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Statcast: Top 10 All-Star defensive gems

Elite route efficiency and top speeds shine in highlight plays
MLB.com

At its heart, All-Star voting is a massive popularity contest. Whether it's fans voting for the starters, players voting for reserves or managers filling in around the edges, the only thing that gets you on to an All-Star team is if other people believe you're worthy of it. Certainly, statistics and numbers and metrics inform the selections, but it all comes down to getting the vote, no matter the reasons behind it.

It's difficult to imagine a more effective way of a player getting his name out there in front of the sport in a positive light than to make a stellar highlight-reel play, the kind that gets repeated on every nightly recap show for weeks. So with that in mind, here are 10 of the best catches by players heading to the 2015 All-Star Game presented by T-Mobile. (Note: In the interest of spreading the love, we're limiting this to one per player.)

At its heart, All-Star voting is a massive popularity contest. Whether it's fans voting for the starters, players voting for reserves or managers filling in around the edges, the only thing that gets you on to an All-Star team is if other people believe you're worthy of it. Certainly, statistics and numbers and metrics inform the selections, but it all comes down to getting the vote, no matter the reasons behind it.

It's difficult to imagine a more effective way of a player getting his name out there in front of the sport in a positive light than to make a stellar highlight-reel play, the kind that gets repeated on every nightly recap show for weeks. So with that in mind, here are 10 of the best catches by players heading to the 2015 All-Star Game presented by T-Mobile. (Note: In the interest of spreading the love, we're limiting this to one per player.)

We're going to use some of our new Statcast™ numbers like route efficiency and distance traveled to lend some context, but beyond that, the floor is open for your disagreement. It's a ranked list, after all. Of course you'll have opinions. Isn't that half the fun?

1. Josh Donaldson, June 24 

It's probably not fair to give Donaldson extra credit for making this play (shown above) to keep a perfect game alive, since most players never get that chance late in a game. But who said anything about fair? When you run more than 80 feet -- one of the three longest distances we have Donaldson tracked as covering all year -- to track down a ball against the backdrop of the roof of Tropicana Field, it's pretty cool. When you do it running full speed into the stands, hitting a top speed of 16.1 mph, it's extra cool. When you do it to preserve a perfecto in the eighth? That's the top All-Star play of the year.

Video: TOR@TB: Donaldson leaves his feet to make the catch

2. Jose Altuve, June 28

Video: NYY@HOU: Statcast™ tracks Altuve's nice bobbling catch 

The impressive thing about Altuve's catch isn't the way that he bobbled the ball before hanging onto it, nor is it the way that he fearlessly ran between two far larger teammates in Chris Carter and Domingo Santana. It's that the Astros had the shift on for Alex Rodriguez, so when Collin McHugh released the ball, Altuve was several feet over to the left-field side of second base. That meant that Altuve had to sprint nearly 120 feet to right field to make the play. To put that in context, realize that 120 feet is the distance from home plate to second base, and you realize that what would have been a moderately noticable play had he been starting from his regular spot becomes a memorable standout one.

3. Alex Gordon, April 26  

Video: KC@CWS: Gordon dives into the stands to make the grab

When Gordon ran into the stands of U.S. Cellular Field to rob Micah Johnson, he completely ran over a man and a child wearing matching black No. 4 White Sox jerseys. Gordon is no small man, listed at 220 pounds, and he'd hit a top speed of 18.6 mph running 87 feet to make the play -- running nearly a perfect route, given the 98.9-percent range efficiency. Yet when the fan stood up, he had a huge smile on his face. The fans in the section, overwhelmingly cheering for the home White Sox, offered a standing ovation to a division rival, respecting the play they'd just seen despite the fact that it was against their team. Gordon's visit to the stands might not have had the in-game context of Donaldson's, but it was just as cool.

4. Lorenzo Cain, April 9

Video: CWS@KC: Cain robs LaRoche with a terrific catch

There's absolutely no hyperbole in saying that the 2014 Royals made it to the World Series largely on the strength of their otherworldly outfield defense, which came in second behind the 2009 Mariners for the highest UZR/150 since 2008. A large part of the credit has to go to Cain, who became one of just six outfielders to put up multiple seasons of 20 or more Defensive Runs Saved. Against Adam LaRoche in early April, Cain glided 101 feet and reached a top speed of 20.2 mph to back up Edinson Volquez.

5. Andrew McCutchen, June 18

Video: PIT@CWS: Statcast™ tracks Cutch's amazing catch

We've talked before about how McCutchen's sore knee led to the worst month of his career in April, and that as the knee has seemingly improved, his production has gone right back up with it. It's not all that difficult to wonder if the same thing has helped his outfield play, because he checked all the boxes to back up Gerrit Cole last month. It took McCutchen just a third of a second to get moving, and once he did, his natural skills took over, running 64.5 feet and reaching 19.3 mph to get there.

6. Joc Pederson, June 19 

Video: SF@LAD: Pederson lays out, robs Blanco with nice grab

After years of trying to patch around injuries and fill-ins in center field, the Dodgers finally have a true defensive standout at the position. Pederson may be known mostly for his massive power -- at 93.63 mph, he's fourth in average exit velocity among those with at least 100 plate appearances -- but he's also been a big part of the new and improved up-the-middle Dodgers defense, too. The Giants found that out in June when Gregor Blanco lined out to center. Pederson's route efficiency of 95.9 was a good enough start, but it was really the top speed of 19 mph that made this one a keeper.

7. Bryce Harper, May 23 

Video: PHI@WSH: Harper dives to make a great grab

With all the attention paid to Harper's hitting this year -- and as blasphemous as it sounds, his rate-adjusted stats through a half-season are comparable to several of Babe Ruth's better years -- it's easy to forget that he's proven himself to be quite a capable corner outfielder, too (8 DRS this year). That was unfortunate for Carlos Ruiz, who's had a tough enough year that he didn't need to be the victim of a great Harper play, one with a 98.7 route efficiency and a 19.6 mph top speed.

8. Mike Trout, May 13 

Video: COL@LAA: Trout leaps at the wall to make the catch

What's most remarkable about this Trout jump at the wall to rob what might have been a home run is how unremarkable it looks. No disrespect intended to the reigning best player in baseball, of course, because it's far from an easy play, but he makes it looks like the most routine thing in the world. A route efficiency of 98 percent is in large part to thank for that, because a more circuitous route would have left another outfielder scrambling to get in position. Trout's ability to avoid wasted movement allowed him to be there to keep the ball in the park.

9. Brett Gardner, April 21

Video: MLB Central uses Statcast™ on the Yankees' defense

OK, this is a slight cheat as he isn't an All-Star just yet. That said, Gardner is a Final Vote candidate, and is certainly having an All-Star-caliber season, so we're including him. Early in his career, Gardner was a speedy defensive standout who came with concerns that he might not hit enough to be a starter. Now nearly 32 years old, he's having the best offensive season of his career (.296/.373/.478) and he's still got more than enough life in his legs to travel what seemed like four zip codes -- 78.5 feet, actually -- to flag down this Victor Martinez drive. 

10. A.J. Pollock, April 19

Video: ARI@SF: Pollock lays out to make a terrific grab 

Pollock's grab might not look as spectacular as some of the others, and the 34 feet he traveled to rob Tim Hudson doesn't really stack up against some of the longer distances we've seen. So why is he here? Because this ball just did not give Pollock much of an opportunity to make the catch, coming off the bat at just over 101 mph and sticking in the air for only 2.7 seconds as it sank back to the grass. Pollock had to be just about perfect to get there in time, and he was, with a route efficiency better than 98 percent.

Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) is an analyst for MLB.com.