Which pitcher should start All-Star Game for AL?

July 4th, 2023

Getting the chance to start the All-Star Game is one of the highest honors a pitcher can receive.

As usual, there are several deserving candidates in both leagues, so we asked five MLB.com writers to pick, draft-style, the aces they’d like to see get the starting assignment this year. (Our panelists were limited to pitchers who were part of the initial All-Star rosters that were unveiled on Sunday, and worthy pitchers battling injuries like and were excluded.)

You can find the results for the National League here. And read on for the American League picks.

All stats are through Sunday’s games.

1. , RHP, Angels
Previous ASG experience: 2 selections (1 app., 1 start)^
^As a pitcher

He's the greatest Sho on Earth. Ohtani is the superstar the All-Star Game needs. The All-Star Game should showcase the amazing things the best baseball players in the world can do, and there's nothing more amazing than Ohtani hitting and pitching in the same game.

Ohtani is the most unique player the sport has ever seen, and he's in the middle of his greatest season yet. Let's run down the numbers, just because you can never over-appreciate Ohtani numbers: a .306 batting average, 31 home runs, 68 RBIs and a 1.060 OPS as a hitter (the latter three of which all lead MLB) … to go with a 7-3 record, a 3.02 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 95 1/3 innings as a pitcher. I can guarantee you this: Whoever starts the All-Star Game on the mound for the NL is not also going to have a shot at a hitting Triple Crown. Ohtani should start the All-Star Game as a two-way player forever.

-- David Adler

2. , LHP, Astros
Previous ASG experience: 1 selection (1 app., 0 starts)

Following the departure of this past offseason, the Astros needed one of their other starters to fill the void at the top of the rotation. Enter Valdez.

The 29-year-old left-hander was already a great big league pitcher. Valdez was an All-Star and finished fifth in AL Cy Young Award voting in 2022, not to mention his integral role in Houston's World Series run (1.44 ERA in four postseason starts). Valdez has, however, taken his game to an entirely different level this season. Among qualifying starting pitchers, the Astros’ ace ranks third with a 2.49 ERA and tied for fourth with 3.2 WAR (via Baseball Reference).

Valdez’s ascension to an ace has been multi-faceted. From a stuff standpoint, his sinker has gained 1.6 mph of velocity since last season and now ranks as one of the top five pitches in the Majors by Run Value. His already-great curveball (40.1% whiff rate) is now complemented by an elite cutter that’s generated a whopping 46.6% whiff rate. From a command standpoint, he’s dropped his walk rate by 2.4 percentage points, one of the largest drops by a starter this year. Put it all together and Valdez has a legitimate argument for starting in the All-Star Game.

-- Brent Maguire

3. , RHP, Rangers
Previous ASG experience: 1 selection (1 app., 0 starts)

In an era of extreme pitcher conservation, Eovaldi has served as an outlier. The 33-year-old has thrown eight-plus innings in four starts this season, most by any MLB pitcher. Consequently, he leads MLB with 112 1/3 innings pitched in 2023, putting him on pace for his first career 200-inning season.

But Eovaldi has provided plenty of quality in addition to his sheer innings quantity. Eovaldi ranks fourth in the AL with 3.1 pitching WAR (per Baseball Reference). He has a career-best 2.64 ERA, which ranks seventh among qualified MLB pitchers, while his 10 wins are tied for second in MLB behind only McClanahan’s 11. His .284 expected wOBA ranks ninth among starting pitchers to face at least 200 batters. And this is about more than just the raw stats: Eovaldi has come up huge for a surprising Texas team that is leading the AL West despite getting only six starts from the injured Jacob deGrom.

In his only prior All-Star appearance, Eovaldi threw a scoreless inning in relief at Coors Field in a 5-2 AL win in 2021. With the career year he’s having, he deserves even more this time around.

-- Cole Jacobson

4. , RHP, Yankees
Previous ASG experience: 5 selections (1 app., 0 starts)

With McClanahan on the injured list and Valdez nursing an ankle injury, Cole is a natural choice to get the nod for his first career All-Star start. The right-hander continues to be a dependable ace for the Yankees, having thrown 109 2/3 innings so far in 2023, fewer than three innings short of Eovaldi for the AL lead. And Cole leads all AL pitchers (and is tied for the MLB lead) with 3.4 WAR (per Baseball Reference).

Cole told reporters after Sunday’s game, in which he gave up two runs over six innings against the Cardinals, that he really wants to start the All-Star Game this year, but knows he has stiff competition with Eovaldi and, of course, Ohtani, among others. “Hey, if I don’t like it, I’ve got to pitch a little bit better,” Cole said.

Well, he’s pitched well enough to earn the start in Seattle for this year’s Midsummer Classic. And while Ohtani and perhaps some others might be more popular choices, Cole is comparable to any of those candidates.

-- Manny Randhawa

5. , RHP, Mariners
Previous ASG experience: 2 selections (2 app., 0 starts)

Who doesn't love a hometown hero getting the ball to start the All-Star Game? (Fenway Park in 1999), (Nationals Park in 2018) and  (Dodger Stadium in 2022) are some of the aces we’ve seen receive this honor in the past, and Castillo -- Seattle’s lone All-Star this year -- would be a fine choice to get the starting nod at T-Mobile Park in 2023.

On top of the sentimental factor, the right-hander has the credentials, having recorded a 3.14 ERA with 114 strikeouts over 100 1/3 innings this season. It would also be fun to watch him challenge the top of the NL All-Star lineup with his outstanding four-seam fastball, a pitch that is generating a ridiculous 36.8% whiff rate -- the highest among starters (min. 150 swings on four-seamers) by a sizable margin.

-- Thomas Harrigan