As the All Star Game approaches, many of you will be voting for your All Star selections. We all have our selections methods; Some of you will be using statistical analysis to pick your All Stars, some will be voting for your favourite players from across the league based on their personality, or the number of home runs they hit. Some will sort players by WAR and pick the top player at each position without looking any further than that, whilst some will just vote for your favourite team’s starters regardless. All of these methods are valid – except that last one. Don’t be that guy.
If you’re the type of fan who has no idea who plays for who these days, and hasn’t seen a team from the opposite league play in years, fear not! We’re here to help.
What follows is a series of charts showing a player’s offensive production (per WRC+) and defensive production (per a homebrew DVal stat, as we don’t have access to a one-stop-shop defensive stat like Outs Above Average). How much defence matters is up to your personal preference; maybe it changes by position, maybe you literally don’t care at all, or maybe you just pick the guy nearest to the top-right corner from every chart. We’re not going to tell you who to vote for, we just provide the facts.
For each chart, the nearer the top the player is then the better they are on defence. The further right, the better they are offensively (or the better they are at pitching, for pitchers). Dashed red lines show the average in each direction (note this is the average of the players on the chart, not the league average, which would be 100). Important to note is the size of the coloured circle around the team logo – the bigger the circle, the more IP they’ve logged in the field and thus the bigger the sample size. Beware tiny circles!
All data was collected on 17/06/21.
A brief note on DVal: DVal (Defensive Value) is a homebrewed stat, it’s not intended to be a useful stat in the grand scheme of things, but is good enough for a basic overview of a player’s ability on defence. We’ve essentially calculated each players RF, EFF (SB% for catchers) and ZR, compared that to the average (of these players, not the whole league), and then combined those “x Above Average” numbers into one value). This gives us a stat that passes the eye test (known good defenders score highly, known bad defenders score low), so is useful enough for our purposes. In truth, there isn’t THAT much difference between DVal and just picking one stat individually.
It’s important to note that being “below average” on the chart does not necessarily mean they’re below LEAGUE average, only that they’re below the average of the sample – you’d have to be fairly good to get 100IP on defence in the first place over ~40% of a season, right? Extreme outliers right at the bottom, like Brian Inoa or Miguel Sano, are genuinely bad defenders, but players just below the red line like Braulio Pardo or Millard Thomas are not necessarily ‘bad’, and may even be pretty decent.
Also, you shouldn’t compare DVal numbers across positions. A 1B with 150 DVal is a good first baseman, but that doesn’t mean he can play middle infield. They’re position-specific.
In the NL, this is probably going to a National. Which Washington catcher gets the nod depends on your view on sample size. Backup Devin Lewis has clearly been the better player in a smaller sample, but Ed Palmer has the bigger workload and is still second-best in the NL. Arizona’s Matt Hanson and Atlanta’s Doug Smith also get a look in. Pittsburgh’s Devin Mesoraco (happy birthday by the way Devin) has been better than many would’ve expected, and Cardinal backstop Julio Rodriguez has been fine offensively and very good behind the dish.
In the AL, Cleveland’s Chris Betts, arguably the best catcher in baseball right now, is running away with it, with Jake Jefferies of the Angels in his rearview mirror. Buster Posey only barely qualifies as a catcher with 106 IP, and the fact his CS% is 0 is not helping him here. He’s not as bad defensively as he appears (though he has been pretty bad…).
First base has a much wider field than Catcher, nobody is truly an elite all-rounder. I’d imagine defence would factor much less into most people’s 1B selections (sorry, Jaimer Candelario), so Atlanta’s Taylor Sparks would likely be a front-runner, but Sergio Bereda may give him a run for his money and Joey Gallo and Pavin Smith are well above average offensively whilst bringing solid defence. It is worth noting that the Brewers logo being a circle is making Daniel McCormick’s sample size look bigger than it is, he barely qualifies and is currently injured.
In the AL, Ryan Wheeler of Cleveland, Júlian Silva of Seattle and Oakland’s Anthony Rizzo would appear to be the front-runners. Keon Barnum, in a smaller sample and with much worse defence, will have half an eye on the results too in potentially a fairly sparse White Sox field.
Second base has a clear leader in both the NL and the AL, again depending on how you view defence. If you care, then it’s Jared Stevens and Daniel Paolini (or maybe Todd Kuhn). If you don’t care, then it might be Brett Lawrie. If you REALLY care about defence, maybe the Rangers’ Arturo Moreno and Cardinals Cedric Rutherford enter the chat (though Cedric’s chances are hampered by Stevens being better than him whichever way you slice it).
If you take sample size into account, yes, Brian Inoa is still the worst defensive second baseman in the league, by a fair margin (though a smaller margin than last year it has to be said). San Francisco meanwhile aren’t getting a lot of offensive production out of second base, with both of their most frequent options being the worst bats in the league at the position.
Shortstop is one of the most competitive positions. There are no truly elite players on both sides of the ball, and it’s nice that there are basically two main bands of player: average gloves with a good bat, and average bats with a good glove (then there’s a cluster of bad players, and three guys who just can’t hit). By far the most choice available for voters here, especially considering the added value normally given to defensive ability at the position.
In the senior circuit, do you go for a guy like the Rockies’ Carlos Correa who is slightly below average defensively but has the best bat in the NL? Or Arizona’s Jeremy Scott, who gives up some WRC+ to Correa but is more valuable defensively? Or LA’s Jurickson Profar, who is tremendous defensively but only slightly above average with the bat?
You have the same decisions to make in the AL: Rafael Luna and Miguel Leon have the best gloves, but Dave Allen is an offensive powerhouse without being too bad with the glove either, and Mel Applegate and Gustavo Lopez are better with the glove and only slightly worse with the bat than Allen.
And then there’s Raul Aguilera… he might learn to play shortstop one day but, to quote Aragorn son of Arathorn, it is not this day. By all you hold dear on this good earth I bid you *field the damn ball occasionally*, man of the Midwest!
Your NL Third Baseman is Kwan-yew Yeh, and your AL Third Baseman is Xavier Noonan. Next!
Ok, so Arizona’s Vlad Guerrero will get more than a few votes, richly deserved. Maybe Longoria gets a few too because Noonan plays for Detroit and Longoria is Evan Longoria, and Sano might get some because he’s a Yankee and he hits bombs. Is being a gold glove calibre third baseman enough to make you an all-star? Cameron Gundy will find out in a few weeks, I guess.
Sidenote: What’re we doing here, Dustin Simmons? C’mon man.
Loootttaa big bats in right field in MLB Pro. It is, by some margin, the position with the highest average WRC+. With that in mind, does that make a good glove more valuable than a big bat? It should in trades, as lumber is in surplus, but what about the All Star game?
In the AL, Stanton stands alone with the bat, only Conforto comes close league-wide at the position. But Stanton’s defence is… questionable. His only really obvious competitor in the American League though is Boston’s Seiya Suzuki. The Angels’ Nomar Mazara and Alfredo Silverio of the Rangers are solid choices too. For defensively-minded analysts (at right field? Really?), Houston’s Richard Fowler may get votes, and despite a smaller sample maybe Elliot Jenkins.
In the NL you have three obvious options: Roberto Lopez if you really value defence, as along with Sergio Pagan of the Pirates he’s really holding the DVal average up. There’s Michael Conforto if you really don’t care about defence, and Juan Soto if you’re pragmatic. There are some less obvious options though; Bryce Harper has almost as good a bat as Conforto and a slightly better glove (though in a slightly smaller sample), whilst Ed Harris and Ralph Scholl both deserve a mention, as does Jeremy Sullivan on the defensive side of things.
The AL’s left field options are either Martin Lopez or your vote gets taken away as you clearly can’t be trusted. (So much for ‘we just give you the facts’ – Ed). Seriously though, Lopez is lapping the field. Jose Gonzalez maybe gets votes, but… why? Jorge Ayala rounds out a top 3 if you desperately need a top 3, but he’s worse (though still excellent) at both things. Antonio Guzman hasn’t had a hit since high school.
Over in the NL, there’s… really not much going on, is there? Steve Winter and Josh Bell are candidates, Bryce Harper has been really good, if you don’t care about sample size (he’s a right fielder, with 101 innings played in LF – he made it onto the chart by one inning). The only NL player with significant LF playing time who is statistically above average in both offence and defence is actually one Julio Daniel Martinez – does that make JDM all-star worthy this year? Your call. I don’t think you could convince me he was more worthy than Josh Bell, honestly. A sleeper pick might be Esteban Hernandez of St Louis. Offensively he’s second only to Bell, and left field is basically the NL’s DH, so who cares how bad he is?
Surprisingly, no standout players in centre so far this year, though on average they do field better than most positions. I guess they wouldn’t be in centre if they didn’t. Daz Cameron’s 2020 season is in the rearview mirror. Waaay in the rearview mirror. It’s whole states back. In fact, Centre Field has a lot of sucky hitters amongst it’s ranks this year. It’s a hard position to play.
In the AL, Mike Trout and Armando Cabanas, obviously. But if you’re bored of voting for them, consider Roberto Torres, who is just as productive with the bat as Cabanas. Or you might vote for Alex O’Connell, Victor Robles, Cade Cahill or Ryan Nash (I mean, don’t. There are only three possible answers here). If you really value defence in centre field, Darge Kawawe is Doing Things(c) out there this year.
In the NL there also only three possible answers: Curt Franklin, the best all-around centre fielder in the league, or Hideaki Abe, the best pure hitter in the league. Behind them is Matt Den Dekker, the best New York Met in the league. Other, incorrect, options include Cincinnati’s best shot at a legitimate, non-pity all-star Mark Dickey, or Padres trade candidate Tink Jones.
Arizona’s Andrew Morales is the clear leader in the NL, with Jeffrey LeBlanc, Mark Davies, Clayton Kershaw and Tracy Mass following behind. Pitcher defence normally falls somewhere between “completely ignored” and “barely noticed”, so we’re looking much more towards the right side of the chart than the top (sadly for Jordan Lyles and… wait, Ed Reith? What happened to *him*?!).
In the AL, Danny Hultzen is clearly the best pitcher, but his defence is awful – not that he’ll care since the ball is rarely put in play against him. Bill Black isn’t far behind him and has a much better (but still below average, if we’re counting) glove. Lucas Giolito, hidden under Mark Davies on the chart, is a solid arm too as are Seattle’s Justin Hooper and Mark Appel.
Ultimately, the choice is yours, but some choices are a lot easier to justify than others.
Average DVal and WRC+ Per Position
So, among players with 100 innings played in each position on the field, right fielders have provided by far the most offensive value and shortstops the least. The latter is no surprise, it’s been a fact for decades, but right field being offensively superior to the corner infield positions and left field by such a margin is quite a surprise. Designated Hitters even come in second place to right fielders, and all a DH has to do is hit.
In terms of DVal, it’s no surprise that shortstop has the lowest average DVal (excluding pitchers) as it’s the hardest position to play well, but centre field being the position with the highest average value is slightly surprising. Perhaps because you don’t get to play centre field without having great range, and range heavily plays into the calculation, but logic would dictate the same applied to the shortstop position…
It’s worth noting that catcher DVal can’t be fairly compared to the rest of them, because it uses a different formula (as there’s no EFF data available for catchers). So to have a good DVal as a catcher you need to throw out a high percentage of would-be base stealers, which isn’t always fair. Because it’s a straight percentage, a lower number of attempts – which doesn’t necessarily correlate with innings played – gives you an advantage. It doesn’t make a big difference when comparing catchers to catchers, but makes a huge difference when comparing catchers to other position players (which you shouldn’t be doing anyway, as stated earlier).
The takeaway here for GMs is, if you’re trading for a right fielder, make sure he can field. If you’re trading for a centre fielder, make sure he can hit. Bat-first RFs and glove-first CFs are a-dime-a-dozen in this league. If you’re trading for a shortstop… good luck.