The 10 biggest All-Star surprises

July 9th, 2018

Major League Baseball unveiled the initial 2018 All-Star rosters on Sunday. Just like every season, we have opinions.
If nothing else, we should be reminded of this simple fact: There are so many good players and not enough spots for them. There were 64 spots available to fill on Sunday, yet baseball has 37 pitchers (minimum 20 innings) with an ERA below 2.00, and 15 additional qualified starters striking out more than a man per inning. There are 53 hitters with at least 15 homers and 74 hitters (minimum 200 plate appearances) with an on-base percentage of .350 or more.
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Just to make it even more difficult to choose, every team must have at least one representative. This isn't easy.
It's possible to be an extremely deserving and qualified player and not make the MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard (Tuesday, July 17, at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX). But there are a few who have stronger cases to be annoyed than others, so here are the 10 biggest roster surprises (in no particular order).
They're the top 10 for now, anyway. Due to injuries and unavailable pitchers, some of these guys will end up in Washington, D.C., next week anyway.
, SP, Rays
As you'll notice, the American League pitching staff is unbelievably stacked with stars, and yet this one is hard to explain. Snell has a 2.09 ERA, the best in the AL among qualified starters. It's the second best in the Majors. He's got the fourth-lowest average against of any qualified starter and a Top 10 hard-hit rate, too.
Snell has allowed seven earned runs in his past nine starts. Forget the All-Star Game. He might be focusing on the AL Cy Young Award conversation. But if there is a pitcher who can't participate due to injury (which usually happens), look for Snell to be on the short list of replacements. 
Fellow Rays hurler Chris Archer made his thoughts known on Twitter:

, SP, Dodgers
Stripling didn't begin the year in the Dodgers' rotation, but if Los Angeles makes the playoffs, he may be starting games in October, thanks to a 2.22 ERA and the second-lowest hard-hit rate allowed in baseball at 26.7 percent. There's also the spectacular 103/13 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and if that sounds incredibly good, it is. There have been more than 16,500 seasons in which a pitcher has thrown at least 80 innings dating back to 1901, and Stripling's rate of just less than eight strikeouts for every walk puts him 16th ... of all time. He may be 2018's most important Dodger. 
, 1B/2B/3B, Dodgers
If Stripling is the year's most important Dodger, then it's Muncy who is the team's best story. He may be the sport's best story. We recently dug into how Muncy went from being unemployed to 2018's most surprising slugger, but that was weeks ago, and the most shocking thing is that it's still happening. He's already got 20 homers, and among those with 200 plate appearances, only , J.D. Martinez and have higher slugging percentages than Muncy's .617.
The one strike against Muncy is playing time, as his 244 plate appearances entering Sunday night pales compared to the 400-plus some regulars have. One caveat: He is among the five players vying for the National League's Camping World MLB All-Star Final Vote, so he could still be elected.

, SS, Angels and , SS, Mariners
Here's how deep shortstop is in the AL: , Didi Gregorius and are all great players having strong seasons, and they're not even in the conversation here. Of course was going to make it, because he's the best all-around shortstop in the game right now. Of course Manny Machado would make it, because he's the best slugger, and the only realistic Orioles representative.
That said, Simmons and Segura -- both of whom are AL Final Vote candidates -- are having unbelievable seasons. Simmons is the best defender of his generation, and he's adding value at the plate, hitting .312/.373/.442 with one of the lowest strikeout rates of the 21st century. Segura (.333/.361/.475) is having his third straight outstanding season, with surprising power -- he's out-slugging and Charlie Blackmon. There was never any chance both would make it, but one probaly should have.
, OF, Red Sox
Let's keep this one simple. Benintendi (.293/.379/.515), who is on the AL Final Vote ballot, is outperforming (.248/.333/.425) in each of the three triple-slash numbers, and he's even got 16 steals to Springer's six. It's hard to see the argument against Benintendi here, especially as he's building on a just-OK rookie season to have a true breakout in his sophomore year. Springer was elected by his fellow players, and the guess here is that they were still swayed by his amazing World Series performance.

, OF, Twins
The case for Benintendi goes for fellow Final Vote canadidate Rosario and his .301/.342/.536 slash line as well, for what it's worth. His slugging percentage is in baseball's Top 20, and for all of the things that have gone wrong for Minnesota this year, at least has Rosario delivering on the promise he showed with last year's .292/.331/.558 second half.
, OF, Tigers
Let's make the same argument for Castellanos, who is hitting .301/.352/.518, basically the same as Rosario. While Castellanos is not a strong defender, he would have been a better choice to represent Detroit than the somewhat confusing selection. Jimenez (2.85 ERA, 46 strikeouts in 41 innings) is having a strong season, but not one that stands out in a crowded AL pitching field.
, SP, Mariners
Paxton's 3.49 ERA isn't going to be as sparkling as some of the other names here, but there's more to life than ERA. He's got the fourth-highest strikeout rate among qualified starters, and only four starters have a larger gap between their strikeout rate and their walk rate.
, 1B, Giants
For a time earlier this season, it felt like no hitter was hotter than Belt (.300/.393/.509), who is on track to put up his eighth straight above-average season -- which is to say, he's an above-average hitter every season. It's possible the appendectomy that cost him two weeks hurt him here, but the main issue here is that first base in the NL is just so deep every year. Milwaukee's breakout star Jesus Aguilar didn't make it; and aren't even in the conversation. Belt and Aguillar, however, are both NL Final Vote candidates.
Belt doesn't tend to pile up the homers and RBIs, and that probably hurts him too. However, looking at the advanced Statcast™ quality of contact metrics, he's been a Top-15 hitter.
A ton of relievers with shiny ERAs, but especially , Rockies
Remember those three dozen pitchers with ERAs below 2.00 we mentioned above? There was never going to be room for all of them, or even most of them, yet you can still see why fans of (1.57 ERA), (1.05), (0.86), (1.37), Jared Hughes (1.50) and so on may feel slighted. They're good relievers having good seasons. There's just lots of relievers having good seasons.
That said, the omission of Ottavino stands out as something of a shock -- his 1.77 ERA is backed up by an elite 41 percent strikeout rate; he's legitimately been one of baseball's best pitchers this year. Despite Ottavino's assertion that it's about being a Colorado pitcher, it seems more likely that it's because he missed two weeks due to injury, and that the low-powered Rockies offense somehow had three selections, including the surprising inclusion of Blackmon.
Apologies to: Aguilar, 1B, Brewers; Charlie Morton, SP, Astros; , 2B, A's; , SS, Nationals; , SS, Twins; , 3B, Nationals; , OF, Cubs; , SP, Rockies; Matt Carpenter, IF, Cardinals; , OF, Mets, , OF, D-backs.