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June 30, 2022 / Nat Anacostia

Soto and Cruz make my 2022 NL All-Star Team

Each year, I put together a National League All Star team to see which Nationals deserve to be on it. For objectivity, I follow 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, two Nationals make the team. Even though Juan Soto‘s 2022 season has been disappointing compared to his own recent seasons, he still ranks as one of the two best corner outfielders in the NL and a starter for my team. This was the first season where I’ve had to select NL players for the position of DH based on players who claim tht role. And while Bryce Harper was the obvious first choice, I realized that the other NL teams don’t have obvious all-stars in the role. So, even though Nelson Cruz‘s 2022 season may not seem all-star worthy, based on his 2021 season and career statistics he did wind up with the second-most points for the position, and was selected for the team. (Of course, Bryce is injured and won’t be back in time for the game, which would make Cruz the starter for the actual game if my team were selected.)

At the end of this post, I’m including a step-by-step explanation of my point system (and how I adjusted it to account for the DH). Read it if you’re interested. The points are based on games played through June 29.

Here’s my 2021 NL All-Star team (showing the points assigned by my system in parentheses):

Starters

C – Willson Contreras – Cubs (21.3)

1B – Paul Goldschmidt – Cardinals (33.1)

2B – Tommy Edman – Cardinals (24.9)

3B – Manny Machado – Padres (32.4)

SS – Trea Turner – Dodgers (30.9)

OF – Mookie Betts – Dodgers (27.1)

CF – Bryan Reynolds – Pirates (20.7)

OF – Juan Soto – Nationals (24.5)

DH – Bryce Harper – Phillies (27.2)

SP – Corbin Burnes – Brewers (28.4)

Reserves

C – J.T. Realmuto – Phillies (20.6)

1B – Freddie Freeman – Dodgers (29.4)

1B – Matt Olson – Braves (21.1)

2B – Jake Cronenworth – Padres (20.0)

3B – Nolan Arenado – Cardinals (27.9)

SS – Francisco Lindor – Mets (24.5)

SS – Dansby Swanson – Braves (24.0)

OF – Starling Marte – Mets (22.0)

CF – Brandon Nimmo – Mets (20.1)

OF – Ronald Acuna Jr. – Braves (17.6)

DH – Nelson Cruz – Nationals (11.1)

SP – Sandy Alcantara – Marlins (27.8)

SP – Zack Wheeler – Phillies (27.7)

SP – Max Scherzer – Mets (26.5)

SP – Adam Wainwright – Cardinals (26.0)

SP – Carlos Rodon – Giants (25.8)

SP – Tyler Mahle – Reds (16.7) (* selected so the Reds would be represented)

RP – Josh Hader – Brewers (15.6)

RP – Kenley Jansen – Braves (11.7)

RP – Ryan Helsley – Cardinals (10.8)

RP – Daniel Bard – Rockies (8.8) (* selected so the Rockies would be represented)

RP – Joe Mantiply – Diamondbacks (7.9) (* selected so the Diamondbacks would be represented)

Nats fans have talked about the possibility of Josh Bell making the team. Bell has had a pretty good season so far this year, but his 2021 season was more ordinary. Overall, my system has him ranked fifth at first base with 16.7 points. That’s good, but it leaves him well behind the three first baseman that were selected for the team (Goldschmidt, Freeman, and Olson), as well as fourth-ranking Pete Alonso. Bell needs to keep up his current level of performance for the next 12 months to be considered for next year’s team.

Methodology:

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. So my system also factors in performance last season. 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, I would lean toward the long-time star. The system does 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 the American League is Alejandro Kirk, who would have made the AL team if I had selected one, reflecting his breakout performance this season.)

Everyone who has played in the NL this season and is currently on a 40-man roster is considered, regardless of their current injury status. 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 separate center fielders from corner outfielders. While I treat the corner outfield positions as interchangeable, I want to make sure that my all-star team has at least two actual center fielders.

I follow the MLB rule that there will be 20 position players and 12 pitchers. I begin by picking the highest rated players at each position as starters. I then select one backup at each position, as well as the four backup starting pitchers and three relievers. At that point, 26 of the 32 players have been selected, and I still need to fill in two more position players and four more pitchers.

I then check to see which teams aren’t yet represented, and pick the highest ranking players from those teams. This year there were four teams in that category—the Giants, Rockies,  Diamondbacks, and Reds. The Giants were easy, because Rodon was the next highest ranking starting pitcher. For the other three teams, I compared their highest ranking position players, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers to the cutoff line for their position and picked the player who was closest (in percentage terms) to the cutoff. This resulted in the selections of starting pitcher Tyler Mahle (of the Reds) and relief pitchers Daniel Bard (Rockies) and Joe Mantiply (Diamondbacks). I then completed the lineup with the two highest ranking position players who hadn’t yet been selected (Swanson and Olson). (If I hadn’t followed the rule of including at least one player from each team, the additional pitchers who would have been selected were Max Fried of the Braves (24.4) and relievers David Bednar of the Pirates (10.6) and David Robertson of the Cubs (10.4).

My point calculation method is pretty simple but reflects the philosophy outlined above. I did make some modifications this year to how I calculate the points for pitchers and for designated hitters, which I will describe after going through the main position player calcujlation.

The points are 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. (Last year I adjusted this formula due to the prior year being the short 2020 season, but I’ve gone back to my long-standing formula.) If the career WAR is less than zero, the last term is simply set to zero.

I use Fangraphs WAR for position players. To keep rookies or players who were injured or had an off-year the previous year competitive, I substitute the current season’s performance into the formula for the past year if it is greater.

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

Points = 4 * 2022_WAR + 2 * MAX(2021_WAR, 2022_WAR) + Squareroot(Career_WAR)

Pitchers:

For pitchers, in the past I’ve always used Fangraphs’ RA9-WAR, which is based on runs allowed per nine innings, rather than Fangraphs’ standard WAR for pitchers, which is “fielding independent” and is based solely on strikeouts, walks, and home runs. While runs allowed are affected by fielding and “luck,” I’ve been concerned that fielding-independent runs leave out too many things that are under the pitcher’s control, such as controlling the running game, fielding the pitcher’s own position, and inducing soft contact such as pop-ups. But starting this year, I’ve decided to start basing the points for pitchers on a mix of RA9-WAR and Fangraph’s fielding independent WAR, with a weight of ⅔ given to RA9-WAR and ⅓ to fielding-independent WAR. Otherwise, the formula is the same as for position players. I use the same weighted average for relief pitchers.

Designated Hitters:

In looking over the candidates for the DH position, I quickly realized that only about half of the teams use a regular DH, with the other teams rotating the role among players who primarily play other positions. For example, the Cubs players with the most plate appearances at DH are Willson Contreras (who played most of his games at catcher), Frank Schwindel (mostly a first baseman), and Rafael Ortega (mostly an outfielder). No one is primarily a DH. That meant that if I had used my usual method of primary position, there would only have been seven or eight candidates for the DH slots on the all-star team, and only one of them (Harper) was an obvious all-star. So I decided to widen the pool by considering any player who had at least 75 plate appearances in 2022 as a DH, even if another position was their primary one.

This increased the pool to about 20 players, but it raised another issue. In my opinion, the DH selection should focus exclusively on the players’ offensive statistics, yet WAR includes their defensive contributions from when they play other positions. So I decided to strip out the defensive part of WAR and come up with a WAR-type measure that considers only the players offensive contributions (that is, batting and base running).

For this I used the statistic that Fangraphs calls “Off” (standing for offense), which is the offensive runs contributed by the player relative to an average hitter. For example, for Nelson Cruz this is 0.2 for 2022 and 14.0 for 2021. To convert that number to wins, I divide by 10. Then I need a replacement-level adjustment, for which I use the player’s total plate appearance divided by 1,000. So for Cruz, in 2022 I get 0.2/10 + 302/1,000 = 0.3, and in 2021 I get 14.0/10 + 584/1,000 = 2.0. Those numbers turn out to equal Cruz’s Fangraphs WAR, telling me that my rough approximation is working pretty well for a full-time DH. I will call this number “OFFAR” for “offense above replacement.”

For a player who is not a full-time DH, the OFFAR will usually be smaller than his WAR because it leaves out his defensive contributions, but that is what I intended in order to select a DH solely based on offense.

The player who was most competitive to Cruz for the second DH slot was Garrett Cooper of the Marlins. His 2022 offensive statistics are better than Cruz’s, but Cruz had a big lead in 2021 and career statistics that gave him the overall lead, 11.1 points for Cruz to 10.6 for Cooper.

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