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5 tough decisions looming on the All-Star Ballot

MLB.com @castrovince

The 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot voting is underway, which can only mean one thing: It's time to argue about the 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot!

VOTE: 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot

The 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot voting is underway, which can only mean one thing: It's time to argue about the 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot!

VOTE: 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot

Plenty will transpire to influence the rosters for the July 17 All-Star Game presented by MasterCard at Nationals Park, but for now here's a look at the five toughest statistical debates this ballot presents. All stats are from the start of the weekend.

1. American League shortstop: Francisco Lindor or Manny Machado or Carlos Correa or Andrelton Simmons or… well, you get the idea.
You could start a bar brawl discussing this position. This is the kind of argument that can break up marriages and friendships. The AL's shortstop class was already complex enough before Machado campaigned to go back to his native position. Now it's a total, beautiful mess, and it's going to be fascinating to see not just who wins at the ballot box, but also which deserving dudes get left off the roster altogether.

For now, Lindor and Machado are at the top of the heap:
Lindor: .311/.383/.579, 14 HR, 19 2B, 34 RBIs, 24 BB, 46 K, 3.6 bWAR
Machado: .324/.392/.612, 16 HR, 15 2B, 45 RBIs, 25 BB, 34 K, 2.2 bWAR

Video: NYY@BAL: Machado lines solo HR to right in the 1st

Lindor is the superior defender, hence the higher WAR mark. Machado is fine at short, but he's not the true game-changer he was at the hot corner.

Trouble is, the debate doesn't have to end there. Correa, Simmons, Jean Segura, Xander Bogaerts, Didi Gregorius … all of these guys are capable of sizzling stretches between now and the closing of polls. And what's this? Even the Rays' Daniel Robertson is ringing in with an .839 OPS. Maybe the AL should just field a lineup made up entirely of shortstops and see how that goes.

Edge: Machado's offensive numbers are slightly stronger. Let's throw him a bone in a lost year for the O's.

2. National League third base: Nolan Arenado or Kris Bryant?
This has become one of baseball's great debates, in general, not just here in the first half of 2018. You can fire up their in-season or career numbers at any point and spark an argument between Rockies and Cubs fans. For now, here's where they're at this year:

Arenado: .319/.416/.580, 11 HR, 12 2B, 34 RBIs, 32 BB, 43 K, 2.2 bWAR
Bryant: .286/.401/.524, 8 HR, 17 2B, 27 RBIs, 28 BB, 39 K, 2.0 bWAR

Edge: Though Coors Field undoubtedly augments Arenado's home numbers, take note that he's ahead of Bryant in context stats like wRC+ (152 vs. 149) and OPS+ (153 vs. 145). He's also one of the best defenders any of us have ever seen, and his club is in first place.

Video: COL@CHC: Arenado crushes 2 home runs in Chicago

3. NL first base: Freddie Freeman or Brandon Belt?
It's been a bizarrely bad year for Paul Goldschmidt so far. Joey Votto's power numbers are down from the level of recent seasons. Anthony Rizzo has only recently begun to pick up his production pace after an early season statistical -- ahem -- slide. All of those guys will get love from their respective fan bases, but the NL first base crop isn't as ripe as usual.

Statistically, right now, it really comes down to this pair of players whose careers largely fall in the "underrated" realm. Freeman was an All-Star reserve in 2013 and '14, Belt in '16. But this year, they're both asserting themselves as worthy of the starting honor:
Freeman: .335/.435/.538, 9 HR, 14 2B, 40 RBIs, 37 BB, 39 K, 2.6 bWAR
Belt: .309/.404/.550, 11 HR, 11 2B, 31 RBIs, 28 BB, 52 K, 2.6 bWAR

Edge: Belt has taken his power to another level this year, but Freeman's MLB-best OBP for one of baseball's biggest surprise squads is worth celebrating.

Video: WSH@ATL: Freeman singles to extend hit streak to 14

4. NL second base: Ozzie Albies or Scooter Gennett or Asdrubal Cabrera?
There are others off to solid starts in the NL, such as the Cubs' Javier Baez and the Phillies' Cesar Hernandez. But these three guys have the best numbers and present the difficulty of determining which relatively small sample to reward. Albies is just 20 years old and had shown nothing in his Minor League profile to suggest he'd be among the league leaders in extra-base hits. Gennett has shown his 2017 growth after joining the Reds was no fluke, but can he sustain an abnormally productive pace in which his batting average is second only to that of Matt Kemp (and come to think of it, can Kemp keep that up, too?). Can Cabrera maintain his strongest start since his last All-Star season in '12?

I don't know the answers, I just know the numbers:
Albies: .278/.323/.535, 14 HR, 16 2B, 35 RBIs, 15 BB, 46 K, 1.5 bWAR
Gennett: .343/.377/.551, 10 HR, 13 2B, 38 RBIs, 11 BB, 45 K, 2.3 bWAR
Cabrera: .303/.344/.529, 10 HR, 15 2B, 34 RBIs, 13 BB, 39 K, 1.0 bWAR

Edge: Albies has been one of the great stories of the young season, but we owe Gennett a mea culpa for calling last year's four-homer game pretty much the most unlikely performance in Major League history.

Video: CIN@COL: Gennett records 5 hits, turns game-ending DP

5. AL designated hitter: J.D. Martinez or Shohei Ohtani?
Well, you figure Giancarlo Stanton will figure prominently in the vote totals on the backs of Yankees fans, but right now Martinez is, far and away, the most deserving DH. He has lived up to the terms of his $110 million deal with a .317/.377/.654 slash and reminded Boston fans, in the second season sans Big Papi, what it's like to have one of the game's biggest boppers in the DH slot.

Trouble is, there's this shiny object dangled before our eyes. We can't help ourselves. Ohtani obviously doesn't have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title -- he's more than 100 at-bats shy of Martinez's total as I write this.

But because we've never had a case like Ohtani's, you can be forgiven for doing whatever it takes to ensure he's in this midsummer showcase. And if you want to get truly technical, if you want to compare Ohtani and Martinez only in plate appearances as a DH (not an outfielder), here's what you get:
Martinez (122 PAs): .276/.361/.686, 11 HR, 8 2B, 23 RBIs, 14 BB, 33 K
Ohtani (114 PAs): .290/.377/.560, 6 HR, 7 2B, 20 RBIs, 14 BB, 30 K

Video: BOS@HOU: Martinez goes back-to-back for 19th home run

Edge: One way or another, via the player ballot or the Commissioner's Office picks, Ohtani will find his way onto the AL roster in some capacity. So do the right thing and vote Martinez.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.