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Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr. is no lock to be a starter in All-Star Game as voting opens

Fan voting for the All-Star Game begins Wednesday, and one of the closest races could be for the starting American League shortstop.

The Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr. is an early candidate to win the AL MVP award, but he is no lock to start in the Midsummer Classic. In fact, former MLB general manager Jim Bowden made his picks for the All-Star Game, and he chose Orioles shortstop Gunnar Henderson over Witt.

“Witt deserves to be an All-Star starter,” Bowden, the former Reds and Expos GM, wrote for the Athletic, “but falls just below Henderson in most offensive categories.“

The number of star American League shortstops is staggering. Bowden has four shortstops on his All-Star team: Henderson, Witt, the Yankees’ Anthony Volpe (last year’s Gold Glove Award winner) and the Rangers’ Corey Seager (who was second in AL MVP voting in 2023).

But Witt and Henderson are a step above. Debates are a big part of sports and this is one that will continue during voting for the All-Star Game and beyond: Who’s better Witt or Henderson?

Henderson leads Major League Baseball in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at 4.3, per Baseball Reference. Witt is third at 3.9.

Witt leads MLB in runs scored (54) and is first in the AL in hits (79) and tied for first in batting average (.319). Henderson is tied for second in home runs (19) and is sixth in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.957).

Baseball writer Keith Law, speaking on Stadium’s “The Rally,” was asked if Henderson is the best shortstop in baseball.

“I think he’s the second-best shortstop, just looking at the American League,” Law said. “I think Bobby Witt Jr. might be the best player in baseball right now. ... The difference between Witt and Henderson, for me, is on defense.”

The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal asked opposing managers and coaches about Witt and Henderson, and there was no agreement on who is better.

“I think Henderson is a step above, both a legit power and hit threat,” one manager told Rosenthal. “He can make all the throws from the position and has a growing presence among a lot of good players on that team. I love the left-handed hitting infielder since he will face so many right-handers. He’s also figuring out left-handers, which will make him really hard to pitch to.”

But another manager said: “Volpe has the best glove, but Witt right now is the total package. His instincts on the bases don’t get enough attention.”

An MLB Network segment discussed the Witt-Henderson debate and who the analysts would want for the next decade.

“The homers would lead me to believe that Gunnar Henderson will win the fan vote as currently constructed today and start in the All-Star Game,” Mark DeRosa said, “but I think in the next 10 years — this is a dumb question — I want ‘em both, but I’d probably lean towards B-Witt.”

Dan O’Dowd, another former MLB general manager, said he’d take Witt.

“He’s the better athlete,” O’Dowd said. “Not to say Gunnar’s not in any way, shape or form, but Bobby’s speed, athleticism, I think he’s more of a dynamic shortstop.

“Gunnar’s always gonna hit for more power, Bobby I think is going to be a better hitter.”

The bottom line: there is no consensus and this debate will rage for a while. However, fans will have an opportunity to weigh in when they start voting. This will be one race to follow.