Earlier this week, Major League Baseball announced the updated vote totals in the annual fan balloting to select the starting lineups for this year’s All-Star Game. Only two Reds appeared among the top five vote-getters at their position: Brandon Phillips was fourth among second basemen, and Devin Mesoraco was fifth among catchers. That’s a far cry from the 1957 All-Star Game, when Cincinnati stuffed the ballot box, electing seven Reds to start the Midsummer Classic. (Of course, commissioner Ford Frick jumped into the fray, and only five Reds actually started that game. Baseball commissioners have never been particularly kind to Cincinnati.)
We can safely dispense with the question of whether or not Phillips actually deserves to be in the conversation for a starting nod. BP is seventh among qualified National League second basemen in WAR (0.9), eighth in on-base percentage (.309), and sixth in wRC+ (94). Of course, Phillips is fourth in the league in RBI (among 2Bs), and since that’s his favorite category, maybe that means something. Or maybe not. Phillips is a character, his defense is still pretty good, and he’s not the worst player in the starting lineup, but at this point in his career, he doesn’t have a very good argument to be in the conversation for best 2B in the National League.
A more interesting question, to me, is whether Devin Mesoraco should be doing better in the All-Star balloting.
Let’s get one thing out of the way at the outset: I’m a big fan of the All-Star Game, but I’m not one of those guys who loves to criticize the fan vote. This is a glorified exhibition, despite Bud Selig assigning far too much importance to the game. If fans want to select a retiring Derek Jeter to start—even though he hasn’t been one of the best American League shortstops in years—that’s fine by me. On the other hand, if fans want to reward a player who has had a great first half of the season, I’m good with that too. Fans get to pick who they want to see, and I don’t care what criteria they use. I don’t even care if they want to vote in Gus Bell, Wally Post, and Don Hoak as starters.
For the purposes of this discussion, let’s look just at what the contenders to start at catcher for the National League have done so far in 2014. The current top five in All-Star voting are:
1. Yadier Molina, St. Louis
2. Buster Posey, San Francisco
3. Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee
4. Evan Gattis, Atlanta
5. Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati
Obviously, Mesoraco’s case is hampered by the fact that he’s only played in 37 games thus far. He has been exceptionally productive in those 37 games, of course, but that’s reason number one that he probably doesn’t deserve to be an All-Star starter. Take a look at wins above replacement: Lucroy leads NL catchers (3.1 WAR) but surprisingly, Mesoraco’s 1.4 compare favorably to Molina’s 1.5 and Posey’s 1.3, despite the fact that Devin has 100+ fewer plate appearances than those guys. (Gattis is at 2.4 WAR.)
And even though he’s been injured for a significant portion of the season, Mesoraco ranks pretty highly in the counting stats as well. Devin is third among NL catchers in home runs (9) and fifth in RBI (28). When looking at rate stats, Mesoraco is second (to Lucroy) in batting average (.305), sixth in OBP (.348), and second in slugging percentage (.573).
Not bad, eh? When you start looking at the advanced metrics, Mesoraco looks even better. He barely trails Gattis and Lucroy in wOBA and wRC+, which are both good measures of how well a player is doing with the bat, while adjusting for position and ballpark. He’s second to Gattis in ISO (Isolated Power, a measure of how good a player is at hitting for extra bases). Mesoraco’s 149 OPS+ trails only Gattis (154) and Lucroy (150).
I doubt you are surprised that, after this rhetorical exercise, we have ended up exactly where we expected: of course Devin Mesoraco doesn’t deserve to be starting in the All-Star game. Gattis and Lucroy have been just as productive at the plate as Devin (more so, when you consider playing time); Molina and Posey have a track record of performing, even if they haven’t been exceptionally prolific with the bat this season. Any of those players would be a more logical choice to start for the NL.
But let us not underestimate the fact that Mesoraco has been very, very good for the Reds this season. If his numbers don’t decline much over the next three weeks, Mesoraco will have a great case to be named to his first National League All-Star team. The first of many, hopefully.