Who's ready for another debate about an exhibition game?
Few things excite baseball fans more than arguing and discussing about who belongs in the annual collection of varied baseball talents and limited baseball strategy known as the Major League All-Star Game. The funny part is how everyone has their own strong idea for how the ranks should be filled, but leave those as unstated warrants.
Some see the game as a mid-season award ceremony, rewarding those who have had the best three months of baseball this year. Others see that as pointless, believing the game should be assembled of the best players in baseball overall, or those who have played the best over the past year or more. Then there are those who don't care about talent or performance as much as voting for their favorite players or those with the best name value.
Seeing as this is a silly (but fun!) fan exercise, and baseball has never leveled a decree stating how they want us to vote, the answer would seem to be "all of the above."
(Of course, if they insist on Making It Count, perhaps we fans of an AL contender ought to be taking the best players in the game route. Except for on the NL ballot, where, of course, we should vote for the worst.)
With the Texas Rangers tied for the most wins in the league, and holding by far the largest run differential in baseball, it stands to reason they are made up of multiple All Stars. The voting public seems to agree, with four Rangers (Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, and Mike Napoli) leading at their positions, and multiple others close.
Two straight World Series appearances will get your players some name value, but that's not all that has these men leading the way. Leading the way is Hamilton; not just among outfielders or Texas Rangers, but among human beings anywhere. With more than 5.4 million votes as of the most recent update, Hamilton will clearly be starting the All Star game with health, and while he is not so clearly the best player in baseball as those totals suggest, it is an honor he deserves.
Thanks in part to viruses, Hamilton has slowed down in to a very poor June thus far, but he has still been the greatest offensive force in the American League outside of maybe Paul Konerko (Why won't he age, by the way?), with a .330/.390/.674 slash line, and a 177 wRC+. His 3.5 Wins Above Replacement per FanGraphs' estimate has been tied by Adam Jones thanks to the slump, and lesser defensive performance, but that's still tied for first. A number of outfielders sit ahead of him in terms of WAR if you make the sample begin at the start of the 2011 season, but that includes folks like Jacoby Ellsbury who are completely out of it this season, and most fans likely intend to weigh the current season more heavily even if it's not all they care about for All Star voting. Josh Hamilton will start the All Star game, and for all the reasons of 2012 performance, recent career performance, and name brand value, he deserves to do so.
The rest of the roster is a bit more iffy. One think you'll notice in the previous link that is very, very fun: Ian Kinsler sits behind just (barely) Jose Bautista and Alex Gordon in AL WAR over the past 15 months; he is arguably the best second baseman in his league, and thus has a case for starting the All Star Game. Unfortunately, he has a rival for that title in a once-potential Ranger, Robinson Cano, and Cano is having a better year. Kinsler started like a beast, but has slowed down to merely having a very good year while Cano has begun making pitchers look silly. Though Kinsler has contributions to help make up for the difference, Cano's 142 to 112 wRC+ lead is tough to overcome. A vote for Kinsler is defensible, but difficult to justify by most standards of voting.
Should Kinsler maintain his slim lead of fewer than 15,000 votes, it will be great to finally see one of the most underrated players of recent years get his start in the All Star Game, but if he loses out to Cano -- which seems likely -- it will at least be to a deserving player.
Beltre's case is similar to Kinslers. Over recent history, he has been possibly the best third baseman in baseball, though that honor probably goes to Miguel Cabrera. In 2012 Beltre has not been the best -- ranked fifth with 1.7 WAR -- but he has not been so far behind that he's a terrible choice.
Napoli is an awesome choice for a Rangers fan, but he is likely a terrible one otherwise. He has a massive lead himself at catcher, which is a testament to how much his name brand has skyrocketed thanks to last season's pennant race and his play in the postseason. It also speaks to how unaware the national public is to Matt Wieters finally emerging as the star he was meant to be. Napoli was phenomenal last season, but his 1.1 WAR ranks fifth among AL catchers in a disappointing 2012, while Wieters is ahead of him this season and over the past year. He is a young stud having the kind of season and recent performances that should have him ahead of Napoli. Joe Mauer -- perhaps the greatest catcher of his generation -- is also having a nice bounce back year that sees him leading the AL in catching WAR; though he's only caught half his games.
Some other Rangers are knocking on the door, as well. Elvis Andrus stands out as the most disappointing, trailing Derek Jeter by nearly 1.4 million votes thanks to the cult of Jeter, though Andrus has made himself probably the leading candidate for the title of best shortstop in the league, and leads Asdrubal Cabrera by 0.7 WAR (large this early in the season). Name value is all Jeter has on Andrus at this point, but that value is unfortunately huge. Andrus should still make the game as a reserve, at least.
Also close is Michael Young at DH, having an abysmal year. If Young does as well in the player vote as he's doing in the fan vote, he will be an All Star despite being worse than a replacement level player. Nelson Cruz was previously leading for the third All Star starting spot, but has fallen behind more deserving players like Jones, Bautista, and Curtis Granderson.
We fans don't get to vote for pitchers, but Matt Harrison -- a relative after thought in the Mark Teixeira trade -- seems headed to the land of All Star Pitcher. He ranks top five in the league in WAR -- so he deserves it -- and is tied for the AL lead in wins with a 3.41 ERA -- so he has the right kind of stats to get it. He also has, of course, the AL manager on his side. Joe Nathan has been quite possibly the best reliever in baseball (1.1 WAR), but his relatively low number of saves (14) might hurt him.
So that's two questionable-but-likely starters, another potential, one tragic snub, and one obvious starter. All should probably be going, along with possibly one of Young and Cruz. Two pitchers seems fairly likely, as well, meaning an impressive seven or eight All Stars from the 2012 Texas Rangers. Whether or not they deserve so many -- or so few -- rests on the individual's interpretation of how the players should be selected, but it cannot be denied that it would be a fantastic honor to be among the caliber of franchises that instal so much talent in to mid summer classics.
And if they get back to the World Series without home field advantage, it's their own damn fault.