In the spirit of MLB All-Star week we want to take things a step further than Rob Manfred and break down the best players and teams from each division in baseball.
This year in the MLB, interleague play is regional – placing even more weight on the division in which you play.
Looking at overall records in the standings is not always an accurate representation of the strength of the teams in that division. Good teams can beat up against each other and keep the records right around .500 when in reality they are very good.
A better way to look at relative divisional strengths is to compare interdivisional records.
Today we will explore which divisions are strongest when matching up against teams outside of the division and which divisions sport the strongest All-Star lineups.
This is a one-of-a-kind experiment that you will not find anywhere else!
MLB Division vs Division Combat
The AL East and AL West are the only 2 divisions in all of baseball which house 4 teams with winning records.
The AL West dominates the Central – winning 6 out of 10 – and they have a winning record against the East also. Where the AL West teams falter is in interleague play.
This is because the current schedule has teams playing regional interleague games. This means the AL West teams only play interleague games against teams in the NL West … which happens to be the best division in baseball.
The NL West has the 2 best teams in the MLB – Giants and Dodgers – along with the best 3rd-place team in baseball – the San Diego Padres.
The Padres are 6 games back of the division lead but have a good enough record to be leading the NL Central or within just a couple games of all the other division leaders in baseball.
The Padres have a current winning percentage of 57%. The next highest 3rd-place winning percentage in the MLB is the Seattle Mariners at 52.7%. Quite a gap.
With 60% of your interleague games coming against either the Giants, Dodgers, or Padres it is no wonder the AL West teams are struggling.
Interleague play makes up a very small portion of the schedule so AL West teams still have good records overall.
The AL East also features 4 winning teams … and then the Orioles. AL East teams play slightly better than .500 against the AL Central and slightly under .500 against the AL West – essentially breaking even in the American League.
Where the AL East teams really clean up is in interleague play because they get to play the weak NL East.
The New York Yankees were the preseason American League favorites and play in the largest market in America and they are only the second most talked about fourth place team in baseball right now! The Angels get a lot of headlines.
The NL East houses just 1 winning team but it is not uncommon to have a division with a lone winning team by season’s end.
In the shortened 2020 season the Oakland Athletics were the only winning team in the AL West. In 2018, the Cleveland Indians were the only winning team in the AL Central. This phenomenon occurred in 2 separate divisions in 2017.
Because seeing 1 team run away with the division is quite commonplace, we can’t use the someone else has to get hot idea to dismiss the Mets’ chances of winning the NL East. It is entirely possible that no one puts it together and New York holds controls the division wire-to-wire.
The AL Central is the punching bag of the American League with each of the other divisions having winning records against. The Chicago White Sox have separated themselves from the pack and have built the largest division lead in baseball – already up over 2nd-place Cleveland by 8 games in the 3rd week of July.
Amazingly the NL Central owns a record slightly above .500 versus the NL West but this is at the expense of the Rockies and Diamondbacks. This table illustrates the NL Central records against each Western opponent.
MLB Divisional All-Star Lineups
The moment we’ve all been waiting for … the picking of the divisional All-Star lineups. Here is a look behind the curtain at what it takes to make the divisional All-Star team.
WAR is the biggest factor in picking the divisional All-Star lineups with more weight placed on offensive stats just like in the real All-Star voting. Although it’s fun to watch game managing catchers who can shut down the opposing running game or a defensive wizard at shortstop, these are not the types of players who garner headlines and make All-Star teams.
In many cases the decision for each position was very straightforward but in the case of a close race for highest WAR at a position the player with the better offensive stats received the start.
Just like the real All-Star game lineup, the outfield starters are positionless. We did not choose the best left fielder, center fielder, and right fielder but instead the 3best outfielders overall.
The designated hitter for each division is not an actual designated hitter for his team. The only case where it happened this way was Shohei Ohtani in the AL West.
The DH spot is more of a utility spot like in fantasy baseball leagues. We chose the best remaining hitter for DH who did not earn a start at a position.
I took the managerial liberty of rearranging a few of the positions to create a more realistic game-like lineup.
For example, even though Whit Merrifield plays primarily at second base he can play a little bit of outfield and so I put him in the outfield and Moncada at second base – moving Akil Baddoo to designated hitter which would be a much better on-field lineup than having Merrifield at second, Baddoo in the outfield, and forcing Moncada – a good fielder – to hit only.
We decided that 3 starting pitchers was the right number for this type of experiment. WAR was neglected for pitchers because not everyone agrees with how pitchers are assessed. We used ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts per nine.
AL East All-Star Team
SP1 Gerrit Cole NYY – 2.68 ERA – 11.61 K/9
SP2 Tyler Glasnow TB – 2.66 ERA – 12.58 K/9
SP3 Nate Eovaldi BOS – 3.66 ERA – 8.62 K/9
C Gary Sanchez NYY – 1.3 WAR
1B Vladimir Guerrero TOR – 4.6 WAR
2B Marcus Semien TOR – 3.9 WAR
3B Rafael Devers BOS – 3.5 WAR
SS Xander Bogaerts BOS – 3.9 WAR
OF Cedric Mullins BAL – 3.8 WAR
OF Aaron Judge NYY – 3.1 WAR
OF Austin Meadows TB – 1.7 WAR
DH Bo Bichette TOR – 2.6 WAR
By cumulative WAR the AL East lineup is the most formidable divisional All-Star team in 2021.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is weighing in at a whopping 4.6 WAR already at the All-Star break – which leads all Major League hitters. Guerrero is joined by several players in the high 3s – Marcus Simeon, Xander Bogaerts, and Cedric Mullins.
The AL East is a very deep division and their All-Star lineup reflects that – sporting players from each of the 5 teams.
Rays outfielder Austin Meadows has a relatively low WAR of just 1.7 but this is because he grades out negatively defensively. With a line of .240/16/63 Meadows has a 9.8 Off on the season.
AL Central All-Star Team
SP1 Carlos Rodon CWS – 2.31 ERA – 13.05 K/9
SP2 Shane Bieber CLE – 3.28 ERA – 12.90 K/9
SP3 Lance Lynn CWS – 1.99 ERA – 10.42 K/9
C Yasmani Grandal CWS – 1.9 WAR
1B Carlos Santana KC – 1.5 WAR
2B Yoan Moncada CWS – 2.8 WAR
3B Jose Ramirez CLE – 3.0 WAR
SS Tim Anderson CWS – 2.4 WAR
OF Byron Buxton MIN – 2.7 WAR
OF Whit Merrifield KC – 1.9 WAR
OF Luis Robert CWS – 1.0 WAR
DH Akil Baddoo DET – 1.3 WAR
The AL Central is not only the punching bag of the league but the sports’ worst All-Star team.
First base is supposed to be a big power position and yet Carlos Santana is the weakest starting first baseman of any division.
Santana’s Off is good on the season (6.9) but poor defense of ratings way down his WAR and leave him in the little ones.
Tigers rookie Akil Baddoo has played the entire season – mostly in centerfield – for the Tigers and has compiled a WAR of just 1.9. This is a good season, but it’s pretty weak for a divisional All-Star starter.
Luis Robert has the lowest WAR of any player in a divisional All-Star lineup (1.0), but he has an excuse. Robert has played just 25 games in 2021 due to injuries. Multiply Robert’s production by 3 and his stats look very formidable. Even if we add 2 extra wins to the AL Central cumulative WAR, they are still in last place by a wide margin.
AL West All-Star Team
SP1 Sean Manaea OAK – 3.19 ERA – 9.32 K/9
SP2 Chris Bassitt OAK – 3.28 ERA – 9.00 K/9
SP3 Kyle Gibson TEX – 2.29 ERA – 7.76 K/9
C Sean Murphy OAK – 2.5 WAR
1B Matt Olson OAK – 3.2 WAR
2B Jose Altuve HOU – 3.2 WAR
3B Matt Chapman OAK – 2.0 WAR
SS Carlos Correa HOU – 3.8 WAR
OF Mike Trout LAA – 2.3 WAR
OF Mark Canha OAK – 2.3 WAR
OF Joey Gallo TEX – 3.5 WAR
DH Shohei Ohtanni LAA – 4.0 WAR
The AL West boasts a very strong starting lineup – right behind the AL east and NL West in cumulative WAR from their hitters.
Shohei Ohtani leads the division in WAR with his bat at 4.0. This does not include the production he adds on the mound.
Ohtani has the 2nd-highest WAR in the American League behind Vladimir Guerrero. Joey Gallo is 2nd in the division with a 3.5 WAR.
Mike Trout’s 2.3 WAR is more impressive than it looks on paper because the star has played only 36 games this season due to injuries and has still posted a line of .333/8/18.
NL East All-Star Team
SP1 Jacob deGrom NYM – 1.08 ERA – 14.28 K/9
SP2 Zack Wheeler PHI – 2.26 ERA – 10.91 K/9
SP3 Max Scherzer WSH – 2.66 ERA – 12.31 K/9
C JT Realmuto PHI – 2.5 WAR
1B Freddie Freeman ATL – 2.2 WAR
2B Ozzie Albies ATL – 2.6 WAR
3B Austin Riley ATL – 1.3 WAR
SS Trea Turner WSH – 3.9 WAR
OF Ronald Acuna ATL – 4.4 WAR
OF Starling Marte MIA – 2.5 WAR
OF Juan Soto WSH – 2.3 WAR
DH Kyle Schwarber WSH – 1.8 WAR
The NL East starting lineup cannot compare to that of the NL West but the NL East brags the best 1-2-3 punch on the mound in the entire MLB.
Jacob deGrom is on pace for a record-setting season and would easily be the number 1 starter on any divisional All-Star team in any season (not just 2021).
The division’s 2nd starter Zack Wheeler is sporting an ERA in the low 2s with good strikeout numbers while the 3rd starter actually started the MLB All-Star game for the National League – Max Scherzer. Scherzer is 1 of just 6 pitchers all time to start 4 All-Star games. The other 5 are all in the Hall of Fame which bodes well for Scherzer‘s chances of getting into Cooperstown.
NL Central All-Star Team
SP1 Corbin Burnes MIL – 2.36 ERA – 13.14 K/9
SP2 Brandon Woodruff MIL – 2.06 ERA – 10.24 K/9
SP3 Freddy Peralta MIL – 2.39 ERA – 12.40 K/9
C Omar Narvaez MIL – 3.0 WAR
1B Paul Goldschmidt STL – 1.7 WAR
2B Adam Frazier PIT – 2.9 WAR
3B Nolan Arenado STL – 2.6 WAR
SS Javier Baez CHC – 1.9 WAR
OF Nick Castellanos CIN – 3.5 WAR
OF Bryan Reynolds PIT – 3.0 WAR
OF Jesse Winker CIN – 2.4 WAR
DH Kris Bryant CHC – 2.3 WAR
All 5 teams in the NL Central contribute to the All-Star lineup, which is pretty cool. The Milwaukee Brewers obviously have the best pitching staff in the division with all 3 starting pitchers calling Miller Park their home.
Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta all sport ERAs in the low 2s with strikeout per nine numbers in the double digits. It is no wonder the Brewers are beginning to run away with the NL Central; no one can score on them.
Despite being an awful team on the field the Pirates have 2 starters in the divisional lineup – Adam Frazier and Bryan Reynolds. The duo has combined for a WAR of 5.9 – the highest cumulative WAR for 2 teammates of any last-place team in the MLB right now.
NL West All-Star Team
SP1 Kevin Gausman SF – 1.73 ERA – 10.44 K/9
SP2 Clayton Kershaw LAD – 3.39 ERA – 10.75 K/9
SP3 Yu Darvish SD – 3.09 ERA – 10.71 K/9
C Buster Posey SF – 3.1 WAR
1B Max Muncy LAD – 3.6 WAR
2B Jake Cronenworth SD – 3.0 WAR
3B Manny Machado SD – 2.9 WAR
SS Fernando Tatis SD – 4.0 WAR
OF Chris Taylor LAD – 2.7 WAR
OF Mookie Betts LAD – 2.5 WAR
OF Trent Grisham SD – 2.4 WAR
DH Justin Turner LAD – 2.8 WAR
The NL West All-Star lineup has the highest cumulative WAR in the National League but is one step behind the AL East.
Despite a stint on the injured list Fernando Tatis still holds the 2nd-highest WAR of any National League hitter at 4.0 behind only Ronald Acuna.
The fact that the NL West is a 3-team race is well documented and their divisional All-Star lineup reflects that. There are no Rockies or Diamondbacks anywhere in their lineup – just the 3-headed dragon of San Fran, LA, and San Diego.