Real or not? You can't go wrong picking an NL All-Star at first base

ByDavid Schoenfield via ESPN logo
Friday, June 21, 2019

Pete Alonso is a quintessential embodiment of the 2019 major leaguer: He's big, he's strong, he swings hard, and when he connects, the ball travels long distances. The rookie first baseman for the Mets belted his 25th home run in New York's 7-4 loss to the Cubs on Thursday.

That puts Alonso on pace for 53 home runs, which puts three records in his reach: Aaron Judge's rookie record of 52 homers in 2017; Cody Bellinger's National League rookie record of 39, also set in 2017; and the Mets' team record of 41, shared by Todd Hundley and Carlos Beltran.

Alonso's production is impressive given that he's seen the lowest percentage of pitches in the strike zone of any qualified regular this season:

Alonso: 41.2 percent

Josh Bell: 41.4 percent

Christian Yelich: 42.4 percent

Eddie Rosario: 42.5 percent

Javier Baez: 42.5 percent

The leaders in that department usually fall into two categories: Feared sluggers who pitchers work very carefully to, or aggressive swingers like Rosario and Baez, who will chase pitches off the plate. Alonso sort of falls into both categories. His chase rate is slightly above average, although well below what you see from Rosario and Baez. But Alonso has also quickly earned the respect of opposing pitchers and his impressive debut has put him in position to earn an All-Star nod in his first season.

Trouble is: First base in the National League is loaded this year. Look at the numbers for the candidates at the position (WAR is the average of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs, through Wednesday):

Alonso: .276/.364/.631, 25 HR, 59 RBI, 2.9 WAR

Josh Bell: .315/.383/.649, 20 HR, 66 RBI, 2.6 WAR

Freddie Freeman: .315/.403/.606, 21 HR, 55 RBI, 3.0 WAR

Anthony Rizzo: .277/.388/.550, 19 HR, 51 RBI, 2.1 WAR

Max Muncy: .286/.384/.547, 17 HR, 45 RBI, 3.0 WAR

Rhys Hoskins: .264/.392/.506, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 1.6 WAR

Who deserves to start? As always, that question is tied to whether the only criteria should be 2019 performance and how much a player's previous performance -- the "star" in All-Star -- should factor into consideration.

Anyway, it's a deep group and that's with Paul Goldschmidt in the midst of a down season and Joey Votto apparently in permanent decline. From the above six players, we can safely eliminate Rizzo and Hoskins, who are clearly a notch below the others.

Let's make the case for the other four:

Alonso: Leads in home runs and offensive WAR. Has been better than advertised in the field. Has thrived despite a tough home park and lack of support around him in the lineup. Don't hold his rookie status against him: Aaron Judge started in 2017.

Bell: He's been mashing all year (only Joey Gallo has a higher average exit velocity) and leads the NL in RBIs and extra-base hits and trails only Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger in OPS and slugging percentage. So if 2019 offensive numbers are all that matter, Bell is your guy.

Freeman: He leads in WAR and is neck-and-neck with Bell and Alonso in offensive numbers, leading both in OBP. He's a hitting machine, with the second-most balls in play this season of 95-plus mph and on his way to a fourth straight .300 season. While Alonso is a rookie and Bell is having a breakout season, Freeman is the true star here, as he's a three-time All-Star and last year's starter.

Muncy: He's tied with Freeman in WAR as he's proving last year's 35-homer breakout season wasn't a fluke. He's hitting .317/.391/.598 against lefties, showing he's not just a platoon guy. Adds versatility and value with his ability to play second base and third base.

In the end, my personal opinion is that Freeman is the clear choice here. As good as Alonso and Bell have been, they haven't clearly been better than Freeman in 2019. Muncy is a little unique in that his value is boosted by playing other positions.

The tiebreaker is Freeman's star performance throughout his career. He should be the All-Star starter. Alonso and Bell should make it as their team representatives and I'd love to see Muncy make it, but it might be difficult to squeeze him in among the 20 position players.

Dodgers send Bumgarner to early shower: If Madison Bumgarner gets traded, Thursday's start will be his final game against his rivals in a Giants uniform -- assuming he doesn't re-sign with them as a free agent -- as the Dodgers and Giants don't play each other again until September. It would be a game for Bumgarner to forget as the Dodgers knocked him out in the fourth inning after 10 hits and six runs. It was Bumgarner's 35th career start against the Dodgers and easily his worst: Fewest innings, most earned runs and most hits. In fact, it was one of the worst starts of his career:

As he exited with the bases loaded, Dodgers fans gave him a standing ovation -- and serenaded him with a chorus of boos as Dodgers organist Dieter Ruehle played TLC's "Waterfalls." Indeed, Ruehle had a certain theme going throughout the game:

Austin Barnes and Kyle Garlick homered off MadBum and you have to wonder what his trade value will be as his ERA rises to 4.28. Will teams be paying for 2019 Bumgarner or for the hope of acquiring 2014 postseason Bumgarner?

The Dodgers would on hold for a dramatic 9-8 victory -- with Cody Bellinger (and Justin Turner) making the play of the game. The Dodgers led 9-4 entering the ninth, but the Giants would knock out Josh Sborz -- making his major league debut -- and force Dave Roberts to turn to Kenley Jansen. Bellinger moved to first base from the outfield when Jansen entered, but the Dodgers closer gave up a walk and base hit, and it was 9-8 with runners on first and second and no outs.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy then had Tyler Austin bunt. Tyler Austin has never had a sacrifice bunt in the majors. He's had one in the minors in 637 games. Given the situation and Jansen struggling, why give up the out? Anyway, Austin put down a pretty good bunt, but Bellinger was charging hard and made a brave throw to third base. Stephen Vogt may have beaten the ball, but he slid into Turner's foot instead of the bag and was out. Buster Posey then lined out to center and Brandon Belt lined out to right. Whew.

About that Dodgers bullpen ...

Yankees bomb Astros in Bronx showdown: The opener of the four-game series between the AL powers was a slugfest as both teams homered four times and lashed out 12 hits. The difference was all four of Houston's home runs were solo shots while Gleyber Torres hit a three-run homer and Edwin Encarnacion and DJ LeMahieu connected with a runner on. Here are Gary Sanchez and Torres connecting in the fourth inning off Framber Valdez:

Oh, and Judge will be activated Friday. The Yankees apparently cleared roster space by sending down pitcher Nestor Cortes Jr. after Thursday's game, but it's worth noting the Yankees have preferred to carry 13 pitchers and just three bench players given their reliance on innings from the bullpen. With Judge back, the bench would now include outfielders Cameron Maybin, who doubled and walked Thursday and is hitting .308/.386/.496, and Brett Gardner; backup catcher Austin Romine; and whichever infielder doesn't start (Gio Urshela in this game).

Maybin has played well enough to stay on the roster and Urshela also has played well and you need that extra infielder to spell Didi Gregorius. Gardner is on the downside of his career, but is still hitting .234/.317/.444, plus he can fill in for Aaron Hicks in center field.

In theory, seven relievers should be enough, especially given the Yankees have rotated guys throughout the back end of the staff all season. You'd also like to keep Maybin around given the injury histories of Judge and Giancarlo Stanton (although they do have Clint Frazier sitting down in Triple-A if Maybin is eventually squeezed off the roster). It's not a life-and-death call for Brian Cashman, but it does present an interesting roster decision.

Burn! The A's and Rays were tied 1-1 in the ninth inning when the Rays scored three runs off Blake Treinen to take a 4-1 lead. The A's had last ups, however, and with two outs and two on (both walks by Diego Castillo), Marcus Semien singled to make it 4-2. Matt Chapman then did this on a 1-0 slider:

Which gave us this tweet from the A's:

Oh, the A's are now 40-36 and have four in a row. Sound familiar? Last year they were 34-36, won five in a row to climb over .500 and would go 63-29 over their final 92 games. Beware of the A's.

Mets hire 82-year-old pitching coach: The Mets found a scapegoat for their 35-40 start and it wasn't manager Mickey Callaway or Robinson Cano or Noah Syndergaard or Zack Wheeler, but pitching coach Dave Eiland and bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez. The Mets' pitching has certainly been a disappointment, ranking 13th in the NL in ERA. The bullpen has been awful with a 5.30 ERA, but the rotation's 4.38 ERA ranks just ninth with Syndergaard (4.55 ERA) and Wheeler (4.94 ERA) struggling to match last season's performance.

So Eiland -- who has been the pitching coach for two World Series champions (the 2009 Yankees and 2015 Royals) -- and Hernandez got the axe. Phil Regan, 82, has a long career in professional baseball, including 13 years in the majors, a stint as Orioles manager in 1995 and pitching coach for the Mariners, Cubs and Indians. He was the pitching coach for the Class A St. Lucie Mets from 2009 to 2015, but was last a major league coach for the Indians in 1999. He's regarded as a super nice guy and, heck, he was a teammate of Sandy Koufax and in his major league debut in 1960 his third baseman was Eddie Yost, who debuted in 1944.

Still ... umm, he's 82 years old and was last a major league pitching coach 20 years ago. A lot has changed in 20 years! A pitching coach's job these days goes way beyond working on mechanics and pitch grips. Can an 82-year-old coach adapt to all the technology in today's game? The guess is Regan will serve more as spiritual advisor than anything and Ricky Bones, who replaces Hernandez, will handle more of the advanced metrics. (Oddly, Bones was the team's bullpen coach from 2012 to 2018 before being reassigned as the St. Lucie pitching coach this season.)

Anyway, here's hoping Regan can pull off a miracle. As you can guess, however, the cynical scribes were having a field day with this one:

God bless the Mets.