SAN DIEGO — If asked, he will happily say yes.
If chosen, he will absolutely make the game better.
If he plays, he will likely do something special because that’s what he does when he’s on a baseball field.
If not him, then who should it be?
Of course, there are reasons — logical, statistical and political (in baseball respects) — for Julio Rodriguez not to be selected to the American League All-Star team.
But with each passing day and each game where he seems to do something spectacular or exceptional and multiple things to help his team win, those same reasons scream out for the Mariners’ precocious rookie to be on the field at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, July 19, as one of the best players in Major League Baseball.
“Who would not like to play in the All-Star Game?” Rodriguez said when asked if he would want to play. It was like asking him if he’d prefer to hit a homer over a bloop single.
“You tell me who would not like to play in the All-Star Game,” he said.
Well, there have been players in past years who have declined the opportunity. It was 43 years ago, and just over 21 and half years before Rodriguez was even born, when San Diego shortstop Garry Templeton infamously was quoted as saying, “If I ain’t startin’, I ain’t departin’,” when it came to going to the 1979 game at the Kingdome as a reserve. Templeton disputed saying the quote, and it later was credited to come from Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck.
Last season Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve opted to forego the game due to personal reasons. And players in the past have missed due to lingering health issues.
Rodriguez won’t pass up the opportunity to play with baseball’s best players. As a kid growing up in the Dominican Republic, he dreamed of these opportunities, and to have the possibility in his first MLB season seems surreal.
Should he be an All-Star?
If Scott Servais were managing the American League All-Star team, would he think Rodriguez deserves to be a reserve?
“Yes, I do,” Servais said. “Maybe I was on the fence a couple of weeks ago, but he’s been so good. I think he’s one of the better players in the game right now based on how he’s played in recent times. His numbers look pretty good. I think he is an All-Star, but we’ll see. I don’t make those decisions. It’s a combination of people. Everybody wants to blame the manager for the team. It’s a combination of things with the league and a lot of people involved in making those decisions.”
Just how real is his candidacy? From a statistical standpoint, there are legitimate reasons for his selection.
Coming into Wednesday, Rodriguez has played in 82 of the Mariners’ 83 games this season, posting a .277/.336/.487 slash line in 339 plate appearances. He has 86 hits and scored 48 runs with 16 doubles, two triples, 15 homers, 43 RBI, 21 stolen bases, 23 walks and 94 strikeouts. And those numbers came after a difficult April where he struggled to get traction on results and got little help from MLB umpires, posting a .206/.284/.260 slash line in 20 games and 81 plate appearances. He had 15 hits with four doubles, no homers, six RBI, seven walks, 30 strikeouts and nine stolen bases.
From an advanced analytical standpoint, Rodriguez has generated a 2.9 Fangraphs WAR (fWAR) with a 139 weighted runs created (wRC+) and a 3.5 Baseball Reference WAR (bWAR).
But how does that compare to other outfielders in the American League?
Rodriguez ranks fourth in fWAR (2.9) behind Aaron Judge (3.9), Yordan Alvarez (3.9) and Mike Trout (3.7) and is tied for fourth in bWAR with Judge (3.5) with Alvarez (3.9), Trout (3.8) and Kyle Tucker (3.6) ahead of him.
He leads all American League outfielders in games played (82), stolen bases (21) and is second in hits (86), fourth in runs scored (48), sixth in wRC+ (139) and slugging percentage (.487), tied for seventh in home runs (15), seventh in on-base plus slugging percentage (.823), tied for eighth in RBI (43) and eighth in doubles (16) and batting average (.277).
From a logical standpoint, Judge is locked in as a starter in right field due being the American League’s top vote-getter in Phase 1 of the All-Star voting. And there are four finalists in Trout, Gicancarlo Stanton, George Springer and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. that will garner consideration. But being a finalist doesn’t guarantee a spot on the roster. It’s not impossible to see Rodriguez move past Springer or Gurriel since they are on the same team.
Each All-Star team has a roster of 32 players — 20 position players and 12 pitchers. In 2021 and 2019, teams carried four reserve outfielders to go with the three starters. All-Star team starters will be announced Friday while the full rosters will be unveiled Sunday.
It’s impossible to say that Rodriguez has not been one of the seven best outfielders in the American League this season, particularly when Alvarez has started 38 games at designated hitter and Stanton has 32 starts at DH.
Could the logistics of every team having a representative on the team factor into a reason to keep Rodriguez out, with Ty France expected to be an obvious choice as a reserve at first base?
But from a political standpoint, how can you not find a way to put Rodriguez in the game when he’s obviously worthy of selection? MLB is trying to build a fan base and has struggled showcasing its star players for a variety of reasons.
Here is a young kid growing into a superstar who is media and camera friendly with a megawatt smile and an ebullient personality. The charisma that he brings to the field each day has young children in Seattle acting the same way their parents did when Ken Griffey Jr. was a rookie.
Can you think of a better player to have at the All-Star Game?
“I can’t,” Servais said. “But I’m biased, and I know I’m biased. I get to watch him every day and I know him better than a lot of people. I’m really proud of him and want to see all of our guys that are deserving get that opportunity.”
But he doesn’t want to see Rodriguez in the Home Run Derby — All-Star or not — which was also becoming a thing on Twitter.
“Oh, no,” Servais said. “He can’t hit home runs in BP. He doesn’t do it. No, he should not do the Home Run Derby.”
Rodriguez doesn’t want to mess with his approach or swing. And he’s never competed in a home run derby before. He doesn’t do it in pregame batting practice. He’s too focused on his approach.
“I haven’t had that experience,” he said. “I don’t think so. I guess we’ll see if I’m there.”
He should be there.