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MLB All-Star Game 2016: Which Rockies players should start?

If the game mattered—really mattered—which Rockies should you have voted for?

Colorado Rockies v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

I am not here to tell you how you should have voted for the MLB All-Star Game, or even to tell you that you should vote in the first place. It’s not my concern if you want to vote all Rockies, abstain, base your vote entirely on a weighted average of every available WAR model, or simply vote for a starting eight that will spell out B E N G H A Z I. Want to write in Jason Gurka for right field? Go nuts. I don’t care.

But Major League Baseball wants you to care. It does so by getting you to think that the All-Star Game “matters,” in that the league that wins will secure home field advantage for the World Series. While the result of the game does matter insofar as it has a consequence, the cause is so far removed from the eventual effect as to make the relationship farcical.

But let’s pretend that it does matter. Maybe residents of National League cities get their water bill paid for six months if the NL wins the All-Star Game—or something. In any case, let’s envision a game wherein the result really, truly matters. In such an event, you’d want to vote for the very best player at each position to start and play most of the game. This means that each player has to be evaluated relative to his competition. And that means you can’t follow the company line and vote for each member of the Rockies. In such a world, which members of the Colorado Rockies should you really have voted for to start this year’s All-Star Game?

Not even if you squint

Trevor Story is having a very nice rookie campaign. In isolation, he’s worth a vote. In the context of other NL shortstops, however, Story is clearly not the best option if your vote is motivated by the desire to make the best possible starting lineup. Story began the season with a display of power, and he still leads all NL shortstops in home runs; however, he only leads Danny Espinosa by one home run, and he leads Dodgers’ shortstop Corey Seager by two. His home runs don’t separate him. Indeed, fellow rookie Corey Seager has the clear edge in just about every measure. Story is hitting .266/.333/.549, while Seager is hitting .303/.362/.536. Story’s slugging percentage edge is neutralized by the necessary park adjustment. In other words, Story isn’t even the best option among rookie shortstops.

The Vote: Corey Seager

Only if you squint

DJ LeMahieu is having a great season—an All-Star season, even. He’s played his usual excellent defense, is getting on base more than he ever has, and has even added gap power to his repertoire. But he shouldn’t start the All-Star Game. The three players with the most potent claims against LeMahieu are Ben Zobrist, Derek Dietrich, and Daniel Murphy. First, there’s Zobrist. Zobrist’s .296/.404/.473 batting line is similar to LeMahieu’s .327/.393/.496. Zobrist gets on base more, but LeMahieu has more slugging power; Zobrist’s slugging comes from homers though, as his 11 dingers are more than double LeMahieu’s five. After necessarily adjusting for Coors Field, and Zobrist’s extra home run power is even more impressive, and his on-base advantage is as well. And both players are just as capable of putting the ball in play. LeMahieu has the defensive advantage here, but Zobrist is still no slouch. This one is close to a wash.

The Marlins’ Dietrich is a surprise candidate here. Dietrich is hitting .300/.395/.447 for the Marlins. I haven’t watched nearly enough Marlins games to judge his defense, although FanGraphs’ suspects that he’s been well below average for his career, so we’ll go with that. While park adjustments should be made for Coors Field as well as the pitcher friendly Marlins Park, LeMahieu has the advantage here. The biggest competition is from Daniel Murphy. Murphy has crushed the ball in the first half of 2016, hitting 14 homers and posting a .348/.388/.581 batting line for the Nationals. LeMahieu has been better at getting on base, but only by a little bit, and he has exhibited much less power. LeMahieu is better defensively, but not enough to make up for the offensive difference.

The Vote: Daniel Murphy

Charlie Blackmon is another “only if you squint” player. Notably, he’s improved for the third consecutive season. His walk rate has increased yet again and his .309/.377/.509 slash line represents the best of his career by a fair margin. But there are simply too many other NL outfielders having better seasons who would be better options to start. For the sake of this exercise, we have to limit this to center fielders, even though fans vote for three outfielders regardless of position. After all, if the object is to win a game that matters, the team needs a legit center fielder. Given this limitation, the player a clear step above Blackmon is Marcell Ozuna of the Marlins. Ozuna is hitting .311/.362/.550 with 17 home runs and good defense. Former Rockies player Dexter Fowler would also have a strong case if he weren’t on the disabled list. But the vote has got to go to Ozuna for the advantages he brings to the plate.

The Vote: Marcell Ozuna

Can make a clear-eyed case

Carlos González is on track to post his best season since 2010, when he was an MVP candidate. He’s hitting .321/.370/.568 with 18 round-trippers and playing solid defense in right field. CarGo, however, has the unfortunate situation of being in competition with Bryce Harper. There are two ways to look at this. The first is based on what each player has done so far this season. Harper is having something of a “down” year when compared to his Ruthian 2015. This year, Harper is hitting .266/.405/.496 with 17 home runs. CarGo has the batting average and slugging advantage, but Harper has the on base advantage, which is definitely more important than batting average and arguably more important than slugging. From this vantage point, the vote could go either way.

The other perspective is to return to the conceit at the beginning, which is that the game really matters. This means that a tiebreaker could be one simple question: If you want your team to win so you can save money on water bills for half a year (or something), who would you rather have hitting and playing right field, Bryce Harper or Carlos González? This does not appear to be a difficult question.

The Vote: Bryce Harper

Vote with a clear conscience

Nolan Arenado. Arenado is the best defensive third baseman in the NL, and it doesn’t appear to be very close. According to Defensive Runs Saved, he’s second among all infielders in runs saved, behind shortstop Brandon Crawford. Add 22 dingers and a .288/.363/.569 batting line, and the vote is easy. Two players cause some pause. First, Kris Bryant is having a great year at the plate, but it’s not nearly good enough to cause it to outweigh the value Arenado brings on defense. That, and Bryant has only played about half of his innings at third base this season.

The biggest competition comes from Cardinals’ third baseman Matt Carpenter. Based on any measure other than home runs, Carpenter is having a better season at the plate than Areando. He’s hitting .298/.421/.575. If the choice to vote comes down to who has been a better hitter, it should probably go to Carpenter. A holistic view should push the vote toward Arenado, however. This is the Rockies’ only “vote with a clear conscience,” and it’s closer than I thought it would be.

So there you have it. Assuming that the game matters in a sense beyond an arbitrary link between the All-Star Game and the World Series, the only Rockies player you should vote for is Arenado.

The winners of the fan vote will be announced starting tonight at 5 p.m MT as part of a show on ESPN.