Good teams generally have some representation at the Midsummer Classic and this year, the Indians are a good team, a great team possibly, even if the roster on paper does not strike fear by name recognition alone.
Cleveland won its 50th game of the season on Monday night in front of a packed house at Progressive Field. The Indians have pushed their division lead to six and a half games with six games to play in the unofficial first half of the season before most players take a well-deserved break.
Several Indians, however, should be receiving the news on Tuesday that their All-Star break will include a trip to San Diego, California, to participate in the 87th All-Star Game from Petco Park on July 12.Major League Baseball will announce the prospective rosters at 7 PM, with the final vote candidates to follow. Voting for the starting lineups ended last Thursday night.
While the fans turned out on Monday to give the Indians the reception that they deserved for their first place results so far this season, that support did not fill up the digital ballot box, where no Indian will be voted into the starting lineup. Instead, player and manager voting will be the deciding factor for the Tribe.
Of the 25 men on the roster who could get some consideration, here’s a short list of the most deserving candidates.
Francisco Lindor (SS) – The face of the Indians franchise has been a consistent force in the lineup throughout the year, rarely missing any action. His defensive play alone would seem to be enough to garner him some attention for the All-Star Game, but his offensive work has been some of the best at the position in the league.
Statistically, his chief competition this season has been Boston’s Xander Bogaerts, who will likely be the starting shortstop for the club. Manny Machado, Baltimore’s young star, has also spent the bulk of his season at short, but appeared to be well on his way to starting at third base, the position he has manned for the Orioles until J.J. Hardy landed on the disabled list.
Among shortstops this season, Lindor ranks first in defensive WAR (13.6); second in stolen bases (13); third in WAR (3.3) and runs scored (53); fourth in batting average (.299), on-base percentage (.361), walk rate (8.2%), and offensive WAR (6.9); fifth in RBI (41); sixth in homers (10); and seventh in slugging percentage (.449). Both Machado and Boegarts are the two names consistently above him on those lists.
Lindor almost assuredly will be on the team off of the bench and the selection of the 22-year-old would be well deserved.
Danny Salazar (SP) – Salazar has done a lot of things right in giving the Indians a third ace-type starter in their rotation. High strikeout rates, a low number of hits allowed, and avoiding the big inning have kept Cleveland’ s number three starter at the top of the ERA list all season long.
After Monday’s 16th start of the season for Salazar, he is 10-3 with a 2.36 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. The biggest blemishes on his resume this season have been his inability to get deeper into games and a high walk rate – his 11.0% walk rate is tops among qualified starters in the AL and his 44 walks are tied for second-most in the league (trailing Chris Archer’s 46).
Salazar is third in the league in the archaic win stat, trailing just Chris Sale and J.A. Happ. His 10.27 strikeout per nine innings rate is third in the league behind Archer and Michael Pineda, neither of whom have had strong campaigns. Salazar allows homers at the fifth-lowest rate among AL starters (0.73), and that is after allowing two in Monday’s no-decision. His ERA is the tops in the league, a half dozen hundredths of a point better than former Indians prospect Steven Wright of Boston. His 113 strikeouts trail just five pitchers, including Archer, Sale, David Price, Justin Verlander, and the next pitcher on our list. Opposing hitters are batting just .194 against him, second-lowest in the league. He is doing all of this with one of the game’s best changeups and grades at a 2.4 WAR, fifth among AL starters.
Corey Kluber (SP) – Kluber seems to have the peripheral numbers every season to deserve inclusion, but gets hurt by not having a better winning percentage or win total, even though those things should not matter in this day and age. This year is the same story, as the Indians’ most recent Cy Young winner is 8-8 with a 3.79 ERA through 17 starts.
He is one of three AL pitchers to toss a complete game and the only one to toss two shutouts. His 114 strikeouts are fifth-most in the league. He is second in innings pitched (114), third in fewest homers per nine (0.71), fourth in WHIP (1.04) and batting average against (.214), sixth in strikeout-to-walk percentage (19.0%), eighth in strikeout percentage (24.9%) and strikeout rate per nine (9.00), and 12th in walks per nine (2.13).
His ERA may hurt him, as a handful of bad outings have inflated his numbers. Despite that, it is still the 16th best mark among qualified starters. His name deserves consideration, and possibly a ticket to the west coast.
Josh Tomlin (SP) – The impressive 9-1 record for Tomlin and his 3.21 ERA should have his name at least on the radar of prospective pitching candidates for the AL squad. His impeccable control has been on display throughout the season and he has provided the Indians with some depth on the mound, averaging more than six and one-thirds innings per start this season after missing several April starts due to the schedule and the weather while operating as the team’s fifth starter.
Typically, a fifth starter’s name would not even grace the list of candidates, but Tomlin has not pitched like the last man on a pitching staff and should hardly be punished for being on a team with as many quality starters as the Indians have. His nine wins are tied for sixth in the league and his ERA ranks eighth. He has allowed the third-most home runs in the league (19), but he has also issued free passes (10) to the fewest batters in the AL among qualified starters, almost half of the next closest starters and just 2.6% of batters faced or 0.94 per nine innings. His strikeout-to-walk rate of 6.40 is nearly a strikeout and a half more than his next closest competitor, Sale’s 4.92. His WHIP for the year (1.09) is sixth in the league, trailing teammate Kluber on the list.
Given the mountains that Tomlin has had to climb in his career due to injuries, a trip to San Diego would be a monumental award. It may be difficult for him, however, without a flashy fastball or a household name.
Jose Ramirez (everywhere) – The Indians super utility guy is in a precarious position as a man without a regular position on the diamond. However, baseball has begun to accept the role and value of players with extreme amounts of defensive versatility, as has been the case in year’s past with the inclusion of Ben Zobrist and Brock Holt on the AL All-Star squads in recent memory.
He has had a good year at the plate, hitting .299 with a .354 on-base percentage in 74 games. He is on the top 50 list in doubles with 20 (13th in the league and tops on the club), stolen bases with 10 (16th), batting average with a .299 mark (18th), on-base percentage with a .354 mark (29th), hits with 79 (43rd), runs with 39 (44th). His .373 batting average with runners in scoring position is tops in the league among players with at least 50 at bats in that situation and his .378 mark with runners in scoring position and two outs is fourth in the AL among players with at least 30 at bats in that spot.
Even though he has been a key ingredient to the Indians success this season, it may be hard for Ramirez to earn such an honor this season.
Trevor Bauer (SP) – He would have to be considered an outside possibility at best, but what Bauer has done on the mound for the Tribe in his return to the starting rotation has been impressive. After making six appearances from the bullpen in April, posting a 1-0 record with a 4.76 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, and .289 batting average against, Bauer has been impressive.
In his last 13 outings (12 starts), he has earned a 6-2 record with a complete game. He has a 2.79 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and a .212 batting average against in that span. Nine of those appearances have been quality outings, and his five innings of relief on short rest in the Indians’ 19-inning win over Toronto on Friday goes to show how much he has evolved as a pitcher on the mound. He is 24th in the AL in strikeouts with 87 on the season and is one of just 14 AL pitchers to throw a complete game this season.
He will be hurt by not having nearly enough starts as the other candidates as in some way by not making the starting rotation out of spring training. But what he has done on the mound has been worthy of recognition, even if that does not include an All-Star berth.
Honorable mentions – Carlos Santana, Mike Napoli, Cody Allen, and Tyler Naquin. Santana and Napoli rank near the top of their positions in many of the key offensive stats, with the exception of batting average. Allen is seventh in the league with 18 saves in 20 tries, posting a 2-3 record with a 3.03 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, a .185 batting average against, and 43 strikeouts. Even with Wade Davis landing on the disabled list on Monday morning, there are several other candidates (Zach Britton, Francisco Rodriguez, Steve Cishek, Alex Colome, Craig Kimbrel, Will Harris, Brad Brach) who have racked up some better numbers in relief. Naquin’s incredible first half has been limited by multiple trips to Columbus and reduced opportunities against left-handed pitching, putting his offensive contributions far lower than other players at his position.
Last year, Jason Kipnis represented the Indians on the American League roster. The AL defeated the NL All-Stars in Cincinnati, 6-2. Kipnis struck out in his lone plate appearance in the sixth inning against Jacob deGrom after replacing Jose Altuve at second the previous half inning.
Photo: AP Photo/Ron Schwane