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Sizing up Orioles candidates for 2024 All-Star Game as voting opens

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With voting for the 2024 All-Star Game now underway, the Orioles have several viable candidates to represent the American League in Arlington, Texas on July 16.

The voting process is more complicated than the days of the old paper ballots being passed down the row in ballparks, but we’ll see if the Orioles match or eclipse their four selections — Felix Bautista, Yennier Cano, Austin Hays, and Adley Rutschman — from last year. That was the first time Baltimore had received multiple All-Star nods since enjoying five in 2016.

Below are the top Orioles candidates as the 2024 voting begins:

LOCK

SS Gunnar Henderson

Case for: The 22-year-old MVP candidate entered Wednesday leading the majors in Baseball Reference’s version of wins above replacement and is fourth in the FanGraphs version while ranking second in the AL in home runs, fourth in on-base plus slugging percentage, fourth in total bases, sixth in runs batted in, fifth in walks, and fourth in weighted on-base average and weighted runs created. He has also been worth five defensive runs saved and ranks in the 89th percentage in outs above average at shortstop while going a perfect 8-for-8 in stolen base attempts. Any questions?

Case against: The only intrigue is whether Henderson will receive the starting nod with Bobby Witt Jr. also enjoying an MVP-caliber season for the upstart Kansas City Royals. These two are very close in overall value with Henderson having the edge in slugging and drawing walks and Witt hitting for a better average and rating better defensively and as a baserunner. Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi?

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Prediction: This vote will be interesting to track, and that’s not even considering the impact of 2023 World Series MVP and four-time All-Star selection Corey Seager and big-market Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe on the results. Witt has been a recognizable young name around baseball for a few years now, but Henderson winning Rookie of the Year for the AL’s best regular-season team last year and taking another big step in his second full season should be enough to push him to the front of the line.

SP Corbin Burnes

Case for: The 29-year-old right-hander entered Wednesday fifth in the AL in ERA, second in innings, eighth in strikeouts, and ninth in walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP). His league-adjusted and peripheral numbers aren’t as dominant as his 2021 NL Cy Young campaign in Milwaukee, but Burnes has been everything the Orioles could have envisioned upon acquiring him in early February.

Case against: Burnes isn’t missing bats and striking out the opposition at the same rate he did a few years ago, but those are talking points more relevant to his pending free-agent status than any kind of credible argument against his All-Star inclusion.

Prediction: With a number of big-name pitchers in the AL on the injured list, Burnes should be considered a slam dunk at this point and could even start the Midsummer Classic — though my current choice would be Detroit’s Tarik Skubal — depending on timing, especially if he continues pitching like he has over his last couple outings.

SAFE BET

C Adley Rutschman

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Case for: After making his first All-Star Game and winning a Silver Slugger last year, Rutschman is on track to have a career year from average and power standpoints and is consistently hitting the ball harder while also cutting down on his strikeouts. He also ranks fourth in the AL in hits and remains one of the league’s best when it comes to blocking pitches with Statcast ranking him in the 98th percentile.

Case against: It’s not a secret that Rutschman’s walk rate has declined dramatically in an apparent effort to unlock more power, but even more surprising is seeing how much of his production has come against left-handed pitching, which usually coincides with him serving as Baltimore’s designated hitter. Critics could try to argue that he hasn’t been an All-Star-caliber performer as an actual catcher, but how do you separate platoon and position splits that intersect so closely? The switch-hitting Rutschman is having a very good season overall, but it’s definitely been a strange one.

Prediction: At this point, the starting nod should go to the 34-year-old Salvador Perez, who is having another great season on his way to a ninth All-Star selection with Kansas City. Minnesota’s Ryan Jeffers is also having a strong year, but Rutschman is one of the sport’s more recognizable young faces — something that matters in an exhibition celebrating the game — and is deserving of a reserve spot.

IN THE MIX

3B Jordan Westburg

Case for: No one on the 2024 Orioles has shown more improvement than Westburg, who has arguably been the club’s second-best player and ranks ninth in the AL in offensive WAR and third in WAR among AL third basemen. Having also made 13 starts at second base, the 25-year-old has been worth two defensive runs saved and ranks in the 87th percentile in outs above average, according to Statcast.

Case against: There’s no shortage of bigger names at third base having strong seasons, a list including Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez, Boston’s Rafael Devers, and Tampa Bay’s Isaac Paredes. Westburg is listed as a third baseman on the ballot, but the positional versatility that makes him so valuable on a daily basis sometimes works against a young player when it comes to voters taking notice of their skills.

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Prediction: As a relative unknown outside Baltimore entering 2024, Westburg is going up against too many established names also worthy of All-Star consideration, meaning he’ll be left on the outside looking in unless there’s an injury or two over the next month. However, that he’s even in the All-Star conversation reinforces how terrific his play has been in his first full major league season.

1B Ryan Mountcastle

Case for: The dearth of standout first basemen in the AL shouldn’t take away from the fact that Mountcastle entered Wednesday ranking fourth in the league in doubles and ninth in extra-base hits. He also ranks second in homers, third in RBIs, and first in slugging among qualified AL first basemen. Mountcastle has also been worth three defensive runs saved at first base this season.

Case against: Mountcastle probably has as strong a case as anyone, but he is a very streaky hitter and will need to maintain his strong start to June to maximize his chances, especially with three-time All-Star selection Vladimir Guerrero Jr. heating up after a bad start and Cleveland’s Josh Naylor currently leading AL first basemen in home runs and RBIs.

Prediction: The fan vote at this position could go a long way in determining whether Mountcastle finds his way on the roster as a reserve. Playing at Camden Yards does the right-handed slugger no favors in the long-ball department, of course, but I’ll bet on Mountcastle receiving his first All-Star nod.

RP Craig Kimbrel

Case for: The nine-time All-Star closer entered Wednesday ranking third in the AL in saves and fifth on the all-time list. Any 36-year-old with such a career resume is going to garner consideration when he’s having even a decent season, and Kimbrel has been quite good besides his nightmare two weeks from late April into early May.

Case against: Twelve of Kimbrel’s 13 saves came in wins by more than one run while his three blown saves occurred after he entered with a one-run lead. In other words, most of his success has come while benefitting from a greater margin for error. That’s why it’d be very tough to put Kimbrel in the class of top AL closers like Cleveland’s Emmanuel Clase, Oakland’s Mason Miller, or the Yankees’ Clay Holmes.

Prediction: Kimbrel sneaking onto the All-Star roster wouldn’t be shocking if he receives enough save opportunities over the next month and continues pitching how he has since mid-May, but there are other closers and high-leverage relievers who are more valuable and deserving. The Orioles would probably prefer Kimbrel to rest up over the All-Star break anyway.

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