    Rojas (for another SS, or 3B Anderson)
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Conforto
    (0 votes)
  • 5%
    Grisham
    (1 vote)
  • 25%
    None, you nailed it
    (5 votes)
20 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which pitcher snub would you find room for?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Burnes
    (1 vote)
  • 8%
    Castillo
    (1 vote)
  • 16%
    Hendricks
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Nola
    (0 votes)
  • 25%
    Scherzer
    (3 votes)
  • 16%
    Wainwright
    (2 votes)
  • 8%
    Wheeler
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Woodruff
    (0 votes)
  • 16%
    None, you nailed it
    (2 votes)
12 votes total Vote Now

Poll

... How will you fit that pitcher onto the roster?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Replace Gallen with OF Calhoun (as ARZ rep, cut OF Conforto/Grisham)
    (3 votes)
  • 53%
    Replace Marquez with SS Story (as COL rep, cut SS Rojas)
    (7 votes)
  • 23%
    Pull Kershaw
    (3 votes)
13 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which under-repped team would you add a second for, at the expense of the SP you voted for above -OR- Diaz in the bullpen -OR- Conforto/Grisham in the outfield?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Brewers (Burnes or Woodruff)
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Cardinals (Wainwright)
    (0 votes)
  • 21%
    Cubs (Happ or Hedricks or Jeffress)
    (3 votes)
  • 28%
    Phillies (Harper or Nola or Wheeler)
    (4 votes)
  • 28%
    Reds (Castillo or Iglesias)
    (4 votes)
  • 21%
    None, you nailed it
    (3 votes)
14 votes total Vote Now

Quick review of the AL poll results. About one-third to one-half liked my picks, but the biggest complaints among position players were catcher Sean Murphy and 3B Gio Urshela. Among the snubs, infielder David Fletcher got more votes than the status quo, so perhaps you consider switching out Urshela and giving Fletcher the other infield spot. Folks weren’t as adamant about Yasmani Grandal replacing Murphy, though I agree it wouldn’t be unlikely in real life.

Among lone reps, the biggest minor question mark was whether SP Spencer Turnbull should replace 1B Jeimer Candelario as the Tigers player, but I’m going to veto that because there are tougher decisions to make on the pitching staff without adding Turnbull to the mix.

Probably my most likely miss is Blake Snell. I snubbed him because he just didn’t throw enough innings. That might be OK if the light workload was accompanied by gaudy rates (like with Kershaw), but he was merely good. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that Snell would make it one way or other, especially as a deserved third rep for the top-seeded Rays. It would have to be either Marco Gonzales or Chris Bassitt stepping aside, and let’s be honest, it would be Bassitt, who had the least track record entering the year.

With Bassitt out, Murphy would have to stay at catcher, because the No. 2 seed simply can’t have a lone rep reliever (Hendriks). Not even the A’s will get robbed that hard (and the White Sox are already over-repped anyway).

Final verdict: The give or take on my AL roster is that you could swap out Bassitt for Snell on the pitching staff, and/or Urshela for Fletcher on the bench. Otherwise, I think my picks are pretty airtight.