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The 2018 MLB All-Star Game by the numbers

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What stats can tell us about the Midsummer Classic.

T-Mobile Home Run Derby
Three of the Cubs All Stars at the Home Run Derby
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Stats don’t always lend themselves to a single game analysis or predictions. If they did, we’d be able to predict the winners of each individual match-up and the White Sox would never win. However, for the All-Star Game a single match-up is all we get, so while these stats don’t give us a perfect predictive tool for tonight’s game, they do tell us a bit about the strength of each team’s rotation, starters and lineups. They also give us a bit of a window into the strengths of each league as we head into tonight’s game.

For the purposes of this post I wanted to look at two stats for hitters and three stats for pitchers.

For hitters I’ll take a look at fWAR (Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Fangraphs) and wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus). I’ve written more about both of these at various points in time, but a quick reminder: fWAR is a cumulative stat that gives you an idea of how much better a particular player is than their average replacement (a 0.0 fWAR player). wRC+ gives us a percentage look at how much better a particular player is at driving in runs (while controlling for park effects). The baseline is 100, so a wRC+ of 132, like Javier Baez has coming into tonight’s game, indicates he’s created 32 percent more runs than the average player.

For pitchers I’ll also look at fWAR, but I’m adding ERA- (Earned Run Average Minus) and FIP- (Fielding Independent Pitching Minus). These are set on a scale like wRC+ (so again, the average pitcher is 100) but they work in reverse, so to use a Cubs representative again, Jon Lester has an ERA- of 63 and a FIP- of 106. This indicates that his actual earned run average to date is 37 percent better than league average, but if we just look at the things he controls (Fielding Independent Pitching) we’d actually expect him to be six percent worse than league average.

What can I say? Jon Lester is crafty.

With all of this in mind, let’s dive into the numbers.

Hitters

MLB is exactly right in their tweet from yesterday: these are STACKED lineups on both sides. However, in diving into the numbers a bit, one side has a clear edge at the plate. It’s not particularly close. It’s also not the National League.

All Star Rosters - Selected Stats

Position NL AL Starter/Reserve NL fWAR AL fWAR NL wRC+ AL wRC+
Position NL AL Starter/Reserve NL fWAR AL fWAR NL wRC+ AL wRC+
Catcher Willson Contreras Salvador Perez Starter 2.4 0.3 122 73
First Base Freddie Freeman Jose Abreu Starter 3.9 0.0 150 101
Second Base Javier Baez Jose Altuve Starter 3.4 4.0 132 143
Third Base Nolan Arenado Jose Ramirez Starter 4.1 6.5 145 174
Short Stop Brandon Crawford Manny Machado Starter 2.7 3.8 121 156
Left Matt Kemp Aaron Judge Starter 1.8 4.7 137 155
Center Bryce Harper Mike Trout Starter 1.3 6.5 119 187
Right Nick Markakis Mookie Betts Starter 2.6 6.5 135 202
DH Paul Goldschmidt JD Martinez Starter 3.3 3.8 146 176
Reserves Yadier Molina Yan Gomes Reserve 1.3 1.3 112 98
Reserves Buster Posey* Mitch Moreland Reserve 2.0 1.4 115 128
Reserves JT Realmuto Jed Lowrie Reserve 3.5 3.3 145 135
Reserves Jesus Aguilar Gleybar Torres* Reserve 3.1 1.6 159 143
Reserves Joey Votto Wilson Ramos* Reserve 2.6 1.8 138 131
Reserves Ozzie Albies Alex Bregman Reserve 3.4 4.6 122 159
Reserves Scooter Gennett Jean Segura Reserve 3.3 2.9 138
Reserves Eugenio Suarez Francisco Lindor Reserve 3.2 5.4 158 149
Reserves Trevor Story Michael Brantley Reserve 2.9 1.4 127 129
Reserves Charlie Blackmon Shin-Soo Choo Reserve 0.9 3.0 114 148
Reserves Lorenzo Cain Mitch Haniger Reserve 3.5 2.6 125 134
Reserves Christian Yelich George Springer Reserve 2.2 1.6 121 111
Reserves Nelson Cruz Reserve 1.8 148
fWAR and wRC+ comparison by league and position Fangraphs compiled by Sara Sanchez

The National League starting position players combine for a whopping 25.5 fWAR (29.6 if you add in starting pitcher Max Scherzer). This includes the fWAR for designated hitter Paul Goldschmidt, which should be an advantage, because position players usually have more fWAR than designated hitters.

The National League is going to need every advantage they can get.

The starting position players for the American League combine for a ridiculous 36.1 fWAR before you add in Chris Sale’s 4.9 fWAR. Their total fWAR as a starting lineup is 40.1 to the NL’s 29.6. What’s even more ridiculous is that they are sporting that fWAR total while basically forfeiting offense at two positions. Catcher Salvador Perez and first baseman Jose Abreu combined for only 0.3 fWAR of that total.

In terms of wRC+ it doesn’t get much better. Don’t get me wrong, the NL’s numbers are solid. There really isn’t a weak spot in the NL lineup. If you told me going into the game that the worst hitter among the starters was going to be last night’s Home Run Derby champion, Bryce Harper at 119, I’d feel pretty good. It’s just hard to feel pretty good about this when the AL counters with seven players who have a wRC+ over 140. Leadoff man, Mookie Betts has a wRC+ of 202. That’s not a typo. He’s 102 percent more likely to drive in runs than the average player. Manny Machado is batting seventh. I imagine that hasn’t happened for a while.

For the NL to get this done at the plate they need to hope that slightly less power and consistency is superior to the slew of mashers that the AL will be trotting out one to seven.

Pitchers

If you were hoping that the news would get better on the pitching front, well, I don’t have a ton of better news. As I already noted above, Sale’s fWAR edges Scherzer’s and it just kind of flows like that from there as you can see below:

All Star Rosters - Pitchers

Position NL AL Starter/Reserve NL fWAR AL fWAR NL ERA- AL ERA- NL FIP- AL FIP-
Position NL AL Starter/Reserve NL fWAR AL fWAR NL ERA- AL ERA- NL FIP- AL FIP-
SP Max Scherzer Chris Sale Starter 4.1 4.9 59 51 69 53
SP Patrick Corbin Trevor Bauer Reserve 3.3 5.1 80 52 69 54
SP Zack Greinke Jose Berrios Reserve 2.4 2.3 78 86 85 90
SP Jacob deGrom Gerrit Cole Reserve 4.4 3.5 44 62 57 72
SP Mike Foltynewicz JA Happ Reserve 2.1 1.7 66 101 84 96
SP Jon Lester* Corey Kluber Reserve 1.0 2.8 63 64 106 82
SP Aaron Nola Charlie Morton Reserve 4.2 2.5 57 73 62 79
SP Ross Stripling Luis Severino Reserve 2.7 4.0 54 55 68 63
SP Miles Mikolas* Justin Verlander Reserve 2.6 4.2 71 57 81 69
RP Sean Doolittle* Aroldis Chapman Reserve 1.6 1.9 35 32 48 35
RP Josh Hader Edwin Diaz Reserve 2.1 2.4 36 56 40 36
RP Jeremy Jeffress Joe Jimenez Reserve 1.3 1.3 32 64 64 59
RP Brad Hand Craig Kimbrel Reserve 0.7 1.3 79 41 79 70
RP Kenley Jansen Blake Treinen Reserve 0.8 2.1 60 23 81 46
RP Felipe Vasquez Reserve 1.6 77 48
fWAR, ERA- and FIP- by pitcher Fangraphs, compiled by Sara Sanchez

While the total fWAR gap here is closer, the AL still has a notable lead with 40.0 fWAR versus the NL’s 34.9. There are also just some truly ridiculous performances hiding in those numbers. Trevor Bauer is leading both leagues in fWAR heading into the game and is the only pitcher in either league with an fWAR over 5.

Blake Treinen has an ERA- of 23. That means he is 77 percent better at controlling runs than the average pitcher in the league. He managed to edge out Aroldis Chapman’s ridiculous ERA- of 32 to lead the AL in that category. Again, however, what the NL lacks in superlatives, they may make up for in numbers. The NL has three relievers in their reserves who have ERA-’s in the 30’s (Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Sean Doolittle, although Doolittle is out of the game with an injury). Jacob deGrom has the lowest ERA- of any starting pitcher with a vanishingly small 44. In looking at these numbers I have to wonder at what point the difference between being 60 percent better than average and 73 percent better really matters. I imagine we may find out tonight.

While it looks like the AL has an advantage in the overall numbers with a historically great lineup, the NL lineup is a powerful collection of relentless baseball talent that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Statistics give the edge to the AL tonight, but either way I think baseball fans are in for a treat in our nation’s capital tonight.