Since everyone is pontificating on All-Stars selections, it's time for me to weigh in on the conversation. Below are my All-Star starting lineups. It's a clear advantage on the offensive side for the American League. As we look at each of these players, we'll also take a quick peek into what we can expect the rest of the way in 2013.
CF Mike Trout - For all the talk about Trout having a slow start, he is hitting .305/.382/.550, a line that just shows you what our expectations were coming off his MVP-caliber rookie campaign. The scary thing about Trout's 2013 is that he's walking more and striking out less than he did last year. His BABIP is off 41 points over last year's .390, so that helps explain the dip in his BA, but if you took him in the top-three of fantasy drafts, you have still done just fine.
C Joe Mauer - I love the idea of two potential .400 OBP batters hitting in front of the next handful of players on this list. Mauer is striking out at a career-high rate of 19.2 percent, but he's also hitting the ball harder and in the air more often, resulting in improvement in his AB/HR rate over last year - 41.5 versus 54.5. He'll likely never hit for the power we hoped for a few years ago, but he's an OBP machine and makes good contact.
3B Miguel Cabrera - If he hadn't have served our country in World War II and Korea, Ted Williams may very well have won back-to-back Triple Crowns at some point, but Cabrera has a real shot to be the first to do so. Chris Davis has him by five in the HR count, but can Davis really keep this up? Cabrera compared to last year is walking more (13.3 percent vs. 9.5 percent), has about the same ISO, but a .383 BABIP is of some concern, though he has shown an ability to maintain a high score there consistently given his .351 career mark. If I were drafting now for the rest of the year, he's as easy a No. 1 overall pick as I've seen since the salad days of Albert Pujols.
1B Chris Davis - It's not like this power has come completely out of nowhere, as back in 2007, Davis ripped 37 home runs in the minor league system of the Texas Rangers. He followed that up with a combined 40 home runs between the majors and minors in 2008 before shuttling between Triple-A and the big leagues the next few years. Davis broke out last year with the Orioles, bashing 33 homers despite striking out in 30.1 percent of his plate appearances. This year, however, Davis has added a .335 average to the mix, a number driven by a few factors:
A higher BABIP - .397 versus last year's .339 and his .346 career mark. We should probably expect a drop over the course of the rest of the year.
A better eye at the plate - Davis is walking at a 10.9-percent clip versus last year's 6.6 percent. He's swinging at far fewer pitches outside of the strike zone as well.
Better contact - Davis is making contact more frequently this year than in years past, and his K rate, while still high at 25.5 percent, is improved.
Davis has homered in four of his last six games, so he's not exactly slowing down in terms of the power. We can clearly expect the average to drop, but given that his approach at the plate has changed, it is realistic to expect a .290 average the rest of the way.
RF Jose Bautista - Safe to say, 2010-2011 will represent the best two years of Bautista's career, but he's obviously still relevant despite the year-over-year drop in power:
2010 - .357 ISO
2011 - .306
2012 - .286
2013 - .237
That's a fairly steep decline, but 30-35 home runs and 100-plus RBI are both easily attainable marks. A 57-point increase in BABIP over last year's .219 mark has resulted in a 20-point increase in Bautista's BA to .261, so at least that is partially offsetting the dip in power. At age 32, he's probably still got a handful of seasons like this left in his bat.
SS Manny Machado - With a whopping 32 two-baggers through Monday's action, Machado is on pace to hit 74 doubles, which would eclipse the all-time mark of 67 set in 1931 by Earl Webb. Machado has just five home runs, but .322/.354/.489 is pretty good for a guy who can't drink legally in the U.S. I put him at short because I think he can handle the position just fine, as his defense at third has been Gold Glove caliber, and I would easily take him over any AL shortstop. Sorry Jhonny.
DH Josh Donaldson - I can see the arguments for guys like Beltre, Longoria, etc. here, but hey it's my list and Donaldson's .870 OPS ranks No. 12 in the AL. Not to kick Cubs fans when they are down, but haven't they been looking for a long-term solution at third base since Ron Santo? OK, I doubt the A's even knew what Donaldson would blossom into this year, but how can we expect his .303/.370/.500 slash line to trend over the course of the rest of the season? Compared to 2013, his walk rate has more than doubled to 9.8 percent and his strikeout rate is down at a reasonable 17.8 percent. At .348, Donaldson's BABIP appears to be a bit inflated, but neither is he going to fall off the face of the Earth. There certainly is some BA risk, but he has power and perhaps he's learned enough to hit .270 the rest of way.
2B Howie Kendrick - Robinson Cano or Dustin Pedroia could certainly have been the pick here, but Kendrick stacks up pretty well in what is looking like his career year - .335/.378/.483. His .389 BABIP looks inflated on the surface, but measured against last year's .351 and his .346 career rate, it's not totally unreasonable. I think Kendrick is a lock to hit .300 the rest of the way, particularly if he comes anywhere near his current line drive rate of 30 percent.
LF Coco Crisp - Crisp has a 5.1 WAR season on his resume, but that was in 2005, and at age 32, he's headed toward a similar campaign. Since that season, Crisp has hit between six and 11 home runs annually, but with eight so far this year, he's pushing toward 20, which would be a career high. Crisp is swinging at far fewer pitches outside of the zone, and when he does swing, he's missing a career-low 4.2 percent. Good things tend to happen when contact is made, and Crisp is making more than his share of contact. Conservatively, we can expect Crisp to finish at about .280 with 15 homers and close to 30 steals. Not so conservatively, .300 with 20-25 homers and 35 stolen bases makes Crisp a far more valuable spring draft pick than dozens of outfielders drafted ahead of him.
SP Yu Darvish - Darvish doesn't have the lowest ERA at 2.84, but his 137 strikeouts are 21 more than his next competitor (Max Scherzer) for AL Strikeout King. Darvish has settled in nicely in his second year stateside, particularly in exhibiting vastly improved control - 2.8 BB/9 versus 2013's 4.2. Factor in an improved strikeout rate and more ground balls and he's a top Cy Young contender.
SS Jean Segura - I'd probably have Troy Tulowitzki here if he weren't taking up his usual spot on the DL, but it doesn't mean Segura isn't deserving. At .330 with 10 homers and 20 stolen bases, Segura has quickly moved into elite shortstop territory. His 4.2-percent walk rate could certainly be better, but this is a 20-25-homer and 50-steals pace for a player picked in the middle rounds at best. In fact, one could easily make the argument that he's provided the largest overall return relative to his draft position. There's enough talent for me to think he actually can keep up close to this pace.
LF Carlos Gomez - I can't say I'm a fan of Gomez's 4.1-percent walk rate, and it is a mark that is actually trending down the last couple years. His BABIP is 61 points above his career mark of .313, but all that said, Gomez plays elite-caliber defense and is hitting .317 with a 25/25 season in sight. Given the first two players on this list are Brewers and they still have Ryan Braun, we're left to wonder what this team could accomplish if it actually had some pitching.
RF Carlos Gonzalez - The first number in Gonzalez's .311/.386/.640 slash line is far from surprising, but it's his .329 ISO that has really taken his game to another level. CarGo has seen his flyball rate jump from 29.5 percent to 41.3 percent compared to last year. Given his track record, it's pretty easy to see this continuing, perhaps with a slight dip in power the rest of the way. We're looking at a strong MVP candidate.
1B Paul Goldschmidt - Speaking of MVP candidates, Goldschmidt slammed home run No. 17 on Tuesday to leave him with a .304/.384/.563 slash line. He's even chipped in six steals and has 35 walks in 70 games. Goldy has taken his game to another level this year, and at age 25, it's easy to see this maintaining over the course of the second half.
DH Joey Votto - After a huge May, June has been a bit rough for Votto, though with two-hit games in each of his last three outings, things are trending up. At 44.6 percent, Votto's groundball rate is trending to be his highest since 2010, leaving his second career 30-plus HR season rather unlikely. Votto could roll out of bed and hit .310, but the drop in power is something that won't be easily reversible.
3B David Wright - After a 21/15 season in 2012, Wright is on pace for a 22/29 season this year. Wright's strikeout and walk rates are in line with his career rates, and it is sure looks like his ugly 2011 season (.254/.345/.427) is a bit of an anomaly. There is nothing here to suggest that Wright won't keep up this pace .
C Yadier Molina - I get the Buster Posey argument, but despite just four home runs and 17 walks, Molina gets my vote. Defense is certainly a factor, but Molina is also batting .363/.404/.498. I am curious about the drop in power, as it's unlikely Molina will come anywhere near last year's 22 home runs given his meager power output to date.
CF Gerardo Parra - I'm still having a hard time wrapping my arms around the idea that a player who was essentially slated to be a fourth outfielder prior to Adam Eaton's injury is now one of the top three outfielders in the NL. The numbers bear it out, and it seems like every time I watch Parra he does something significant, whether it be a key base hit or chasing down a would-be double in the gap. Parra is batting a robust .312/.375/.461 with five home runs and six steals. It's true that he derives a lot of his value from his glove, but considering the way he handles the bat, I might even hit him second in this lineup.
2B Brandon Phillips - This is really a down year for NL second baseman. Rickie Weeks is splitting time with some guy with the first name of “Scooter,” Chase Utley is keeping Troy Tulowitzki company on the DL again and Jose Altuve has taken a step back. I thought about Marco Scutaro for this spot given he's hitting .335, but this lineup has enough “grit” with Parra already occupying a slot. Phillips has a meager .320 OBP, but with the 10 homers, at least he gives me a power threat. Jedd Gyorko is having a solid year with eight homers and a .802 OPS, so perhaps he winds up as the NL's top offensive second baseman by year's end. Given his gaudy minor league numbers, perhaps that's not a laughable ideal.
SP Matt Harvey - The 13 strikeouts Tuesday made this an easy call over the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. Given he was a top-10 draft pick, Harvey received his share of prospect love, but I don't know anyone who thought he would establish himself as a true ace in his first full big-league season.
Players I had trouble leaving off
Clayton Kershaw - Likely to be the lone Dodgers representative, though I'd certainly love to see Yasiel Puig on the team. If the game is truly for the fans, he will be, but don't count on it. If you follow baseball at all, you know why Kershaw's record is a modest 5-4, as he has received just three runs a game, seventh lowest of all NL starters. Kershaw leads the NL in innings and ERA, and is second to my NL All-Star starter Matt Harvey with 104 strikeouts.
Adam Wainwright - A 100:9 K:BB is just plain ridiculous.
Buster Posey - The margin was razor-thin, as I could sure use his bat in this lineup, but the defense and pitch-calling elements of Yadier Molina's game are transcendent.
Troy Tulowitzki - Probably the best shortstop in the game when he's actually in the game.