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If you were a time traveler and told me before the season that James McCann would have the best All-Star case among White Sox position players in mid-June, I might have believed you, but I’d demand to know what rare disease unearthed from the melting tundra consumed the rest of the clubhouse. If you added that Lucas Giolito is making a run at starting the All-Star Game, I’d then ask if the entire country was quarantined.
McCann is hitting .329/.376/.487 through 44 games, and while he’s been coming back down to Earth, the regression hasn’t been gentle enough to avoid rousing him from his dream season:
- April: .357/.400/.536
- May: .338/.372/.514
- June: .250/.344/.321
A lot of that difference is randomness. McCann’s having better at-bats in terms of walks and strikeouts over his first eight games this month, but his BABIP is only .318, which is a marked decline from the .432 clip he ran over April and May. He’s still hitting the ball relatively hard, and if a couple balls that died on the warning track had a few feet more carry, his June numbers would be basically in line with his other months.
Even with the more ordinary fortune, McCann is running second in All-Star Game voting among American League catchers, and as long as regression doesn’t hammer him into the ground over the next couple of weeks, it seems as though he’ll continue to own a case.
I like following All-Star Game voting in the abstract, because it’s kinda fun to see how mainstays are judged against the random breakout seasons. My interest in actually voting for the All-Star Game has waned the more involved it gets, and the further it evolves away from punching a ballot with pen between innings at a game.
For the first time, Major League Baseball is using the first round of voting as a primary round, which will then result in a run-off “election” for the top three after June 21. That means twice the voting, in hopes that fans care twice as much, not half.
McCann and Jose Abreu are the only White Sox who are in the top three at their position at the first update issued by the league. McCann and Yoan Moncada are the players who have the best cases for top-three status. Tim Anderson is just outside it all, and he’d be the player I’d most like to see in a head-to-head-to-head vote, because the White Sox communications department will have the most material with which to launch an emotional campaign.
It’s a step forward in the rebuild that the White Sox have legitimate All-Star cases to discuss, rather than being an exercise in determining which player fulfills the one-per-team obligation. Four Sox position players have a shot, and let’s run through them in order of closest to furthest away.
Catcher: James McCann
- Hitting: .329/.376/.487
- Current position: Second
- Rank in fWAR: Third
After a down year for catchers across baseball, McCann is part of a resurgent class of backstops who are hitting again. He’s in the cluster of catchers who can be considered among the best in the American League, although as long as Gary Sanchez is healthy, back with his bat and improved with the glove, it’s hard to see anybody overtaking him for the starting spot.
Top three is more within McCann’s grasp. He’s probably behind Mitch Garver, who is crushing McCann in the power categories despite 50 fewer plate appearances. McCann’s résumé holds up otherwise. He leads catchers in hitting, he’s tied for fifth in wRC+, and he’s having a decent year behind the plate as well. (FanGraphs’ value rankings also line up with Baseball Prospectus’ assessments, more or less.)
The competition doesn’t have him beat in terms of name recognition, either. Behind Garver and Sanchez, it’s Jason Castro, Robinson Chirinos, Pedro Severino and Omar Narvaez. Severino and Narvaez could be threats if they are their team’s lone representative, but it’s fair to say he’s on equal footing with the rest of the league.
First base: Jose Abreu
- Hitting: .246/.293/.496
- Current position: Third
- Rank in fWAR: T-16th
Abreu’s having a down year, but he’s got two of the three Triple Crown numbers going for him. He leads the crop with 52 RBIs (Edwin Encarnacion is second with 49), and his 16 homers is tied for second among first basemen with Voit (Encarnacion leads the way with 21).
Look any further, and Abreu’s having problems. The .246 average has dragged his OBP below .300, and when paired with bad defense, he’s lagging behind the rest of the league. He’s probably the most popular first baseman in terms of national name recognition, but it’s hard to make the case with a .293 OBP at an offensive position.
Voit is the leading vote-getter, and his case is more than the Yankee boost. Cron is among the many worthy Twins, while Encarnacion could be the Mariners’ lone rep. However, the best first baseman season appears to be coming from Carlos Santana, who’s hitting .286/.406/.530. He’s the only first baseman with an OBP that starts with a “4.”
Shortstop: Tim Anderson
- Hitting: .314/.344/.480
- Current position: Fourth
- Rank in fWAR: Ninth
Had Anderson maintained more of his scorching April over the last month and a half, it could be a different conversation. Alas, he’s hitting a pedestrian .268/.306/.378 since the start of May, and is just 5-for-8 in stolen bases over these last 36 games. Even after this prolonged regression, Anderson is still boasting a career-best line for himself, but it puts him behind Polanco, Correa, Francisco Lindor and Xander Bogaerts in terms of his offensive contributions, with Torres only trailing slightly. Anderson’s defense is a negative right now due to the league-worst error total.
Anderson still has a shot at the primary, because Correa had one of his ribs broken during a massage, and his unavailability could suppress enthusiasm. If Anderson can sneak in, the White Sox will have plenty of material for an emotional campaign.
Third base: Yoan Moncada
- Hitting: .295/.348/.506
- Current position: Eighth
- Rank in fWAR: Tied for fourth
Finally, here’s a case where a White Sox player should be faring better than he is. Alex Bregman will make the starting vote a moot point for good reason, but one-tenth of a win separates the second spot from the fifth in terms of WAR.
Even if you set aside WAR and value offense more heavily than everything else like a typical voter, Moncada is right there with Hunter Dozier, Matt Chapman and … Tommy La Stella? Really? … for the for the second-best third baseman in the American League.
Yet even with La Stella on the ballot as a second baseman, Moncada is still running well behind. He’s behind the other three third basemen mentioned along with Gio Urshela, Rafael Devers, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marwin Gonzalez.
The good news is that third base has more parity than any other position, at least after Bregman. Fewer than 100,000 votes separates the third from the eighth spot, so Moncada can climb with a surge, even if it’s like a team that’s “only” five games out of the second wild card with five teams in between. If you are a fan of fairness and voting for the All-Star Game, Moncada probably deserves your support more than anybody else, assuming his back muscles support him as well.