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June 28, 2021 / Nat Anacostia

Which Nats make my 2021 NL All-Star team?

Each year, shortly before the All Star teams are announced, I put together a National League All Star team to see which Nationals deserve to be on it. I don’t think it make sense to argue about which Nats deserve to be on the All Star team without going to the work of putting together a full team to see if any given Nats player is more deserving than other, potentially deserving players from other teams. I try to do this objectively by strictly following a point system where points are based on wins above replacement (WAR) for this year’s season-to-date, last season, and the player’s career.

This year, only two Nationals make the team. My system rates Max Scherzer second among NL pitchers, behind only Jacob deGrom. And while my system rates Trea Turner ranks second behind Fernando Tatis, Jr. among NL shortstops, his point total is actually fourth highest among all NL position players and thus easily deserving of a spot on the squad. The recent omission of his name from the final ballot just indicates that he’s still not getting the recognition he deserves.

What about Juan Soto? My system ranks him quite highly—in fact, his 21.3 points are the most of any position player that didn’t make the team. He was edged out by other corner outfielders who are rated slightly more deserving this year.

At the end of this post, I’m including a step-by-step explanation of my point system (and how I had to modify it due to last year’s shortened season). Read it if you’re interested. I’ll cut straight to the team. In parentheses are the number of points that my rating system gave to each player.

Here’s my 2021 NL All-Star team (with point totals in parentheses):

Starters

C – Buster Posey – Giants (24.2)

1B – Freddie Freeman – Braves (23.9)

2B – Ozzie Albies – Braves (19.8)

3B – Manny Machado – Padres (24.1)

SS – Fernando Tatis Jr. – Padres (29.0)

OF – Ronald Acuna Jr. – Braves (30.6)

CF – Starling Marte – Marlins (22.5)

OF – Mookie Betts – Dodgers (30.0)

SP – Jacob deGrom – Mets (39.0)

Reserves 

C – J.T. Realmuto – Phillies (23.2)

1B – Max Muncy – Dodgers (23.4)

2B – Jake Cronenworth – Padres (19.6)

3B – Nolan Arenado – Cardinals (24.0)

3B – Justin Turner – Dodgers (21.5)

SS – Trea Turner – Nationals (26.3). Among position players, only Acuna, Betts, and Tatis have higher point totals. It’s too bad that Tatis plays the same position as him.

SS – Trevor Story – Rockies (23.1)

OF – Nick Castellanos – Reds (23.5)

OF – Bryce Harper – Phillies (22.0)

OF – Kris Bryant – Cubs (21.5)

CF – Bryan Reynolds – Pirates (20.6)

CF – Ketel Marte – Diamondbacks (19.6) * selected to meet the requirement that each team be represented

SP – Max Scherzer – Nationals (33.0) – Since Max joined the Nationals in 2015, he’s made my NL All-Star team every season that I’ve selected them. (Because the 2020 All-Star Game was cancelled, I didn’t select a team last year.)

SP – Kevin Gausman – Giants (32.4)

SP – Zack Wheeler – Phillies (30.5)

SP – Yu Darvish – Padres (30.2)

SP – Brandon Woodruff – Brewers (29.4)

SP – Clayton Kershaw – Dodgers (28.3)

RP – Josh Hader – Brewers (17.0)

RP – Craig Kimbrel – Cubs (14.8)

RP – Giovanny Gallegos – Cardinals (12.2)

RP – Tejay Antone – Reds (11.9)

RP – Mark Melancon – Padres (11.9)

My method for calculating the points used in ranking the players:

The general philosophy that underlies my point system is that I’m trying to find the best players right now. That doesn’t mean just the players that have been hot for the last three months. The “mistakes” in past All-Star roster selections are most often players that we knew really weren’t that good, but who got picked just because they were having a hot streak. So my system factors in previous performance. I also include career performance, but it’s given a relatively small weight. The idea is that in cases where two players have played similarly, but one is a long-time star, that could be the deciding factor in which player makes the team. But no one coasts in based on their career record—they also need to be playing well this season. I also designed the system to allow a rookie or a player who has genuinely taken a big step forward to stardom to be recognized, but only in exceptional cases. (An example from this year’s team is Kevin Gausman, who this season has really redefined himself as an elite pitcher.)

Everyone who has played in the NL this season and is currently on a 40-man roster is considered. Players are assigned a position based on where they’ve played the most games this season.

While the MLB ballot lumps together all outfielders, I’ve separated center fielders from corner outfielders, recognizing that many corner outfielders aren’t capable of playing center field. But the corner outfield positions are treated as a single position. (On this year’s ballot, I note that all five selected corner outfielders, as well as Soto, the top runner-up, have primarily played right field. For some reason we have a dearth of outstanding left fielders right now.)

I follow the MLB rule that there will be 20 position players and 12 pitchers. I begin by picking the highest rated starters and backups at each position, as well as the top five starting pitchers and three relievers. At that point, 24 of the 32 players have been selected. I then check to see which teams aren’t yet represented, and pick the highest ranking players from those teams. This year there were two teams in that category—the Rockies and the Diamondbacks. Trevor Story was next in line among position players anyway, but the Diamondbacks wouldn’t have been represented on the All-Star team except for this rule, which I followed to select Ketel Marte. I then filled in the remaining position players and pitchers with the highest rated players in each category.

My point calculation method is simple but still reflects the philosophy outlined above. I did have to modify the procedure because of the shortened season in 2020.

In the past, the points were calculated as the sum of three components—this season’s WAR times 4, the previous season’s WAR times 2, and the square root of the player’s career WAR. (If the career WAR is less than zero, the last term is simply set to zero.) However, because the 2020 season season was short, my standard formula would under-count previous performance, which I wanted reflected in the point system.

The 60-game 2020 season was 37% of the length of a regular, 162-game season. So I decided to add WAR from the 2019 season, but giving it a 63% weight so the total weight of 2020 and 2019 performance matches the weight that I’ve traditionally given to the prior year’s performance.

I use Fangraphs WAR for position players, while for pitchers I use Fangraphs’ RA9-WAR, which is based on runs allowed per nine innings. (Fangraphs’ standard WAR for pitchers is based on strikeouts, walks, and home runs, but I was looking for a more results-focused measure.)

Finally, to not overly cripple the cases for rookies or players who were injured or had an off-year the previous year, I substitute current season’s performance into the formula for the past year. In the past, the substitution was simply replacing last season’s WAR with this season’s WAR if it is greater. Because of the shortened 2020 season, though, I substitute 0.37 times this season’s WAR if it is greater than last season’s WAR. This substitution was relevant for Buster Posey’s rating, since he opted out of playing in 2020.

Written as an equation, this year’s formula is:

Points = 4 * 2021_WAR + 2 * MAX(2020_WAR, 0.37*2021_WAR) + 2 * 0.63 * MAX(2019_WAR, 2021 WAR) + Squareroot(Career_WAR)

That’s it! It’s simple, but I think it works very well.

I’ll also mention two other changes I’ve made compared to my All-Star teams for past seasons. First, because the All-Star Game is played with the DH, I used to try to select DH’s for the team. But, of course NL teams don’t have full-time DH’s, and the MLB selection procedure doesn’t try to pick DH’s for the NL team. So I’ve decided to forego that complication. Second, I used to try to figure out which players would be on the injured list for the game and pick their substitutes. But I often didn’t correctly foresee when a player would return, so beginning this year I’m just picking the highest rated players regardless of the injury status.

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