All-Star Angst: Taking Our Nation’s Pulse on Baseball

            As spring fades into summer, one can feel the anticipation for the Midsummer Classic building through the baseball community. The Commissioner’s Office makes sure we go batty over our ballots, and articles on ideal All-Star squads flood cyberspace. I wrote a few columns of my own about my ideal assemblage of superstars, heralding the Midsummer Classic as the greatest baseball invention since the pitcher’s rubber in 1893.

Of course, everything in All-Star Land quickly goes to crap after the actual rosters are announced. MLB’s player-manager-fan voting machine glorifies overachievers while snubbing the true stars; any good will associated with the Midsummer Classic evaporates into a fracas of finger pointing and snarky opinions. Everybody from the Bronx to the Bay feels entitled to adding his or her two cents, even though nobody really wants to hear the whining. So while the topic remains hot, here are my gripes with the selection process.


1)      Managers are clearly biased.


OK, the two All-Star managers may inherently tend to select an overabundance of their own players; after all, their teams made it to the World Series, so it’s logical that their clubs feature the best talent and will mostly likely grab the most All-Star bids. Nevertheless, there is always one decent player whose own manager gives him an All-Star spot, but clearly wouldn’t make the cut if another manager were calling the shots.


This year, Rangers’ skipper Ron Washington has seven (repeat: seven) of his players going to Kauffman Stadium. Yes, three (Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, and Mike Napoli) were voted into the starting lineup by fans, and Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler deserved their reserves slots, but there is no strong evidence for why Matt Harrison and Joe Nathan deserved their bids over other players. Maybe Washington feels more comfortable having his guys finish out his All-Star Game, but there are non-Arlington options who can backend the AL’s bullpen. Minnesota’s Scott Diamond (7-1, 2.63 ERA, 41 K, 1.21) or Oakland’s Jarrod Parker (4-3, 2.57 ERA, 58 K, 1.21 WHIP) are arguably better starters than Harrison (11-3, 3.16, 65 K, 1.24 WHIP).


In other news, Cardinals’ ex-manager Tony La Russa allegedly penalized high-caliber stars simply because they play for division rivals. Reds’ second baseman Brandon Phillips didn’t make the team over Atlanta’s Dan Uggla (fan vote) and Houston’s Jose Altuve (all-teams-represented rule) even though he’s a stronger player, but it’s impossible to ignore how he instigated the legendary Reds-Cardinals brawl last year. The Redbirds’ Lance Lynn (10-4, 3.62 ERA, 98 K, 1.25 WHIP) got the nod over Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto (9-4, 2.26, 79 K, 1.14 WHIP) and Milwaukee’s Zack Greene (9-2, 2.82 ERA, 102 K, 1.17 WHIP), which is criminal.


2)      Flair beats facts.


The Greinke example displays not only manager favoritism but also a continued ignorance towards both traditional and secondary statistics. Greinke’s stat line obviously destroys Lynn’s, and their FIPs show that the first is the real deal while the second was overperforming. The Brewers’ ace leads the National League with a 2.21 FIP while Lynn places 17th with a 3.42 mark, explaining his recent regression from a 2.42 to 3.62 ERA in his last four starts. Too often, managers ignore sabermetrics for the flashy, “crowd-pleaser” statistics (wins, home runs, etc.) when deciding on All-Star candidates, and clearly blow their decisions.


Even if you forget sabermetrics, some of the choices make little sense based on counting numbers and batting averages. Take the Twins, a horrible team that only received its single All-Star selection by MLB mandate. Somehow catcher Joe Mauer (4 HR, 36 RBI, .324/.414/.445) travels to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City instead of outfielder Josh Willingham (17 HR, 55 RBI, .268/.379/.539), even though the second player has a higher OPS (.918 versus .873).


Yes, Mauer is the face of the franchise, but his 2012 campaign does not nearly compare to the 2009 rock star tour that netted him an MVP award and put him on the map. His Head-and-Shoulders hair and baby face may be more marketable than Willingham’s mug, but that shouldn’t blur the facts for the powers that be.


3)      America is generally stupid.

Let’s take a minute to compare two stat lines:


Player A: 76 GP, 277 AB, 53 R, 9 HR, 50 RBI, 8 SB, .354/.447/.560

Player B: 45 GP, 170 AB, 26 R, 6 HR, 25 RBI, 0 SB, .300/.362/.471


David Wright (Player A) clearly outshines Pablo Sandoval (Player B), but somehow San Francisco’s Kung Fu Panda will start the All-Star Game as the NL’s third baseman, while the Mets’ superstar gets relegated to the Senior Circuit’s reserves. Ok, it’s a given that the fan vote cannot be counted on as a true barometer of talent. We’ve turned the All-Star Game into a popularity contest dominated by big cities and bigger fan bases (i.e. New York, St. Louis, Boston, Texas, etc.).


That being said, how can Americans be that ignorant to vote Sandoval over Wright, especially when Wright is that much better? This flub doesn’t even make sense under the “big-constituencies-win” argument. I’m sorry for even likening California’s Bay Area to the Big Apple, but there is no comparison; New York City should clearly win out there, but it didn’t.


Fans will vote for their teams’ players because that’s what fans should do, but it just goes to show how flawed the selection process truly is. With injuries and last-minute excuses, deserving candidates will probably get their tickets punched to Kansas City, but it does nothing to cover up the continued ignorance of our great nation. We claim that baseball is our national pastime, but seemingly nobody (players, managers, or fans) knows enough about the sport to get the All-Star selections right.


Maybe I’m being a baseball elitist, but if there’s any time to nitpick, the time is now. Still, the All-Star Break is only a week away; let’s enjoy the moment while it lasts.

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