This time it doesn’t count. Now that the All-Star Game has been divorced from its controversial role in deciding home-field advantage for the World Series, the Midsummer Classic is all about fun. But which players will provide the most fun? Every player brings a different element of fun to the game, whether through his personality, his style of play, an inclination toward antics …
… or creating tear-jerking moments for legends of the game.
Any attempt to rank these players on the basis of fun is subjective — there will be people in Wisconsin who are 100 times more excited to see Corey Knebel than Chris Sale or Max Scherzer — but let’s give it a shot.
The Boring Middle Reliever
71. Brad Hand, San Diego
This happens every year — each team has to send someone — and a bad team’s best player is a middle reliever nobody’s heard of. (It always seemed to be either a Pirate or a Royal when I was a kid.) Nobody except for a few diehards and the player’s family is tuning in specifically to see Hand, who’s having a great year. But the most interesting thing about him is where he might get traded, and that’s appropriate for this year’s Padres.
The Anonymous Position Players
70. Corey Dickerson, Tampa Bay
69. Avisaíl García, Chicago (AL)
68. Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore
67. D.J. LeMahieu, Colorado
66. Ender Inciarte, Atlanta
65. Josh Harrison, Pittsburgh
These are going to be six of the toughest guys to remember when Sporcle does its “Can You Name the 2017 All-Stars?” quiz. LeMahieu and Inciarte could pull off some defensive magic, and Harrison, in the absence of Billy Hamilton and Trea Turner, might be the most fun base runner if he gets on, but they’re in that no-man’s-land between exciting newcomer and revered veteran.
The Guys Who Aren’t Playing
64. Starlin Castro, New York (AL)
63. Michael Fulmer, Detroit
62. Yu Darvish, Texas
61. Corey Kluber, Cleveland
60. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
59. Mike Trout, Los Angeles of Anaheim
58. Dallas Keuchel, Houston
Keuchel tops this section because he’s the biggest risk for Cliff Lee–style player intro shenanigans.
Human Interest Stories
57. Brandon Kintzler, Minnesota
56. Jake Lamb, Arizona
55. Pat Neshek, Philadelphia
54. Robbie Ray, Arizona
53. Justin Smoak, Toronto
52. Roberto Osuna, Toronto
51. Michael Brantley, Cleveland
50. Greg Holland, Colorado
49. Jason Vargas, Kansas City
48. Zack Cozart, Cincinnati
How interesting you find these players is probably a function of how interesting you find their stories. Kintzler’s an ex-indy leaguer who made good. Neshek and Vargas were always better than people thought, but they’re having shocking career-best seasons in their mid-30s. Smoak is a former top prospect who spent a decade in the wilderness before hitting age 30 and turning into the player he was supposed to be all along. Ray and Lamb are up-and-coming faces of a surprising Arizona juggernaut. Brantley and Holland both had to recover from serious injuries. Osuna recently made it public that he’s been struggling with anxiety, then accidentally pissed off Carlos Correa, then made nice.
And I don’t know if this is a human interest story exactly, but Cozart’s career-best first half earned him not only an invitation to Miami, but a donkey, compliments of teammate Joey Votto.
47. Yadier Molina, St. Louis
46. Justin Upton, Detroit
45. Wade Davis, Chicago (NL)
44. Mike Moustakas, Kansas City
43. Nelson Cruz, Seattle
42. Salvador Pérez, Kansas City
41. Stephen Strasburg, Washington
40. Ervin Santana, Minnesota
39. Charlie Blackmon, Colorado
These guys are all having good years, but it seems like they’re more or less always having good years. They’re on your TV every All-Star week and every October, and they get down-ballot MVP and Cy Young votes. They’re great in the way your favorite pizza place is great: You find comfort in having it around the corner when you get a craving, but if you eat there too often you find yourself wanting something else.
Daniel Murphy and Nolan Arenado
38. Daniel Murphy, Washington
37. Nolan Arenado, Colorado
I don’t know where to put these guys. About two years ago, Murphy went from a slightly above-average hitter to one of the best hitters in baseball overnight, and I don’t know if his reputation has caught up to the change in his game yet, so he doesn’t have the star power he probably deserves. Besides, while Murphy’s a great hitter, I don’t know if he’s a particularly fun hitter. Watching him hit is like watching Tim Duncan play basketball — you understand that what he’s doing is great, but it doesn’t really get you out of your seat.
As for Arenado, he’s a little too old and well-established to be on the upcoming Stars of Tomorrow part of the list — he’s older than Trout and Bryce Harper, both stars of today — and he’s too good to be in the Blackmon group, but not quite good enough — or at least not famous enough — to be up there with Harper and Scherzer. At this point in his career, Arenado is what you make of him.
Scary Middle Relievers
36. Dellin Betances, New York (AL)
35. Andrew Miller, Cleveland
A decade ago, the Brad Hand category would’ve included all middle relievers, but Betances and Miller have been instrumental in glamorizing the setup man. Betances is what Mariano Rivera was 20 years ago: a young, converted starter who would close if a veteran teammate weren’t eating up all of his team’s saves. And Miller elevated the relief ace role almost to the level of being a weapon of deterrence — so scary in concept that he alters his opponent’s strategy whether he’s in the game or not. Houston’s Chris Devenski could fit in this category as well, but he’s further up the list.
Guys Having Unexpectedly Great Years
34. Alex Wood, Los Angeles
33. Corey Knebel, Milwaukee
32. Craig Kimbrel, Boston
31. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles
30. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington
29. Justin Turner, Los Angeles
I’m particularly fond of this type of All-Star, because if you’re checking FanGraphs every day of the season, by July it’s not weird anymore that Corey Knebel is striking out more than 15 batters per nine innings. But the All-Star Game is when your friends who only kinda follow baseball will start texting you things like “Justin Turner is hitting WHAT?” and it’s like experiencing that shock for the first time all over again.
The Stars of Today
28. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona
27. Robinson Canó, Seattle
26. Chris Sale, Boston
25. Zack Greinke, Arizona
24. Buster Posey, San Francisco
These are the players, along with a few who merit higher spots on this list for other reasons, whose names get put in front of the team on the marquee — “Posey and the Giants take on Goldschmidt and the Diamondbacks” — and draw in casual fans to watch this event.
23. Marcell Ozuna, Miami
22. Yonder Alonso, Oakland
The loudest cheers at any All-Star Game always come for the hometown players, particularly if that team has been going through a rough stretch, like the one the Marlins have been in since 2004. Ozuna’s reception should be something to see, but Alonso is an even better story. He defected from Cuba with his family as a child, was raised in Miami, and went to the University of Miami. Now, in the midst of a shocking midcareer transformation, he plays in his first All-Star Game in his hometown. Nobody will say anything if you get a little choked up.
Players Who Might Engage in Antics
21. Chris Archer, Tampa Bay
20. José Ramírez, Cleveland
19. Lance McCullers Jr., Houston
18. Chris Devenski, Houston
17. Joey Votto, Cincinnati
Since this game doesn’t count, there’s always one player who takes the opportunity to do something weird. I could see Devenski or McCullers staring down an opposing hitter, or Archer pulling off some sort of elaborate prank in the dugout. As for Votto — well, look at this picture.
I dunno, man. He looks like he’s up to no good.
Players Who Might Do Something Amazing
16. Carlos Martínez, St. Louis
15. Max Scherzer, Washington
14. George Springer, Houston
13. Mookie Betts, Boston
12. The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton, Miami
11. Bryce Harper, Washington
At some point in this game, someone is going to hit a 450-foot home run or lay out to snare a line drive down the line or throw a slider that makes a hitter’s helmet fall off. By virtue of this being a collection of the best players in baseball, I suppose anyone on the field could generate that highlight, but these are some of the league’s most exciting players, and they seem a little more likely to do so than the rest.
Stars of Tomorrow
10. Luis Severino, New York (AL)
9. Michael Conforto, New York (NL)
8. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles
7. Corey Seager, Los Angeles
6. Gary Sánchez, New York (AL)
5. Miguel Sanó, Minnesota
4. Francisco Lindor, Cleveland
3. Carlos Correa, Houston
Any of these players could generate a huge highlight, but their function is arguably the most important of anyone who will be in Miami this week: They are, or at least could be, the next set of names who will end up on the marquee. They’re not all unknowns: Lindor and Conforto have played significant roles on World Series teams, and Correa’s one of the most-promoted figures in the game, but for these players, the All-Star Game is like an Amazon recommendation: “Customers who liked Buster Posey also liked Gary Sánchez.”
José Altuve and Aaron Judge
2. José Altuve, Houston
1. Aaron Judge, New York (AL)
Altuve, as an aggressive, high-contact hitter with power and no regard for his own safety on the bases, is one of the most exciting players in the game. Judge, meanwhile, is, by any measure, this season’s breakout star, and he’s expanding our understanding of what a human being can do with a baseball bat. But for as entertaining as they are individually, they’re much more fun together.