On Sunday, I spent the day taking in my first ever game at Busch Stadium with Ms. Stats Geek. Considering she has had less exposure to baseball than Tarzan, I spent most of the 4-2 Cardinals victory explaining what was going on. For the most part it went well, even though I'm pretty sure she was offended by the phrase "suicide squeeze".
But the most confusion probably happened in the middle of the third inning, when a lady came around to give us a little insert. Ms. Stats Geek got to it before I could. "What are all these names, and why do they have little punch holes next to them like I'm electing somebody?"
"That's the All-Star ballot," I began to explain, "and you select one of each position to make the All-Star... Game." The pause happened when I looked over and noticed she was punching all of her favorite names; Saltalamacchia was a huge favorite. I'm sure the five AL second basemen she selected will be very happy as well. I could only sigh as I began to fill out my own ballot.
Some of the names were easy. Miguel Cabrera should receive something like roughly 217 million votes. David Wright's bounceback year makes him a shoo-in at NL 3B. And if you leave off Justin Upton from your NL outfield choices, then please transport back to 2012 because 2013 doesn't want you here.
The rest of the choices, though? Those were a bit tougher. Good thing the numbers here to help.
With the aid of numberFire's current Player Power Rankings, we've assembled the optimal All-Star lineup through May 20 that you should have down on your ballot. The National League will come tomorrow, but first, let's determine the AL sluggers.
For a full description of nERD, check out our numberFire glossary. It's worthwhile to note that only batting efficiency is taken into account, not fielding efficiency. So for the Andrelton Simmons fielding lovers, you're not finding a friend here.
First Base - What, you were expecting Prince Fielder? Then perhaps you haven't noticed Davis's AL-leading .660 slugging percentage, tied for AL-leading 12 homeruns, and shockingly high 12.6 percent walk rate. Fielder, meanwhile, has his lowest OBP since 2010, and even his highest conventional number (37 RBIs) is topped by Davis (40 RBIs).
Second Base - Contrary to popular opinion, Robinson Cano isn't the best second baseman in the AL. Sure, he should make the team, but as the 27th most efficient batter in the AL, he's nowhere near Pedroia. Cano may have the slugging with his 6.4 percent homerun rate, but Pedroia's fourth-best .432 OBP (Cano: .337) and 2.1 percent lower strikeout rate make him just a tiny bit more valuable. Pedroia's eight steals compared to Cano's two doesn't hurt, either.
Shortstop - If only Manny Machado actually played shortstop, he'd be the starter by a longshot. With the Orioles sticking him at third, however, it opens up a whole host of other opportunities. That means we have to head down to No. 56 overall, where Peralta barely beats out No. 69 Jed Lowrie. Peralta may not add much speed, but his patience is top notch: his .381 OBP is 29th among all qualified major leaguers.
Third Base - OK, you knew this one was coming. He's on pace for a second straight MVP award, bolstered by his second-place OBP (.457) and slugging (.659). Cabrera has 114 total bases this year; nobody else has more than 101. And when coupled with an insanely low 11.1 percent strikeout rate, he could very well set some efficiency records. I do feel sorry for Evan Longoria, though, who is our ninth-best batter but didn't stand a chance.
Catcher - Maybe people will stop with the "Awesome guitarist" jokes now? Actually nah, I kind of like having Black Magic Woman stuck in my head whenever I write about him. But that doesn't change the fact that his 4.6 percent homerun rate (No. 36 in the MLB) and his 14.9 percent walk rate (No. 12) has turned him into an absolute efficiency machine. Sure, he's been having some good luck as well with a .344 BABIP, but when 23 percent of your balls in play are line drives, sometimes you create your own luck.
Designated Hitter - He might not have played a full schedule so far this season, but there's no denying Big Papi's incredible efficiency when he's in the lineup. His 6.5 percent homerun rate would be tied for sixth in the majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify, and his 12.0 strikeout rate would make him one of only two players to hold both a 5.0 percent HR rate and a SO rate under 14.0 percent. The other? Miguel Cabrera, only our No. 1 overall player.
First Choice - Still think of Alex Rios as that guy the White Sox overpaid to get from the Blue Jays? Then perhaps you haven't noticed a Renaissance that includes a 5.6 percent homerun rate (No. 20 in the majors), a 1.75 SO/BB ratio that would be the best of his career and not bad for a power slugger, and his surprisingly quick seven stolen bases. And it's also worth mentioning the talent "helping" him in the lineup - Rios' .363 OBP has him the only White Sox batter above .350 in the league's lowest combined OBP lineup.
Second Choice - If you want to talk about The Leap, look out towards Kansas City. Alex Gordon's .367 OBP is right in line with his past two seasons, but his .535 slugging percentage has brought his game to a whole other level. His 3.9 percent walk rate is sad and sorry, but he's made up for it with a 23 percent line drive rate on balls in play so far this season. Gordon's .411 batting average on balls in play couldn't be more unsustainable if it was manufactured in a coal factory, but for now, it has him as the second-best outfielder in the AL.
Third Choice - For all of the preseason hype, it may surprise some to see Trout as only the third best AL outfielder, especially behind guys like Rios and Gordon. But that's what happens when your homeruns decrease by 0.8 percent of plate appearances and your BABIP is .072 points lower. It's not half bad, though, when a semi-sophomore slump means you're top 40 in the majors in extra-base hit percentage, walk percentage, and total stolen bases among qualified players.