Through 50 games, the Milwaukee Brewers are 31-19, which is statistically their best start in franchise history. They lead the NL in several notable categories like team ERA and HRs and if you've watched the Brewers this year, you know it's been primarily a total team effort. But which individuals are making the best case to represent Milwaukee in the Mid-Summer’s Classic this July in Washington DC? Does this year's team have a shot at equaling or breaking the organization's high-water mark of four representatives (4 times: 1982, 1983, 2007, 2014)? It will be a challenge, but it is possible.
Lead Pipe Lock (Barring Injury)
Josh Hader – RP
Barring complete collapse or injury, Hader will be an All-Star for the Brewers this year. He currently ranks #5 among all pitchers in fWAR and is on pace to set the MLB single season record for WHIP, K/9 and K’s for a relief pitcher. Because he’s a pitcher, the voting process will be determined by players, coaches and managers. I can’t imagine a single NL player, coach or manager that doesn’t feel Hader is currently one of the best pitchers in the NL, regardless of what name is written on the front of his jersey or market size. He’ll be there.
Likely (66% chance of better)
Lorenzo Cain – CF
Cain leads NL OFs in fWAR (among healthy players, anyway) and has been the Brewers most consistent offensive performer as we hit the 50 game mark. He leads the team in H, R, SB and OBP and is on pace for career bests in several major categories. There's been an uptick in power for Cain this year in Milwaukee and he has made the AL team before, both will help his case in the fan voting. He's a popular player across MLB, particularly with his old fan base in Kansas City, who will likely combine with Brewers fans to pump up his vote totals. He certainly won’t beat out Bryce Harper with the game being played in DC this year, but there’s a reasonable path to a top-3 finish in the fan vote. Even if he misses the cut, Cain’s abilities are well respected enough around the league to get serious consideration as a backup via selection by his colleagues.
Coin Flip (~50% chance)
Christian Yelich – LF
Yelich is currently behind Cain in the AS pecking order, but it’s not too far-fetched to think he could catch and pass him. Yelich’s numbers have been very good in his debut season for the Brewers and the only reason he’s not currently a lock is due to the fact he missed some time with a strained oblique early on. But the young OF is certainly capable of more. Given the fact both players happen to be OFs, it’s possible one of these two gets passed over, but I think it’s a near certainty one of the two will make it. if the Brewers continue on their current trajectory. With 48 less plate appearances, Yelich trails Cain by merely five hits and carries an identical batting average. His OPS is 51 pts lower than Cain, but he’s been gaining ground steadily since his return from the DL. Cain is the more likely Brewers OF based on his current statistics, but Yelich may well pass him by the time voting concludes.
Travis Shaw – 3B
Shaw has become the consistent left-handed power threat the Brewers have missed since Prince Fielder left in free agency after the 2011 season. Many have been tried, but no one ver really filled Fielder’s shoes as that big bat. Shaw is not nearly the offensive force Fielder was in his Brewer days, but he’s steady and gives the team solid, if unspectacular defense, to boot. Shaw is currently 17th in the NL in fWAR, tied for 3rd in HRs and 10th in RBI. All those numbers point to a potential selection. The issue for Shaw comes in the form of his primary competition at third base. Kris Bryant is having another great season for the struggling Cubs and Nolan Arenado continues to be among the NL’s best players for Colorado. The good news or Shaw is he is fairly well entrenched in the Top-3 with Justin Turner on the mend in LA and then a significant drop off at the position. Shaw has zero shot to win the fan vote as the starter unless there in an injury or he goes on a career best 4-week tear. So his only path will be as a backup or the Final Vote (if he can qualify). Based on his production since arriving in Milwaukee, Shaw is a worthy All Star candidate; he just faces an up-hill battle based on the names in front of him more so than Cain or Yelich.
Remote, but there’s a chance (33% or less)
Jeremy Jeffress – RP
Jeffress would likely be a lock, or at least much higher on this list, based on his 20187 season to date if it weren’t for the presence of Hader. In his third tour of Duty with Milwaukee, Jeffress has been lights out on a level we simply haven’t seen from the club’s 2006 first round pick. With the addition of a third pitch, the split change, Jeffress has become nearly unhittable and is on pace to best Zach Britton’s MLB record for lowest ERA (min 50 IP) of 0.54. His peripherals are outstanding, which makes sense given his miniscule ERA and WHIP, but the ERA and LOB% of 94.4% stand out as truly elite. Unfortunately for Jeffress, it is unlikely two middle relievers from the same team will get selected. The relief pitching spots are usually reserved for closers and lone representatives, so in what might be his finest season in a big league uniform by far, and possibly a historic one, JJ looks poised to miss out due to the numbers game associated with the selection process. If the players/managers/coaches decide to vote strictly on merit, Jeffress could be rewarded.
Domingo Santana – RF
Santana’s candidacy is nearly dead, but it still breathes (barely) on the heels of his strong 2017 campaign. Combine that strong 2017 with a potentially hot June (say an OPS over 1.000 and a bunch of HRs) and I think there’s a path for Santana to push himself into consideration. But it’s a long shot getting longer every day. With the return of Ryan Braun and the production of Cain and Yelich, Santana would need a Thames-ian style month to garner serious consideration. Of all the names I've listed, Domingo probably carries the longest odds.
Corey Knebel – RP
As the Brewers lone representative last season, Knebel has already made an All Star team through the player/coach/manager selection process. Unfortunately, his injury and the presence of other deserving players ahead of him make it unlikely he will make back-to-back trips. Much like Santana, Knebel would need an unbelievable month of June to get himself into the conversation. His talent and propensity for Ks may be attractive as a late inning option for the NL manager, but now that the game does not determine home-field for the World Series, I'm not sure that kind of thinking factors in as much.
Jesus Aguilar – 1B
Aguilar’s path to selection is nearly impossible simply due to the facts he’s not on the ballot and didn’t see regular playing time in April when Eric Thames was hot. That limits his possibilities to making the team to solely through the Final Vote and P/C/M process. On the surface, Aguilar’s counting stats do not put him among the elite NL first baggers, but with a strong June he could find himself up there. His BA, SLG% and ISO are all top-3 among NL first baseman and his improvement’s across the board offensively in his second big league season should not be ignored. It’s the longest of long shots, but to even be in consideration would be a feather in Aguilar’s cap for a guy who was facing the real possibility of being cut at the end of spring training.
All in all, it will be difficult for the Brewers to best or equal their franchise mark of four All Stars in a single season. A lot of things would have to break right. The only path I see to this is both Hader and Jeffress being selected by the players/coaches, one of either Cain or Yelich being voted in as a starter and Shaw squeaking in through the Final Vote or injury replacement. This is in no way a knock against this 2018 team, but more so the fact that it is difficult for teams to receive multiple selections at one position. The Brewers may well have 2 or 3 worthy OFs and 2 or 3 worthy RPs, but likely end up with only one or two All Star representatives due to the numbers game associated with the process.