Who Should Start the All-Star Game for the NL?

With the midsummer classic on the horizon, it's time to start discussing which pitchers will have the honor of starting the All-Star Game.

Shota Imanaga of the Chicago Cubs delivers a pitch in his MLB debut against the Colorado Rockies during the first inning at Wrigley Field.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 01: Shota Imanaga #18 of the Chicago Cubs delivers a pitch in his MLB debut against the Colorado Rockies during the first inning at Wrigley Field on April 01, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

For the first time in what feels like a long time, multiple pitchers in both the American League and National League have a legitimate case to start the All-Star Game. Thus far, no clear favorite has separated himself from the field.

With some of the bigger names sidelined due to injury, there is a good chance it will be a breakout star or a rookie on the mound for both teams, which adds to the excitement of the conversation.

In the National League, three pitchers are the frontrunners to get the nod to start the All-Star Game. Shota Imanaga has been stellar in his first season in MLB; Ranger Suárez has been, arguably, the best pitcher for the best team in the NL; and his teammate Zack Wheeler has put together another amazing first half. Let’s dive in and look at the statistics that have separated these three from the pack.

This article was written prior to games on June 21.

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Potential All-Star Game Starters in the NL

Ranger Suárez

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – APRIL 16: Ranger Suarez #55 of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts after pitching a complete game shutout against the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park on April 16, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the Rockies 5-0. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

To put it bluntly, Ranger Suárez has been absolutely otherworldly to start the season. The 28-year-old has blossomed from a solid mid-rotation arm into a true ace, casting off the shadows of his Philadelphia Phillies teammates Wheeler and Aaron Nola.

Suárez leads all of baseball in eight key statistical categories, the most of any pitcher. He is tops in MLB in wins, win-loss percentage, WHIP, Adjusted Pitching Runs, Adjusted Pitching Wins, Win Probability Added, Base-Out Runs Saved, and Base-Out Wins Saved (per Baseball-Reference).

All of this to say, Suárez has dominated in every facet of the game, whether that is old-school counting stats, results-based metrics, or predictive and adjusted statistics. 

Not a single one of Suárez’s pitches has a batting average against over .231, and his five-pitch mix of weapons featured between 11% and 32% of the time keeps hitters incredibly off balance in the box. It is unlikely they will see the same pitch twice, and his fastball, offspeed, and breaking ball run values (per Baseball Savant) all rank in the 91st percentile or higher.

Excelling with all three types of pitches is what has allowed Suárez to produce an overall pitching run value in the top 1% of baseball.

What makes Suárez even more fun is that he is an old-school pitcher. His fastball velocity is in the bottom 12% of the league, and he does not generate a lot of swing-and-miss. However, he limits hard contact exceptionally well and keeps the ball on the ground at an elite rate.

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Shota Imanaga

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – APRIL 26: Shota Imanaga #18 of the Chicago Cubs prepares to pitch against the Boston Red Sox during the third inning at Fenway Park on April 26, 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Shota Imanaga has been stellar in his first season in MLB after signing with the Chicago Cubs out of Nippon Professional Baseball.

While he was overshadowed by Yoshinobu Yamamoto in terms of preseason expectations, Imanaga has been the better pitcher thus far and has a very strong claim to being the best starter in the National League. He ranks third in all of baseball in ERA with a spectacular 1.89 mark and has allowed the second-fewest earned runs among qualified National League starters.

Eight of Imanaga’s first 13 starts have been quality starts, and he has allowed more than two earned runs just once this season. If his one bad start against Milwaukee (4.1 IP, 7 ER) were taken out of the equation, Imanaga would find himself toward the top of the leaderboards for nearly every major statistical category in baseball.

Despite having a fastball velocity that is well below MLB average, Imanaga’s fastball has played up, earning him a fastball run value in the top 1% of baseball. The magic of Imanaga comes from the way in which he is able to tunnel his fastball with his splitter, with the former staying on plane while the latter tumbles out of the zone away from barrels at the last minute.

Imanaga is also masterful when it comes to generating swings out of the zone, with a chase rate of 35.3%, good for the 95th percentile in baseball. He also limits bases on balls extremely well, with a walk rate of just 3.6%, putting him in the top 3% of baseball. 

Zack Wheeler

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – APRIL 20: Zack Wheeler #45 of the Philadelphia Phillies looks on against the Chicago White Sox at Citizens Bank Park on April 20, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the White Sox 9-5. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Zack Wheeler has long been considered the ace of a dominant Philadelphia staff, and his star has only risen thanks to his heroic postseason performances.

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Of the names on this list of potential All-Star Game starters, Wheeler is certainly the most experienced (and the one you’d most expect to see on this list), but that should not take away from his outstanding performance this season.

Wheeler is second in the NL in quality starts with 11 and sixth in innings pitched with 92.0. He is third in hits per nine (6.26) and tied for fifth with 99 strikeouts. His 1.01 WHIP is fifth-best in the league. Simply put, Wheeler limits traffic, and even when runners reach base, he is able to work himself out of jams.

Wheeler’s fastball run values and overall run value are both in the top 7% of baseball, thanks in large part to his elite extension; he explodes off the mound, making hitters feel like he is just placing the ball in the catcher’s mitt.

He has also limited hard contact extremely well, as he is in the top 10% of baseball in average exit velocity.

Primarily a two-pitch pitcher (against right-handed hitters), Wheeler’s four-seam fastball and sinker have opponent batting averages of just .210 and .185, respectively. Like Imanaga, Wheeler excels at tunneling his fastball with his secondary pitch, in this case, his sinker, to baffle hitters. The two pitches track very similarly out of his hand, and then at the last second, the fastball stays true while the sinker dives.

Who Gets the All-Star Game Nod?

While Wheeler has been exceptional, the numbers suggest that both Suárez and Imanaga are just a hair ahead of him statistically. With the way things stand right now, the difference between those two really comes down to Imanaga having had one bad start, while Suárez, thus far, has avoided the blow-up outing that can impact a pitcher’s full-season numbers.

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Considering the fact that he leads baseball in so many different statistical categories, Suárez seems like the logical choice to start the All-Star Game should he continue to pitch this well up until the break. However, a single slip-up could open the door for Imanaga and Wheeler, making these next couple of weeks extremely exciting to track.