Voting is underway through Dec. 3 for the first-ever All-MLB Team, which will finally give the game a position-by-position star squad that, unlike the All-Star teams, accounts for the full body of work of a season, as opposed to just the first half.
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Of course, as with the All-Star selections, it’s not always easy to decipher the best of the best at each position. While this process -- in which fans account for 50 percent of the vote and a panel of experts accounts for the other 50 percent -- will result in both a first team and second team All-MLB, there will still, unavoidably, be plenty of room for debate, snubs and surprises. The lack of distinction between leagues only adds to the difficulty of some of these choices.
That’s the fun of this exercise, ultimately. But here are five positions where selecting a first-teamer is especially challenging.
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Catcher: Yasmani Grandal vs. J.T. Realmuto
We know how this turned out in the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove honors, as Realmuto ran away with both of them. His Silver Slugger win over Grandal, however, was one of the more questionable selections with regard to that particular award in 2019, as Grandal led all qualified MLB catchers in OPS (.848), wRC+ (121) and OPS+ (119) by a healthy margin. He was also an elite pitch-framer, tied for second in MLB -- trailing only the Padres’ Austin Hedges -- in Runs From Extra Strikes (13).
But Realmuto definitely deserved the Gold Glove, as he was the superior defender overall, with 11 Defensive Runs Saved to Grandal’s 1 DRS. And Realmuto was no slouch offensively, with an .820 OPS, 108 wRC+ and 108 OPS+. He therefore led all catchers in FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement (5.7) and Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (4.4).
So do you go with the better offensive catcher? Or the better total package?
Third base: Alex Bregman vs. Anthony Rendon
Here we go again, pitting an Astro and a National against each other. But this is probably the best example of why the All-MLB format is so fun -- it does not distinguish between leagues. Both of these guys were rightfully MVP finalists in their respective leagues, and now they meet head-on here.
Bregman was second among all MLB position players in fWAR (8.5) and bWAR (8.4), trailing only Mike Trout (who we think is a reasonably safe choice for first-team outfield). Bregman’s 1.015 OPS, 168 wRC+ and 162 OPS+ were all tops among big league third basemen.
What’s the argument for Rendon? Well, he was pretty close to Bregman in all of those offensive categories -- a 1.010 OPS, 154 wRC+ and 153 OPS+. He had one more extra-base hit (81) than Bregman (80) and led all third basemen in batting average (.319) and slugging percentage (.598).
Though Rendon and Bregman are the favorites, it's hard not to mention Nolan Arenado, who won his seventh straight NL Gold Glove Award and finished second in UZR among third basemen (10.3).
Do you go with the extremely well-rounded third baseman who doesn’t seem to have a weakness, or the other extremely well-rounded third baseman who doesn’t seem to have a weakness?
First base: Pete Alonso vs. Freddie Freeman
You don’t have to go outside the NL or even the NL East to find the two best All-MLB options here. And perhaps the Mets’ Alonso, by virtue of becoming the first rookie to lead the Majors outright in homers (53) while breaking Aaron Judge’s previous rookie record of 52, runs away with this like he did the NL Rookie of the Year honor.
Hold on, though, because the Braves’ Freeman did have a 35-point edge in batting average (.295) and a 31-point edge in on-base percentage (.389), along with 74 extra-base hits of his own.
So do you go with the more potent hitter or the more consistent one?
Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts vs. Marcus Semien
Both of these shortstops had a strong argument to be the third-place finisher in the AL MVP voting (it was always a certainty that Trout and Bregman would finish 1-2, in some order). Ultimately, that honor went to Semien, and one would assume the fact that the A’s reached the postseason held some sway there.
Semien had a compelling case with or without the team’s record taken into account. He ranked fifth among MLB position players in fWAR (7.6) and fourth in bWAR (8.1). He had a .285/.369/.522 slash line, with 83 extra-base hits, 92 RBIs, a 137 wRC+ and 138 OPS+, and his 6.7 Ultimate Zone Rating was the best among AL shortstops.
But Boston’s Bogaerts was a touch better in most of the key offensive categories. He had a .309/.384/.555 slash, 85 extra-base hits, 117 RBIs, a 141 wRC+ and a 140 OPS+. However, he did not grade out nearly as well defensively, with a 1.1 UZR and a negative rating on the Defensive Runs Saved scale (minus-21).
So again, do you prefer the better offensive performer or the better total package?
Second base: José Altuve vs. DJ LeMahieu vs. Max Muncy
Had Ketel Marte been listed here, he might have been a slam-dunk selection, but instead he’s rightly in the outfield, where he made the bulk of his starts. Though both LeMahieu and Muncy moved around the infield, the powers that be listed them here. That makes sense, because they both made more starts at second than any other position, but it only complicates our choice for second-sacker.
LeMahieu led the ballot entries at second in fWAR (5.4) and bWAR (6.0) while finishing second among all American Leaguers in batting average (.327). He had a .375 OBP and .518 SLG and was instrumental for the injury riddled Yankees’ claim of the AL East title.
Muncy led all the listed second basemen in homers (35), and he was top three in OPS (.889), wRC+ (134) and OPS+ (133). He was second only to LeMahieu in fWAR (4.8) and bWAR (5.7).
Choosing between those two would be difficult enough, but then, for my money, you have to toss Altuve into the mix after his sensational second half (.995 OPS) that bled into October (.971 OPS and ALCS MVP). For the regular season, Altuve’s .903 OPS and 138 wRC+ are the best among the listed second basemen.
And by the way, this can run deeper, because there is probably a case to be made for the Braves’ Ozzie Albies (4.6 fWAR), too.
So do you prioritize one particular stat over another? Or just pluck one of these names out of a hat and be done with it?
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.