Now that the All-Star rosters have been announced and the game is days away, it's time for the new Major League Baseball tradition: the madness of the Final Vote, where the last spot on each league's roster is put up for grabs in a free-for-all marketing campaign of rabid fan base madness. Were this a proper election following proper rules, admitting you've voted for your preferred candidates a dozen times each would get you thrown in jail. In the Final Vote, however, it just means you're a slacker. Below is a helpful guide for fans who are trying to figure out who the beneficiaries of their ballot-box stuffing should be.
Dallas Keuchel, SP, Houston Astros
108.2 IP, 3.06 ERA (133 ERA+), 84K, 27BB, 6 HR
Keuchel isn't the only bright spot on the roster of the otherwise-anemic 2014 Houston Astros -- rookie outfielder George Springer is making an impression (though he's also on pace to set the MLB record for strikeouts in a single season, despite not breaking camp with the club) and Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, so far Houston's lone representative in Minnesota next week, was one Mike Trout tear away from being named American League Player of the Month in June. But Keuchel, who pitched 153.2 replacement-level innings for last-place Houston a year ago, is the most surprising success story on Major League Baseball's least successful team -- and a comforting one considering the setbacks the Astros have suffered recently in their minor league system, with last year's first-round pick Mark Appel generally ineffective in his first year of professional ball and top prospect Carlos Correa out for the remainder of the season with a badly broken leg. Still, Keuchel is overshadowed by his peers in the AL Final Vote. There are certainly reasons to vote for him, especially if you're from Houston ... but he's not the best pick on the ballot.
Corey Kluber, SP, Cleveland Indians
125.2 IP, 2.86 ERA (133 ERA+), 137K, 30BB, 9 HR
Justin Masterson gets all the attention in Cleveland -- for all the wrong reasons, this year -- but the true anchor of the Indians' rotation is Corey Kluber. While his adjusted ERA rates are the same as Keuchel's, he's struck out 53 more batters and walked only three more than Keuchel in almost 20 more innings pitched. If the Indians are going to sneak into the playoffs as a wild card for the second consecutive year, they'll need to find another reliable starting pitcher somewhere -- internally with a promotion or someone on the roster stepping up or externally through a trade -- and they'll need Kluber to keep on being the guy he's been so far this year. They might even need him to be a little bit better.
Garrett Richards, SP, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
116.1 IP, 2.71 ERA (140 ERA+), 119K, 41BB, 4 HR
Richards might be more deserving of the last spot on the roster than either Keuchel or Kluber, having outperformed both pitchers at keeping runners from crossing the plate and keeping the ball in the ballpark. Richards, like Keuchel, is another sudden success story, and, like Keuchel, he's in his second full season in the majors as a starter for an AL West team. Like Kluber, he's an unexpected anchor for his team's rotation, made even more so following Jered Weaver's early departure in his Monday night start. Weaver was the only other Angels starter pitching at or above league-average. Still, while there's no sense not crediting his pitching for a sizable portion of the Angels' success this year, "keeping the ball in the ballpark" is only so much of a skill; Richards is not the sort of pitcher who can be counted on to sustain a 0.3 HR/9 indefinitely. That said, he'd be far from a poor choice should the votes favor him.
Rick Porcello, SP, Detroit Tigers
112.1 IP, 3.53 ERA (118 ERA+), 64K, 25BB, 11 HR
As far as the popularity contest aspect of this affair goes, it'll be hard for anyone in the AL Final Vote to trump Detroit starter Porcello. Porcello has one of the more vocal, active fan bases in the country behind him and also threw back-to-back complete game shutouts against the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics to bridge June and July. The Rangers are an understandable mess this year due to injuries, but the Oakland Athletics are the best team in baseball, and Detroit fans have been starving to see Porcello unlock his potential ever since the Tigers rushed him to the majors in 2009. Unfortunately, his July 6 start against the Tampa Bay Rays was a reminder Porcello, a pitcher who gets by on inducing bad contact grounders, can still be frustratingly inconsistent. He might win by the sheer outpouring of fan support, but the pitcher who truly deserves to go to the All-Star Game -- the pitcher who shouldn't have had to even go through this runoff vote to begin with -- is …
Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox
87.1 IP, 2.16 ERA (187 ERA+), 96K, 16BB, 6 HR
Sale's worst career season by adjusted ERA, 140 ERA+ in 2012, matches or exceeds in quality the first half of any pitcher above, all of whom are having career years. Save for a minor elbow setback earlier in the season, so is Sale: He's second in the AL in adjusted ERA to Seattle's Felix Hernandez, and while he hasn't pitched as many innings as the other names on the AL Final Vote ballot, he's got credibility the others don't, thanks to two stellar previous seasons. If Clayton Kershaw can get onto the NL squad as essentially a formality with 87.1 IP, surely there's room on the AL team for Sale.
Casey McGehee, 3B, Miami Marlins
383 PA, .322/.390/.395, .785 OPS (118 OPS+), 53K, 41BB, 1 HR
That's not a typo; in 383 PA, McGehee has only hit one HR. With Giancarlo Stanton squarely entrenched on the NL squad as Miami's sole selected representative, there's little compelling statistical argument to put McGehee on there with him. While his 2014 season is a curiosity worth keeping tabs on -- McGehee is getting close to posting an OBP more than .400 but an OPS less than .800; the last player to do that was a guy by the name of Rickey Henderson in 1994, '96 and '97 -- there's no compelling statistical reason to put him in the game and while his return to MLB after a year in the wilderness in 2013 is commendable, if we're putting someone from this ballot into the All-Star Game for storyline reasons, it's not McGehee.
Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington Nationals
369 PA, .284/.340/.491, .831 OPS (126 OPS+), 60K, 29BB, 13 HR
Rendon probably has the brightest future of any NL Final Vote candidate -- his only real competition is the other Anthony on the ballot, who we'll get to in a minute. While many teams would be happy to have either guy, if asked to choose, I'll take Rendon's positional versatility and talented bat, especially given the kind of offensive numbers coming out of most middle infields the past few years. That said, what the NL team really needs out of this Final Vote is a designated hitter; while Stanton has the bat to carry the position, it'd be a waste to not let him play some right field when manager Mike Matheny is making the traditional mid-game substitutions. Anthony Rendon is a lot of very good things, but given the other options, he's not a great fit for designated hitter.
Justin Upton, LF, Atlanta Braves
342 PA .275/.350/.505, .855 OPS (134 OPS+), 97K, 34BB, 17 HR
Upton, on the other hand, is a great choice for designated hitter -- so long as that choice is between putting him at DH and putting him in left field and so long as that choice isn't complicated by another NL power bat having an even better season at the plate. Upton would certainly be a competent choice here, but in the end this NL Final Vote comes down to a choice between narrative and stats -- and Upton doesn't have the best of either.
Justin Morneau, 1B, Colorado Rockies
335 PA, .315/.347/.514, .861 OPS (126 OPS+), 38K, 15BB, 13 HR
This is where it gets tricky. Whether or not Morneau is the right guy to vote for in the NL Final Vote is a philosophical question -- an emotional question, perhaps -- and not a qualitative one. He doesn't have the stats for it: both Upton and Rendon are better hitters than the 2006 American League MVP, in the first half of this year and probably on through the remainder of Morneau's career. The only player he clearly outclasses is the Marlin's McGehee; the other three candidates are demonstrably more qualified. But in both the first and second drafts of this article, there was a factual mistake I made that I didn't catch even after a couple pretty thorough readovers: It was only just as I prepared to file that I noticed in the header I'd written "Justin Morneau, 1B, Minnesota Twins." Even though I clearly stated I was writing about the National League both above that line and below it, there it sat in defiance of multiple self-editorial passes. You know that canard about how sometimes facts get in the way of truth? This is baseball's version of that. If the All-Star Game for you is about the story of the season, you vote for Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twin to represent the Colorado Rockies and the National League back at Target Field one more time.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
373 PA, .274/.381/.492, .873 OPS (139 OPS+), 68K, 50BB, 18 HR
If, instead, the All-Star Game for you is about fielding the most deserving team as judged by their performance on the field, you go with Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs. I've been lukewarm about Rizzo in the past and will probably continue to be measured regarding his future at least until this time next year because that's just who I am about almost every young player not named Trout, but he's put up an extremely promising first half at the plate and fills the NL squad's need for additional 1B/DH depth. Regardless of how you feel about a player's future, you don't snub him in the All-Star Game because you worry he's not going to finish the year as strong as he started. This year there are other, better reasons not to vote for the best player on the ballot.