You could make a pretty compelling case that there are six players on the Cincinnati Reds roster who deserve a trip to the 2014 MLB All Star Game in Minneapolis in 12 days. While that's a pretty solid endorsement of the talent and success on the current roster, it's a footnote to that case that I find the most interesting: Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Mat Latos, Ryan Ludwick, and Homer Bailey account for none of the six players mentioned.
None of the four highest paid position players on the Reds - each former All Stars who have combined for a total of 10 appearances - has had a first half worthy of invitation to the Midsummer Classic, nor have the two most consistent pitchers from the Reds' dominant 2012 and 2013 starting rotations. In fact, of the six guys worthy of being an All Star this season, five of them would be first timers should their names be called on Sunday's All-Star Selection Show.
It would be hard to find any team in baseball who could boast having six players with first half resumes deemed worthy of being All Stars, but you could find at least a couple with compelling arguments. However, there's no team in baseball whose group can rival the storylines being forged by the Cincinnati six.
- There's the 3B with an arm bar swing who hit just .234 in 2013.
- There's the spindly rookie CF who was widely called "overmatched" after starting the season 0 for 13 with 6 strikeouts as the replacement for the 2013 Team MVP.
- There's the catcher who entered 2014 with a career .225 batting average while spending his 3 years in the big leagues as a backup.
- There's the starter-turned-closer-turned-waived-turned-reliever-turned-emergency starter who is having a career year at age 33.
- There's 2014's best starting pitcher slicing up eyeballs after a 2013 season that was mostly lost due to injuries before a disastrous start in the one game playoff in Pittsburgh.
- And there's the reliever having - by many accounts - the best season of his already illustrious career despite spending much of his Spring recovering from the spring training line drive that shattered his face and threatened his vision.
Aroldis Chapman, RP
The Reds closer has already put together a four year stretch as a reliever that is as impressive as any in the modern game, but there have been a few things he's done in 2014 that even his previous career can't touch. He's striking out a career high 17.5 batters per 9 innings, his K/BB is at a career best 5.75, his 0.845 WHIP is well below his career mark of 1.00 (and is the second best mark of his career), and his FIP is at a miniscule (and career low) 0.78.
Of course, Chapman has thrown just 23.2 innings in 2014 after missing over a month while recovering from his gnarly facial fractures, so he's not compiled some of the gaudy statistics he's put up in previous seasons. That may work against his selection, but both his track record of dominance and the game's outcome determining home field advantage in the playoffs may lead to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny selecting Chapman as a weapon out of his pen in a late game scenario.
Chapman is averaging - AVERAGING - over 100 mph on his fastball, which is the best mark in baseball. I can't imagine anyone else I'd rather have in my bullpen should I be managing with the game on the line.
Billy Hamilton, CF
If you look purely at fWAR, you'll find that Billy Hamilton has been the 6th best OF in the National League in 2014. While that itself merits the rookie CF worthy of consideration for a bench spot at the All Star Game, it's the generational talent he's shown on the bases and defensively that would likely lead to him being selected if that should come to pass. At .279/.309/.400, he's shown himself to be a perfectly cromulent piece of the offense with the bat, but those simply aren't the kind of numbers that get you in the a game full of the league's biggest stars. Rather, having 35 steals to your name and ranking in the top two in the NL in runs saved, UZR, and UZR/150 while playing one of the most important defensive positions in the game warrants inclusion.
Whether as a LIDR or pinch runner, Hamilton provides the kind of skills that make him the perfect piece to have on the bench for a game-changing late inning play, and that's the kind of weapon it will be hard to leave off a roster.
Alfredo Simon, SP
Simon is the single most surprising name in this group for no reason other than the SP listed next to his name. Once you delve beyond that, his performance is equally as surprising since he's managed to maintain the brilliance he flashed at the start of the season tens of innings farther into the season than even his staunchest supports would have hoped for.
His success effectively relegated Tony Cingrani to the minors, and through 16 starts he ranks in the Top 10 in the NL in ERA, wins, win %, WHIP, H/9, WPA, average game score, OPS against, and ERA+. However, he doesn't strike out a ton of guys, isn't a big name, and may well find himself on the outside looking in despite having a career year. Hell, if Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos haven't yet made an All Star team, then it's obvious that any worthy player could be passed over.
Devin Mesoraco, C
The patiently awaited breakout of Mesoraco has finally begun, and he's mashed his way through pitchers this year at a rate not seen since the Red Reporter contingent after Game Two. His wOBA and wRC+ are the best among catchers in the NL - as is his .645 SLG - and he ranks in the top two in batting average, home runs, OPS, and RBI.
Therein lies Devin's problem, though. He's been on the DL twice already this season, and has subsequently missed a ton of time rehabbing his oblique and hamstring injuries. While his on-field production has been ridiculous, he may get knocked for having missed a big part of the season, which would be a shame. He's also facing some decent competition in his own division, as Jonathan Lucroy looks poised to be voted as the starter, and former catcher Matheny will be managing the roster while his own catcher - 5-time All Star Yadier Molina - will be available for selection as a backup, too.
Todd Frazier, 3B
Fortunately for the Reds otherwise messy offense, the Todd Frazier who bashed brains en route to finishing 3rd in the 2012 Rookie of the Year voting has reemerged this season after a disappointing 2013, and the Reds would probably be lost without him. The 28 year old leads all NL 3B in HR, SB, SLG, wOBA, wRC+, ISO, and Sinatra, and is 5th overall in the NL among all players in fWAR.
In fact, there are only two players in all of baseball who have at least 13 stolen bases and are slugging over .500: Frazier, and Carlos Gomez.
The Reds 3B will likely get pipped in the voting by the Brewers' Aramis Ramirez, which stinks, and he'll be up against some star-caliber names like David Wright, Pablo Sandoval, and Matt Carpenter for bench spots, but there's no denying he's been one of the game's best to this point in 2014.
To see him miss out would be a traveshamockery nearly as egregious as saying Miller Lite is good beer.
Johnny Cueto, SP
Cueto showed in 2012 that when he's healthy he's as good as there is at throwing a baseball, and he's done nothing in 2014 but improve upon that. He leads all of baseball in GS, IP, CG, WHIP, and H/9, he's among the top three in the NL in bWAR, ERA, K, SHO, ERA+, and WPA, and among the top ten in FIP, W, and K/9.
He's been one of the very best starting pitchers in baseball for four years, yet he's never been an All Star due to various and sundry reasons. Unfortunately for Cueto, he's on schedule to start the Sunday before the All Star break, so while he's every bit deserving of a spot on the squad, there's a decent likelihood that he'd be unavailable even if selected, which I'm sure would be rather disappointing to him. For the Reds, though, that does mean they can squeeze in one start before the break and potentially bring him back on normal rest for the 2nd half of the season with a chance to get as many starts out of him as possible.
Or, y'know, they could just give the guy the week off since he's carried them through much of the season already.
The All Star Game is a strange bird, anyway. It's a reward for both career achievement and for small sample size, as both Derek Jeter this season and Bryan LaHair in 2012 can attest. It's driven purely by April, May, and June, so while none of Votto, Phillips, Bruce, Bailey, or Latos have carried the Reds to this point, they may be carrying these six would-be All Stars in every category by the time October baseball rolls around.
It's fickle and it's imperfect, and I'm sure there are many professionals who will welcome a long break after grinding every day for some five months prior to this point. For some, however, it's a career achievement that sticks with both them and their BBRef page for the rest of their lives, and that's the kind of seal of approval we fans can root for.
I mean, heck, it's the only reason why I remember who Bryan LaHair is, anyway.