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Rays Roundtable: All-Star Edition

Wherein the staff of DRB helps you with your All-Star ballots

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Athletics John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: Jim Turvey usually hosts these round tables, but he’s got a wedding this weekend. So we’ve all gathered around nomo’s virtual hub instead for a beer as we chat about the most important topics of the day.

All-Star balloting went live Friday, June 1st and continues through midnight, July 5th.

Just like every year, there are a lot of Rays on the ballot (one at every position!) but ballot access has never been the issue. Getting the votes has been the problem. In twenty years of Rays baseball, you can count the number of Rays to make the team via fan voting on one hand. (According to DRB historian, these are Jose Canseco, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria and Corey Dickerson).

But as the Kansas City Royals showed a few years ago, you don’t need to be a big market to get players into the Midsummer Classic. What you need are motivated nerds with time on their hands. Does that sound like anyone you know?

So peruse our suggestions below, or add your own in the comments. But whatever do, get out there and vote! Vote early, and vote often.

We’ll get to the Turv first so he can hustle off to that wedding.

Jim Turvey’s picks

Wilson Ramos

A year after making his midseason debut with the Rays, Wilson Ramos has established himself as the offensive juggernaut the Rays had hoped for when they signed him after the 2016 season.

Ramos played in just 64 games in 2017, missing the first half of the season while recovering from a torn ACL. He slashed .260/.290/.447 over the latter half of 2017, a respectable performance (98 OPS+), but not quite what the Rays had in mind when they signed him.

So far, in 2018, he has been what they dreamed of and more. Ramos is slashing .313/.360/.482 this season, good for a 133 wRC+ and 1.0 WAR (both B-Ref and FanGraphs versions).

Among American League catchers, only Gary Sanchez has been better this season, and Ramos would be the perfect fit as the Junior Circuit’s backup backstop at the 2018 All-Star Game. The Buffalo deserves some love in the nation’s capital this year.

Blake Snell

Many times in life it is easy to get overly excited about a certain possibility. Excited to the point where the reality can never meet the expectations. One of the best scenes in movie history deals with this exact phenomenon:

However, in a rare reversal of reality somehow exceeding expectations, Blake Snell has been out of his mind in 2018. Among American League starters, Snell ranks sixth in ERA (2.56), 10th in rWAR (1.8), 11th in K/9, 12th in FIP (3.42), 13th in xFIP (3.53), 14th in fWAR (1.4), 15th in IP (70.1), and tied for third in wins (¯\_(ツ)_/¯).

He has allowed more than two runs in a start only twice this season, and eight of his 12 starts have been of the Quality Start variety this season. He’s averaging nearly six innings a start for those who care about such things, and his arrival on the scene as a breakout young ace of the Rays rotation has him more than deserving of a spot at the Midsummer Classic this season.

Ian Malinowski’s picks:

Daniel Robertson

“The next Ben Zobrist” has to be one of the most overused phrases in baseball. There a just way fewer Ben Zobrists than there are guys who get compared to Ben Zobrist. Most guys who are asked to defend multiple positions don’t do so at an elite level. And almost none of the so-called super-utility stars actually hit like Ben Zobrist did. For instance, Marwin Gonzalez, who in 2017 staked the best claim in years to the title of Next Ben Zobrist, is currently hitting .217/.291/.321, for a 72 wRC+.

But the guy who literally replaced Ben Zobrist on the Rays may have a claim as well. For All-Star voting he’s listed as a shortstop, and I think we all know he ranks behind Manny Machado, Francisco Lindor, and Andrelton Simmons, as well as possibly others — there are some really good shortstops in the American League. But in 2018 he’s only played 154 innings at shortstop, while chipping in 127 at second base, 87 at third base, two at first base, and one on the pitching mound (0.00 ERA). All of them have been good.

Among shortstops, his 139 wRC+ rates fourth. Among second basemen he’s first, just ahead of Jose Altuve. Among qualified third basemen it would rank third. Among qualified first basemen it would rank first. Among pitchers, he’s behind Shohei Ohtani at the plate, but his ERA is better.

And Robertson is getting it done with a very Zobrist-like approach. Over the offseason he reworked his swing, and now swings at fewer pitches (third fewest in the league) while doing more with he pitches he does swing at, raising both his walk rate (to 17%!) and his power (to a .178 ISO).

Maybe starting shortstop for the American League is a hard sell, but Ben Zobrist showed that there’s room for a player like that on every team, including the All-Star team.

Darby Robinson’s picks

Jose Alvarado

Jose Alvarado last year was a shock. This year, he’s a revelation.

It doesn’t take long to see why Alvarado has been used as the relief ace for the Rays. His stuff is electric! Alvarado brings to the table a one-two punch of heat and break that is absolutely unfair.

Alvarado’s fastball clocks in on average in the upper 90s, with perceived velocity adding a tick up to 98 MPH on Statcast. To put that in proper context, Aroldis Chapman, the modern model for “hard throwing lefty”, has a perceived velocity on his fastball of 99 MPH. Based on pitch values on Fangraphs, Alvarado’s fastball has been even better than Chapman’s this year (4.7 vs 4.0 wFB), and comes in just below Seattle’s breakout closer, Edwin Diaz (4.9 wFB).

Alvarado also brings to the table a wicked Uncle Charlie that often gets confused with a slider, and a slider that can also be confused with a just as vicious 2-seam fastball. Whatever you want to classify his bendy stuff, it’s brutally unfair.

But hey, do you want me to just keep writing about how good his stuff is? Do you really want to know the awful truth? Or do you just want to watch me sock a few dingers? I mean, watch a few filthy gifs?

Alvarado currently ranks 10th in the AL in WPA (win probability added) for all relievers, currently sitting above the likes of Chris Devenski. Middle relievers tend to get overlooked often for guys with “saves,” and there are plenty of worthy candidates in the field this year for the AL. But the All-Star game is about showcasing some of the best performers and the most fun performers, and who wouldn’t want to see Alvarado go 99 with movement inside to Bryce Harper and then break off an upper eighties sweeping curve that ends up in the other batters box by the time the backswing has ended? I know I do.

Nomo’s picks

Joey Wendle

Okay, let’s just get this out of the way first: there is no reasonable world where Joey Wendle is an All-Star. First of all, he doesn’t even have enough plate appearances to qualify among league hitting leaders. But even if you set the bar at 150 PAs instead of the necessary 170 or so he would need to qualify, where he fares best is in the increasingly meaningless batting average stat, sitting at a comfy third place at .295, while his .344 OBP would be sixth and his .416 slugging seventh. Solid, but not exactly overwhelming.

Even in the advanced hitting stats, he doesn’t wow you. He’s seventh among second baseman in wRC+ and wOBA (110 and .330, respectively), and sixth in WAR at 1.2. Heck, he doesn’t even lead the Rays second baseman in those categories; that honor goes to Daniel Robertson.

Of course, some of the players in front of him are suspended (Cano) or spend significant time at other positions (Solarte and the previously mentioned Robertson, for instance). But even discounting those guys, Joey Wendle, while he has certainly been a nice find and a pleasant surprise, is probably not better than the third or fourth best second baseman in the American League this year, behind Altuve (duh), Jed Lowrie, and probably Whit Merrifield. That’s just the awkward truth.

But remember what I said in the intro? Since when has the All-Star game been about getting the best players into the game? And I’m not just talking about Alcides Escobar. Remember when Derek Jeter was voted in as the starter in 2011 despite hitting .270/.330/.353 and fielding like…well, like Derek Jeter? Ballot stuffing for your guys is a time-honored baseball tradition. It’s time Rays fans got on board, and there is no better candidate than Joey “he can hit” Wendle.

First, while he’s no Altuve, Joey actually can hit, as noted above. This would not be Alcides Redux (Alciedux?). Plus, Wendle leads all second baseman with a 6.5 Speed score on Fangraphs, with Statcast listing him at 28.6 ft/sec sprint speed, good for 69th (nice) in all of baseball. Joey can run too.

And as for fielding? Look, if we were just talking glove-first guys, Joey’s an All-Star without even any homer-ism.

Oh, you want numbers? His 7 Defensive Runs Saved and 15.3 UZR/150 lead all qualified second baseman. How’s that?

Also! Name a player who hustles as much as Wendle? On every stinking play?

There can be no argument that Joey Wendle leads all baseball in wGRIT+, and it’s not even close.

So hustle your way over that ballot box, and stuff it full with votes for Joey Wendle, and get that man a ticket to Washington. It’s the right way to vote.

Denard Span

Yes, yes, I know, he’s not a Ray anymore. And he’s not even on the ballot for Seattle. But, come on. Wouldn’t a nice write-in showing for the guy who restored your faith in Rays baseball be pretty cool?

Better than a full page ad in the Times at least.