Wins Above Replacement is a statistic that is at the forefront of predicting a baseball players all around ability. Although there are some glaring holes in the statistics, such as how to correctly rank defense, it is one of the best statistics we currently have to analyze players. If the MLB All-Stars were selected by WAR, who would be the starter at each position?
For this exercise we are using FanGraphs WAR statistic. It is an important distinction as the two major players in this arena, FanGraphs and BaseballReference, have slight differences in how they calculate Wins Above Replacement. We have included injured players because some of these injuries were very recent, sudden and unexpectedly long-term. It gives us a good idea as to who is the best at each position through June 2022.
Catcher: Willson Contreras – Chicago Cubs – 2.5 WAR
The best by statistical categories and the fans agree. Willson Contreras is the number one vote getter for the National League Catchers in the All-Star Game and leads National League catchers in WAR. If the season were to end today, Contreras would wind up with his best offensive season of his seven year career. Thus far he is slashing .283/.397/.917 compared to his career average of .262/.354/.819. His OPS+ of 155 is, by far, his best compared with a 127 OPS+ in 2019.
First Base: Paul Goldschmidt – St. Louis Cardinals – 3.8 WAR
Paul Goldschmidt, like Willson Contreras, is the leading vote getter at his position for the All-Star Game and the leader in WAR at his position. Entering his fourth year with the St. Louis Cardinals, Goldschmidt is having a career year which is a wild thing to say considering the success he’s had in 12 Major League seasons. Through 74 games and 325 plate appearances, Goldschmidt is slashing .342/.424/1.054 — numbers that would all be career highs if the season ended today. Goldschmidt averages .295/.391/.918 with 31 homeruns per year. He is on his way to surpass those numbers with 19 homeruns through the first half of the 2022 season.
Second Base: Tommy Edman – St. Louis Cardinals – 3.4 WAR
Tommy Edman joins teammate Paul Goldschmidt as a WAR All-Star. In only his fourth MLB season, Edman has splashed onto the season with a .271/.341/.743 slash line and a 114 OPS+ to include seven homeruns and 19 stolen bases. Although Edman is not flashy and he does not fill up the stat line, he is consistent which leads to a 3.4 WAR on the season.
Shortstop: Dansby Swanson – Atlanta Braves – 3.6 WAR
Dansby Swanson showed out last year in the Atlanta Braves championship season. Well, he decided to be even better this year. Already sitting at 14 homeruns, after 33 last year, Swanson is on pass to be a regular 25+ homerun shortstop. Overall, he is having his best offensive season of his career with a 127 OPS+. His next highest during a full season was two years ago when he ended with an OPS+ of 111. He has a real shot of making the All-Star team with only Trea Turner leading him in votes.
Third Base: Manny Machado – San Diego Padres – 4.3 WAR
The leading vote getter of National League third basemen for the All-Star Game, Manny Machado is proving his worth. Slashing .327/.398/.943 with an OPS+ of 172, Machado is a shoe in for the All-Star Game. Across the board, Machado is a force to be reckoned with. His power may be down a bit but that is something that could reach his normal levels with a hot streak in the second half of the season.
Outfielder: Mookie Betts – Los Angeles Dodgers – 3.3 WAR
Although injured with his status for the rest of the season unknown, Mookie Betts was on his way to an All-Star caliber campaign. Although his averages for 2022 were somewhat lower than his career averages, he is still better than most outfielders in the National League. Although he was getting on base at a lower clip this year (35% of the time) compared to last year (36.7% of the time), Betts increased his power with a .535 slugging percentage in 2022 compared to .487 for 2021. His 17 homeruns through 275 plate appearances put him on pace to demolish last year’s total of 23 homeruns. Even though he is injured, he is the leading vote getter for outfielders in the 2022 All-Star Game.
Outfielder: Brandon Nimmo – New York Mets – 2.3 WAR
Playing on a team where he is overshadowed by a stellar starting pitching rotation, Brandon Nimmo is quietly having himself a great season for the New York Mets. He is having such a good season he deserves a spot in the All-Star Game. Across the board, Nimmo’s numbers look comparable to what he has produced in his career. Brandon Nimmo’s best move may have been minimizing his strikeouts. Last year he struck out 20.5% of the time. This year, he is doing it almost four percent less and is striking out a career low 16.6% of the time.
Outfielder: Ian Happ – Chicago Cubs – 2.5 WAR
The 27-year-old former first round pick has been getting noticed in the Chicago Cubs outfield. Even though he is playing on a subpar team, Ian Happ makes our WAR All-Star Game. A trend amongst players making this last and Ian Happ is no different; his slash line is way above his career averages. Through 301 plate appearances, Happ is slashing .280/.382/.839 compared to his career line of .247/.344/.810.
Already Happ has exceeded his single season career high in WAR (last year at 1.6). Despite Happ’s power diminishing (4.7% HR% in 2021, 2.7% in 2022), it comes with better results. Happ’s ISO is one of the lowest of his career (.177 with next lowest in his second major league season at .176) but, again, he has found the secret recipe. Happ’s overall production has increased dramatically at the expense of homeruns but I think he and the Cubs will take it.
Designated Hitter: Bryce Harper – Philadelphia Phillies – 2.7 WAR
Before breaking his thumb and being sidelined for weeks, Bryce Harper was one of the, if not the, best hitter in the National League. It is no doubt he is one of the leaders in WAR, as well. Already playing with a tear in his elbow, Harper was relegated to the designated hitter spot. Before his injury, through 275 plate appearances, Harper was slashing .318/.385/.985 with 15 homeruns, 48 runs batted in and a 52/28 K/BB ratio. With an OPS+ of 174 and 21 doubles, Harper was well on his way to earning another Most Valuable Player Award.
Starting Pitcher: Max Fried – Atlanta Braves – 2.7 WAR
Max Fried is definitely a surprise on this list but with injuries hampering some of the big names (Scherzer, DeGromm, et. al), it opened a spot for Fried to become one of the more dominant pitchers in the National League. The 28 year old is in his fourth full major league season and has anchored the Atlanta Braves’ rotation as they speed towards first place in the National League East.
Across 16 starts, Fried has accumulated 101 1/3 innings pitched (165 2/3 last year) while scattering only 88 hits and giving up a measly 30 earned runs. Fried sports an impressive 96/16 K/BB ratio with a 164 ERA+. Not only is he a great pitcher, Fried won the Silver Slugger last year and could be on his way to Gold Glove defense on the mound.