The most deserving starters based on a full season’s worth of stats

The All-Star Game is a little later than usual this year, which puts our annual exercise of picking the most deserving players for the July 19 Midsummer Classic slightly ahead of the curve.

But our selection process is a little different because we don’t just use stats from the first three months of this season. It’s much more instructive to see which players have proved themselves over a full year’s worth of games.

With some assistance from BaseballHQ.com, here are the statistical leaders at each position over the second half of last season and the first half of this one – from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022. (Minimum 20 games at a position in either 2021 or 2022 to qualify.)

Our picks for AL and NL starters are in bold.

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Catcher: Willson Contreras or JT Realmuto in NL?

Even though he’s battled a thumb injury for a good chunk of this season and could be sidelined until SeptemberSalvador Perez of the Royals had such an amazing 2021 that no other American League catcher can come close to matching his 40 home runs, 76 runs scored and 107 RBI over the past full season.

The Royals' Salvador Perez tied for the major league lead with 48 home runs last season.

The Royals’ Salvador Perez tied for the major league lead with 48 home runs last season.

However, Toronto’s Alejandro Kirk – who leads all AL catchers with a .293 average and is second with 51 runs scored – could threaten Perez’s crown next year.

The NL is a three-man battle with the Cubs’ Willson Contreras edging out JT Realmuto and Will Smith. Contreras has the advantage in batting average (.267), while Smith tops NL catchers in homers (27) and RBI (85). Realmuto leads the league with 74 runs and laps the field with 19 stolen bases.

However, it’s Contreras’ consistency – he ranks among the top five catchers overall in all five of the major fantasy categories – that gives him the nod.

First base: Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman, Pete Alonso all worthy

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. isn’t quite on pace to repeat last year’s amazing numbers, but he’s still packing plenty of punch at the plate. The Blue Jays star leads AL first basemen with 40 home runs and 101 runs scored over the past full season – and his 91 RBI rank second to Jose Abreu’s 98.

Perhaps the toughest call of all is in the NL, where three superstars have all produced at an elite level.

Player A: .270, 46 HR, 123 RBI, 93 R

Player F: .321, 23 HR, 86 RBI, 117 R

Player G: .338, 39 HR, 122 RBI, 117 R

As one might expect two-time defending All-Star Home Run Derby champion Pete Alonso leads the league with 46 homers. No one – at any position in either league – has scored more runs than Freddie Freeman since last July 1.

But Paul Goldschmidt has the majors highest overall batting average, is right behind Alonso in RBI and is tied with Freeman for the most runs. At age 34, Goldschmidt may be having the best season of his career.

One other note: Don’t forget about the Rockies’ C.J. Cron, who ranks seventh at the position in batting average (.298), fourth in homers (34), third in RBI (117) and eighth in runs scored (84).

First baseman Paul Goldschmidt and second baseman Tommy Edman have helped make the St. Louis Cardinals one of MLB's top offenses this season.

First baseman Paul Goldschmidt and second baseman Tommy Edman have helped make the St. Louis Cardinals one of MLB’s top offenses this season.

Second base: Tommy Edman’s speed or Ozzie Albies’ power?

Second base has a number of players who can move to other spots around the diamond. Taking that into consideration, Jorge Polanco is the best fit in the AL. He’s the only one at the position in either league with over 100 RBI over the past calendar year, and he’s just two home runs behind Marcus Semien’s major league-leading 34.

Semien had an even larger lead over Polanco in stolen bases (17 vs. 8) and runs (96 vs. 82), but hitting under .200 for the first two months of this season resulted in Polanco’s decisive 28-point edge in batting average – .267 to .239.

The NL spot comes down to whether you prefer more speed or pop at the keystone. Tommy Edman was the only second baseman to score more than 100 runs and steal more than 30 bases (108 and 35 to be exact).

Ozzie Albies hit more homers (23), to go with 83 RBI and 88 runs, but his .250 batting average was 18 points below Edman’s.

Shortstop: Bo Bichette, Trea Turner remain elite

Bo Bichette isn’t quite hitting for average the way he did last season, but he’s doing everything else and piling up the counting stats. The Blue Jays standout ranks among the top eight shortstops in four of our five categories – with 26 homers, 90 RBI, 18 stolen bases and an AL-leading 97 runs scored over the past full season.

Trea Turner was the consensus No. 1 overall fantasy pick entering this season because he does everything exceptionally well. He ranks in the top three at the position in average (.321), runs (98), RBI (95) and steals (29). And his 25 home runs are only three behind NL leader Willy Adames.

Dansby Swanson is a worthwhile runner-up, with 27 homers, 97 RBI and 93 runs, but he can’t match Turner in average or steals.

Jose Ramirez is the only player in the majors to have at least 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases over the past calendar year.

Jose Ramirez is the only player in the majors to have at least 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases over the past calendar year.

Third base: Jose Ramirez, Manny Machado show all-around excellence

When it comes to combining elite power and speed, no one does it better than the Guardians’ Jose Ramirez. Let’s count the ways: He’s the only player in the majors with at least 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases over the past full season. He also leads all third basemen with 116 RBI over that span and is tied with Rafael Devers for the most runs with 105.

Devers does have a slight edge in homers (36 vs. 34) and his .302 average is 20 points higher than Ramirez’s, but the huge difference in steals makes it no contest.

There’s one other third baseman to reach triple digits in both runs and RBI: Manny Machado of the Padres. He also hit .310 to lead the NL at the position, ranked fourth with 28 home runs and chipped in 11 steals. No one else in the league has such a well-rounded skill set at the hot corner.

However, Austin Riley of the Braves isn’t too far behind. He led all third basemen with 38 homers and topped the NL with 113 RBI – in addition to hitting .292 with 92 runs scored.

Outfielders Yordan Alvarez, left, and Kyle Tucker give the Astros a devastating 1-2 punch in their lineup.

Outfielders Yordan Alvarez, left, and Kyle Tucker give the Astros a devastating 1-2 punch in their lineup.

Outfield: Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper lead the way

There are a couple of no-brainers in the AL outfield in Aaron Judge (MLB-leading 50 home runs, plus 107 runs and 115 RBI) and Yordan Alvarez (.285, 43 HR, 92 runs, 110 RBI). The third spot, meanwhile, is almost a dead heat with Kyle Tucker getting the nod over Teoscar Hernandez.

With nearly identical numbers in home runs and RBI, Tucker’s .289 batting average and 23 stolen bases were just enough to outweigh Hernandez’s .282 and 10 (even though Hernandez scored 15 more runs).

Bryce Harper topped all MLB outfielders with a .327 average and 111 runs, while also leading the NL with 37 home runs and 109 RBI over the past calendar year. He’s reunited with former teammate Juan Soto, who’s second in the league to Harper in three categories with 109 runs, 34 homers and 91 RBI.

The third outfield spot goes to Starling Marte, who spent most of last season’s second half racking up stolen bases in Oakland before returning to the NL with the Mets. His 43 total steals over the past calendar year are the most in the majors. In addition, he hit a combined .297 with 102 runs scored – good for top-five spots in both categories.

What about Shohei Ohtani? He played just seven games in the outfield last year, but if he qualified there, his 35 homers would rank fifth at the position. He also had 23 steals and 94 runs, both of which would put him in the top 10. On the mound, Ohtani came in 11th in ERA and fourth in WHIP.

So if we’re using stats to pick All-Stars, he has to be on the team.

Pitcher: Youngsters Alek Manoah, Shane McClanahan emerge

There seems to be a changing of the guard among AL starting pitchers. Second-year standouts Alek Manoah of Toronto and Shane McClanahan of Tampa Bay dominate the stat sheet over the past full season – with Manoah posting a stellar 2.60 ERA, leading the league with 17 wins and ranking second to Ohtani with a 0.99 WHIP. McClanahan had an AL-best 2.30 ERA to go along with a 1.03 WHIP, 15 wins and 203 strikeouts.

Reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray hangs on for the league’s third starter spot. He ranks second in the majors with 240 strikeouts, to go along with 13 wins, a 3.04 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. Honorable mention to Dylan Cease of the White Sox, who led everyone with 244 whiffs in just 165 innings (13.3 K/9).

In the NL, Corbin Burnes hasn’t slowed down since winning his league’s Cy Young award. The Brewers ace is among the top five in the majors in ERA (2.38), WHIP (0.94) and strikeouts (an NL-leading 238).

The Dodgers’ Julio Urias (17 wins, 2.28 ERA, 0.99 WHIP) and the Braves’ Max Fried (16 wins, 2.55 ERA, 1.00 WHIP) have almost identical stats – though Fried has a slight edge in strikeouts. Interestingly, the best ERA in the majors belonged to another Dodger, Tony Gonsolin, who just missed the cut despite his 2.24 mark and 13 wins – 10 of which have come in 2022.

As for the closers, five American Leaguers have at least 30 saves over the past full season, but no one can touch Emmanuel Clase. And we conclude our list with the MLB leader in saves, Josh Hader, who racked up 38 of them, to go along with a sparkling 1.60 ERA.

Contributing: Matt Cederholm, BaseballHQ.com. 

Check out more July-to-June stats and follow Gardner on Twitter @SteveAGardner

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB All-Star Game: Most deserving starters based on full-season stats

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