KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Royals aren’t one of those Major-League clubs that gets a "quota" pick to the All-Star Game anymore. No more does local interest start and end after a perfunctory wave of the cap during pregame introductions at the Mid-Summer Classic.
The American League is in it to win it — and that means adding Royals to the cause. Last summer, Salvador Perez was the first Royals catcher to make the squad since 1980, and has a good shot to join Darrell Porter as the only Kansas City backstops to be named to multiple teams. Left fielder Alex Gordon and relief ace Greg Holland were first-time picks in 2013 who’ve remained at the top of the their respective positions.
That said, because of roster quotas, there are too many worthy players for too few spots to fill. Holland is a saves machine, again. Jason Vargas is off to one of the best starts of his career. James Shields is James Shields. As to which candidates are the MOST deserving, though, it’s a hell of a race …
THE THREE ROYALS WITH THE BEST CASE FOR A 2014 ALL-STAR BERTH
Just call Davis "The Bridge" — the steel link between situational/middle relief and Holland in the ninth. Until a June 25 loss to the Dodgers, Davis had recorded 20 straight scoreless appearances and racked up a streak of 22 1/3 scoreless innings. He’s posted a Left-On-Base Percentage of 84.9, according to FanGraphs.com — a league average is roughly 72 percent, and anything above 80 percent is excellent — as of Monday morning, with a wicked WHIP ratio of 0.87. In the American League, only the Yankees’ Dellin Betances (1.33 ERA; 10 holds; 0.74 WHIP) has been nastier in non-closing relief work.
The Yankees’ Derek Jeter is almost certainly going to get the sympathy-slash-big-market vote to start at short, but the crown for best in the circuit has actually been a five-man fight between the Angels’ Erick Aybar (Monday WAR: 2.5), Escobar, the White Sox’s Alexei Ramirez (1.6), the Blue Jays’ Jose Reyes (1.5) and the Orioles’ J.J. Hardy (1.4). In the first half, Escobar has put together the best combination of defensive runs saved (3.9, according to FanGraphs), batting average and speed (weighted Stolen Base runs: 2.6, tops among A.L. shortstops), and his OPS is actually the best in the Royals’ starting infield right now.
:02 … SAL PEREZ, C (.284 AVG.; 9 HR; .776 OPS; FANGRAPHS WAR: 2.5)
The beat goes on: Big Sal opened the week first among Junior-Circuit catchers in defensive Wins Above Replacement (1.2), second in assists (38), third in catcher ERA (3.31) and fourth in caught-stealing percentage (33.3). FanGraphs.com tracks "Stolen Base Runs Saved," or runs a catcher "saved" his team either from throwing out a runner or preventing a runner from attempting a steal, and Perez ended last week second in the AL with three "rSB," or "Stolen Base Runs Saved," behind the Rangers’ Robinson Chirinos (four).
FanGraphs.com rates Big Sal as the top defensive catcher in baseball right now (8.3), and among qualified backstops, Perez is the only catcher that site rated with at least a 6.0 rating in terms of offensive runs produced above average (5.4 in Sal’s case) and defensive runs saved above average (8.3). Point of comparison: St. Louis’ Yadier Molina graded out Sunday with an 8.1 defensively but just a 1.7 on the offensive end.
At 30, the former first-round pick out of Nebraska has come into his own as the best overall left fielder in the American League — and one of the best five-tool threats in all of baseball. At the start of the week, Gordon was tied for seventh in the AL in outfield assists (five), which is even more remarkable when you consider that any scout worth his mustard would put the words DON’T RUN ON GORDON in very, very large letters fairly high up in any respectable report.
But run they do, at their own risk. Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes gets the ink and the highlight time, but as of Sunday night, Gordon was tied with the Cuban star in terms of runs prevented by an outfielder’s arm (or "rARM") — each with seven, tops in Major League Baseball — as calculated by FanGraphs.com. Since the start of the 2013 season, Gordon’s arm has "saved" 13 runs, a number among Major-League outfielders bettered only by Toronto’s Jose Bautista (14) over that same span.
The issue for "Gordo" isn’t merit — it’s a position logjam; the All-Star outfield is usually a pretty crowded place. But if manager John Farrell is looking for a "closer" at one of his corner outfielder spots, it’s hard to imagine a better pick than No. 4.