Garrett Richards, SP, Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout gets most of the recognition for the Angels, and rightfully so; he’s the best player in baseball and should be working on his third consecutive MVP. (He’ll have to settle for his first). But even the great Trout alone isn’t enough to explain how the Angels somehow have the second-most wins in baseball and are only 1.5 games back of the As. It’s the 26-year-old Richards, who has usurped longtime ace Jered Weaver as the top dog on the Anaheim staff. As the preeminent flamethrower in baseball — no, really; of the 149 pitchers to throw at least 50 innings this year, not one averages more on their fastball than Richards’ 96.3 mph — Richards has taken advantage of a shift to the first-base side of the rubber to help increase his strikeout rate to an excellent 9.27 K/9.
That’s led to a pitcher who has the No. 6 FIP — that’s “Fielding Independent Pitching,” which measures the items a pitcher can control — in the American League, matched by the No. 5 ERA. If you must consider wins (you shouldn’t), well, only two AL pitchers have more than he does. There’s no argument to be made that he isn’t one of the absolute best pitchers in the AL this year; the Angels wouldn’t be anywhere without him. The AL All-Star team shouldn’t be without him, either.
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Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
When the Reds struggled badly to start the season, yours truly was among those who pointed the finger squarely at Hamilton, who arrived in the big leagues with unmatched speed but little experience in center field (he’d been a shortstop for most of his life) and little offensive track record. No matter how fast he was, the drop-off from Shin-Soo Choo‘s outstanding on-base skills seemed to be a killer for the Reds offense. But Hamilton persevered, and has improved his offensive production in each month of the season, hitting .321/.351/.512 since June 1, to go along with solid outfield defense and 38 steals on the season. He’s now nearly a lock for the NL Rookie of the Year award, and if he can even be a league-average hitter — which, on the whole, he has been this season — the other parts of his game can make him a star.
Maybe the presence of Dee Gordon satisfied the NL’s need for plus-plus speed, but who is really going to be more useful in the late innings: Hamilton coming off the bench to run, or Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon, who had a great first few weeks and has done absolutely nothing since? If the All-Star Game is supposed to be about winning as well as excitement, Hamilton fits the bill better on both counts.
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The All-Star Game should be about fun, recognizing baseball’s best, and celebrating the sport during one of the rare times on the calendar where it has the spotlight all to itself. (It shouldn’t be about deciding home-field advantage in the World Series, but, sadly, it does.) Of course, it wouldn’t be any fun if we all agreed fully on how the rosters were selected, and every year there’s always a jaw-dropping omission or selection. Take, for example, these five players, who shockingly were not included on the initial rosters.
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